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What Harvey Elliott’s standout loan at Blackburn means for Liverpool’s future

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Harvey Elliott returns to Liverpool after an impressive season on loan at Blackburn where he emerged as one of the best players in the Championship.

Elliott played a number of positions in several formations during his time with the Lancashire club and was a regular feature of the good things Blackburn managed to produce on the pitch in 2020/21.

What this tells us about where Elliot’s future lies is difficult to tell at the moment, but there’s no doubt he is one of the most impressive young players Liverpool have had on their books in recent years.

Who was the last Liverpool player to go out on loan, return to the club, and force their way into the first team on a regular basis?

Answers on a postcard (or in the comments), but if Elliott can’t manage it, no one can.

With seven goals and 11 assists and an almost weekly addition to his highlight reel, it’s been a standout season for the young Englishman who only turned 18 last month.

It’s easy to forget this has been his first-ever season of regular first-team football, as he’s not looked out of place either in terms of ability or mentality.

 

Style and Application

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 2, 2020: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah is replaced by substitute Harvey Elliott during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Sheffield United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Stylistically he’s somewhere between Mohamed Salah and Bernardo Silva.

His acceleration and quickness of thought are similar to Salah’s across those first few yards, but he falls short of the Egyptian’s top speed.

The Bernardo comparisons come in the form of his left-footedness, stature and excellent technique.

This means he could perform a number of roles for Liverpool, even though he might not fit the mould of any of the current first-team regulars.

This might be a good thing if Klopp and his coaches want to mix things up a bit.

Elliott favours his left but is not one-footed, as demonstrated by his last goal in Blackburn colours – a neat dink over an onrushing goalkeeper, and the type of finish that’s become one of Lionel Messi’s many trademarks.

It’s no surprise there are echoes of a number of players in the way Elliott plays the game as he’s constantly watching and learning.

He’s been engrossed in his team and his team-mates this season and is often the first out to warm up and the last to leave the pitch – something which is reflected in training.

Pep Guardiola once said of another left-footed magician, Riyad Mahrez: “What I like the most from Riyad is he loves to play football. We go to training, [he’s] the first to arrive and the first to take a ball and try to play.”

The same can be said of Elliott.

Speaking to The Athletic, Blackburn manager Tony Mowbray reinforced this:

“He’s just a fantastic talent. He’s 17, but there are 17-year-olds and 17-year-olds and Harvey is unbelievable.

“It’s unfathomable to me that, in five years, he’ll still be in his early twenties and he could have played 250 games by then. What a joy he is. He just loves the ball; can’t have enough of it.

“And you can’t get him off the training ground. When he plays a game and comes into training the next day, the lads who haven’t been involved might be taking part in a small-sided game and Harvey just wants to join in.

“He’s always out on the grass; so much that I have to keep sending him in. It’s an amazing attitude he’s got.

“He’s helping us, helping our team and hopefully we’re helping Liverpool develop a player and we’re helping Harvey. Everybody wins as far as I can see.”

 

Pre-Match Entertainment

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Saturday, January 2, 2021: Blackburn Rovers' Harvey Elliott during the Football League Championship match between Birmingham City FC and Blackburn Rovers FC at St Andrew's. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Having been selected on the bench for his last game for Blackburn, he was part of the separate warmup undertaken by the subs.

For a freestyle period at the end of it he and one of Blackburn’s own promising young players, Tyrhys Dolan, blasted balls in the air to each other with the challenge of not letting it touch the ground.

It was a credit to both that it rarely did.

There was a moment in another warmup earlier in the season where he’d finished his own routine and, rather than walking down the tunnel, he decided to watch team-mate Bradley Dack take some free-kicks.

He integrated himself into the Blackburn team thanks to such enthusiasm, and though there were can be the occasional look from a team-mate on the rare occasions he failed to produce the final pass, deep down they’ll appreciate that he even tries such things.

 

Combinations and Contributions

BLACKBURN, ENGLAND - Saturday, January 16, 2021: Blackburn Rovers' Harvey Elliott during the Football League Championship match between Blackburn Rovers FC and Stoke City FC at Ewood Park. The game ended in a 1-1 draw. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Despite boasting one of the league’s best creators in Elliott and its second-top goalscorer in Adam Armstrong, it was a disappointing season overall for Blackburn.

They were expected to at least challenge for a spot in the playoffs but towards the end of the season, Mowbray’s side were even looking over their shoulder, wary of being dragged into a relegation battle.

Only three outfield players played more minutes for Blackburn in the Championship this season than Elliott, and only Armstrong contributed to more goals.

The assist-to-goal combination of Elliott to Armstrong (five times) was the third-most common in the Championship just behind Norwich‘s Emi Buendia to Teemu Pukki (eight) and Brentford‘s Bryan Mbeumo to Ivan Toney (six).

With Elliott’s help, 24-year-old Armstrong finished just three goals behind Championship Golden Boot winner Toney and two ahead of Pukki.

Norwich were promoted following an impressive season which saw them top the second tier and Brentford are favourites to go up via the playoffs. Blackburn finished 15th.

Elliott finished third in the Championship assist charts with 11 (level with Harry Wilson), and the more in-depth stats have regularly shown him as the only player close to Buendia when it comes to creativity.

Blackburn are eighth in the Championship for fewest passes allowed per defensive action, which means they engage with the opponent, usually via pressing, rather than letting them have the ball.

This shows that though their game plan is based around possession (for which they are third in the league), they aren’t averse to pressing when they do lose the ball.

Pressing data for individual players in the Championship is difficult to find, but just from watching him play, Elliott is a capable presser if not an outstanding one at this stage.

His quick feet and acceleration can work well in these defensive situations, and with a bit more coaching he could become very effective in this area of the game. The work rate is certainly there.

 

Future Position

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Saturday, January 2, 2021: Blackburn Rovers' Harvey Elliott during the Football League Championship match between Birmingham City FC and Blackburn Rovers FC at St Andrew's. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

He has operated in a number of positions including the centre of midfield, from the right and even as a false nine; and a wide range of formations including 4-3-3, 4-2-2-2 and a 4-4-2 diamond.

The positions he’s played are shown below in the diagram from Transfermarkt (top left), and the heatmap from Sofascore.

In many ways, it’s a shame Blackburn couldn’t raise their own level to a point where they could be in with a chance of securing Elliott’s services for another season, whether that be via promotion to the Premier League or a serious challenge at the top of the Championship.

If Liverpool are to loan him out again they would need to be very careful when choosing his next club, especially if that was a Premier League side.

Even though the move of Rhian Brewster to Sheffield United was a sale rather than a loan, it still shows that highly rated young players can hit a stumbling block if they move to the wrong team at the wrong time.

A loan to another top-tier league in Europe might even be the better option at this stage, and Germany could be an possibility given the level of coaching and willingness to blood young players at a high level.

Jurgen Klopp, Rhian Brewster, Harvey Elliott. (Pic by Propaganda)

There are also more opportunities than ever for players to compete on the European stage, so a loan to one of these clubs might be desirable.

That’s if Liverpool don’t want to keep him and mould him as they have with reasonable success with Curtis Jones this season.

All in all Elliott’s loan to Blackburn was a success, even though the team themselves were not successful. It was a remarkable first season in senior football for a player who was just 17 for the majority of it.

Liverpool have a potentially generational talent on their hands.

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