Liverpool‘s kids might have lost against Aston Villa in the League Cup, but they had plenty to be proud of.
This isn’t even meant as a show of pity or patronisation: the Reds had 15 shots to Villa’s 11, dominated possession and came out on top both for passes and pass completion. That won’t be remembered in the grand scheme of things, but a five-goal game this was not.
The age of the team makes this impressive, but so does its inexperience: while every member used by Villa had Premier League experience before the game, only two of the visitors could say the same. However, one of the two, Harvey Elliott, played well enough to suggest he has plenty more ahead of him.
Elliott’s top-flight experience came in a Fulham shirt at the end of last season, and it has immediately been obvious why Jurgen Klopp was prepared to give the 16-year-old game-time in the earlier rounds of the competition.
Starting out on the right at Villa Park, he looked the most likely to make things happen, and his spirit wasn’t dulled by the concession of two unfortunate early goals. Indeed, that’s where last year’s experience at Craven Cottage may have helped in allowing a spirited response to being outpunched.
The highlight of Elliott’s evening, and a moment which could easily have brought a deserved goal for Neil Critchley’s young side, came with just under half an hour on the clock. It was the kind of moment which would have drawn plenty of plaudits if it had come from the boot of a more established player in a different situation, so it should not be viewed any differently here.
The scooped pass alone is special in its own right, demonstrating how over-elaboration can serve a purpose beyond simply ‘looking good’, just as sometimes the trick-shot is simply the best way for a snooker player to set up a clearance.
Elliott surprises left-back Neil Taylor with his stepovers, but not nearly as much as the manner in which he plays in Isaac Christie-Davies.
Our brains are hard-wired to intuit certain types of beat or motion, but by releasing the ball on the half-step, Elliott expresses his refusal to adopt this approach.
To follow it with a level of execution which comes naturally to him but would take hours of practice to work for players far more advanced in their careers? Well, that’s enough to convince us he’s someone we should be paying very close attention to as he moves closer to his first top-flight minutes in a Liverpool shirt.
Elliott is operating within his own sense of time and space, assuming others will need to adjust to him rather than the other way around, and he’s not wrong, It’s like he’s accepted a duel, taken a few steps back, and fired without even needing to turn around. If Orjan Nyland hadn’t been able to drown out the background noise, there’d have been an even greater reward.
🗣️ Liverpool stand-in boss Critchley feels Harvey Elliott is close to being a first-team regular:
"He's not too far away because he trains with our first team on a regular basis.
"He's had first-team exposure already, the manager and staff think a lot of him." pic.twitter.com/l972t13wA5
— Goal (@goal) December 18, 2019
“I don’t know if I use a wrong word in English but he is arrogant and positive,” Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic said in 2018 after giving a 15-year-old Elliott his professional debut.
While arrogance still sometimes feels like a dirty word when it comes to English football, the winger gave some pretty good evidence at Villa Park that it really ought not to be. It’s born out of a confidence that you have more to offer than those around you, and that same confidence is what allows you to try unorthodox things when you genuinely believe in your ability to pull them off.
Let’s face it, the best players in the world are not those for whom ‘knowing your limits’ is a familiar concept. You reach the top of this game by pushing the envelope – if it doesn’t work the first time, you keep pushing over and over and over again.
If this ends up with someone calling you arrogant or disrespectful, it simply means you’re doing it right.
By Tom Victor