Harvey Elliott the 'super sub' is on 98 games for Liverpool at age of 20. Will he start more soon?
As Darwin Nunez slid on his knees celebrating his first Premier League goal at Anfield since October, most of his Liverpool team-mates were in hot pursuit.
Andy Robertson and Curtis Jones had other ideas. They made a beeline for Harvey Elliott, who was stood in the penalty area raising a clenched fist to the jubilant Kop, having provided the inviting cross for the Uruguayan to score.
It was a show of appreciation for Elliott’s match-winning contribution off the bench. Talk about stepping up when title-chasing Liverpool really needed him.
“Harv always seems to make an impact and he was different class in the second half,” said Robertson, who was making his first start since dislocating his shoulder on international duty in October.
“He took the game by the scruff of the neck and started creating things. The wee man was excellent. His attitude is always spot on.”
The importance of Elliott’s classy cameo on Saturday needs to be framed in the circumstances he walked into.
Illness had ruled out Alisson and Joe Gomez before Ryan Gravenberch felt some muscle tightness during the warm-up. Ibrahima Konate was suspended, Conor Bradley was on compassionate leave, and the injury list included Mohamed Salah, Dominik Szoboszlai, Thiago, Joel Matip and Stefan Bajcetic.
The opening 45 minutes against Burnley had been decidedly flat and unconvincing, with Diogo Jota’s header cancelled out by Dara O’Shea.
As if Jurgen Klopp didn’t have enough to contend with, in the home dressing room at half-time it became clear that vice-captain Trent Alexander-Arnold, who had set a new record of 58 Premier League assists by a defender, would need to be replaced due to discomfort in his knee.
Elliott was summoned by Klopp and handed the right-sided midfield berth, with Jones operating behind him as a makeshift right-back.
Klopp had urged his players to “play calmer football” having been “too much in a rush, too direct” in the first half.
The injection of composure and quality provided by Elliott was crucial in making that happen as Liverpool returned to the top of the Premier League. They had been been displaced by Manchester City’s win over Everton earlier in the day.
England Under-21 international Elliott, who completed 29 of his 34 passes (85 per cent), added a spark that had previously been lacking as he created goals for Luis Diaz and Nunez. His work off the ball was just as eye-catching — the Kop roaring their approval when his pressing unsettled Burnley’s backline.
“Very impressed by Harvey,” the Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk said. “If you start on the bench, you have to be ready to make an impact and today was a great example of that again. This season a lot of players have come from the bench and made a difference. That’s what we need.
“Harvey is still so young. Playing at the highest level, you have to be patient, don’t get frustrated, and then grab your moments when you get them.”
Still only 20, Elliott is just two games shy of registering a century of senior appearances for Liverpool. For context, Steven Gerrard and Alexander-Arnold had both celebrated their 21st birthdays when they reached that milestone.
Elliott would have got there even quicker but for the dislocated and fractured ankle he suffered against Leeds United in September 2021 which ruled him out for five months.
If Jones, Jarell Quansah, Bradley and Caoimhin Kelleher are examples of Liverpool’s academy staff nurturing talent through the age groups, the rise of Elliott epitomises how that young crop has been complemented by shrewd recruitment. Bobby Clark, Ben Doak, Kaide Gordon and Bajcetic are in the same category.
Reaching 100 appearances will trigger another payment to Fulham but even if all the various clauses are met, the fee for Elliott won’t go beyond £4.3 million ($5.4m). That is peanuts when you consider his current worth to Liverpool.
Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal were all keen on signing Elliott when he decided to leave Craven Cottage at the age of 16 in 2019, but when the call from Liverpool arrived during a family holiday in Portugal following his GCSE exams, his mind was made up. They were on the next flight home.
Elliott was just three years old when he first sat on the Kop with his dad Scott, a lifelong Liverpool fan, for the Champions League qualifier against Maccabi Haifa in 2006.
Earlier this season he described his dad as “his biggest critic” — always keeping him grounded and focused. He’s developed a close bond with Mohamed Salah, who has provided advice in terms of diet and gym work. Even when Salah was away at the Africa Cup of Nations, he was in regular contact with Elliott, and the midfielder couldn’t wish for a better role model.
His tally of 32 appearances in all competitions so far this season includes 17 off the bench. After grabbing a dramatic late winner away to Crystal Palace in December, he talked about wanting to shrug off his “super sub” tag.
He is desperate to be starting Premier League matches and he’s only done that three times so far in 2023-24. “I want to get back in the team and kind of cement my spot,” Elliott said following Saturday’s victory. “It’s down to me to try to make a difference. It’s down to me to use my skills, whether that’s starting or coming off the bench.
“That win is for the lads who couldn’t be here. Conor Bradley especially, our heart and thoughts are with him.”
That was a nice touch. The trip to Brentford next Saturday kicks off a gruelling run of nine games in 29 days for Liverpool across four different competitions before the March international break.
No wonder Klopp gave his players a couple of days off after the win over Burnley. It’s the calm before the storm. This upcoming period is going to be a real test of squad depth, and Elliott looks primed and ready to take on a bigger role.
(Tim Markland/PA Images via Getty Images)