Klopp's tinkering with Elliott suggests next stage of Liverpool's evolution 🧐
What will Harvey Elliott's position be next season?
Jurgen Klopp has never been afraid to be cutthroat when it comes to success, though not without cause.
As No.2 Pep Lijnders previously noted, the German is all about finding the appropriate solution for the problem at hand.
Regardless of whether the club is dealing with an injury crisis or needs to find a new edge to surprise opponents, if the solution can be found within the squad, Klopp would rather utilise what he’s got than automatically dip into the market.
That’s not to say that the fiddling around with player roles in pre-season is indicative of the club’s desire to avoid the transfer market, though it does evidence the manager’s continued desire to get the best out of his current options.
To that end, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been employed as a No.9 during Roberto Firmino’s absence from the training camp in Austria, while Harvey Elliott has been pulled into the midfield.
The tinkering has had mixed results, with the former struggling to meet the demands of the role, whilst the highly-rated youngster has seized the opportunity with both hands.
Realistically, even should Klopp decide that either player is versatile enough to slot in where needed throughout the impending campaign, it would be somewhat shortsighted, in this instance, to close shop for the remainder of the summer window.
There are two things we absolutely need in order to challenge for the title next term:
In normal circumstances, our prestigious front-three would provide the first one in abundance.
We at EOTK Insider expect normal service, to a certain extent, to resume once Klopp has a full-strength Liverpool squad to pick and choose from.
On the off chance Sadio Mane and Firmino aren’t hitting the mark, however, then realistically we need another genuine option beyond Diogo Jota to help pick up the slack.
Having registered seven goals and 11 assists in the Championship last term, Elliott has demonstrated an eye for goal and a penchant for creativity, which we could benefit from.
A look beyond the surface level stats, however, more clearly indicates why Klopp has been so keen to try out the young Englishman in the middle of the park in pre-season:
Elliott (2020/21): XG = 3.75; XA = 7.82 (courtesy of Infogol)
Not bad. Now let’s compare against the first-choice front-three (courtesy of Understat):
Salah (2020/21): XG = 20.25; XA = 6.53
Mane (2020/21): XG = 14.83; XA = 7.79
Firmino (2020/21): XG = 12.86; XA = 6.12
It’s not really a fair fight. Though, it’s worth remembering that we are comparing the Fulham Academy graduate to a trio of world-class attacking talent that was recently acknowledged to be the most formidable across all of Europe.
Now let’s have a look at the midfield (but in their highest-scoring (XG & XA-wise) seasons at Liverpool, courtesy of Understat):
Henderson (2014/15): XG = 4.29; XA = 6.79
Thiago (2020/21): XG = 1.21; XA = 2.55
Keita (2019/20): XG = 1.72; XA = 3.22
Oxlade-Chamberlain (2017/18): XG = 2.40; XA = 4.40
We’ve left out Fabinho due to his more defensively-minded role but, as can be observed when compared against the rest, the teenager stacks up somewhat favourably as a more direct attacking presence.
Of course, it’s somewhat pointless to compare against the likes of Henderson and Oxlade-Chamberlain’s prior seasons, when the players’ roles were fundamentally different, as Klopp’s midfield became more industrial and compact.
Having been played predominantly as a right winger whilst on loan at Blackburn Rovers, Elliott has enjoyed a more active role in chance creation in addition to goalscoring.
It’s likewise not worth losing sight of the fact that we are talking about an 18-year-old, rather than a footballer close to hitting their peak - he will improve.
By trialling out the youngster in the middle of the park against Stuttgart and Mainz, however, it seems Klopp is already thinking of making the midfield the site of the club’s next evolution.
It’s more than plausible that the former Dortmund boss is merely seeking to ascertain just how versatile of an option the former Blackburn Rovers loanee can be for us next term.
That being said, there’s also the equally plausible explanation to consider that a tweak to the role of the midfield three as a grouping is being planned, with an injection of creativity in the form of Elliott.
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