Ones to Watch: Harvey Elliott

What can we learn from his breakout season with Blackburn Rovers?

We’re back again. Yes, two newsletters in the space of a couple of days. It’s me, Sam, and the Ones to Watch series is making a return. 

Previously, we’ve looked at Curtis Jones, Charlie McNeil and Dusan Vlahovic. Today, the focus is going to be on Harvey Elliott. 

Marginal Pains’ Ones to Watch series is brought to you in association with FIVEYARDS

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Fulham debut at 15, Liverpool debut at 16, it has been evident for quite some time now that Elliott is a special talent, though I doubt many envisaged him doing what he’s doing to the Championship at the age of just 17. 

The on-loan Blackburn Rovers starlet has nine assists and five goals in just a little over 2,300 minutes of Championship action. No player can better his assist tally and he’s now matched Jack Grealish’s most productive season in England’s second tier with 14 goal involvements. 

Tony Mowbray has utilised the fleet-footed playmaker on the right side of his attack, with Rovers generally using a 4-3-3 system. From here, Elliott, whose valued on FIVEYARDS Online transfer market at £49million, is allowed to cut inside onto his stronger left-foot and find the runs of Adam Armstrong. 

Teams know what is about to happen, but they can’t stop it. His speed of thought coupled with his actual on-ball ability means the opposition are powerless to prevent those incisive passes from reaching their intended targets. 

One of Elliott’s standout traits is his timing. In the still above, Rovers robbed the ball off Barnsley in their own defensive third and quickly found their No.16. He could carry the ball and then look to slide in Armstrong when closer to the goal. 

However, the hosts are getting players back and the defensive line is preparing to step up in a bid to catch the Blackburn striker offside if a pass is delayed. Elliott takes one touch and immediately threads a pass right into the path of his striker. Armstrong sets himself with one touch and then lobs the advancing goalkeeper with his second. 

Another example of Elliott’s timing can be seen in the win over Queens Park Rangers. Blackburn, again, win the ball back in their defensive third and look to break quickly. The Liverpool loanee starts on the edge of his own area but darts forward to offer himself up as an option and the ball is worked out to him on the right. 

Elliott could attack the space on the right, but, instead, he slows play down, cuts inside onto his left foot and plays a pass inside of the opposition defender and into Armstrong’s run. It looks fairly easy, yet you regularly see players attempt to rush that pass and maybe push the striker too wide as a result. 

However, the good is also, sort of, the bad. Allow me to elaborate. 

The 17-year-old seems to thrive in transitional situations when Blackburn are able to break. Mowbray’s side average 57% possession in the Championship and, generally speaking, games tend to be fairly even with both teams looking to win. In the Premier League, that isn’t the case, especially not when you play for Liverpool. The Reds average 63% possession and regularly come up against teams looking to park the bus. The space just isn’t there, so expecting Elliott to be able to do similar if he was to be part of the first-team at Anfield next season is going to lead to disappointment. 

Despite the difference in average possession, it is worth noting that Blackburn do like to play football and rank second for passes attempted in the Championship. According to expected points, they should be seventh yet they find themselves in 15th. 

Loosely speaking, another potential issue for Elliott is that he’s a creative wide forward. His expected assists (xA) average is double his expected goals (xG) average for Rovers. 

Most top teams want their wide forwards to be goal threats. The youngster has an xG average of 0.10 in the Championship this term. Granted, he is overperforming this with a return of 0.20 goals per 90. He can no doubt develop that side of his game and he’d likely get better chances playing for a team like Liverpool, but some players are ultimately just creators while others are goalscorers. If Elliott is the former, he might struggle to carve out a role in this current set-up under Jurgen Klopp.

He likes his wide forwards to make runs in behind and, for Blackburn at least, Elliott goes looking for the ball. In some ways, he’s similar to Xherdan Shaqiri, as James Nalton mentioned in the FIVEYARDS scout report, and he always seems to be on the peripheral. Recently, the Liverpool manager has used the Switzerland international as part of his three-man midfield. 

Perhaps that is Elliott’s long-term role with the club. There have also been some suggestions that Klopp might switch to a 4-2-3-1 moving forward. Maybe Elliott could stake a claim as a roaming No.10. 

Whatever happens, he’ll require patience and his age needs to be taken into consideration. He’ll be inconsistent and frustrating, but all players are during their formative years. 

He’s one to watch, not just because of his potential, but because it’ll be interesting to see how he develops and what he becomes.