Andy Robertson’s injury will likely dominate the reaction to Liverpool’s 1-1 draw with Athletic Club on Sunday.
However, for all the anxiety and despair that the Scotsman’s potential absence will bring, there should also be an abundance of hope and joy at one special performance in that pre-season friendly.
Harvey Elliott’s display was outstanding and, simply put, worthy of the opportunity of replacing recently departed Georginio Wijnaldum at the club.
Typically considered a tricky winger, Elliott was deployed in a central area as one of the two midfielders sitting in front of the anchoring James Milner. Not only was his performance mesmerizingly assured in that role, but it was pure excellence – as the Liverpool Twitter admin will happily tell you.
The youngster’s attacking ability unsurprisingly shone through. Anyone who remotely followed the Championship last season will have realised that Elliott is a special talent going forward. One of Blackburn’s most potent threats, the teenager notched seven goals and 11 assists throughout the campaign – a tally only bettered by the sensationally prolific Adam Armstrong.
And that attacking impetus certainly wasn’t lacking against Athletic Club. At every opportunity, 18-year-old Eliiott would turn and dart upfield, driving the ball and his side into threatening areas with pace and power that can change matches in an instant.
It was an attacking thrust from deep that Liverpool have undeniably missed over the past 12 months, and one that could provide a different dimension to the Reds’ forward play in Wijnaldum’s absence.
Not only was the youngster brilliantly progressive and brutishly brave in his carrying of the ball, but he also demonstrated terrific vision and creativity with beautiful little flicks and through balls into channels for the front three or overlapping full-backs to latch onto.
He was a clear and effective link between deep midfield and attacking play and, with his ability to find pockets of space anywhere between opposition lines, was able to dangerously impact proceedings throughout his 84 minutes on the pitch.
His direct threat was not lacking, either. It was evident why he’d been able to rack up an impressive 18 goal involvements in last term’s Championship as he rattled the underside of the bar after floating into the right-wing position during the second half.
Receiving a long pass to feet, the 18-year-old effortlessly took the ball under his spell, sized up his full-back without fear, dropped a shoulder to create space, threw a step-over, sharply cut inside and then unleashed a dazzling effort that had the keeper beaten all ends up – skip to 1:42 in the highlight reel above to see that desperately unlucky effort.
Understandably, there may be concerns over his ability to balance attack and defence as a central midfielder. But, quite impressively, Elliott should have done enough to quash those doubts with his measured performance on Sunday.
Admittedly, most of his best work came on the front foot but that’s not to say he didn’t do well at the other end of the field.
On several occasions the youngster demonstrated an excellent understanding of play, the ability to see the bigger picture on the pitch, and nous for reading the game and his opposition.
He had very little problem in knowing when to remain compact and conserve energy, before stepping up at the right time to nick the ball away when the opportunity arose. He showed a defensive intelligence that very few would have expected form him, and demonstrated signs that he’s more than capable of becoming an outstanding Premier League-quality central midfielder in years to come.
The likelihood is, of course, that after Wijnaldum’s switch to Paris Saint-Germain, Jurgen Klopp will be hoping to acquire the services of a proven top-flight, box-to-box midfielder to fill in for the Dutchman.
But, in current circumstances, such a buy may not be possible before the end of the transfer window. And, following Klopp’s praise of Elliott’s display on Sunday, there’s reason to believe the 18-year-old could feasibly have an impact on Liverpool’s upcoming season.
And why not? Elliott put in a mature, effective, gutsy, quality and punchy display against Athletic Club and has done more than enough to prove himself worthy of the chance to replace Wijnaldum at the club.