Liverpool’s midfield has long been criticised for the lack of goals which it offers, but one man seems to be doing his best to change that. Harvey Elliott is the joint-top scoring non-forward in Jürgen Klopp’s squad in 2022/23, having contributed three goals to the cause.
There has been a pleasing variety to his strikes too. He fired home from outside the box in the 9-0 massacring of Bournemouth, snaffled up a close-range rebound chance at Ibrox, then linked up well with Mohamed Salah to score from a fairly acute angle against Ajax last time out. If Elliott can maintain this form, he should reach close to double figures for goals by the conclusion of the campaign.
If there is a disappointment in terms of his contributions, it’s that his only assist for the Reds to date occurred in a League Cup tie at Lincoln two years ago. The 19-year-old is yet to play a truly telling pass in a match in one of the two main competitions, and this has perhaps contributed to calls from some corners of the Liverpool fanbase that he is overrated and not as special as other supporters think.
There’s no pleasing some people. Transfermarkt estimate Elliott to be the fourth-most valuable player in world football born in 2003, behind Florian Wirtz, Jamal Musiala and (Liverpool article klaxon alert) Jude Bellingham. Lack of assists or not, that’s good company to be keeping.
And if we’re looking to assess his creativity or importance to the Reds’ attack, the fact he hasn’t yet officially created a goal is something of a red herring anyway. A recently-tweeted chart of progressive passes and expected assists for under-23s in Europe’s top five leagues shows Elliott has few peers in his age group. He deserves to be discussed alongside the likes of Pedri and Martin Ødegaard.
There looks to be 16 players who are above the five progressive passes per 90 line, and a similar number to the right of the 0.25 expected assists marker on the x axis. If you want someone to tick both boxes then you’re either looking at Elliott or RB Leipzig’s Dominik Szoboszlai. It’s not a huge sample. Even Pedri, for all his justified hype and (perhaps less justified) £860m release clause, falls short on the expected assists front, matching the Liverpool man exactly for progressive passes.
The group doesn’t grow that much if you look for players of any age who match Elliott’s figures for both metrics. The 24 eligible men from across England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain include Kevin De Bruyne, Lionel Messi and Neymar. Lack of assists or not, etc etc.
Let’s consider this lack of assists for a moment too. In Liverpool’s 201 league games since the start of 2017/18, they have taken over 3,300 shots. The chance Elliott created for Mohamed Salah in the Bournemouth match — where the Egyptian poked the ball wide from absurdly close range — carried the joint-highest expected goal value of any of them in the opinion of Understat’s model, at 0.97 xG.
The young midfielder also created the Reds’ first Opta-defined clear-cut chance in the recent games against Manchester City and Nottingham Forest, and earlier in the campaign teed up Darwin Núñez for one against Crystal Palace. His miss wasn’t the worst contribution the Uruguayan made that night, but it continued a theme for the unfortunate Elliott: every big chance he has supplied, his teammates have squandered.
Even when not creating chances, he has been linking up with Liverpool’s key players. Trent Alexander-Arnold is Elliott’s top recipient for all passes in the league, Roberto Firmino for those of a progressive nature. He’s created his joint-most chances for Núñez and played his joint-most pre-key passes to Salah. The teenager is proving to be a key cog in Klopp’s machine — and while the Messi comparison is obviously only designed to be illustrative, the diminutive left-footer is undeniably keeping good company.
Of course, even if he had picked up an assist or two, doubters would still doubt, haters would hate. But a glance beyond the headline creative statistic emphasises what Elliott offers. Maybe FSG should be looking to insert an £860m transfer clause of their own: if Pedri warrants it, the Liverpool youngster certainly does too.