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rising star Gini Wijnaldum question doesn’t need to be answered yet as Harvey Elliott shines

Teen midfielder Elliott not the finished article but has allayed fans’ fears so far


Liverpool's Harvey Elliott celebrates after the match. Photo: Reuters

Liverpool's Harvey Elliott celebrates after the match. Photo: Reuters

Liverpool's Harvey Elliott celebrates after the match. Photo: Reuters

It is a measure of Liverpool’s serene start to the Premier League season that the club’s hierarchy are yet to face what might be called “the Georginio Wijnaldum question”.

Apprehensive supporters have asked why the void in the centre of their midfield was not filled following Wijnaldum’s contentious departure to Paris St Germain.

When Liverpool lined up against Norwich City without Jordan Henderson and Fabinho, and then called up an 18-year-old for Saturday’s visit of Burnley, you can imagine thoughts were drifting towards the much-admired Dutchman.

To lose such an established player on a free transfer might have been considered careless; to fail to replace him with a player of comparable pedigree looked negligent.

Instead, laments for Wijnaldum’s absence have been drowned out by the appreciation of the performance of teenager Harvey Elliott.

He is not a direct replacement for Wijnaldum, though. Elliott’s profile is significantly different, playing higher up the pitch and more likely to pick a pass for overlapping full-backs than to slot into a defensive role to cover their runs.

And anyone expecting an 18-year-old to easily replace a Holland international who featured in all but 11 of Liverpool’s 190 Premier League games – as Wijnaldum did over his five years – is being unreasonably ambitious. But should Elliott’s promise be realised, Liverpool’s recruiters can expect more credit.

They signed Elliott from Fulham when he was 16, helped by a combination of their scouting and the fact the youngster and his father are Liverpool fans who followed the club around Europe.

Elliott’s arrival, in a deal which may rise to £4.3m (€5m), was officially confirmed in July 2019. Klopp has been nurturing him in readiness for Saturday’s full Premier League debut, transforming him from a wide attacker to a deeper, more versatile midfielder.

A recurring criticism of Liverpool’s midfield has been that too many players brought similar qualities; more adept at dominating and controlling than creating.

Whether Klopp prefers Elliott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Thiago Alcantara or Curtis Jones, the signs are that his midfield unit is evolving again.

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Elliott, responsible for more forward passes than any other Liverpool player on Saturday, was denied the sweetest of assists, when his perfectly weighted pass fell to a narrowly offside Mohamed Salah.

But he will have enjoyed playing a part in the game’s second goal when he received Virgil van Dijk’s diagonal ball and linked with Trent Alexander-Arnold to tee up Sadio Mane.

There were tricky moments, of course, such as losing out to a thunderous 50-50 challenge with Josh Brownhill on the edge of his own penalty area. These can be put down to inexperience, overshadowed by the more eye-catching qualities that ensured Elliott was such a menace he was the most fouled Liverpool player.

And Klopp’s message to Elliott afterwards may have been that, having emerged unscathed against Sean Dyche’s physical team, everyone else might seem like lightweights.

When Klopp suggested he had already signed a “new midfielder” – following Elliott’s return from a loan spell at Blackburn Rovers and the signing of an extended deal – the remark prompted more rolling of eyes than any expectation the teenager was ready to be immediately thrust into a
title-challenging team.

At such an early stage, it would be premature, dangerous and plain wrong to portray Elliott as the natural, like-for-like successor to Wijnaldum. But his emergence does demonstrate to critics of Liverpool’s transfer policy that perhaps, just perhaps, the club knew what was coming when they terminated the contract negotiation with a midfield veteran and successfully concluded the other for a precocious teenager.

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