Talking Tactics

Why Elliott can step up and shine in Salah's absence

By Adrian Clarke 19 Jan 2024

Adrian Clarke on how the youngster's playmaking skills can offer Liverpool a different option on the right

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Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points and players who can be influential in Matchweek 21.

Player analysis - Harvey Elliott

Mohamed Salah’s absence from a Premier League match for the first time since May 2022 will force Jurgen Klopp into a rare reshuffle at the top end of the pitch at AFC Bournemouth this Sunday.

Indeed, Klopp could be without Salah for longer than expected after the winger limped off in Egypt's 2-2 draw with Ghana at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).

The talismanic Egyptian is a permanent fixture on the right side of Liverpool’s attack, so how will the Reds manager adjust the make-up of his frontline?

Elliott can step out of the shadows

Twenty-year-old Elliott has been excellent for Liverpool in cup competitions this season.

Part of a winning team nine times in 11 cup starts, either in midfield or attack, he will have been frustrated that 14 of his 16 Premier League appearances have been from the bench.

Salah’s participation in the AFCON and subsequent potential injury has left the door open for Elliott to potentially fill his boots on the right side of Liverpool’s attack.

With Dominik Szoboszlai in contention to make a return on the right of the central midfield trio, Klopp may see fit to slide the gifted youngster forward.

In the 2-1 win against Crystal Palace, Elliott provided a timely reminder of his quality by firing a Salah-esque left-footed strike into the back of the net from outside the box.

Another reason why Klopp may choose to include Elliott is the creative void left by the absence of Salah and injured playmaker Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Without them, and some of the other players unavailable this weekend, Liverpool do look short on players like Elliott who want to put the ball into the danger zone on a regular basis.

He loves to feed passes or crosses into the box from wide areas.

Liverpool passing stats 2023/24
Player Passes into box /90
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Out) 11.58
Kostas Tsimikas (Out) 8
Andy Robertson (Out) 6.12
Harvey Elliott 5.62
Mohamed Salah (Out) 5.37
Dominik Szoboszlai 5.37
Cody Gakpo 2.88

The former Fulham wonderkid is also somebody who loves to shoot at goal.

On a per 90-minute basis, Elliott is averaging 3.83 efforts a game, which exceeds Salah (3.36) and Diogo Jota (3.22), with only Darwin Nunez (4.66) shooting more often among Liverpool players.

In addition, the youngster ranks third at the club for chances created in open play, with 1.88 per 90.

Full of confidence and hungry to make an impression, he must be in contention to start on the south coast.

Has FA Cup win provided a new plan B?

If Elliott does not get the nod at Bournemouth, we could see Jota or Cody Gakpo down the centre, flanked by Nunez and Luis Diaz on the left and right respectively.

Liverpool’s outstanding second-half display against Arsenal in the FA Cup third round earlier this month must have eased any fears Klopp may have had about coping without leading scorer Salah.

He will be a big miss of course, but the way Nunez and Diaz performed in different roles at Emirates Stadium could have given him food for thought.

Uruguayan star Nunez was exceptional down the left wing, using his pace to run in behind on a regular basis before cutting in onto his stronger right foot.

That afternoon he had four shots, 10 touches inside the opposition box and created three chances.

This raking pass from Alexander-Arnold (below) released him in a move that ended with the 24-year-old whistling a shot just past the top corner.

Trent distribution to Nunez

While Liverpool will miss the right-back's distribution, they have enough players who can find Nunez with similar passes at Vitality Stadium.

Colombian Diaz, 27, is usually deployed on the left of Liverpool’s front three, but he looked a serious menace against the Gunners surging down the right.

Consistently sprinting in behind the left-back Jakub Kiwior, he was comfortable making the switch, and a fine second-half performance was crowned by an injury-time winner that was well-crafted by Nunez and Jota on the counter.

Diaz Goal
Options aplenty

Liverpool’s record without Salah in the Premier League is strong, remaining unbeaten in their last 10 matches when he has not featured, recording seven wins.

Boasting 14 goals and eight assists so far this season, he is sure to be missed.

But Klopp is not short of alternatives this Sunday.

He has three fit and available strikers who can play down the middle - Nunez, Gakpo and Jota – with all of them among the goals in recent games.

And out wide he has also seen that Elliott and Diaz can shine down the right.

Salah's absence is not ideal, but this contest provides the Liverpool manager with an opportunity to assess the different options at his disposal.

Also in this series

Part 1: Why Joao Pedro has won De Zerbi's favour
Part 3: Can Arteta reignite misfiring Arsenal attack?
Part 4: Why Toney is so important to the success of Brentford

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