Jarrod Bowen: All you need to know about Liverpool target
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Managers always try to keep a level head during pre-season. Fans are told not to read too much into the results; fixtures are primarily for building fitness and finding rhythm after time off. And yet these matches can be instructive in some ways – and that has certainly been the case for Liverpool over the past week.
The Reds have been without a few key players during their preparations in Austria and their absence has handed opportunities to others.
Jurgen Klopp has been out in Austria with his players for nearly two weeks now and the friendlies have made for interesting viewing.
On the face of it, two 1-1 draws against Wacker Innsbruck and Stuttgart in 30-minute games and a 1-0 win over Mainz over 90 minutes doesn't tell you much.
Having started with a familiar-looking strong side for the first half against Mainz on Friday, Klopp swapped the majority of his lineup for the second period.
While the win, which came via a late own-goal, means little, the way Liverpool played could provide a clue to what is to come in the 2021/22 season.
Wijnaldum’s departure has left Liverpool with a problem in midfield (Image: GETTY)
The loss of Gini Wijnaldum to Paris Saint-Germain was always going to be a serious blow for Klopp and, with a replacement yet to arrive in the transfer window, he has been forced to adapt.
Liverpool have continued to line up in a 4-3-3 formation, but Wijnaldum's departure has left a clear hole in central midfield.
Wijnaldum has been a key figure in the middle of the park for the majority of the last five seasons. While we saw his box-to-box potential for the Netherlands at Euro 2020, he played a more reserved role for Liverpool in the main.
With Jordan Henderson, Thiago, James Milner, Curtis Jones and Fabinho the obvious options in central midfield, Liverpool now appear to be missing a more attacking option.
Elliott has shone in pre-season (Image: GETTY)
When you have a front three as potent as Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, alongside full-backs as forward-thinking as Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, that is not necessarily a problem.
A cursory glance at the goal contributions from the 2020/21 season shows how little the central midfield contributed. Jones managed four goals, Wijnaldum three, while Henderson and Thiago recorded just one apiece.
If fit and firing, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could provide a point of difference. But there is another option: Harvey Elliott.
The 18-year-old has returned to Liverpool after a successful loan spell with Blackburn Rovers and has already caught Klopp's eye.
Elliott played on the right wing for Blackburn, contributing seven goals and 11 assists in 41 games and was nominated for the EFL's Young Player of the Season award.
He can certainly offer back-up to Salah in that position, but pre-season has shown that Klopp is considering him for a more central role.
With Wijnaldum gone, the Reds could end up with a one-paced midfield, lacking drive and forward direction. Henderson, Thiago and Fabinho are fine players, but they are ball-winning passers by trade, not forward-thinking dribblers.
Despite his youth and relative inexperience, Elliott has those attributes. He can pick a pass, break the lines and offer a goal threat.
Liverpool cannot always rely on Mane, Salah and Firmino, especially when it comes to the biggest weakness they showed last season of breaking down deep-set defences.
Early signs are that Elliott has come back from Blackburn invigorated and ready to challenge for a first-team spot. He has signed a new long-term contract and is raring to go. Klopp will push him to be his best.
"Harvey made a step [on loan], I have to say. He looks in a proper shape, really, really fit," Klopp told the club website recently.
“He came back in a good shape and is here now in full training obviously. You can see last year really worked well for him. Now let's make the next steps together.”
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