It’s impossible for Liverpool not to have at least one scapegoat at any given period – an individual who will be blamed first when things go wrong.
While undoubtedly popular with some supporters, Harvey Elliott has become one of those figures in the eyes of others, perhaps more on social media, where hysterical reactions are the norm.
The 20-year-old has been accused of not kicking on in the manner many hoped he would when he joined from Fulham as a highly-rated teenager in 2019, with his long-term future at his boyhood team seen as unclear.
Elliott is yet to nail down a first-team berth, but why is that such an issue for someone so young, and in a squad littered with elite talent?
If the diminutive Englishman has been criticised for not affecting matches enough, whether that be in midfield or in a more attack-minded role, that accusation can’t be thrown at him this season.
Elliott may not have started a Premier League game in 2023/24 to date, and featured for only 119 minutes of action, but he has made his presence felt emphatically when he has been involved.
Against Chelsea on the opening weekend, he was brought on when Liverpool were creaking and the Blues looked like finding a winner, and he added real control and maturity to the midfield.
Elliott completed 89% of his passes but didn’t simply play it safe, successfully completing his only dribble and also playing one key pass.
Similarly, the youngster was introduced during the second half away to Newcastle last month when Liverpool were trailing 1-0 with 10 men. This time, he enjoyed a 94% pass completion rate, helped the Reds dominate a team with more players on the pitch and ultimately complete a stunning comeback.
It wasn’t match-winning stuff from Elliott, but the subtlety in his performance was worthy of great praise, as he kept possession, worked hard for the cause, and even played a part in Darwin Nuñez’s winning goal, breaking up the play in the lead-up to it.
Liverpool’s strong start to the season continued at Wolves on Saturday, in a game that not only saw them make life tough for themselves again but also need the influence of Elliott once more.
The midfielder came on with 56 minutes on the clock, seconds after Cody Gakpo had made it 1-1, and he caught the eye with another classy but understated cameo.
Elliott wrapped the game up with a long-range effort that was ultimately given as an own goal to Hugo Bueno, but it was his all-round impact that stood out more.
There was a purpose to his play that has been evident so often this season, as outlined by one key pass, having two shots blocked and even winning his only aerial duel, despite his small stature.
Every time he had the ball, he was forward-thinking in his approach, looking to provide a spark, and one delightful ball over the top to Luis Diaz showcased his vision.
Seeing Elliott celebrating in delighted fashion with the fans was one of the game’s more touching moments on Saturday and it showed just how much he cares, as you would expect from someone who has supported Liverpool all his life.
There are legions of supporters who admire him, of course, but it is nice to see him receiving wider praise in recent days, following what has been an excellent start to the season from him.
Big result for #LFC after that interesting first half
Jarell Quansah a big plus considering how poor everyone around him was 1st half.
Harvey Elliott excellent from the bench again. #WOLLIV
— Jamie Carragher (@Carra23) September 16, 2023
fA lack of physicality and dynamism have been used as a stick to beat Elliott with, but he appears to have bulked up in the gym during the summer, and it is showing in his performances.
He is never going to be able to dominate a midfield battle in the way Dominik Sbozoszlai does, given his size and lack of searing pace, but he has shown in this opening handful of matches that he can be an invaluable impact substitute, for the time being at least.
Just how high Elliott’s ceiling is as a footballer remains to be seen.
Is he good enough to become one of the first names on the Reds’ team sheet eventually? Maybe.
Could he end up being sold at 23 after not being afforded enough game time? Possibly.
READ MORE: Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones face defining seasons at Liverpool
The point is, Elliott doesn’t need to be performing like Lionel Messi every week to be deemed a successful player at Anfield. He doesn’t even have to be a key starter.
Plenty of top players at Liverpool throughout history have had to accept that they have squad roles a lot of the time, with older, world-class players ahead of them in the pecking order, and there is no shame in that.
With Jurgen Klopp’s men battling across four different competitions this season, it is clear that Elliott is going to get plenty of minutes, though, and with Curtis Jones not necessarily an absolute shoo-in, he could push for his spot in what looks like Liverpool’s ‘best’ starting XI available.
At 20, Elliott still has so much time on his side, but he has also reached a point where he needs to kick on and become something more than just a top young prospect.
He is the same age as Jude Bellingham, after all.
The current evidence suggests that Elliott has added a lot more substance to his game and that he has found a new gear, and without his key cameos, Liverpool could easily be on fewer points in the Premier League.
Slowly but surely, the number of his detractors is dwindling, and he is proving himself to be a dependable figure who can play a big part in 2023/24.
Elliott may not be the superstar that some predicted him to be by this age, but being a good player for Liverpool is more than enough, especially at this point in his career.