Joe Gomez hailed the “special” talents of Harvey Elliott after the teenager’s eye-catching senior debut for Liverpool at MK Dons.
The 16-year-old produced a performance beyond his years as Jurgen Klopp’s much-changed Reds side saw off their League One opponents 2-0 on Wednesday night to book their place in the Carabao Cup fourth round.
Elliott was voted Liverpool’s official man of the match – although another teenager, Curtis Jones, was given the award by Sky Sports – and could have marked his first competitive appearance for the club with a goal, hitting the bar in both the first and second half.
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His all-round game, though, was what stood out. Confident, assured and able to connect with his team-mates, young and old, the England Under-17 international showed his full range of skills.
Afterwards, Klopp was wholesome in his praise. “He’s a brilliant boy,” he told his post-match press conference. Newspaper reports on Thursday suggest Liverpool may be asked by Fulham, Elliott’s former club, to pay as much as £7 million ($8.6m) for the player, who moved to Anfield at the end of his contract in the summer.
Gomez, too, was impressed.
“To be 16 and play like that is unbelievable,” he told reporters. “It is weird for me as I was always the young one and it seems a world away!
“I was 17 when I made by debut for Charlton (also in the League Cup, against Colchester in 2014) but he is a special player and it is refreshing to see such confidence.
“His ability is good and he did himself justice out there.”
Gomez, still only 22 himself, was one of a number of senior players selected by Klopp, who handed debuts to not only Elliott, but to goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher, striker Rhian Brewster and substitutes Herbie Kane and Sepp van den Berg. Teenage midfielders Luis Longstaff and Leighton Clarkson were also named in the squad for the first time.
“It was a bit strange!” Gomez smiled, reflecting on the presence of so many youngsters. “But I have been here a little while and it is nice to be out with the boys who look so hungry. You can see that on the pitch and it is a breath of fresh air.”
As for himself, these were much-needed minutes for the England defender, who has not started any of Liverpool’s last five Premier League games, with Joel Matip and Virgil van Dijk established, for the time being, as Klopp’s first-choice centre-back pairing.
“It was nice to be back out,” Gomez said. “Obviously, it has been a while for me. It is nice to get the minutes and be out on the pitch and there were a few debuts. It was nice to get a win and a clean sheet. It was a good night.”
Asked if it had been a frustrating start to the campaign, Gomez said: “Yes, definitely. Obviously I have not been playing and obviously every footballer wants to be playing.
“But at the same time I understand that we are the European champions and the lads are doing very well at the minute so all I can do is keep my head down, keep working hard in training and keep waiting for the right time. Until then, I have to keep working hard.
“Credit to them (Matip and Van Dijk). They are doing unbelievably well – as well as the whole team – and as I say, I understand.
“Obviously it is frustrating for me at the same time because I want to be playing but it is what it is. I have to keep working hard.”
Gomez is likely to be back on the bench for Saturday’s league clash at Sheffield United, but with progression in the League Cup secured, games will come thick and fast as autumn turns to winter.
“Absolutely,” he added. “You cannot sit there and be down. You have to stay positive and do yourself justice when the time comes. You need to show the good attitude otherwise you will do yourself harm.
“We have a great set of lads to learn from – Virgil as well who I learn from every day. All the lads were at home resting but we came here in a serious competition and we wanted to win and showed hunger.”