Golden future? Elliott, Diaz and co. show Klopp's second great Liverpool team is well on the way

Harvey Elliott Liverpool 2021-22Getty Images

If ever there was an image to sum up an afternoon, then this was it.

There was Harvey Elliott, arms wide and eyes wider, a smile on his face and a flare in his hand. Red smoke billowing into the Wembley sky.

What joy, what passion. What a moment for the teenager, even if it might end up with him receving a ticking off from the Football Association.

He was not even supposed to feature in the Carabao Cup final, but having got his chance, he managed to end up slap bang in the middle of it. 

There he was, unafraid, standing his ground against Chelsea’s Kai Havertz and Antonio Rudiger. Playing with belief and composure in the biggest game of his life. Burying his penalty in that nerviest of shootouts.

And then, at the end of it all, providing that iconic celebration picture in front of the ecstatic Reds fans.

Not a bad day’s work, all things considered.

Elliott, of course, represents Liverpool’s future as much as its present, and on Sunday we saw why Jurgen Klopp is so excited for that. The old guard continues to deliver, but the next generation are queuing at the gate. 

A few have already made their way inside.

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At 18, Elliott is the jewel in the crown, a player of rare talent and limitless potential and one, crucially, who is blessed with the character and the mentality to go with it. As someone at Manchester United once said about Paul Scholes; “if he doesn’t make it then we might as well all go home.”

He has only played 17 times for Liverpool, but he is already building up quite a medal collection. Sunday was his fourth, the Carabao Cup added to the European Super Cup, Club World Cup and Premier League wins of 2019-20.

He is now the youngest player ever to play for the Reds at Wembley, and the first 18-year-old to feature for the club in a major final. He could still have played in the FA Youth Cup or the UEFA Youth League this season if required, but he has already shown himself to be way, way beyond that level. 

He was not the only ‘newcomer’ to make his presence felt on Sunday, either.

Caoimhin Kelleher, 23 and with only a handful of senior appearances to his name, was faultless in goal. “The best No.2 in the world,” according to Klopp. The Irishman, standing in for the brilliant Alisson Becker, was outstanding.

Ibrahima Konate and Diogo Jota emerged from the bench to play their part and pick up their first medal for the club. Both have made big contributions this season - and in Jota’s case last season as well - but, at 22 and 25 respectively, both should have even bigger roles in the coming years. 

The same goes for Luis Diaz, who marked his sixth Reds appearance with his first trophy. How well has the Colombia international settled in since making the move to Anfield at the end of January? At £50 million ($67m), he already looks a snip.

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Diaz was Liverpool’s best attacker on the day. Direct, purposeful and with the quality to go with it, he eclipsed even the great Mo Salah and Sadio Mane. So much so, in fact, that when Klopp turned to Jota in the second half, it was Mane who made way. A sign of things to come, one wonders?

Liverpool’s fans have certainly fallen in love with Diaz. They love his speed, his energy, his willingness to get stuck in and fight for the cause. Klopp says he has never seen a player smile so much, even in training, and he loves how much Diaz puts into each and every game.

Indeed, when a member of Liverpool’s backroom staff asked him outside the Wembley dressing room if he had enjoyed himself on Sunday, Diaz’s reply said it all.

Si, pero estoy muerto,” he grinned. “Yes, but I’m dead.”

If everything goes to plan, Diaz, Jota, Elliott and Konate, as well as Trent Alexander-Arnold, who at 23 is already on his way to legendary status at Anfield, will be the ones to help bridge the gap between Klopp’s first great Liverpool side and his second.

Top teams are always evolving, always growing, and the cleverness of Liverpool’s recruitment means that as the likes of Roberto Firmino, James Milner, and maybe others, reach the end of their Reds careers, the replacements have already been sourced. 

Mind you, Sunday did provide, as if it were needed, a reminder of the value of experience.

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Milner’s contribution off the bench, at 36, showed why Klopp would quite like to have him for at least another year, while the contributions of Fabinho, Virgil van Dijk and Andy Robertson, in particular, were mammoth.

All of those three, incidentally, signed long-term contracts last summer, along with Alisson and Jordan Henderson, the captain.

Salah, the fans hope, will be next, although the noise surrounding that situation has quietened in recent weeks. Perhaps that is a good thing, who knows?

And while decisions, tough ones in some cases, are still needed over the futures of Mane, Firmino, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita, all of whom are out of contract at the end of next season, Liverpool can at least approach those challenges from a position of strength.

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They have got one trophy in the cabinet, and they are in the hunt for three more between now and May. And their squad is as strong now as it’s ever been.

It all adds up to a happy place, a happy camp, and a happy manager.

Klopp’s already painted one masterpiece on Merseyside, and the signs are that a second one is well on its way.