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Remember the name! Elliott shines brightly as Liverpool young guns make their mark

9:47 PM WAT 25/09/2019
Harvey Elliott, Liverpool
The 16-year-old became the youngest player ever to start a match for the Reds on Wednesday night and impressed in a 2-0 Carabao Cup win over MK Dons

Harvey Elliott – remember the name.

On a night when Liverpool’s kids got their chance to shine, it was the youngest of all who sparkled. 

For the first time in three years the Reds are into the fourth round of the League Cup, their passage secured courtesy of this 2-0 win at League One outfit MK Dons. They will host Arsenal for a place in the quarter-finals.

Vindication for Jurgen Klopp, who made 11 changes to his line-up and selected a team with an average age of under 24. There were three debutants in the starting XI, and another two were used from the bench.

Elliott was very much the baby of the side. At 16 years and 174 days, he became the youngest player to ever start a competitive game for Liverpool, and the second youngest to feature at all.

What were you doing at 16? Chances are, it wasn’t as impressive as this – and hopefully it wasn’t as public. Elliott may dress like a teenager and talk like a teenager, but he doesn’t play like one.

Pep Lijnders, Liverpool’s assistant manager, revealed on Tuesday that the youngster had immediately impressed staff following his summer move from Fulham, and it is easy to see why. Even taking the opposition into account, this was some first impression he left on the Reds senior team.

A year to the day since his professional debut, another Carabao Cup tie for Fulham at Millwall, Elliott was in the limelight once more.

It is easy for young players, especially those who have been hyped and exposed to first-team football from an early age, to treat these games like an X-Factor audition, a chance to show each and every skill they possess, to try the difficult and the spectacular. 

Liverpool, though, are looking to breed a different kind of footballer; ones who can bring their individual talent into a strict team environment, who will do the simple things as well and as often as the flashy, and who possess the hunger and the character to learn and improve day after day.

How encouraging, then, for Jurgen Klopp to witness such a mature performance from his team.

James Milner, the senior citizen at 33, was the man who set them on their way – albeit with plenty of help from MK Dons goalkeeper Simon Moore – but while he shone, and while there were encouraging minutes for the likes of Joe Gomez, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, it was the young guns who caught the eye most.

Ki-Jana Hoever, the 17-year-old defender, grabbed their second goal after half-time to send them through to round four.

Elliott, one of three Liverpool debutants, started in his natural position on the right of the Reds attack, alongside Rhian Brewster, 19, and Curtis Jones, 18. 

His early touches were assured and slick. One pass threatened to get Brewster away only for the striker to slip on the heavily-watered surface.

Elliott was born in April 2003, a full six months after Milner had made his own professional debut for Leeds. Yet here they were, dad and lad, combining in the 12th minute for what should have been the teenager’s first senior goal. 

Milner did the hard bit, jinking and turning and sending over a low cross which just needed burying. Elliott was perfectly placed to do so, but smashed his close-range effort against the bar with the goal gaping.

Would that affect his confidence? Not a bit of it. A few minutes later he was returning the favour, jinking away from his man on the right and delivering a dream of a cross which Milner could only head wide at the far post.

In the second half, where he again stood out, he would rattle the woodwork again, this time with his right foot after a lovely nutmeg to open up the space for the shot.

There is something wonderful about watching young players express themselves, free from pressure and without the cynicism which comes with experience. Elliott buzzed, his touch immaculate and his ability to connect with team-mates, young and old, impressive.

He wasn't alone. Jones, playing from the left, showed his own development with a series of simple passes and smart turns. He's added nous to his talent in recent months. What a player he could become.

Hoever, the fourth-youngest player in Liverpool history, became the fourth-youngest goalscorer in the second half with a towering back-post header. The Dutchman, who played at right-back, is another gem.

Brewster was quiet generally but goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher, the third debutant in the starting line-up, had a night to remember, making two standout saves to ensure he began senior life with a clean sheet.

All in all, a night to remember. For Klopp and for Lijnders, for the 6,692 Liverpudlians who made the midweek trip to Buckinghamshire, and for the record crowd from MK Dons.

Most of all, for those young players. For Elliott and Co. this was the biggest night of their lives.

But on this evidence, there will be more to come.