The transfer rumour mill is well and truly in motion. According to Tom Hopkinson of The Mirror and other sources, Watford are considering making an approach for 18-year-old Harvey Elliott on a season-long loan deal from Liverpool. As exciting as this rumoured transfer may seem for Watford, the deal is not as straightforward as one may think.
Harvey Elliott Impressing at 18 Years Old
Elliott first broke onto the top-flight scene when he became the all-time youngest Premier League player as a result of his substitute appearance for Fulham against Wolves in the May of 2019. Elliott debuted at just 16 years and 30 days old, a record that is unlikely to be broken for many years. His introduction to first-team football at such a young age was justified. For Fulham’s Under-18 team, he scored five goals and provided three assists in 12 appearances, as a 15-year-old, in the 2018/19 season.
In the summer of 2019, Elliott made a £1.2 million move to Liverpool (with add-ons making it a possibility for the fee to be many times greater than the initial payment). He has since made nine appearances for Liverpool’s senior team, assisting once in a Carabao Cup clash against Lincoln City. Despite frequently traveling with Liverpool’s first team and impressing in the UEFA Youth League with goal contributions in six of his seven matches, it became clear a temporary move away is what would be best for Elliott’s development. Blackburn came calling, and the Reds proved to be shrewd in agreeing to the season-long deal.
In 42 appearances for Blackburn, Elliott scored 7 goals and set up 11 more. In an attacking-minded side containing the impressive Adam Armstrong, Elliott did indeed arrive with the expectation that he would not be the star man. Thus, there was added pressure on him to perform well, as if he fared poorly in a Championship side with Armstrong spearheading the attack, then Elliott would likely have to spend a couple of more seasons on loan in the lower tiers before a true top-flight breakthrough.
On many occasions, Elliott showed why Liverpool were willing to roll the dice to sign him. As noteworthy as his 11 assists were (the third-most in the Championship), his goalscoring record sticks out when it comes to analyzing Expected Statistics. Elliott had an Expected Goal statistic of 3.75, meaning he scored nearly double the number of goals as he was predicted to. His Expected Assists statistic was 7.82, meaning his teammates helped Elliott provide more assists than was predicted (in other words, statistically, Elliott’s teammates were scoring more than expected from chances Elliott created). Despite shining on the goal-providing front regardless of what his Expected Assists statistic says, statistically speaking, his overperformance in the goalscoring front is more remarkable. Elliott is ready for a top-flight move, but should the Hornets sign the talented winger?
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Is Signing the Winger Necessary?
Ismaila Sarr: it is safe to say nearly all Watford fans have nothing but the highest of praises for the Club’s star right-winger. The Hornets’ record signing shrugged off interest from some of the largest clubs in the country to help Watford in their quest for promotion. Now that the Hornets are back in the Premier League, the Club should be able to keep hold of the player who scored five goals and provided four assists in his first Premier League season a couple of campaigns ago.
Not much explanation is needed: Sarr is one of Watford’s most important players and has the right-wing spot reserved for him. That is where the complication with a potential Harvey Elliott transfer comes in, as Elliott thrives on the right wing too. If Watford were to move Sarr, arguably their best player, into an unnatural position to cater to a loanee’s needs, then the coaching staff and hierarchy at Vicarage Road would be making a grave mistake.
So, if Elliott were to arrive on loan, he would likely be deployed as a left-winger, as Liverpool would never accept a loan where Elliott’s main role is to be Sarr’s understudy. On the left wing, Watford would benefit from reinforcements of Elliott’s caliber. With Ken Sema’s Premier League readiness still to be determined, a left-wing arrival would not be a big shock and is advisable. Even with Philip Zinckernagel capable of playing on the left and Joao Pedro potentially adapting to the wide role, the hierarchy knows certainties in their depth – and minimizing the number of makeshift players starting consistently – is pivotal in maintaining Premier League status.
Important to note is Elliott is left-footed, meaning he could feasibly make the switch from the right wing to the left. He even played five matches – scoring one goal and providing two assists – as a left-winger last season. Unfortunately, this does not distinguish Elliott as a player who provides something different on the left wing than the others currently on the squad could. Zinckernagel, a right-winger by trade, is as capable of performing as a makeshift left-winger as Elliott. If anything, Zinckernagel would slot in with more ease out of position right away due to his experience and proven adaptability. Pedro equally has what it takes to eventually break in as an effective left-winger if new arrivals (such as, potentially, Rafael Santos Borre) temporarily push the 19-year-old out of the first-choice center-forward conversation. And, of course, Sema is already a true left-winger. Even if Elliott were to unexpectedly arrive as an understudy to Sarr, he might not even be the first one in line behind the former Rennes player, as Zinckernagel likely has the second-choice right-wing role as his own.
Simply put, Watford do not need another right-winger unless the transfer market shuffles unexpected pieces. The left wing, on the other hand, may see a new face come through the door (in addition to already-signed Kwadwo Baah). With Elliott not naturally a left-winger and Liverpool likely to be reluctant to loan him to a team that cannot play him to his strengths, the transfer does not make the most sense.
If Liverpool offer Elliott to Watford on loan, then the Hornets should accept Elliott’s services on the grounds that he is a fantastic player with lots of potential and a loan is low risk. From Elliott and Liverpool’s standpoint, however, the move poses too much of a risk for there to be stagnation to the youngster’s growth. For now, the Hornets cannot offer another right-winger considerable playing time. Bringing in Elliott would admittedly be decent business, though doing so is far from imperative.