At the final whistle, Harvey Elliott covered his face with his shirt.
A few seconds later, he handed it to a young fan in the front row of the away end. An early Christmas present for a delighted young supporter.
Nobody had expected Liverpool to get anything down at Aston Villa, but their 5-0 defeat still stung. For a competitor as fierce as the 16-year-old, it was a disappointing end to a remarkable night.
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The Reds, of course, had fielded the youngest, most inexperienced side in their history for this Carabao Cup tie.
With Jurgen Klopp and his senior squad watching on TV in Doha, some 4,000 miles away, the team which started at Villa Park had an average age of just 19 years and 183 days. In the 18-man squad, 14 were teenagers.
They had been told to be brave, to believe in themselves, to stick together and play “like a Liverpool team.” Despite the scoreline, which flattered a far more experienced Villa side, they could be proud of their performance.
Elliott, in particular, stood out. One of only two players in the Reds team to have featured in a Premier League game – he made two substitute appearances for Fulham last season, while Pedro Chirivella played once back in 2016 – the Surrey-born winger showed exactly why so many believe he could go on to become a first-team regular at Anfield.
There is something special about watching a young player perform with such confidence and freedom. Elliott was the youngest player on the pitch – he doesn’t turn 17 until April – but you’d never have guessed it. “He was a constant threat,” said Critchley.
Neil Taylor would certainly agree. The Villa left-back, a Welsh international with close to 400 senior games under his belt, was tormented throughout.
On another day, Elliott might have had a couple of goals or a couple of assists.
Only a fine save from Orjan Nyland, the Villa keeper, denied him in the first half, while he set up chances for Isaac Christie-Davies, Herbie Kane and substitute Leighton Clarkson, all of them with smart, imaginative passes around the penalty area. His passing, as well as his adhesive first touch, is what stands out the most at this stage.
Down the right-hand side, with the impressive Dutch defender Ki-Jana Hoever behind him, Liverpool showed so much promise.
Hoever, a 17-year-old who made his senior debut as a centre-back at Wolves in the FA Cup back in January, looks another mega prospect, tidy in possession, athletically strong and astute defensively. The former Ajax man flew to Doha from Birmingham on Wednesday to provide cover for Klopp’s senior squad.
Elliott didn’t, travelling back to Merseyside on the team bus instead. He had finished the game with a slight knock, and may miss Friday’s game with PSG in the Premier League International Cup as a result.
His first-team chances, though, will come. “He’s not too far away,” said Critchley on Tuesday. “He trains with them on a regular basis, and the manager and staff think a lot of him.”
Elliott has certainly made a positive impression since his summer switch from Fulham.
Staff speak highly of his work ethic and personality. Whether he is with Klopp’s first team, or down at Kirkby with the Academy sides, there is a humility and a willingness to listen and learn. He trains well, mixes well and, more often than not, plays well too.
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A two-week ban earlier in the season, after an ill-advised Snapchat video emerged, was a sharp, public lesson for the youngster. Elliott dealt with the issue well; he held his hands up, took on board the advice of senior figures and vowed not make the same mistake again. He can be forgiven his error.
Off the field, he has struck up a friendship with Curtis Jones, the 19-year-old Scouser who has been part of the senior squad this season. Those two are seen, along with Hoever and Rhian Brewster, as the club’s brightest prospects.
“Little bro” is Jones’ nickname for Elliott, despite the pair having a minor falling out over a penalty in a recent UEFA Youth League game against Napoli. No issue there; the spat was done and dusted within seconds.
Elliott featured in all six of Liverpool’s Youth League ties this season, scoring in the win over Salzburg on matchday six, and staff have been impressed by how he has handled himself when ‘dropping down’ to under-19 level having trained with the first team.
His first act upon arrival with the squad is to visit the staff table and shake hands with each member of the coaching and backroom team – a seemingly minor gesture that has nonetheless gone down well. Manners and respect are big things to Critchley, Barry Lewtas and Alex Inglethorpe.
All in all, then, it has been a positive start to his Reds career. As a boyhood Liverpudlian, this was Elliott’s dream move. And so far, it’s working out pretty nicely.
We’ll be seeing much more of him in the coming months and years.