Jurgen Klopp hailed Harvey Elliott as a “fearless boy” and “great footballer” after he marked his return from a long-term injury with his first goal for Liverpool in their 3-1 FA Cup win over Cardiff.
Elliott, who was making his comeback after suffering a dislocated ankle in September, struck Liverpool’s third goal of the afternoon at Anfield when he expertly rifled home from an Andrew Robertson cross after coming off the bench in the second half.
The 18-year-old described the goal – which helped set up a fifth-round tie at home to Norwich for Liverpool – as a moment he will “cherish forever” after the game, while Klopp lauded the attitude he displayed during his rehabilitation.
“He was unlucky with the injury but then lucky with the whole process afterwards,” the Liverpool manager told ITV.
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“Everything has gone well. He did an incredible job and the medical department did an incredible job.
“He was patient coming back and he’s still a fearless boy and a great footballer. There are not a lot of good things when you get an injury like that, but when you are that young, you deal with it better.
“Getting this goal was a really touching moment.”
Speaking in his press conference, Klopp described Elliott’s return as a “fairy tale” and added: “Probably his biggest talent is how ready mentally he is out there. He is a kid, yes, but on the pitch not so much.
“When he got the injury, the next day or two days later I saw him at the training ground and I was in a worse mood than he was.
“He was like, ‘Come on boss, head up, I will be back’. He is an exceptional talent in a lot of departments.”
Elliott told ITV: “It’s hard to put into words at the moment. It’s what I’ve been put into the team to do – to score and assist. Thankfully, it’s come today in front of the fans after a long time out.
“It’s my job, and I just have to keep doing it. It’s a moment that for myself and for my family we will cherish forever.”
On his goal, he said: “It wasn’t too bad. Watching Diogo [Jota] next to me, I’ve been getting tips off him!”
The former Fulham youngster also used his post-match interview to thank club physio Joe Lewis for his role in helping him through the long months of rehabilitation.
“He’s one of the physios who took me in during the early hours of the morning and we didn’t finish until late at night. He made me strong again.
“A big shout out to all of my friends and family as well, especially my mum and dad. They’ve supported me throughout. A massive thanks to the fans who gave me all the love.
“The injury is behind me now and I’m back.”
Diaz gets ‘welcome to England’
Elliott was not the only player to make a positive impact for Liverpool from the bench.
January signing Luis Diaz, who was introduced at the same time as Elliott, set up the second goal after winning possession near the byline and producing a cut-back which missed Diogo Jota, the scorer of Liverpool’s opener, and fell to Takumi Minamino.
Diaz will remember his debut fondly but there was a worrying moment in the closing stages of the game when he went to ground clutching his knee following an aerial challenge with Cardiff’s Aden Flint.
Replays showed the defender’s boot had come down on Diaz, leaving him a cut on his knee, but he was able to continue after receiving treatment and Klopp was relieved the bruising introduction to English football did not leave him with a more serious injury.
“The goal he set up for Taki was absolutely incredible: high press, I love it, and then Taki finished it off,” said Klopp.
“Then then the long ball and the challenge and he goes down holding his knee and we were all shocked. It was a scary moment.
“I looked on the screen and saw everything was fine when he came down but saw the big fella from Cardiff standing on his knee.
“It’s red and a little bit open so now he has his first assist and his first little scar.
“I don’t think it will be serious. [On Monday] maybe he feels it more, but nothing serious.
“Everyone in the dressing room said, ‘Welcome to England’,” Klopp added to ITV. “That will be a scar in the end from his first game, but it’s all good.”
Keane tells Reds to hurry on Salah
Liverpool were once again without Mohamed Salah due to his Africa Cup of Nations commitments and while the Egyptian may return in time to face Leicester in the Premier League on Thursday, his long-term future remains unclear.
Salah’s contract is due to expire at the end of next season and, with negotiations between Liverpool and the Egyptian yet to yield an agreement, Sky Sports pundit Roy Keane insisted the club must ramp up their efforts to tie him to a new deal.
“He’s 29 but the modern players are machines,” Keane said on ITV. “I don’t think his age is an issue.
“From Liverpool’s point of view, it’s a business, so they’ve got to try and negotiate, but you’ve got to get him signed up. He’s one of the greatest players in the world and they’ve got to get it done.
“If it goes into next season, you really start to worry, so try and get it done and dusted.
Liverpool might not have a choice – it’s up to the player. He’s in charge. He said he’s happy here but he’s going to try to negotiate the best deal.
“He’s going to get a great deal wherever he is, so it might not be about the money. It might be about wanting a new experience, but he’s said it a number of times that he’s happy here.
“Liverpool have got to try and get him signed up as you can’t let players like that just walk through the door, particularly on a free.”
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