Blackburn Rovers manager Tony Mowbray has revealed that he deployed Harvey Elliot in an unfamiliar false nine role on Saturday, in order to take advantage of the lack of pace in the Queens Park Rangers defence.
Unfortunately for Rovers, a resurgent Queens Park Rangers claimed all three points at Loftus Road in a 1-0 victory courtesy of a close-range Yoann Barbet effort. In the reverse fixture in November, the Lancashire club ran out 3-1 winners with key figure Adam Armstrong scoring twice and threatening the Hoops defence throughout.
That day, Armstrong was charged with targeting central-defender Robert Dickie due to his shortage of speed in comparison to the rest of the backline.
This could have contributed to the choice to switch Elliot into a central-striking berth on Saturday, whilst Armstrong was moved out to the left hand-side up against Dickie who was deployed on the right-hand side of a back three for the Londoners.
Speaking to the Lancashire Telegraph, Mowbray confirmed this reasoning, stating:
“You saw the formation, it’s my prerogative to pick a team and you play strengths against perceived weaknesses.
“Dickie is a very good footballer yet he can’t run like Armstrong can so you put speed against no speed and I think we damaged them first half, got into some great areas but didn’t take the chances.
“That’s what football is. You wouldn’t put your fastest striker against their fastest defender, you put him against where their slowest defender is, that’s football, and if you have to move him a little bit to do that then that’s what you do.”
Evidently, the former Newcastle frontman’s competency in terms of acceleration can stretch any rear-guard in the Sky Bet Championship when he is given the space to manoeuvre. However, the decision to use inexperienced Elliot through the middle ahead of Armstrong undoubtedly restricted Blackburn Rovers ability to keep the ball in higher areas of the pitch.
Despite being diminutive in stature, Armstrong retains an element of physicality to his play and can regularly fend off his marker to retain possession for his side. Conversely, 17-year-old Elliot may still be developing this aspect of his game. Although he is mercurially talented on the ball, the Liverpool loanee struggled to escape the attention of the Queens Park Rangers back three and could need an adaptation period is he is to be utilised as a false-nine moving forward.