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Quick Hits: Liverpool sign Dominik Szoboszlai
How will he fit into Klopp's side?
Stats are from FBRef unless stated otherwise.
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So Liverpool have their second signing of the summer, and he’s not quite what I expected.
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Make no mistake, Dominik Szoboszlai is an attacking midfielder. His 27.6 touches in the final third per 90 were more than any Liverpool midfielder last season. “[I can play] attacking midfielder, as a No. 10, can play on both 10s, left and right, on the sides also”, Szoboszlai explained. If Liverpool fans wanted a solid midfielder to keep things ticking over, he is not that. He’s a forward thinker who will keep this team on the front foot.
And he’s been impressive at it. No player in the Bundesliga had more shot-creating actions per 90 than Szoboszlai’s 5.52, though he falls down to sixth on the list if you strip out set pieces. His strong creative threat isn’t quite matched in terms of scoring himself. 61% of his shots are taken outside the box (as per WhoScored), making him more than a little scattergun. He’s been praised for his shooting ability but, when including European games FBRef tracks as well as the Bundesliga, he’s scored a pretty normal 16 non-penalty goals from 15.1 expected. He’s not the finished article at age 22, but if he wants to take his game to the next level, he needs to work on better decision-making than continually shooting from range.
Szoboszlai has been in the Red Bull system since he was 16, so you know he’s been properly coached on how to press. He backs this up with a high work rate, with The Analyst explaining that Szoboszlai had the 11th most sprints per 90 last season in the Bundesliga. He wants to win the ball high up the pitch and will put in the effort to do it.
So how does that fit into Liverpool? I think it’s very clear by now that Jürgen Klopp is doubling down on the tactical tweaks he made towards the end of the season. That means Trent Alexander-Arnold moving into a deeper central midfield role next to Fabinho when Liverpool have the ball, while Andy Robertson stays deeper with the centre backs to form a back three. The two number eights can then push up and provide more threat in the box to support the striker, while the wingers stay wider than they have done in the past. It starts as a 4-3-3 but becomes a 3-2-2-3.
If Alexis Mac Allister was signed to be the left-sided “free eight” then Szoboszlai will be his equivalent on the right. Don’t take the graphic above to be absolutely Liverpool’s first-choice lineup next season; it’s just an example of what they might do on a given week. If the 3-2 shape at the back is supposed to provide defensive stability, then the front five are expected to press high and defend from the front. Szoboszlai will start in that right half-space, his most natural position. But I wonder if we’ll also see some more rotations.
The biggest loser in this formation is Mohamed Salah. The system needs the wingers to stay wide, while his game is all about cutting inside on his left foot and getting into the box. So I suspect we might see Salah and Szoboszlai swap at times, with the Hungarian drifting out to the right flank to make space for the Egyptian to do damage in the box. Szoboszlai is comfortable moving out into those wide areas, as he has done in RB Leipzig’s weird 4-2-2-2 formation with two number tens who are also sort of wingers. This seems the clear role where he can fit into the side and help others.
£60 million is not a small chunk of change, especially when the release clause demands upfront payment. The better news is on wages. “While [Mason] Mount is understood to be commanding around £250k a week at United”, Chris Bascombe reports, Szoboszlai will be earning less than half that salary. Mount’s £250k a week works out at £13 million per year, so let’s say Szoboszlai is getting slightly less than half at £6m. Along with Szoboszlai and Mount, Arsenal and Tottenham have signed similar players this summer in Kai Havertz and James Maddison. Based on reporting out there, this is what I think each player will cost those clubs over a five-year contract, including both transfer fee and wages. Take these numbers with a pinch of salt, because we’ll never know the reality. Because the add-ons for the Maddison deal haven’t been disclosed, I took only the guaranteed transfer fee.
It doesn’t look a bad deal in those terms. There is the perennial “Bundesliga tax” risk, which I do have concerns over, but I think the risk is a bit smaller for more physically dominant players. Szoboszlai is 6’1 (1.86m), physically strong, fast and energetic. I don’t think there are quite the concerns someone like Jadon Sancho’s had dealing with the Premier League physically, but it’s still part of the risk.
I’m not quite in love with this deal, but it ticks a lot of boxes. At 22 years old, he still has time to improve as a player and really show how good he can become. I’m broadly in favour of this one.