In what has become their trademark style, Liverpool go from rumour to done deal in a hurry, triggering the €70M release clause of RB Leipzig’s 22-year-old Hungarian star Dominik Szoboszlai less than 72 hours after anyone first heard they might be interested.
That fee makes the attacking midfielder the club’s third most expensive signing of all time, and the pressure to get it right is on, no less so following the club’s precipitous drop in performance last season. Here, then, we dig into exactly what the Reds’ new man brings to the team and how we see him improving Jürgen Klopp’s Merseysiders in 2023-24.
Attacking Midfielder | RB Leipzig/Hungary
DOB: 25/10/00 (22) | Height: 6’1” (185cm)
2022/23: 46 appearances (3,710 min) | 10g/13a
Strengths: The thing that stands out immediately when watching Szoboszlai play is his ball striking. Whether swinging in a set-piece, pinging a through ball, or belting one on goal from 20 yards out, the Hungarian excels at making clean, powerful contact with the ball and making it do what he wants. His long range passing is exceptional, and only two midfielders—Emre Can and Jude Bellingham—completed more long passes at a higher success rate than the Hungarian last season.
This ability has made Szoboszlai a natural pick at set pieces for both club and country, and he took nearly twice as many free kicks and corners as the second man up at Leipzig last season. He’s unlikely to supplant Trent Alexander-Arnold as first-choice set-piece taker at Liverpool, but his ability to effortlessly put tremendous pace on the ball, and to generate flat or knuckled trajectories, instantly makes him an exciting secondary or situational option.
Do not interpret this as an indication the 22-year old is some set-piece merchant who relies entirely on those for his chance creation, however, as Szoboszlai ranked fourth in the Bundesliga last year for chances created from open play, and fifth for open-play chance involvements—either taking or creating the shot—bumping shoulders with the likes of Leroy Sané, Serge Gnabry, and Jamal Musiala, and ahead of Jude Bellingham. Allowing for set-pieces, he led the Bundesliga charts in shot-creating actions per 90 minutes.
Typically, then, what the Hungarian prefers to do is receive the ball between the lines in the wide areas, drive forward and into the half-space, and to then look for a killer pass—he was fourth in the Bundesliga for successful through balls per 90—or room for a long-range shot, with a remarkably even distribution between the two. His fundamental technical ability is sublime, and he excels at receiving the ball under pressure, then dropping the shoulder or flicking the ball in some surprising manner or other to set up a one-two or open up space for himself.
He can beat a man as well, using misdirection, a tremendous first step, and excellent close control to glide past opponents, and while he was only 23rd in the Bundesliga for successful dribbles last year, his 1.97 per 90 led Leipzig and would’ve have put him second on the Liverpool squad behind only Luis Díaz.
Having been part of the Red Bull system since arriving at Lieferling in 2016, Szoboszlai has played exclusively under Red Bull managers for the better part of a decade, and as such is well-versed in the demands of defending from the front in a high-press system. His opportunistic instincts and tremendous engine make him a genuine problem for defenders, and the Hungarian ranked sixth in the Bundesliga for winning the ball in the attacking third last season, as well as 11th for number of sprints made per 90 minutes.
These Red Bull managers have used Szoboszlai in a number of roles across a plethora of formations as well, and while he spent the entirety of last season cutting in from the right wing, in 21/22 he played as a Coutinho-esque a left winger coming inside. At Salzburg, he also featured as a central ten in certain systems. This versatility will come in handy as Jürgen Klopp figures out which system he will be looking to employ most of the time next season, or if the team looks to switch between set-ups from game to game.
Finally, Dominik Szoboszlai has all the makings of a mentality monster™. The clip of him brushing off Neymar’s attempted trash talk as he scored the last-minute penalty winner against PSG last season will undoubtedly have reached you at this point, but it’s emblematic of the way Szoboszlai faces challenges. He is 14/15 on penalties in his career—fun fact, Liverpool’s secondary penalty takers, Szoboszlai, Fabinho, Darwin Núnez and Alexis Mac Allister, now have a combined career penalty record of 59/62—scored the goal to send Hungary to the Euros with an injury time solo effort against Iceland at 20, and was named captain of the national team at 22.
He’s been in the spotlight for a long time despite his tender years, and possesses the appropriate balance of ambition, determination, and easy confidence stars are made of. He is, above all, ready for this.
Question Marks: There aren’t that many, to be honest with you.
Szoboszlai is a tremendously gifted footballer with two full seasons of excellent performances at an elite club in a top five league under his belt. Any questions about his abilities as a footballer are minor at this point. This writer would like to see him move into the box with more regularity to improve his average chance quality and that’s honestly about it.
What will be interesting to see, however, is how the Hungarian fits into the team. Not the squad—he’s an ambitious young man with no real character questions who speaks perfect English and German—but the team. Where does he fit?
While it seems natural to assume Szoboszlai will share minutes with Harvey Elliott at the most advanced eight position—as Hendo sees out his career deeper on the field—he hasn’t actually played central midfield before. At Salzburg, Leipzig, and with Hungary, he has featured as a winger or a ten, one of the three most advanced players on the team, carrying a license to get forward with abandon.
His interpretation of the right winger role is drastically different from Mohamed Salah, the left wing is overcrowded as it is, and Cody Gakpo has largely been first choice at both the false nine—where this writer has been petitioning for Szoboszlai to feature with Leipzig for about 18 months—and the ten, depending on which system Klopp employs, so midfield is probably the answer, but while Szoboszlai’s size and engine should allow him to compete there, his lack of experience in the position will likely involve some growing pains.
Secondly, one wonders what this means for Harvey Elliott. Szoboszlai essentially represents a right-footed version of what Harvey does, and a version who is a year or two ahead of the Englishman in his development. With the two operating in so many of the same spaces and doing so many of the same things, and with only a few years separating the two, it will be interesting to see how their playing time and responsibilities shake out over the next few seasons.
Summary: The Reds have delivered a gut punch to the FSG Out crowd, splurging on one of Europe’s most exciting attacking talents as Jürgen Klopp’s rebuild begins to take serious shape. Dominik Szoboszlai is an outstanding player, an excellent stylistic fit, and one who is both ready to contribute right now, and looks set to be a star in the coming decade.