Simply watching an attacking player’s goals and assists can be a risky game to play.
Rarely do you get a full understanding of their playing profile, tactical understanding or role in the team.
However, for Dominik Szoboszlai, it is difficult not to sit back and bask in the entertainment.
The Hungarian is well-known for his clean ball-striking and wondrous technique — making for a highly enjoyable highlights reel — but a strong season of consistent, technically proficient performances has culminated in a move to Liverpool, which was confirmed on Sunday.https://twitter.com/RBLeipzig_EN/status/1569761263143510016
The move ends Szoboszlai’s five-year association with the Red Bull pathway. Since leaving Hungary at the age of 16 to join FC Liefering of Austria in 2016, the player has gone from Red Bull Salzburg to RB Leipzig.
And while it may seem like he has had a smooth trajectory to this point, Szoboszlai’s start to life in east Germany was tough, having arrived at Leipzig in December 2020 with an adductor injury that prevented him from making his debut until the following August.
Even during 2021-22, his first full season, Szoboszlai struggled to stamp his authority on his new side, coming off the bench more often (16) than being named in the starting XI (15) during a challenging Bundesliga season that saw Leipzig transition from RB-faithful Jesse Marsch to a more possession-based approach under Domenico Tedesco.
Nevertheless, Szoboszlai still logged six league goals and eight assists, which he matched in 2022-23 as he became a fixture in latest-boss Marco Rose’s revitalised Leipzig side — with the Hungarian capping the season off with a goal against Eintracht Frankfurt in DFB-Pokal final victory. As evidence of his robustness and importance to the side, only centre-back Willi Orban played more minutes for Leipzig than Szoboszlai in all competitions last season.
Szoboszlai’s positional versatility is a key asset.
While he has frequently played as a right midfielder in a 4-2-2-2 or a 4-2-3-1 under Rose, you wouldn’t frame him as an out-and-out winger, but rather a creative attacking midfielder who pulls wide.
Crucially, Szoboslai is equally comfortable on the left flank, as he has shown at club level and international level — regularly playing as a left-sided attacking midfielder in Marco Rossi’s 3-4-3 structure with Hungary.
Whether he is cutting in from the left or right, Szoboszlai has a penchant for playing sharp balls to runners ahead of him or unleashing one of his trademark shots from distance.
That’s right, the numbers support what your eyes have seen: only Bayern Munich’s Leroy Sane has had more shots from outside the box than Szoboslai in the 2022-23 Bundesliga season.
Just two of those strikes found the back of the net last season, and while the xG gods might argue against trying too many efforts from range, Szoboszlai is afforded a longer leash when you consider how emphatic his ball striking is.
This is exemplified by his outrageous long-range effort against Borussia Dortmund in Marco Rose’s first game as Leipzig manager (see tweet above).
From a central location with little backlift, the accuracy and power that Szoboszlai generates catches everyone by surprise.
It is a goal that gets better with every angle you view it from — as the ball swerves away from goalkeeper Alexander Meyer’s reach.
The player’s dead-ball technique is equally impressive. On international duty, a long-range free kick into the top corner against Bulgaria in March was one to add to his already growing collection.
Knowing what he is going to do is one thing, stopping it is a different story.
As The Athletic has previously reported, Szoboszlai would frequently practise nearly 200 free kicks each day in his teenage years, finding the best technique that suited him.
That dead-ball striking technique has become one of his core weapons, displaying a fairly upright body posture while still being able to generate movement on the ball.
This can also be seen in his unerring ability to drop the ball on a sixpence with consummate ease when taking a corner — a technique that needs to be seen in real time to be truly appreciated.
While set-piece specialism has become synonymous with Szoboszlai, do not underestimate his creative output in open play.
Overall, the Hungarian’s 2.6 chances created per 90 was the ninth-highest among all players in the Bundesliga last season. You might assume that a healthy volume of that creativity would be unfairly padded by set pieces, but Szoboszlai’s 1.7 open-play chances created per 90 was still among the best in Germany — good enough for the 11th highest in the league.
However, it is not just the final pass or the final shot where Szoboszlai steps up, but his overall contribution towards his side’s attacking sequences.
Looking at all shot-creating actions — which are the two offensive actions directly leading to a shot, such as passes, take-ons and drawing fouls — Szoboszlai’s 5.5 per 90 is the highest across the Leipzig squad.
Breaking this down across his actions, you can see how much he is a threat both in open play and from dead-ball situations.
Considering his position on the right flank, crosses from wide were understandably a key part of Szoboszlai’s chance creation last season.
However, rather than a lofted or whipped ball into the penalty area every time, the Hungarian is intelligent in disguising his passes — often taking the pace off the ball and playing it lower to deceive the opposition.
Take this example against Augsburg. As Szoboszlai arrives onto the ball, team-mate Andre Silva is at the back post. With two defenders between man and ball, a chipped pass might look like the best option (yellow dotted line) but, instead, Szoboszlai elects to play the ball across the turf (white line) into space…
… for Silva to convert unmarked at the back post, with Augsburg’s defenders wrong-footed by the disguised pass.
Kevin De Bruyne-esque, you might say.
A very similar example can be seen against Teutonia Ottensen, where a lofted ball might look the most obvious route from Szoboszlai to Silva (yellow dotted line). Instead, a square ball to Silva (white line) gives his team-mate a yard of space with the defenders dropping towards their goal line…
… allowing him to finish well.
Szoboszlai’s technical ability is unquestionable, but having the intelligence to select the best option and make the right decisions in key moments is what sets the best players apart.
So, what about the physical side?
While nominally a wide player, Szoboszlai is unlikely to burst away from his opponent in a one-v-one situation. Speed over short distances is not his game, but his capacity to hit top gear is often underestimated by his opponents.
Per Bundesliga’s metrics, powered by AWS, Szoboszlai’s top speed of 35.2 kmh (21.9mph) places him as the 31st-highest among all players in the Bundesliga — not bad at all when you consider the 506-strong sample across Germany’s top division.
That physical capacity can be deceiving. While he might not be profiled as an all-action midfielder compared with other wide players in Europe, no Leipzig team-mate registered more intensive runs than Szoboszlai’s 2,069 in the Bundesliga last season. In fact, his 863 sprints were the seventh-highest total of any Bundesliga player last season.
Numbers like these should give Szoboszlai confidence in his capacity to make the transition to the Premier League a smooth one.
It is worth noting that there has been a healthy smattering of players moving from Germany to England who have not quite met the demands set at their previous clubs — Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Jadon Sancho and Naby Keita, to name a few — but the technical and physical profile of Szoboszlai suggests that risk would likely be blunted.
Finally, the tactical side.
While defensive deficiencies were flagged earlier on in his career, Szoboszlai showed a marked improvement in his game in and out of possession last season.
Playing within a Red Bull system synonymous with highly intense, transitional play, Liverpool will be confident that Szoboszlai can also make light work of the tactical adaptation within a Jürgen Klopp system.
Only Bayern Munich logged a more intense press than Leipzig’s PPDA of 11.1 demonstrated last season, with Die Roten also the only side to register more direct attacks — as a proxy of counter-attacking — than Leipzig’s 77 in 2022-23.
Szoboszlai was key to Rose’s strong transition set-up — staying high when Leipzig lost possession in order to regain the ball in lucrative areas.
An example of this is shown against Stuttgart, encapsulating everything that Szoboszlai was about last season.
As midfielder Amadou Haidara plays a lofted ball into the box, Szoboszlai is on the half turn — ready to drift forward and pick up any second ball that might land to him.
As the ball is cleared, Leipzig have four players in an attacking position to pounce.
The ball is headed to Silva on the edge of the area…
… who cushions his header to Szoboszlai…
… to bring down and arrow his volley into the bottom corner with the sort of technical proficiency you expect from him.
Leipzig’s 46 shot-ending high turnovers were also the second-highest tally in Germany last season. So, from an offensive and defensive perspective, Szoboszlai’s narrow position from the right could be a glimpse into the manner in which Liverpool would like him to play.
After a tactical switch to a three-box-three structure in possession in the final part of last season, Liverpool’s midfield consisted of two holding No 6s in their build-up — Fabinho and the inverting Trent Alexander-Arnold — plus two advanced No 8s (or 10s) who would support the attack.
Following the signing of versatile midfielder Alexis Mac Allister from Brighton, could Szoboszlai be earmarked for the right-sided No 10 position in Klopp’s new system?
The Hungarian is already adept at playing in (a version of) a box midfield within Leipzig’s typical 4-2-2-2 set-up, while his long-range shooting could be a useful weapon against deeper blocks sitting off against Liverpool; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has only recently left the club, was known to have been encouraged by Liverpool staff to shoot from distance due to his own powerful technique.
Liverpool’s new signing looks ready to make another step up in his career after a highly impressive campaign in Germany.https://theathletic.com/4655594/2023/06/30/dominik-szoboszlai-the-versatile-technician-who-could-be-perfect-for-liverpools-new-system/