From the new Gerrard to the new Naby Keita - Liverpool coach Arne Slot MUST unlock £60m Dominik Szoboszlai

It really was a season of two halves for Dominik Szoboszlai during his debut campaign with Liverpool. 

The 23-year-old signed from RB Leipzig last summer in a deal believed in the region of £60 million, making him the fourth most expensive player in the club’s history

He started well too, impressing with his high energy, work rate and use of the ball. The Hungary international had the physical presence to bully players and then the quality in possession to embarrass opponents. 

The perfect blend for a middle-third player. 

It felt as though Liverpool had finally replaced Steven Gerrard. The former Liverpool skipper was lauded for his ability on the ball but what often went under the radar was how dominant he was without it. He was a deceptively powerful runner and few could get the better of him in a one-on-one duel due to his sheer tenacity. Szoboszlai, to the surprise of many, had that about him. 

The new No8 was even tasked with playing in a double pivot for the Reds early on in his Anfield career and, in truth, he didn’t stick out like a sore thumb in that more withdrawn role. 

It didn’t exactly make the most of his strengths but he didn’t look like an attacking player being deployed in a defensive role. He was diligent in his defensive play. The rumoured transfer fee looked like a bargain in those early stages. 

Injury derails Szoboszlai season

After the turn of the year, however, an injury derailed his season. He was forced to miss the best part of two months due to hamstring issues. Upon his return, he was used sparingly by Jurgen Klopp. From March onwards, he completed 90 minutes on just two occasions and he appeared in 45 minutes or more in just five of the final 10 games of the season. 

Dominik Szoboszlai

Liverpool v Arsenal - Premier League - Anfield Liverpool s Dominik Szoboszlai rues a missed chance during the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool. Picture date: Saturday December 23, 2023. EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or live services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxUKxIRL Copyright: xPeterxByrnex 74941662

Following his goal in the 4-1 win over Chelsea in late January, Szoboszlai failed to score in the Premier League for the remainder of the campaign. He finished the season with three goals and two assists in the English top flight across 2,110 minutes. He chipped in with two goals and an assist in the Europa League. It was quite the dropoff from the six goals and eight assists he racked up for RB Leipzig in his final season in the Bundesliga. 

But it was always going to be impossible for him to match the numbers he posted for Die Roten Bullen. While in Germany, he was deployed as an attacker and this allowed him the freedom to influence things in the final third a lot more. 

Klopp tweaks Szoboszlai's game

For Liverpool, he was expected to do more work in the build-up, as well as being tasked with more defensive responsibilities. 

His Expected Goals per 90 average was down last season despite averaging more shots for the Reds. This points to him taking lower-value efforts, likely because he’s no longer operating in the final phase quite as often. The 23-year-old, due to taking more efforts from range, saw a decline in shot accuracy. For RB Leipzig, it was 48% whereas last season it was down at 25%. 

Szoboszlai had a higher pass success rate (87%) and was attempting more passes for the Reds. This points to him being safer in possession, doesn’t it? More passes and a higher success rate. He’s taking fewer risks and this limits the creative side of his game. He’s also averaging fewer dribbles and had a lower Expected Assists per 90 average. And this tallies up with him making fewer passes into the box, attempting fewer crosses and being responsible for fewer shot-creating actions. 

Klopp didn’t nullify the Hungary skipper, but he did alter his game so that he was never truly playing to his strengths. Yet the versatile midfielder was being judged on his output, with many comparing it to what he was posting during his time in Germany. 

Szoboszlai could suffer Keita fate

There was a sense of deja vu in all of this.

Naby Keita

Football - 2022 / 2023 Emirates FA Cup - Round Three - Replay - Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Liverpool - Molineux - Tuesday 17th January 2023. Naby Keita of Liverpool PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxUK

The same thing happened with Naby Keita. He was a whirlwind for RB Leipzig and was involved in a lot of final-phase play. He was given the licence to play his natural game. At Liverpool, this wasn’t the case. He had to be safer in possession and do a job for the team. 

Expectations weren’t altered though and he was still being judged on a lot of individual things that the role at Anfield simply didn’t allow him to do. This wasn’t the only reason that he was viewed as a flop but it didn’t help his cause. People expected to see him replicate his RBL form when he wasn’t ever given the platform for it. 

Szoboszlai could suffer a similar fate if new manager Arne Slot doesn’t find a way to get him more involved in the final third and less involved in the build-up. That could be key to unlocking the £60m player Liverpool signed. 

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