Dominik Szoboszlai – What’s Happened?
From hero to zero as the common adages goes. It is that easy to fall from one extreme to another – especially in the realm of football. The most recent victim to such extremes has been Dominik Szoboszlai.
Initially lauded as one of the fan favourites, recently, he’s been the subject of a lot of criticism from supporters for what many have deemed ‘poor’ performances.
Yet even amid his poor form, Szoboszlai has still started 19 out of Liverpool’s possible 20 Premier League games, and Jurgen Klopp has continued to keep faith in the Hungarian midfielder.
That’s because there is a lot more to Szoboszlai than meets the eye. And even though it seems like he has dropped off recently, the underlying data would suggest otherwise.
The Szoboszlai Illusion
When a player arrives fans seem to view them with rose tinted glasses sometimes. Like an overzealous parent watching on from the side-lines, every bright moment is applauded and tiny little mistakes are overlooked.
The reason why Szoboszlai was a fan favourite at the start had a lot to do with him being a brand new novelty for Liverpool. Fans were just excited to have someone in the team who wasn’t Jordan Henderson.
But overtime that novelty has worn off, and fans perhaps are not viewing Szoboszlai with the same rose tinted glasses anymore.
In truth, Szoboszlai’s performances haven’t really changed from his first game in the Premier League to his last against Newcastle United. He is still making a key impact in decisive moments for Liverpool.
His 30-yard progressive carry against Newcastle running into space to create Liverpool’s first goal went under the radar, but it was as pivotal as Luis Diaz’s pass, Darwin Nunez’s lay-off and Mohamed Salah’s subsequent finish.
Had the Hungarian made a similar run a few months ago, fans would have been boastfully sharing the moment on social media and praising the club’s new number eight.
Even away from that long burst forward, Szoboszlai was among the better performers for Liverpool against Newcastle. He created the joint second most chances (3), made the second most recoveries (5) while he was on the pitch and won the second most duels in midfield (4) behind Curtis Jones (6) while losing the fewest (3).
Based on those numbers he certainly doesn’t merit criticism.
Among the Best in the League
In many metrics, Szoboszlai is still one of the leading midfielders in the Premier League.
Among midfielders in the Premier League he ranks in the top 10 for passes into the box (3.33 per 90) as per Wyscout. He also has the best dribble completion percentage for midfielders in the league who attempt at least two dribbles per 90 (68.75%). And only, Rodri (2.6) and Bernardo (3.44) Silva make more progressive runs than the Hungarian (2.57).
He ranks 11th for key passes per 90 (0.4) among midfielders, and sixth for expected assists per 90 (0.19) – just behind Bernardo Silva (0.20) again.
Meanwhile, as per FBref out of midfielders he has made the 5th most shot-creating-actions in the league (73). He’s also 8th among his positional peers for progressive passes (115).
Defensively, Szoboszlai ranks 5th overall for recoveries (127) made in the league. Meanwhile he also ranks in 9th place for defensive duel success rate (59.24%) among midfielders who average at least 7.5 defensive duels per 90.
A Key Cog in the System
Measure the Hungarian up against any metric and Szoboszlai comes out on top among the top percentiles in the Premier League this season. He’s simply been a machine for Liverpool so far.
Perhaps, he hasn’t quite contributed offensively as many would have expected but he does have six goal contributions already. On top of that he has also won two penalties for Liverpool – which is the joint highest in the Premier League this season.
Understandably, given the fact that Szoboszlai made 23 goal contributions for RB Leipzig last season, the expectations around him have been for him to deliver around the same goal-output.
But that’s unrealistic. In Klopp’s system, Szoboszlai hasn’t been given the attacking reins as he had at Leipzig. He is more of a cog in the machine – who enables the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Salah to produce their best football and makes the system work flawlessly.
It is no coincidence that both Salah and Alexander-Arnold are back to their absolute peak form and Liverpool are pressing the best they have done over the last few seasons since Szoboszlai has arrived at the club.
Sometimes you don’t quite realise what you had until it’s gone. With Szoboszlai that now very well be the case for Liverpool.
There hasn’t yet been a diagnosis on his muscle injury at the time of writing but it is expected that he could be out for a few weeks.
Given how pivotal his underlying numbers have been in this Liverpool system his true value may only be realised now – when he isn’t there to make everything tick.
Fortunately, Klopp has others to fill in while Szoboszlai is on the side-lines, but so far none of the other options have been able to replicate what the Hungarian does – and the energy he gives the Reds when he is on the field.
It’s time we set the record straight – Szoboszlai is not struggling on the pitch – he is still very much thriving. Just like he always has been since the first day he walked in through the doors at Anfield.