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LFC END OF SEASON SALE

Liverpool broke trend to sign Dominik Szoboszlai – and debut season hinted why

After a ridiculously promising start, Dominik Szoboszlai seemed to fall out of favour with his manager and the fans at the end of his first season at Liverpool.

For Szoboszlai, it was very much a campaign of two parts – and unfortunately for the 23-year-old, the second part brought the downturn.

It makes the task of reviewing his first season at Anfield a particularly difficult one, as though his stocks appear to be low, it remained an impactful debut that hinted at a lot more to come.

Dominik Szoboszlai, 2023/24

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 2, 2023: Liverpool's Dominik Szoboszlai celebrates after scoring the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Aston Villa FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Started: 30 (All competitions)
On as a substitute: 15
Unused sub: 3
Goals: 7
Assists: 4
Overall Season Rating: 6.42

 

The perfect start

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, September 27, 2023: Liverpool's Dominik Szoboszlai celebrates after scoring the second goal during the Football League Cup 3rd Round match between Liverpool FC and Leicester City FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

While fans speculated over possible additions such as Khephren Thuram, Manu Kone, Gabri Veiga and Romeo Lavia, those at Anfield were exploring a surprise alternative.

Having long been expected to join Newcastle, Szoboszlai went from concrete target to Liverpool player within four days as June turned to July.

A £60 million release clause in his contract with RB Leipzig was triggered hours before it expired, with the club eschewing their usual, measured approach to transfers for a deal rushed over the line.

Then sporting director Jorg Schmadtke later revealed he had felt the deal was “too expensive,” accepting that had been a “misjudgment.”

“The boy was an important Liverpool player from day one,” Schmadtke told Die Zeit. “He performed better than I would have expected him to.”

Those comments came in March, with Szoboszlai having just scored in back-to-back victories over Sparta Prague in the Europa League to bring his season’s tally to seven goals and four assists.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 2, 2023: Liverpool's Dominik Szoboszlai scores the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Aston Villa FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

In September, there was a stunning first goal against Aston Villa, struck with precision and with zero back lift, and then a scorcher in off the crossbar against Leicester.

December brought a brilliant touch and finish at Sheffield United and a knuckleball from range against West Ham, while the following month saw him head in the third in a 4-1 rout of Chelsea.

There were assists for Darwin Nunez (twice), Mo Salah and Virgil van Dijk, while his persistence won a penalty for Salah against Bournemouth.

Having effectively replaced Jordan Henderson in the side and inherited the No. 8 shirt worn by Steven Gerrard, Szoboszlai looked every inch the future Liverpool icon.

 

Setting the bar high

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, March 31, 2024: Liverpool's Dominik Szoboszlai prepares to take a corner-kick during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Brighton & Hove Albion FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 2-1. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Perceptions of the Hungarian shifted towards the end of the season, though, with Szoboszlai visibly tiring after one of the most demanding campaigns of his career.

Only once in the previous five seasons had he clocked more minutes than he did in his 45-game Liverpool bow (2,700), that being in his final term with Leipzig when he played 46 times for a total of 3,709 minutes.

His role under Jurgen Klopp was more tasking, too, operating as a box-to-box No. 8 whose energy and athleticism set the tone off the ball.

That buildup, along with starting every game since 2022 as captain of Hungary, had undoubtedly taken its toll on a player who only turned 23 in October.

It showed in the injury he picked up in January and then, after a brief return, aggravated in February.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, April 14, 2024: Liverpool's substitute Dominik Szoboszlai before the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Crystal Palace FC at Anfield. Crystal Palace won 1-0. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

A shortage of options saw Klopp rush the likes of Szoboszlai, Mohamed Salah, Diogo Jota and Thiago back before feeling the effects again, and medical staff later enforced a more cautious approach with the No. 8.

Despite promising signs with those goals against Sparta Prague, there was a noticeable drop-off from Szoboszlai, and the manager clearly acknowledged this.

After starting 21 of his first 29 games before injury, the midfielder ended the campaign starting just two of the final eight; his last goal involvements came against Sparta on March 14.

“Perhaps I set the bar too high because I think there were certain matches where I couldn’t bring out the best in myself,” Szoboszlai told MLSZ TV in May.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 20, 2023: Liverpool's Dominik Szoboszlai during the Football League Cup Quarter-Final match between Liverpool FC and West Ham United FC at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

“Or there are times when you don’t play well and in some people’s eyes you’re the worst player on the pitch, but it is not a problem because we get through these things together.”

Szoboszlai nailed it with that assessment: it was a long, hard campaign on his introduction to the Premier League, but it should be viewed as a productive one.

 

A No. 10 in the No. 8 shirt?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, September 27, 2023: Liverpool's Dominik Szoboszlai during the Football League Cup 3rd Round match between Liverpool FC and Leicester City FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 3-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

He may not have been directly calling out supporters who had heralded him as Gerrard’s heir months previous, but Szoboszlai’s comments summed up the fickle nature of modern football.

There were peaks and troughs in his first season at Anfield, but on the whole it was one that showed more than £60 million worth of potential.

That could be nurtured further in a likely tweaked role in Arne Slot‘s expected 4-2-3-1 system.

While Slot’s setup could certainly change with a new squad to work with at Liverpool, the fundamentals of his style of play include an attacking No. 10.

Szoboszlai is one of many players who could fit that bill in the squad Klopp has left behind – with Alexis Mac Allister, Harvey Elliott, Fabio Carvalho and even Ryan Gravenberch among the contenders – but arguably none have better credentials.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 28, 2024: Liverpool's captain Virgil van Dijk (R) celebrates after scoring the fourth goal with team-mate Dominik Szoboszlai during the FA Cup 4th Round match between Liverpool FC and Norwich City FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 5-2. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool pushed the boat out to bring him to Merseyside, and on the evidence of his debut campaign they were right to do so.

And as he prepares for his sophomore season under new management, Szoboszlai can take those lessons learned in 2023/24 and again prove why that release clause will become a bargain.


Best moment: That stunning strike vs. Leicester.

Worst moment: Losing his place for the run-in.

Role next season: Every bit the key player.