Szoboszlai Taking Henderson’s Throne?

The changing of the guard may have just been accelerated

There were two key questions around Liverpool’s midfield rebuild this summer. “Which players would be bought and which formation was the club buying for?” Is Jurgen Klopp returning to his traditional 4-3-3 system or is the 3-BOX-3 setup that we closed the season on the new normal? The acquisition of Alexis Mac Allister hinted at what that shape may be. But the purchase of Dominik Szoboszlai from RB Leipzig may have provided even more clarity.

READ MORE: The Obsession Over Transfers by Adam Beattie
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The Szoboszlai Dossier

Szoboszlai typifies the exact type of player Liverpool has targeted in recent years. He’s young (22) moving into the prime of his career. The Hungarian international has a wealth of experience both domestically and in representing his country. There is also a natural leadership and maturity in the man.

ASTV Shorts: Szobo’s Fit With LFC

The youngster looks well-suited to the right-sided #10 role of the box midfield. He operated in that very role in Marco Rose’s 4-2-2-2 at Leipzig in 2022-23. Yet it isn’t just that one role that fits Szoboszlai’s talents. His versatility is one of the reasons the price tag set on the Hungarian was not a deterrent at all for Liverpool. Dominik has functioned as an 8, 10, and on both flanks throughout his career for club and country. That is key.

Fitting In

There is going to be a lot of moving players around this year. Even more so when the African Cup of Nations comes calling for Mo Salah in January. After the addition of Mac Allister last month ticked the left-sided #10 box and the continued links to Nice’s Khephren Thuram and Southampton’s Romeo Lavia, who both profile more as traditional #6’s, the right-sided #10 spot remained the area to address.

Captain Jordan Henderson was shoehorned into the position to end last season but it is a role that undermines his strengths in the team. His lack of creativity and goal contributions were more noticeable in a role that advanced him further up the pitch.

Hendo did not score and delivered just three assists in 43 appearances across all competitions. Compare that to Szoboszlai who had 10 and 13 respectively for Leipzig in 46 appearances. That is not to criticize Henderson but to make the necessary comparison given how the formation shift took the England international out of a deeper-lying role he grew accustomed to at Anfield.

Jurgen Klopp’s revised system has altered the positional rotation between the three players. The central midfielder is now required to cast the widest net of the triumvirate when Trent Alexander-Arnold slides into his narrower midfield lane.

Just Give Us The Stats Already!

Across the last two seasons, Dominik Szoboszlai created 161 chances, a team-high. 99 of those were from open play. With former teammate Christopher Nkunku, now at Chelsea, they formed the highest creative combo from open play with a massive 132 chances.

His xG calculation of 7.72 was the fifth-highest in the Bundesliga of which 5.97 of it came from open play. He averaged 5.5 shot-creating actions per 90 minutes. Those actions include shots, passes, take-ons, and drawing fouls in attacking areas. This figure was the highest in the Leipzig squad by some distance and dwarfed the Liverpool leaders in the Premier League last season: Harvey Elliott (4.19), Mohamed Salah (3.83), and Trent Alexander-Arnold (3.82).

Alongside his creativity is his well-known long-distance shooting. This will be beneficial against the bevy of deep-lying teams in the Premier League. Wary opponents will be drawn out of position if they have to close him down leaving passing lanes agape.

Changes And Their Ripple Effects

In the absence of Henderson, a reliable defensive presence on the right, a question rises about the protection in front of Ibrahima Konate. Hendo has been a stalwart in plugging gaps and giving the freedom for Mo and Trent to do what they do. Szoboszlai’s high pressing and defensive metrics have improved and he should fit into the club’s counter-pressing philosophy. However, he will need to deploy all of his athleticism to mirror what Henderson did for arguably our two most important players while matching the intensity needed to be effective in Klopp’s notoriously demanding system.

That will surely be the key issue for Liverpool to tackle in their preseason training camp in Germany next week. For the time being though, the midfield puzzle is getting closer to completion.

With the emergence of a revitalized Curtis Jones and the potential signings mentioned earlier, Liverpool’s frail and sometimes non-existent midfield now looks like a potential strength. Klopp has a crop of middle-of-the-park players he could mold into his Gerrard, Alonso, and Mascherano.

NEXT STOP…Defenders! We have to get at least one center back or right back if we are going to compete for anything worthwhile next season. But for now, let’s revel in step one.

Another Monday of looking for answers as we look at the recent struggles but put all of it in perspective as we talk about the 35th anniversary and what it means to us
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