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How Dominik Szoboszlai will be the key to unlock Mo Salah and Liverpool’s attack

Tactical formation of Liverpools new formation
Liverpool's new look lineup

Dominik Szoboszlai (pronounced So-bo-sly), the reds' new Hungarian number 8 is an exciting addition to the Liverpool attack. His versatility, quick feet, cutting passes, and long-range shots which have spawned dozens of highlight reels already, all make for an exciting package that will undoubtedly improve Liverpool’s first eleven right off the bat. In the weeks prior, it seemed to all the world that Khéphren Thuram would be the chosen one to fill the right side of Liverpool's new double-10 lineup and part of a rebuilt box midfield. But seemingly out of left field they swooped in and snapped up Szoboszlai instead. Digging into his play style and how he fits in with the other players already at Liverpool’s disposal, it’s very easy to see why he was the preferred choice, largely due to the fact he fits in much better alongside Mo Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold, the jewels in Liverpool's crown.

Salah, Alexander-Arnold and Elliot's positions
Last seasons link up between Salah, Elliot and TAA

In the opening fixtures of last season, before Klopp had to throw out his plans and start experimenting, it looked like Klopp was utilising Harvey Elliot’s comfort with playing out wide to get both Trent and Salah into more dangerous areas. Elliot would often drift out to the touchline occupying a man while Salah made runs inside the fullback and Trent drifted into the central midfield space to pick out the pass where Elliot had left open. The linkup play between those three, along with Nunez causing chaos through the middle was the one bright spark of LFC’s first half of the season.

Szoboszlai can recreate this in the new formation, possibly at an even higher level currently whilst Harvey is still developing into his potential. Having played in the wide areas frequently for RB Leipzig, he is more than at home drifting out wide and allowing both Salah and Trent the space and opportunity to get on the ball and cause any defence problems. This is the biggest advantage he holds over Thuram, who despite being a fantastic ball carrier and huge physical presence thanks to his 6’4” frame, is not nearly as capable of doubling up as a winger like Szoboszlai can. This would mean Salah and Trent would be responsible for maintaining the width and much less of a goalscoring threat. No matter which players Liverpool brought in this summer, those two would always be Liverpool's biggest strength as two of the best players in the world and Dominik makes much more sense for the best for the team.

Liverpool tactic formation Dominik Szoboszlai
The space created when Szoboszlai is closed down

He also holds a weapon that Liverpool hasn’t possessed since Coutinho left in his big-money move to Barcelona, a fierce long shot. Ever since their rise to the top of English and European football under Klopp, opposing teams have most commonly held a low block defence of 10 men behind the ball deep on the edge of their box and tried to nullify the pace of Liverpool's attackers who earned a reputation as one of the best counter-attacking units in the world. At times shutting down LFC’s industrial midfield to great effect. Now having someone capable of firing the ball into the top corner from anywhere on the pitch will mean defenders are forced to come close him down or let him shoot to their peril. This will inevitably pull defenders and midfielders out of their rigid low block and open up gaps for Trent, Salah, and possibly a dropping in Gakpo, to fill.

 Dominik Szoboszlai, Alexander-Arnold on a tactics board
Salah alongside Nunez with Szoboszlai out wide

The question of who leads Liverpool’s line is still uncertain and likely will remain that way till we are already a few weeks into the season. Could it be Nunez, now in his second season and primed to finally showcase his obvious ability on a more consistent basis just like he did in Benfica. Alternatively, will it be Gakpo, a more natural replacement for the outgoing legend Bobby Firmino, playing as a false 9 and dropping into the midfield spaces. Overall I feel the formation suits a more natural forward in Nunez. Largely because with two number 10’s on the pitch who are both very comfortable in the half spaces around the box it makes the need for a false 9 to knit together the play much more redundant. As well as potentially creating some overcrowding. Nunez playing on the shoulder of the CBs will work better for creating space and more varied threats. The good news though is both benefit greatly from having Szoboszlai in there. His versatility and tactical intelligence mean he can create whichever space is needed for both and link up with them to be a goalscoring threat himself.

The reality is probably that Klopp will utilise whoever he feels can hurt the opponent most. Should he wish to have two players central, almost playing as a front two to play through the middle of the pitch, he could go for Nunez and allow Salah to tuck right in alongside him. Szoboszlai and Diaz can then offer width with Mac Allister centre as a lone number 10 to keep things flowing. Alternatively, if he wants greater numbers in midfield he can use Gakpo, who can drop in deeper between the midfielders with Salah and Diaz offering darting runs between the full-back and centre-back, more akin to the Liverpool of old with Salah, Bobby and Mane. All this not to even mention Jota who can slot in up front or on the left to offer a lethal goalscoring threat coupled with one of our best attacking pressers. Klopp has the option to mix it up however he needs to avoid the team from getting too easily stifled and no matter who he plays in those front 5 positions, every one of them offers a goal threat.

Diaz inside run and Mo Salah striker
Diaz running inside and Salah moving through the middle

While the right-hand side is where Szoboszlai will help light up, it does create a knock-on effect on LFC’s left side too. Diaz who likes to cut inside rather than get to the byline round the back of the fullback, will also have much more room to operate. Adding in as well how all of Liverpool's striker options can also play on the left, they will be able to drift out wide, facilitating Diaz to attack inside while Szoboszlai and Salah offer options at the back post. With Liverpool’s summer business so far, it is suddenly clear what their plan has been, and how each of the pieces fit together to give Liverpool a versatile and dynamic attack. A new evolution on the flying front three that led them to glory in recent history. Rather than relying on the genius of those three players, along with the creativity of the attacking fullbacks to provide all of their goals, they can now spread it out amongst all of the front five plus Trent. Giving them six very dangerous attacking options rather than five, whilst still maintaining 5 defensive players behind the ball to prevent being caught in transition.

He fits in perfectly to this new system which is the latest tactical evolution that we will likely see more and more teams follow. Four players in the middle of the pitch now being required to prevent being overloaded. Szoboszlai offers width, versatility, and a threat from range which will help Liverpool pull defences apart and give Salah that extra freedom to showcase his best self. The biggest difference between LFC and Man City/Arsenal who also play this system, is that Liverpools primary goalscorer is their right winger. And therefore it’s vital the other pieces are designed around getting the best out their Egyptian King. Szoboszlai is the perfect man for the job. There is still a long way to go before he reaches his full potential and develops the chemistry and cohesions with his teammates, but once he does, the premier league could be about to see a new midfield superstar.


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