The best players are those who can soak up any atmosphere, take matches by the scruff of the neck and step up when it matters the most.
Liverpool have those type of players in abundance in attack and at the back, but in midfield that matter is moot. There is no disputing Jürgen Klopp’s quality of options in the middle of the park – there are plenty of competent and even elite midfielders in the club’s ranks but none are true matchwinners in the ilk of those who came before them like Philippe Coutinho or Steven Gerrard.
The latter put it best in the aftermath of the Champions League final when Gerrard told BT Sports he would like Liverpool to add a goalscoring midfielder to the club’s ranks this summer. Klopp also rued Liverpool’s decision making from midfield in the final third as one of the major factors for the Reds’ defeat against Real Madrid and it’s certainly something the club will have to address long-term and perhaps even this summer.
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The potential departure of Sadio Mané gives Liverpool the perfect opportunity to facilitate that metamorphosis and the ideal target to fill the void could be another product of Red Bull Salzburg – one who may have been on the club’s radar for almost three years.
When the Reds faced the Austrian outfit back in 2019, Klopp was clearly enamored by the performance of Hungarian international, Dominik Szoboszlai. Speaking to Hungarian outlet Nemzeti Sport, Szoboszlai told reporters that the Liverpool manager came up to him after the game and complimented him on his performance with one of his iconic embraces – a classic sign of his admiration.
“When someone like Klopp comes up to you after the final whistle and tells you ‘great work’ that means you’re probably on the right path,” Szoboszlai said, and the Hungarian later returned the favor in a separate interview declaring the Liverpool manager as someone he would like to work with in the future.
His 0.83 goal contributions per 90 for RB Leipzig this season (10 goals and nine assists), predominantly coming from an advanced midfield role, is certainly an indicator of his ability to fulfill the kind of goalscoring threat Liverpool are currently devoid of in midfield.
Szoboszlai undoubtedly has the match winning DNA, too, that was the characteristic of the likes of Steven Gerrard in the past. Over the course of the season, he has often come up trumps for Leipzig coming off the bench to score six times. Meanwhile, 14 of his goal contributions this season have come at periods in games where Leipzig were either in a stalemate or trailing by one goal, including a last-gasp penalty at Paris Saint Germain where Szoboszlai had to keep his nerve and brush off Neymar’s taunts in order to score a crucial goal.
That ability was on show in the Puskás Aréna against England on Saturday evening, too. Szoboszlai dominated the game in midfield and caused Liverpool man, Trent Alexander-Arnold, plenty of problems in the first half getting the better of the full-back on numerous occasions before calmly dispatching his penalty to ensure Hungary defeated England for the first time in 60 years.
It was not his first historic goal for his country either. The 21-year-old also scored a 92nd-minute winner against Iceland to qualify Hungary for the European Championships last summer. But it’s not just his presence on the pitch that will endear him to Liverpool’s staff.
Admirably, Szoboszlai remained animated even on the bench after his 82nd-minute substitution against England. He could be seen on the touchline giving out instructions and words of encouragement to his teammates in true Cristiano Ronaldo ‘Euro 2016 fashion’ during the last few minutes of the game.
That mentality and attitude is something Liverpool’s recruitment board will certainly value. Szoboszlai’s playing style is unquestionably suited to Klopp’s gegenpress with the midfielder possessing the work rate to suit the system and the stats prove that – he ranks in the 80th percentile for pressures per 90 with an average of 20.45 and in the 98th percentile for success pressures with an average of 6.74.
FSG will have to make an audacious attempt to land him this summer. Leipzig will be reluctant to sell a player who only arrived at the club last summer and Szoboszlai is content at the club for now. However, that could change if the German outfit retains all of Szoboszlala’s positional peers (Christopher Nkunku, Dani Olmo and Emil Forsberg) this summer. If that were to happen the Hungarian international may consider his future.
For what price he would be available is moot. It is important to note Liverpool have good relations with Red Bull, and there is a history of successful deals between the two sides which could help in negotiations for a potential deal. CIES Football Observatory currently value Szoboszlai at € 54.2m (£ 46.3m) just € 0.8m (£ 0.6m) less than Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah who is touted around € 55m (£ 46.9m).
If Leipzig are willing to listen to offers around that mark Liverpool could almost afford the Hungarian just purely on the money they hope to make (£ 40m) from Sadio Mané’s departure and that could be a significant financial incentive from FSG’s perspective.
With all the merry-go-round this summer, there will be plenty of activity at major clubs and based on his form it would not be a surprise to see Szoboszlai’s name appear on Liverpool and many top clubs’ radar during the transfer window. He is certainly one to keep an eye on.