Club: RB Leipzig
Position(s): AM, LW, RW, CM
Preferred Foot: Right
Strengths: ball-striking, first touch, pace, set-pieces, technique
Development Areas: defensive output, shot volume
At 22 years of age, Dominik Szoboszlai is a monster waiting to be unleashed. He is one of, if not the best ball-strikers in world football, as evidenced by his last-minute winner against Iceland to send Hungary to Euro 2020, and he has already been named the captain of his national team.
Born in Székesfehérvár, Hungary, Szoboszlai left his homeland in 2016 and joined Red Bull Salzburg, making the transition with sister club FC Liefering before playing a key role for the Austrian side as they won four league titles and three domestic cups. He would join RB Leipzig in January 2021 for €20 million, missing the second half of the season due to injury before racking up 10 goals and 9 assists in all competitions as Leipzig finished fourth and won the DFB-Pokal, their first-ever major title.
The 2022/23 season would see him register 10 goals and 13 assists as Leipzig finished third, with the Hungarian scoring in the 85th minute to secure a 2-0 win against Eintracht Frankfurt in the DFB-Pokal Final. Leipzig have already lost Christopher Nkunku — who opened the scoring in the final — to Chelsea, and they’ll be desperate to keep hold of Szoboszlai, whose contract expires in 2026.
Szoboszlai is 6’1” with long powerful legs which help him to generate a greater amount of force when striking the ball. This combined with his top technique has resulted in a collection of unstoppable strikes. Whether it’s from a free kick or from open play, the Hungarian can score from anywhere. He also has a variety of different types of shots too as he shoots with the inside of his boot creating inward curvature of the shot, the outside of his boot creating back spin, or his most common from free kicks is his knuckle-ball type shots. In addition, he’s comfortable with both feet.
His long legs are large levers that create great momentum, and he leans over the ball to help him strike the ball clean with his laces. It’s no surprise that he himself admits that one of his idols was Cristiano Ronaldo. He has been captain for Hungary at U17, U19 & now the senior team at only 22 years old. His mentality & confidence have been key factors in him standing out amongst his teammates. Several times, he has stepped up on the big stage. On his senior international debut at 18 vs Croatia, he came on as a sub and faced a midfield of Ivan Rakitic, Marcelo Brozovic and Luka Modric. Szoboszlai bossed the game and Hungary won 2-1.
Another example of his top mentality and confidence occurred in November 2021 against PSG. Leipzig were awarded a penalty and Neymar went up to him to try to distract him, but Szoboszlai nevertheless smashed it into the back of the net in the 89th minute to secure a 2-2 draw.
One area for development is to increase his shot volume. Currently, he’s averaging 2.12 shots p/90 — a player with such an elite technique and ball-striking ability is someone who, if he was taking around 3 shots p/90, his output would increase a lot due to the quality of those strikes.
At Leipzig, he can be more of the creator and not the goal-scorer since he plays with attackers who shoot a lot like Dani Olmo (3.01 shots p/90), Nkunku (3.11), Timo Werner (2.73) and Andre Silva (2.97) so Szoboszlai often is used as a creative force for these attackers and a lot of his shots come from free kicks.
His best positions for Leipzig are as an attacking midfielder or off the left wing where he can cut in on his right. As an attacking midfielder, his playmaking abilities are clear to see. He makes 5.49 progressive passes, 2.38 key passes, 3.57 passes into the final third and had attempted 55.59 passes p/90 (80% being completed). With 5.01 shot-creating actions (top 9%), it’s clear that he’s always leading by example to make something happen in the game.
His technique is a clear strength as he has great dribbling ability and agility for someone tall and a great first touch. Obviously, there’s his top ball-striking and free-kick threat, however, he’s also got great delivery from corners and free kicks. A true set-piece specialist.
Szoboszlai’s defensive output is something that’s come into question due to him being a more attacking player. He doesn’t thrive in this area (1.54 tackles and 0.52 interceptions), but he’s not terrible defensively. He does the job, but that isn’t his role. If complemented with other midfielders with defensive prowess, he can be given the freedom in a more advanced position to create and score goals.
Interestingly, his father Zsolt was a professional player (ST) in Hungary himself. Zsolt later became a coach and started his own academy Akademie Fönix Gold FC to aid his son’s development. Szoboszlai revealed that when was younger, his whole life was football: he didn’t go out with friends, instead would train with his dad. From a young age, he would be doing 100-200 free kicks a day after practice taking (inspiration from his idol Cristiano Ronaldo).
What’s his best role and where can he develop to become the best? For me, I believe he can become world-class in two positions in particular – an 8 or LW. Due to his creative nature, he needs to be either wide cutting in to have shots and create chances or constantly in the half-space creating, shooting, and making runs into the box.
So where will he end up? The two teams who have been linked with him the most have been Chelsea and Newcastle. First up, Chelsea. I personally don’t think it’s a good fit at all because of the high level of competition for places. As a club, they’re very volatile with a high turnover of managers & players. Szoboszlai has a unique skillset and needs to find his best position and he only has to look at players like Mount and Havertz who’ve been moved all over the place and hence are yet to solidify their best position.
Next, Newcastle. Now this is a much better fit. Szoboszlai could become a key figure of their project and start in either the LCM or LW position as a main driving force. With players like Joelinton, Bruno Guimaraes and a possible new DM signing around him, it would give him more licence to create, get forward and be the star in their team.
RB Leipzig will surely be looking to keep hold of their Hungarian talent as they seek to make an even deeper run in next season’s Champions League and attempt to end Bayern Munich’s hegemony, but at 22, it seems only a matter of time before Dominik Szoboszlai will be playing for one of the biggest clubs in Europe.
By: Ben Mattinson / @Ben_Mattinson_
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Adam Pretty / Getty Images