Liverpool could unleash surprise Szobo replacement in 18 y/o star with “bags of skill” – opinion
It’s injury season at Anfield. Liverpool had largely swerved any big-impact injury blows throughout the maiden phase of 2023/24 but Joel Matip’s season-ending anterior cruciate rupture in December opened a cataract of setbacks.
By and large, Jurgen Klopp’s side have ensured that any absences have not been detrimental to the club’s progress this season, first place in the Premier League, into the Carabao Cup, hosting Championship opposition in the FA Cup fifth round and favourites in the Europa League.
However, Sunday’s insipid performance at the Emirates handed Arsenal a major boost in their own title aspirations and leaves Manchester City poised to leapfrog the Reds into top spot, should they win their game in hand.
Fatigue appeared to have crept in and the absences of Mohamed Salah, Wataru Endo and rising star Conor Bradley inhibited the fluency that has been so impressive this season.
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Dominik Szoboszlai had just returned from injuries too, with Klopp’s woes now compounded by a recurrence of the latter’s hamstring issue.
Dominik Szoboszlai injury update
Liverpool started 2024 off with an almighty bang after dispatching Newcastle United 4-2 in the Premier League on New Year’s Day, but victory came at a cost as Szoboszlai was withdrawn after the hour mark with a muscular problem, missing the next four matches in all competitions.
Luckily, Liverpool avoided any slip-ups during that period and advanced to the Carabao Cup final after a double-legged victory over Fulham, but Szoboszlai’s absence was felt against Arsenal last time out, with his replacement, Ryan Gravenberch, producing an ineffectual display in his stead, taking just 24 touches and failing to make a single tackle.
Klopp seemed to insinuate that the Hungary captain’s absence in the capital was a precautionary measure – “we cannot take any risk” – but recent news suggests that he could now face four weeks in the medical room.
Journalist Bence Bocsak, Szoboszlai’s compatriot, has since eased fears and claimed that the issue isn’t as severe as reports suggest, but a replacement will need to be established regardless.
Szoboszlai’s Liverpool career so far
Szoboszlai joined Liverpool from RB Leipzig in a £60m deal last summer after dazzling in Germany, winning successive DFB Pokals and posting 42 goal contributions from 91 appearances.
Taking to life on Merseyside seamlessly, Szoboszlai has been instrumental in restoring the engine room, influential and alacritous, both in possession and out.
As per FBref, the 23-year-old ranks among the top 16% of midfielders across Europe’s top five leagues over the past year for goals, the top 2% for shot-creating actions, the top 6% for progressive carries, the top 8% for successful take-ons and the top 11% for blocks per 90.
Dubbed the “Hungarian artist” by talent scout Jacek Kulig, he has started 20 matches in the top flight this term, completing 88% of his passes and averaging 1.8 key passes, 1.4 tackles and 6.3 ball recoveries per outing, as per Sofascore.
In all competitions, the £120k-per-week ace has scored five goals and supplied four assists across 28 fixtures, though his import to value within Liverpool’s system stretches beyond his direct return.
With fearsome shooting skills and technical brilliance, Szoboszlai won’t be easily replaced, as evidenced by Gravenberch’s performance in the capital.
That said, Liverpool have largely been fine during the January period, gruelling and a sticking point for many teams each year, and there will be optimism that Szoboszlai’s setback does not ravage the upcoming endeavours.
Gravenberch and Harvey Elliott will be hoping to earn starts, but this might present a great opportunity for Klopp to provide teenage talent Bobby Clark with increased responsibility.
Szoboszlai’s surprise replacement
Clark made his Liverpool debut off the bench in a 9-0 rout over Bournemouth in the early stage of the 2022/23 season but has started to earn consistent chances this term, featuring four times after the break.
Excelling in the Premier League 2, the 18-year-old has clinched two goals and four assists from just six outings since the summer and is now ready to receive his very first starting berth.
Clark had loan offers on the table from numerous outfits but Klopp decided that the former Magpies starlet was to remain at Anfield for the remainder of the campaign, bespeaking his potential as a starring member of Liverpool’s squad down the line.
Just one day away from his 19th birthday, Clark could now start to push for a maiden Premier League start after his appearances thus far.
Previously lauded for his “bags of skill and talent” by The Chronicle’s Lee Ryder, the prospect is elegant, intelligent and creative and must harness such qualities and bring them to the fore.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 16, 2022
Liverpool’s development head coach, Barry Lewtas, has also taken note of his meteoric rise and has said: “He’s extremely talented and his pressing is excellent. He’s been a really good player for us, but I also think he’s made massive strides as well, big improvements, and that’s what he’s going to have to continue to do.”
His excellent pressing ability will undoubtedly be one of the chief reasons behind Klopp’s decision to hand him these regular opportunities among the first-team, and with the industrious Curtis Jones alongside him, there is no reason why Clark couldn’t produce a good performance in Szoboszlai’s position.
Of course, he’s still largely untested on the major stage and his manager will be wary of placing too heavy a load on his shoulders, but everyone starts somewhere and Clark is now ready to ascend to prominence at the heart of Liverpool’s team.