RB Salzburg have introduced some of the biggest talents in world football recently with the likes of Sadio Mane, Erling Haaland, Dayot Upamecano, Naby Keita, Takumi Minamino etc. The Austrian Bundesliga player of the year, Dominik Szoboszlai, is the latest inclusion into this prestigious list of world-class footballers.
The teenager has caught the attention of some of the European giants with his exceptional performances throughout the season. He played a starring role in Salzburg’s seventh consecutive league Bundesliga title. This tactical analysis will explain why he is being earmarked to become the torchbearer that could finally bring Hungarian football back to its glory days.
As it is evident from the heat map, he plays in an attacking midfielder role predominantly in the left side of their attack. Szoboszlai has been a mainstay in Salzburg’s lineup throughout the season. He started five of their UEFA Champions League matches and also scored a goal against Genk. He also made 27 appearances in the Bundesliga, starting in 18 of them.
Szoboszlai has scored 13 and assisted 11 goals in 40 appearances (30 starts) in all competitions this season. He also has the most goal contributions in the league with 17 goals and assists (G+A) in just 18 starts. The teenager has a league-high 7.07 expected goals (xG) and an average of 3.35 shots per 90 minutes. He also averaged 46.93 passes at an accuracy of 78.9 and an expected assists (xA) of 6.17. The numbers he has produced, albeit in a comparatively less intense league, is still spectacular for a teenager.
Jesse Marsch usually sets his team up in a 4-2-2-2, with Szoboszlai playing behind the two forwards. He usually positions in their left-wing but is given the freedom to switch with the forwards. Szoboszlai can be seen in the half-space between the opposition defence and midfield. This positioning is typical of the attacking midfielders in modern football. He has the vision to find spaces and given the teammates finds him, he can be very decisive from these kinds of situations.
Szoboszlai switched positions with one of the forwards and is waiting in the box for a cross. His ability to hit the ball first time makes him an excellent target for crosses and low balls into the box. He has 31 shots inside the box with an accuracy of 58.1% and an xG of 5.33. Seven shots of these have come from crosses and four were on target along with an xG of 1.85. The only goal he scored in the UCL came from a cross from the left-wing.
Szoboszlai can be seen moving into the half-space on the right side. All three situations happened within five minutes of the same game. The positional freedom he receives even at this young age shows the quality he brings to their attack.
When Salzburg is in possession, Szoboszlai can be seen making a run past the opposition right-back. This is the position he mostly takes up when they are attacking in transition. He either drops deep to receive the ball in midfield or makes line splitting runs past the opposition full-backs or finds half-spaces between the opposition midfield and defence. He is of that rare breed of footballers who reads the play brilliantly. Being constantly aware of the spaces makes it very difficult to shackle him with tactics.
The Hungarian “Beckham”
Of the 13 goals he scored this season, eight have been from set-pieces. Those include five freekicks and three penalties. Six of the goals he scored have been from outside of the penalty area. He has hit 109 shots on goal with an accuracy of 43.1%. 75 of those shots have come from outside the box with an accuracy of 34.7% and an xG of 2.53. Five of his 11 assists are also from the corner kicks. These are insane numbers for a teenager playing in one of the biggest leagues in the world.
An analysis of his corner kicks shows that Szoboszlai usually targets their best headers with his crosses. Three of his five assists from the corners have come from the far post. He has consistently delivered the ball to their best header, the centre-back Andre Ramalho, with 17 shot assists to him at an xA of 1.23.
Despite being very close to the box, this is one of the most difficult positions to score from. Still, he managed to put the ball in the top left corner of the net and the keeper didn’t even move.
This is reminiscent of the superb goal Toni Kroos scored in the 2018 World Cup. From an almost identical position, he put the ball into the top corner of the far post and the keeper stood no chance of saving this. Szoboszlai usually tries to power his freekicks up and over the wall or curl them into the top corners. Four of his freekicks have come from different positions in the pitch. The left and the right, the short and long ranges. He can hit them from anywhere and this will be an invaluable asset to any team he plays for.
Silky touches and vision
Szoboszlai can be seen occupying the space between their defence and midfield. He receives the ball and flicks it over to the striker who made a line breaking run.
Szoboszlai is moving into the half-space in the left and the defender finds him with a long ball. He then chests it first time on to the path of the attacker who makes a run past the defender. This resulted in a shot on target for Salzburg.
Szoboszlai received the ball in the half-space with a defender closing in on him. With a dazzling turn, he wrong-footed the defender that opened up a tiny window for him to bang one in from distance.
He recorded 10 key passes and attempted 58 passes into the opposition penalty area with an accuracy of 70.7%. He averages 1.98 through passes along with 3.15 shot assists per 90 minutes. The striker Patson Daka is his major outlet in the final third with 13 shot assists to Daka at an xA of 1.88 The ability to find spaces and anticipate the movement of teammates even at this young age shows the immense potential he has got.
Football is in an era where even the strikers are given defensive duties and are expected to put in the work. The current Salzburg setup gives Szoboszlai minimal defensive duties. He is up there along with the forwards and looks to close out easy passing lanes. This forces the opposition to look for long balls or difficult passes. He doesn’t put in a lot of tackles or hounds the opposition like most of the young players nowadays. Here we can see Szoboszlai jogging towards the opposition instead of pressing him. This is an area of his game that still needs a lot of work.
Again, Szoboslzai doesn’t try to close the space in front of him. Instead of keeping up with the player darting past him, Szoboszlai has allowed him to move into free space. A pass into that space will force the Salzburg left-back to press the midfield runner. This will then free up space for the opposition right-back to attack.
In the UCL this season he won only 36% of his aerial duels. For someone who is 184 cm tall, this is very poor. As we can see from the image, he is losing out to someone shorter than him. Despite having the advantage, he is unable to head the ball. He doesn’t keep his eyes on the ball during aerial duels. As a result, most often than not he is unable to win the ball in the air. This is an area that needs a lot of work if he is to make it in one of the bigger leagues.
He also won only 29% of his ground duels in the UCL. The work-rate in the defensive aspect of the game is crucial to success in the big leagues. Vision and flair alone do not guarantee success in the modern game. Mesut Ozil, James Rodriguez etc are scapegoats of this change in tactics of the modern game. Szoboszlai should work on this in and avoid going down that road to fulfil his potential.
The next big thing?
Szoboszlai has burst onto the scene this season, especially after the restart. He has improved quite a lot as the season progressed and eventually won the Bundesliga player of the year. Transfer rumours have started coming up linking him to Serie A and Premier League teams like Napoli, AC Milan, Arsenal etc.
This scout report suggests that, with some quality experience and a manager who understands his abilities and sets up the team complimenting his talents, Szoboszlai could become one of the top stars of the next generation of footballers. Playing with better quality team-mates will only further bolster his superb playmaking abilities. Sooner rather than later, we will be seeing Szoboszlai plying his trade in one of the top four leagues and the UCL.