Dominik Szoboszlai is currently the most valuable player in the Austrian Bundesliga with a market value of £13.5million at the age of 19. The Hungarian was one of the great stars of the 2018/19 season, while in this season he doesn’t play that often under the new coach Jesse Marsch. In the opening 20 league games of this campaign, he was part of the starting eleven just seven times.
Of course, he’s still one of the best RB Salzburg and Austrian Bundesliga players, and due to that, he’s already for some time a target of several big clubs in Europe. The big question is, if he is ready for the next big step in his career to join a bigger club outside of Austria. In this tactical analysis in the form of a scout report, we’ll take a closer look at his abilities and tactics to additionally discuss if he is ready to leave Salzburg in the summer of 2020.
Positioning and movement
Marsch mainly used either a 3-4-1-2/3-1-4-2 or a 4-4-2 this season. In which the two wingers cut inside and occupy the half-spaces. Szoboszlai can play as a winger, but also as an offensive midfielder. Due to that, he is either in the centre behind the strikers when they used a formation with a back three or played as a winger when the American coach lined his team up in a 4-4-2. Since then the wingers cut in to play more centrally, Szoboszlai is mostly in the half-spaces when his team is in possession of the ball.
The young Hungarian usually is permanently looking for free spaces in the left half-space to then provide vertical passing options for his teammates. This can also be seen in the heatmap for his appearances in the Austrian Bundesliga during the season 2019/20 which is shown below.
Salzburg dominate their opponents in almost every single game in the Austrian Bundesliga and have more possession while the opponents sit back and defend in a low block. As soon as Marsch’s team get near the zone 14, they try to use the combination of short passes with deep runs and through passes to get in the space behind the last line of the opposing defence. In these situations, Szoboszlai is important for his team as he is already mostly positioned in the half-space and additionally, his technique is outstanding as we will see later in this tactical analysis.
The 19-years-old Hungarian understands that it’s sometimes not useful to position inside the oppositions block, as there he can’t receive many passes and rarely gets on the ball. Due to that, one of his typical positions is outside of the formation of the opposition on the left side, as we can see in the shot below. In these situations, he creates space for himself to pick up speed as soon as he receives the ball. Also, it has to be mentioned that Szoboszlai is a young player who loves to have the ball at his feet and gets frustrated when he rarely is on the ball. Due to that, he loves to drop a bit deeper on such occasions, since then he is an easier option for his teammates and receives the ball more frequently.
As we will see in the next paragraph of this tactical analysis, Szoboszlai has a great vision, which is usual for an offensive midfielder. However, he doesn’t just make use of that quality when he is on the ball, but exploits his abilities during his off-ball movements. The 19-year-old has a good feeling for when he has to start a sprint to get into a free space and when he should stop his movement.
In the example below, Salzburg are currently on a counter-attack. During the first stage of it, Szoboszlai doesn’t sprint at full speed to avoid his opponents tracking his run, but he was still fast enough to keep up with the player on the ball. As Takumi Minamino was almost in the position for a cross, Szoboszlai starts his sprint to get in the right position, receives a great cross and scores the goal with a volley with his first touch.
Vision and understanding of the game
Vision and a feeling when to play which pass are probably two of the most underrated abilities in football. Even though Szoboszlai’s decision-making is sometimes not the best as we will see later on, in other moments he sees a passing lane which probably nobody else saw at this moment. In some situations, you wonder how he was able to track the movement of his teammate and play the pass in such short time while just a few moments later you wonder why he hasn’t played that logical pass, but we’ll get at this when we talk about his weaknesses.
In general, the Hungarian’s vision and creativity are surely two of the biggest reasons why reportedly Arsenal and Serie A champions Juventus wanted to sign him during the summer transfer window of 2019.
In his usual position at which we already looked earlier, Szoboszlai has several passing options as he can go short with a pass to the left wide-area which is usually occupied by Andreas Ulmer or can try to find a teammate in the centre with a vertical or diagonal pass. The third option which the 19-years-old chooses quite regularly is the long ball to the other wing as there is mostly a lot of free space since the opponents want to stay horizontally compact against Salzburg. So, they shift over as a team so as to not give away any space in the centre, but this creates space on the far side which Szoboszlai looks to exploit with a long ball.
In the image below, we see such a typical example as he receives a short pass and switches the side with his first contact. He’s able to do so as he scanned the pitch before he has received the ball and tracked the deep run of his teammate Rasmus Kristensen.
RB Salzburg are a team which has enormous strength in the moments of transition (offensive and defensive). As they have fast players who are perfect for utilising the free space during a counter-attack or the unorganised formation of the opposition after successful counter-pressing. However, you don’t only need players in your squad who are fast enough but also ones who can play the necessary passes to make use of their pace.
Szoboszlai is exactly such a player as he identifies free spaces, movements of the opponents, and runs of teammates to then select the correct pass. In the image below, Salzburg have just won back the ball with a counter-pressing and the ball went to the 19-years-old. As St. Pölten won the ball just moments before, they weren’t in their usual defensive shape and Szoboszlai, as well as Hee-chan Hwang, are completely free. The Hungarian finds his South-Korean teammate with a first time through pass over the top of the defenders. In this situation, he once more demonstrated his vision and understanding of the game.
Abilities on the ball
Now, we’ll look at the moments in the game in which the Hungarian is probably the most dangerous: when he is on the ball. The young offensive midfielder loves to be on the ball to then create something dangerous. Of course, his vision and understanding of the game are great and help him to get in the moments where he can utilise his technical abilities, but the important aspect about his style of play is how strong he is on the ball.
Szoboszlai stands at 185 cm which is quite tall for an offensive midfielder and winger. Even though he’s not a player with outstanding physical strength, he still knows when and how to make use of his body to protect the ball and get himself between the opponent and the ball. As we can see in the example below, he shields his opponent off to stay on the ball and get into the free space ahead of him.
The following aspect of his game is probably the one which stands out the most when you watch a game in which the Hungarian plays as he often shows tricks to get past his opponents. If there is the chance to get into a one-on-one situation, then Szoboszlai tries to take on his opponent and get past him with a dribble.
Sometimes, this can be a bit dangerous as he often also wants to do is in his own half, but in general, his technique is so good that he can take on any opponent to dribble past him, but we’ll see in the next section of this tactical analysis that this can sometimes cause problems.
The 19-years-old is already quite important for the build-up and creation of goalscoring chances during Salzburg’s periods of possession as he plays on average 46.84 passes per game. Of which 6.02 are to the final third.
As we already saw earlier in this scout report, the Hungarian has decent vision to detect the movements of his teammates to then find them with good through balls or to switch the side. All this mental and technical abilities combined make him a modern offensive-minded player who can create dangerous situations against almost every defence in the world, even against the best one as we can see below. In the UEFA Champions League group stage fixture against Liverpool who were then in outstanding form, Szoboszlai still managed to put his teammates in good positions with through passes as we can see in the following example .
When you consider all these aspects above and note that the Hungarian is still just 19 years old, but already showed great performances in the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League, then you could easily answer the question in the headline by yourself: Yes, Szoboszlai is ready for the next big move to join a club outside of Austria.
However, there is still another side of the coin as Szoboszlai is not always able to show off his talent and performs in this season pretty weak in some games. That’s totally understandable since it’s almost impossible for a player at his age to perform every single game on the same high level. Let’s take a look at two of his biggest weaknesses.
First of all, he needs to work on his sloppiness which brings him and his team sometimes in bad situations, as it easily allows the opposition to get into possession. We can watch in several situations how it seems as the young Hungarian would care more about his style of play and how his actions look like instead of their efficiency.
We can see this in an example below as he plays a lobbed short ball to his teammate Zlatko Junuzović who instantly is surrounded by several Liverpool players who can start the counter-pressing since just moments ago Soboszlai won back the ball for RB Salzburg. As the pass is lobbed, and not that clean and easy to control it, Junuzović has problems with it and Jürgen Klopp’s team can retain possession. In this situation, the lobbed ball isn’t necessary at all and brings his teammate in an extremely difficult situation.
His second big problem is that he often misses the right moment release the ball. Of course, he is a great dribbler and extremely strong on the ball, but in some situations, it would be more effective to play the ball to a teammate. Instead, he stays on the ball to take on several opponents and loses it or can’t continue the attack with the same pace. This is also the main reason why his success rate for dribbles is 49.1% which is okay but could be much better if he wouldn’t stay that long on the ball in several situations, as in the example below. In this situation, Erling Haaland and Sékou Koïta support him and provide him options for passes, but Szoboszlai stays on the ball to then be alone against four opponents and has to pass the ball back.
Considering all the aspects which were described in this tactical analysis, Szoboszlai is definitely ready for the next step in his promising career and should join a bigger club. However, he clearly needs to work on his sloppiness and decision-making as he often stays too long on the ball. However, he’s one of the most promising players in the Salzburg squad and already has got the attention of bigger clubs in Europe.
The Hungarian has the potential to be one of the best players his country has seen in the last few years, but must continue to improve his mental and technical qualities. As he’s ready for a transfer in the summer, it will be interesting to see where he will go and how he’ll perform at his new club (if Salzburg lets him go).