Dominik Szoboszlai continues to be the midfield target strongest linked with a move to AC Milan by the media ahead of Ralf Rangnick’s probably arrival.
However, due to the fact he plays in the Austrian Bundesliga he remains somewhat of an unknown quantity to most fans, so here Rohit Rajeev attempts to fill in any gaps in knowledge,
Club: Red Bull Salzburg
Position: Left midfield, attacking midfield
Red Bull Salzburg have become a Cornucopia of talents ever since they was reborn and re-christened. Many top players of the current era like Sadio Mané and Naby Keita came through the Austrian club – as did future greats like Erling Haaland and Minamino.
Their latest product is Hungarian-born Dominik Szoboszlai. Known for their 1954 World cup team and legends like Ferenc Puskas, Szoboszlai comes from a country who had a rich history of top talents and sporting infrastructure but one that now faces a crisis. With Szoboszlai, that is expected to change as his name rings in the top echelons of Hungarian football’s hierarchy.
Szoboszlai had a breakout season with Salzburg in 2018-19 when he helped them to win the Austrian Bundesliga. This season under their new American coach Marsch, Szoboszlai has only started seven league games of a possible 21. But however there is no doubt he is brimming with potential.
Positioning and movement
At Salzburg, coach Marsch uses a 3-4-1-2, 4-4-2 or a 3-1-4-2 formation depending on the opposition. In case of a back three, Szoboszlai is slotted in behind the 2 strikers. When they play with a four-man defence Szoboszlai plays as a left wide midfielder or a winger.
Being quick and technically competent, Szoboszlai attacks the half spaces on the left wing. Whenever he plays as a wide player he is tasked to cut in and play through the centre of the pitch and support the striker. Whenever the opposite team employs a low block or parks the bus and suffocates Salzburg for space, Szoboszlai drops outside his team’s attacking shape and revives passes, creating space to receive the ball as shown below.
What makes him special is his intelligent off-ball movement. He has a very uncanny ability to time his runs perfectly and therefore preserve energy as well as stay in the game.
In this particular goal that Szoboszlai scored in the Europa League group stage, it is seen how the teenager is smart enough to not sprint at top speed and waste his energy. However he makes sure that he is fast enough to match the player with the ball in the wide position.
As Minamino is positioned to receive a cross from the wide player it distracts the Genk defenders and draws them away. Taking advantage of this Szoboszlai sprints at top speed into the box and meets the cross with a volley to score a goal. This is a very important mental attribute that he possesses.
Vision and understanding
Vision and understanding are two core featured of any naturally gifted midfielder’s game and Szoboszlai is overflowing with these qualities.
He has the ability to pick a pass that is very difficult to anticipate for opponents (even for his team-mates as well sometimes). He can easily open up passing lanes and tracks the runs of players even from a distance, a very useful skill to have during a counter-attack.
In this particular game shown in the image below, Szoboszlai has the option of passing to his left towards Andreas Ulmer, but he spots the run of Rasmussen on the opposite flank and makes a cross field diagonal cross to reach him
Since Salzburg use the counter press or Gegenpress as it is called in Germany, their main modus operandi is to create overloads in attack and/or defence with fast physical players. In such a system it is the utmost need for a creative intelligent passer to be present so as to catch defenders who are out of position as well as advance a passing wave. In Salzburg this role is fulfilled by Szoboszlai.
A very intriguing quality the 19-year-old has is that he always prefers to pass instead of taking long shot at goal, something which Hakan Calhanoglu has frustrated Milan fans with – a player similar in role.
On the ball ability
Being 186 centimetres tall, Dominik has an unnatural frame for an attacking midfielder, but it helps him to hold off defenders and shield the ball.
His dribbling ability is also quite good. With a few tricks and special moves he beats defenders at will which allows him to create space and move forward. He also loves taking on defenders and always looks to beat his man when he is on one-on-one, something it feels like Milan have been lacking for a while.
He plays an average of 46.84 passes per game, of which around 6.02 are to the final third of the field – great stats for someone who makes a lot of risky passes to unlock defences.
Due to his lack of experience and maturity, Szoboszlai can be guilty of trying to do too much, and with this he becomes more sloppy and gives away possession to the opponents. He is also sometimes guilty of not releasing the ball at appropriate time which results in him being covered by 2-3 opposition players before wasting a good chance or losing possession.
A good fit for Milan?
A lot of recent speculation has linked Szoboszlai to Milan. It has even made the player speak about Milan as a destination and how it interests him, describing it as ‘destiny’ in a recent interview. The player is valued at €20-25m by Salzburg depending on which outlets you believe, with Lazio also keen.
Having worked in a setup similar to the one professed by Rangnick (who incidentally is the Director of RB Salzburg for now) he is familiar with the workings of the Gegenpress. Furthermore, being a young player who is pacy and physical he fits in with Rangnick’s philosophy. Szoboszlai, if he plays his cards right, can join the Hungarian hall of fame along with the greats theirs country has produced.