Dominik Szoboszlai (with the ball) has already met Kevin De Bruyne (left) in the Champions League (Photo: AFP)

 

The assessment of a footballer's performance in a given season may depend on what we want to compare his game to, and, on the other hand, on what our expectations of him are. If we take the latter as a basis, there's a shortage, and we say that Dominik Szoboszlai could have been given more than the 1631 minutes he spent on the pitch at RB Leipzig in his first topflight season (all in all, he played 2127 minutes for his club in competitive matches). He especially got fewer opportunities after Domenico Tedesco took over the team in December from Jesse Marsch, for whom Szoboszlai was a starter nine times in 14 rounds, while he only appeared six times out of the 20 league games with Marsch's successor. However, if we look at his statistics in full detail, compared to the topflight debut of the international elite players in his position, we get a much more nuanced picture.

21-year-old Szoboszlai made his Bundesliga debut last spring after an injury of more than six months, having not played in only three of the 34 rounds. He scored six goals and assisted eight times in 31 games, was named rookie of the month several times, and played in 14 cup matches in addition to the league (four in the Champions League, and five each in the Europa League and the German Cup), scored in the Champions League against PSG and Manchester City, and he scored a total of 10 goals and assisted nine times in 45 competitive matches. He also won the German Cup with Leipzig. Any Hungarian footballer would probably love to have such a "bad" topflight start.

Not to mention that he played for the national team in addition to his club, he missed only one national team match in the 2021–2022 season but played in 12 (seven times all the way) and scored three goals. Overall, considering all the competitive games, Szoboszlai made 57 appearances (3275 minutes) this season and scored 13 goals (two were penalties) in addition to his nine assists, so he played a prominent role in 22 goals – with an average of "only" 57 minutes per game on the pitch.

Moreover, according to InStat Sport statistics, he averaged 33 passes per game (with 82 percent accuracy), a key assist in a goal-scoring opportunity, 1.3 shots (0.47 hit the net), one cross (with 31 percent accuracy), five lost and 1.3 earned balls, 3.5 won (and 5.5 lost) duels, two good dribbles. And he scored 13 goals when his xG measurement, which indicates the quality of opportunities, was only 0.16 per match. His InStat index average for total output was 244.

To manage the numbers in their place, it is worth comparing them with the topflight debut and the first season of other players – who are now considered elite players – in Szoboszlai's position. We chose players whose careers, like him, did not start in a topflight country, but they continued to improve and followed the path that Szoboszlai could also aim for.

ONE OF SZOBOSZLAI'S BEST LEIPZIG GAMES – TWO GOALS AGAINST STUTTGART

Let's start with the highest level, with Luka Modrić, a 36-year-old Croatian Ballon d'Or winner who, now playing for Real Madrid, became a topflight footballer at Tottenham in England at the age of 23 (signed from Dinamo Zagreb) where he immediately became a key player in the Premier League. He had five goals and assisted 10 times.

Manchester City star Kevin De Bruyne, similar to Szoboszlai, made his debut in the German Bundesliga at the age of 21 – at Werder Bremen (Chelsea signed him from Belgian club Genk and immediately loaned him). In his first season, he scored 10 goals and made nine assists in 33 league games in 2966 minutes. However, Werder did not play in the international cup at the time, so the Belgian midfielder played a total of 34 games.

Sergei Milinković-Savić of Serbia, often compared to Szoboszlai in the international press because of his playing style, played his first match at the age of 20 in Italian Serie A club Lazio in 2015. He played for 1642 minutes in 25 league games, so unlike Modrić and De Bruyne, he did not immediately become a key man, scoring one goal and one assist. InStat Sport has intrusive statistics about Milinković-Savić's first topflight season, so for example, we can conclude that he was behind the Hungarian of Leipzig in pass accuracy (61 percent), key passes (0.24/match), and interception (0.84), but he was more effective than him in duels (52 percent).

SZOBOSZLAI'S BEST MOMENTS FROM THE 2021-2022 SEASON

Finally, after Modrić from Croatia and Milinković-Savić from Serbia, another example from our region is Slovakian player Marek Hamšík, who played his first full season in the Italian topflight for Napoli in the 2007–08 season (before that he had one game for Brescia). He immediately became a key player and scored nine goals and assisted four times in 37 games in 2887 minutes.

All in all, we can conclude that only De Bruyne earned more “Canadian points” (goals and assists together) than Szoboszlai among the elite players examined in Szoboszlai's position in the league in his first topflight season. It is also a fact that Szoboszlai has the lowest minutes of play, but this is precisely what gives reason for the confidence that, with more opportunities, he will be able to produce even more goals and assists in the future.

As Szoboszlai's manager, Mátyás Esterházy, said in our boxed text: it was a good debut, and we can look forward to an even better continuation.

MÁTYÁS ESTERHÁZY: IT WAS A GOOD DEBUT
Dominik Szoboszlai's manager, Mátyás Esterházy, highlighted in his summary that the 2021-2022 season could provide an adequate basis for the midfielder to build on in the future.
„If we only look at the numbers, that Dominik's goal and assists per match score (0.82) is ranked second in Leipzig (and 8th overall in the Bundesliga – the ed.) after Christopher Nkunku’s 1.09, who excelled at the entire European level, that he proved to be the 3rd best player in the Bundesliga in his own position, that he was able to decisively influence the development of the matches with a significant proportion of his goals, and adding that in total, together with the national team matches, he played in fifty-seven clashes, moreover, after a long injury, then we can be satisfied with his first season,” said Mátyás Esterházy. "At the same time, I am happy that we can have a little feeling of missing something regarding the minutes he has played because it shows that he can do even more in the future. Obviously, there is a lot of competition in Leipzig and not everyone can always play, but it is the same elsewhere at this level, which is why he went there because he can develop in such an environment. He can move forward if he can jump to that level – and the numbers show that he can do it. This season, especially after the injury, has been a big burden for Dominik both physically and mentally, and has also provided an excellent basis for the continuation next season, which we can look forward to after a good start.”

 

TOPFLIGHT DEBUTS OF PLAYERS 
  Dominik Szoboszlai Kevin De Bruyne Marek Hamšík Sergei Milinković-Savić Luka Modrić
First topflight season 2021–2022 – Bundesliga, RB Leipzig 2012–2013 – Bundesliga, Werder Bremen 2007–2008 – Serie A, Napoli  2015–2016 – Serie A, Lazio 2008–2009 – Premier League, Tottenham 
At what age? 21 21 20 20 23
Matches/minutes 31/1631 33/2966 37/2887 25/1642 34/2787
Goals 6 10 9 1 3
Assists 8 9 4 1 9