Liverpool handed competitive debuts to Dominik Szoboszlai and Alexis Mac Allister against Chelsea
Sunday marked the Premier League debuts for Liverpool new boys Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai.
There aren’t many harder away games to kickstart your campaign than at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea. While there is change ongoing in West London following the arrival of Mauricio Pochettino, there is quiet optimism amid their free-spending summer so far.
Both midfielders were brought in amid the rebuild at Anfield but in the summer months that have followed have had to deal with uncertainty. James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita were among the departures at the end of last season but the extra sales were coupled by the exit of Jordan Henderson and Fabinho.
Jurgen Klopp was forced to field something of a makeshift midfield for the trip to Stamford Bridge with Mac Allister in the middle of the engine room three, alongside Szoboszlai and Cody Gakpo.
The German manager made it clear that the formation for their curtain-raiser would not be for the rest of the season and merely for their encounter with Chelsea. While the Reds struggled in parts after taking the lead, there were positives and negatives from the two debutants.
For the former Brighton & Hove Albion midfielder, stepping foot at Stamford Bridge wasn’t entirely new for him. However, he found himself in a position that isn’t his strongest.
Klopp named an unchanged side from the team that beat SV Darmstadt for Sunday’s encounter. Mac Allister came up against his World Cup-winning compatriot Enzo Fernandez, with his opposite number scooping the Player of the Match award.
While the former Benfica man played a starring role in the draw, Liverpool came away with more answers than questions. Playing in an unfamiliar role, Mac Allister shone.
Due to his inexperience in the role, minor mistakes can be forgiven, notably allowing Fernandez to ghost through the midfield forcing Ibrahima Konate to make a covering block.
But the Reds could’ve found their very own midfield general.
Sitting in the hole unlocked the 24-year-old’s capacity to instruct play and it was evident in his diagonal pass for Mohamed Salah which lead to the opening goal from Luis Diaz.
What became clear from his competitive Liverpool debut was that if he continues in the role at the base of the midfield three, the Reds will restrict some of the qualities he possesses.
The ongoing transfer battles go hand-in-hand with what role Mac Allister plays, if Liverpool fail to welcome a defensive midfielder, it could see him play in the role a lot more until Stefan Bajcetic or Thiago return to full fitness.
On the other side of the midfield three, Szoboszlai played his first minutes in the Premier League.
The Hungarian skipper showed glimpses of his pressing capabilities plus his quality with the ball as he danced through the lines before Diogo Jota took the ball off his toe with a miscued shot.
The passage of play has shades of the clip that emerged from his time at RB Leipzig in their encounter with VfL Bochum. He picked up possession deep on the right, firstly beating two, rolling the ball to his right – leaving three more in his wake – only for Andre Silva to pull the trigger from the edge of the six-yard box. Ultimately both efforts didn’t receive the outcome they deserved following the immense work from the 22-year-old.
Playing in midfield for Szoboszlai is something of a novelty following his spell in the Bundesliga. He predominantly played in attacking midfield during his time in Lower Saxony with just eight appearances coming in the midfield. For much of the second half of their Bundesliga campaign, under Marco Rose last season he was prominent on the right wing.
In defensive transition, the Hungary playmaker would defend the half-spaces at Die Roten Bullen but was utilised in a different role on Sunday. What’s striking for Liverpool is the positive signs he showcased in his first 90 minutes in the English top flight.
Previous transfers have seen a slow adaptation to the top-flight – namely Fabinho who found it difficult acclimatising to the Premier League. Although still early days, his harrying of Chelsea’s wing-backs and midfielders would’ve undoubtedly pleased Klopp.
What Liverpool fans witnessed on Sunday was a blend of fearless ball-carrying, tenacious pressing and a calm presence in possession. A unique display that has been absent the Reds’ midfield in recent seasons.
Despite weathering Chelsea’s pressure at Stamford Bridge, Liverpool have cause for optimism with their new boys. Mac Allister illustrated his capabilities, as well as his versatility, but the Reds boss runs the risk of impeding the Argentine’s true potential.
Szoboszlai could easily take the mantle from the midfielders who have departed Anfield this summer. His physicality and his influence have shown a small peek into the pressing machine that Klopp so desires.