Football News: Dominic Solanke - An Initial Assessment

 

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Dominic Solanke - An Initial Assessment
Image from: liverpoolecho.co.uk

In the Summer transfer window of 2017, there was a rather underwhelmed feeling amongst Liverpool fans.

They had watched their club go out and target big names like Virgil Van Dijk, Naby Keita and Thomas Lemar. So you can imagine the universal disappointment that followed when the four main signings were a free transfer from Chelsea, a former Chelsea player who had previously flopped in England, a 25 year old utility player who is apparently still 'full of untapped potential', and a left back from relegated Hull City. Alas, Mohammed Salah has been the best signing of the Summer by any club, and in recent weeks Andrew Robertson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have had a few decent performances, though nothing special. So what about young Dominic Solanke?

First and foremost, Solanke is a striker. Therefore, the fact he has a grand total of zero goals is certain to raise a few eyebrows. However at just 20 years old and with less than 300 Premier League minutes, it's hard to be overly critical. Instead, I would like to focus on the glimpses of potential he has shown us.

Off the Ball:
Out of possession, Solanke has shown himself already to be a menace. He makes very clever and sometimes unselfish runs to find or create space. He is a naturally intelligent player. His ability to be in the right position at the right time is evident. As the great Bill Shankly once said, "yes Roger Hunt misses a few, but he gets in the right place to miss them".

It is not just offensively that Solanke has been effective off the ball though. He also presses brilliantly for a player of his size. You certainly can't question his energy or mobility. In fact, in one of the first games of the season Liverpool were making an absolute pigs ear out of trying to break down Crystal Palace at Anfield. Suddenly, Solanke came on as a substitute and wins the ball back about 20 yards from goal. The tackle fell to Sadio Mane, who sealed victory for Liverpool. It's very easy to argue that Solanke's unexpected industrial approach directly helped to win Liverpool that game.

On the Ball:
Solanke is equally good on the ball. His decision making defies his tender years. Whenever he gets the ball, the game seems to slow down. His head is up looking for the best option and as he effortlessly finds space in the final third, he also seems to have more time than your average Joe. He's even shown he is deceptively good at running with the ball. Though he isn't explosive off the mark, he has sublime close control (as well as quick feet), he is very strong on the ball, and he can be very direct which often causes panic.

In his recent start against Stoke City, Solanke played a major part in the breakthrough goal. As a cross came in behind him, Solanke had the quality to bring the ball under instant control, the composure to turn to face the goal inside the box, and then the awareness to play a delicate flick in behind for Mane. Most 20 year old strikers looking for their first goal would've lashed at an opportunity like that!

Later in that same game, Solanke was demonstrating his excellent hold up play inside the centre circle. Again, he brought the ball under his spell, held onto it as players ran beyond him, got his head up, and sent Mane clean through with a perfectly weighted through ball. Unfortunately the Senegalese forward went on to smash the ball against the base of the post. Solanke's work should not be forgotten because of Mane's rare moment of profligacy though.

Finishing:
Thus far, this has been Solanke's Achilles heel. As discussed, he regularly finds himself in good positions, but i feel as though he needs time to adapt to playing against better goal keepers. At u20's, all you really need to do is hit the ball hard, low, and keep it on target. Usually it'll go through or under most keepers at that level. At Premier League level though, the keepers are much better. Solanke needs to try and get his shots closer to the corners. He certainly has the ability to do so, but patience is required from the fans. He was very unlucky not to come away with a goal against West Bromwich Albion, with one (rightly) disallowed and another chance cleared off the line.

We do know that Solanke has goals in him. He proved that in pre-season with an excellent 20 yard drive into the bottom corner and an absolutely stunning header into the top corner. One thing I noticed in pre-season is that Solanke linked up very well with Adam Lallana. Being the big unit that he is, Solanke likes to attack floated crosses. Lallana is the best player in the Liverpool squad at that kind of delivery.

James Milner, Jordan Henderson, Phillipe Coutinho, and Alberto Moreno all tend to whip the ball in at pace. Whilst those crosses are perfect for finding a less powerful striker such as Salah or Mane (who tend to be ignored by big centre backs due to their height), they don't suit a less explosive player like Solanke whose size attracts at least one man marker, and sometimes two. Solanke wants something to attack so he can get a run on the defenders, and Lallana was giving him that on a regular basis in the summer. Hopefully when Lallana is fit, we may start to see some competitive goals from Solanke if they can pick up where they left off in August!

Attitude:
Solanke's attitude has been second to none. He has worked hard on the pitch, trained hard off it, applied himself to whatever task Jurgen Klopp has set him, and most of all he hasn't moaned to the press about game time! He just seems happy to be in and around the first team, and accepts he is a developing player. Being well grounded like that will set him on the right path. He also hasn't let his goal drought affect him in the slightest which is the mark of a player who is confident in his own abilities.

Overview:
All in all, Solanke is an excellent prospect and an absolute bargain whatever fee is decided upon at the tribunal. He is a class above most other Premier League strikers in his age group in my opinion (with the few notable exceptions being Gabriel Jesus of Manchester City, Dominic Calvert-Lewin of Everton, and Marcus Rashford of Manchester United), and despite Solanke's lack of goals and game time, he has still impacted a handful of results. As long as he himself stays patient, and doesn't start making the wrong decisions to try and force a first competitive goal, it is fair to say Liverpool are onto a winner with this signing. He has already earned his managers trust as we saw when he started the Merseyside Derby, and personally I can see him becoming a fan favourite over the next few seasons. The goals will inevitably come!

Written by Adam Jones

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