With Dominik Szoboszlai set to follow Alexis Mac Allister through the doors at Liverpool, it's clear to see that Jurgen Klopp's summer plans are taking shape.
The 'Great Midfield Rebuild' of 2023 has been an open secret for quite some time at Anfield and after dropping to the lowest finish of any of Klopp's seven full seasons at the club, the topic has been the subject of intense, daily debate in recent months.
Liverpool's engine room was blighted by both fitness and form issues across the entirety of last season as Klopp came to regret the decision to keep his powder dry after initial target Aurelien Tchouameni chose Real Madrid when he left Monaco last year.
The departures of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita and James Milner have also increased the need for additional players this summer with Liverpool in possession of an unbalanced midfield department with too many at either ends of their careers.
While Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliott and Stefan Bajcetic are all 21 and under, Thiago Alcantara and Jordan Henderson have spent over a decade each at the top level and will be 32 and 33, respectively, when the new season starts. Fabinho, at the age of 29, is the only player in what are normally considered the prime years for a midfielder, but the Brazilian has played nearly 500 games in club football, with 219 of them as a Liverpool player.
So the need to replenish the stock in the centre of the pitch has been patently obvious for some time. It's why background work on Mac Allister started last year and why he was snared for a relatively modest £35m within a fortnight of the Premier League season ending.
Szoboszlai, having been cleared to undergo his Liverpool medical, now looks set to join the Argentina World Cup winner, suddenly giving the Reds' midfield an exciting new look to it. Should both begin the campaign as starters in the Liverpool team, it is expected that Mac Allister will operate on the left side of Klopp's three-man system as one of the two 'No.8s' within the tactical framework.
“I was a playmaker when I was younger and I spent many years there, but I feel my best position really is as a No.6 (defensive midfielder)," Mac Allister said during his time at Brighton. Upon his arrival at Liverpool last month, he added: “I think the managers who work with me know I can do it everywhere that they need me. As a player, I’m a player who tries to play as simple as possible, to help my team-mates defensively or attacking, and that’s the most important thing. I’m a team player and I will try to bring that to this club.”
The use of Fabinho as the most defensive-minded midfielder will free up Mac Allister to move further forward and try and use his passing and shooting ability to hurt the opposition in their third of the pitch.
During Mac Allister's 6,818 minutes in the Premier League with Brighton, he spent 37% of it as a deep-lying playmaker and 32% further forward as a central attacking midfielder. The intrigue around Trent Alexander-Arnold's long-term role at Anfield may be key to establishing where the former Seagulls star is asked to operate but a return to the No.10 position is a possibility if Klopp is looking to spring a tactical surprise or two next term.
The Reds haven't used a pure 'No.10' - a player tasked with creating and scoring from behind the centre-forwards - since Philippe Coutinho performed the role with distinction at Anfield. The Brazilian left in January 2018.
Scouting tool Fbref has likened Mac Allister to the vaunted Ilkay Gundogan, who recently traded Manchester City for Barcelona and if that comparison is an exciting one, the same website has another intriguing piece of information where Szoboszlai is concerned.
The most similar player to Hungary captain, according to Fbref, is Borussia Dortmund's Julian Brandt, who was once a transfer target for the Reds dating back to the summer of 2017. After that, Szoboszlai's underlying numbers are similar to those of Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes.
United's Portugal international will have few allies on Merseyside but his passing and shooting ability is undeniably impressive, which should at least give Reds supporters unfamiliar with Szoboszlai's game a smidgen more understanding of what he can provide. It's the comparison to another United stalwart that might really pique the interest, however.
“I describe him as a modern-day David Beckham,” Jesse Marsch, his former manager at Red Bull Salzburg and RB Leipzig, said in 2020. “Beckham had a real ability to hook a ball and he could also chop it when he needed to, but Szoboszlai can hit the ball a lot of different ways too, and he’s got power."
The 22-year-old ranks in the 85 percentile for assists across Europe's top leagues last season, while his shot-creating actions are up to 91 and his passes attempted sits as high as 95. The Leipzig star ranked in first place for shots on target against the other midfielders in Germany's top flight last term, while he came in second for attempts from set-pieces and third for through balls played. He ranked fourth in key passes and fifth in successful dribbles. There were few as well-rounded players as Szoboszlai in the Bundesliga last time out.
If Alexander-Arnold is the man in possession of the resident right-footed wand at Anfield, he is set to at least face competition for that from Szoboszlai, whose ball-striking ability make for quite the exciting YouTube compilation video.
Marsch added: "He can really hit the ball. He can do these things with his right foot but can also play a little more intensively and he can work harder against the ball and he can be a threat in the box still.
"Certainly his greatest gift is his right foot, he can put the ball where he wants to. But he can run all day and he’s fast, and what’s interesting is when you have a player that’s so gifted with his right foot, what I try to do is still not let him just rely on what he can do with his right foot but also to use his athleticism to be aggressive with and without the ball. And certainly running off the ball to be dangerous."
Like most players coveted by Klopp, the Hungarian can operate in a number of roles but having played out wide and as an advanced attacking midfielder during his time with Salzburg, Leipzig and Hungary, it is as the right-sided central midfielder where he will be expected to flourish at Anfield, one suspects. Jordan Henderson's current position, in old money.
“We use him usually as a left-sided No.10, but he can play as a middle 10, he can play as a right 10 and he can play as a No.8," Marsch told The Athletic when he was Red Bull Salzburg coach. "When I first came here, I gave him a hard time about this. We did a TV interview and the interviewer asked him, ‘Are you an 8 or a 10?’, and he said he was an 8, and I said to him: ‘Are you crazy? You’re a 10’."
Szoboszlai's athleticism, power and nimble footwork will be key assets needed to thrive in those areas next season and his expected arrival will be a huge injection of quality for a department that was running on empty at times last season.
With 20 goals between them in the Premier League and Bundesliga last term (10 apiece), Klopp is also looking to add a new string to the midfield bow in his recruitment of Mac Allister and Szoboszlai.
Goalscoring has rarely been top of the remit when it comes to midfielders under Klopp but with an overreliance on 30-goal Mohamed Salah last season, the ability to add more to the tally from the centre of the park will give a new dynamic to the team going forward, even if the burden to get on the scoresheet will remain firmly on the likes of Darwin Nunez, Cody Gakpo, Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz.