In a summer transfer window which saw the world-record fee paid for a player more than double, it’s easy to understand why a 19-year-old moving on a free transfer would go under the radar.
There was no media circus surrounding Dominic Solanke’s move from Chelsea to Liverpool. His contract at Stamford Bridge had expired and he was just another in a long line of youngsters looking to move on from the Premier League champions in search of more first-team opportunities.
Due to his age, it was up to a tribunal to decide what the Reds would pay for his services, and it was suggested that £3million was the magic number down the line – a drop in the ocean when you consider the fact £70million is quickly becoming the new £40million.
Despite being one of the most highly-rated strikers under the age of 20 in Europe – he’s been nominated for the Golden Boy award – many outside of Chelsea hadn’t seen Solanke. He was a relative unknown in today’s world and therefore expectations weren’t at their usual height. He was able to come in as somewhat of a blank page.
But as soon as Jürgen Klopp unleashed Solanke in pre-season there was a sense of intrigue surrounding him.
He looked a handful both in and out of possession and it was evident he was a goal threat. The now-20-year-old impressed in pre-season and lead the line admirably.
Solanke gave Klopp an option he didn’t have last season: a brutish centre-forward who can blend modern-day requirements with a more traditional No.9 approach.
But at the same time these weren’t competitive games, so it was hard to judge. There’s no point over-hyping him, but at the same time you couldn’t ignore the obvious.
Solanke has the potential to be Liverpool’s wildcard this season and, though the Reds are only 17 Premier League games into the 2017/18 campaign, there are already signs to suggest he should be unleashed sooner rather than later.
He came on against Burnley and nearly won the game for the Merseyside club, when his late acrobatic effort cannoned back off the crossbar. During the club’s 2-0 defeat to Leicester City in the Carabao Cup, it was Solanke who was the obvious goal threat. The understanding he has with Andrew Robertson is definitely one to watch as the pair hone their craft at Melwood.
Solanke came off the bench against Newcastle United in the 1-1 draw and quietly impressed. He then made his first league start against Stoke City, where he set up a goal, before starting the Merseyside Derby. He’s featured in just 250 minutes’ worth of Premier League action for the Reds but in that time has shown he deserves more of an opportunity.
Sturridge vs Solanke
It’s been a frustrating start to the 2017/18 campaign for Sturridge. Ahead of the new season it appeared as though everything finally flicked for the former Chelsea man. Klopp revealed to the media that it was the fittest he’d seen the Liverpool No.15 since his arrival.
“What I can say is that he’s here, he’s training and this is 100 per cent the best face since we got together.
“Did you see him train? He is really digging in and giving everything.
“He’s reaching for the next level, a new physical level and that’s really good news.
“We don’t have to talk about what a difference he could make, everybody knows about it. We just need to have it. We need him fit.”
Sturridge oozes class, and if he were fit he would be Klopp’s go-to weapon of choice off the bench, with Roberto Firmino set to lead the line. He injured himself while scoring against Bayern Munich in a pre-season tournament to basically sum up his Liverpool career, though. And since then, despite being afforded opportunities, he’s looked rusty.
He came off the bench against Spartak Moscow during the 1-1 draw in Russia and fluffed his lines on two occasions. He then missed a one-on-one chance with the keeper in the draw at St James’ Park. The dropped points don’t lay squarely at the feet of Sturridge, but those sort of chances are supposed to be his bread and butter.
Had Sturridge taken his opportunities then those two points the Reds won would’ve been six, and the season to date would have a slightly different feel about it. It’s not just about the goals, though: when Sturridge starts, Liverpool look slower in the final third.
The Liverpool attack has been profligate in general this season, with Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sturridge all having fairly low conversion rates. During the month of September, the Reds scored just eight goals in seven matches.
They weren’t able to field their strongest XI, with Sadio Mané being suspended for three of those matches, but even with the Senegalese speedster in the team, Klopp’s men sometimes looked blunt and predictable.
Solanke’s unpredictability would give the opposition something to think about. While Liverpool’s bad luck in front of goal won’t continue – creating so many clear-cut chances without managing to find the back of the net just isn’t sustainable – what is expected to last throughout the season is the Reds coming up against teams looking to sit back in compact lines.
As Solanke has shown with a number of chances in the early months, he’s not opposed to lurking in the six-yard area and letting the more creative players do what they do best in deeper zones. It’s a plan B the Reds will need this season, and he brings much more to the team than, say, a Christian Benteke ever did.
Liverpool wouldn’t forfeit their high press with Solanke starting either, as he’s shown he’s got the stamina and the intelligence to play as part of an organised pressing system.
It’s by no means ideal but sometimes these bold decisions need to be made. Teams are set-up to defend against the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Firmino, Mané, Salah and Sturridge. Throwing Solanke into the mix changes the dynamic and perhaps opens the game up.
With difficult matches against Arsenal, Everton and Manchester City on the horizon over the next few months, Solanke is exactly what Liverpool may need if they’re to give their season another kickstart.