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A pre-season game can cement in people’s minds many things. The two games in two days we had last week didn’t let us down in this regard. Nowhere more so can this be seen than in the reaction to Dom Solanke. The crowning of the young forward, after a highly impressive half against the tough opposition of a non-league team, screamed overreaction. Yet, his performance in the match was only the latest in a host of factors which had built up over the previous month. The acquisition of Solanke was at first met by shrugs of shoulders by many. “Great, we have signed another 19 year old”. Yet this perception underwent a slow and steady change as the ineffective weeks in the transfer window went by. It was helped by the consternation of Chelsea supporters and his goal to game ratio, even if his YouTube video was a highlight reel of tap-ins. All this, coupled with his highly impressive performances in the U20 world cup where he was named player of the tournament, arguably made Solanke’s pre-season debut the most anticipated element of the Tranmere game. By Thursday Twitter was ready to call it: Solanke had usurped Origi, previously described as potentially the perfect Klopp striker. The less than stellar performance he put in against Wigan somewhat rained on the parade, however there is still an element of Solanke fever. So, let’s test out this hypothesis. Is Solanke the bargain of the century, the perfect Klopp striker? No: ok article finished, done. Of course he’s not, he’s not going to start the season and will probably feature in little more than cup competitions. However if we change the question slightly we can have a far more interesting conversation. Does Solanke possess all the tools to develop into a perfect Klopp striker? For any Klopp striker, really any Klopp player, the first thing we need to look at is work rate. Firmino hasn’t made himself the number one forward on the books through goals, rather through monumental amounts, and often selfless amounts of running. This element of a player’s game is, rightfully so, not part of the typical YouTube video. It really wouldn’t make good watching. It was therefore more than a pleasant sight at Tranmere and Wigan to watch Solanke busting a gut to chase down balls. What was equally important was the intelligence he possessed in how he made his runs. This was evident even more so in the odd moments where Tranmere were able to get on the ball. Solanke’s positioning as he arched his runs, cutting out passing lanes between centre backs, forced the ball to be played to isolated full backs who could be pounced upon. What this suggested is that he has the ability in a short space of time to understand the intelligent work rate that Klopp desires. Ok, mark that one down for Solanke. So if work rate is the number one consideration, an ability to finish has to be second. His control and shot against Tranmere and the way he turned the centre back where positive signs. However, to see actual footage of him putting the ball into the back of the net, we must turn to YouTube. Watching his greatest hits ain’t so great. You are waiting for the typical 30 yard shots that are repeated ad nauseum however there are none. Don´t get me wrong there is a lot of goals, but his videos don’t generally even live up to the Andriy Voronin standard, but there is a lot of goals. There aren’t many Cruyff turns either, but there is lots of goals. He isn’t taking the roof of the net, but you guessed it, there is a lot of goals. The ease in which he puts the ball away is almost arrogant. You just have to watch how he dispatches a penalty to see that. The fact that he isn’t flashy doesn’t mean he’s not deadly. Some of the greatest strikers in history looked like Bambi on ice. You could be mistaken for thinking Inzaghi had never seen a football let alone kicked one, and let’s not forget Liverpool´s greatest ever finisher, Ian Rush, was hardly Messi outside the box. However they came alive as the ball entered the area. The ability to drift into space is horrendously underrated. The fact that he actually seems to like to stand in the box is appreciated after Carroll and Benteke sitting on the halfway line for half a game while wearing the red shirt. Whether Solanke can transfer the spatial awareness he demonstrated at youth levels to senior football is the question. However as you watch him stroll into the area and stroke the ball into the net, just slow enough to make the keeper think he has a chance, but just fast enough that he doesn’t make it. You wouldn’t bet against him. But, let’s not sell Solanke short. His all-round play is far from a weakness, he is not a Gary Linekar. The fact that Paul Simpson chose to utilise him as a 10 rather than a number 9 for the England U20 team speaks volumes on Solanke’s ability to provide just as much as he scores. The clever lay-offs and passes in both friendlies, though not always successful, demonstrate this. However let’s be realistic, Solanke is a number 9. We may well see him at times utilised from out wide. However the drop in his effectiveness between Tranmere and Wigan, obviously effected by the increased class of the opponent, must also be viewed as a lesson that shoving him out wide is not going to see him flourish. Solanke is a round peg he needs to go in a round hole. At 6 foot 1 Solanke is exactly the same height as Robert Lewandowski, the striker that thrived most under Klopp. He also has a similar frame to the Pole. Yet right now he lacks the ability that Lewandowski has in spades, to hold up the football. In reality this is the weakest point that can be seen in Solanke’s game so far. However this needs to be put into perspective; Solanke is 19, only 19. He is a teenager still growing into his body. When thrown in against men this is the side of his game which we should expect to be the slowest to develop. However the potential of having a player become a legitimate aerial threat in the box, would offer so many more dimensions to our attack that its importance cannot be undervalued. With two defences who sat on the 18 yard line, it was very difficult to judge the pace Solanke has in his locker. And let’s be realistic pace is a vital tool. The statement pacey but with poor technique could be the motto for half the forwards in the premier league. However in the under 20 world cup we got an answer to this concern. Playing deeper and picking the ball up, he ran away from players and committed defenders. This suggests that while he might not be lightening quick, he will, as he grows, offer the dual weapon of holding a ball up and then equally going in behind a defence. By the end of this article the quantity of talent that I believe Solanke to have is not hard to guess. He has all the physical attributes to be a highly valuable player for Liverpool. I have heard people say he has the ability to be our Harry Kane and if he achieves that, no red will be complaining. However, with his turn-of pace he has the ability to be more than Kane. In many ways, he is potentially the perfect Klopp striker. What is going to affect his ability to achieve this, is luck with injuries and the right mentality. Watching him in his interviews, so far he seems to have a level head and attitude far beyond his years. Jose Morinho saw the quality of Solanke while under him at Chelsea and said if he is not a national team player for England Mourinho would have failed. So if that’s what Jose “I buy not develop players” Mourinho felt Solanke could achieve, just think how far Klopp could take him.
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