When Dominic Solanke was played through early in the second half by the Premier League’s Golden Boot winner he made no mistake.
Fuelled by a mixture of the confidence gained from setting up Mohamed Salah for the opener and frustration from going an entire season without a goal, the Liverpool forward unleashed a thunderous effort past the hapless Mat Ryan in the Brighton goal to extend the Reds’ advantage to three on the day.
There’s been a lot of talk recently surrounding Solanke’s future at Anfield. Our friends at Football Whispers have taken a look at his debut season at Anfield. Would a loan be best for his development or is he the ideal back-up to Roberto Firmino?
It’s been a long-time coming for the former Chelsea academy player. Having made the decision to run down his deal at Stamford Bridge and move elsewhere in search of first-team football, he found himself on Merseyside.
On the surface it appeared a strange decision. He had Firmino, Daniel Sturridge, Divock Origi and Danny Ings ahead of him in the pecking order at Anfield. But one by one the obstacles in his path slowly disappeared. No, he didn’t have the Infinity Stones, he just had the manager’s trust.
Origi left for Wolfsburg for the season in August and Sturridge followed suit in January when he returned to the Midlands to join West Bromwich Albion for the remainder of the campaign.
Solanke’s involvement during pre-season went a long way to showing why he’d been signed. He was as selfless as Firmino, arguably the most complete forward in Europe this season, while still managing to be a goal threat. In many ways he appeared to be a lite version of the Liverpool No.9.
As with Andrew Robertson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Klopp managed Solanke’s minutes early on and only allowed him cameo appearances here and there as he got up to speed with the rigours of playing for the Reds. His first start didn’t arrive until the end of November.
Liverpool romped to a 3-0 win against Stoke City. It’s a game remembered for Salah’s quite frankly ridiculous volleyed finish to give Jurgen Klopp’s men a 2-0 lead. But it was Solanke who produced a moment of magic to break the deadlock.
Facing away from goal and with three Stoke players in close proximity, he nonchalantly flicked the ball into the space he’d created and into the path of Sadio Mane. The Senegalese speedster dinked it over the onrushing Lee Grant and the away side had their lead.
The 20-year-old got the nod to start the Merseyside derby in December. He also started against the Toffees in April. It says a lot that two of his five Premier League starts for the Reds came in derby matches.
The first golden chance he had to score his maiden Liverpool goal arrived just three days after the match against Everton. West Bromwich Albion left Anfield with a point in the bag after clearing a Solanke effort off the line late on. The forward also had a goal chalked off for a controversial handball.
However, buoyed by his involvement in the first-team, Solanke started to show flashes of his class.
On Boxing day. Swansea City were already 5-0 down when Philippe Coutinho picked the ball up 30 yards from goal and lofted a delicate pass over the defence. Solanke met the pass with a first-time volley. The technique was exceptional. The execution not so much. It fizzed past Lukasz Fabianski’s far post.
He continued to get himself into dangerous areas whenever he found himself on the pitch. His expected goals per 90 tally remained around the 0.5 mark. If he continued to play his game then he’d open his account for the Reds sooner rather than later.
The Liverpool No.29 had an ideal opportunity to make himself a cult hero during the derby at Goodison Park. Pinball in the penalty area saw the ball fall to Solanke seven yards from goal. His first-time left-footed effort was too close to Jordan Pickford and the Everton stopper palmed it away.
His effort against Brighton was perhaps his most difficult one to date in red. But he finished it with aplomb. The talent is there and he did, after all, win the Golden Ball award for his performances at the Under-20 World Cup.
With Liverpool unlikely to sign an out and out forward this summer there’s an argument to be made that the England international should stay on Merseyside.
The Reds picked up 11 points from the 15 in the matches he started and scored an average of two goals per game. It’s not a bad record to finish with and shows, to an extent, that he can do a job.
But if he’s to properly develop and fulfil the abundance of potential he has then a loan move might be the best way to go with Solanke. He ended the year with an xG90 total of 0.58 – second only to Salah.
He’s a goal threat, there’s no doubt about it, but he needs to work on his finishing and this is evident when looking at the post-shot xG90 stat.
For those unfamiliar with this metric, it gives a value to where the shots land on the target. The young forward’s post-shot xG value is 0.28 down on his xG total meaning his shot selection devalues the opportunities he keeps on having.
The only way that will improve is with practice and, as positive as it is to train alongside the stars at Melwood, to truly develop he needs to be playing first-team football in a competitive league on a regular basis.
A loan move to Steven Gerrard’s Rangers has been mooted as one option. Solanke need only look at the impact a spell in Scotland had on Virgil van Dijk’s career to see the value of moving north if it is legitimately an option.