Dominik Szoboszlai is making a big impact at RB Leipzig this season, not least on Matchday 18. - © IMAGO/Michael Taeger/IMAGO/Jan Huebner
Dominik Szoboszlai is making a big impact at RB Leipzig this season, not least on Matchday 18. - © IMAGO/Michael Taeger/IMAGO/Jan Huebner

Dominik Szoboszlai keeping title-hungry RB Leipzig flying high


When you think of the players who have been powering RB Leipzig's title charge, his name isn't necessary the first that rolls off the tongue, and yet Dominik Szoboszlai has quietly established himself as a key member of Marco Rose's starting XI in 2022/23.

The 22-year-old has been more maker than taker this season, providing eight assists to sit second in the Bundesliga-wide charts behind Eintracht Frankfurt's Randal Kolo Muani. But in the Matchday 18 opener against VfB Stuttgart, Szoboszlai showed that goals are also part of his game, grabbing a brace to move onto three for the campaign.

In the 25th minute, he fired Leipzig ahead with a direct free-kick from distance, which owed as much to some poor handling from Stuttgart keeper Florian Müller as it did to the Hungary international's technique. But his second goal just after half-time was very smartly taken; perfect control with an outstretched right boot, and a crisp low finish past Müller into the bottom corner. Despite a Chris Führich penalty for the visitors midway through the second half, Leipzig held on to win 2-1 and keep the pressure on league leaders Bayern Munich.

Watch: Szoboszlai strikes twice against his favourite victims Stuttgart  

"It feels good, I have to say," Szoboszali told after the final whistle. "There was definitely a bit of luck involved in the first goal, but my aim was still to score. And the second was cleverly done. I wanted to hit it low because I knew the pitch was a bit slippery. I'm happy to have helped the team by getting two goals in this win."

It's not the first time the attacking midfielder has made life hard for Stuttgart. On his very first Bundesliga start in August 2021, the former Salzburg man struck a spectacular brace against Die Schwaben, thrashing in a first from range and poaching a second from a beautifully delivered free-kick, which bamboozled Müller when nobody in the penalty area got a touch on it.

It was some way for the young man to announce himself on the Bundesliga stage, especially after a lengthy groin injury which had kept him sidelined for the first seven months of his contract with Leipzig, between January and July 2021.

It looked like a star had been born, and yet Szoboszlai ended up in something of a bit-part role under coach Domenico Tedesco in 2021/22, featuring in more Bundesliga games as a substitute (16) than a starter (15). He still managed to rack up six goals and eight assists in 31 appearances, but it feels like things have really stepped up a gear since his reunion with Rose in September 2022.

Watch: Analysis of Leipzig under Rose

The current Leipzig coach was in charge of Salzburg between 2017 and 2019, when a teenaged Szoboszlai was a budding hopeful with the reserve team Liefering. Rose gave him a shot and helped him flourish with the Austrian Bundesliga outfit, convincing his young charge that hard work was a key factor in making it to the top. Szoboszlai credits Rose for changing his attitude and still wears a tattoo with a reminder of that important lesson: 'Talent is given by God. But without determination and sacrifice, it's worth nothing.'

"I've known Marco since my time in Salzburg," Szoboszlai said earlier this season, after Rose was appointed as Tedesco's successor. "We had both good and bad times together, but one thing is certain: if he hadn't been there in my career, I wouldn't be where I am now."

And where Szoboszlai is now is helping Leipzig fight for their maiden Bundesliga title. Throughout the first part of 2022/23, Christopher Nkunku was grabbing most of the headlines for Die Roten Bullen, after netting a remarkable 12 goals in 15 outings. He remains the division's top scorer despite suffering a serious knee injury on the eve of the World Cup, which forced him to miss that tournament and Leipzig's three games since the restart.

But others have stepped up to compensate for that loss of French flair, notably the Hungarian. Leipzig had a tough first assignment of 2023 as Bayern visited the Red Bull Arena, but they managed to earn a 1-1 draw as Szoboszlai teed up Marcel Halstenberg for a second-half equaliser. In the following game against Schalke, no fewer than five players found the back of the net in a commanding 6-1 victory: Andre Silva (twice), Benjamin Henrichs, Timo Werner, Dani Olmo and Yussuf Poulsen.

Watch: Leipzig hit Schalke for six

"I'm working hard and I want to make it as hard as possible for the coach when picking the team," declared a bullish Henrichs. "A team thrives off competition for places, and everyone here works hard for each other. We'll definitely carry on like that. When you're on top, you want to stay there."

Leipzig may not be quite on top as far as the table is concerned, but they are certainly in full bloom under Rose. Since the start of October, they've put together a brilliant 16-game unbeaten run in all competitions, including an impressive 3-2 win over European champions Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League group stage. They will resume that competition in February with a mouthwatering last 16 tie against Manchester City.

The Leipzig-born tactician has also made a formidable fortress of the Red Bull Arena, where his side are unbeaten in the Bundesliga this season. Fellow heavy hitters Wolfsburg (2-0), Borussia Dortmund (3-0) and Bayer Leverkusen (2-0) were all sent packing, with only Cologne and Bayern managing to earn a point in Rose's garden.

The Dortmund victory was the first time Szoboszlai had played under Rose in the Bundesliga, and their reunion could hardly have been sweeter. On just six minutes, the No.17 clipped in a corner that Willi Orban headed home, before unleashing a 30-yard rocket – and goal of the season contender – to put Leipzig firmly in the driving seat.

Watch: Szoboszlai's goal of the season contender (at 00:40)

Szoboszlai had made a rather indifferent start to the season, coming off the bench in an opening draw with Stuttgart (and not scoring for once), then getting a straight red card in the subsequent stalemate with Cologne. On his return, Leipzig were thumped 4-0 by Frankfurt, which – coupled with a 4-1 Champions League loss to Shakhtar Donetsk – spelled the end for Tedesco. And heralded the start of the Hungarian's renaissance under Rose.

An assist and a goal against Dortmund on Matchday 6. Two assists against Hertha Berlin on Matchday 10. Assists in the next four games against Augsburg, Leverkusen, Hoffenheim and Freiburg. The assist for Halstenberg against Bayern. The double against Stuttgart. Since Rose came in, Szoboszlai has started every Bundesliga game, and his influence goes beyond the easily measurable framework of those three goals and eight assists.

"They were brilliant goals, everyone can see that," Xaver Schlager said after Szoboszlai's superb Stuttgart showing on Matchday 18. "But we also take more note of how hard he works off the ball, how he positions himself and how he presses on the pitch. I don't think I've ever seen an attacking midfielder who is so good defensively."

A potent combination of ball-winner, creator, set-piece specialist and goal-getter, Szoboszlai helped Leipzig lift their first DFB Cup last term. At 22, he's already a four-time Austrian champion with Salzburg – and if he keeps up current form, he could soon be a German champion with Leipzig as well.