With the Udinese man being on the end of virtually every Liverpool fan’s mouth over the past months, let’s take an in depth look at what the 22-year-old Pole is all about…
Zielinski’s career so far…
It all started at Orzeł Ząbkowice Śląskie where his Father coached him during the early years of his career. After attracting attention from several scouts at the Polish club, he joined Zagłębie Lubin at the age of 13. The time spent at the club allowed Zielinski to progress hugely, emerging as a great talent for the future and started to attract attention at International youth tournaments. Several big clubs like (Liverpool, Feyenoord and Bayern Leverkusen) were all going for his signature, however Zielinski chose Italian club (Udinese) and made his transfer in 2012 for £38,000.
After his career failing to ignite at Udinese in the first two years, Zielinski requested a loan and the team that came calling were Empoli. Here he got what he desired, minutes. However, his first season at ‘The Azzurri’ was a poor one, registering only 2 assists in 28 games. This was significantly improved in the 15-16 season with Zielinski tallying 11 contributions (5 Goals, 6 Assists) in 30-odd games and played a pivotal part in preventing relegation. This helped him catch the eye of Champions League side Napoli and KOP sensation: Jurgen Klopp…
Zielinski’s strengths and weaknesses…
After close analysis of Zielinski, one of the most impressive traits I discovered was his ability to draw defenders out of position. Despite the young age of only 22, he seems to have almost perfected this. Slowly delaying his charge with the ball, anticipating what defenders will do (run at him) and when this happens Zielinski takes advantage of sudden exposure to the back line, slightly diverting his run which opens up space for him, making the pass to the Striker a whole lot more simple.
(I try to show this in the image below, OVAL= Defender. TRIANGLE=Attacker BLACK/ORANGE LINE=Run. DASHED LINE=PASS)
Pressing is another reason why Zielinski’s style can be easily admired. A mixture of his explosive pace and high intensity football helps the team to win the ball back several times in a game, allowing dangerous breaks (orchestrated by the Pole; I like to compare this aspect of his game to N’golo Kante’s style).
Zielinski has the ability to win the ball back due to this press, however he then shows his maturity as a player via his great decision making in the final third. Emre Can is a fantastic talent, however I feel he does lack in the decision making department. We see at times that whilst watching Liverpool that Emre (like Zielinski) likes to pick up the ball in deep positions and make explosive runs, however the issue is that it then it takes him far too long to process everyone’s position on the pitch and play a good pass. I feel as if this is something Zielinski could offer to the ‘Liverpool Country’ as we currently lack a player with both (pressing and ‘decision making’) qualities in deeper roles.
Poor decision making is an issue in the final third with many Liverpool players: Coutinho taking too many shots, Sturridge holding on to the ball for too long, Lallana ‘cruyff-turning’ and slowing down play… Therefore, Zielinski along with the help of Firmino (who I also feel can maintain a ‘cool-head’ in these areas and has good end product) could resolve this problem and make Liverpool an even bigger offensive threat.
As has already been established, Zielinski is an intelligent player. As well as dribbling he is able to make good runs off the ball and get himself into goal scoring positions (averaging nearly two chances per game) which is great however when I tell you he only shoots on target (54%) of the time and only a (15%) conversion rate you won’t be so impressed.
However, this doesn’t startle me too much. In comparison to Lallana, the stats are actually a lot better, I’m not saying he is better than Lallana because he isn’t however the fact he has had nearly double the shots last season with a higher percentage on target and better conversion certainly stands for something. Also, making runs and reading the game is a natural ability which takes a lot of time to teach a player if he doesn’t possess this quality therefore Zielinski already having this in his locker is a huge positive as the coaching staff can work on development elsewhere.
On the other side finishing is something that comes with confidence and good coaching staff, and with a set-up of Klopp, Krawietz, Buvac and Ljinders he is in very safe hands. Confidence is also quite evidently not an issue either as shown in the picture below therefore I’m sure that after a few weeks of pre-season with the football mastermind Jurgen Klopp this weakness will be transformed into a strength and current mistakes will be rectified, ready for the start of the season.
Next, versatility. Zielinski is a rare breed, he’s a player who has no real weaknesses, there’s nothing I could properly criticize in his game; he can dribble, finish, pass, defend, head, basically the lot… The fact he can play winger/defensive midfielder/ attacking midfielder is of great value to Liverpool (if we do decide to sign him) as we see how effective Milner was last season, the ability to play him at full back/right attacking midfielder/central midfielder was great and Zielinski will provide a similar, if not better luxury.
Despite being versatile, he can improve of course, and especially at his young age there is bound to be room for a lot of improvement. Zielinski needs to focus on weight training during pre-season after the Euro’s, it will prepare him for the physicality of the Premier League in comparison to the slower-paced, defensive Seria A. As well as improve his overall game if his role will be defensive midfielder along with Can/Henderson (more on this later) as he will be winning more aerial battles due to this extra muscle and strength. For example if he finds himself dueling with a physical player like Fellaini/Costa he won’t be pushed off the ball easily. It’s also important to note the effect increasing muscle mass had on Origi and how it completely turned his career around.
Coming to the Premier League from another league is always a bit of a shock at first, this was the case with Origi, who was getting pushed off the ball too easily due to his lack of strength but when he increased a shirt size or two, he became a much tougher athlete to play against and drastically turned his Liverpool career around. If Zielinski worked on this in the weeks he now has, accompanied by Klopp’s plans of a highly intensive pre-season with new, top fitness coaches, it would prepare him for the Premier League and drastically improve his game by making the transition from boy to man (Fernandinho is a good example of the style Zielinski should try and emulate).
How Zielinski will be used…
I see three different possibilities for Zielinski at Liverpool: Defensive midfielder in a pivot with Emre Can, right attacking midfielder (rotation between him and Lallana) or as a squad player (similar to Joe Allen in the 15-16 season).
Defensive midfielder in pivot with Can:
Personally, I feel as if this position would be best suited to Zielinski. He would strive in this role the most, being able to apply his ‘high-press’ game and really infuriate the opposition by constant chasing of the ball. Also being able to pick the ball up in the deeper areas and start counter-attacks which Can currently does. However, I feel as if Zielinski could use his dribbling and quick, intelligent thinking to make Liverpool more of a threat on counters by supplying Sturridge and the three attacking midfielders with the ball in dangerous positions more frequently and efficiently than Can.
This would then allow Can to sit back and play as the ‘anchor man’ of the two, in which I think he plays best as we saw from several games last season like: Stoke (A), Manchester United (H) and Villarreal (H) in which he offered great protection to the back four and helped the side keep a clean sheet. The only issue with this is the competition to play in this position, which is likely to restrict Zielinski’s game time. Emre Can is a guaranteed starter which leaves the other spot in DM to Henderson, Grujic and Zielinski who will all feel as if they are the right player for the job. However, due to this being the captains position (Henderson) as well as fierce competition from Grujic (DM being his only real position) I feel that realistically this isn’t how Zielinski will be played despite him being best suited to the role.
Right attacking midfielder:
Many will think that this is Zielinski’s best position (it might well be) however due to circumstance I disagree. This is mainly due to the fact that it is Lallana’s position, who is superior to Zielinski in every way. Lallana has now played with Coutinho for several years and with Firmino for 12 months, watching them as a unit over the 15-16 season they clearly understand each other and have formed a real chemistry. Therefore, I don’t see a young Zielinski coming in and taking his spot (especially after Lallana’s current form at the Euro’s which will only bolster the likelihood of him retaining his position) in the 16-17 season.
With finishing still currently being a weakness of Zielinski’s I once again doubt he will be trusted to start in the position. He is likely to find himself in open space due to being able to read play on and off the ball, however converting is clearly still an issue. So I don’t think it would be a good call to play him in a highly offensive role, because fans are already being pessimistic about the potential transfer. Therefore, missing chances early on in the season (in which there are numerous, tough fixtures) will cause his relationships with the fans to deteriorate, which would result in a utter lack of confidence and then lead to very poor performances (as we seen with the transfer of Benteke) which is not what anyone wants…
I think this is to happen due to how versatile Zielinski is, as a bench player he will be able to play in 5/11 positions (both defensive midfielder positions and all three attacking midfielder positions) making him a good option. Despite this not being the best for the development of the player, as his minutes will be halved or more, I don’t think it would be a bad call as long as he’s getting a regular 30 minutes on the pitch. This would also allow him to potentially break into the XI, if he is able to string together a few very positive cameo appearances.
Do Liverpool really need Zielinski?
Yes and No.
As already mentioned, the likely way in which Zielinski will be used is as a squad player,which is why I don’t see much sense in the transfer. However, if the club feel as if they are in a position where they can offer Zielinski at least 2,000 minutes I would be highly enthusiastic about the possible deal. This is because that means he’s playing at least one in two games, giving him a lot of game time to prove himself, stamp his authority and earn the place which I know he is good enough to get.
To conclude, I don’t feel as if Zielinski lacks the ability which many think he does, however if he’s not going to get enough minutes at the club, his talent should not be wasted. Maybe a loan move is the answer (as was done with Grujic). Most importantly, if Liverpool do sign the Pole, we as the fans must not have overly-high expectations especially with Zielinski still being so young. It is looking very likely that no other central/defensive midfielders will be signed, with Gladbach not looking to sell Dahoud in this transfer window which is a positive because there is less competition and more game time, however the negative is the expectation and the high level of performance demanded from the fans which results Zielinski being under great amounts of pressure, with the whole world ready to condemn him.
Written by LFC Polskanol