Dominic Solanke has been a peripheral figure for Liverpool this season but he was handed his first Premier League start on Wednesday night as Jurgen Klopp’s side claimed a 3-0 win over Stoke.
The former Chelsea youngster, who made his England debut against Brazil earlier this month, got his chance as Mohamed Salah and Philippe Coutinho were rotated to the bench at the Bet365 Stadium.
So how did he fare? From goal threat to work-rate, we assess Solanke’s performance as Liverpool moved up to fifth in the Premier League table courtesy of Sadio Mane and Salah’s goals.
Solanke was deployed centrally, where he spent the evening swapping between striker and No 10 with Roberto Firmino as Mane and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain patrolled the flanks. It gave him the opportunity to take up dangerous positions, but he only had two touches in the opposition box and he was unable to capitalise on his best scoring chance.
It came shortly before half-time, when a clever one-two with Firmino sent him bearing down on the Stoke goal. The 20-year-old elected to take his shot early, but his low effort went straight into the arms of Lee Grant from 18 yards out. It turned out to be his only shot of the evening before his substitution for Salah midway through the second half.
Solanke may have missed his chance to get on the scoresheet himself but he excelled in providing service for others. He was the architect of the first goal of the evening, collecting Joe Gomez’s low cross with his back to goal and flicking the ball through to Mane with the outside of his right boot.
It was a clever piece of improvisation and there was more of the same when his backheeled flick found Firmino in the build-up to his own chance. Solanke then set up Mane for a second time a few minutes before half-time. His through ball was perfectly weighted for the onrushing Senegal international, who should have done better than clip his shot against the outside of the post.
Klopp will take huge encouragement from Solanke’s performance without the ball. The Liverpool manager demands relentless intensity from his forward players and Solanke did not let him down. His movement in attack gave Stoke plenty to think about, and he also tracked back diligently when Liverpool were on the back foot.
His hard work was borne out in the stats. According to Premier League tracking data, Solanke racked up 70 high-intensity sprints in just 67 minutes. It was the same number as Firmino, who completed the full 90 minutes and second only to Mane (77), who was only withdrawn in stoppage time. In other words, it was the kind of lung-busting effort that his manager craves.
Salah’s brilliant double from the bench underlined just how difficult it will be for Solanke to nail down a starting spot at Liverpool, but he certainly did his prospects no harm. This was the first Premier League start of his fledgling career but at no point did he look overawed or out of place.
Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce said it was “ludicrous” that Solanke had not been sent on loan to an EFL club this week, but on this evidence, he might not have to wait long for more chances at Liverpool. The hectic festive schedule will demand more rotation from Klopp. He now knows Solanke can be trusted when called upon.