Dominic Solanke only needed 10 minutes after coming on against Crystal Palace in a preseason friendly to score in emphatic fashion and demonstrate to Liverpool fans just why they should be getting very excited about having acquired his services.
The ease with which he comfortably – and unpredictably – dispatched what wasn’t even a half-chance suggested a seasoned campaigner rather than a teenager. His unerring ability to do the unthinkable at times is exactly what makes this youngster special and highly rated.
That unpredictability is something Liverpool manager, Jurgen Klopp has been most impressed with in the youngster’s short time in Merseyside.
“He’s an offensive player, a really skilled boy. He has to improve, of course, but a lot of things are already really good: first touch, movement, a lot of things," the German coach said.
In an inflated transfer market, Solanke’s notable cameos in his first three appearances are seemingly changing the narrative that bargains can’t be unearthed anymore.
Liverpool’s gain in the long term might well prove to be Chelsea’s pain. The Blues’ academy graduate showed great ambition when he refused to extend his contract with the West London Club with the sole aim of seeking first-team opportunities elsewhere.
The 19-year-old's journey through the youth ranks of Chelsea was exceptional, and he's now taking his talent elsewhere. He showed a deadly side to his game throughout his time in the youth team and reserve level. With 65 goals in 83 appearances – spread across the under-18s to 21s – he was an excellent predator, scoring goals requiring varying levels of skill. Right foot, left foot, header, tap-ins, long-range strikes…he scored the whole lot.
As a 16-year-old playing for the under-18s during the 2013-2014 season, he scored 20 goals in 25 games – a truly staggering return.
Solanke bettered that in the 2014-2015 when he found the back of the net 41 times in as many appearances as Chelsea won the Uefa Youth League and the FA Youth Cup. The young attacker scored in every round of both tournaments and deservedly claimed the Academy Player of the Year award for 2014/2015.
Farmed out on loan to Vitesse in the 2015/2016 season, he suffered some criticism, largely due to an 'underwhelming' goal return of seven in 25 league appearances.
Ostensibly, he underperformed away on loan, but unfortunately, the whole picture wasn’t considered.
After initially finding the back of the net four times in nine appearances, he then scored only three in the next 16. This was mainly as a consequence of the departure of Vitesse manager Peter Bosz to Maccabi Tel Aviv at the turn of the year.
The forward scored five of his seven goals under the tutelage of the former Heracles manager – who was responsible for bringing him to the Vitas – but struggled under interim manager Rob Maas as his and the team’s performances deteriorated. Injury in the second half of the season didn’t help either as he struggled for form and fitness.
Despite having arguably never enjoyed a full and successful campaign at any club at senior level, Solanke isn’t just moving to Liverpool to make up the numbers.
The striking position at Liverpool is up for grabs – with neither Daniel Sturridge nor Divock Origi fully trusted to lead the line – and the youngster can stake his claim for the role.
The Reds primarily played without a recognized number nine last season – with Roberto Firmino operating as a ‘false nine’ – but Solanke can make the position his own providing he proves his worth.
At 19, he’s primarily one for the future, but after demonstrating his class in the youth teams, he isn't too far away from making a step up to the first team.
One major weakness of the young attacker’s game is his tendency to drift in and out of games. His languid style of play has seen him labeled as ‘lazy’ by a few observers, but he could yet work on his deficiencies and who better than former Borussia Dortmund manager Klopp to guide him.
At national team level, the Basingstoke-born player has represented England at all youth-team levels, and was recently instrumental in helping England win the 2017 Fifa U-20 World Cup. Scoring four times in the tournament, he was awarded the Golden Ball for his impressive performances.
Solanke is also eligible to represent Nigeria, Gernot Rohr will have his eyes on the talented forward whose footballing education makes him a must-have for the Super Eagles.
His skillset provides the manager a variety of tactical options to utilize. Standing at 6ft 1in, he makes full use of his frame, while his technical ability, composure and ability to hold on to the ball and wait for teammates’ support make him a well-rounded opportunity. He can feature across the front line, although he’s most efficient when played in the hole or as the lone striker.
A partnership with Kelechi Iheanacho will be mouthwatering prospect, and would strike fear into any opposition.
With Solanke constantly aiming to find pockets of space in the final third, you’d find him dropping a bit deeper to act as a the team’s playmaker, serving as the link between the midfield and attack, in an attempt to create chances for his strike partner.
Off the ball, he is devastating and his ability to read the game effectively and put himself in the right positions is admirable. The fact that he’s comfortable with both feet also makes him even more unpredictable, as opponents wouldn't know what to expect. Having him in the Nigeria squad gives Rohr the opportunity to switch between formations – be it his preferred 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 – and make the Super Eagles harder to read in attack.
Solanke has a point to prove with the Reds, and Gernot Rohr must monitor his progress at Melwood with the sole purpose of convincing him to make the switch of allegiance to represent Nigeria at senior level. If the German tactician pulls that off, then Super Eagles could find themselves celebrating the recruitment of another top talent snatched from the Three Lions.