Liverpool's Minamino conundrum: When will Klopp see the best of the Reds' Japanese star?

Takumi Minamino Liverpool 2020-21
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After signing from Red Bull Salzburg, the 25-year-old has endured a testing first 12 months on Merseyside - but can 2021 be his year to shine?

It is safe to say that Takumi Minamino will never forget his first year at Liverpool.

It is 12 months since the Japan international moved to Merseyside, the Reds having beaten off strong competition to complete his signing.

At just £7.25million ($9.8m), it looked like the perfect transfer. A typical Liverpool transfer, if you like.

Minamino had impressed playing against them for Red Bull Salzburg in the Champions League, and appeared an ideal fit for a Jurgen Klopp team.

Bright, energetic, versatile and full of quality, his capture, ahead of the likes of Manchester United, RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund, was seen as something of a coup.

A year on, though, fans are still waiting for the 25-year-old’s Anfield career to ignite.

Minamino made his Liverpool debut in the third round of the FA Cup – a memorable 1-0 win over Everton – and he is likely to feature there again on Friday as the Reds travel to Aston Villa, with Klopp expected to make a number of changes to his starting line-up.

It was certainly a strange Christmas for the forward. He scored his first Premier League goal on December 19, netting his side’s opener in their historic 7-0 win at Crystal Palace, when everything looked rosy for the champions.

But if he hoped that might lead to an extended run in the team, his prayers have not been answered.

He completed 90 minutes at Selhurst Park – only the second time he has done so for Liverpool in the league - but he has not featured since.

As Klopp’s men have stumbled, dropping seven points in three games against West Brom, Newcastle and Southampton over the festive period, Minamino has remained unused.

Takumi Minamino, Crystal Palace vs Liverpool, Premier League 2020-21

Curious, to say the least – especially with the Reds scoring just one goal in those three fixtures.

Klopp turned to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Divock Origi against West Brom, and used Gini Wijnaldum, Thiago Alcantara and Xherdan Shaqiri off the bench up at Newcastle.

Against Southampton, when his side managed just one shot on target in 90 minutes, he called upon Shaqiri and James Milner. Not Minamino.

That, really, is how it has been for him on Merseyside. Moments of promise, but few and far between. One step forward followed by two back. “Rhythm,” is one of Klopp’s favourite words, but it has been hard to find for this player.

There have been 29 appearances in all competitions, but only 11 starts – and only four of those have come in the Premier League. Eighteen times he has been an unused substitute.

That is understandable, to a degree. He is, after all, competing for a position with three of the world’s best forwards, and the performances of Diogo Jota have made his task even tougher.

Jota hit the ground running following his summer switch from Wolves, with nine goals in 17 games before a knee injury halted his progress.

“It’s hard to get in this team,” Klopp said when asked about Minamino in November. “But Taki is a sensational boy and a great player, so he will face that challenge. His time will come, no doubt.”

The big question, though, is when? And where?

Minamino is certainly versatile. He has played on the right, on the left and as a No.9, and against Brighton in November he was deployed as a third central midfielder alongside Milner and Wijnaldum.

But if truth be told, he has not convinced anywhere yet. Not quite quick enough to play wide, not quite strong enough to play centrally. His impact has been fitful. His best game at Anfield, still, was in a Salzburg shirt.

Takumi Minamino Salzburg Liverpool PS

He has ability, clearly, and his attitude is faultless. He wants to succeed, you can see that, and he has a good understanding of the tactical demands of playing in this Liverpool side. He knows about pressing, about positional play, about where to run and why. 

Staff have been delighted with how he responded to the incredible challenges of 2020 – particularly off the field. Adapting to a new country, a new language and a new culture is one thing; doing it during three periods of national lockdown is quite another.

Minamino used the time well. His English is now close to perfect, and he has built strong relationships with team-mates, in particular Sadio Mane and Naby Keita, who live near him in Formby. "He has come out of his shell," said Virgil van Dijk back in September.

Goal asked Klopp about Minamino’s first year in England on Thursday, ahead of the Villa game.

“I don’t think it was a very difficult year,” he replied. “But I know what you mean. You come into a new club and everyone thinks you will score 20, 30, 40 goals….

“But he is in a really good shape. He developed, he got used to the intensity, to the training and he made big steps.

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“The last game he played was Crystal Palace and we won 7-0, and since then we didn’t win one. So we should think about involving him obviously!”

With Jota still sidelined – and likely to be out until the end of the month at least – and with Origi’s stock having plummeted in the last 12 months, Minamino will surely be needed in the coming weeks, particularly if Salah, Mane and Firmino continue to misfire.

After a testing 2020, Klopp will hope that 2021 is when Liverpool start to see the real Takumi Minamino.