Sat opposite the travelling Kop in and amongst the Chelsea fans, having secured a ticket in the home end, wasn’t too much fun on Tuesday evening.
The result wad a 2-0 victory for the Blues, with the final half an hour of Liverpool’s performance dire in parts.
But for the first time, I got to see Takumi Minamino display the kind of attributes that will eventually see him make a success of himself at Liverpool – despite some lazy reaction to his display.
Minamino’s positions & role under Jurgen Klopp
At Rb Salzburg, Minamino was often used either from the flank as an inverted winger or as an attacking midfielder – especially this season with Erling Haaland leading the line in such brutal fashion before his departure to Borussia Dortmund.
But it appears Klopp sees Minamino’s role mainly in central areas of the pitch. He started in Roberto Firmino’s false-9 position v Chelsea, which is telling considering recognised striker Divock Origi was on the left.
When Bobby came onto the field late on, Taki dropped into the no.10 role, although it would be fair to suggest he failed to make an impact on proceedings in this spot. The 25-year-old also led the line v Everton back in January, so it’s becoming clear this is where Klopp believes he’ll benefit the side most.
So… what was it like watching Taki in the flesh?
Interesting. Unlike Firmino, Minamino offers his midfielders and defenders an option short and an option in behind. Bobby drops deep, which allows Sadio Mane and Mo Salah to run forward, but Minamino was making plenty of runs behind Chelsea’s back-four.
He was never found, though – with the likes of Fabinho and Virgil van Dijk choosing to pass to the fullbacks or those on the touchline instead of fizzing balls into the Japanese.
From my angle, behind the goal, there was actually countless times there was a clear pass on to Minamino, who had got tight to a defender and could have rolled him if an appropriately fizzed pass was played between the centre-backs – but we didn’t attempt a single through-ball all evening.
Off the ball, he was terrific. Every time we had possession in midfield, or even when the centre-backs were passing between themselves on the halfway line, Taki was darting around Chelsea’s backline or sprinting into a pocket of space between their defence and midfield. He’d start on the shoulder of the last man, producing angled runs time and time again – but the lack of creativity behind him was a clear problem on the night.
What are Minamino’s best attributes and how do they translate to Klopp’s Reds?
In terms of how he likes to attack, Minamino has plenty of Firmino about him. It’s no surprise he’s arrived and is seemingly the Brazilian’s backup, for now. Taki is a technician, which allows him to play one-twos in and around the box in the hope of setting either himself or a team-mate up for a shot.
There is zero selfishness in his play, which is perhaps important considering how much Mane and Salah like to score!
Like Bobby though, there appears a lack of ruthlessness in his finishing right now. He missed a great opportunity in the first-half and instead of forcing a shot in the second, recycled the ball – which you can guarantee Salah wouldn’t have.
Of course, we need all kinds of attackers and Klopp will appreciate Minamino’s temperament just as much as he does the Egyptian’s – but the January signing doesn’t look like a killer in the box.
His vision though is excellent – as displayed by one or two flicks onto a team-mate on the rare occasion he received a ball to feet. His touch is actually very good, but like Naby Keita, he’ll need to realise the shove in the back you get upon receiving a football doesn’t get you a free-kick like it would elsewhere in Europe.
When fully developed, I can see Minamino having a Bernardo Silva-type impact on English football. Small, but sharp in body and mind in and around the box and a player who can both keep the football and change a game.
What can we expect from Minamino this season?
Winning the title early could be a huge blessing for our new attacker. The Liverpool fans will be in party mode and there will be zero tension, which will enable him to try things in the final third without fear of failure. And if we’re still in the Champions League, you can be certain Klopp will give him starts in the Premier League so as to keep the regular front-three fresh for Europe.
I’m a big fan of signing players in January from a position of strength, as it enables them a risk-free bedding in period so they can hit pre-season running.
Minamino’s intelligence on the field makes him a proper Liverpool player in waiting – and the key is he now has the time to master the art of playing in Klopp’s frontline. Interestingly, the defeat v Chelsea shows his team-mates need to adapt to him as much as he needs to adapt to them.