Liverpool’s reward for defeating Everton in the last round of the F.A. Cup is a trip away to Shrewsbury Town on January 26th.
The League One side qualified for their fourth round glamour tie against the European champions after defeating Championship Bristol City 1-0 this past midweek in a replay; the initial tie finished 1-1 away at Ashton Gate.
Judging from his previous selections in the cup, Jurgen Klopp will, in all certainty, select a team composed mainly of young players and those on the fringes of the first team.
One player, in particular, who will benefit from playing time at the Montgomery Waters Meadow is the Reds’ recently signed Japanese international, Takumi Minamino.
The former Red Bull Salzburg forward started in the derby cup victory over Everton and while understandably not shooting the lights out — the 25 year old only joined Liverpool a few days previous and didn’t have the required training time to build an on-field synergy with his team mates — there were encouraging signs in his performance, especially off the ball.
Minamino, in the manner you would associate with players who have been through the football arms of Red Bull — Salzburg and Leipzig — showed an appetite for pressing and was a hindrance to Everton attempting to play out from the back.
The Japanese international’s movement, too, augurs well for the future. Reminiscent of Roberto Firmino, the player who many think he will deputise for when Klopp elects to shuffle his pack and rotate, Minamino dropped into spaces between the Blues’ midfield and defence and in wider channels to offer himself as a link player to connect the Reds’ midfield and attack.
Klopp has repeatedly gone on the record in the past with his belief in the importance of training and it’s role in acclimating players to a new team and their tactical demands.
After all, the German took his time in blooding two of his most important players, Andy Robertson and Fabinho. Instead — away from the cutthroat pressure of Premier League and Champions League games — he opted to develop them on the training ground before letting them loose regularly once they had served their tactical apprenticeships.
But, with due respect to Shrewsbury, a relatively kind cup draw gives Klopp the option of playing a heavily rotated team and giving Minamino minutes in a pressure environment where his senior status among a squad of players barely out of nappies will see him assume greater responsibility. The game, where in probability the home team will play extremely defensively, will be tantamount to a training session with an added pressure; a scenario which is idyllic when it comes to adapting new players to your club.
While a fourth round F.A. Cup tie away to a League One side is nowhere close to the standard or pressure of, say, a Champions League knockout tie, continued reps for Minamino in the Liverpool system and the expectation that — without Firmino, Sadio Mane or Mohamed Salah — the £7.5M signing will take the game by the scruff of the neck will only be beneficial towards the Reds down the home stretch of what threatens to be an amazing season.