Could Minamino Offer Midfield Magic?

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Takumi Minamino’s Anfield career hasn’t really taken off yet.

Despite some bright moments, including a well-taken goal — which was part of an overall impressive cameo — in the Community Shield versus Arsenal, the Japanese international is yet to hit the heights of his Red Bull Salzburg form yet.

The 25-year old introduced himself to the Reds’ faithful with a brilliant performance for the Austrian’s at Anfield in last season’s Champions League.

Salzburg eventually found themselves on the receiving end of a 4-3 defeat, but Minamino — despite sharing a team with Erling Braut Haaland, possibly the most exciting young forward in European football — was the standout performer on the pitch.

With a goal and an assist to his name, the fleet-footed attacker tormented the Reds back-line — which is no mean feat — with his clever movement and ability to wriggle his way out of the most claustrophobic pressing scenarios with clever body feints and spatial awareness.

What was noticeable, with Salzburg lining up in a 442 diamond formation, was how comfortable Minamino was in the number 10 slot and this could give Jurgen Klopp food for thought in his attempt to unlock the Japan star’s latent potential.

With Haaland and Hwang Hee-chan leading the line, Minamino thrived as a second phase attacker where he could exploit the spaces that were opened by the striking duo occupying defenders.

His goal, a beautifully struck volley, came after he ran undetected into the box — evading the attention of the back four and Fabinho, who were preoccupied with the visitors other attackers — exhibiting his vision and ability to pick up pockets of space.

The 22 times capped Japan international then crafted a goal for Haaland by drifting into the right half-space and drilling an inviting low cross — which took the goalkeeper out of the equation — across the face of goal for the Norwegian to tap into an empty net.

The idea at Liverpool so far has been to use the former Cerezo Osaka player as the Roberto Firmino understudy and there’s a definite merit to this because — for all intents and purposes — the Reds 433 shape, with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah — ostensibly wide-forwards — operating as the strikers with Firmino, nominally the number 9, dropping deep in the manner of a traditional number 10, mirrors Salzburg’s set up.

Minamino playing the number 9 role for the English champions isn’t wholly different to his function at Salzburg, but a move even further down the pitch — into central midfield — could suit the Japanese international even more.

In the 2016-2017 season, Klopp surprised many by playing Adam Lallana — previously an attacking midfielder, in a not too dissimilar mould to Minamino — deeper in midfield.

The positional switch proved to be a catalyst for Lallana to have the best season of his career. Using his engine, ambidexterity, and vision, the England international — in the most goal-laden return for a midfielder in Klopp’s term in charge of the Reds — scored eight goals and laid on seven assists in the league.

These are all attributes that Minamino — who scored 42 goals during his time playing in Austria — possesses in spades and with the upcoming season going to be extremely fixture busy this versatility could be worth its weight in gold.

With the attacking trident of Mane, Salah and Firmino posing a significant threat and worrying defences, Taki, as he is affectionately known, could help himself to goals by running from deep and capitalising on the spaces created by the front three.

During his best spell of football at Liverpool, prior to his injury, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain prospered with this responsibility, and Minamino — while also being a live option off the left or as the number 9 — could replicate this and contribute at Anfield for the Reds like he did for Salzburg.

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