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A week that defined Takumi Minamino’s Liverpool standing – what next?

The month of January, on paper, signalled an opportunity for Takumi Minamino but in reality, it defined his standing in Jurgen Klopp‘s squad.

Since arriving in January 2020, it has been far from a smooth ride for Minamino who joined a title-winning side on the eve of a pandemic that is still very much ongoing.

It’s far from unusual for new arrivals to need a bedding-in period under Klopp, one only need to look at Andy Robertson and Fabinho as prime examples.

But while those two have thrived, breaking into a prolific front three – now front four – has been a feat that is not straightforward for Minamino.

The Africa Cup of Nations presented the opening, but instead, it only magnified his lowly place in the pecking order.

 

The defining week

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 22, 2021: Liverpool's Takumi Minamino during the Football League Cup Quarter-Final match between Liverpool FC and Leicester City FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Throughout Liverpool’s five-game run without their AFCON trio, Minamino would feature in each for a total of just 208 minutes – but it amounted to just a solitary start.

Considering Divock Origi‘s injury amid Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane‘s absence, there was a clear space begging to be filled by the 27-year-old, Klopp’s words even suggested as much.

“He is back and very important for us, very, very important – especially when we have a lot of games coming up and we know that two of our main guys up front are not here,” Klopp said after the win over Shrewsbury, which saw Minamino come off the bench and score.

It marked Minamino’s return after a minor injury at the back end of December, time to kick on. But only it was not.

A start against Arsenal in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final would, unfortunately, be defined by his late blazing miss despite his obvious eagerness to make a mark. Time to kick on. But only it was not.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 13, 2022: Liverpool's Takumi Minamino looks dejected after missing a chance during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 1st Leg match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The three games that followed saw a teenager and a midfielder opted for in the forward line, a selection that said more about Minamino than it did for Kaide Gordon and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Managing his minutes against Brentford was understandable considering the quick turnaround after injury, but the second leg at Arsenal and the trip to Crystal Palace only placed a bigger spotlight on Minamino’s place on the fringe.

Those two games made it three successive starts on the bench at a time when Liverpool’s two biggest hitters up top were absent. It’s damning.

Minamino is evidently a confidence player and the awareness that every appearance is an audition will create an environment that is not always conducive for a player to thrive.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 20, 2022: Liverpool's Kaide Gordon is replaced by substitute Takumi Minamino during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg match between Arsenal FC and Liverpool FC at the Emirates Stadium. Liverpool won 2-0, 2-0 on aggregate. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

While Gordon and Oxlade-Chamberlain carved out a position on the right-wing alongside Firmino and Jota, Minamino proved ineffective on his unfavoured side.

The desire not to shift the No. 20 to accommodate the Japan international was a clear indicator of a wish not to blunt the potency on both wings for a player needing to build his confidence.

Liverpool could ill afford an unbalanced forward line when the stakes were high, but if Klopp was not to trust Minamino when his two stars were unavailable, what does it mean for his future?

 

What next?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 16, 2022: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp embraces Takumi Minamino after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Brentford FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 3-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

At the start of 2021, Minamino joined Southampton on loan to lead many down the line of thinking it was the beginning of the end for him at Liverpool.

Klopp refuted the idea saying, “Takumi is a long-term project, always was.” But does that still stand a year on?

The 27-year-old has been unable to assert himself on the game, has looked weak and at times shows flashes of his capabilities but often it is all just a second too slow.

He has a total of 49 appearances for the Reds – only 18 of which have been as part of the XI and even then 10 of those were in either the FA Cup or League Cup.

A January move now would be unlikely, unless an offer came in that turned Liverpool’s head, but one can assume they will be listening in the summer and recouping their initial £7.25 million outlay will be the starting point.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, September 27, 2021: Liverpool's Takumi Minamino during a training session at the AXA Training Centre ahead of the UEFA Champions League Group B Matchday 2 game between FC Porto and Liverpool FC. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Having been overlooked in favour of a 17-year-old, a very talented one at that, and a midfielder this month, and with Liverpool having eyes on bolstering their attack in the summer – the writing looks to be on the wall.

A talented player in his own right but it has failed to work out at Liverpool. It’s time to kick on, perhaps just not at Anfield.

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