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Wataru Endo is now proving Jurgen Klopp’s “genius strike” praise right

Liverpool fans could be forgiven for rolling their eyes a little when, back in August, Jurgen Klopp described the signing of Wataru Endo as “a genius strike.”

Just days earlier, the Reds had missed out on Moises Caicedo to Chelsea despite having had a £111 million bid accepted by Brighton.

And so it didn’t feel that they were being overly smart in picking up a 30-year-old, who had spent the last two seasons battling relegation from the Bundesliga with Stuttgart, as an alternative.

But, after a slow start to his Anfield career, Endo has started to show his worth at a time when Liverpool have most needed him.

The Japan international had previously enjoyed the odd encouraging outing in the Europa League, but has noticeably stepped things up since a recent late equaliser against Fulham.

And that has coincided with an injury to Alexis Mac Allister that has seen him promoted to the role of regular starter in the Premier League.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 20, 2023: Liverpool's Wataru End? during the Football League Cup Quarter-Final match between Liverpool FC and West Ham United FC at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

After helping claim wins at Sheffield United and Crystal Palace, Endo was particularly impressive as Liverpool dominated Man United in every aspect other than finding the back of the net last Sunday.

Then, he put in one of his best performances yet against West Ham on Wednesday as the Reds booked their place in the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup.

Yes, this may have been a domestic cup tie, but it came against an opponent who are firmly in the race for a European spot in the Premier League and who are going well in continental competition this term.

In that context, making more recoveries than any other player (nine), winning four out of six ground duels and completing 96 percent of your passes is worthy of praise.

Endo has put up these sorts of numbers increasingly frequently of late, evidencing that his adaptation to the demands of English football is almost complete.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 30, 2023: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp makes a triple substitution bringing on Wataru Endo, Ibrahima Konate and Trent Alexander-Arnold during the FA Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Liverpool FC at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The 30-year-old had admitted being shocked by the pace of the game here during conversations with journalists shortly after his arrival, but seems far more acclimatised now.

And the success of that transition is such that you wonder whether, as so many have claimed, the January signing of Joao Palhinha would move the dial sufficiently for this team.

The Portuguese’s high tackle volume (2.89 per 90 to Endo’s 1.6) is often cited as a reason why he would be a transformative addition in Klopp’s engine room.

Yet that has come in a Fulham team who have averaged 11 percent less possession than Liverpool across their 17 matches, resulting in more opportunities – or need – to make challenges.

SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 6, 2023: Liverpool's Wataru Endo during the FA Premier League match between Sheffield United FC and Liverpool FC at Bramall Lane. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Similarly, Endo’s per 90 pass progression of 231.6 yards to Palhinha’s 154.1 is a reflection of the differing demands on a Liverpool player, but it should be mentioned that anyone who has watched the latter closely could also tell you he is no deep-lying playmaker.

For that reason, it is not hard to imagine Liverpool believing they can get by with what they have in the anchor role until a true game-changer becomes available.

That dream player would no doubt be on the cusp of their peak years and in possession of world-class quality in both progressing the ball and winning it – for example Aurelien Tchouameni prior to his Real Madrid move.

But until an alternative option to the Frenchman emerges, Endo looks like an ideal stop-gap to share duties with Mac Allister in the No. 6.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 3, 2023: Liverpool's Wataru Endo celebrates after scoring the third goal to equalise and level the score at 3-3 during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Fulham FC at Anfield. Liverpol won 4-3. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Of course, arguably his biggest test so far awaits on Saturday, when Arsenal come to town for an early clash between two Premier League title contenders.

Mikel Arteta’s side look strong in midfield and are seemingly more resilient than in past seasons when visits to Anfield have ended in drubbings.

So, should Endo manage to play a key role in dishing out another defeat to the Gunners, then perhaps there will be a few more fans willing to join Klopp in describing his £16 million arrival as “a genius strike.”