As Takumi Minamino collected Sadio Mane’s ball across the Crystal Palace penalty box a moment of doubt crept in. Minamino, after all, has had a quiet 11 months at Liverpool, often failing to fully grasp the opportunities that had become fewer and fewer to him in the early part of this season.
At first, it looked like the former Salzburg midfielder should’ve struck Mane’s cutback first time. Instead, Minamino smartly controlled and composed himself with former Red Nathaniel Clyne unable to sort his feet out and the Japanese found the bottom corner of Vicente Guita’s net. Exactly one year after being unveiled as a Liverpool player, Minamino scored his first Premier League goal.
With Diogo Jota ruled out for the foreseeable future, Minamino suddenly has a huge opportunity to kickstart his Liverpool career. Divock Origi, recently linked with Wolves after Raul Jimenez’s injury, has fallen down the pecking order and failed to impress when he’s featured this season. With Jota and Xherdan Shaqiri currently injured, potential competition either loaned out (Harvey Elliot, Harry Wilson) or sold (Rhian Brewster), Minamino has emerged from a crowded group as Klopp’s primary option to rotate the front three. And now with the busy festive fixtures beginning, Minamino could have every chance to stake his claim for regular game time.
In truth, Minamino’s time at Liverpool until the Palace match has been largely forgettable amid a squad littered with stars and rising young talents. When Minamino was signed, there was some encouragement about his versatility to provide competition and cover in both midfield and the forward line. Through no fault of his own, he was not influential in Liverpool’s title run-in after joining from RB Salzburg. Even during project restart, where Klopp rotated frequently, there is not a Minamino performance that comes to mind.
There were positive signs in Minamino’s cameo against Fulham, setting the stage for his best performance in a Liverpool shirt at Palace. In his post match comments, Klopp also said Minamino looked “sharp and in really good shape.”
“We want to use Taki,” Klopp said. “The way we play, if you play for us in midfield you need to have offensive skills as well, it means Taki can play there.”
And after opening the scoring for Liverpool’s 7-0 rout at Selhurst Park, Minamino’s confidence and involvement continued to grow. He played key roles in the build-up to Mane’s and Jordan Henderson’s goals, before nearly bagging his brace after he was played in by Naby Keita.
Still, the darting movement from a wide position in behind – the kind that has helped make Jota an instant hit at Liverpool – is hugely encouraging to see as Minamino begins to find his place in Klopp’s side. If Minamino can build on his excellent showing against the Eagles, Liverpool will find itself with its best forward depth in recent memory and better equipped to make a deep run in the Champions League and even FA Cup. Competing on multiple fronts has, at times, been a challenge during Klopp’s time at the helm. But with Minamino, the return of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin and Thiago, the Reds are primed to challenge for multiple trophies this season.
“(Minamino) is in a good moment so we have to use him,” Klopp said.