90min

Settled Takumi Minamino Silences Critics With Supreme Liverpool Performance

Robbie Copeland
First of many for Minamino?
First of many for Minamino? / Marc Atkins/Getty Images
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Life comes at you fast, but football comes at you faster.

Just before kick-off, you're responding to a text from a mate about Takumi Minamino starting. They're asking if he is actually any good, and if he has made enough of his chances so far to justify his place in the lineup.

'I've been seen off here' they say three minutes later, when Minamino opens the scoring.

Said friend has taken a substantial ribbing since, but from an outside perspective, those were valid questions. Much was made of his January arrival from Salzburg but his first year at Liverpool has been stop-start - three goals in his prior 28 appearances didn't exactly set the world alight, even if he had shown his ability in flashes.

It hasn't helped that not even Jurgen Klopp has been able to settle on his best position. Initially deployed as a winger, the preference this season has been to use him in central positions - as a stand-in false nine, as an advanced midfielder in a 4-2-3-1, or on the left of a flat midfield three.

With Diogo Jota injured and Mohamed Salah rested, however, he returned to the flank against Crystal Palace, and turned in his most complete performance in a Liverpool shirt.

In truth, he never looked back after turning Nathaniel Clyne to fire in the opener. We saw plenty of the crafty, intelligent movement that we've become accustomed to, but most notable was a marked improvement in his athleticism.

He mixed his game up; just as capable of drifting inside with a clever disguised run as he was of motoring past his man, he showed a new-found directness that stands him in good stead as he seeks to provide a viable alternative to the front three.

It was Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and substitute Salah who grabbed the headlines, each scoring and assisting in a Premier League game for the first time, yet Minamino was the only forward who played the full 90 and his constant presence provided an integral baseline.

For a while Minamino looked like little boy lost within the Liverpool squad. His body language on the fringes of the July's title celebrations suggested he didn't yet belong. Yet here he looked as at home as Mane on the opposite flank, taking responsibility, barking orders and leading the charge. He's no longer the new boy, and it shows in both his demeanour and his performance.

It's taken its time coming for the Japanese enigma but it is slowly but surely beginning to seem that he has won the trust of those around him. He may not be on the level of Salah, Mane, Firmino, or even Jota, but he was signed for £7m and change - he doesn't have to be at that level to be a success at Anfield.

It's been a long first year for Minamino and given the huge standards at Liverpool, you can hardly blame those who have cast doubts over his credentials. His current injury situation being what it is, however, Klopp needs his fringe players to stand up and be counted.

Saturday was a pretty clear sign that Minamino is gearing up to do just that. Here's hoping a few more sceptics are 'seen off' between now and May.

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