Takumi Minamino – Liverpool’s unsung hero of the 2021-22 season

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Just over a week ago Liverpool won their first title of the season, the first title since the Premier League title in 2019-20. After a dragged-out penalty shootout against Chelsea at Wembley Stadium, the Reds were crowned victorious in the Carabao Cup when Kepa Arrizabalaga blasted his penalty high over Caoimhin Kelleher’s crossbar.

In this final, there was a noteworthy absentee, though. The Reds’ leading goal scorer in the competition: Takumi Minamino. The Japanese international had recorded four goals and one assist in five appearances on the road to Wembley. Together with Kelleher, Minamino was perhaps the biggest key player for Liverpool’s title. But there is a bigger perspective.

Minamino’s performances in the Carabao Cup this season have highlighted his importance to this Liverpool team as an ideal backup to Roberto Firmino.

With the additions of Diogo Jota and Luís Diaz to Liverpool’s front three, Jürgen Klopp has added tactical flexibility. The Portuguese and the Colombian provide the central striker position at Liverpool with a prolific goal-scoring prowess, something Firmino and Minamino do not provide to the same extent. But as Liverpool supporters who have followed Liverpool under Klopp’s leadership are aware of, the German prefers the Firmino and Minamino type of striker in bigger and more important fixtures. Something that means Firmino’s and Minamino’s presence is still of great importance to Klopp’s selection.

As Minamino has mostly played in the Carabao Cup this season, his underlying numbers there are hard to come by and the sample size of those numbers in the Premier League is too small and therefore misleading. Therefore, the following discussion will be based on observations and analyzing his numbers in general.

To begin with, Minamino’s general numbers indicate that he is an effective presser. Per 90, he completes a big number of pressuring actions with good efficiency and success – above the Premier League standard of around 25 to 30 percent. That means that the ball is successfully recovered within five seconds of the pressuring action. The fact that Minamino places himself above this standard shows he is skilled at identifying pressing triggers, reads the game well and knows how he should press. Three vital characteristics for a Klopp system.

Moving on, the Japanese international is slightly below Firmino in shot-creating actions per 90 minutes. This could indicate a few things. Maybe he does not have the ball to the same extent as Firmino during a game, maybe Firmino is more skilled on the ball with setting up his teammates with shooting opportunities. It is hard to know, but the fact is that Minamino historically averages around 1-1,5 less shot-creating action per 90 than his Brazilian counterpart, who averages around 2.5 shot-creating actions per 90. But with that being said, Minamino’s numbers are not bad in this aspect, it’s more that Firmino’s are good.

Diving into their respective goalscoring abilities, both Minamino and Firmino are performing more or less on par with their xG this season. It should be noted, however, that Minamino has scored nine goals this season, contra Firmino’s eight goals – and Minamino has scored more whilst having played 500 minutes less.

Quite telling statistics that Minamino is a more clinical/efficient goal scorer, at least this season. Comparing, per 90, Minamino’s five appearances in the Carabao Cup to Firmino in the Premier League, where the Brazilian has made eight 90 minute appearances in total, Minamino has a goal conversion of 25 percent contra Firmino’s goal conversion of 20 percent. So, there is not a big difference, but Minamino holds a bit of an upper hand in the scoring department this season. Also, Minamino only missed one big chance in five Carabao Cup appearances.

However, it should be noted that the statistics above do not show which player has gotten the most or best chances to score.

Looking at these three departments, which are the three key departments for a false nine role in Klopp’s system, Firmino and Minamino are statistically fairly equal this season. But that is only one conclusion.

The other conclusion is that Minamino’s 2021-22 season so far has changed the narrative that he is a flop signing. He has been a key player behind a title and the £7.25m investment Liverpool made in signing him from Red Bull Salzburg is not a big one due to three reasons.

One, Minamino has been one of the main factors behind a title being won. Even though it is ”just” the Carabao Cup.

Reason number two is that if Liverpool would like to cash in on Minamino this summer, or if the player wants to leave for more playing time, the club will at least recoup double of the investment it made in bringing Minamino to Anfield.

Reason number three is that if the club decides to keep Minamino, they have a more than good enough backup player to Roberto Firmino who is aging and has struggled with injuries this season. Not to mention Minamino being able to play anywhere across the front three, which also is a big asset.

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