Liverpool set to make unexpected Takumi Minamino decision

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While Liverpool have understandably relied upon their star players in 2021/22, there have also been some unlikely heroes along the way.

Caoimhin Kelleher scored the decisive penalty in the Carabao Cup final before Kostas Tsimikas did likewise in the FA Cup last weekend, and Divock Origi has popped up with vital goals as he usually does.

But for the game at Southampton on Tuesday evening, Jurgen Klopp almost fielded an entire XI of understudies.

Alisson Becker and Ibrahima Konate were the only men who retained their places from the Reds’ latest Wembley win over Chelsea and seven of Klopp’s most used 11 players this season were left out for one reason or another.

It would have been reasonable to expect some rustiness from the reserve Reds. Harvey Elliott hadn’t appeared in any of Liverpool’s previous 13 fixtures while Curtis Jones had only started twice in those matches, yet both did well. Arguably the most important contribution was made by a player who hadn’t started since the FA Cup victory against Norwich in the first week of March though.

Having conceded a controversial opening goal, the Reds (in yellow) had to strike back, and they did so through Takumi Minamino. The former RB Salzburg forward has delivered time and again in 2021/22, even though he has barely played.

Speaking after the game, the Liverpool manager admitted he should have used some of the players who defeated the Saints more often this season. “Harvey, not sure when he last played. Curtis, no rhythm. Takumi Minamino, it’s a crime he’s not playing more often. Oxlade didn’t even play and he’s in outstanding shape,” Klopp said.

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If “a crime” sounds too harsh an assessment in view of the world class forwards the Reds have at their disposal, Minamino’s record this season almost makes it sound lenient. Opta’s Michael Reid revealed after the match that the Japanese international has the best scoring rate of any Premier League player in 2021/22.

What makes it even more notable is that his nearest competitor, Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez, has scored seven of his goals from the spot. Disregard penalties for the sake of argument and Minamino is 27 minutes clear of the next man in line, Eddie Nketiah.

This might be a hot streak for Liverpool’s number 18, but he has now found the net every 161 minutes he has played for the club, which compares favourably with Sadio Mane (180) and Roberto Firmino (236 under Klopp), albeit from a much smaller sample of course. Grant him the second half of 2019/20 as a strange, lockdown disrupted, settling-in period, and Minamino has a goal every 128 minutes since the start of last season, an identical rate to that posted by Diogo Jota.

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Perhaps most impressive has been his consistency in this campaign despite his sporadic appearances. Minamino has only made nine starts in all competitions, with always at least four games in-between each one, yet he has scored in six of them. He bagged a brace in both cup games against the Canaries, and with goals from the bench against Arsenal and Brentford, he has more goals than starts for Liverpool this season.

When given a decent scoring opportunity, he has been lethal. While many people will recall his point-blank miss in the closing stages of the 0-0 League Cup draw with Arsenal, the seven other Opta-defined clear-cut chances Minamino has had in this campaign have been converted. Even when not quite such a great opening, as at Southampton, his finishing has been superb, with all-but-one of his shots on target beating the goalkeeper this term.

A striker this good deserves to be playing more regularly, as Klopp mentioned after the match at St Mary’s. With Divock Origi out of contract this summer and likely to move on, perhaps Minamino will get a few more opportunities in 2022/23. Few would begrudge him leaving in search of regular playing time though and having been Liverpool’s top scorer in both domestic cup competitions in 2021/22, his contribution to the remarkable quadruple charge deserves to be immortalised.

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