Takumi Minamino is officially a Liverpool player. A transfer story that broke suddenly has been wrapped up well before Christmas, let alone the January window opening.
The Reds had barely touched down after playing Salzburg in the Champions League when journalists in the know began reporting a potential deal. Within hours, the Austrian club officially confirmed negotiations were taking place after a reported £7.25million release clause was met.
Liverpool saw what the Japan international can offer during the two games between the teams in Europe.
Indeed, Minamino has already scored at Anfield, finding the net in a 4-3 loss back in October. There is a video on Twitter of Jurgen Klopp nodding his head approvingly at that goal, cheekily suggesting he knew all along what was going to happen in the long run.
Minamino was also lively in the first half of the return fixture in Austria, although he was unable to prevent the hosts slipping to a defeat that resulted in them dropping into the Europa League.
However, the 24-year-old can look forward to further outings in the Champions League. A rule change by UEFA means any new addition is cleared for the knockout stages, even if they have played for someone else in the competition that same season.
Outside of the player’s abilities – more on those to come – one of the main attractions to the deal for Liverpool has to be the price. According to reports, the clause in Minamino’s contract means he was available for just £7.25million, a pittance by current prices.
The transfer is a low-risk, high-reward move. Klopp did not desperately need a new addition in the January window, but adding to a position of strength is never a bad thing.
Minamino will not be leaned on heavily to provide immediately; Liverpool’s first-choice frontline – Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino – is obvious.
However, what their latest recruit offers is something different to the rest of the supporting cast.
Divock Origi is a solid standby who has developed the happy knack of scoring in big games, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain seems better suited to a central role in midfield and Xherdan Shaqiri provides no little skill but lacks the top-end speed to run in behind.
While often used on the flanks, Minamino has also played through the middle for Salzburg, both as a centre-forward and also a supporting midfielder in behind the leading frontman. Such versatility, considering the small fee, suggests the English club may have grabbed a bargain ahead of the January sales.
Klopp has added a new dimension to the rotation – and he seemingly likes the way Salzburg develop talent. Mane and Naby Keita both spent time there previously, though they went to Southampton and RB Leipzig respectively before making it to Merseyside. This time, Liverpool have cut out the middle man and gone straight to the source.
Minamino in Opta numbers
Signed from Cerezo Osaka at the start of 2015, Minamino hit double figures for league goals in his first two seasons, though his output dried up a little in the following campaigns.
Still, under Jesse Marsch this term, he has scored five goals and registered the same number of assists in 14 appearances in the Austrian Bundesliga, 11 of which were starts. No Salzburg player has created more goals.
He averages a goal or assist every 91 minutes in domestic action in 2019-20, with that number rising slightly to 102 in the Champions League. It should be remembered, however, that as well as Liverpool, Salzburg were also in contention to qualify from a group that included Serie A runners-up Napoli.
Minamino comes out well in comparison to Liverpool’s other forwards. In Europe, only Roberto Firmino can match his three assists this season, while he has a shot conversion rate of 18.18, a fraction below the dynamic duo of Mane and Salah (both 20).
His passing accuracy in the opposing half of 73.38 per cent is lower than all his new team-mates bar Salah (72.19), who may find he is afforded more opportunities to play down the middle in the second half of the campaign.
His impact in the final third matches up well to Salah and Mane in the Champions League: Minamino created 12 chances this season, more than Salah (nine) and just one fewer than Mane.
That said, his impact when running with the ball appears more limited, Minamino having completed just nine dribbles compared to 15 for Mane and 16 for Salah.
What they said…
Klopp on Liverpool’s latest addition: “Takumi is a very quick, very clever player, he finds space between the lines. He is brave with the ball but also brave without the ball – a proper team player. He makes the best of himself for the benefit of others.”
Minamino – who will wear shirt number 18 – on the Reds: “Their football is of such a high level and I did feel that they were the champions of the Champions League.
Feeling that, it makes me feel even happier that I can play in this team. I’m really happy to be part of that team.”