Takumi Minamino has endured a very testing introduction to life in English football.
Plunged into a lockdown in an unfamiliar country almost as soon as he arrived, the former Red Bull Salzburg man has struggled to make a mark on a consistent basis for either Liverpool or Southampton in the Premier League.
However, despite his issues in the last 18 months, he hasn’t had too many problems when representing Japan in international football.
Minamino recently scored two goals and assisted a further three in a win over Myanmar, and then scored against Tajikistan earlier this week.
Whether netting against nations who are ranked 139th and 121st respectively in the world counts for much is a fair question, but after struggling for goals in domestic football, it won’t have done the 26-year-old any harm.
Nonetheless, having failed to set the world alight and with Diogo Jota joining Liverpool and hitting the ground running, Minamino is at something of a crossroads in his career.
Jurgen Klopp faces a conundrum regarding how to get the best out of the player, but it could be that Taki actually aids the Liverpool manager if he is looking to deploy a different formation in 2021/22.
Klopp relied upon a 4-2-3-1 framework during his stint in charge of Dortmund, and while he has used that system with the Reds, it has been far more common to see his side lining up in a 4-3-3 formation.
It’s interesting to ponder if it was Klopp’s intention to use 4-2-3-1 this season, before circumstances – a.k.a injuries – rendered it more difficult to bring to fruition.
He experimented with the formation during pre-season last summer, and there’s no doubt that Thiago Alcantara thrived as one of the two at the base of the midfield during his time with Bayern Munich.
Utilising it more often next season will also solve a couple of minor issues. With Gini Wijnaldum having left the club, and his legendary durability going to be very difficult to replace, a formation which requires one fewer midfielder certainly has merit.
And lining up as a 4-2-3-1 would provide Minamino with more opportunities to play in his best position, which wouldn’t be possible within Liverpool’s standard formation.
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He started in the centre of the attacking midfield trio in the recent match with Tajikistan, behind frontman Takuma Asano. His goal came from Kyogo Furuhashi – who played on the right of the three – reaching the byline and pulling the ball back for Minamino to fire home at the near post.
It’s not hard to envisage a similar goal for Liverpool with either Trent Alexander-Arnold or Mohamed Salah doing the leg work on the flank and the Reds’ Japanese international arriving late into the box to prod the ball into the waiting net.
While his goal scoring rate has remained fairly consistent wherever on the pitch he has played, it has been at it’s best when he has started in attacking midfield.
Per Transfermarkt, Minamino has scored every 204 minutes when playing there, which compares favourably to his rate when on the right wing (219 minutes per goal), left wing (238) or as a centre-forward (239).
Add in assists and he has directly contributed to a goal every 129 minutes from attacking midfield, which is again his best return for any position.
With Liverpool’s established front three all entering the season in which they become 30-years-old, it may be beneficial for Klopp to be able to rotate them more often.
If he can fashion Minamino into a frequently usable option then that will help, and 4-2-3-1 appears to be the best way to go about it.