FEATURE | Takumi Minamino: What can Monaco fans expect?

It feels like an eternity since Takumi Minamino burst onto the European scene with eye-catching performances for RB Salzburg, bringing him to the attention of the scouting team at Liverpool. With five goal contributions in the 2019/20 Champions League group stages, including a goal and an assist against Liverpool in a 4-3 defeat, the Japanese forward represented a significant opportunity to provide cover for the Reds’ all-firing front three.

At just £7.65m, due to a buy-out clause, Minamino looked like a bargain with no real risk attached. After three trophies, a loan move to Southampton and two and a half years passing by at Liverpool, the former RB Salzburg man has completed a £13.5m transfer to Monaco. However, the 27-year-old’s time at Liverpool didn’t quite go to plan. As the pandemic hit, the Japanese international found himself in unfamiliar surroundings and his settling in period was taken away. Restricted to just ten appearances in his first six months with Liverpool after the season resumed later that summer, Minamino was unable to make an impact.

Often kept on the bench by the talent of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino, he was used as a rotation option or an impact substitute. However, even affecting games from the bench can prove difficult at Liverpool when you’re up against unlikely club legend Divock Origi for the same attacking berths. Most of Minamino’s best moments for the Reds came playing in drastically changed sides and in the cup competitions but, when relied upon, the Japanese international was able to show his worth. Seven goals in nine cup games last season saw him become a vital player as Liverpool secured a domestic cup double.

After a tumultuous spell with the six-time European champions, what makes him a good fit for Philippe Clement’s resurgent Monaco side? Minamino has a tendency to deliver. Whether it be on the smaller stages of domestic cup competitions or from the bench in the Champions League, he’s able to influence things in a way others can’t. This clutch mentality could be a big asset to Monaco as they look to succeed where they failed in last season’s Champions League qualifiers.

Besides being someone who can deliver when the pressure is on, Minamino offers something different to what Les Monegasques already possess. Wissam Ben Yedder offers more of a potent attacking threat, rounding off attacks with his precise finishing whilst still being an important cog in chance creation when required. This complements Kevin Volland’s game nicely too. The German, despite being a capable finisher as well, acts as the facilitator in the front line and is happy to shift wider into the channels to create opportunities and space for others.

Minamino is able to operate in a number of roles and positions but his greatest asset is an ability to drop into the half spaces in between midfield and attack before emerging in the penalty area to cause problems. That attacking intelligence required to create opportunities proved crucial in cup competitions last season with opposition often sitting deep. Many believe Minamino is more of a creative player who is happy to facilitate play and find defence splitting passes. This was prevalent in his days at Salzburg but last season his goalscoring record showed his skillset has evolved. In just over 1,000 minutes last season he scored 10 goals, which equated a goal every 100.8 minutes – the highest at Liverpool, beating Salah.

This scoring record would benefit any team looking to add reliable goal scorers to their roster, and that includes Monaco. Irregularities in his role at Liverpool prevented him from thriving but the move to Monaco offers the chance to find consistency. Minamino also brings dynamism and versatility to the Monaco forward line. With experience playing centrally and on both flanks, Clement could deploy the former Salzburg talisman in a variety of ways. As rated 76% right footed by FBRef, Minamino would be most likely to feature on the left or centrally which could provide competition for Volland. With the ability to play as a second striker, a creator or the leader of the press, there are so many possibilities and, with such a varied skillset and technical ability, the level of quality the 27-year-old offers in each role is high.

No team had more successful pressures in Ligue 1 last season than Monaco. A high and intense press is naturally a key part of Liverpool’s style under Jurgen Klopp and was part of the philosophy of Jesse Marsch’s Salzburg team too. As a result, Minamino is accustomed to playing in a pressing team and ,with 30.5 pressures per 90 minutes last season for Liverpool, the 27-year-old will be at home in Clement’s system. Despite costing just £15m, Minamino could be the man to take Clement’s attacking style to the next level.

Liam Wraith

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