Takumi Minamino put in his most promising performance yet as Liverpool beat Newcastle United 3-1. The 25-year-old looked more confident than ever.
In truth, Minamino joined Liverpool six months early. He arrived in January, joining up with a team that boasted a 13-point lead in the Premier League and was as settled as can be.
The Reds’ squad was effectively identical to the one that lifted the European Cup, after all. Minamino was the first outsider for 18 months – not counting backup goalkeeper Adrian.
So his ten Premier League games since then have really just been a trial run. No one expected anything – or really needed much. The title was all-but done and Minamino merely needed match experience to get used to things.
The real test comes next season when Liverpool will hope he’s fully adjusted and can add something different.
It’s encouraging, then, that the last of those ten games was Minamino’s best yet. The Japan international started his second Premier League game, playing from the left to begin with.
But he switched with Divock Origi throughout his 64 minutes on the pitch. That versatility is something we’ve highlighted before and it will surely be the key to unlocking Minamino’s potential.
His game on Sunday was more than that, though. Minamino was cracking shots at the Newcastle goal, having two attempts from range that both found the target. The first forced Martin Dubravka into a fine save.
Minamino attempted more passes than either Origi or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain did, too, and completed them at a better rate. One created a decent chance, too.
This doesn’t seem like much but it’s all a major improvement on his last start. That came against Everton in the first game since the restart.
Minamino played the first 45 at Goodison Park but struggled quite badly. He had two shots in that one, too, but neither found the target. He only attempted 13 passes, none of which created anything, and Everton won the ball off him twice.
Minamino looked far more confident against Newcastle and that confidence will help him find his way at the club.
So this pre-season is massive for him. He can, hopefully, integrate into the squad as a fully-fledged member while Liverpool can afford to treat him as a new signing, rather than a background player.
The team won’t be established like it was in January – Minamino can have his place and that makes a world of difference.
A more confident display suggests his confidence is growing and will continue to do so. While there’s still some way to go, that is very encouraging and gives us reason to believe Minamino can finally kick on next season.