Takumi Minamino took up the False 9 role against Arsenal on Thursday but he’s not quite ready to replace Roberto Firmino.
It certainly seems that Takumi Minamino is the preferred cover for Roberto Firmino. Given their ages, he may even be a replacement in a few years.
Liverpool lined up in their 4-3-3 against Arsenal on Thursday. Firmino didn’t play, however, which usually means the Reds play slightly differently.
Divock Origi would typically play as the central striker but in a completely different way to Firmino. The Belgian would look to run in behind and spearhead attacks, whereas Firmino prefers to create space for others with movement and passing.
Hence the False 9 role – Firmino may lineup as a striker but he plays more as an attacking midfielder. And using Minamino as his cover suggests that’s how Liverpool want to play that way at all times.
But there’s work to do.
Minamino isn’t as good as Firmino. Hopefully, he develops to a similar level over the next few years but right now, he’s not there. And that was plain to see on Thursday.
The Japanese international never truly got going, even if he did show energy. He didn’t make any key passes, didn’t complete any dribbles and only had one shot – and he probably should have scored it (all stats per Whoscored).
More tellingly, though, is how Mohamed Salah played. The Egyptian went off in the second half but didn’t have a single shot in his hour of football. When was the last time that happened?
A lot of Salah’s opportunities come from Firmino’s link-up play and movement. Without it, he can get a little lost on the pitch, especially if defenders are playing close attention to him.
Work to do
This isn’t to say that Minamino can’t be a huge success in the role. He’s got all the tools to do so and we hope to see him as a False 9 again. But there’s work to do.
That will take time and experience, of course, and hopefully he gets it this season. But if he’s to cover Firmino in big games – or even replace him – then Liverpool will need to work at it.