Everybody is thinking about Erling Braut Haaland when we talk about RB Salzburg’s recent departures. That’s logical as one of the biggest questions in European football during the recent months was which club he would join in this winter transfer window or at the latest in the summer. However, due to that, the transfer of the Japanese Takumi Minamino to Liverpool didn’t get that much recognition.
Minamino joined the Austrian champions four years ago for a transfer fee of £720k and now he moved on to the Reds who paid Salzburg £7.65 million. So, he’s besides Sadio Mané and Naby Keita the third men in Liverpool’s squad who played at some stage of his career for Salzburg. While the two Africans joined in the meantime (from) other clubs (Southampton and RB Leipzig), Minamino is the first player in history who directly joined Liverpool from Salzburg.
In this tactical analysis in the form of a scout report, we’ll look at Minamino’s abilities and what made him so interesting for Jürgen Klopp and additionally discussing his possible role at his new club.
Positioning and movement
The American coach Jesse Marsch used throughout this season different systems and formations. Mostly, he lined his team up in a 4-4-2 or 4-diamond-2 formation while he also used systems with a back three. Minamino is, in general, a central midfielder who mostly plays in a more advanced position like the number 10 behind the two strikers in the 4-diamond-2 formation. However, the Japanese can also play in a deeper position or on the wing. His versatility is one of his greatest strengths while especially in the higher positions he can utilise his great vision and excellent movements which we’ll investigate in this analysis.
When we look at his heatmap for his appearances in the Austrian Bundesliga and the group stage matches of this UEFA Champions League season, we can clearly see that Marsch often used him as an advanced or right midfielder, but Minamino had the freedom to move freely in the final third. This makes quite sense as one of his greatest strengths are intelligent runs and movements respectively to create passing lanes and goalscoring situations.
Minamino doesn’t always use one certain run or type of positioning which allows him to receive passes, but always looks for new solutions. Additionally, Salzburg used different systems and the Japanese played in different positions. Considering all these aspects, Minamino permanently had to use his understanding of the game and react to the situations as they were always different. To get a feeling which movements he makes in different situations and show his variability, we’ll now look at three completely different situations and see that on every occasion he finds a solution.
The first example which can be seen in the following image led to a goal which was scored by the Japanese. Even though you have to add that the opponents didn’t defend well, we’ll now only look at the movement which allowed Minamino to even get into a position from which he could score. The left-back Andreas Ulmer is on the ball in his usual position and has just one option for a forward pass in Masaya Okugawa. However, Okugawa is marked and decides to move to the wide-area to drag his marker with him what allows Minamino to position in the half-space. So, the Japanese recognized the run of Okugawa which created space for Minamino and exploited it and Ulmer made a simple pass, Minamino made a quick turn and good dribble to score.
Anyways, the midfielder usually loves to look for free spaces between the lines as he did in the shot above. These movements are especially important against opponents in the Austrian Bundesliga as they often sit back deep and because of that, the space behind their last line of the defence is really small. So, deep runs aren’t that effective in these matches while in games in the Champions League against opponents like his new club Liverpool he will have more joy. They defend higher and Salzburg have the chance to use through passes to exploit the space behind the opposing defence more often. An example of such a situation can be seen in the image below as Minamino makes a diagonal deep run to get into the space behind the Reds’ back four.
However, even though it’s not the position and space in which he can utilize his qualities as much as possible, we also saw him in this season playing in a deeper position. Then, he also had to support the defenders during the build-up as it can be seen in the example below. The bad thing about this is that Minamino is a player who is incredibly good in moments under pressure and is able to solve situations even though the opponents press in at him and don’t give him much time and space. So, it’s kind of a waste when he’s positioned in deeper spaces as in the shot below, but still, he can play there if really needed.
Technical abilities combined with vision
We now will analyse his technical abilities by looking at his first touches, dribbles, passes and shots. However, it’s no surprise that a player which is bought by Liverpool has an outstanding technique. Besides, the fact that he scored in this season in 22 games nine goals and provided 11 assists speaks for itself. Because of that, we’ll now especially focus on the way how he uses his vision and understanding of the game to make the most out of his technique.
First of all, it’s quite surprising when you see that the Japanese makes just 2.72 dribbles per game and 55.6% of them are successful. However, it’s getting logical when you look more closely at the way he plays when his team is in possession. He permanently looks for free spaces as we already saw in this analysis and then provides passing lanes. Minamino then doesn’t start to dribble through the defensive formation of the opposition, but tries to use his acceleration to immediately get away from the nearest defenders to then pass the ball. With the aid of that, he keeps the opposition moving and doesn’t give them the chance to even get into a defensive duel with him as he already passes the ball to a teammate before the opponent would get into the duel.
To do so, especially the first touch is very important and logically Minamino’s touch is outstanding. You see it numerous times in a match that the Japanese tries to solve situations already with his first touch and acceleration. One necessary quality to make a successful and good first touch is to permanently scan the pitch and especially before receiving the ball. The Japanese permanently does so, and it can be seen in the shot below. In this situation, he checked how far his opponent would be away from him and ahead of that already detected the space next to him in which he will dribble with his first touch. This is a typical situation for Minamino as he controls the ball with the first touch and at the same time, he exploits the free space around to him.
One aspect of football which is one of the most important ones for young players to learn when they grow up is to always look for a new space as soon as you play the ball to open up a new passing lane. In general, a reason why Minamino fits so well in Salzburg’s system and tactics is that he’s a player who always does the aforementioned movement, showing himself for the vertical passing option is exactly what Marsch wants to see from his players. The American coach’s plan is to play vertical and show entertaining football. This perfectly fits with Minamino’s style of play as he also permanently looks for a through pass and tries to create vertical and diagonal passing options.
The following example sums all that up as we can see a typical action for Minamino and Salzburg in general. Minamino plays a pass to his teammate Patson Daka and then immediately starts a run into the free space ahead of him. Daka plays the ball back to him and the Japanese tries to exploit the pace he already has and dribbles with the ball what also allows Haaland to pick up speed. Minamino plays a vertical pass to the Norwegian who shoots, but Alisson Becker saves the ball. In this sequence, Salzburg progressed the ball forward in a few seconds due to vertical passes and good movements of the players Minamino and Haaland.
The Japanese likes to look for free spaces in the final third and exploit them as we already have seen in this tactical analysis. Logically, these free spaces sometimes occur on the wings and so we also often see the Japanese midfielder with the ball in such areas of the pitch. In these situations, we can once more see his vision as he never just delivers an uncontrolled cross into the centre but looks for a free man. Then, he uses his technical ability to cross the ball to the free teammate in the middle as it can be seen in the example below.
Considering these aspects which are mentioned in this paragraph, Minamino has a great first touch and the vision to make use of it, a good feeling for free space and the technical qualities to exploit his mental abilities. The aspect what makes the Japanese really dangerous is that he’s able to combine all these talents in the same situation to generate a real threat for the opposition. This can be seen in the situation below as he firstly makes the movement in the right direction to provide a passing option. Then, he turns with his first touch to get into the free space behind him. Genk’s defender then has to step forward what creates space in his back for Haaland, Minamino then plays a through pass to the Norwegian striker who scores Salzburg’s first goal in the Champions League in the history of the Austrian club.
In current times many players are on the level of Minamino and even above with technical abilities, vision and understanding of the game. Across the top leagues of Europe, we have several players with these qualities and one important factor which divides the good players from the outstanding ones is their decision-making. We will now investigate Minamino’s decision-making – while considering that the Austrian Bundesliga hasn’t got such a high level of play as the Premier League has. However, Salzburg and the Japanese have shown in their group stage matches of this Champions League season that they can compete on the highest European level.
The 24-year-old knows that even though he’s strong on the ball and would be able to beat numerous opponents with a dribble, it’s smarter in some situations to just pass the ball to a teammate instead of trying it on his own. The situation below is a perfect example of that as it would make no sense to start a dribble as he is alone against two players of Liverpool. Instead, he shields the ball and turns around to give his teammates time to push forward and then passes the ball to the free Dominik Szoboszlai.
However, since Minamino is an offensive midfielder, he’s quite often in situations at the edge of the penalty box or even in it – therefore good decision-making is vital. Players like him need to know when they should pass, shoot or even stay on the ball. The Japanese seems to have a good instinct for which situation what is right and so his decision-making is really incredible. Furthermore, he has the already described qualities to execute the decisions as he wants them. So, when we look at the two examples below, in both situations he’s in a good position in front of the goal. While he decides to shoot in the first example, he delivers a good ball into the centre in the second one. Both times, Minamino’s decision leads to a goal.
Possible role at Liverpool
First of all, it’s hard to say if the Japanese is really able to immediately help the current Champions League champions. Of course, he was beside the likes of Haaland and Szoboszlai among the best players of the Austrian Bundesliga, but the teams in this league are by far not on the same level as the ones in the highest English division. However, Salzburg’s players showed in this seasons matches in the Champions League that they are not far away from Liverpool and Napoli and clearly better than Genk. So, it could be quite possible that Minamino will make some appearances in the remaining months of this season. However, we already saw that it often takes some weeks or even months until Liverpool’s new signings adjust to Klopp’s system and until then they don’t play much. Fabinho is a perfect example of that. However, the tactics and philosophy of Salzburg and Liverpool are quite similar and because of that Minamino won’t need that much time to adjust.
Klopp almost always lines his team up in a 4-3-3 formation in which the central man of the three midfielders is more defensive than the other two players. Since Fabinho is at the moment injured and Liverpool have to play a lot of games at this period of the season, Minamino will likely play some games within the next weeks in the central midfield on the right or left side. Besides that, the second formation which the German coach likes to use is the 4-2-3-1. In this case, we would likely see Minamino as one of the three men behind the striker.
All in all, Minamino is an interesting player and showed outstanding performances during his time at Salzburg. However, it will be interesting to watch how he can deal with the new level of play and how often he will wear the Liverpool jersey within the next weeks. Since Klopp’s team must play a lot of games in this period, it would be no surprise, if the Japanese will make some appearances to give Georginio Wijnaldum, Keita, Jordan Henderson or James Milner a break.
Anyways, the big transfers of the likes of Stefan Lainer, Xaver Schlager, Haaland and Minamino show that RB Salzburg is doing a great job and if the Japanese is able to show off his great talent at the Reds, the prestige of the Austrian champions will continue to rise.