Neil Humphreys: Resurrect your Liverpool career, Minamino
Japanese winger must build on his League Cup brace
Takumi Minamino is still around after all. Until yesterday, he was the forgotten man.
The Japanese winger was not so much the one that got away as the one that rarely seemed to be present in the first place.
His brace for Liverpool in their 3-0 win against Norwich City in the League Cup yesterday morning (Singapore time) felt like a reminder of both his existence and his unusual position.
Liverpool's coaches still want him, but they do not particularly need him, unless he convinces them otherwise quickly.
Indeed Minamino's rare start epitomised his strange situation. His goals were excellent, but they were bookends either side of a peripheral performance.
In the fourth minute, he displayed a poacher's instincts at a corner. In the 80th minute, he slipped behind the Canaries and guided the ball home. In between, he didn't do much.
It's been the story of his stalling Liverpool career.
Since the Japanese's arrival in January 2020, he's often been accused of drifting out of games, which isn't an uncommon trait for wide players.
But, for Juergen Klopp, it's practically a capital offence. After a patient settling-in period, Liverpool's manager expects new signings to demonstrate a work rate and involvement to rival Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and particularly Roberto Firmino. Or they follow Xherdan Shaqiri out of the Shankly Gates.
Klopp has little patience for underwhelming mavericks and bit-part players taking up bench space that could be given to academy prospects.
Both the German and his assistant Pep Lijnders continue to make the right noises about Minamino, but the winger is still on the clock.
January feels like the cut-off point. The transfer window reopens and the African Nations Cup is set to take away Mane and Salah for a month. That leaves Minamino with three months to prove that he's a worthy replacement - or risk being replaced.
The 26-year-old was loaned to Southampton in the middle of last season and only avoided being offloaded in the summer because potential suitors were not found.
The Reds' progress to the League Cup's fourth round, along with their latest crop of promising academy graduates, gives Minamino an opportunity to lead the next generation into the latter stages of a competition that Liverpool haven't won since 2012.
And the African Nations Cup might offer him regular involvement in the English Premier League, if Minamino convinces Klopp that he's capable of deputising for either Mane or Salah in a rotated forward line.
He hasn't so far. The winger hasn't featured in the EPL this season (a thigh injury didn't help).
Minamino lacks Mane's physicality and has a tendency to get swatted aside and pushed to the fringes of the game.
Since his Anfield arrival, he's found the net just once in the EPL for the Reds and never challenged the attacking status quo or even staked a serious claim for game-changing cameos from the bench.
He's stuck in mid-career limbo, flying the Japanese flag proudly at a prestigious club, but without ever really playing.
Still, a pathway remains. A possible role model played alongside him against Norwich. Like Minamino, Divock Origi was expected to leave Liverpool. There were too many established names ahead of him in the pecking order.
But an unexpected start in the Champions League against AC Milan, a brief appearance against Crystal Palace in the EPL and a goalscoring outing against Norwich have improved Origi's standing.
The Belgian might earn a reprieve, at least until the end of the season to help Liverpool deal with Mane and Salah's absences.
Minamino has a slim chance of doing something similar. It's certainly his last chance.
Two flashes of inspiration against Norwich boosted confidence and bought him time, but it's unlikely to satisfy his exacting manager in the long term.
Minamino has contributed to games. Now he must dominate them.