You would not have known it was his debut, which is perhaps the biggest compliment that can be paid to Takumi Minamino. His first outing in a Liverpool shirt was not marked by a goal or an especially impressive performance but it was still easy to see why Jurgen Klopp and Anfield’s other decision-makers feel this signing makes sense.
By now, we all know the characteristics which have made Klopp’s side the dominant force in English football – a relentless stamina, an unflinching work rate, an insatiable drive – and they are all embodied by the £7.25m capture from Red Bull Salzburg.
The Anfield crowd was already familiar with his talents before this FA Cup third round Merseyside derby of course, having witnessed him score in Salzburg’s 4-3 defeat here back in October. Minamino was the arguably the most eye-catching performer that night. Others took the limelight here.
And it was an unfortunate coincidence that as soon as his debut was cut short by substitution in the 71st minute, Toxteth-born teenager Curtis Jones beat Everton with the type of goal that most young Liverpudlians spend their formative years fantasising about.
Still, Minamino’s display was filled with glimpses of his ability and even moments of promise. Most importantly of all, he looked up to speed with the specific demands that Klopp makes of his players and able to carry those duties out.
Only a few seconds in, he was contesting his first derby 50-50 with Gylfi Sigurdsson. He lost it, and appeals for a free-kick fell on deaf ears, but he was not dissuaded from engaging again. A few minutes later, he won an aerial battle with Mason Holgate impressively despite his slight, 5ft7in frame.
But it is his counter-pressing which Liverpool have paid for more than anything else. That was on display around the half-hour mark, when Minamino harried Yerry Mina and deftly stole the ball off the Everton centre-half’s toes, only to have his run into the penalty area stopped by Holgate.
Another spell of pressure not long before the interval sparked panic among Mina, Holgate and goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, when Minamino chased a bouncing ball which had appeared a lost cause. Klopp showed his appreciation on the touchline.
His versatility is another asset. Minamino is at home playing on the left wing and cutting inside on his natural right foot, but he has also been known to operate on the opposite flank, as a ball-progressing central midfield player or as a centre-forward. His Anfield career began in the latter of the those roles.
Levir Culpi, the man who handed a 17-year-old Minamino his debut at Cereza Osaka, believes he will eventually succeed Roberto Firmino as Liverpool’s starting striker, even claiming his protege is “more determined” than the Brazilian. You would struggle to find a more diligent and hard-working centre-forward than Firmino but Liverpool believe they may now have just that.
Takumi Minamino impressed in flashes (Reuters)
Still, he will need improve on this showing. Minamino managed only one shot on Pickford’s goal – a header which he failed to properly connect with, wasting a dangerous delivery from Divock Origi. A heavy first touch outside the penalty area at the start of the second half prevented him from fashioning another chance and his influence was muted from thereon.
When he was eventually replaced by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, it was an understandable decision. And yet as he made his way towards the touchline, Anfield warmly applauded his efforts. Having once held the world record for number of high fives given in a single minute, Minamino is used to being given a hand. It is unlikely to be the last ovation he receives in red.