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Friday, February 26, 2021

‘Fantastic’ Minamino can be Liverpool’s secret weapon, says Milner

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The Japanese star will be hoping to play a key role as Jurgen Klopp’s side resume their Premier League campaign this weekend

Takumi Minamino has been backed to make his mark at Liverpool during the final weeks of the Premier League campaign.

And Reds vice-captain James Milner believes the Japanese star will have benefited more than most from the suspension of the season, as he adjusts to life on Merseyside.

Minamino moved to Liverpool from Salzburg in January, but is yet to start a league game for his new club. He had made seven appearances, four of them in cup competitions, by the time the campaign was paused in March due to the coronavirus crisis.

The 25-year-old has, however, looked sharp following the Reds’ return to training. He starred in their behind-closed-doors friendly against Championship side Blackburn at Anfield last week, and will be in the squad for Sunday’s Merseyside derby against Everton at Goodison Park. 

And with the Reds set to play nine games in the next six weeks, and with the Premier League allowing teams to name nine substitutes and use five for the remainder of the season, Milner says the £7.25 million ($9m) man can have a big impact for Jurgen Klopp’s soon-to-be champions.

“Taki has looked fantastic coming back in,” Milner told Goal. “This period might have helped him settle in, feeling like he’s been at the club longer than he has, really. It’s given him that extra time to get used to things.

“It’s difficult coming in in the middle of a season, getting used to how a team plays. It’s hard to do that when you’re preparing for a game every three days. This period I’m sure will have helped him and hopefully he can have a positive impact.”

Jurgen Klopp echoed Milner’s views at a virtual pre-match press conference from Melwood on Friday. 

“Oh yes, massively so,” he said when asked if lockdown had benefited Minamino specifically. “With new players coming in, usually we say the first two, three, four months we don’t judge.

“But I know the public does and that means that we have to always explain why it’s not like this, why it’s not like that.

“The more time you have, for whatever reason, the better it is. And now we had four weeks, which is by the way the longest pre-season I had with any Liverpool side all together. That’s a massive difference. 

“Usually we have – all together – one week. I think last year it was not even a week when Sadio came back!

“It helped Taki, 100 per cent, he looks really different in the moment than to the first three weeks when he tried to please everybody and do everything we say in a language he’s not 100 per cent comfortable with.

“So we have now had much more time and he is settled. That’s good and it helped.”

Liverpool head into the weekend knowing a win will take them to within one victory of their first league title since 1990. They sit 22 points clear of second-placed Manchester City, and have dropped just five of a possible 87 points during an incredible campaign.

Regarding team selection, they have minor fitness concerns over at least two first-team players – including top scorer Mohamed Salah, who has not trained fully this week. Klopp has so far refused to rule anybody out, but Milner believes they have the depth to cope with the demands of the coming weeks, no matter what.

“It’s an important time,” he said. “Everyone is in the same boat, nobody is going to be at 100 per cent. You can train on your own as much as you want, but your legs are not going to be used to a 90-minute Premier League game because they haven’t done it for so long.

“There has been a change to the amount of substitutes, which will be massive and will give more players a chance. I’m sure also, unfortunately, that there will be injuries. That’s a given, because there always is. 

“So we’re going to need everybody, right down to the young boys. We’ve got some fantastic young players coming through. We’ve seen bits and bobs of them, and maybe we’ll see some more before the end of the season. 

“We’re going to need absolutely everybody. Any time you achieve anything, it’s a massive team effort.”

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