Liverpool’s forgotten man proves Gary Neville wrong with vital title intervention

Jurgen Klopp reviews Southampton win

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Takumi Minamino stepped up when it mattered most to keep Liverpool’s quadruple dream alive in Tuesday night’s dramatic 2-1 win against Southampton – despite being written off as “not good enough” by Gary Neville last year. The Japanese attacker has been a peripheral figure for the majority of the season, but he made the most of a rare chance to impress due to the injury Mohamed Salah sustained in last weekend’s FA Cup final triumph.

After Manchester City dropped precious points in the title race on Sunday, Liverpool had a real opportunity to pile the pressure on ahead of Sunday’s seismic season finale – but they also knew that defeat against the Saints would end their bid to create history.

After falling behind early in the match, Minamino settled a few nerves by fired Liverpool back into a game which they went on to win comfortably. The 27-year-old made the most of his opportunity to deputise in the absence of some more established names – despite Neville claiming last January that the attacker was an inadequate deputy for the likes of Salah and Sadio Mane.

Neville told Sky Sports: “To me I feel like it’s under control at Liverpool. They’ve played non-stop for three years and the fourth year is always the burn out year. For three years they’ve been unbelievable. This year we’ve seen a dip and that’s natural. [Klopp] could potentially give them a rest, but they don’t get a rest.

“The two or three players underneath that front three Shaqiri, Minamino and Origi are not good enough. I would say the problems for Liverpool are not the front three, it’s Jota’s injury, the season being 100mph and the three beneath them are not good enough to give them a rest as City have pushed them.”

Although Minamino is unlikely to dislodge the likes of Salah or Mane, he impressed in spells when the duo were away on Africa Cup of Nations duty before his pivotal intervention on the south coast. At the very least, Minamino has done enough to prove Neville’s claims wrong and show that he can be an adequate deputy to Liverpool’s all-star frontline – if he is content to hang around play second fiddle on Merseyside.

After the match, Reds boss Jurgen Klopp lauded his second-string stars before admitting that “it’s a crime” that Minamino doesn’t feature for Liverpool more often.

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When asked about his line-up for Tuesday night’s win – which had nine changes from the FA Cup final – Klopp said: “It’s a crime! I apologise! Crazy! People ask me if it’s hard to pick a line-up. No, that’s fine; I love it! I have options. Today we could have lined up differently, but we really liked it.

“The football we could play was really good. It’s hard [to leave people out]. I expect them to react like they do, but it’s not normal. It’s special. Whatever happens, happens because the group is pretty, pretty special.

“Actually, I’m so happy about the performance, it was a bit touching to be honest. It was like ‘Wow, these boys!’ It’s like having Ferraris in the garage and then you let them out and they play like this. Harvey, not sure when he last played. Curtis, no rhythm. Takumi Minamino, it’s a crime he’s not playing more often. Oxlade didn’t even play and he’s in outstanding shape.

“It’s really tough for the boys but whatever happens this year, happened because of this group. It’s exceptional, and tonight they showed that again.”

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