Does Mainz’s Taiwo Awoniyi have a future with Liverpool?
The Reds loanee netted in the 05ers’ comeback at Cologne last week, but it remains to be seen if the forward’s goal was a false dawn
What was more surprising than Taiwo Awoniyi featuring for Mainz at Cologne last week? Taiwo Awoniyi scoring.
Six minutes later, on his seventh appearance of a frustrating loan spell, the Liverpool loanee had halved the deficit and they went on to rescue a 2-2 draw, thus extending their mini unbeaten run to three games.
While stalemates aren’t ideal for teams battling relegation and desperate for points, Mainz’s creditable draw in Cologne surely counts as a point gained rather than two lost.
For Awoniyi, it was his first goal in nearly a year since scoring twice for Royal Excel Mouscron in a 4-2 defeat by Waasland Beveren in the Belgian First Division on May 17. He’s seldom featured since leaving Anfield on a year-long loan for the German top flight and was certainly a beneficiary of the increase in the number of substitutions from three to five for the rest of the season.
The forward’s last appearance before last week was in Die Nullfunfer’s 2-1 loss to Augsburg in early December, when he replaced Karim Onisiwo at half-time. He underwhelmed on the day, making only 14 touches and completing just 50 percent of his passes. In addition, he lost possession nine times and won none of his six duels. Maybe it was no surprise the on-loan attacker hadn’t been seen in action since.
— Mainz 05 English (@Mainz05en) May 18, 2020
Given the context of his poor showing at the Augsburg Arena in late-2019, last week’s performance against the Billy Goats definitely falls into the encouraging column. Awoniyi had contact with the ball 13 times and gave it away just once. The attacker’s passing was accurate too, with all nine of his attempted passes finding their intended targets.
Despite losing the only duel he contested for, the frontman’s 34-minute appearance changed the course of the match in North Rhine-Westphalia, and Beierlorzer couldn’t have asked for more on the day.
It remains to be seen if that showing will influence his manager’s thinking for Sunday’s clash with wobbling RasenBallsport Leipzig. The former Bundesliga challengers are now 10 points adrift of Bayern Munich and outside the Champions League places after Bayer Leverkusen’s impressive 3-1 win at Borussia Monchengladbach on Saturday.
Three successive draws either side of the enforced hiatus has seen the Red Bulls go from outsiders for the title to battling for a top-four spot and participation in Europe’s premier club competition next season.
For Mainz, Werder Bremen’s hugely impressive 1-0 success at seventh-placed Freiburg on Saturday has put the 17th-placed side within six points of Beierlorzer’s troops. Failure to get any sort of positive result against RBL on Sunday leaves Awoniyi and his teammates precariously looking over their shoulder with seven games to play, with Bremen having a game in hand.
Awoniyi made the most of his half-hour showing last week, especially having failed to make the squad for nine games on the spin before his team’s encounter with Cologne last time out.
Only time will tell if that goal will stir a return to prominence in the closing weeks of the campaign. After a positive spell in Belgium last year, Liverpool made the decision to loan the forward to a team in Europe’s top five leagues probably thinking to continue his development.
However, a lack of game time has stalled his progress and has made a pathway into Jurgen Klopp’s side even more difficult if…there ever was one, to begin with.
The Merseyside giants’ forward line of Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane is one of the best on the continent, and with their reported chase of Timo Werner, outsiders like Awoniyi may never find themselves in the first-team unless they first prove their worth away from the club.
The Nigerian thrived in the First Division last term but has unfortunately failed to kick on in a bigger league. Awoniyi was a beneficiary of increased substitutions last week, now he’d hope Beierlorzer continues to give him minutes in the final weeks of the campaign as Mainz seek to retain their Bundesliga status.