In a star-studded Liverpool side tipped for a serious title challenge with Manchester City, James Milner continues to hold his own and prove his worth.
“Find me a more complete English player. Milner is a phenomenon, a guy with big balls and a heart this big.” Manuel Pellegrini on James Milner in 2015.
The Englishman has increasingly become a favourite of the Anfield faithful and has deservedly received plaudits from Premier League fans. Consistent, versatile, industrious. These three words epitomise James Milner who has been an underrated figure in the sides he has featured in since his Aston Villa days. Not the flashiest or the fanciest by any means, but his role in this Liverpool team has been integral since his arrival from Manchester.
What separates Milner from most is his versatility as a player in The Reds’ squad. Central midfield, both wings and left back are positions that the boy from Leeds has performed brilliantly in, demonstrating his diverse skill set as a footballer time and time again. Although he began his career in an offensive role as a winger, his game displays discipline and experience which has allowed him to thrive in roles that require high defensive output too.
Not only does ‘Hamez’ read the game well and transition seamlessly into whatever role Jurgen Klopp entrusts him with, his physicality makes him an invaluable asset to have. Throughout his career and even at the age of 32, the former Newcastle man has incredible stamina allowing to cover every blade of grass on the pitch for 90 minutes week in week out.
The perfect illustration of this was against his former side Manchester City in the second leg of the Champions League at the Etihad. At his old stomping ground, Milner covered a remarkable 13.53KM of distance, 2KM than the next best player. Alongside his extraordinary endurance, Milner is a strong tackler with 1.8 tackles per game in the league last season and is able to hold off opposition players well despite being only 5ft 9 inches in height.
Moreover, Milner’s technical ability is unquestioned. The record breaker for most assists in a Champions League campaign (9) last season completes between 45-50 passes per game, allowing him to rack up assists and orchestrate play even from deep in midfield. Proven by his success on the wing, the former Manchester City winger is also a great crosser of the ball, allowing him to succeed offensively as a fullback in 2016/17.
Milner is also a competent set-piece taker, able to strike a dead ball into the back of the net from the penalty spot as well as whip the ball in from either corner. Although his free-kicks at Liverpool thus far haven’t been the most successful, he certainly has it in his locker, shown below.
But among all else, what has made the Kop warm to Milner the most is his commitment and mentality. The 61 time capped Englishman has had a sublime work ethic since he set foot on Anfield’s turf. A true professional who never tires on the pitch and is never involved in any controversy off it, Milner strives for perfection always putting the team first before himself. Even though he was unhappy playing at left back in 2016/17, he still put a shift in and solidified a shaky defence for the rest of the season. His attitude for each game from his debut till now has remained the same, one of the many reasons why he has remained at the top level all the way through his career.
Even with one of the Premier League’s best midfielders in Naby Keita, the 32-year-old veteran signed on a free from Manchester City continues to shine. He’s even keeping new £39 million signing Fabinho out of the first team, a testament to how much Klopp rates him. Never backs away from a tackle, never avoids running an extra kilometre, never shows less than 100% effort, James Milner truly is Liverpool’s midfield engine that never runs out of steam.
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