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The Reliable All-Rounder

Resurgent Milner is a crucial cog in this memorable Liverpool team

Posted by fatheads

Liverpool's James Milner

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Whether Liverpool go on to win this season’s UEFA Champions League or not, the Reds’ 17/18 side will be remembered for a long time to come. Liverpool are currently priced at 21/10 with to win the Champions League.

After an iffy opening to the campaign culminated in a chastening 4-1 defeat to Spurs at Wembley, which looked to be a potential career-ender for the likes of Dejan Lovren, few would have believed that Jürgen Klopp’s men would have been capable of remaining competitive in any of the meaningful tournaments as May came into view.

The shift since that result in the capital has been staggering. 

Just two defeats in 25 subsequent Premier League matches. Three wins in three months over the previously indomitable Manchester City. And now a European Cup semi-final to look forward to.

This current crop of Reds could enshrine themselves as the newest figures in the glorious echelons of the club’s history by winning its sixth top European title at the end of May, or they could fall at one of the final couple of hurdles and be left to rue the fact they never secured the trophy which would have rendered their brilliance unquestionable to observers worldwide.

But either way, this current Liverpool team will live long in the memory of supporters.

It will be remembered for Mohamed Salah’s inconceivable goal scoring form, which has seen him become only the third player to notch 40 for the club in a single season. It will be remembered for the combination of intensity, determination and sheer quality of its other two forwards, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané. It will be remembered for the emergence into Europe’s top-tier of some footballers who many assumed would lead careers no more than mediocre, like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Loris Karius.

Those are the lads we’ll all sit telling stories about in a few decades’ time as we look back on this season with smiles on our faces.

One of the men most likely to be left out of our future nostalgia trips, however, has been one of the most influential figures in the success of this Liverpool season.

At the beginning of the campaign, there looked to be no way back into the first-team for James Milner. The signing of Andy Robertson from Hull City and the re-emergence of Alberto Moreno in pre-season meant that the need for him to continue as an unorthodox but effective left-back was non-existent, and the addition of Chamberlain to the midfield meant that there was more than enough competition to keep him on the bench. At the beginning of the season, he started only five of Liverpool’s first 12 league matches.

Since his arrival, plenty have doubted Milner’s ability to play regularly for Liverpool, especially as part of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. “He’s too slow. He’s one-footed. He can’t do the pressing.”

Milner’s prevalence in the first-team of late is, of course, partly due to the injury problems suffered by Emre Can, Jordan Henderson, and Adam Lallana throughout the season.

The level of his performances since his imperious display away at Maribor back in October, however, have proven his doubters completely wrong.

Labelling a footballer as an ‘all-rounder’ can often be perceived as a negative — as though the term suggests he possesses no stand-out quality or real area of expertise. But Milner is an all-rounder in its truest, most positive sense, portraying an aura of calmness and reliability on the pitch that allows the more eccentric, explosive footballers around him to truly excel.

His performances in the two legs of the tie against his former employer Manchester City epitomised his importance to this Liverpool team. His marshalling of the midfield, manning the space between the lines that City looked to exploit, barking at his teammates to push up the pitch, winning tackles and blocking shots, were all vital to Liverpool’s progression.

It was nothing fancy, but it was Milner at his best. Brilliantly basic. Spectacularly unspectacular.

Milner’s ability to avoid a booking for fouls that clearly warrant a yellow card is another vastly underrated part of his game, and is of particular use in European competition, where just a few cards earn a player a ban.

I’m not sure how he does it. But every game, it happens. The referee looking down at the Liverpool number 7 sprawled on the deck, Milner’s lovely Yorkshire face staring back at him. And the referee thinks, “Ah, I’m sure he means no harm. I’ll let him off again.”

Milner, though, is more than just pure graft.

So far in this Champions League season, he has a whopping seven assists, just one fewer than the record of eight set by Neymar for Barcelona in 2016/17. His delivery from corners is much improved, no doubt helped by Liverpool’s recent signing of a humongous Dutch central defender whose presence gives the opposition something to worry about it and him a consistent target to aim at. And his composure from the penalty spot, Southampton at home last season aside, could prove pivotal in either leg against Roma or in Kiev on 26 May.

This Liverpool team contains many players more thrilling, athletic, and memorable than James Milner, but his contribution to this crazy campaign is just as crucial.

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