It is fair to say that James Milner has achieved what most footballers could only dream of. Playing for historic giants in Newcastle and Aston Villa as well as winning all domestic titles possible, with the Primer League being the holy grail of the lot.
However, the Yorkshireman reached another level last season. It started with being reintegrated into Liverpool’s midfield for the second half of the 2017/2018 season. Leading to the consensus that this six-month renaissance was only going to be temporary.
Milner proved his doubters wrong once again. They claimed he was not capable at left back in 2016/2017 which was responded with a consistent season from the fill in fullback. This did not stop predictions Milner would be eased out in favour of integrating new arrivals Keita and Fabinho in the midfielder.
Milner strenuous performances early in the season made him one of the first names on the team sheet. At the age of 33 Milner showing the energy of someone a decade younger provides the perfect role model for Klopp to show off to the rest of the squad.
The persona of Milner being a traditional workhorse in midfield highlights his attributes but at the same time does him a disservice as it covers up the quality, he brings on the pitch. The finish against Arsenal was so precise and clinical, but most importantly would have contributed to a hard-fought point which could have been difference for Liverpool if Manchester City did slip up in the running.
Equally, his goal at Burnley away was crucial to maintaining Liverpool’s unbeaten run at the start of the season, as well as establishing them as title favourites just before Christmas with a perfect December in terms of results. The importance of Milner’s coolness from the penalty spot cannot be overstated, from the opener at Palace that gave us early optimism for the season to the nail-biting moment from 12 yards against Fulham in the run in for the league were fundamental in picking up key points in the run in.
Certainly, he has lived up to his tag of Mr. Reliable. In the big moments he is Klopp’s go to man. When the big games come around it is very rare that Milner is not present in these games. Looking back over the encounters with the big six in 2018/2019 Milner started six out of the ten fixtures. Considering he missed two of them through injury he would of most likely made an appearance in all the titan clashes in the Primer League last season.
A wise man once said that ‘You can’t win anything with kids’. Although Alan Hanson was referring to inexperience making the chances of success slimmer, you can take the message that experience helps a squad win silverware. Therefore, Milner’s experience both on and off the field has proved priceless for Liverpool.
What Milner has offered Liverpool in their Primer League title challenge were transferred to Liverpool’s charge on the European front in the Champions League. The old school handling of skilful show ponies such as Neymar and Lionel Messi, barging them off the field epitomised his non-nonsense attitude on the pitch that just shows nothing gets in the way.
If a game ever symbolised Milner’s versatility and determination it was the Barcelona miracle at Anfield. To start in the midfield against the so-called big names in Europe such as Sergio Busquets, Luis Suarez and arguably the greatest footballer of all time Messi and physically bully them shows the level he was playing at that night.
At half time when Andy Robertson comes off injured having to cover at left back against Barcelona’s attack for the second half of the game and keep Barcelona at arm’s length shows what a valuable option, he is to fill in pretty much any position on the pitch.
Even an experienced professional still showed his heart and passion for the club, from tears at the final whistle against Barcelona or walking around the Liverpool end of the Wanda Metropolitano stadium holding up six fingers to reinforce the fans of what this Liverpool team have added to their history.
The exhilaration in his face revealed a desire to add onto this, to embrace that winning mentality like a drug. He was a big part of creating it at Manchester City and is on the path to doing it with Liverpool.
Milner may have upgraded from Ribena to Lime and Lemonade as a celebration drink for winning the Champions League. If he goes on to win more trophies, he may have to go for something fizzier, maybe a full fat Coca-Cola.