Jack Hallows did a piece months ago on why the James Milner experiment was going impressively smoothly. Now, however, he’s realised why Jürgen Klopp needs to bring it to a swift end before next season.
To be fair to James Milner, when you take the season as a whole, he’s not done a bad job. Seven goals from the spot out of eight attempts, four league assists and a number of impressive performances in a role that simply doesn’t come naturally to him.
However, the fact that a right footed winger/midfielder is playing at left back is a perfect example of what’s wrong with Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool as we come to the end of the season.
An experiment that needs to end
Klopp made a point when he first tried the Milner experiment that he was simply looking to get all of his best players on the pitch at any one time. If that’s the case Kloppo, why didn’t you just sign a better left back than Moreno in the summer and free up the chance for Milner to play further forward?
Liverpool’s lack of pace without Sadio Mané in the side wouldn’t be solved by playing Milner in that position but we have to remember, he managed 11 assists in the Premier League last season predominantly from playing on the right hand side of a 4-2-3-1.
Being naturally right footed, it should come as no surprise that Milner’s crossing from the right wing is so much more impressive than it is from the left. He’s not entirely one footed but his reliance on cutting back onto his right before crossing is becoming predictable, tired and slows down the play. It’s not just in attack that having him play there is becoming an issue either. Teams have figured him out.
Opposition defences have been setting up to keep 10 men behind the ball at any given time, stationing their quickest player on the right hand side of their attacks. They frustrate the Reds attacking players and draw the full backs up the field before inevitably winning the ball back and breaking down Milner’s flank. With the Englishman too slow to recover in time on most occasions, this leaves the left sided centre back horribly exposed and more often than not results in opposition teams getting a goal or a corner.
We’ve seen it time and again this season and if you especially look back at the games we’ve lost across the duration of this Premier League campaign you do see a trend forming.
I’m going to use that dreadful Bournemouth game as an example. The penalty wasn’t his fault, Lovren’s dreadful header sold Milner awfully short but the second all comes from the amount of space vacated down his flank as the Cherries hit us on the counter attack.
Wilson is given acres in behind Lovren due to Milner being caught up the field and has all the time in the world to take the ball under his control, drive into the box and cut the ball back into the danger area.
Since then, it’s become a blueprint of how to expose the Reds high line and while it might not necessarily be fixed by signing a left back due to the Reds tendency to play a high line, Nathaniel Clyne’s pace on the other wing sees him less likely to be caught out and his recovery rate is much higher.
Looking ahead to next season
Klopp simply just needs to buy a damn left back. He clearly doesn’t rate Alberto Moreno as a footballer – the poor guy has resorted to attempting the bottle flip challenge on the bench during games – and Milner for all his positives simply isn’t a fullback. He doesn’t possess a left foot good enough to be constantly slinging balls into dangerous areas, he’s not positionally good enough in defence to make up for his lack of pace and once again, he’s not a left back.
His confidence in the position is also evidently shot to pieces – his comments in the media prior to Southampton and his penalty miss suggested as much. Football is overall a confidence game and no matter who you are as a player, if you’re struggling to back yourself and your morale is low you will struggle to perform at your best.
Next season I have no doubts that ‘Milly’ can still play an important role at the club, however, it will likely be in a similar vein to what he used to do at Manchester City.
Milner’s versatility and ability to play in midfield and out on the flanks – and fill in at full back if absolutely necessary – will make him vital to the Reds squad depth next season. Especially with the club in Europe and the fixture list likely to be congested as hell come next winter. However, this is the role he absolutely needs to be playing. Not starting at left back.
In my mind, Milner is a very good footballer and it’s understandable why Klopp rates him. He’s a true professional and his attitude and commitment to the cause cannot be questioned whatsoever. However, in these last few weeks it’s almost as if he’s only on the field in case the Reds manage to win a penalty and because he’s got to captain the side.
It seem as though Klopp doesn’t have another player that he backs to take penalties in his entire squad – other than Sturridge but he’s hardly fit – and unfortunately, with Henderson’s injury record Milner is the only other real candidate for the captaincy.
However, these just aren’t good enough reasons for him to continue playing – and struggling of late – out of position and this needs to be addressed in the summer.