Jack Hallows breaks down James Milner’s 2017/18 campaign as the Englishman revived his Liverpool career as one of the Reds’ best midfielders.
James Milner.. part man, part machine.
Last season, Milner showcased his selfless ‘team comes first’ attitude by filling in at left-back for the entire campaign. The former Leeds man started the campaign brilliantly, scoring penalties seemingly every second week and looking to have adapted well to his new position.
However, stop-gaps can only ever be stop-gaps and after a tired, struggled end to the season, it became clear a genuine left-back upgrade would be needed in the summer. With this realisation though, came another question. Where would an ageing Milner, whose legs looked to have gone, fit into Klopp’s midfield?
As perhaps everyone had expected, Milner’s season started slowly with the majority of his minutes coming from bench cameos instead of starts.
Emre Can, Gini Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson were Klopp’s first-choice midfield trio for much of the early stages of the campaign while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s arrival had brought with it a quicker, more youthful option.
An impressive showing in the first leg of the Reds’ Champions League play-off away to Hoffenheim was an early highlight but it wasn’t until an October visit to Maribor that Milner reminded everyone of what he had to offer.
An impressive performance saw Milner set up Philippe Coutinho for one of the Reds’ seven goals and while he struggled in Liverpool’s Premier League games, his European appearances were raising eyebrows.
Another assist followed in the home leg against Maribor before Milner recorded a hat-trick of set ups in the second half of Spartak Moscow’s visit to Anfield.
The second half of the season was where Milner’s true value to Liverpool’s squad shone through.
The Englishman will never be the most fashionable footballer. While players such as Firmino, Salah, Mané and, to a lesser, extent Oxlade-Chamberlain blitz opponents with pace, skill, quick feet and incredible dribbling ability, Milner uses his experience, game intelligence and sheer willpower to push his side towards victory.
This wealth of experience and in-game intelligence was on full show during the Reds’ run to the Champions League final in Kiev and while he was one of their best players in the 5-0 demolition of Porto – he hit the post in the lead-up to Salah’s goal, set one up for Firmino and got stuck in with a number of snide tackles to break up the home side’s play – it was against his old side Manchester City that he put in his best performance.
Another Champions League assist – this time for Oxlade-Chamberlain’s thunder-bastard of a strike – under his bow aside, Milner was a dogged ball of energy during the Reds 3-0 first leg victory. Together with Henderson and ‘Chambo,’ the Reds’ midfield seemed to cover every single blade of grass on the pitch throughout the match and one look at their heat-map during the game – here you go – is all you need to see just what I mean by that.
Milner attempted eight tackles, winning five, attempted 46 passes, completed three interceptions, made four clearances and as many blocks in one of the team’s most complete midfield performances of the season.
Incredibly, he did it again just under a week later at the Etihad.
While his performances dipped towards the business end of the campaign most likely due to tired legs, one cannot deny Milner had completely revitalised his Liverpool career by the time the final whistle blew in Kiev.
The Englishman – at 32 years old mind – had given his everything for his team in the last half of the season, pouring sweat, grit and determination into every 90 minute performance and even breaking the Champions League assist-record (9 in a single campaign) against AS Roma in the process!
While this time last year I was questioning just where Milner would find a place in our squad, I’m now more than content with seeing him stay another year or two.
His experience, mentality and guile are all traits that this relatively young Liverpool squad can absolutely not do without. There’s also the small matter of his assisting 11 goals across the campaign, a figure bettered by only Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah.
He’ll never be the most fashionable footballer and at his age, it’s likely he won’t be a regular starter next campaign – especially with Fabinho, Naby Keïta and potentially even Nabil Fekir joining Liverpool’s midfield ranks – but the Englishman proved time and again this season that he’s still a worthy addition to any squad.
Despite his age, Milner should absolutely remain at the club next season and can feel proud of his valiant efforts this campaign.