James Milner finally made his return against Newcastle United on Wednesday. And Liverpool immediately felt the effect.
We’ve waited over a month for James Milner to return. He went off against Brighton on November 28th and has been out ever since.
Fortunately, Curtis Jones stepped up to fill that void. The teenager became a first-team regular over December, meaning the Reds didn’t lack too many midfield numbers.
Still, Takumi Minamino dropped back to fill in on occasion. Further absences made that a necessity – Liverpool simply lacked players.
That problem also brought about further issues. For one, it asked a lot of Jones and Gini Wijnaldum.
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Liverpool played seven games while Milner was out – Wijnaldum played the full 90 in five of those and another hour in a sixth. The only game he missed was away at Midtjylland.
And so Liverpool saw the immediate effect of Milner being back in that they could rest Wijnaldum against Newcastle United.
It’s the first time the Dutchman has started a Premier League game on the bench since the Merseyside derby on October 17th. The first time since Thiago has been out, in other words.
He played the full 90 in all but one, too – by far the most of any Liverpool midfielder.
Fortunately, the injury crisis appears to be easing up. Milner is back, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is back, Thiago on the bench, Xherdan Shaqiri on the bench.
Jurgen Klopp can afford to rest more players, then. That should, hopefully, lead to an easier finish to the season.
Milner is a player Klopp called ‘exceptional’ last season, so he’ll be thrilled to have him back anyway. But finally being able to rest players is the biggest immediate effect here.
And as more and more players add to that, we can finally see this Liverpool squad at its best.