When it’s not about his antics on Twitter, praising him hasn’t been fashionable James Milner for quite some time.
Of course, there were platitudes when he reached the 700 game milestone, while there are always vague sounds of not fully declared appreciation for attributes like experience, stamina and leadership, but precious little in terms of actual accomplishments.
That’s partly because of course he just doesn’t get into the Liverpool side anymore, but at the same time it’s fair to note that on occasion when he’s been involved – against Benfica, for example – he’s shown the level he’s got The field did not meet the standards of Fabinho and Co.
Against Newcastle in Liverpool’s dominant but ultimately narrow 1-0 winmost of the above changed.
Milner started, Milner played 77 minutes, and Milner was mostly very good.
This was the longest season he had seen in the Premier League since December 19 and he certainly made the most of it, being almost constantly involved in a crucial win for the Reds’ ongoing title hopes and the unlikely scenario of them won all four trophies.
The No. 7 was front and center when the first goal of the game came, crunching into a tackle to regain the ball that ended up in the back of the net seconds later.
Raw stats don’t often tell the story of Milner’s approach, but here they at least paint a picture of just how prominent he was: nobody created more chances than he did, nobody made as many tackles and nobody even had more touches of the ball despite not playing the entire 90 minutes was in the field.
It was a remarkable performance from Milner and it came at an opportunity when the Reds really needed it: a quick two-and-a-half day turnaround after a Champions League semi-final, with more rotations as a result of Jurgen Klopp has been a regular occurrence of late.
Another of those rotations was the most important of them all, as it turned out: Naby Keitaby far the best player in the game and also the match winner as it turned out.
The latter part was perhaps a little more down to Martin Dubravka’s ongoing great form of the moment, plus unusual wasteful behavior from Messrs Mane, Diaz, Salah and Jota, but it was still the most important aspect of the game in the end.
Keita’s aplomb for circling Dubravka and beating defenders on the line was matched by his tenacity for winning the ball, chasing after Allan Saint-Maximin and being the Reds’ most common first out ball in moments of counter-pressing.
The No8 has seen his best form and engagement since joining the Reds over the past two and a half months.
He finally appears to have overcome his regular fitness woes and absences, and has regularly interlocked with Jordan Henderson for third place in midfield, although both started on the occasion as it was instead the two guaranteed regulars – Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara – who started the XI stood bench and later came to it.
Given their absence, the personnel and even the role in Henderson’s case, it’s a testament to the training and quality of the team that they still absolutely dominated this game with 24 shots to four and 65% possession.
And perhaps that’s the more notable aspect of those three: the manager’s ability to lead the squad, not only keep those on the sidelines happy but engaging enough to perform when needed, and quiet get the points.
Keita has been in and out some might say. The other view is that he was a regular on a team that strives for glory. The club captain – plus Diaz and Jota and several others – are similarly juggled for maximum impact.
Milner’s situation – and that of Joe Gomez, who was also very good that day – is different and indicates the manager’s ability to really integrate and invigorate the whole group. This energizing has to be constant and sometimes maybe innovative.
Klopp signs a new contract at Anfield was an unexpected and huge boost for backers, and perhaps the timing is entirely coincidental.
After a string of big games – cup semi-finals, derbies, rivals, European ties – there was little danger that this clash (against no less in-form side in the league, on a four-game basis) could be seen as something… mundane.
Early, League Game, Away, Midfielder. Title challenge, yes, but still not a game as obviously prominent as the previous ones.
Maybe, just maybe, Klopp felt that a timely boost would provide the extra energy and focus needed to make those extra changes. A similar number of changes could be expected midweek as the quadruple challenge returns to Liverpool’s strongest line-up.
https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/liverpool-newcastle-jurgen-klopp-james-milner-b2068998.html The game-winning midfield mix demonstrates Jurgen Klopp’s ability to keep Liverpool challenging on all fronts