James Milner Can’t be the Long-Term Left-Back at LFC

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“Milly can play there, especially in the style of play we think we should play. Full-back is not only a winger in the offence situations. It’s a really good position for Milly.”

Jurgen Klopp’s comments in the post match Spurs press conference didn’t go down too well with fans who had hoped the German manager would bring in a left-back before the transfer window shut on Wednesday evening. After selling Brad Smith, the only natural left-back the club have on the books is Alberto Moreno and many believe calling him a defender is being extremely generous.

James Milner Can't be the Long-Term Left-Back at LFC

Liverpool do have players in their squad capable of playing that role in the form of Joe Gomez, Ragnar Klavan and, the current incumbent of the left-back role, James Milner. While Milner has been doing a job there it’s clear for all to see that there are limitations to him in that position, which has a knock on effect on the team and it would be negligent for Liverpool to view Milner as a long-term solution to the left-back conundrum.

Problems with James Milner as a left-back.

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The above two pictures are taken from Liverpool’s 1-1 draw with Spurs. Phil Coutinho plays the ball to James Milner on the left flank and the no.7 has space to run into if he was naturally left footed and a burst of pace that full-backs often have. Had this been the case – and there was a threat that Walker could’ve been taken on the outside – the Spurs full-back would’ve been quicker to get over, which in turn creates more space centrally for the midfield runners.

Instead he checks back onto his right foot and plays the ball to Coutinho who has three Spurs players in close proximity and Milner hesitant to run into the space behind Walker. It makes Liverpool very one dimensional down that flank.

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In the first picture Milner is just ahead of the referee having played the pass to Coutinho. In this scenario you want your full-back to go on the overlap and at least give the Spurs man, Eric Dier, something to think about which in theory gives Coutinho even more room to work with centrally. Instead Milner stays fairly central and as Coutinho shoots Milner isn’t even in the picture. Had Milner made a bursting room from deep it’s 5 vs 5 and Liverpool have players in dangerous areas.

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Once again two pictures from the Spurs match and once again Milner’s reluctance to go on the outside kills off any chance of a quick transitional attack. Wijnaldum plays the pass to Milner who has acres of space down the Spurs right. Had he had the pace and the confidence on his left he could’ve drove into that space with the ball before cutting it back to Wijnaldum who would’ve been in acres of space 25 yards out with three Liverpool players close by.

He ends up playing the pass to Wijnaldum but after it he doesn’t attempt to make the run down the left, he comes central and Liverpool end up running the ball out of play trying to be too intricate.

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In this series of pictures you can see how unnatural Milner seems in the left-back role. After playing the pass to Lovren the obvious run would be down the left hand side. He doesn’t have to do a Moreno vs Arsenal and break his neck but moving 4/5 yards forward gets Liverpool up the field and also gives them the chance to progress further down the right with Coutinho and Wijnaldum in passing positions to take Dele Alli out of the game. Had it been done properly Liverpool could’ve taken 5 Spurs players out of the equation and there may have been a chance to counter.

Milner inexplicably holds his position and although Lovren dawdles on the ball it isn’t helped by Milner not advancing.

Easier to Press. 

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Another issue with playing a right footer at left-back is it makes them easier to read, control, dictate and press. In the above two pictures you see Milner receive the ball running to the left and even though there’s space with only one Spurs man to beat on the outside he cuts inside onto his right foot and into three Spurs players who have cut off the obvious passing lanes to Coutinho and Henderson in the middle.

Since coming in to replace Alberto Moreno after the Arsenal match Milner has done a solid enough job. There haven’t been any glaring defensive issues as such, but in a Jurgen Klopp system the full-backs are a lot more than just defenders and herein lies the problem of using Milner as a left-back. They’re expected to support the attack, offer width and create space. They’re almost auxiliary wingers at times as the attacking wide players are often narrow.

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  1. The only person who thinks we are well covered in the LB stakes is Mr Klopp and, sadly, his view seems to count for quite a bit at the moment! Mind you he also thinks Henderson is a defensive midfielder so either his sanity or his eyesight can be called into question on any of those views!

    • Or he could be waiting for the right player to become available at the right price. I accept that won’t be good enough for “fans” like yourself though so maybe go find a club with a sane manager with good eyesight?

    • Or he could be a good manager who doesn’t sit there and say Milner is slow, old, and always uses his right foot cause he stinks.

  2. Very well put together Sam!
    I do not think we have had an opportunity to see how the team sheet will read.
    I would imagine that in the next few weeks when the entire team is fit and ready that Klavan would go into left back. He looks very calm in that position as his form for his country also suggests, Matip looks very calm in the center back slot, just as well as that will counterbalance some of Lovren’s lack of awareness, i like Lovren, to a degree i should say, he will hopefully have his head back on straight after the proposed personal crap he has gone through, that must have affected him mentally!!!
    I am more concerned about Clyne at right back than i am of Milner at left back to be fair, he is not a very good right back and i hope one day we will remedy that slot as well!
    Klopp is not afraid to wield the axe and after this window closes i am not sure their will be much left of his predecessors!
    If we make very steady and stable progress this year i am willing to wait out the next few transfer windows, it is impractical to assume that we would change the entire team as some would suggest, slow and steady does not fit society today but in this particular case i can wait!

    • I think Lovren has started a bit off, same as Clyne. But last season they both played at the very least, decently. Give them some time to grow into the confusion of a new CB partnership and find a balance on the wings and we’ll look a sight better. Milner and Hendo I’m not sure about though. Maybe Klavan can fit the role but I really would wish Klopp would shape Moreno into a good defender the way he shaped Origi, Lallana, and to a degree Lovren.

  3. Id rather see milner play untill the right player becomes available.no point in signing someone that isnt quite what klopp wants then we’re all back here whinging in 9 months time for another left back.be patient, untill then support what we do have.


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