One Year Under Klopp - The Milli Of All Trades

One Year Under Klopp - The Milli Of All Trades

When Liverpool acquired James Milner on a free transfer in the summer of 2015, question marks were raised regarding Brendan Rodgers’ decision to bring in the former Manchester City utility player with the view to play him in the centre midfield position. The consensus amongst the fans was that despite getting him on a free, his qualities did not warrant the wages we would be paying him. The reported £100,000 a week, for what many saw as a utility squad player, meant that he had much to prove to the Liverpool faithful; and prove it he has.

James Milner is playing the best football of his career and proving he’s much more than just a hard working player.

James Milner is arguably Liverpool’s most experienced player and first team regular, quite a step up from utility/rotation player at Manchester City not too long ago. His experience and leadership skills have made a positive impact on a group that lacks experience and has seen a leadership vacuum since Gerrard’s departure. He might not be a local lad, and he has yet to win trophies with the club, but Milner has already earned the respect of the fans as vice-captain in such a short space of time. It’s no surprise that Jurgen Klopp continued where Rodgers left off in keeping Milner as vice-captain. The Yorkshireman’s journey from relegation with Leeds to becoming a Premier League champion with Manchester City is the type of experience needed in a group still trying to find their identity.

He might not be a local lad, and he has yet to win trophies with the club, but Milner has already earned the respect of the fans as vice-captain in such a short space of time. It’s no surprise that Jurgen Klopp continued where Rodgers left off in keeping Milner as vice-captain. The Yorkshireman’s journey from relegation with Leeds to becoming a Premier League champion with Manchester City is the type of experience needed in a group still trying to find their identity.

Perhaps the one lesson he will leave on all future players is that if you get the chance to play, even if its out of position, work hard and own that spot in the team!

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Hard work underpins the values Milner lives by, but many people work hard without getting what they deserve. James Milner worked smart. Despite his desire to play in the centre of midfield his whole career, Milner adapted his game in wider areas and by doing so made himself a very desirable player to have in any squad because he took his central midfield attributes out wide. He would argue that his best position is in the middle of the park and 28 goals and assists for Aston Villa in 2009/10 is proof he can contribute significantly to a team if selected there. However, Jurgen Klopp, like many managers before him, decided that Milner’s best position would be in wider areas but the difference, this time, was that Klopp identified Milner as a key player.

Despite his desire to play in the centre of midfield his whole career, Milner adapted his game in wider areas and by doing so made himself a very desirable player to have in any squad because he took his central midfield attributes out wide. He would argue that his best position is in the middle of the park and 28 goals and assists for Aston Villa in 2009/10 is proof he can contribute significantly to a team if selected there. However, Jurgen Klopp, like many managers before him, decided that Milner’s best position would be in wider areas but the difference, this time, was that Klopp identified Milner as a key player.

“James Milner? The complete football player. The perfect professional. A machine.”- After Klopp’s first game in charge against Tottenham.

Klopp played Milner down the right and sometimes left of midfield last season, but far from sulk at the prospect of once again missing out on his preferred position, Milner became undroppable,  scoring six goals and providing 12 assists in Klopp’s first season in charge. When Klopp needed to call on Milner’s abilities for the left back position this season, Milner knew it was an opportunity to be on the team, and by putting the team first, he has developed into the most in-form left back in Europe and once again, undroppable.

It’s no surprise that the ‘Milli of all trades’ adapted quickly to his new position. Now aged 30, Milner is now firmly one of the most versatile and efficient wide players in England, and that is down to his hard work at developing his understanding of what’s required to play out wide.

His transition from right midfield to the left back has come as a surprise, and some voices in the stands still question whether this is the right decision for the player long term. He may be on a new side of the pitch, but Milner is well versed in playing in wide positions . What makes the switch easer for Milner is the fact that Klopp does not like to place a rigid emphasis on what position you play but is more concerned with the team’s effectiveness in the build up play and collective counter press. Milner is one of the best pressing players in the squad but also excellent on the ball. He may not be blessed with the silkiest of skills, and his first touch can be a bit suspect at times, but his passing and dribbling ability make him a huge asset in transition phases of play from defence to attack.

Liverpool’s build up play varies from quick transitions through the middle, to slower build up from the centre backs to the wide players. Milner harboured concerns about playing wide because he hated the idea of receiving less of the ball. Klopp had other ideas;

“I remember speaking to Milly the first time about possibly playing left-back and said: ‘what do you think?’,” said Klopp on Monday Night Football. “He said: ‘but I won’t get the ball’. I said: ‘forget this, you will get the ball much more often than you can imagine’.”

Suffice to say; Klopp kept his word with Milner which has seen him involved in everything positive with Liverpool’s flying start to the season;

Attacking and Defensive Contribution

  • Made the third most passes in the team with 60 Per 90 with an 87% Success rate
  • 14 of these passes have been key passes leading to 1 assist
  • Milner has made 15 dribbles, the fifth highest in the squad and has been successful eight times, 6th highest.
  • Perhaps his biggest strength at the moment is his ice cold penalty taking ability, scoring 4 out of 4 penalties this season which makes him Liverpool’s top goal scorer.
  • Only Henderson (41) has attempted more tackles than Milner (26). Milner has won the third most tackles (14); only Clyne (15), and Henderson (29) have won more.
  • Milner has made seven interceptions this season (4th highest) and made 12 blocks.

Statzone Map V Swansea

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Far from being syphoned off to rot on the left wing, Klopp’s style of play has allowed Milner to see just as much of the ball as he did last season. The main areas to note are the position where Milner wins the ball via an interception or tackle. In the Swansea game, the map above shows that he is given the freedom to earn the ball back more centrally if the counter press allows him to do so. He is also involved in the attacking phases of play just as much as was when he played further up the field due to Coutinho playing closer to the middle. Milner performs this job well, because whether he likes it or not, he has developed into a better wide player than he is in the centre of the park.

Is Milner the best free transfer in modern football? With 11 goals and 16 assists in his first season and a half at Liverpool, while playing in a variety of different positions, the Yorkshiremen can certainly be considered in that conversation. The man who epitomised hard work since his schoolboy years has taken his game to the level many pundits expected from him when he burst on to the scene at 16.

His perception in the social media world may be dull and boring off the pitch, but on the pitch, Milner is an all action hero and continues to be pivotal in Jurgen Klopp’s revolution. It’s time to appreciate his qualities as much as we appreciate his hard work.