James Milner shows value in supporting role vs. Aston Villa


James Milner has always been a player who divides opinion, but as Liverpool’s 6-0 win over Aston Villa showed, he is at his best in a supporting role.

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Sunday, February 14, 2016: Liverpool's James Milner in action against Aston Villa during the Premier League match at Villa Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Dani Alves is one of the finest right-backs of his generation, and someone who has come up against world-class footballers on a regular basis over the last decade.

When the Brazilian described Milner as his “most annoying” opponent ever last week, there was much bemusement across the footballing globe.

While Alves’ quotes have clearly been misconstrued by some – he doesn’t mean Milner is the best wide man he has come up against – the fact that Milner lives so long in Alves’ memory is testament to the Yorkshireman.

Milner is a player respected by both team-mates and opponents down the years, but he will always be someone supporters struggle to agree on.

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To some, he is underrated, while to others he has stolen a living at some of the country’s biggest clubs.

Liverpool supporters have seen firsthand what Milner can both offer and lack this season, and it is clear that he thrives most in a supporting capacity.



LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 26, 2015: Liverpool's James Milner celebrates after the 3-2 victory over Aston Villa during the Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Milner has never looked comfortable being the main man in a side throughout his impressive, and often unfairly ridiculed, 14-year career.

He became something of a talisman as a teenager at Leeds United, during their Premier League demise, but that was only because such incredible mediocrity surrounded him.

From that point on, he has always been the man who relishes going under the radar and being the perfect team player.

He was hugely popular at Man City during his five years there – many of their supporters were very sad to see him join Liverpool last summer – and they have lacked his team spirit, efficiency and consistency this season.

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In fact, City boss Manuel Pellegrini once said he was “Milner’s No. 1 fan”:

“Find me a more complete English player.

“There are players who’re better technically, yes. Quicker players, yes. Players who head better, yes.

“But show me one who does all the things Milner does well. There isn’t one.”

High praise indeed.

The term “water-carrier” was used disparagingly by Eric Cantona to describe Didier Deschamps in the 1990s, but those understated, subtle footballers can often be the most important.

Milner is more attack-minded than players of Deschamps’ ilk, but the term still applies to him in many ways. He does the gritty, unnoticed work to perfection.



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Milner’s time in a Liverpool shirt has been lukewarm to date, with the England international often looking a limited player with a lack of guile.

Opinion was predictably split when he arrived at Anfield in the summer, and because of his performances, those who rate Milner have had to accept fair criticism from his detractors in 2015/16.

A big reason for his struggles is that he has been required to be the leading man too often, with key attacking players consistently out injured.

Milner will rarely win a game with a moment of inspiration, though he has registered four goals and six Premier League assists so far this season.

His passing has too often left a lot to be desired, with his 78 percent accuracy in the league nothing to write home about for someone who doesn’t take many risks on the ball.

He has also lacked discipline on occasions, both in a positional sense and in terms of tackling, which has been disappointing.


The Best of Milner to Come?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, October 4, 2015: Liverpool's James Milner in action against Everton during the Premier League match at Goodison Park, the 225th Merseyside Derby. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Few Liverpool players will benefit more from having the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho back in the side than Milner, and the mauling of Aston Villa on Sunday was proof of that.

It is worth stressing that Villa are a lowly, relegation-threatened side, but Milner’s performance was exactly the type we have seen throughout his career.

He was industrious in his right-sided role, using the ball intelligently, working endlessly and allowing the likes of Sturridge, Coutinho and Roberto Firmino to wreak havoc with their attacking brilliance.

The ex-Villa man even found the back of the net with a free-kick that drifted all the way in, on what was one of Milner’s most accomplished displays for the Reds.

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Sunday, February 14, 2016: Liverpool's James Milner hands his shirt to a young supporter before the Premier League match against Aston Villa at Villa Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

His performance and role in the team resembled that of Jakub Blaszczykowski during Jurgen Klopp‘s Borussia Dortmund days.

The Pole was always the less-heralded of an attacking unit also containing Marco Reus, Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski, but he was extremely effective.

Whether Milner still has the legs and all-round quality to occupy this position in the long-term is questionable, but he showed on Sunday exactly what he can bring to the team.

There is a balance that an in-form Milner guarantees, while his versatility can be priceless during matches.


Looking Ahead

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LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, January 25, 2016: Liverpool's James Milner in action during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg match against Stoke City at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

If Liverpool’s attacking trident of Coutinho, Sturridge and Firmino can stay fit between now and the end of the season, Klopp’s side will finish 2015/16 in a very strong fashion.

The team looks a completely different animal with all three in it, and other players around them raise their level in the process.

Milner is the player who will likely transform the most in the coming months, with his limited but effective style the perfect foil for the more talented figures around him.

It cannot be a coincidence that Milner has been so popular everywhere he has played down the years, winning 57 caps for England at the same time, but his Liverpool career has been something of a non-event to date.

While the midfielder deserves criticism for some of his shortcomings, and general level of performance, injuries to key players have affected him more than anyone else.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 26, 2015: Liverpool's James Milner celebrates scoring the first goal against Aston Villa during the Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Asking Milner to be the creative hub of a side is like asking Cristiano Ronaldo to be a world-class defensive midfielder; he can do the job adequately, but ultimately looks uncomfortable in the role.

Some will forever ridicule Milner simply because he is unfashionable and the football hipster’s nightmare, but you have to look closely to fully appreciate him.

When there are truly top-class players around him, his intelligence, unselfishness and industry make him an important cog in the wheel.

Liverpool may have signed Milner at a time when his best days are not ahead of him, but he can still offer plenty in his role as a supporting star.

It would be a shock if Klopp disposed of him this summer.

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  1. Roll roll up!!..James Milner had a decent game against awful opposition..time to jump on the Milner-train..first stop deluded-ville!! choo choooooo…..Not good enough, will never be good enough. Good as part of a huge squad (city) to come on and help close out games…would’ve have been good as a sub at Arsenal. Lets see him do it two games in a row!..won’t happen. Anonymous when we play anyone decent

    • You can slate him as much as you want but you’ll still see him pulling the Liverpool shirt often next season. Klopp rates him and if klopp thinks he is good, then he must be good enough.

  2. Good article. I think he’s still an excellent option to have provided you use him the way he’s meant to be used. As can be seen quite clearly, a trio of Firmino, Lallana, Milner just isn’t enough firepower. Compare that to yesterday’s lineup where we had Sturridge, Coutinho, Firmino alongwith Milner helping from wide MF position and that’s an example of great utilization of him.

    We now know what he is and he isn’t. He cannot be expected to be the star player, but he will provide decent crosses from time to time and do most of the grunt work. As for his form, it has been hot and cold I will admit. I think he’s finally getting more accustomed to his role within the club though.

    Given a choice between Lallana and Milner I’d probably still pick Milner for his versatility and his ability to operate as B2B MF and wide MF.

      • Yes he’s on high wages but it’s still lower than what he earned at Man City…also he was a free signing, so the club was willing to make compromises in this regard.

        • There is always a cost. Besides the increased fees that would have gone to Milner and his agent themselves, the opportunity cost to Liverpool of not getting in a more useful player was even more costly

          • :f20Work At Home….Special Report….Earn 18k+ per monthfew days ago new McLaren. F1 bought after earning 18,512$,,,this was my previous month’s paycheck ,and-a little over, 17k$ Last month ..3-5 h/r of work a days ..with extra open doors & weekly. paychecks.. it’s realy the easiest work I have ever Do.. I Joined This 7 months ago and now making over 87$, p/h.Learn. More right Here:f20????? http://www.dailyfinancialreports.com.­nu .?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2:?2::::::f20……

          • Who? If wages are paid over 52 weeks, he costs £7.8m. Now I’m going to go out on a limb and say his signing fee was not as much as 1 years worth of wages, but lets play pretend. That means that for his contract length, he costed a grand total of £31.2m.

            For some reference, Henderson joined for £20m, on ~£60k a week for 4 years, meaning he cost, £32.5m.

            So I ask again, who are you going to sign, who’s a better player than Milner, for a fee and contract that total less than £31m over 3 years?

          • I can’t be bothered to make too much effort to give a detailed response, so just using your numbers, then N’golo Kante is a better player and would’ve made a better short term and long term option for Liverpool at a lesser fee

          • The same Kante who has played the same number of games (29/29), more minutes (2050/1840), has scored and assisted less (1,3/5,6) and a similar pass completion rate (81%/79%) as Milner? The same Kante who cost £7m to sign, plus £3m a year and a signing on fee, which we’ll do the same as with Milner, of £3m, for a TCV of £22m, compared to Milner’s TCV of £31m?

            So you’re saying a goal or assist every 513 minutes is worth £22m, but a goal or assist every 167 minutes, or 3 goals every 513, isn’t worth £31m? In a season where we can’t score for love nor money, those 7 goals and assists are, IMO, worth £10m. Additionally, seeing as Kante has been involved in 4 goals in 2050 minutes, £5.5m per goal-involved-in, while Milner has cost £2.82m or just under half of Kante’s cost.

            Milner was better value, and has so far been a better signing. Anyone else?

          • Yes, the same Kante who doesn’t take set pieces or penalties, but does complete tackles and interceptions at a league leading rate. The same Kante who gives a limited Leicester the opportunity to flourish at the top of the table.

            Benteke is our top scorer this season. That doesn’t prove that he’s been an effective attacking player. In much the same manner, Milner’s goal and assist stats do little to hide just how ineffective he has been in our attack.

    • It seems odd that we should say stuff like, we now know what he is, and what he isn’t… He’s not starting a career, he coming to the end, so it’s strange that we still struggle to understand what Milners right role is….

      • I think it still applies when a player is new to a club. Yes Milner’s qualities were well known even before he came to Liverpool, but I think this statement was made keeping in mind his role in the team.

  3. Good enough player if used in the right way. Never going to boss a game from midfield but should do a decent job for us over time. He is what is it surprises me how people give him such a hard time.

      • That’s higher than what studge is reportedly on..can’t be right. Also that’s around the figure I think city offered as well which he reportedly turned down to come here? not sure about the latter..just vaguely remember hearing something of the sort

      • He was on £165,000 a week at City, he took a £15k cut to sign. I make that £150k a week. Andy Hunter from the Guardian reported it.

          • You are living in a different age.
            Just look at all the salaries paid by BPL clubs.
            You can’t compete with a wage structure that you prefer. Impossible.

          • It’s not the wage structure I have a problem with, it’s the average player receiving the wages…

      • He’s not stealing a living. Super harsh that. He has come in and tried to fill a Gerrard type role. That’s not going be possible for any footballer and definitely not him. He will do a decent job over time and at least we didn’t have to splash out a massive fee for him unlike others. He also seems like a good character to have about the team. Would you think him a better player if he wore a different number? Is the number really a problem?

          • 5 goals and 6 assists in a team that have had difficulties in scoring isn’t a bad return. He’s not been fantastic but hasn’t been as poor as some make out. He’s nowhere near the biggest issue with our team.

          • He has been poor, I have watched many games where he has been invisable. I agree though he is not the weakest link.

          • Take those goals and assists out of the team and I’d like to see where we’d be. He never looks particularly great even when he’s playing well. He’s just that type of player.

        • contributing what?..he must be donating blood on the side is he? He played well against Villa twice..big fking deal

  4. Milner will never be a consistent starter under klopp,and rightly so…he hasn’t been good enough for far too long!!but that doesn’t mean he can’t still play a role from now to the end of the season… See its all about the bigger picture,and by bigger picture I mean getting us CL football through winning that Europa league!!and a midfield three of hendo,can and milner sounds okayish to me!!

    • the pre condition of his signature of a central midfield position must be one of the low points of Liverpool. he couldn’t find a regular position in the wings at City for 4 years and Liverpool agreed a central role for him? No wonder we languish in mid table. The lack of assertion and direction in the transfer market has killed the club.

        • hope he is sold this summer and free up wage space to allow 3 texerias on same wage. Liverpool – the perfect example of self destruction.

      • That “pre condition” means adsolutely nothing in reality. We wanted the player and told him what he wanted to hear. It’s a non issue.

          • Lies in football? Surely not, that’s it I’m never watching another game again. You’ve just ruined it for me. I’m only going to watch completely honest sport from now on…..hmmm Cycling? Maybe not. Rugby? No sure that ticks the honest box either, maybe Athletics? It don’t think so. Any suggestions?

          • answer – Y/N. just a deflection. Lets build Liverpool to be a team of talented players who can sustain loss of one or two important players and deliver excellence.

          • That’s what we’d all like without a doubt but Milner is not the main problem we have and as for it being an issue with players being lied to. It’s just not an issue hence my previous message.

          • you should take it up you may even know something about darts which is more than you can say about football

          • Ha hardy ha ha! blistering speed with which you came out with that quip, 2 days… brilliant.

          • unlike a troll like you i have other things to be getting on with a, so just keep trolling mr smart a-s

          • Chances are it’s all just bull and no promises aprt form being played regularly were made.

    • Ferguson’s Man U always had similar players that had limited quality but worked hard. The difference is that they were typically players on (relatively) cheap contracts that just came in for specific games or on the bench, rather than starting every game and being promised a focal role in the team like Milner

  5. reason why liverpool are in difficult state is average english players Milner Lallanas on inflated contracts. a good game against relegated Villa does nothing to hide the fact how ordinary Milner is.

  6. Milner to me is more effective than Henderson. Henderson always tries to fill Gerrard’s shoes and keeps on slipping … It all started in 20114 and while Gerrard was still at Liverpool.
    Milner on the other hand, plays like a Milner and for the team.

    • Agree 100% Henderson to me is a want to be Gerrard [ which he will never be near ] and making him captain has only made him worse.

      • Totally wide of the mark. Making him captain has created an issue I agree there, but Hendo doesn’t want to be anyone other than Hendo.

          • Hello, my name is stan, but I want to be called steve…. Erm, thats how I effin know moron.

          • just a typical ignorant post as expected from fukcing know all stan , tell me are you still at primary school , at least that would go some way to explaining your stupidity .

          • There is a difference between being a know it all, and stating the effin obvious… Or maybe we should ask Hendo or any other player for that matter… Hey Hendo, do you want to be Steven Gerrard or Jordan Henderson…. ? I await his response with great interest.

      • I doubt players ever consider themselves the next who ever… Thats just a clueless tag the fans and the media have created…I think most players would prefer no tag.

    • Only 10000 years to go…. I always thought Hendo performed better when Gerrard wasn’t in the team, and although he has been trying too hard recently, Ithink thats more because he was made Captain, and not so much trying to fill Gerrards boots…. I think he should have remained Vice, and someone else should have become captain.

      • When one says he that Henderson wants to fill Gerrard’s shoes, it is meant in the captain capacity. Gerrard did not become Gerrard over night. He was nurtured among greats who played for Liverpool and in an era when English teams controlled Europe, like Liverpool and Man UTD and they made each other better and thus their players better.
        Henderson as a vice Captain itself was a big responsibility, let alone the captaincy.

  7. The number 7 .?… that is wearing the number 7, ? your having a laugh. The previous number 7 we sold is incredible. The number 7 we have now is nowhere near the class for that shirt. Its a mockery. Brendan was a clown.

  8. When the Brazilian described Milner as his “most annoying” opponent ever last week, there was much bemusement across the footballing globe.

    Mystery solved! Alves just confused ‘James Milner’ with the ‘Boring James Milner’ twitter account.

    Apparently @BoringMilner has been tweet trolling Alves the past several months over his previously p00pish looking hairstyle saying it looks like his pubic hair.

    Then came Alves’, “most annoying” comment.

  9. Regarding the poll…

    Are we to assume that “Somewhere in between” Underrated and Overrated actually means…AVERAGE?

  10. Great article!
    People dont pay attention to Klopp’s valuation of Milner… a complete player what echoes Pellegrini’s….
    City are full of tallent but recently they always lack energy with Yaya fading… Milner could improve this City team alot…
    And Klopp’s style is pressing, rock’n’roll, heavy metal and Milner is great drummer even if he cant sing or play the guitar….

    • Dortmund had no drummers. They were all above milner. I’m sure Klopp knows what he’s doing. He is just trying to work with what he has at the moment buh come summer he’ll be gone

  11. Not sure about the won’t win a game line. I haven’t looked at the stats but it seems like his assists are fairly regular

    • I think they meant it more in the context of when we’re looking for inspiration from a player then Milner will probably not be the one to drag us out of a tough spot.

  12. Comparing kuba and Milly was the biggest mistake. Kuba was 1 of the most paciest wingers in the bundesliga if not in the world while Milner was/is….well milner

  13. I would take Milner any day over Lallana. He can defend better , cross better and he has definitely scored/assisted more . Yes Lallana won us that crazy game versus Norwich and a few other games overall where he worked his socks off, but he needs to take pay cut at the end of the season. Milner and Lallana are like Grosskreutz and Blaszczykowski, effective at times , lets hope they start being more effective when its needed!

  14. I think he will be a valuable squad player next year with his commitment, experience, leadership and desire, however I am not sure he will be an automatic starter.

  15. He’s a better player in midfield, that much is obvious. I just hope now with our really talented players back from injury in Coutinho and Sturridge to partner Firmino to never see that awful front 3 with Milner and Lallana in it ever again.

    Lallana for instance should be sold in the summer. He’s failed here for long enough.

  16. Amazing how the author and many fans here took chance of making Milner look like a player he will never be for us just because Dani Alves said he is the most “annoying” player he ever faced. I would have been more surprised if he would have said “greatest opponent “.

    I was happy when we signed Milner because we were getting a decent quality and lots of excellent for free. But his wages are insane compared to what he offers.

    It would have been great if we got him in free, not insane wages and play a role like he did at city.

    People talk about him winning two premier league titles makes him valuable but in reality he was not the reason why city won two times. Agureo, Kompany, Toure, Silva, Hart, zaba, kolorav were the key players.

    Would 2 titles makes him any better player than gerrard who have none.

    I wouldn’t mind paying 100+k to players like Ivanovic, zabeleta, Kompany, zaltan, tevez, basti, alonso and many more who would actually bring pure quality and class to the team.

    On the other hand I would prefer a player who can win us games by only playing in 1 position rather than make us average by playing in no. of position. A versatile player is only useful if he is actually equally good and effective in all the positions he plays, someone like Sergi Roberto who is far better than Milner playing all round when he plays as a winger , RB or CM.

    In the very first place targeting Milner was a again a ridiculous decisions when a better CM than him in Delph was available for free.

    If klopp would be the manger last summer a thought of signing Milner would never cross his mind.

    There’s a reason why we remain a mid table club.

    Hope club makes some good profit in him in summer.

  17. Milner was brought in to provide experience and leadership to the team, not to just provide “industry” while being carried by the rest of the team.

    One of the “kids” could easily run around endlessly with no expectation on them to play with any quality. The same leeway shouldn’t be given to the vice-captain and one of, if not the highest paid players in the squad

  18. Milner will rarely win a game with a moment of inspiration, though he
    has registered four goals and six Premier League assists so far this
    season. While for the most part I would agree, I would like to refer you to his single handed destruction of one Bayern Munich a few seasons ago….

  19. Pellegrini’s Quotes
    “Find me a more complete English player.

    “There are players who’re better technically, yes. Quicker players, yes. Players who head better, yes.

    “But show me one who does all the things Milner does well. There isn’t one.”
    Has he not heard of a certain Steven Gerrard.

  20. Pellegrini’s Quotes:

    “Find me a more complete English player.

    “There are players who’re better technically, yes. Quicker players, yes. Players who head better, yes.

    “But show me one who does all the things Milner does well. There isn’t one.”

    I guess he hasn’t heard of a certain Steven Gerrard.

  21. Sounds like we’re still looking for the next Gerrard. For me the days of a player like that are gone. We don’t need a midfield general who takes the entire game on his shoulders and does it single handed. What we need are a team of midfield players who work well together and all of them are capable of producing the final pass or finishing off the move. You just can’t rely on individual moments of brilliance, otherwise when that one player has an off game, gets injured or sold then you’re stuck for answers. Of course those individual moments will come, having truly talented players will serve you well but you can’t build a team on that. Players like Milner are part of the glue that keeps a good team together and he’s great at filling roles and spaces around the park. Not just that, I think we will find that Klopp expects all of his players to do the same. Just look at the work rate of Coutinho these days, the times he ends up back in defence, harrying players deep in his own half. Everyone has to chip in and contribute, everyone has to be a support player when needed.

    The other half of the Milner story is that he’s just a bit off his game. He came into a club in managerial disarray, confidence was low and tactics were all over the place. Firmino had similarly difficult times settling in. Few players would excel in that kind of environment and even with the new manager it will take time for everyone to find their role. The best of Milner is definitely yet to come and I think he’ll surprise people with his contribution. Already his goals and assists seem to come under the radar, almost as if we didn’t notice the good things he does. He had one season of assists at City that was absolutely top class and he’s capable of replicating that, so long as the players around him start converting chances. That’s not entirely under his control but once Liverpool start banging in those goals, Milner will get the credit due to him simply by weight of numbers of assists.

  22. The front 6 vs Villa was our strongest lineup, playing together for the first time. Hendo, Can and Milner are a very solid midfield 3, all-round players with tactical intelligence and the ability to support attack and defence equally. But they can’t do it all. We have to have a proper forward line and a proper defence for the midfield to function. For most of this season its looked like a team full of midfielders lacking any cutting edge.

  23. One of the good things about Milner is he is extremely fit, almost never injured, and because he was often on the bench at City, he hasn’t been overplayed during his peak years. He should have another 2 or 3 years at least of peak fitness to offer, maybe more.

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