LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, November 22, 2020: Liverpool’s captain James Milner during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Leicester City FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. Liverpool won 3-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

James Milner stresses need to take title race “by the scruff of the neck” after New Year letdown

James Milner has urged Liverpool to take the title race “by the scruff of the neck” after dropping points to West Brom and Newcastle, with Man United closing in on them.

The Reds’ 0-0 draw at St James’ Park on Wednesday night leaves them three points clear at the top of the Premier League going into 2021, but with second-placed United having a game in hand.

It sets up the clash between the two sides at Anfield on January 17 as a must-win affair, though Liverpool still have Southampton and Aston Villa to play before then.

Speaking to LFCTV after the stalemate on Tyneside, Milner assessed the title picture at the end of 2020, insisting that the Reds are in a similar position to most sides, as “everyone seems to be dropping points”:

“I think [being top] is a positive, but it seems to be at this moment in time that nobody wants to take it by the scruff of the neck.

“We’ve dropped points, everyone seems to be dropping points as well.

“United have had a good run, they’re probably the only team putting a run together, so it’s important that we kick on and try to get a few three-pointers.”

The vice-captain, who on Wednesday made his first appearance since the 1-1 draw with Brighton on November 28, attested to the “strange” circumstances of 2020 – and the absence of fans in particular – as central to Liverpool’s inconsistency:

“The world’s in a very strange place at the moment and it’s the same in football, everybody’s lives are upside-down, it’s tough mentally for everybody and it’s the same in football. You can see in the difference.

“Hopefully we can get out to other side and the same with football, we just need to keep plugging away.

“It is different, different times and that time where you maybe need the crowd to give you that lift and get it over the line.

“That might have happened on another day, but it’s where we are, we need to keep working and as you can see we’re giving absolutely everything.”

NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 30, 2020: Liverpool’s Thiago Alcantara prepares to come on as a substitute during the FA Premier League match between Newcastle United FC and Liverpool FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Milner was not all doom and gloom, however, pointing to the return of a number of key players from injury – Thiago in particular – as a positive that can help Liverpool find the “final piece of the puzzle”:

“The boys are doing well, the amount of minutes some of the lads have played, and it’s nice to see a few of the boys getting back, obviously Thiago getting on today and showing his quality.

“So we’ll stick together, we’ll keep plugging away and we just need to get that final piece of the puzzle right.

“But I thought it was a good performance tonight, we just need that final bit to get the goals.

“If we keep playing like that, hopefully we can go on a run and get some more points on the board.”

The 34-year-old also paid tribute to the influence of Alisson between the sticks, with the Brazilian making a number of saves at crucial points, when other goalkeepers may have lost concentration on a quiet night:

“Ali’s top class, everybody knows that, and especially on a night like tonight it’s going to be pretty cold for him, I imagine, standing at the back with not too much to do.

“Having to pull a save out like that towards the end, that shows how good he is and what a big player he is for us.”

On Twitter, Milner was joined by Andy Robertson and Gini Wijnaldum in reflecting on a “disappointing” result, but overall a memorable 2020 that saw Liverpool bring home the Premier League title:

For Thiago, it was a big night as he simply savoured a chance to play football again, having made only his third appearance for the club since joining from Bayern Munich three-and-a-half months ago:

Liverpool’s opportunity to put things right comes after another short break, with four days between the draw at Newcastle and the trip to Southampton on January 4.