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How James Milner has emerged as Liverpool’s Jason Bourne

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Jurgen Klopp declared it to be as hard-working a 3-0 win as you are likely to obtain, and he was right.

Crystal Palace might have swapped the inherently pragmatic Roy Hodgson for the invincible Patrick Vieira, but, at Anfield on Saturday, it was a very definitive case of the more things change, the more they stay the same.

On the way to the ground, I got into one of those wonderful conversations with an absolute stranger, which predominantly focused upon the dangers that Palace potentially posed.

It was the perfect preparation for what was to come.

It was as if Vieira at least partially sent his team out with the instructions to forget everything he had told them since his arrival at Selhurst Park, and instead to just go out there and Hodgson the hell out of the game.

Disingenuous an accusation to a degree, it was the visitors who made the early running, perhaps emboldened by the concept of trying to take advantage of a completely altered back four in comparison to the one which had faced AC Milan on Wednesday evening.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 18, 2021: Crystal Palace's Jordan Ayew (L) and Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Crystal Palace FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

In the early exchanges, Wilfried Zaha almost looped a fortuitous effort up and over Alisson, only for our grizzly bear of a goalkeeper to heroically paw the ball across the face of his left-hand post, as if it were a beehive, and he was in search of honey.

Put him back in his black kit on a far more regular basis and the title will be ours by Easter.

An entire change of back four from the one that faced Milan on Wednesday was a bold move by Klopp, and Alisson’s stop from Zaha was the first of a collection of crucial saves and interventions, which acted as the foundation for a comfortable win in numerical terms, if not in a sensory term.

This was a satisfying win, the type of win upon which seasons of substance are built. Winning league titles isn’t entirely about those days when everything clicks into place perfectly, as they are also dictated by mastering the days when the air is turbulent.

These are mechanical bull games, where you hold on tightly at the start, before eventually enjoying the ride. They are wins that make an imprint on ourselves and our rivals.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 18, 2021: Liverpool's Naby Keita (C) celebrates after scoring the third goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Crystal Palace FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

By and large, there seems to be a noticeable collective determination about Liverpool during the early weeks of the new campaign, and if this formative pace is to be kept then it will be near on impossible for others to live with.

Football seasons are living, breathing entities, which fluctuate constantly.

Every game, every week, every month brings with it both ups and downs, positives and negatives, and the team that finishes at the top will be the one that balances all the key factors and rolls the most effortlessly with the punches it absorbs.

For Liverpool, this currently means dislocated ankles, calf strains, hamstrings and illness. One player’s misfortune is an opportunity for somebody else, however. Those who come in are desperate to be part of the team. There is no let-up.

Yet, this does not mean that everybody hits peak form simultaneously.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 18, 2021: Liverpool supporters react to a missed chance during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Crystal Palace FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Diogo Jota laboured through this one, as he did against Milan. A player who is excellent when on the crest of a wave, Jota still needs to master the concept of contributing more during games in which goals are elusive.

It isn’t simply down to one glaring miss, Jota is currently drifting to the periphery of games in a manner that Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino don’t when they are suffering in front of goal.

Mane has suffered more than his fair share of struggles across the last year, but now seems to be bubbling towards his best again.

Throughout that time, he never shrunk as a presence in the team, and Saturday marked the rich reward of his 100th Liverpool goal, something that is a testament to his strength of personality, as much as it is his outrageous footballing talents.

Having been preferred to Firmino as the season began, when coupled to the Brazilian’s injury and playing in a couple of World Cup qualifiers for Portugal, it has meant Jota has been very much front and centre so far this season, when the last one was considerably fragmented.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 18, 2021: Liverpool's Kostas Tsimikas during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Crystal Palace FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

A bright start with goals against Norwich and Burnley has petered out a little. Hopefully, he will sit out the League Cup trip to Carrow Road on Tuesday night. For him to play every game has been a big ask, and it is beginning to affect him.

Ibrahima Konate made his debut in this one, and he did enough to suggest there is a fine central defender there. It still didn’t mean that Joel Matip’s presence wasn’t missed. Liverpool are infinitely more fun when Matip plays.

Thiago limping off was the biggest worry of the afternoon, but it was wonderful to see a hint of the Naby Keita of RB Leipzig. What a goal; what a celebration.

James Milner stole the show, however.

NORWICH, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 14, 2021: Liverpool's James Milner during the FA Premier League match between Norwich City FC and Liverpool FC at Carrow Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It’s like watching Jason Bourne in a Liverpool shirt. Called from the shadows to perform all the dark arts, as and when they are required, Milner plays as if focused on avenging the death of a succession of loved ones.

He brutally yet efficiently takes inferior opponents down, before limping away to perform surgery on himself, and then sneaking into Tangier under a false passport, in a bid to find out more about covert black ops projects that resulted in the assassination of his father.

He won’t rest until the Premier League is won once again.

To Norwich we go next, for our annual League Cup duties, before an interesting Premier League encounter at an ebullient Brentford.

Newly promoted balloons are there to be burst though, and Liverpool should go to west London armed with a pin.

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