James Milner has been playing topflight football in England for what seems to be an eternity. Just because the central midfielder from Leeds is nearly 33 years old, it doesn’t mean that his ageing body is waning in his later footballing years. Quite the contrary, in fact. He is the model athlete at Liverpool F.C. and recently beat every other squad member in a gruelling bleep test at Melwood training ground.
Few people would claim that the ex-England international plays a beautiful brand of football. What he does lack in skill and flair, however, he does more than makeup for in his unrelenting dogged attitude. The Liverpool vice-captain’s 2017/18 Premier League exploits were very impressive. He ran the most out of any player last season as he averaged just over 13km per game. During which he won nearly half of all his duels. Milner also had the highest average speed per 90 minutes at a whopping 8Km/h. These stats are quite frankly ridiculous for any footballer, let alone someone who is nearing the age of retirement. If those stats don’t convince you, let me try and use a comparison to do so. He outran N’golo Kanté. Comfortably.
It’s hard to believe that his performances in the Champions League could be better. Yet, they were truly outstanding. Not only did he dominate on a physical level, but he contributed massively going forward. In fact, he broke the Champions League record for assists in a season with 9. That is 2 more than semi-finalists Toni Kroos, Kevin De Bruyne and Radja Nainggolan combined. He decimated teams on the continent and became the most creative player in Europe.
So how did he have such an impressive season in both competitions?
Last season he featured 32 times in the league for Jürgen Klopp’s reds. The elder statesman amassed over 1600 minutes of Premier League football during the 2017-18 season, nearly half as many as he played the previous season. That is a relatively low figure compared to the likes of other ageing top 6 players. Cesc Fabregas played 2183 minutes, David Silva – 2426 minutes, and Fernandinho – 2880 minutes. Klopp’s cautious approach to playing his beloved ‘Milly’ in the league is the main reason why James Milner had such a solid campaign on both a domestic and European fronts.
What does that mean for this campaign?
Some Liverpool fans may be thinking that Liverpool’s additions of Fabinho and Naby Keïta will practically end Milner’s career at Anfield. This could not be further from the truth. There is no one capable of matching the Yorkshireman’s running ability. In what world will Jürgen Klopp – lover of a high press – decide to omit Milner from his plans? Whilst it is very unlikely that the nearly 33-year-old will play upwards of 1500 minutes in the league, he will prove to be pivotal in every game he plays. He will swallow up his opposition and be the driving force of the midfield. He is far from finished. Fair play, Mr. Milner. All those celebratory Ribenas have served you well.