Friday, October 22, 2021

James Milner has solved a huge Liverpool and Jürgen Klopp headache as £100m challenge nears

For James Milner, seemingly the bigger the occasion, the better he performs — which bodes well with Sunday’s huge clash with Manchester City now looming.

With Trent Alexander-Arnold missing through injury, and Jürgen Klopp confirming before the Porto game that his first-choice full-back would almost certainly be missing for the weekend’s mega clash, this was a big night for Milner.

Once more on the big occasion, he certainly delivered.

“He’s out for today and it doesn’t look great for the (Manchester) City game either,” Jürgen Klopp said of Alexander-Arnold to BT Sport pre-match.

But despite that, the German will not be feeling as anxious as he once might.

Just like when he was the best player on the pitch during the game against Wilfried Zaha and Crystal Palace a couple of weeks ago, Milner looked like a 25-year-old, not a 35-year-old.

He did, of course, play one season at left-back for Liverpool, but Milner has looked as if he has played on the right-hand side all of his life of late.

This was not a performance of a man who was looking to hang up his boots any time soon; rather one of a player who still has at a couple of seasons left in him at the top.

Milner was cool, calm and ultimately comfortable against the impressive Luis Díaz, who Everton fans watching on must have been and wondering what might have been.

The Porto winger was someone the Blues wanted in the transfer window, but they could not agree a deal to bring him to Merseyside — even though Milner came out on top, the Colombian is clearly a talented forward with plenty of potential to cause him trouble.

Not only did Milner defend perfectly against a tricky opponent — in a direct sense, but also in terms of against Porto as a team — he also came up with the goods going the other way.

The assist for Sadio Mané’s goal just before the interval was sublime — the kind that Alexander-Arnold or Andy Robertson on the opposite flank would be immensely proud of.

Taken off after 66 minutes in Portugal, that was another challenge that has been completed. Next up? The small matter of facing Manchester City and £100m man Jack Grealish on Sunday.

But Liverpool fans will have no qualms on the evidence of Milner in that role so far, and nor should they.

As good as Zaha and Diaz are, Grealish’s threat will be on another level, assuming it is the former Aston Villa man who starts on the left-hand side — it could just as easily be Raheem Sterling, another player who would represent a step up in level of opponent.

But the bottom line is that whoever it is the task will be a tough one. Milner, though, will not be fearful. And neither will Klopp.
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