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Dublin: 8 °C Thursday 21 November, 2019
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Signing Milner was a no-brainer for Liverpool

Man City’s loss is the Reds’ gain as the England international will add a new dynamic to the Anfield club’s midfield.

City couldn't hang on to Milner.
City couldn't hang on to Milner.
Image: Anna Gowthorpe

IT’S REFRESHING TO see James Milner go to a club where a team may be based around him and in which he will get to play in his favoured position, rather than staying at a Champions League club where he would make more money, only to be shoehorned into a position in the side that he’s not as comfortable in.

Milner was impressive last season for Manchester City in a variety of different roles, but starting just 18 league games is nowhere near enough for a player of his class.

The England international played mostly on the right wing, but during the Manchester City injury crisis in December, Milner was thrown into a ‘false nine’ role as the club had a paucity of options in attack. While he obviously wasn’t suited to leading the line, he put in a manful shift and played reasonably well during his three-game spell there.

Players of Milner’s undoubted professionalism are a rarity these days. Throughout the season just gone, he was always a solid performer for City, while still knowing full well that he would probably depart at the end of the season. The utility man’s reasons are admirable — in September, he said: “I love it here and would love to stay at Manchester City, but first and foremost, I am a footballer and want to play football.”

At international level too, he seems criminally under-valued. The central midfield area has been a position that has caused hot debate for the last number of years and it’s odd to see that the former Aston Villa man doesn’t get a sustained period of time trying to bed into that position.

Milner has only started one of England’s last five competitive games and surely must wonder what’s going on when he sees Fabian Delph sitting in that midfield role, which he obviously craves. Delph is by no means a bad player, and while he provides plenty of energy to the Three Lions’ middle third, the Aston Villa man doesn’t possess the same footballing technique as Milner, who also covers roughly as much ground in a game.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Crystal Palace v Liverpool - Selhurst Park Milner will add more bite to the Liverpool midfield than Joe Allen does. Source: Stephen Pond

Surely therefore, Brendan Rodgers will be able to regularly accommodate the 29-year-old in Liverpool’s midfield next season. He would be a massive upgrade on Joe Allen at least. And with Steven Gerrard gone, it certainly opens up the space for a central midfielder in the squad, although you would think that Rodgers may also begin to play Emre Can in his actual position (defensive midfield), should he replenish his back-line.

If either Lucas Leiva or Can start in the holding midfield role and presuming Rodgers sticks to his formation of playing three central midfielders, it would leave two spaces to be filled by Jordan Henderson and the incoming Milner. That midfield combination would be a hugely competitive trio full of energy and no little skill.

Milner’s performances at Aston Villa in a central midfield role were why Manchester City felt he was worth £26 million in 2010, and it was odd that he never got a good run in the team there. He has presumably been told by Rodgers that he will be played in his preferred role and that’s probably why he’s chosen to sign for the Merseyside club.

The experienced Premier League performer should therefore prove the perfect foil to Henderson, with his driving runs and goal threat. That he scored five goals and recorded seven assists last season highlights his ability going forward, even when he was played out of position so often.

And considering Liverpool are no longer able to attract any of the world’s elite players and have struggled in the transfer market in recent years, a free signing of a proven Premier League winner makes plenty of sense.

Soccer - UEFA Euro 2016 - Qualifying - Group E - England v San Marino - Wembley Milner has rarely gotten to play a central role for England. Source: Adam Davy

If he proves to be Liverpool’s biggest signing this summer, there will be plenty of laughter and the narrative will be ‘Milner on a free,’ when discussing the club’s transfer business, but it is a deal that makes a great degree of sense for both the player and the club.

While Milner has gone to a side where he won’t be under the shadow of bigger and more well-paid names, Liverpool have signed a player who will give unwavering devotion to the cause and also brings with him the experience of winning titles. Consequently, the only losers in all of this are Manchester City.

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