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Praise for Liverpool's 'role model' after hard-fought victory

James Milner was brought into the side for the win over Newcastle.

James Milner (file pic).
James Milner (file pic).
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

JURGEN KLOPP saluted “role model” James Milner after Liverpool maintained their quadruple challenge with a 1-0 Premier League victory at Newcastle.

The 36-year-old former Magpie, who made his senior debut for Leeds almost 20 years ago, was one of five men drafted into Klopp’s much-changed starting line-up for a vital league game sandwiched between the two legs of the Champions League semi-final clash with Villarreal, and turned in a fine individual display.

Asked if he had come across a fitter 36-year-old, Klopp said with a smile: “No, but it would be interesting to look at Luka Modric. Is he not 36 as well? It was obviously a good generation.

“No, it’s difficult to be fitter than Milly. He’s a role model. I have told him, I can tell the whole world – nothing we have achieved in the last few years would have happened without James Milner, it’s as easy as that.

“Whether he was on the pitch or not, he’s set standards in a way not a lot of people can set standards, and it educated all of us.”

If Milner excelled at St James’ Park, so too did his teammates as they stretched their unbeaten league run to 15 games to keep up the pressure on Manchester City courtesy of Naby Keita’s 19th-minute strike.

They probably should have won even more comfortably, but Klopp was more than satisfied with a controlled display in the wake of Wednesday night’s 2-0 victory over Villarreal at Anfield.

The German said: “It was incredibly difficult for the boys today, to be honest, it’s clear. We played two and a half days ago.

“Coming here, a team in form, six home wins on the bounce, great weather, everybody in a good mood, pretty much everything was prepared for another home win.

“The only group who wanted to avoid that was my players. It was an outstanding football game, to be honest. In the circumstances, it was a top-class performance.”

However, within seconds of the final whistle, Klopp was already turning his attention to Tuesday night’s trip to Spain.

Asked how excited he was at what may lie ahead, he insisted he could only think about the next fixture and added: “I’m not smart enough to try to do two things at the same time.

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“We finished the game and our analyst was in the dressing room and I asked him: ‘How are Villarreal playing?’ They are playing now as well – they were 2-1 down, made a few changes – so that’s our life.”

For opposite number Eddie Howe there was an indication of how far his rejuvenated side has to go to reach the level they want to after their hopes of a seventh successive home league win dissolved in the face of a stern examination.

Howe said: “I’d say there’s been progress. I think we’ve improved in a lot of aspects of our play, but I think it shows also there’s a gap that we have to bridge to the top teams.

“But I’m not surprised by that – I don’t think anyone else is. We have work to do. The biggest disappointment today probably is individually, I don’t think we really excelled.

“I thought the team was okay, we were in game right to the end, but to win these games, you need probably six or seven performers right at their top levels, and that wasn’t there. It was close, but it wasn’t close enough.”

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