James Milner has been an important element of Liverpool’s run to the Champions League final, yet he remains an unsung hero.
What does he offer to Jurgen Klopp’s side?
Most assists in Champions League history
Milner has set a new Champions League record for assists this season having set up nine goals en route to Kiev. Admittedly it helps that Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have gobbled up most of their chances but it is an impressive return from the 32-year-old. Milner’s calmness under pressure allows him to pick the key passes.
Versatility and excellence in unfamiliar positions
Milner has always preferred to operate as a central midfielder but he has been shunted around the field during his career and has never complained about it. This makes him a valuable asset for Klopp. His statistics prove how influential he can be in his preferred position but he spent most of last season at left-back. He also played on the wing and as a centre forward during his time at Manchester City.
Such has been Milner’s form that he may well have found himself in the England World Cup squad this summer had he not retired from international football. Because he is a quiet individual with a reputation for being boring his performances can often slip under the radar, especially with the likes of Salah and Firmino creating so many headlines. He tends to underplay things himself too but Klopp does notice and, if fit, Milner is likely to feature.
Milner rarely stops during games and has a strong work ethic. He has been a slight injury doubt ahead of the final because he was left out for the final Premier League game of the season against Brighton with an unspecified muscle problem. But he has been back training since and played a full part in an open session the club held at Anfield on Monday. His recent absence may well have been precautionary.
Milner’s top-level experience is important. He brings a calm head in highly-pressured situations. He has experienced plenty in his career, from turbulence at Leeds to pressure at Newcastle and title wins at City. He broke onto the scene at roughly the same time as Wayne Rooney and, even though he has never hit the same heights or commanded the same attention as his contemporary, he may outlast him.