While the likes of Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino are credited for Liverpool’s success, it is James Milner who is responsible for their Champions League form.
The cat is out of the bag! Liverpool are not just the entertainers of Premier League but of the grand European competition – the UEFA Champions League as well. The Reds have failed to score just once on their Champions League journey thus far and their emphatic scorelines are proof of their attacking quality, form and pedigree.
The Reds have scored three or more goals in seven of their nine games in the Champions League – eight out of ten, if you include the Champions League qualification knockout stage against Hoffenheim.
Agreed, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino have been the light-bringers for Liverpool, with their exciting brand of football. But, the promised prince is someone else, hiding under the armour of a 32-year-old – the 32-year-old that goes by the name James Milner.
Deployed at left-back for a majority of the 2016-17 season, the arrival of Andrew Robertson saw Jurgen Klopp push Milner into the midfield – a gamble considering his age and the fact that the player had hardly played at that position for Liverpool.
But, what Milner has produced is nothing short of extraordinary. While the former Manchester City man has not been as effective in the Premier League – a place where the pace is often more electric than compared to other leagues – Milner has set the Champions League alight with his creative impetus.
The veteran has reached a feat unfathomable for a player of his age in the Champions League, let alone in a position where he had not played much before this season at Anfield. Milner has become the first player in the Champions League in more than a decade to record 9 assists in a single campaign.
James Milner: Most ever assists in one Champions League season 🎯 pic.twitter.com/dcrt3GxgG2
— B/R Football (@brfootball) April 24, 2018
It might be a tad bit misleading as the Liverpool veteran has just 8 assists in the Champions League, with one coming in the qualification knockout stage against Hoffenheim. But, even without the assist against Hoffenheim, only Neymar from the 2016-17 season can match his tally of 8 assists.
Milner is followed by a list of great playmakers – Ryan Giggs, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Mesut Ozil, all of whom are considered in a bracket superlative to that of Milner. Yet, it is the former Manchester City man who has 9 assists, with the prospect of going further clear of the others – two potential games still remain for the midfielder.
The feat would have been tougher for Milner, a man who started out as a wide midfielder but was sparsely used as a central midfielder at Manchester City. So, to make the transition into a regular central midfielder at the age of 32, that too after a season of playing in an entirely new position on the left side of the defence, is no ordinary achievement in itself.
Now with a 5-2 lead from the first-leg against AS Roma in the semi-finals, it all comes down to keeping their cool, something wherein Milner will again play a pivotal role. The veteran is one of the most experienced in what is an otherwise very youthful lineup – a lineup that consists of players who have not reached such a grand stage before in their career.
🎯 Most Assists in a @ChampionsLeague Campaign:
🏴 James Milner (17/18) = 9
🏴 Wayne Rooney (13/14) = 8
🇧🇷 Neymar (16/17) = 8
🇧🇷 Roberto Firmino (17/18 = 7
🏴 Ryan Giggs (06/07) = 7
🇪🇸 Xavi (08/09) = 7
😎 Champions League History. pic.twitter.com/TCihHYseMM
— SPORF (@Sporf) April 24, 2018
The first leg already showed a lack of temperament and composure as, even after running to a 5-0 lead, Liverpool Roma to claw back two goals – one of them being a penalty. If they are to qualify, they would meet one of Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in the final, which would again need the presence of a character like Milner to calm things down.
James Milner has done a tremendous job thus far in the Champions League this season for Liverpool, who are now in the final stretch. The veteran’s role though, is more monumental than ever and it is one that only he among the Liverpool players can see through. Greatness awaits.