Liverpool veteran James Milner proves there are some things money can’t buy… he’s PRICELESS!
- James Milner showed again how crucial he is to the Liverpool squad on Saturday
- The 34-year-old marshalled the battling Reds and produced a vital goal-line stop
- That contribution sealed the win, and he has kept Liverpool on an even keel
The ‘old man’ of the squad dropped to his haunches and took a couple of moments to gather his composure.
It was one of those moments when, at first glance, you assumed a player had suffered some kind of injury but, after a hefty tap on the back from Virgil van Dijk, James Milner popped back up and was soon barking out orders once more.
Van Dijk’s gesture was more than just to check on a team-mate’s wellbeing. Seconds earlier, Milner had produced one of the moments of the weekend when he scurried back at full speed to acrobatically scoop Ryan Fraser’s goal-bound lob off the line.
James Milner’s goal-line clearance against Bournemouth showed just how priceless he is
The veteran’s last-gasp stop won the game for the Reds, winning a crucial three points
Milner continues to shine for Liverpool and is on the verge of winning the Premier League
That clearance sealed a narrow win — a victory that has just about confirmed his side will be champions soon. You knew this was a landmark success, given the way Jurgen Klopp reacted at the final whistle by racing towards the Kop and punching the air — to noisy acclaim — three times.
To win a championship, everyone in a squad must make a contribution and this was one of those days when Milner showed why, at the ripe age of 34, his value to manager Klopp is beyond measure. The eruption of relief, as he successfully scampered back, was greeted like a Liverpool goal.
‘I hope I haven’t been short of praising Millie in the past,’ said Klopp, who sanctioned a two-year deal for his vice-captain before Christmas. ‘Why would we extend his contract if he’s not incredibly important to everything that we do?
Milner has kept Liverpool on an even keel throughout, and his efforts inspire his team-mates
‘He wouldn’t like it if we spoke just about what he’s doing off the pitch, and he showed why he’s so important on it. That’s Millie.’
There was something fitting about Milner’s intervention coming at the Anfield Road end. Five months earlier, his injury-time penalty into the same goal against Leicester City was the catalyst for the dynamic in the season completely changing.
Liverpool went eight points clear that weekend after his old team, Manchester City, lost at home to Wolves. The expectation since then has been that Klopp’s team would become champions for the first time since 1990, but the nearer they get to the finish line the more they feel tension.
Milner, though, is an exception. Along with Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana, he has kept things on an even-keel and his influence and authority means the tag of Liverpool’s best free transfer sits easily on his shoulders. His arrival, driven by Brendan Rodgers, in 2015 was inspired business.
Milner’s experience and leadership has been one of the underrated influences on their success
‘It was the same with City,’ said Milner, who won two Premier Leagues at the Etihad Stadium. ‘You have a target. You need this many points out of this many games to win it. It does make it harder. But what the team has done this season has been unbelievable.
‘No sportsman can go a four-year cycle to the Olympics and be at the top. They try to peak. It’s the same with football. You are not top level all the time. There is always going to be a spell and it is how you deal with it, while still getting results.
‘It is not a normal thing to win the amount of games we have won. Dropping points away in a Premier League game is probably a normal thing. But the standards we have set mean that when it happens to us, all hell breaks loose. We just have to respond to it.’
They responded against Bournemouth. It was not always pretty but aesthetics do not matter now. This is the time of year when results are the only things that matter and Liverpool — 112 points from the last 117 available — have proven themselves masters at getting the job done.
Jurgen Klopp’s reaction at full-time showed just how crucial the win and Milner’s stop was
Whether Bournemouth will prove anywhere near so proficient over what their manager Eddie Howe has called a nine-game season remains to be seen.
Howe will find the spotlight on him intensifying through the spring as he attempts to keep his team in the top flight. The pressure is mounting.
He was irritable as he conducted his post-mortem into this latest defeat, snapping at some line of questioning, but more of a concern should be the cheap way they concede goals. Bournemouth have not kept a clean sheet in the Premier League since December 14.
‘When you come here and go 1-0 up you’re praying for a formula to keep the ball out,’ Howe said with a grimace. ‘We need everyone to grow with the challenge and give everything to the cause.’
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