James Milner relishing being back in natural midfield role

Liverpool’s vice-captain has spoken out about being back in the Reds' midfield trio as well as his impressive spell at left-back last campaign.

James Milner relishing being back in natural midfield role
(Getty image - Andrew Powell)

James Milner has revealed he's delighted to be back in midfield for Liverpool this season.

The English ace took over Alberto Moreno as Jürgen Klopp’s first team left back last season which included 40 appearances that were crucial in ensuring the Reds earnt a top-four finish and long-awaited return to the Champions League.

But the start to this season has seen a different role for the 31-year-old as the former Manchester City player has seen himself return to his natural midfield role with 11 appearances already this season.

This also includes consecutive starts in the Reds' last three outings, including a 7-0 demolishing of Slovenia Champions NK Maribor.

Jürgen Klopp sat down with his vice-captain and explained that with the arrival of £10 million signing Andy Robertson and the rejuvenated form of Moreno, Milner would instead focus his game on his familiar midfield duties.

This season has been a difficult season in terms of starting matches for the Reds as the opening months of the new campaign have seen the midfielder go from being one of the first names on the team sheet to a familiar sighting on the Liverpool’s subs bench. He started just two of Liverpool’s opening 13 matches in all competitions.

However, returning to the starting lineup in recent weeks has seen the former Newcastle and Leeds United player relieved with his improved amount of game time.

“Last season I was asked to do a job and I did that as well as I could,” he said.

“I said at the time I didn't enjoy playing left-back but the team always comes first and you do what's asked of you.

“At the start of the season the manager pulled me in and said he was looking at me more for the midfield which I was obviously delighted with. Then I didn't play too much after that.

“It might take me a few games to get fully up to being 100 percent comfortable, but like I said before I’m just enjoying being there.

“Hopefully I can get around the field and contribute at both ends.”

Milner was even a subject of interest for many Premier League clubs with the likes of Leicester City interested in the Englishman’s services.

While Andy Robertson and Alberto Moreno battle for the starting left back role, Milner has now turned his attentions to fighting for a regular Midfield place.

“Every players wants to play football. That’s what I want to do,” he added.

“The manager picks the team and if it’s not happening you have to force your way in, and when you do get a chance you have to take it.

“Hopefully I’ve done enough to stake a claim for that shirt.

“We have so many games there’s going to be rotation, but as an individual you want to perform as well as you can.

“At the start of the season the manager pulled me aside and said he’s looking at me more in midfield. Obviously I was delighted.

“It’s down to me to force my way into the team. We’ve got a talented group of players, competition for places.

“But for me as a player it’s about the chance for me to show [my quality]. I just want to keep improving.”

Milner looks ahead to Slovenian challenge

The next challenge for Milner is to help ensure Liverpool take a massive step towards reaching the Knockout stage of the Champions League with a much-needed win against NK Maribor on Wednesday night.

After the Reds humbled the Slovenian visitors a fortnight ago it should be a routine performance for the Reds but Milner isn’t taking anything for granted and understands it may not be as straightforward as two weeks ago.

“You don't get to the group stage of the Champions League without being a strong side,” he said.

“I think we performed very well on the night and I don't think they performed to their usual standards. They will want to put that right.

“We have to be on top of our game, set the same tempo as we did over there and come out all guns blazing. We won't take them lightly.

“I am sure they will defend in numbers again and look to hit us on the break. When we attack we need to ensure we keep the back door closed.

“The group is a strange one, there's been a mixture of results, and anything can happen. It could go down to goal difference so it's important that we stay focused and put in a good performance.

“European nights are always special at Anfield – there aren't too many places in the world like it. That atmosphere makes a massive difference.”

However, achieving back to back victories is not an easy task for Jürgen Klopp’s side as the Reds haven’t registered two successive victories since August and their form has come under intense scrutiny for large parts of the season already. Milner still believes that the added demands of Europe are not an excuse for Liverpool’s dip in form.

“I wouldn't necessarily tie it in together. We just haven't been as consistent as we would have liked,” he added.

“We just didn't start the season as well as we wanted. We lost a few players to injury – Adam Lallana is a big miss for us as he sets the tempo – and Phil (Coutinho) having the odd injury. It has been a bit disruptive with the international breaks.

“I don't want to make excuses but there are all these little factors. I wouldn't say it's a European football thing.

“We haven't hit our stride yet but we all know when we do we can beat absolutely anyone out there so it's important we keep moving forward as a team.

“We showed in Maribor that when it does click it's pretty devastating but we need to do it on a more consistent basis.”