GUEST POST: Chris Murphy
Following a dismal display in both the League Cup Final and Europa League Final, it was clear to LFC Supporters and fans of the game alike that another option was needed at left back to challenge Alberto Moreno if LFC were going to challenge the EPL’s top clubs. Showing flashes of offensive brilliance, Moreno consistently displayed meltdowns defensively, and while still developing, was a clear weak link in a defensive line that could afford none.
Jurgen Klopp didn’t address this issue, opting for 30-year-old midfielder and ultimate team player James Milner to fill the void. Even with LFC ‘in the black’ after the sale of Benteke, Klopp’s insistence that Milner is a viable option on the back line smacks more of folly than a genuine tactical solution. As evidenced v Burnley, LFC will struggle to compete with the top clubs with a converted midfielder deployed as a left back – and here’s why:
10 Years Of Tactical Midfield Success At The World’s Highest Level…
James Milner has represented club and country from a midfield position for years, displaying a true understanding of offensive and defensive anticipation that has allowed him to succeed against players of greater speed, skill, and size. His mind and tenacious approach to the game were his greatest assets, and that skill set has evolved through his career to have an automatic, reflexive response as a top-flight midfielder.
These conditioned responses do not always translate into the back line, as evidenced by Milner’s poor decision to step forward v Tottenham, allowing Dier a clear run down the line to play in a cross that led to Spur’s equaliser. As a midfielder, that mistake isn’t as glaring, as the back line can pick up the slack and keep the play in front of them. As a left back, and the last man on the left side, this mistake cost his side dearly. Having to re-wire his perception of the game, one that has brought success to him at the top levels, is asking more of Milner than just learning the new position; it’s asking him to unlearn his already considerable instinct, which is near impossible.
He’s Wrong Footed…
Milner, being a naturally right-footed player, has a greater level of comfort and precision, both in shooting and passing, when using his strong foot. In the modern game, where left backs streak down opponent’s sidelines to play sharp crosses to forward players in the box, Milner’s natural instinct to pull the ball back to his right foot slows the game down, allows the defence to catch up, so he’ll become anticipated by the opposition. As a left sided midfielder, cutting in onto the right foot across the 18 yard box to thread a pass, shot, or take on a defender is highly effective (see Coutinho’s movement).
He Doesn’t Want To Be There…
It should be noted that James Milner is a massively unselfish team player. The Vice-Captain has shouldered the load from the left back position, replacing Moreno, with dedication and unquestionable effort. However, as widely reported, Milner wants to play in the midfield, and isn’t truly happy at left back. Every mistake by Milner as a left back and every poor showing from one of LFC’s midfield players will serve to confirm what is undoubtedly going through his mind: he should be in midfield.
Liverpool Football Club is one of the world’s most recognisable brands, with a huge fan base, legendary history, and top tier coaches and players. For a team with such a high standard, expectations, and money to spend, it is mind-boggling that a proven commodity has not been purchased to solidify the back line in the most competitive league in the world. It’s not a slight to Milner – the man is pure class and his effort and willingness to do whatever is asked of him is rare in today’s game. However, truly big clubs don’t convert position players to fill needs, and this will continue to dog LFC’s success until a permanent solution is found.