On Sunday, Liverpool dispatched a cavalier West Ham United side 4-0 to get their Premier League campaign underway with a bang.
Jurgen Klopp’s men were in a rampant mood at Anfield, and were encouraged to attack mercilessly by the remarkably high line that the Hammers were sent out by new boss, Manuel Pellegrini, to hold.
From the outset all eyes were on the starting debutants, Alisson Becker and Naby Keita. The Brazilian goalkeeper was largely reduced to being a spectator throughout the match, whilst Keita enjoyed a fine first outing in the famous red strip.
Much attention, of course, was also paid to Liverpool’s fabled front three: Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.
However, the man of the match award went to the 32-year-old James Milner, donning an eye-catching protective headband. The veteran’s all-action display was a masterclass in both attacking and defensive midfield play.
With his performance against the Hammers, Milner let Klopp, Liverpool fans and the world know that he will not easily cede his place in the team to the likes of Keita, Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Henderson or Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Milner’s 122 touches in the match led all players on the pitch, and his brilliant pass accuracy figure of 91.3% shows show effectively the Englishman used the ball.
Not only was the Liverpool man’s passing accurate, but it was also inventive and incisive. Milner registered a single assist against West Ham, but it could have been more as he in fact played 3 key passes – more than anyone else on the pitch – throughout the 90 minutes. He also peppered deliveries into the box, making successful contact with 3 of his 7 crosses. Again, he led all players in this department.
Milner put in just as big a shift going backwards as he did in an attacking sense. He made one interception, one tackle, won two aerial duels and was constantly well positioned to ward off opposition threats.
So reliable was Milner on the day, the Hammers only managed to dispossess him once. Compared to the four times they wrestled the ball away from Salah, and the three occasions they were able to force a turnover from Wijnaldum.
All in all, it was a titanic performance from the ex-England international and a reminder, if it were needed, that he still has what it takes to have a big impact at the highest level. In the midst of far more famed and illustrious stars, Milner consistently finds a way to shine and his versatility makes him a huge, undroppable asset to Klopp.