SOMETIMES when you write, you write to clarify your own thoughts. You set off without an answer hoping that by the end of the piece you’ve come to some sort of a conclusion that makes sense to you and the reader, writes DAN BEALE.
That was going to be my tact after the game against Leicester. To work my way through the performance and find wherein the problems lie, the best resolutions in the immediacy and where we go from here. After all, where do you start after that?
Sixteen days without a game seemed far too long, yet suddenly felt like not long enough. Not even close.
Midway through the second half, and with no sign of a resurgent Liverpool, my attention switched to how Jürgen Klopp would explain that abject display. I was interested to know where he thought it went wrong, how his emotions were. Was it of anger, disbelief or a stubborn look to the future?
When he came out to speak to the media, Klopp spoke of not having the right words to describe that shit show in neither English nor his native German. He seethed within and gave little away. I’m with you on that, Jürgen. Not sure I can either. Not sure I want to. It’s been done to death anyway.
He touched on the increasingly serious nature of not turning up. Not turning up to games unless, it appears, we’re about to fall away. Not turning up for those matches where we should be looking to kick on. Never mind kicking on, just winning. These are games we should just be winning regardless.
Then came the caveat that was probably most interesting. It was picked up by the media but certainly gave me an indication of where I was going with this.
“We all play for our future, myself included.”
Shots fired by Klopp, it seemed. Fired at his own players. If you’re not good enough on a consistent basis, you’re not for me. Simple enough and certainly the right approach if we’re serious about being serious.
The obvious place to start with that is with expiring contracts. As with any contract, as soon as your deal starts to run short it will be reviewed — rightly so. Lucas Leiva and Emre Can next summer, and Daniel Sturridge, Alberto Moreno, Dejan Lovren, Divock Origi and Ragnar Klavan the summer after that, are among those who you would imagine Klopp is indirectly talking to, but then we also are aware of his ruthless streak. If you’re not cutting the mustard, it’s on your way.
But this goes beyond expiring contracts.
There is one person who does not sit within that list of players. A player who is the consummate professional and one which Klopp explicitly admires. A player who could, for all we know, be considering his own place in the team with one eye on the future, and one which management could be trying to figure out where he fits within the squad moving forward.
Now before I get into it, James Milner has been fantastic for us and I fully want him to stay at the club. The way that he has transformed himself into a pretty dependable left-back this season has been really impressive. Milner has adapted the position to suit him, to suit his game. The position itself hasn’t particularly changed Milner except from the positions he takes up and for that he deserves great praise. A model pro. He brings us so much more than a regular seven out of 10.
He’s not a left-back though, is he?
What constantly strikes a chord with me were his comments upon joining under Brendan Rodgers. He came to play in the middle of the park, because he wanted to play in the middle of the park, because he believes he can play in the middle of the park, and did so without the fanfare that a player like Milner often does before his switch.
While redeployment has been carried out, our midfield has been a source of contention. While Jordan Henderson, when fit, and Adam Lallana seem obvious choices, there’s a constant rotation between Can and Gini Wijnaldum. Certain performances, from one more than the other, have left a lot to be desired, yet both have been guilty of not turning up.
Milner popped into midfield as we switched to three at the back against Leicester for the first time in forever. As inconsistency and injury has been going on in front of him, has he felt aggrieved at not getting a chance in his favoured role with Moreno coming in at left-back? I know I would. Despite Can and Wijnaldum toiling away at times, Milner has never really been an option to play in the middle. Klopp has never really considered him in there, but maybe that says more about Moreno. That’s also not to say that Milner would have been the solution in the middle.
So herein lies the problem. Klopp is likely to be looking for a left-back and a central midfielder to bolster the 11. Where does that leave James Milner and, in turn, Moreno?
One thing is for sure, Klopp certainly isn’t convinced by the current midfield and with Milner not an option this season, surely he won’t be for the next either. If he stays at left-back next season, and with Moreno’s future looking like it could be settled, does he become default second choice to the new fella or does he hold his place? And if he does hold his place, have we really solved anything?
Sometimes you look for answers when you write and sometimes you create more questions.
Milner, what next?