The 85th minute strike by former Chelsea boy Frank Lampard against the Blues sent the social media into a tizzy, evoking varied responses. Having been reduced to 10 men following the departure of Pablo Zabaleta for a second bookable offence, City were gazing at yet another home defeat, only for the moment that Chelsea fans dreaded to occur. While it still leaves them 3 points above the rest, the draw puts some breaks to Chelsea’s marauding run to the top of the tableso early in the season and Manuel Pellegrini won’t be a manager celebrating alone.
While Lampard may have grabbed the headlines, it’s James Milner who has caught the attention of statisticians and analysts alike. Milner is by no means as celebrated a midfielder as many of his more glamorous peers at the Etihad. The Englishman, who has often been described as one who makes up for his deficiency of skill with his work rate, was at his best last evening, putting up an all-round show with his solid defending and enticing attacking threats.
Having started at right midfield, Milner was forced to switch to right-back following the dismissal of Zabaleta. Pellegrini soon brought on Sagna, yet again shifting Milner to another position, this time left-back. The Englishman didn’t lose his footing despite being moved around the park by his manager. He completed an incredible 98% of the 72 passes he attempted. Of these, 40 passes were attempted in the final third, 28 were attempted in the middle third and 4 were attempted in the defensive third of the pitch. The midfielder was relentless in his crossing, attempting 15 crosses through the game, completing 2 of them. On the whole, he created 4 chances in the game, one of which resulted in the equalising goal. Though not the fastest of players on the pitch, he attempted 4 take-ons, deep into the opposition half, completing 3 of them in the 90 minutes.
While his numbers in attack alone might impress many, they provide only half the picture. Having been hailed for being solid defensively, his overall contribution to the game far exceeded the attacking threat he carried. The attacking capabilities of Chelsea are immense and Milner was required to be up to the act to deny them having a bigger share of the game, and he didn’t disappoint. The player was pressed into defensive action very often. He made a total of 7 tackles in the game, coming out on top on 4 occasions, thus clocking a tackling efficiency of 57%. Apart from this, he was pressed into aerial action on 3 occasions, coming out on top in 2 of the duels. He made 1 interception late into the game and was also called into clearing action on one occasion through the 90 minutes. Apart from these, Milner also blocked 2 passes through the game. A lot of defensive action occurred on the flanks and it doesn’t come as a surprise that the 2 passes he blocked were on the flanks too. The defensive contribution of the Englishman have been summarised by the prodigious Eden Hazard in the following statements he made after the match to Chelsea’s official website.
‘Last year we played the perfect match. This year [James] Milner defended more on the right-hand side. That made it more difficult for me to attack.’
The hard working midfielder was all over the park, having constantly been moved around to suit the needs of the team. However, there is nothing to suggest that his performance dipped despite having to make the switch several times through the 90 minutes.
Milner’s performance against Chelsea is probably one of the most complete all-round performances we have seen thus far in the season, and are likely to see over the course of the season. And he will need nothing less on a consistent basis to convince the management at Etihad to offer him a new contract. Part of a Manchester City side that haven’t begun their title chase as convincingly as they would have liked to, he will be hoping to get more regular chances now. The tenacious midfielder will be looking to grab them with both hands and could be crucial to City’s title defence,as he looks to help sail the defending champions’ ship in the right direction.