A lot has been made of the absence of Yaya Toure since he went to away on international duty with Ivory Coast and won the African Cup of Nations. The Citizens were without a home win since April 2014 when fielding a team without their star Ivorian, and staggeringly without a win away from home since a 2-0 win at the Emirates back in January 2013! The Man City faithful had good reason to be worried, then, as they watched Toure leave them.
Fears were becoming a reality as City failed to win in their first three matches without Yaya, heaping pressure on to other players. Who would step up to the plate? Who would be the one to reignite City’s title bid? His name is James Milner. After scoring late-on to save City’s blushes at home to Hull City at the weekend with a Beckham-esque free-kick, Milner continued his fine form and demonstrated his well-known consistency by kick-starting his team’s wobbly but eventual upheaval of Stoke City with a well-placed header Wednesday night.
Milner has clocked a modest 138 appearances in the Premier League for Manchester City since arriving from Aston Villa in the summer of 2010 for a deal reported to have been worth a hefty £28.5m, pushing his overall Premier League appearances up to 410, not bad for a player yet to reach 30 years old and arguably playing at his best. In a Manchester City career that has so far spanned 5 years, Milner has scored a number of important goals and claimed two Premier League titles along the way. Milner had a hand in two goals as Manchester City won the Manchester derby at Old Trafford 6–1, inflicting Manchester United’s heaviest home league defeat since 1930. Over the course of the 2011–12 season he made 26 Premier League appearances as Manchester City won the league title for the first time in 44 years. On 13th January 2013, he scored City’s opening goal in yet another 2-0 away win at Arsenal, it was the first time a City player had scored away at Arsenal in the League since 2007 and City’s first win at Arsenal since 1975. On 10th December 2013, Milner scored the winning goal in a 3–2 win against the reigning European champions Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena in the UEFA Champions League, becoming the first English player to score for Manchester City in the competition that season.
So Milner has the history to be classed as a pivotal player for Manchester City of late, but just how important is he to City nowadays? The statistics below compare attacking influence between arguably the two other most influential attacking midfielders at the club and Milner himself:
The statistics above give an average figure per 90 minutes of Premier League football, making it a fair bout. The statistics make a good argument for Milner’s status as a pivotal player in the squad, and also ask the question of why is he not the first attacking midfielder on the team-sheet every week? Milner has started just 3 games in their last 5 league outings, one of which he was subbed at half time. It’s reasons such as this that could be throwing his long-term future into disrepute with his contract set to run out at the end of the season. Team-mates have publicly urged him to sign a new contract, namely Zabaleta of late, but no such agreement is seemingly on the horizon.
With European Qualifiers dotted around the next 12 months, Milner may want to find himself at a club where he can land a starting place on the team-sheet every week so that he gives himself the best chance possible of showing England boss Roy Hodgson what he is really made of. Nearing his 30th birthday, the European Championships in France next year may be a final international hurrah for the City winger, so who can blame him?
If all goes well and he finds a club where he can flourish, this writer believes that he could play a crucial role in a promising siege for European glory next year, with the rest of the current England squad looking to be taking a promising shape. Milner has been likened to the David Beckham of old, being a winger that is known for his technical ability more than his outright duelling with defenders, and having a deadly touch at set-pieces.
The future is wide-open for the Milner, and here’s hoping that the modern Manchester #7 will hold together a promising run and lead England through European Qualification like we all know he can.