After finally seeing the light on his ‘Alberto Moreno problem’ at left back, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was left with the conundrum of how to solve the thorny issue.
With a string of poor performances last season and after being run raged by Theo Walcott in Liverpool’s 4-3 opening day victory at Arsenal this campaign, it became clear to the German boss that Moreno had to go – but who to replace him with?
Options outside the clubs youth team were limited within the squad and so it seemed a big money purchase would have to be made to lock down the troubled area.
However, Klopp spurned that idea and decided to turn to the man who may go down as one of the Premier League’s greatest ever workhorses – James Milner. So far the move has proved to be a revelation for the Reds.
The tactic is still being questioned to this day, but for Milner his transition to the position looks utterly seamless at present.
The first word that immediately springs to mind when the football public are asked about James Milner is ‘versatile’. That phrase rings true when you look at where he’s operated for Klopp after he took over at Anfield.
Since Klopp’s first game in charge of Liverpool in October 2015 the Yorkshire man has amazingly started in six different positions for the former Dortmund supremo.
Ironically though the first and only time Milner lined out at left back before this season was against Monday night’s derby opponents Manchester United in the second leg of Liverpool’s Europa League knockout tie on St Patrick’s Day.
Another quality showing on Monday Night Football could go a long way to cementing Milner’s full time transition to the position.
The Reds head into the United derby on the back of five wins on the spin and incredibly Milner is the club’s top scorer in the Premier League after successfully slotting four penalties in his six appearances this season.
Milner’s late dinked penalty against Swansea audaciously captured three precious points on the road for Liverpool last time out and it just summed up the confidence the retired England international is playing with at the moment.
He also boasts a nifty pass accuracy percentage of 87% (up from 83% at this stage last season) and when you add in he’s individually created 13 chances along with claiming an assist from his deeper role, the switch does seem to be paying dividends for Klopp’s men.
It may only be a matter of time before, as Liverpool legend Steve Nicol suggested, Milner will be caught out by a pacey right winger. However, having seen off the likes of Eden Hazard and Riyad Mahrez this campaign already, neither Jesse Lingard or Marcus Rashford are likely to strike fear into the heart of the makeshift left back on Monday.
At 30 years of age he has played a hell of a lot of football since his debut for Leeds United at the tender age of 16, but if he maintains his current performance level the stats suggest he could be headed towards the finest season of his career.
Maybe leopards can change their spots after all…