Liverpool fans kicked off the summer crying out for a left back, and with just days left in the transfer window, many still are. According to anyone and everyone with connections at the club, though, manager Jürgen Klopp doesn’t want a new starting left back.
He doesn’t want a new starting left back because he’s been impressed by James Milner, who Klopp moved to left back during pre-season in part to fill a need but also in order to ensure he could keep one of his hardest working players on the pitch this season.
“It is different,” the 30-year-old Milner, who recently retired from international football, admitted in an interview with the Liverpool Echo today. “There are pluses and minutes. All my career, being in the midfield or higher up than that, you have got people behind you.
‘You are working in pairs when you play further up but you are more of a unit when you are playing at left back. You need to be aware of where your centre backs are so you are not the deepest man, all these things. It’s new for me and I’m learning as fast as I can.”
There have been bright spots as he’s learned; moments of promise for a player making an unusual positional switch late in his career. In pre-season, he was one of the best players on the pitch against Barcelona, a constant threat checking back onto his right foot.
Against Burnley in the league, though, Milner at left back meant Liverpool lacked width on his side; against a team packed deep all his presence did was congest things further for Liverpool. Rather than opening Burnley up, his presence helped them shut down.
Klopp, though, feels confident that Milner will improve quickly at the position and any negatives from playing a right-footed left back can be overcome. And for his part, Milner says that despite being right-footed, he’s more comfortable playing on the left.
“I think I have adapted throughout my career to playing different positions,” Milner added when asked about his footedness. “I’ve played a lot on the left in my career and would rather play left back than right back so that does not effect me.
“It’s more learning the position from training and watching videos after the game, looking at distances from the centre half, getting out to the wide man quickly, things like that. The way the manager plays is very different to a left-back say five years ago.
“A lot of time in this team you are like a winger and on the front foot. So I could speak to other left backs but the way this manager wants his full-backs to play is completely different to how other managers want them to play.”