When he signed on a free transfer from Manchester City back in 2015, most Reds fans would have expected James Milner to provide a couple good years of service, unlikely to ever rise above the level of squad player, and then, as his four-year deal approached its end, begin to seriously tail off, perhaps to the point that his £120k wages would seem wasted.
Instead, the former Leeds and Newcastle man has gone from strength to strength in the red shirt, and entering the final year of his contract, looks more impressive than ever. Having been reintroduced into central midfield last year following a season filling in at left-back, the 32-year old starred in 47 of the club’s 56 matches, taking on an increasingly prominent role in the late stages of Liverpool’s Champions League run.
While his spell at fullback was decidedly competent rather than impressive — and Milner looks far more at home busting his considerable lungs in Jürgen Klopp’s high-intensity midfield — the vice-captain did establish himself as outstanding in one aspect; safely and proficiently converting penalties. Milner scored seven consecutive spot kicks before finally seeing an effort saved on the penultimate day of the season.
Last year, the Reds struggled to have any penalties awarded at all, and when they did, experimented with a number of takers, as Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah took turns alongside Milner, to the tune of four goals from eight attempts between them.
The 32-year old seems to be back on duty, however, and calmly tucked away his chance in Monday night’s 2-0 win over Crystal Palace. In doing so, Milner became the first ever player to score eight consecutive goals from penalty kicks, bypassing Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta, Danny Murphy and Jan Molby. This quirky record joins Milner’s growing list of unexpected accolades, including a 48-game unbeaten streak when he scores a goal, and the highest number of assists in a Champions League season, with nine.
While scoring eight penalties without any intervening goals from open play or set pieces isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of Milner’s prolific nature in front of goal, it is reassuring that the Reds appear to have handed the responsibility back to the man who has proven himself to be supremely reliable. And if pre-season and the opening fixtures are anything to go by, he will have plenty of chances to extend his record.