Jürgen Klopp finds his new James Milner at Liverpool and one foul proves it

Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp made a prediction in the summer about replacing James Milner, and after one moment against Manchester City, it appears to be coming true.

Amid his departure from Anfield last summer, James Milner was one of the biggest losses for Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.

It wasn’t only his leadership — Milner had been vice-captain behind Jordan Henderson — but it was also his unparalleled experience, something Klopp counted on time and again.

While the 37-year-old inevitably fell out of the starting line-up in the final years of his Reds career, he always remained one of the most trusted players in the squad.

It was no surprise that, according to Milner himself, Klopp pushed for another contract extension, a request that was refused.

“This club has a tradition, not a real tradition, but we had one of the biggest Liverpool legends, of my time at least, with James Milner,” Klopp said.

“I can tell you, without James Milner none of the success of the last years would’ve happened. One of the best players and characters I ever met in my life.”

Unlike Jordan Henderson, who was directly succeeded by Dominik Szoboszlai as the right-sided number eight, or Roberto Firmino, who passed the false-nine baton to Cody Gakpo, there was no obvious way to replace Milner, not least because he never really had a fixed position in the side.

Still, though, as early as August, Klopp was talking up a potential heir in Wataru Endō, a previously little-known 30-year-old who joined from Stuttgart for a fee of £16m. “Wataru can, in a different way, obviously, have a similar impact,” Klopp predicted. “I’m really happy he is here.”

Milner only started seven Premier League games for Liverpool in his final season at the club, but he came off the bench a whopping 24 times, 10 more than anybody else in the squad.

“How we finished games, it was always James Milner came on, stuff like that, and finished the game pretty much for us in a super-professional way,” Klopp explained.

When the Reds were looking to see out a victory but were only leading by a one-goal margin, the manager almost always turned to the guile, wisdom and authority of Milner to take them home.

Last year, he was introduced late on in the 1-0 and 2-1 wins over West Ham, the 3-2 success against Nottingham Forest and the 1-0 triumphs over Fulham and Brentford.

Endō, meanwhile, has only started two league games since he arrived, making three times as many appearances as a substitute. Only Harvey Elliott (10 times) has received the call from the dugout more than that.

In September, Klopp turned to the Japan captain as his nine-man side fought to hold onto a point against Tottenham Hotspur (a brave effort that ended in heartbreak as Joël Matip scored a 96th-minute own goal). Then, on Saturday against Manchester City, he brought him on once again with five minutes of normal time remaining.

This was, in many ways, a pure James Milner cameo, with Liverpool sensibly looking to protect its point after finding a late leveler in the most difficult fixture in the calendar.

Endō, who replaced a tiring Alexis Mac Allister, even emulated Milner by taking a necessary yellow card when Gakpo lost the ball and the electric Jérémy Doku pounced. The Englishman would often make tactical fouls to break things up in scenarios just like this.

It’s pretty clear at this point that the manager favors Mac Allister as his primary option even though he’s not a natural number six, but that doesn’t mean Endō won’t play an important role over the course of the season.

Yes, he’ll start cup games (he seems nailed on to feature in the XI against LASK on Thursday), but it seems like he’ll also be asked to help Liverpool see out some key results as Klopp’s brand new ‘closer’.



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