Leadership and experience are the foundations of a successful side. These qualities cannot simply be taught to a player, and by definition must be developed over time. It is one of the most painstaking parts of fandom; waiting for a raw and mercurial player to earn their stripes and offer such mature traits.
Without such characteristics a team can often find themselves devoid of direction on the field, and Liverpool – so promising yet so flawed – currently find themselves in this limbo stage, awaiting the next group of leaders to emerge with bountiful experience behind them.
However, with only two wins in their last nine matches and all too many goals conceded, Jurgen Klopp’s side now need an experienced head in their starting eleven. There’s has been talk of January shopping, but they need not look far for stability and leadership, with James Milner ready and patiently waiting in the squad.
The 31-year-old was a revelation last season as he swapped midfield for left-back, making 40 appearances for the Reds. The former Man City and Aston Villa man led not only in his actions but also through donning the captains armband for much of the campaign – as Jordan Henderson struggled to overcome a series of injuries.
The Yorkshireman however, was demoted from his role as the club’s first choice left-back during the summer as Klopp opted in favour of reinstating a natural left-sided defender to the post, with either Alberto Moreno or summer recruit Andy Robertson. Milner instead has returned to his favoured midfield position, but in a bit-part role.
Despite making just two starts this term prior to being reinstated against Maribor on Tuesday, Milner has proven to be a true professional in every sense of the word as he grasped his opportunity in Slovenia, and proved he still has plenty to offer Liverpool this season.
Although Maribor was unlikely to offer the same threat as a Premier League rival, Milner dominated the midfield battle as he showed an impetuous to close down the opposition – a trademark of Klopp’s pressing style which has been largely nonexistent so far this season.
Such is the hardworking approach of the midfielder, Milner touched the ball more times than any other player on Tuesday  as he was allowed to roam freely as Emre Can dropped into the number six role, usually occupied by Henderson.
His impressive performance on the night raised immediate questions as to whether he should be brought back into the starting eleven, and for good reason.
Milner’s presence on the field offers more than just flexibility in personnel, as he has over 600 career appearances, a leadership background and the knowledge of what it takes to win titles – a list of credentials which is not prominent within the current Liverpool dressing room.
In fact, only four players within Liverpool’s 31-man squad have worn a captain’s armband with any sort of longevity: Ragnar Klavan [Estonia], Adam Lallana [Southampton], Henderson and Milner himself.
This is in part the consequence of having a transfer policy which focuses on players closer to 20-years-old rather than 30, as players subsequently arrive at Anfield with a lack of experience to guide them through troubled waters, which Liverpool have fallen victim to for a number of seasons.
This is where Milner proves to be an invaluable asset for Klopp and Liverpool, as he knows when to break up play, or get in the referees ear – ultimately offering a presence which some around Anfield claim Henderson does not currently offer.
Now, it does not have to be either or for Klopp when weighing up Henderson and Milner in midfield, but deploying the 31-year-old with more regularity will only prove invaluable, as what he may lack in blistering skill he more than makes up with work-rate.
Although Milner would be likely to insist that he could start a majority of the Reds games this season it is unlikely to be the case, but the former England international can no longer be overlooked for Liverpool’s starting eleven.
The benefits of his game at this stage of Liverpool’s season outweigh what he may fail to offer, as playing as either a midfielder or a left-back there is no doubt Milner will ensure he, and his teammates put Klopp’s game plan into action without fail.
Milner’s presence does not ensure all results will end with a positive result, but what it does promise is an increased level of experience and leadership, which will prove invaluable as Liverpool look to bounce back from a run of disappointing form.