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James Milner a revelation at left-back for Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool

While many Liverpool supporters wanted Jurgen Klopp to sign a left-back in the transfer window, the Reds' boss was quietly confident with his options.

Klopp tried to sign Leicester City youngster Ben Chilwell to boost his options in the position but was not prepared to pay an over-inflated fee for a 19-year-old who was yet to make a Premier League appearance. Regardless, he felt he could mould the under-fire Alberto Moreno into his type of player, despite coming off the back of a disastrous second half performance in the Europa League final defeat to Sevilla.

The German also had a wildcard up his sleeve in the form of James Milner.

There was a conversation between Klopp and Milner at the start of Liverpool's preseason, where the manager asked the 30-year-old whether he would be willing to provide cover for the full-back positions.

The signs were there in the early stages of Klopp's reign that Milner could operate at left-back. He filled in during the second half of the League Cup final defeat against Manchester City and then started as a left-back at Old Trafford in the Europa League knockout tie with Manchester United.

It is testament to the professionalism and ability of the Leeds United academy graduate that he has made it an easy decision for Klopp to regularly name him as Liverpool's first choice left-back this season.

"He seems to make it look easy," teammate Nathaniel Clyne joked. "I've trained my whole career to be a full-back and he comes in and makes it look easy! He's enjoying it and also getting on the scoresheet."

Liverpool signed the versatile midfielder on a free transfer in the summer of 2015 from Manchester City and Milner has said he would put the team's needs before his own. One of the reasons why he turned down a new contract at the Etihad was that then-Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers had promised him a regular role in the centre of midfield after he grew tired of playing all over the place to accommodate other stars at City.

But just over a year later, Milner finds himself in a similar situation. With captain Jordan Henderson and Emre Can in the squad already, Liverpool added to their midfield options with the arrival of Georginio Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana's shift into a deeper role. Vice captain Milner has reluctantly agreed to the left-back role, realising his game-time would be reduced massively due to the stiff competition in the heart of Klopp's midfield.

James Milner
James Milner has excelled at left-back for Liverpool, scoring four times so far.

Milner has only missed one league game so far this campaign and his contribution has been vital. He is the side's joint top goalscorer with four goals -- all from holding his nerve from the penalty spot. His technical ability is a part of his game that is often overlooked because of the attention drawn to his sublime fitness levels and work rate. But the reason why he is holding his own in an unfamiliar position is down to his skills as a footballer and supreme game intelligence.

He has helped limit the use of his weaker left foot in games by taking up wider positions when receiving possession, opening up his body to make it easier to shift his ball on to his right.

Some opponents this season have been caught out by his willingness to get forward and ability to play that crucial pass in the build-up to a goal. In a 4-1 win over champions Leicester last month, he provided the assist from the left touchline for Roberto Firmino's opener with an accurate through ball into the space vacated by Daniel Sturridge.

Klopp's distinct playing style has also made it easier for Milner to adapt to life at left-back. The former Borussia Dortmund boss has made it clear he wants as many of his players in the penalty area as possible when on the attack, believing it massively increases the chance of scoring.

Meanwhile the Liverpool No. 7, who retired from England duty in August after amassing 61 caps, has spoken about looking forward to feeling "fresher" after the lengthy international breaks, while his teammates return from their exploits.

Milner is an early bird at Liverpool's Melwood training ground every day and is meticulous with his discipline off the pitch. He does not drink alcohol because he wanted to do everything possible to fulfil his dream of making it as a footballer after bursting on to the scene with Leeds as a 16-year-old in 2002.

He has been around here, there and everywhere for what seems like a lifetime. And with no international commitments, a professional lifestyle and playing in a less physically demanding position, he's likely to be around for much longer.

Glenn is ESPN FC's Liverpool correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter: @GlennPrice94.


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