Manchester City’s 6-1 destruction of rivals United and subsequent five point lead in the title race led to much talk of the players bought with Sheikh Mansour’s millions. The silky play of David Silva, clinical finishing of Sergio Aguero and mercurial talent of Mario Balotelli were major factors in the win at Old Trafford and they, along with individuals such as Vincent Kompany and Edin Dzeko, are a big part of the reason the blues find themselves at the summit of the Premier League.
However, it’s a player that has gone slightly under the radar in some quarters whose performance in the emphatic win could prove a big turning point in their City career. Step forward James Milner.
It’s been a slow, largely unsatisfactory start to life in Manchester for the Leeds born twenty-five-year old. Signed by Roberto Mancini from Aston Villa in August 2010 for a deal reported to be worth £24 million, Milner arrived following a great season for the Midlands club which saw him crowned PFA Young Player of the Year and become a member of Fabio Capello’s World Cup squad in South Africa.
Under manager Martin O’Neill Milner’s progress was continuous, seeing him grow from wide man to a dominant central midfielder with much of the play going through him, contributing many goals and assists as well as taking set-pieces and being on penalty duties. Milner was arguably the first name on the team sheet in a side which included other young starlets such as Ashley Young and Stewart Downing, who have since both found themselves regulars after big money moves at Manchester United and Liverpool respectively. However for their former team mate it has been slower progress.
Appearing in 22 league games for Man City last season, Milner never seemed completely settled at his new club and appeared to be a largely peripheral figure. With Mancini having numerous options, especially in the midfield areas, when selected he often found himself playing wide and sacrificing himself for the sake of the team rather than playing to his strengths. Mancini’s perceived “negative” tactics also meant he often preferred two defensive central midfielders in the form of Nigel De Jong and Gareth Barry, with Yaya Toure pushing forward and Silva providing the creativity.