Of all the photographs shared by Liverpool’s players and staff as the night lengthened on Saturday, the most strikingly simple was that of James Milner. Sitting on the bus on its way out of Wembley, Milner had the FA Cup in his hands and a smile on his face.
For Milner, it was another job done. Major honour No 10. At the age of 36, Milner is not a mainstay of this Liverpool team. In fact, he is more peripheral than he has ever been. Milner has started only eight Premier League games and just one in the two cup competitions Liverpool have won this season.
But that should not diminish his importance. Players such as Milner lend Jurgen Klopp’s squad its incredible depth and afford it a balance and calmness away from the pitch that is so important for any top club.
Players like James Milner offer incredible importance to Jurgen Klopp’s squad at Liverpool
He was crucial to this victory, also. When he was introduced for Naby Keita with 15 minutes of regulation time left, it seemed like a strange move when Liverpool needed a match-winner.
But it turned out to be a shrewd substitution by Klopp. Milner brought Liverpool energy when they were starting to tire and also reminded us that he can pass the ball rather well.
Then, when it came to the penalty shootout, Milner was first in the queue, scoring with no fuss and setting the tone for what was to follow.
Milner was crucial to the eventual shootout win, scoring his penalty having influenced the game after his introduction earlier on
He is perfect for Liverpool, James Milner. He represents all that is admirable about them.
Chelsea were excellent on Saturday, as we all thought they would be. They could have won the final. But Thomas Tuchel’s squad has problems running all the way through it.
Romelu Lukaku — ponderous and ineffectual at Wembley — is the most obvious and the most expensive. But there are others.
The Englishman Milner (L) shows what Liverpool have in their squad that Chelsea lack
Antonio Rudiger is about to leave having run down his contract. Timo Werner doesn’t seem to remember just how good he used to be before moving to England. And Andreas Christensen, by all accounts, simply decided not to play on Saturday having chosen to leave for Barcelona this summer.
Given all of that, and more, it is to Tuchel’s credit that Chelsea pushed Liverpool all the way once again. The German really is a superb football coach and leader of men.
Amid all the financial uncertainty of Chelsea’s new ownership, Tuchel remains the greatest asset they have and it is to be hoped he was told as much when he met Todd Boehly for lunch at the training ground last Thursday.
Chelsea are not Liverpool, though. Chelsea do not have the quality in numbers that Liverpool have. Nor do they have the unity of purpose that continues to somehow move Liverpool through this demanding run of do-or-die fixtures with barely a misstep.
James Milner’s importance to his manager was displayed his normal time introduction
Liverpool play at Southampton in the Premier League on Tuesday night. Watching Klopp’s players stumble through extra time with very little left to give on Saturday, it was hard to imagine them prevailing at St Mary’s.
But winning trophies delivers adrenaline shots so strong that we should not be surprised if Pep Guardiola and his Manchester City players go to bed on Tuesday night knowing that there is still work to do to successfully defend their league title.
Technically, Liverpool’s quadruple bid is alive but it seems all but certain that the next hurdle will be the one that proves too high. City continue to prove themselves almost unfathomably vulnerable in Europe but they remain England’s best team.
And this is one of the peculiarities of this great modern rivalry. It is quite possible that one day, when they are older, Klopp and his players will look back on this remarkable time in their lives and wonder quite how they only managed to win one Premier League crown.
The irresistibility of Pep Guardiola’s side in the league means the quadruple – and another Premier League title – will likely evade Liverpool this season
Despite their consistent success, will Liverpool rue only the one league title won?
But if that does happen — if the purchase of Erling Haaland propels City to even greater heights next season and beyond — then the memories of days like this will sustain Liverpool and their supporters.
Last year’s FA Cup final was memorable. It was a day when a significant number of fans were allowed back into stadiums and it was settled by a wonderful Leicester goal.
This one matched it, though. Once again we were reminded just why this competition still matters. Even Klopp himself admitted afterwards that the depth of emotion he was feeling had surprised him. Milner would have known what was coming, though. He’d won this trophy once before, with City in 2011. He understands what it means.
Several years ago, when asked by Klopp to switch from his midfield position to full back, Milner felt a prick to his ego. He briefly thought about leaving the club.
It is incredible to think of all that he would have missed.
Jurgen Klopp said he was surprised at the depth of emotion he felt after the FA Cup victory