After missing Liverpool's last four Premier League fixtures, James Milner is nearing a return for the Reds' Capital One Cup semi-final against Stoke City.
Jurgen Klopp revealed that the English midfielder had returned to training prior to his side's visit to Sunderland on December 30. However, the German has also stated that his player will require at least one week of full training in order to make his comeback.
Slower Start Than Expected
Milner hasn't been every Kopites cup of tea since his free transfer from Manchester City during the summer. There were many who hoped he could fill the void of Steven Gerrard and be a commanding presence in the centre of the park.
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In the absence of Jordan Henderson, Milner was given the responsibility of captaining Liverpool for the best part of three months. Although he led by example in terms of work-rate and effort, the ex-Leeds United man wasn't the greatest on the attack, often lacking creativity and ideas.
In the Reds' 2-0 loss at Newcastle United on December 6, Milner was distinctly below-par and was not the link between attack and defence Liverpool desperately needed.
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Nonetheless, Milner is a player who has a wealth of experience. He has two Premier League titles to his name, as well as an FA Cup, Capital One Cup and 57 caps for his country.
He's a player who's been there and done it and turns up for the big games. Manuel Pellegrini was desperate to keep him during the summer and even offered him a lucrative £165,000-a-week contract to remain at the Etihad.
Liverpool travel to Stoke in the first-leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final and Klopp will be desperate for Milner to rule himself fully fit for the clash.
Stoke started the season off somewhat patchy, but they've certainly hit the ground running in the last few months. Mark Hughes signed several top-class talents during the summer transfer window including Ibrahim Afellay and Xherdan Shaqiri.
Hughes has serious ambition for the Potters and he's going the right way about achieving such success. Stoke have lost just three games since they were beaten at home by Watford on October 24 and they're slowly becoming a force to be reckoned with.
Shaqiri is showing the potential world football knew he possessed but did not fully display at both Bayern Munich and Inter Milan. Ex-Barcelona stars Bojan Krkic and Afellay are too both fulfilling their potential that they showed as youngsters at the Nou Camp while Marko Arnautovic has thrived playing alongside better players.
Hughes' men have marched into the last four of the competition and they're improving as each game passes. They put four past Everton at Goodison Park and also outplayed Manchester United on home soil in recent weeks. Their confidence is sky-high and they'll believe they can go all the way to Wembley.
Stoke's attacking line is as competitive as any in the Premier League on their day and Liverpool will have a stiff task of thwarting them, particularly at the Britannia.
Key Player In Vital Matches
If Milner does return for the meeting, it will be to the delight of his manager.
The reason Manchester City wanted to keep hold of Milner is because of his work ethic and his selfless attitude. Klopp also has his admirations for his vice-captain, calling him the "complete footballer" earlier in the year.
His stamina and work ethic is arguably the best in the Premier League. Milner covers more ground than anyone else in the league, he never stops from the first until the final whistle and is never afraid to put in a tackle.
Stoke like to dig in and get their hands dirty which can often be the downfall of their opposition, but Milner thrives when the going gets tough - he's averaged two defensive actions per game this term.
They've developed since Tony Pulis was in charge; they still want to bully teams, but Hughes has encouraged his men to play more attractive football.
Milner will be up for the challenge and would allow captain Henderson, who was superb in Liverpool's victory against Leicester City on Boxing Day, to attack with less restriction.
The Reds needed a late Philippe Coutinho goal to beat Stoke on the opening day of the season. The Potters have improved drastically since whereas Liverpool are still somewhat at a crossroads and they'd be more than pleased to travel back to Merseyside with a goalless draw this time around.
How important do you think Milner is to Liverpool? Give YOUR opinion in the comment box below!