Liverpool stalwart James Milner admits winning the Premier League is "damn hard"

Alam Khan 14/04/2019
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James Milner and Liverpool have the Premier League in sight.

With a puff of his cheeks and pause for reflection, James Milner admits it is “damn hard” to win a Premier League title.

Twice he achieved the feat on the final day of the season with Manchester City.

Now he is prepared for a hat-trick of dramatic finishes as he bids to upset his former club and end Liverpool’s long wait for top-flight success.

The Reds have been champions 18 times in their illustrious history, but not since 1990 have they been crowned kings of English football.

“It is always so hard to win the Premier League,” said Milner, the only title winner in the current Reds squad.

“Two other times I won, it was the last game of the season. It looks like it will go down to the death again.

“There are so many changes in a title race, we’ve seen it so many times before. We won it at City against QPR in incredible fashion and seen changes in this title race as well.

“So much can happen in the five games we’ve got left. That is why everyone loves the Premier League. It is special any time you win the Premier League, to be honest. It is that damn hard to do.

“You are going up against what a lot of people have said is one of the best-ever Premier League teams in City.

Milner has won two Premier League titles in City colours.

Milner has won two Premier League titles in City colours.

“The players they have, the points they have, so for us to go toe-to-toe with them and get over the line, hopefully. But if not, you have to look back and say we have done everything we can – and go again next year.”

Liverpool have proved in recent weeks they will fight in every game for the results that will stop City retaining the title they won in record-breaking fashion last season.

A comeback win at Southampton, which followed late 2-1 wins over Fulham and Spurs, put them two points clear of Pep Guardiola’s side, who have a game in hand.

Fresh from their 2-0 midweek success over Porto in their Champions League last-eight first-leg tie, Milner’s men host Chelsea today in arguably their toughest game of the run-in.

It was the Blues who ultimately dashed Liverpool’s hopes in 2014 with a 2-0 win at Anfield, when Demba Ba’s crucial opener followed Steven Gerrard’s unfortunate slip.

That allowed City to pinch the title with a final-day win over West Ham – just as they had two years earlier thanks to Sergio Aguero’s iconic injury-time strike over QPR.

Milner played his part in both those triumphs for the Etihad outfit, but there are no divided loyalties for the 33-year-old this time around.

“There will not be any tug of emotion,” he added. “Not on that side.

“I had a great five years there, won every trophy in England. There’s no extra motivation. The motivation is to beat a very good team.

“Just to win the Premier League again would be amazing. It will be very difficult.

“The way we do that is concentrate on our own games. Of course they are in the driving seat. We could win all our games and it’s not enough, but it’s down to us to keep putting pressure on them and getting results.

Milner is driven by Liverpool's past failures in finals.

Milner is driven by Liverpool’s past failures in finals.

“We are not taking our eye off the ball in the Champions League either.

“It’s important to keep recovering in an intense part of the season, but use that experience we’ve gained over the last few years and keep focusing on our own football.”

Those experiences include defeats in three major finals; a League Cup loss to Manchester City in 2016, the Europa League defeat to Sevilla later in that campaign, and then heartbreak in last season’s Champions League showpiece against Real Madrid.

Winning the league would help ease some of that pain, according to Milner, who also won the League Cup and FA Cup while at City. “They will make it sweeter,” he added.

And where some may doubt the team after losing such big games, Milner, capped 61 times by England, said: “I think I see winners. That has been the thing we’ve been missing in my time here.

“We’ve lost a few finals and have to keep going, to keep getting there and improving as a team, which we have done, year on year.

“You see the manner, not just in the way we play football, but keep going until the end when things do not look good. We dig deep, come again.

“But, of course, we are not winners yet. You can’t be winners until you actually win something. We know the potential is there.

“I think they have what it takes. You have seen how we have improved over the past few years.

“You look at times this season when we have perhaps not played so well, but still got results.

“We have great determination to keep going when things are not going well. So it is all there, the quality is there, and it’s a young team as well.

“It doesn’t mean we will get over the line, but we are getting closer each year and we’ve got a good chance. We just have to take care of our games.”

All eyes, and pressure, will be on quadruple-chasing City. They face top-four hopefuls Spurs and Manchester United in their final six games and are also involved in the Champions League quarter finals.

But Milner said: “You just want to concentrate on your job and that’s what we’re doing at the moment.

“We have learned that quickly and learned a lot. There is always going to be a lot of talk when you are at a club like Liverpool and the long wait [for the title]. But you can see from performances and the way the boys are going about their business that our focus is on what we can control, performing every game and not taking our eye off the ball.”

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Pochettino backs Moura to fill Harry Kane's void at Spurs following hat-trick

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Moura bagged an excellent hat-trick against Huddersfield.

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino hopes Lucas Moura’s hat-trick in the 4-0 win against Huddersfield can inspire him to fill the void left by Harry Kane.

Moura created a slice of history by becoming the first man to score a treble in the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, where the Brazilian celebrated on the pitch with his son after the game.

Victor Wanyama put the hosts on the way to a comfortable win as they strengthened their Premier League top-four hopes with a third win from three at their new home.

Talisman Kane looks like missing the rest of the season with an ankle ligament injury suffered in the Champions League win over Manchester City in midweek.

Everyone expected Son Heung-min to be the man to step into the limelight in Kane’s absence, but with the South Korean named on the bench, it was Moura who did the damage with a first hat-trick in European football.

“football moves so quick and after the game when Harry got injured everyone believed Sonny was going to step up and is going to be the man, but we have seen today Lucas got a hat-trick and it was an unbelievable afternoon for him,” Pochettino said.

“Players need to have the possibility to play to show the quality and that is why sometimes all the managers are disappointed when the people say about rotation, about selection of the starting XI.

“I am so happy, the performance was very professional, I am happy for Lucas for his hat-trick.

Kane sustained an ankle injury in the clash against City.

Kane sustained an ankle injury in the clash against City.

“It is going to help and bring him confidence. We have ahead a very tough period, two games against Manchester City and then Brighton.

“It is going to be tough, we need all the players fit. And with confidence it is going to be better if we feel we have the capacity to perform the way we want and get close to achieving all the things we plan.”

Pochettino made seven changes to his side against already-relegated Huddersfield, with Dele Alli and Harry Winks, along with Kane, missing out through injury.

Alli has a broken hand while Winks aggravated a groin problem in training on Friday and Pochettino is sweating on both men’s fitness for the Champions League quarter-final second leg at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday.

“We’ll see because we are not sure,” Pochettino said on Alli. “He is doing some training sessions with protection, he needs to feel comfortable.

“It is a little bit painful because he broke his hand in two different places. It all depends on the time, we will see if we arrive in a position where he is comfortable to play.”

On Winks’ injury, he added: “It’s the same as in the past. He’s a player we need to assess, and then after tomorrow take a decision. It’s a similar situation, it’s not a big issue but it’s an issue that maybe won’t allow him to play or not be in condition to play Wednesday.

“We need to assess. We are optimistic, but you know there is doubt.”

For Huddersfield, who saw Juninho Bacuna’s free-kick tipped onto the crossbar, this was their 19th defeat in 21 matches as they count down the games until their Premier League journey ends.

Head coach Jan Siewert, who has lost all but one of his matches in charge, said: “When you are so brave, away at Tottenham, until the end, and you have three good possibilities to score, to be the first away team who could score here, it makes me proud in a way.

“But still, a lot of our mistakes, a lot of our individual mistakes [from which] they scored goals today.

“We knew that the qualities that shine in Tottenham, that you can’t defend everything. So I’m in a way disappointed, because the result doesn’t reflect the way we played today, at all.”

Provided by Press Association Sport

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Man City to show they are not 'too nervous' in title fight and other Crystal Palace talking points

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A defining spell in quintuple-chasing Manchester City’s grinding Premier League defence begins with their fraught trip to Crystal Palace.

Selhurst Park’s reputation as a graveyard for title aspirations is well established. Current leaders Liverpool’s hopes met a definitive end there in 2013/14 – little more than a week after the infamous ‘slip’ match against Chelsea whose approaching five-year anniversary is being marked with Sunday’s repeat – and the Blues’ went the same way a season later.

Pep Guardiola must also avoid a repeat of the Eagles’ shock 3-2 raid on Etihad Stadium in December, while managing resources ahead of an intense fortnight of action across two competitions.

Here are the talking points:

GUARDIOLA’S MIND GAMES

An uncomfortable record has been repeated and nauseam since City went down 1-0 at Spurs in Tuesday’s continental first leg.

Guardiola last won an away Champions League quarter or semi-final back in 2011, against Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk.

This statistic, plus the four changes made for the trip to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, has been weaponised in the wake of a first defeat since January 30 in all competitions.

‘Overthinking’ was to blame, a trope that is dusted off by critics on the rare occasion Guardiola slips up. Never mind the genius that propelled City to a perfect 14-successive victories beforehand…

What could be of more pertinence was Germany midfielder Ilkay Gundogan’s suggestion – shot down by Guardiola – that City were “too nervous” on this grand occasion.

Extrapolate this viewpoint to the top flight and another stat becomes pertinent.

Guardiola was last involved in a legitimate title fight back in 2011/12, when Jose Mourinho’s free-scoring Real Madrid bumped Barcelona into second spot.

2013-16’s trio of Bundesliga crowns at Bayern Munich were claimed with an average points margin of 13. City got nowhere close in 2016/17, then broke every record standing last season.

Guardiola’s brilliance means he is out of practice when it comes to a two-team fight to the finish.

If the pressure of a big European night truly can get to him and his “nervous” players, could this clash with Palace with the finishing line in sight? We’ll see.

WHERE EAGLES DARE?

Attention on Sunday will, inevitably, be focused nearly 300 kilometres away from south London.

The Merseyside clash between Liverpool and Chelsea is layered with drama. But both City, and for their part Palace, can ramp up the tension even further in a match that will finish 30 minutes before kick-off in the day’s grandstand clash.

A trio of points for the Blues will put them, temporarily at least, back on top of the standings. If Palace emerge victorious, a glorious opportunity to end 29 years of hurt will abound for Jurgen Klopp’s men.

City are winless in their last two meetings with Roy Hodgson’s men. With top flight clashes to come next week against both Tottenham Hotspur – the same side for whom they are battling for a berth in the Champions League semi-finals – and Manchester United, a third could prove fatal in the title scrap.

Guardiola, however, should not be unduly concerned. Palace have triumphed in just four of their preceding 16 games at Selhurst, plus Hodgson labelled last weekend’s 1-0 victory at Newcastle United as putting his side “virtually over the line” in regards to avoiding relegation.

October’s pulsating 2-2 draw with Arsenal is, furthermore, the only this time they’ve not lost on home soil to top-six opposition this campaign.

SERGIO’S NOT SPOT ON

This week’s narrative could have been changed.

Sergio Aguero stained his return to the City XI after two games away through injury with a weak 12th-minute penalty, comfortably stopped by Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.

The miss represented the nadir of a poor return from the Argentina marksman. From a trio of attempts only the missed spot-kick was on target, while in 20 minutes on the pitch replacement Gabriel Jesus (12) only had six fewer touches.

This drab display has left Guardiola in a quandary. Would a start at Palace provide his star striker with essential minutes to gain full-match fitness, or risk an upset that may be terminal to hopes of retaining the title?

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