James Milner’s Liverpool contract: should he be given a new deal or released next summer?

As things stand, the veteran will become a free agent at the end of the season.

James Milner. Picture: Marc Atkins/Getty Images

When news emerged that Trent Alexander-Arnold was absent for Liverpool's trip to Porto, there weren't too many overly-concerned supporters.

Not for the upcoming game at least.

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Kopites knew that they already had a more-than-adequate replacement. Only 10 days earlier, Jurgen Klopp had also been without Alexander-Arnold for the visit of Crystal Palace because of illness.

James Milner was the man who deputised and did a remarkable job in the 3-0 win.

And yet again against Porto, the former Manchester City midfielder filled in on the right-hand side of defence superbly.

If anyone needed reminding, it highlighted how Milner remains a highly valuable member of Liverpool's squad despite being the ripe age of 35.

However, his contract is due to expire at the end of the season.

James Milner battles Luis Diaz for the ball during Liverpool’s 5-1 win over Porto. Picture: David Ramos/Getty Images

The Reds have already tied down the futures of several players including Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk, Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, Alisson and Andy Robertson. That was despite none of their deals coming to a conclusion next summer.

And while the focus is on getting Mo Salah and Sadio Mane both to pen fresh terms, Klopp is facing a quandary: should he keep Milner or allow him to leave?

A modern-day legend

Despite still being remembered for making his debut for Leeds as a 16-year-old and winning two Premier League titles with Man City, it might come as a surprise that Liverpool is the club he's made the most appearances for.

Since arriving on a free transfer from the Etihad in 2015, the Yorkshireman has racked up 254 games at Anfield, scoring 26 goals.

During his time on Merseyside, he has helped catapult the Reds to again establish themselves as a European heavyweight.

When Milner was signed, Liverpool had finished an underwhelming sixth in the Premier League and crashed out of the Champions League at the group stage.

Then only two months into the 2015-16 campaign, Brendan Rodgers was axed as manager.

Klopp was tasked with revolutionising the Reds and Milner's been at his side all the way. He's been pivotal under the German and is vice-skipper for a reason.

In the 2018-19 Champions League-winning season, the ex-England international scored two goals in 12 games on the road to glory. In total that campaign, he made 45 outings - one more than captain Henderson.

James Milner celebrates Liverpool’s Champions League triumph in 2019. Picture: v

Milner played more of a back-up role the following term when the Reds claiming their first top-flight title for 30 years. Still, featuring in 37 matches isn't exactly someone left in the cold. Far from it.

As modern-day legends go, Milner is one of them. He might not ever be eulogised in a similar bracket as some of his team-mates in years to come but his value will never go unrecognised.

He'll never have to buy a Ribena when he ever comes back to visit in retirement.

The Pros

With less than a year to go on his deal, there are valid points to retain Milner's services.

In the past month alone, his importance to the squad has been underlined.

Alexander-Arnold is one of the best full-backs in the world.

Yet, in his absence, the Reds have barely missed him because of Milner's performances.

Against Palace, he shackled talisman Wilfried Zaha impeccably. The winger scarcely had a sniff because of Milner.

And it was Porto's chief attacking threat, Luis Diaz, who was nullified on Tuesday evening.

Let's not do Milner's prowess going forward a disservice, either. He whipped in 13 crosses against Palace - the most in the game - and his teasing delivery put Sadio Mane's goal on a plate in Portugal.

What's more, his relentless engine has yet to slow down. In the Palace game, Milner covered 10.93km and completed 19 sprints. Those stats were unrivalled.

The influence that Milner has in the dressing room - particularly on the younger players coming through - shouldn't go underestimated.

James Milner in action against Crystal Palace. Picture: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

To still record the sort of running stats at his age demonstrates he is the consummate professional.

Klopp will be aware the likes of Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott can learn from him.

The cons

With all that said, the obvious concern should Milner remain longer than next summer is his age.

He has been a loyal servant and surpassed almost everyone's expectations at Liverpool.

However, all players have to leave at some point. Milner turns 36 in January and, while he is enjoying an Indian summer, he will eventually begin to decline.

There can be little room for sentiment in football. Planning for the future and ensuring squads don't grow old at the same time is paramount. If that is allowed, it can lead to real trouble.

If he remains, Milner would be taking up a squad berth, with only 25 available for senior players in each Premier League side.

Next summer, Klopp could well look to sign a fresh engine-room operator. One that will play a more prominent role than Milner and have the versatility to deputise elsewhere when required.

Even offered a new deal, Milner might not accept anyway. He’ll be wary that if stays, he won’t be a regular and could look to move to a club where he’ll be a mainstay.