Michael Regan - Getty Images
Let's take a look at James Milner and perform a comprehensive WOWY analysis to answer this question: Are Man City a better team with or without James Milner in the team?
James Milner. The name James doesn't quite fit.
Look at that jaw line, granite-strong. the name Jim would be a better fit.
Jim Milner, bluff Yorkshireman, cross country champion, no-nonsense lad.
Jim Milner the footballer, jack of all trades and as an honest a pro as there is. Jim never stops running, has a great engine, will never pull out of tackle and is the first one back during an opposition counter attack. Jim Milner has never been the first name on the team sheet, but there exist Man City fans who, like me, may watch too much football and hold the opinion that in big games where we face a quality opposition (Madrid and Dortmund) that Jim should play. That his energy and robustness in the center of the park or just tucked in from the right in make a real difference to Man City's ability to hold onto possession and to help resist the oppositions fleet-footed raids toward our goal.
Jim Milner doesn't have a famous song sung about him, he is rarely applauded off the park or lauded by his manager, but there may exist a Gareth Barry-esque under-rated quality about him. An under-rated quality that may mature given patience and time, and we may see the player eventually evolve into a hybrid version of what Gareth Barry is today; a player who is not given full credit, but one who's positioning, tactical discipline and all round game is an essential working function of any team. Will this metamorphosis happen, and happen at Man City? I hope so, but do note that I say hope, rather than expect.
James Milner CL 2011/12/13
|result||opposition rank||minutes||Goals For||Goals against||goal differential|
There isn't a whole lot to talk about here; Man City's record isn't great in the CL may be one talking point and the absence of any real playing time for James Milner may be another.
Milner started only two CL games, both away games recording one win and one loss. Not much else to report.
James Milner 2012/13 PL
|result||opposition rank||minutes||goals for||goals against||goal differential|
Yet again nothing much to see here. two starts for Milner in the PL this term. The question to ask is why the player hasn't started more, or at least been given more minutes? Well, there was a rumoured toe injury but this may have been a cover for the player being dropped from the team for squad for reasons unknown, which will will remain unknown.
I would expect Milner to see more game time now that David Silva has succumbed to an injury.
James Milner 2011/12
|result||Minutes||Goals For||Goals Against||Differential|
The 2011/12 PL season, as listed above in chart form, is the season where we can perform some real with or without you analysis for the player.
Milner, nearly always selected as a right midfielder, featured in 26 games and was an unused sub, dropped or injured for the remaining 12 PL games. Of those 26 features 17 were starts and 9 were substitute appearances.
Jim Milner started 15 of the first 25 games and only 2 of the last 13. There were no serious injuries to contend with in those final 13 games, only the metaphorical splinter injuries associated with sitting on the bench for such sustained periods of time. Milner simply fell out of favour. he wasn't trusted and he didn't fit into Mancini's plans in the vital title run-in.
But Milner was trusted by Mancini in a certain sense. Of the Yorkshireman's 17 PL starts just 6 were at home and thus the remaining 11 starts were away from home. Milner was seen as a player who could be trusted in those difficult away games; a player who could cope with the tough away assignments, a player who was, in all likelihood, selected for his ability to stop the opposition creating and dominating the game rather than create offensive opportunities for his own team.
James Milner Starts Only In 2011/12 PL
With or Without Basic Numbers
|38 Games||Man City||93||29||+64|
In the 21 games where Milner didn't start it becomes clear we can only come to one conclusion; Man City were a lot better when Milner didn't start the match. Less goals conceded, more goals scored. It's not even close, but....
Do note that the players starts were split 6 home and 11 away which will naturally skew some of the numbers to come. That's the side effect of being a player that the manager trusts to perform in the more difficult PL fixtures: The away games.
|% of away games started||% of home games started|
Advanced Numbers With or without Milner
Shots on Target Differential per game
|SoT +/- per game With||1.58|
|SoT +/- per game Without||4.47|
The shots on target per game with James Milner does not look pretty, yes he drew the tougher assignments (away games), but even so, Man City were a far better team in terms out-shooting the opposition without Milner.
If you gain more shots on target than the opposition, the likelihood is that over the course of a season the team will win more than it loses.
Man City were a better possession team without Milner starting. This may be due to the fact that a greater share of home games were played without him rather than with him, but also may be due to the players that replaced him possessed greater skill at keeping the ball, namely Silva or Nasri.
Quality of opposition game difficulty
|Game difficulty with||10.5|
|Game difficulty without||11.66|
This could just be random noise (most likely) or Mancini purposefully shaped his personnel selection (selecting Milner and others-squad players) to play against a weaker quality of opposition. It's possible.
|Win % with||64.7|
|Win % without||80.9|
This is the point where we get to the most damning numbers regarding Man City's performance with or without the player. Win % with Milner is an excellent 80.9%. But, how much of this is skewed by his home/away game splits which were 6 home/11 away?
|Win % with||83,3|
|Win % without||100|
Five wins and a draw in James' 6 home starts and Man City won every home game when he didn't start.
|Win % with||66.6|
|Win % without||50|
Wow. the first positive stat in Milner's favour so far. Man City played 11 away games with Milner and 8 without. Man City were a better away team with James than without and but for City winning their last 3 away games when Milner was benched the disparity between these two win % numbers would be huge.
Points per game (home)
|Points per game with||2.5|
|Points per game without||3|
Points per game (away)
|Points per game with||1.81|
|Points per game without||1.62|
The points per game away number only reinforces the above statements about win %. Man City were a better away team with Milner in the side.
Away form was the single factor that almost derailed Man City's title bid in 2011/12 and any potential solution that may have improved Man City's away form should of been taken. Maybe James Milner was part of that solution. It may have been his engine or his energy, his ability to hassle the opposition or his non stop pendulum like raids along the right flank which helped Man City gain more points with the player in the team. Or, it may just have been a coincidence, it may have been down to team chemistry or the selection of other vital players.
James Milner And The Right Back
Overall, if we assume Milner started the game at right wing then his right back in the same team selection was Micah Richards on 11 occasions and Zabaletta on 6 occasions.
Richards on 6 occasions at home and 5 away. Zabaletta was the right back partner on just 6 occasions and only ever away from home. The Zabaletta away selection may tell us more about how little Richards was trusted by Mancini away from home.
The Milner/Richards pairing was one that fell out of favour in the last six games when the crucial fixtures were being played and squad rotation was not an issue. It was at this time that Zabaletta became the #1 right back.
There is an awful lot of data to process in all of the above charts and at times the data can be confusing and contradictory. If we are going to take away anything from this WOWY analysis it would be this: Man City are a better away team with James Milner in the side. His work rate, energy and commitment-all old fashioned qualities-are attributes that are still needed in this modern Premier League. Those attributes are still vital in order to win football matches, vital to a team even of Man City's overwhelming skill.
The second point of interest is how James Milner fell from grace as the season wore on. He was a regular selection for Mancini in the first 2/3rd's of the season but in that crucial title run-in, Milner fell out of favour and was barely selected for the first XI. This may have been due to other players outperforming him, or the players own poor performances which led to his omission.
Either way, Milner was trusted less and less as the season wore on and selected for the starting XI less and less. This is a trend which has continued into the 2012/13 season.
Jim Milner has a future at the club. He may well develop into an important first team player, but to do so will require him to get his head down, put in the hard work on the training pitch and improve.
Hard work and effort, luckily, are well within the sphere of Jim Milner's abilities.
Yaya Toure WOWY analysis
gareth Barry WOWY analysis