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'I've seen a massive change' - Milner impressed by Liverpool starlet Jones

00:30 GMT+3 27/09/2019
Curtis Jones Liverpool 2019-20
The 18-year-old was named Man of the Match as the Reds beat MK Dons 2-0 in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday

James Milner could have been forgiven for feeling his age as he lined up for Liverpool’s Carabao Cup clash with MK Dons on Wednesday.

Skipper for the night, the veteran led a Reds side which showed 11 changes from their Premier League win at Chelsea last Sunday.

And while there was enough experience in the ranks – Milner was joined by the likes of Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, among others – it was the presence of a raft of youngsters which provided the game’s main talking point.

Jurgen Klopp handed Liverpool debuts to five players, with two of them making their professional bow in their team’s 2-0 victory.

It is coming up to 17 years since Milner’s own debut, as a 16-year-old for Leeds United – Harvey Elliott, a team-mate on Wednesday night, would not be born for another six months after that. 

Since then, there have been more than 700 senior appearances and, at 33, there will be plenty more too. Playing at left-back in Milton Keynes, he looked as good as he ever has.

Afterwards, he was able to reflect on a memorable night for those youngsters, simultaneously offering both encouragement and a warning.

“It shows how good they are to be anywhere near our first team,” Milner said. “But then they’re expected to come in and play the way we play, which isn’t easy. I thought they all did very well.

“That’s what we’re there to do, to help. That’s the role. Hopefully, the more they’re with us and they train with us, they’ll feel more confident as well. 

“It’s a fine line between knowing what’s expected and the standards and also giving them that confidence as well. Every player’s different so it’s about getting it right, but I think you can see [with] the boys there’s so much talent there, and their attitude is there as well.”

Milner scored Liverpool’s first goal before setting up the second for Ki-Jana Hoever, the 17-year-old defender making just his second senior appearance.

But it was the performance of 18-year-old Scouser Curtis Jones which caught his eye. The attacking midfielder was named Man of the Match after the game, and Milner says he has been impressed by the teenager’s progress in recent months.

“It’s tough to keep going,” he said. “You see glimpses but there are so many distractions. They have to keep their foot on the accelerator and keep pushing as hard as they can. 

“I’ve seen a massive difference in Curtis in the last year. He’s always had that ability but seems a bit more mature now; [he’s] defending well, getting his angles right when he’s defending.

“He needs that guidance, and that’s what I was saying about a fine line. There are times when you need to encourage but also times where you need a rocket as well. 

“Like I say, over the last year I’ve seen that difference in him. I think he’s realised as well that if you want to play for Liverpool, that’s as important as the stuff on the ball. 

“Not only that, he’s got so much ability and skills and tricks, and it’s about using them in the right area. I think he’s learning that more and more now - you don’t want him doing it on the halfway line, you want him getting hold of it in the final third. That’s where you do your tricks and get people in the box.

“I said to him before the game, ‘I wouldn’t want to defend you in the box, so get them in there and drive at them’. He’s got great ability.”

Milner was also enthused by what he saw from the Reds’ other young talents.

“Harvey hasn’t been with us that long, but you see how good he is on the ball, very comfortable,” he said. “But he impressed me with his closing down today and his reactions.

“Rhian [Brewster] is an out-and-out goalscorer, you know that he’ll score goals. He’s got that hunger and he’s learning from one of the best there is at the other side of the game, Bobby [Firmino]. He might not be able to do the Cruyffs that Bobby can do but he is ruthless in front of goal, he’ll get plenty of goals.

“Ki-Jana, another one, great talent, very comfortable on the ball and great for him to get a goal, fantastic, and hopefully that will give him that boost.”