As Liverpool settled for a 0–0 draw with Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane last Saturday lunch-time, thoughts quickly went towards a single statistic. This season, Spurs had outrun each of their eight previous opponents in the league before Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool paid their visit.
Klopp’s Reds, perhaps on the bounce of his appointment only days earlier, outran and outsprinted Mauricio Pochettino’s side and laid out a clear blueprint of how they intend to play under the new regime. And stand-in Reds captain James Milner perfectly epitomises the spirit of the indefatigable.
The ex-Manchester City man had become a peripheral figure at Eastlands before moving to Liverpool in the summer, but his immense work rate meant he always remained City’s go-to man for the big games. Last season, the midfielder made the Citizens’ starting line-up only 18 times, but six of them were against Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United home and away.
Milner’s tenacity of running, tirelessness and strength of will mark him out as a key component of any team. No wonder how a fringe 29-year-old commands such regard to slot straight into his new club as the vice-captain. This season too, Milner has been equally full of running in newer surroundings of Merseyside.
Data courtesy of the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, the Official Player Rating Index of the Barclays Premier League
According to stats from this season, Milner has already run 4km more than any other Premier League player. Having run 113km in total, Milner leads Bournemouth duo of Andrew Surman and Matt Ritchie, who occupy the second and third positions behind the Liverpool man. Following them is Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey.
Ramsey, like Milner, is seemingly used as a utility man at Arsenal. The Welshman, who thrives in a central role, is regularly played in a wider midfield role where he often finds himself in the middle of offensive and defensive responsibilities. With the flying Hector Bellerin as the full-back on his side, Ramsey doesn’t quite enjoy the free attacking role like Alexis Sanchez on the opposite flank.
Therefore, Ramsey’s stats as Arsenal’s running machine come as no surprise. What is surprising is Ramsey’s ex-Arsenal team-mate Cesc Fabregas’ name down at seventh in the list. Fabregas, who has come under criticism this term for a below par campaign thus far, also joined the 100km club this week, along with the likes of Milner and Ramsey.
While Milner’s work rate is rightly celebrated, Fabregas is particularly underrated in this attribute of his game. The Spaniard’s cumulative 101.75km in nine games this season is bettered only by six other players, a statistic to put his most fervent critics to shame.
Everton’s Gareth Barry, Watford’s Etienne Capoue and West Brom’s Darren Fletcher are the other defensive midfielders featuring in the top eight apart from Surman. This goes a long way in asserting the importance of a sitting midfielder in the modern game, and how their grass coverage is key to their teams’ fortunes, both defensively and offensively.
Over time we shall see many of those kilometres’ records and stats getting makeovers, but the aforementioned octet have certainly started the season on the front foot and raring to go. It might be the magic of the Premier League, or the bounce of a new club and a new manager, or tactical rejigs, but those eight players are currently the standard bearers of what the Premier League exemplifies, what Klopp calls “full-throttle football.”