He also knows how hard it is to defend a title with both the Roberto Mancini City title-winning side of 2011-2012 and then the Manuel Pellegrini team two seasons later falling away badly the following year. “Never at the races” was his description of those two title defences and naturally the same questions will be asked of Liverpool after two seasons which have seen them win the two biggest trophies on offer.
“That [City] is something I’ve learned from,” he says “This team has shown we can deal with disappointment. We came back from losing the Champions League final and we’ve come back from finishing second with 97 points. Can we now show that we can deal with success? Can we keep showing that hunger and keep playing in the same way?
“Being as good next year as we have been this year won’t be enough because City will raise their game and so will Manchester United and other clubs. All these teams are pushing for the top and when you’re right at the very top everyone wants to take it away from you. We are now there to be shot at – and we have to be big enough to deal with that. We have to keep pushing.”
Milner has seen the gradual change in the team from the side that Jurgen Klopp inherited four months after the Englishman arrived on a free transfer in June 2015. It was hard to predict the scale of the transformation and Milner says that it is a story of small, consistent gains as the team was rebuilt and the manager’s style was imposed. “You would see some games and think ‘Wow, Liverpool were incredible today,’” he says. “Watch us a week later and it would be ‘Wow, Liverpool were garbage today’.”
Eventually they ticked off the issues, defence, winning ugly, grinding out games. Milner’s faith was vindicated and almost 18 years since his professional debut he sees a new generation emerging at Anfield. Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliott and Neco Williams all earn his hard-won approval. He enjoyed Thursday night although once again, no alcohol passed his lips. “It’s a bonus for me that I remember all the nights we celebrate together”, he says, “but it’s a negative for the other boys because I remember all the daft things they’ve said and done.”