James Milner celebrated Liverpool’s FA Cup victory by treating himself to a Coke on the coach from Wembley to the airport. “Full fat, because Diet Coke is worse for you,” he claimed. By 10.30 the next morning he was sitting through a video analysis meeting of Southampton. Chasing a quadruple is not all glamour.
After the joy and the exertion of Wembley, where Liverpool and Chelsea players almost ran themselves to a stand-still in the second half of extra time, Jürgen Klopp’s players must go again at St Mary’s Stadium on Tuesday and win again to take the title race with Manchester City to the wire. Lifting trophies helps alleviate tiredness, although Milner wishes there was more time to savour each one.
“It was probably harder if you go back six weeks but we’ve got three games left now,” says the 36-year-old, whose contribution to the cause remains invaluable. “All the stuff we’ve been through, training, games, recovering, travelling, with three games left if you’re on one leg it’s worth going through.
“We’ve just won the FA Cup. Would you like to celebrate more? Yes, we would, but we can’t afford to do that. That’s the tough thing about being at this level, you maybe can’t afford to enjoy your successes as much as you’d like to. You win a trophy and it’s like: ‘When’s the next game?’ You win the Premier League and you can enjoy it for three weeks on your holiday, then it’s pre-season and you have to go again. That’s probably the one thing you regret in your career: that you don’t enjoy it as much as you should. But that’s part of being successful; you have to be focused and move on to the next one.”
The title contenders will be without Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk against Southampton, who will be playing their first game in 10 days, but this Liverpool squad have grown accustomed to finding a way.
As Milner says: “The group, the manager, the experience of being there before without big players. If you go back to Barcelona, that famous night, look at the players who were missing then. That shows a great mentality within the squad, it shows how well we train, how well we’re coached.
“If you miss those players for half a season it’s going to be tough but everyone is ready to go even if they haven’t played for a while. Look at last season, just to get into the Champions League, the players who were playing centre-half. We changed it round and we found a way, and that’s got us to a Champions League final.”
Milner turned to face the Liverpool crowd at Wembley when Kostas Tsimikas stepped up to place the cup winning penalty past Édouard Mendy and the name of another left-back into Anfield folklore.
“I wanted to watch our fans’ reaction,” the midfielder explains. “I had faith in Kostas, I know he’s got a wand of a left foot. Obviously you’re nervous, because you know there’s a good chance it could be over, but how many times do you get to play at Wembley and experience that?
“You see everyone experiencing what you’re feeling yourself: relief, joy, everything. It’s a special group of players and a special group of people to share these things with in the dressing room after the game. I said to Trent [Alexander-Arnold]: ‘Your cabinet is pretty full, but don’t get bored of it.’ What an incredible player he is, but he’s lucky that he’s come into a team that is so good. He deserves it because of how good a player he is but you never know when things are going to change, so you have to enjoy it while it’s here.”
Milner is not bored of it. Saturday delivered the 10th major trophy of his career. He will be out of contract this summer but has been offered a 12-month extension, although wants to wait until this remarkable campaign is over before deciding his future. “It does get better,” he said of the feeling of winning trophies. “Because you don’t know how long is left, do you?”