James Milner: Charting the Evolution of Manchester City's Most Consistent Player

Phil Keidel@@PhilKeidelContributor IIApril 29, 2013

Milner's style of play means almost every shot of him is an action shot.
Milner's style of play means almost every shot of him is an action shot.Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Manchester City fans crushed by a so-so season might overlook him, but James Milner has been the most consistent and reliable Sky Blue this season.

It is understandable to a degree. Milner is no one's idea of an electric creator or prolific scorer. Playing with the likes of Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri and David Silva, Milner is usually tasked with tracking back when one of their runs yields a turnover and a counter-attack.

Then Milner intercepts a pass, or just deflects it out of bounds, and the temporary panic is over. City resets, and Milner drifts back into the scenery again.

Of course, part of why Milner's steady poise goes unnoticed is due to the manner in which he entered professional football and, despite his youth, just how long he has been at this.

The story has been told before how Milner was born in Leeds and came up through Leeds United's youth organization. Remarkably, Milner debuted for Leeds in November 2002 just shy of his 17th birthday. As such, Milner has played football at the highest level for over a decade now.

Following 48 League appearances with Leeds over two seasons, Milner joined Newcastle United once Leeds had fallen out of the Premier League. He then split time between Newcastle and loan spells at Aston Villa before becoming Aston Villa property in 2008.

All of that time was prelude, of course, to Milner's splashy signing with Manchester City in August 2010.

City wasted no time putting Milner to use, as he saw action in 32 out of a possible 38 Premier League matches in 2010-2011.

Looking at the squad statistics for that season, you can see the beginning of this era of Sky Blues football taking shape. Joe Hart started every Premier League game; Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure started almost every match in the league.

In 2011-2012, otherwise known as "that championship season," Milner lost some time both to injury and to newcomer Samir Nasri, making only 26 out of a possible 38 appearances in the league.

Indeed, four City midfielders (Yaya Toure, Silva, Nasri and Gareth Barry) each started at least 26 matches, leaving Milner fighting for his place in the side. Not that you ever heard him complain about it.

This season, though, City has desperately needed Milner to raise his level of play given the chips and dings the City midfield has suffered throughout the regrettably unsuccessful title defense.

Yaya Toure missed time representing the Ivory Coast at the Africa Cup of Nations. Silva struggled intermittently with injury; Nasri struggled with being a scapegoat in the derby at the Etihad and trying not to have Roberto Mancini slug him one.

Each time Mancini needed the ship steadied at midfield, Milner dutifully stood in and put in a solid shift.

Which is why, as Mancini and City management look toward the coming summer transfer window, Milner's settled contract status (he is signed for two more seasons) is one less thing to worry about.

Kind of like the player himself.