Milner was the second youngest to appear in the Premier League and the youngest to score when he and Robbie Fowler sank Sunderland on Boxing Day in 2002, three months before Harvey Elliott was born. At 33, he has moved effortlessly into the role of versatile veteran, providing the next generation with a perfect example of how to apply themselves if they want a career at the top.
As Liverpool eased past Milton Keynes and into the last-16 and a tie against Arsenal, he dominated the game from left-back. He scored one – albeit courtesy of a goalkeeping error – and made the other for 17-year-old full-back Ki-Jana Hoever and even produced a crucial defensive block late in the game to deny Jordan Bowery when the League One side were threatening a late fight back. ‘The man is on fire,’ said manager Jurgen Klopp.
‘That’s the real role model for young players. It helps a lot. He was absolutely great. ‘The team was lacking rhythm and experience and the player with the most experience and the most rhythm was the best player on the pitch.’ Importantly for Klopp, his team continued to win while he rested first-teamers ahead of a trip to Sheffield United in the Premier League and his promising young players savoured the thrill of performing before a crowd of more than 28,000, a record attendance for MK Dons.
Liverpool started with four teenagers and three debutants, including Elliott, who was signed from Fulham in the summer and at 16 years and 174 days became the youngest player to start a competitive game for Liverpool.
He started on the right of the front three with Rhian Brewster and Curtis Jones and finished on the left, looked entirely at ease and twice hit the woodwork.
The first when he chopped a cross from Milner up onto the bar from six yards in the opening minutes and again late in the game when he danced into the penalty area and was inches too high as he aimed for the top corner. ‘Still only 16 and this kind of footballer,’ said Klopp. ‘It’s really good for us. He’s a brilliant boy, he wants to learn. And his left foot is not bad. ‘We don’t have bad young players to be honest.
That’s why it’s important to give them these matches. They have to take the next step.’ Liverpool controlled the first-half but did not find a breakthrough until four minutes before the interval when Milner collected a poor clearance and tried his luck on an angle.
Dejan Lovern cleared from George Williams and Liverpool regained their composure. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain thumped a long-range effort against a post and Elliott hit the bar and they move on with momentum unbroken.