Milner's industry or Navas' pace? Pellegrini's title race dilemma

Manchester City Etihad

The England international came off the bench at Anfield to reinvigorate City's toiling attack but, despite his cameo, he was unable to help prevent defeat.

What James Milner lacks in continental flair, he certainly makes up for in the sort of gritty, assiduous characteristics which often go unnoticed and yet are as paramount to Manchester City's attacking schemes as the artists of Manuel Pellegrini's side.

The elaborate triangles formed by the fleet-footed duo of David Silva and Samir Nasri, we should remember, are what makes City - and what aided his predecessor Roberto Mancini - tick in swatting aside the majority of Premier League sides. 

Likewise, on the opposite flank, Jesus Navas' raw pace often trivialises the more inherently 'Spanish' aspects to his game, namely his ability to dribble past full-backs and supply a consistent end ball.

Pellegrini has been able to conform to the Spanish 'tiki-taka' modus operandi with some ease, such is the personnel available to him.

The most successful football teams, however, are made up of various skill sets, not just the intricate patterns weaved by the technicians, a notion Pellegrini may wish to explore further after a crushing defeat at Liverpool on Sunday left the Reds as favourites for the title and City in need of slip-ups elsewhere.

2-0 down at half-time, City looked doomed, They had been constantly over-run by Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho in midfield and failed to offer enough tangible threat on the Liverpool goal until late in the half, when Fernandinho forced a save out of Simon Mignolet.

The most disappointing part of the performance, though, was Navas' contribution to proceedings. He was tasked with being City's out ball when they recovered possession. The man who could seemingly unsettle the young Jon Flanagan and peg Liverpool back.

In truth, the ploy failed to materialise. When the chips were down, City's failings became evident and if it wasn't for a crucial substitution on the hour mark, Liverpool could have gone in search of more as they swallowed Navas up.

The Spaniard had retreated to the point where he appeared to have been deployed in a similar area of the field to Pablo Zabaleta, such was his meagre offering offensively. Cue Milner.

Suddenly it was Flanagan on the back foot. Milner's introduction lifted City and immediately helped produce a goal for Silva, who looked visibly rejuvenated by the winger's presence.

Milner sought to get at his marker and penetrate a previously comfortable rearguard while also showing the defensive diligence Navas could be accused of lacking from his armoury of talents.

It opened up the space Silva needed to thread trademark passes, dart away from challenges and ultimately wreak havoc.

With Liverpool's defensive mindset significantly shifted, not to mention having to deal with an added threat on the opposite wing, they forgot to defend their left-hand side, where Nasri and Silva teamed up in their most crisp interchange of the afternoon to force Glen Johnson into an own-goal.

Chances came and went but Liverpool's late winner was born out of a woeful error from skipper Vincent Kompany that led to Coutinho's stunning winner. Milner, for a change, could not be blamed.

He has become something of a scapegoat for both club and country for his functional, inherent defence-before-attack principles, making him a favourite of England manager Roy Hodgson, and imbued so deeply within the midfielder's system that it has become a stick to beat him with.

No matter what your thoughts are on Milner, however, there can be no doubting that he still has a role to play at City if Sunday's evidence is anything to go by. He has cut a frustrated figure on the touchline and has had to watch on as Navas tore into the likes of Manchester United and Tottenham at will.

But Milner has already proven this season, not least in the impressive 3-2 win at Champions League holders Bayern Munich's Allianz Arena, that he can provide a steadying figure in the sort of daunting away trips City have all too often been found wanting in.

Navas struggled to deal with the atmosphere of a cauldron-like Anfield, with Liverpool fans fervently driving their side home on a poignant afternoon when those who tragically lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster were remembered in the grandest of manners.

The Spaniard looked caught up in the occasion. Milner embraced it, leading City's fight forward and, despite Silva irrefutably claiming the post-match plaudits for his stunning second-half display, it was arguably the lesser-spotted cameo of Milner that provided Pellegrini with a balance he could not boast from the meek first-half showing.

Typically, Milner's role in the comeback was thrust into the shade somewhat, with Silva left to lap up the applause. It seemed fitting, then, that the playmaker's fellow countryman looked lost and out of touch in such a key match in City's title tilt while it was the Englishman who allowed for Silva to dictate proceedings with his habitual elegance and adroitness in the second half.

Milner's facets rely far more on industry and honesty when it comes to dissecting his performances. This is not to say he is the saving grace in City's increasingly tough-looking pursuit of a second-ever Premier League crown.

SEE ALSO: Pellegrini confident he can find City's 'next Sturridge'

That title most likely belongs to Sergio Agüero, upon his return to first-team action, but irrespective of how sporadic his contributions arrive, Milner's performance at Anfield was enough to suggest he deserves at least a starting spot next time out.

He may not fit the mould Pellegrini desires, but the Chilean must learn to utilise his talents in addition to Navas' before the title dream fades like the latter so feebly managed at Anfield.

Should Manuel Pellegrini start James Milner or Jesus Navas for Manchester City?

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