As we head towards the festive period and the end of 2014 the football season undergoes its usual glut of fixtures, with City playing four games over nine days between Boxing Day and January 4th when the FA Cup comes to town.
What this time of year also heralds of course is the re-opening of the transfer window. There hasn't be too much in terms of firm news regarding any activity City may be involved in; the rumours of Wilfried Bony arriving or a departure for Matija Nastasic have been floated but we know that FFP considerations mean their options to bring players in will be restricted.
It is perhaps the signing of a current City player though that may be the biggest story to watch as we head into the second half of the season. As we know, James Milner's current deal is due to end in the summer of 2015 and reports from last summer indicated that he had a strong desire to consider his future, with the very real possibility that he would look to move on from the club.
A report appeared in The Telegraph this week that suggested that the club and Milner are no nearer agreeing an extension:
City's director of football, Txiki Begiristain reopened talks with Milner's representatives from The Professional Footballers' Association in November.
Yet, there remains a deadlock that looks no nearer to reaching a resolution now as it did in May.
Finance is not thought to be the main source of contention, though Milner's camp believe that the onus is firmly on City to formulate a long-term deal that suits their client and delivers an increase on his salary of around £120,000 a week.
According to the report the issue is one of playing time, with Milner disappointed that despite the recent injuries to David Silva and Samir Nasri (both now back to full fitness) he remained on the sidelines after a run of games earlier in the season:
Yet his disappointment over his recent omission has been compounded by the fact that it has come in a period when Blues have missed the mercurial talents of the injured David Silva, while Samir Nasri has been trying to find his form and fitness after a lengthy lay-off.
So, how does Milner's playing time this season compare to the previous two seasons where his role did feel like that of more a support player? As we can see Milner's percentage of minutes is clearly up on last season (12.6%) and slightly higher than in 2012/13 yet interestingly he has still featured less than either Silva or Nasri, despite the latter pair struggling with injury:
|2012/13||Games||Minutes||% Of Minutes Played|
|2013/14||Games||Minutes||% Of Minutes Played|
|2014/15||Games||Minutes||% Of Minutes Played|
The total of 52.8% for Milner is certainly lower than I expected when I thought back to how much I thought he had played this season. It is clear though where he got his minutes:
Even allowing for the fact that Yaya Toure will be away at the African Cup of Nations in January it is difficult, barring another run of injuries in midfield to see where Milner gets a ton of minutes from. Fernandinho has returned to form, Frank Lampard may be extending his stay and Jesus Navas - perhaps the direct competition for Milner - seems to be in favour.
The average of around 50 minutes per game could be what Milner is looking at, a figure consistent across his City career. Now, Milner has stated that he does not expect to play each and every game but there is concern enough.
What does this mean for his future? I doubt he actually wants to leave. Look around the Premier League and I'm sure plenty of clubs at the top end of the league would be keen to sign him but it wouldn't be an improvement on his position at City, certainly not financially either.
His lack of minutes hasn't hampered his international ambitions either so it's not as though he needs to move away for the sake of his England career. The report mentions some interest from abroad and that could be the interesting aspect. By all accounts he speaks Spanish so being a Premier League veteran even at his young(ish) age does he want to try La Liga perhaps before the chance passes him by?
My hunch though is that he ultimately re-signs, perhaps not before testing the market though (even if not publicly) but such occurrences where a player such as Milner enters the final days of a contract are rare so don't expect the speculation over his future to die down.