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Scout Report: Sergej Milinkovic-Savic | Lazio’s imposing midfielder

Simone Torricini looks at Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, the Lazio man who is likely to make waves soon.

The story behind Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s last transfer is undoubtedly particular. During the summer before the 2015/16 season, when he was at work with his old team Genk, a lot of clubs from other leagues asked the Belgian side about how much they valued the player at.

Fiorentina were the first to reach an agreement with both the player and the club and Milinkovic-Savic was already virtually a “Viola” by that time because on a hot day of that summer, he came to Florence to sign a contract. Then, as nothing similar had ever happened, he decided to go back home. Contemplating, he said: “I’m not sure this would be the best decision for me. I need time to think about it.”

A couple of days later he was a Lazio player. Then on, Milinkovic-Savic has become one of the most valuable midfielders in Italy – and probably Europe. His technical and tactical features – those of a modern player with the advantage of a dominant physique – make him particularly interesting to analyze.

Who is Sergej Milinkovic-Savic?

Much like his last transfer, some of his life details are curious. He was born in Lleida (Spain) on the 27th of February 1995, from a father who was a professional footballer and a mother who played basketball as a pro. His brother Vanja, two years younger than him, played with him in the youth sector of Vojvodina when they lived in Serbia and now is a goalkeeper for Torino. Sergej’s first professional season began with his first debut from the first minute on the 22th February 2014, five days before his 19th birthday. He closed that season with a total of 16 appearances and 4 goals. The following summer he was purchased by Genk for about half a million euros and his numbers at the end of the season (24 appearances and 5 goals scored) show a balanced growth that goes on nowadays with the Biancocelesti.

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Lazio’s president Claudio Lotito invested more than 10 million euros to buy the Serbian, who scored his first goal with the new team on the 17th of September 2015 in a match against Bologna (the final result was 1-1). At the end of his first season in Italy under Stefano Pioli and Simone Inzaghi, Milinkovic-Savic had put together 35 appearances, scoring 3 goals. The last one, at the end of which SS Lazio conquered the 4th place, has been the most prolific for the Serbian, with 39 appearances (he missed only 4 Serie A matches), 7 goals scored and 10 assists served. At a national team level, he has played in all the youth selections starting from the U-18, earning 40 appearances and 9 goals scored.

What is his Style of Play?

Basing his efficiency due to a dominant physique, Milinkovic-Savic has become one of the most valuable and complete midfielders in Italy. Only Radja Nainggolan can be considered superior in terms of ability in doing both the offensive and the defensive phase, because strong midfielders like Khedira, Hamsik or Strootman are about on his level – indeed in perspective the Serbian is even better. He’s 192 cm tall and weighs 80 kg and these numbers help him to reach the incredible amount of 4.4 aerial duels per match (as per Wyscout, he won 23 percent of his aerial duels, which is quite good).

Regarding the defensive phase, his attitude is generally proactive: he made 2.1 tackles/game (winning 53% of his duels), and 1.1 interceptions. Considering all the 90 minutes statistics, Squawka‘s statistics show us that Milinkovic-Savic is averagely involved in 3 defensive actions. Anyway, it would be an error to consider the Serbian a defensive midfielder: it’s true, he played in a deeper position in a lot of games, but his favourite role remains that of the box-to-box in a midfield with two players.

Here, attacking from the right-side of the area, Milinkovic-Savic shows two of his main abilities: his power in aerial duels and that of his right foot.

When it comes to his offensive contribution, the Serbian has an average of  2 shots per game, serves 1.2 key passes and suffers 1.8 fouls – a number that points the difficulty his opponents find in  dispossessing him, even if Milinkovic-Savic himself tends to commit fouls often. During the previous Serie A season he created 40 chances , twice compared to that of the previous season (in which the chances created were 20), and he became progressively more central within Simone Inzaghi’s game plan.

What are his Strengths?

According to WhoScored, Milinkovic-Savic points of strength are the following: aerial duels, through balls, dribbling and defensive contribution. All happen to be right observations. We’ve already talked about the first point, in which he’s probably in the European top three that is led by Marouane Fellaini: no one in Serie A reaches his percentage in successful aerial duels. The second point is surely interesting because it coincides with his worst weakness (the pass accuracy): the Serbian has a quite good game view on long distances, and he can exploit the speed of teammates like Keita and Felipe Anderson, so his through balls are often useful to the final development of the buildup phase.

Another great quality in the repertory of Milinkovic-Savic: here the successful run within AS Roma’s area during the derby.

He has also excellent qualities in dribbling despite his imposing physique: he made 1.3 dribbles per game, but he’s not an individualist. When he spends some words on the club, on the team, Milinkovic-Savic always speaks for the team or the collectively good. And this attitude perfectly reflects the genre of player he’s on the field.

What are his Weaknesses?

The huge and only limit of the Serbian happens to be his passing ability. Surely one of the most important (if not to say: the most important) for a midfielder. He, on an average, plays 41.1 passes for every match, with a terrible successful percentage of  73.4%. The average length of his passes is about 17 metres, while that of the past season was of 15 metres and the percentage of completed passes was equal to 71. The numbers show a little improvement, however insignificant for a player of his level. And we could not justify it only through SS Lazio’s game features like verticality or quick transitions.

In the graphic by WyScout mentioned above (the same here represented) Milinkovic-Savic’s passing ability covered only the 12%, and it’s hugely inferior to that of the other top midfielders of his league (Hamsik, Strootman and Khedira are always around the 20%). So, if it is sure that for his age the Serbian is more than a simply good midfielder. On the other side, we have to consider that his first prerogative would be that of working on this weaknesses if he wants to become one of the best in Europe. Otherwise, he can remain a potential crack in the Serie A.

Simone Torricini

Simone Torricini

Simone Torricini was born in Florence (1998), and is a student and football enthusiast. He takes a special interest in the fortunes of Italian and Serie A's youngsters
Simone Torricini

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