Sergey Milinkovic-Savic has become a rather sought-after name in the modern-day. The Lazio man is being seen as a key part of Simone Inzaghi’s biancocelesti side, who have had Ciro Immobile and Luis Alberto do the more tangible bits around the goals. Amidst all the goalscoring, assisting and Lazio’s impressive march towards a potential Scudetto challenge, Milinkovic-Savic’s dominating role often goes unnoticed.
Unnoticed doesn’t mean that people don’t care about the Serbian. They certainly do and that is evident from the constant Juventus interest in him. But what many are unaware of is what Milinkovic-Savic does on the pitch and how he helps Luis Alberto and Immobile thrive in Inzaghi’s 3-5-2 shape. A lot of what he does can often go unseen even though he’s the complete midfield outlet that any top club will crave for.
He has come a long way since first arriving from Genk in 2015 as a skinny teenager. Over time, he has become a midfield dominator who takes part in many aspects of play and helps Lazio grab hold of games by the scruff of their necks.
Milinkovic-Savic first came to global spotlight in the 2017-18 season. The campaign came to a rather disappointing end for Inzaghi’s men, as they lost a Champions League play-off game against Inter in the end of the season. They finished fifth- only behind the nerazzurri on goal difference.
But it was Milinkovic-Savic’s season of prominence. He got 12 goals in the season, assisting thrice in Serie A. Till date, it is his best goal contribution tally. Lazio were playing in the 3-5-2 back then too and the then 22-year-old would play either as a box-to-box battler or as an advanced midfield option when Lucas Leiva and Marco Parolo would play deeper.
Those were times when Luis Alberto would often rotate with Felipe Anderson as a second-striker. They offered different options to Inzaghi and made Lazio a better team. This saw Felipe Anderson, Luis Alberto and Immobile score 52 goals among themselves in Inzaghi’s swift counter-attacking system.
Milinkovic-Savic’s ability to handle these swift transition moves was immense in making the system work. He won 3.2 aerial duels per 90 minutes, helping Inzaghi use him as a midfield target-man from deeper areas. This allowed them a direct route into attacking areas, as the Serbian completed 1.7 dribbles per 90 minutes. He would carry the ball into advanced areas, helping the likes of Immobile, Felipe Anderson and Luis Alberto thrive.
As per Wyscout, he played the fifth-highest number of through-balls in Serie A that season. He also completed 1.9 deep completions per 90 minutes. These two abilities made him a technically sound player, while his immense physicality added an extra element into the team’s needs.
Despite massive speculation linking him with moves to Manchester United, Juve and Real Madrid, Milinkovic-Savic came back to Lazio in the summer of 2018 amidst all the pressure. The World Cup had been a disappointing one, as Serbia got knocked out in the group stages. There was a lot of attention on the midfielder and he wasn’t at his best.
And this carried on in the 2018-19 season. He played a bit deeper than he did in the 2017-18 season. Lazio had lost Felipe Anderson to West Ham and Luis Alberto was being used deeper once again. Joaquin Correa’s move from Sevilla saw him replace Felipe Anderson and become a regular.
It isn’t tough to draw co-relations between all of it, as Lazio did win the Coppa Italia but finished a disappointing eighth. Sergey did come up with a vital goal in the Coppa Italia final against Atalanta, but a lot had changed in the team. Felipe Anderson’s prolific presence had gone, leading to a transition.
Immobile’s goalscoring numbers nearly halved. Luis Alberto playing deeper changed the dynamics of the team, as he scored only four goals. Because of that, the former Genk man contributed to only eight goals, playing a bigger role in managing transitions.
He played 2.02 through-balls per 90 minutes and won more aerial duels per 90 than the previous season. His goal contribution output reducing was also down to World Cup hangover. More than anything, the team wasn’t playing well and this season is a big proof of how Milinkovic-Savic will be very good when the team around him is efficient.
Correa has settled into his role beside Immobile. Luis Alberto has been excelling while playing as the deep-lying playmaker. Lucas Leiva is having another impressive season, as he wins the ball back and plays simple passes forward. In a settled unit, Milinkovic-Savic has been going about dominating games.
He has played the third-most number of through-balls per 90 minutes. Playing in a settled side has seen him be more effective in the final third, as he has played 2.3 smart passes per 90 minutes (per Wyscout). Luis Alberto is on top in that regard and a combination of these two being effective technically has been vital for Immobile.
He has a lot of freedom to do his best this season. He has won the highest number of aerial duels in the league- 171, playing the usual role of the midfield target-man for the impressive Felipe Luiz and Francesco Acerbi.
The 2017-18 season didn’t have him come up with match-winning performances against bigger clubs. But this season has defined Sergey as someone who can win the big scraps with his complete abilities. He scored against Juve and Inter, doing very well in the Derby della Capitale earlier in the season.
In many ways, there is a pattern to how Milinkovic-Savic’s performances for club and country have been. When players around him are at a high level and performing at their best, he finds it easier to exert his authority. When the overall quality is low, it can be a lot like what happened with Serbia in the World Cup.
Having said that, last season was proof that even when he doesn’t score as much, he does a lot in the other departs. He uses his body to exceptional effect and it doesn’t matter how the team around him is doing.
All in all though, Milinkovic-Savic presents this utopian idea of a perfect midfield dominator. It is rare to find a player like him- someone who knows both sides of the game perfectly well. He is a brute and a technician in equal regard and in times of need, can use any of those qualities. He has the fire in him which makes him a dangerous competitor on and off the ball.
No one knows where he will go next, but Lazio have a unique player on their hands. Belgium might be a rather undervalued place for spotting talents, but there is every chance the biancocelesti never find a Sergey Milinkovic-Savic in the near future. The club he goes to next will be glad about what they get in a potential deal.