At 6ft 4in with great strength, 25-year-old Sergej Milinković-Savić has a making of a great central midfielder. After just a year with Genk in Belgium, Lazio signed him for £16m in 2015. He adapted quickly to his new surroundings and is a key to Lazio’s success with 7 man of the match awards this season.
At the heart of the Lazio midfield, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is all things: he is a ball-winner and a creator, a physical powerhouse, and a refined goal-scorer.
In this tactical analysis, in the form of a scout report of Milinković-Savić, we’ll analyse his positional role, areas of influence, and the technical qualities that he brings to this in-form Lazio team.
Within Lazio’s attacking system, there is a strong emphasis on building up quick attacks that would take them in the final third and it starts with their midfield. Milinković-Savić would either drop in his own half to disband the press and to make the transition easier or he would act as a target man.
He often tries to find the best way to receive the ball by dropping into the space behind the opposing pressing lines. In the image below, we see that he drops in his own half and receives the ball from one of the centre-backs and now he has the option to progress the attack by moving the ball into other areas of open space on the field.
One of the most impressive aspects of his vast skill-set is the press resistance and his vision and technique to locate an open colleague, before even receiving the pass, as he has an understanding of what his options are behind him and how he can advance the ball past his markers.
The image below depicts one scenario where the Serbian international receives the ball in this own half and he has an understanding of how he can pick out a team-mate in the open space, not only to protect the possession but also to drive his side forward.
In the 2019/20 Serie A season, Lazio have adopted a fluid 3-5-2 formation and often shift to 2-3-5 during the attacking phase. Milinković-Savić has a strong influence on the right-hand side of the pitch, mainly in the attacking half. He takes up the dangerous positions between the centre and the wing so that he has the advantage of having more space and at the same time allows the full-back to use the width, from the half-spaces he also has the option to deliver the ball into the box for his centre-forwards. He also acts as a facilitator as one part of his job at Lazio is to find spaces for his teammates to operate.
The central midfielder’s role in modern football has significantly evolved with the advent of three-man central midfield, occupying the half-space that has naturally become part of the tactics.
The picture below is a great example of his role within the attacking system of Lazio, here the opposing left-back decides to mark the Lazio wing-back and that has opened up space for Milinković-Savić to make the run.
In this other example, Milinković-Savić pulls out two opposing defenders and sets himself up in the right half-space, this allows the Lazio centre-back to quickly switch the play for the right wing-back. His ability to make these off the ball movements in the right half-space has helped Lazio to create many goal-scoring chances throughout the season.
Milinković-Savić takes up dangerous positions between the opposition’s midfield and defensive lines. The majority of Lazio’s attacks run through Milinković-Savić where he makes around 46 passes per game this shows that Pellegrini demands the ball and is confident in his passing ability. The Serbian International backs up this confidence with an impressive 88.2% simple pass and 87% long pass accuracy. Milinković-Savić is a gifted and regular creator of chances for colleagues, producing 1.3 key passes per 90. In addition to this, his cumulative expected assists (xA) for the 2019/20 season is 3.50.
Key to Milinković-Savić’s creativity is his quick-thinking and tendency for playing with his head up, and the ability to deliver near-perfect passes when he is pressured. In the image below, we see Milinković-Savić is put under pressure by two Inter Milan players, he passes the ball to Luis Alberto and then quickly makes the run in the right half-space to receive Alberto’s return pass.
With his ability to shield the ball, his individual skill to roll away from the pressure and his vision and technique to locate an open colleague, his ability to produce key passes in the counter-attack is one of the most impressive aspects of his vast skill-set. In the image below, we see that Juventus defensive life is out of shape and Milinković-Savić is again put under pressure by two Juventus players, he quickly plays a pass to his centre-forward.
In addition to this Milinković-Savić plays a key role in the Lazio counter-attacks, he often positions himself in good spaces to receive the ball before delivering leading passes which help to create some good goal scoring opportunities.
In the following two images, we see the space he has on the ball and the defensive organisation of the opposition team that Milinković-Savić is looking to deliver an early ball in behind and launch a counter-attack for Lazio.
Aerial presence and the curved runs
A shade under 6ft 4in, Milinković-Savić is the perfect prototype of midfielders that are able to contest and win the ball in the air. For the 2019/20 Serie A season, he is averaging 3.9 aerial duels per 90 minutes played.
To dissect Milinković-Savić’s aerial duels wins further, the below image links his general positioning to the location of his aerial duels in the season so far. It can be seen that inside the box is a largely impactful area where he wins 51.6% of his aerial duels.
In the Lazio system, he has often been used as the target man to counter the high press of the opposition team, and when he acts as a target man for either his centre-backs or the goalkeeper, he positions himself in the middle of the park to receive the long ball by using his physicality and height.
In the image below, we can see that Milinković-Savić is being used as the target man, he receives the long ball from his goalkeeper, he uses his physicality to win the aerial duel against the opposition defender.
In addition to this, the Lazio Midfielder is not just the static target man, he often makes early runs across the line or he makes the late surges inside the box to meet the crosses, he specializes in making the curved runs. In the image below, we see that Milinković-Savić making the curved run inside the box to receive the long angled ball from his teammate. In this case, he used one touch to trap the ball and the second touch to shoot the ball, and it all started with his curved run.
Milinković-Savić’s physicality is perfect for the role of a central midfielder with a strong defensive presence. As Lazio defends in 5-3-2/5-3-1-1, he drops deep to create a midfield diamond.
He also shows a great understanding of pass patterns and play recognition. In the image below, we see his defensive skill as he makes a blindside tackle to break to the opposition’s attack.
Despite all of his defensive potential, Milinković-Savić also displays the propensity of getting carried away and fouling too often and unnecessarily. Per 90 minutes, he is averaging a total of 2 fouls and has received 6 yellow cards in the 2019/20 Serie A season. This is one area where he needs to improve and learn to be more disciplined to avoid unnecessary mistakes and fouls.
The picture below shows an example of Milinković-Savić making a foul against Alexis Sanchez after getting dribbled past by him.
His body type makes him a perfect man in defending against the opponent’s set-pieces inside his own penalty box. The image below shows his skill in defending against the set pieces as he tries to head the ball out of the danger zone.
The Serbian international is flourishing under Simone Inzaghi’s tactics this season and is extremely good at picking up pockets of space in dangerous areas, although he is largely underperforming the expected goals metric. Defensively he also needs to learn how to cut down some of the unnecessary fouls he commits.
However, this analysis details the technical and tactical qualities Milinković-Savić possesses that are helping Lazio to challenge for the Serie A title.