PLAYER ANALYSIS: Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Selling at the Right Time

Out of the many players I’ve covered, not a single player has come from Serie A, and there is one simple reason why. The Italian top flight just isn’t as interesting as the other leagues. While it mostly has to do with Juventus winning the league in the worst fashion, it also has to do with the general style. The Premier League and Bundesliga have been so interesting to look at with innovative managers and young players shining in teams that are fun to watch. Italy just didn’t have that this season. While Napoli and Atalanta do break the mould, with the pair being entertaining to watch, you still see Juventus, Inter and AC Milan all being very dull. Maybe the departure of Allegri and arrival of Conte to Inter Milan might change that, but at the moment it is at the bottom in leagues to watch.

It is, however, the league that seems to contain the clubs who refuse to cash in on overperforming players. What I mean by this is every once in a while, a player will have a truly stand out season, and when the bigger clubs come knocking, they refuse to sell in the expectation that the player in question will improve and be seen as a more valuable prospect in the future. Andrea Belotti serves as the perfect example. After his exceptional 2016/17 season, which saw him score 26 goals, with only Dzeko and Mertens scoring more. Before they signed Romelu Lukaku, United were ready to offer over £80 million for the Italian. It was foolish for them to offer that much for a player who scored over 20 goals for the first time in his career, but it was even worse to see Torino reject it. They instantly came to regret it. Belotti suffered injuries last season and generally looked worse. While he did improve this season, he wasn’t nearly as good as he was in that breakout season. Valencia made the same mistake in not selling Rodrigo when Madrid were offering a crazy amount for the Spaniard, and Palace might make the same mistake regarding Zaha.

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The player we will be analysing today was also related to the ignorant stances clubs can take. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic had a fantastic 17/18 season, which saw him score 12 and assist 3. He was one of the highlights of a strong Lazio side, and it didn’t take long until Manchester United came knocking. They were offering nearly £80 million to sign the Serbian midfielder, and Lazio refused. It now seems that Milinkovic-Savic is on his way to Juventus, for £30 million less than United were offering. It’s another example of a club ignoring a better deal but does this drop in price show a player who has stagnated?

Milinkovic-Savic began his career in his homeland, playing for one of the biggest clubs in the country, Vojvodina. He shined in the youth team and ended up playing 13 games for the side, before moving on to Genk. In his only season for the Belgian club, he showed himself to be a midfielder with an eye for a goal, scoring 5 in 24 games. Lazio then decided to sign the Serbian, where he has remained and flourished. While he seemed to be a bit part player in his first campaign, he has shown himself to be an important player for the side, starting over 30 games for 3 straight seasons. He has the game time to back up the exciting numbers he has been putting up.

With Milinkovic-Savic starting as a central midfielder and slowly being pushed to a dominant attacking midfielder, his numbers have increased in some areas and dropped in others. His defensive numbers have slowly been declining since his arrival from Genk, going from 3.2 tackles and interceptions in the 2016/17 season to 2.1 last season. Inzaghi has used him in a more attacking role and has gotten the best out of the Serb. He is a physical presence in midfield and has the speed and energy to easily move up and down the pitch. Milinkovic-Savic specialises in making runs late into the box but is also comfortable in dropping deeper to receive the ball from his defenders. He has a good range of passing, which has allowed him to pick out the runs that their wing backs would usually make. While there is some flexibility in how Sergej can be deployed, the only area he truly stands out in is in the penalty area. While a return of 5 goals isn’t a fantastic one, he constantly makes late runs into the box. using his superior aerial presence to win the ball for his side. He wins 3.6 aerial duels per game, the most for his side. He gives Lazio another dimension in attack. While Alberto is a fantastic creator and Correa a good dribbler, Savic gives them another threat in attack. giving them a sense of unpredictability. His shot locations are okay. He is taking 1 shot per game, but most of his shots are coming from outside of the box. He is an average distance shooter, but he should stop shooting recklessly. He has a good range of passing that enables him to spread the ball across the pitch. While I did compliment Demirbay recently for his shots coming from outside of the box, that is because he is good at it. Milinkovic-Savic is also a very good dribbler. While his 1.1 successful dribbles per game could be higher, he does use his size to his advantage. It makes him difficult to dispossess.

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While Juventus remaining interested could be good for the player, I would recommend the Champions stay clear. The Old Lady are in dire need of an elite midfielder. With Khedira and Matuidi looking worse as the seasons pass by, they do need a player who is able to cover the same ground, while also being able to contribute on the attacking end. Juventus were outrun in midfield against Ajax in both legs, and couldn’t deal with the brilliance of Frenkie De Jong. While Milinkovic-Savic does offer a better option in that area, I do think they should look for someone else. Brozovic, Kovacic, Rabiot and Partey would make a lot more sense. Milinkovic-Savic excels in an area where Juventus do not need cover. They already have Ronaldo and Mandzukic as their aerial threats. The Serbian doesn’t stand out defensively and while his range of passing is impressive, they already have Pjanic as a player with excellent passing. Savic has been relied on heavily after the departure of Anderson and when Alberto has missed games. He doesn’t stand out in a way that would make big clubs take note. He isn’t what Juventus need at the moment.

I think there will still be suitors for the Serbian international. His goal drop might look like a problem, but xG shows he was lucky to even reach 12 goals in his breakout season. It looked more likely he would get around 6 goals instead.  There is a lot of Savic’s game that I like, but isn’t at the same level as someone like Paul Pogba or Bernardo Silva. In a couple of years, Lazio might regret not selling Milinkovic-Savic when they had the chance.

Worst Players at The 2018 World Cup XI – Kroos, De Gea, Mascherano

With the tournament reaching its final stages, let’s look at the players who have disappointed the most. I will not be selecting players from teams that were expected to not perform. These are players who play for nations full of talent, but failed to show their own.

David De Gea

I really wanted to put Manuel Neuer here, for looking so unfocused and was clearly not ready. But I am giving him plenty of sympathy, because he should have never been playing. David De Gea however had one of the best seasons a goalkeeper has ever had. He was the main reason why United had a good defense. However at this world cup he just didn’t look like himself. He only managed to make one whole save in this entire tournament. His tournament can be summed up by that mistake against Portugal, a mistake he would usually never make.

Yannick Carrasco

I can’t blame him too much for being here. He is an attacking left winger, playing as a wing back. It might be a bit harsh, but he still was not great at all. His weakness as a player playing out of position was highlighted throughout the tournament. His positional awareness was very poor, resulting with him being one of their worst performance in their comeback against Japan. He was then dropped for the Brazil game, just showing how he didn’t impress.

Federico Fazio

It might definitely be harsh putting a player who only played one half of football all tournament, but out of all of the terrible defenders who played for Argentina, he was by far the worst. He didn’t make a single defensive contribution against France, a team who scored 4 past them. A player who was just shown up by much better players.

Jerome Boateng

Germany were very poor in this tournament, and their lack of organisation was one of their downfalls. While his partner, Matts Hummels, was actually pretty good, considering how bad the defense was. Boateng was very poor. While his defensive work looks very good (racking up 4.5 tackles and interceptions per 90), it’s important to remember how small of a pool it is to judge. He only played two games. But out of the stats seen, he made 2.5 fouls per 90, which was his downfall. He seems to not have that steady head he usually has and was so much more reckless. It was a very out of character tournament for him.

Javier Mascherano

Why is Javier Mascherano still playing at a world cup? The man is way past it and should have never been selected in the first place. Why wasn’t Lo Celso starting instead, or why wasn’t Parades even taken? It just makes zero sense why Mascherano was even taken. His age is definitely showing, especially in that Croatia game. Modric and Rakitic ran circles around him and it just highlighted his vulnerabilies. He also completed a very high 86 passes per game, however only 0.7 key passes, showing how ineffective he was creativity. He is a player who didn’t perform when he was never expected to.

Toni Kroos

While it might be controversial, I think Kroos was Germany’s worst performer in the world cup. Low consisted with his 4-2-3-1. The problem with that Kroos only works in a 3 man midfield. Just looking at him at Real Madrid, Casemiro does most of his defensive work, and Modric and can do everything else. It gives Kroos the opportunity to go forward and assist the team, but in a 2 with Sami Khedira (we’ll get to him), it doesn’t give him this licence. The problem however, was this team had zero organisation. He never played as a defensive midfielder throughout the tournament, and continued to play like an 8. It was so frustrating and I have to have some sympathy for his teammates. A poor showing from a player I expect so much more game management from.

Sami Khedira

By far the worst performer. The Juventus midfielder looked a shadow of himself against Mexico. He was completely outran by Herrera, Lozano and Guadrado, and had zero control over the game. A pairing of Kroos and Khedira would have worked 4 years ago, but Kroos needs more men around him, and Khedira is just completely past it. He doesn’t offer anything creativity or defensively, so it is a real question why he was playing. Just another example of Low showing too much loyality.

Maximiliano Meza

Why was he even taken? Again I have to question Sampoali’s squad here. Why was a player who is average at best, going over Angel Correa, Mauro Icardi or Parades. It’s a mystery to me why he was not only going, but he was actually playing. Meza was playing over Dybala. Sampoali even said he was never going to start Dybala, so why even take him. Dybala is one of the best forwards on the planet. Why play an average player over him is beyond me. Meza was also very poor himself. He failed to impress in any of the games he played, especially against France.

Bernardo Silva

A player who is actually like, Silva did struggle for starts last season for City, but looked like he could help this Portugal side earn more glory after their 2016 Euro triumph. However it just wasn’t the tournament for him. In an attack where Ronaldo seemed to be the only one who brought his A game, Silva was one who was very underwhelming. He failed to score or assist in his 3 games, which led to him being dropped for the round of 16 game. He was very ineffective in the final third, failing to really give that bit of quality that the forwards needed. A poor showing from a player who is far from that.

Marcus Berg

Marcus Berg took the most shots without scoring. If that doesn’t give him a reason to be here I don’t know what will. Berg was part of a Sweden team that really failed in the attacking third. They won their first game through a penalty, and only beat Switzerland thanks to a lucky deflection. Luck is the best word to describe Sweden in this tournament. Berg was very poor in front of goal. One chance sticks in my head, being an easy finish for him against Korea, but he instead hit it right at the keeper, or his volley from less than 6 yards out. Filling Zlatan’s shoes is tough, but Berg failed spectacularly in his attempt.

Timo Werner

I love Werner, and seeing have a poor world cup is difficult. His poor performances weren’t all his fault. The team seemed to be playing as if he was Klose or Gomez, instead of giving through balls to take advantage of his incredible speed. Werner, however, was still poor. He failed to contribute to a single goal. He also was quite poor in an attacking sense, losing the ball 2.3 times per game. Which is much higher than his usual 0.7. Werner his a player with very high potential, so let’s hope this tournament isn’t a stumbling block for him.

How Germany Should Line Up at The 2018 World Cup

The reigning champions go into the tournament as one of the favourite, having experience, yet also containing plenty of young players. Let’s go through the team I believe they will start.

GK: Marc Andre Ter-Stegen

This all depends on whether Neuer is fully fit to travel. Neuer would usually automatically start, since he has been the number one for the past 8 years, but if he isn’t available, then Marc Andre Ter-Stegen will be the first choice. Ter-Stegen has easily been the second best keeper on the planet this year. He is averaging 6 saves per goal, which is absolutely insane. Ter-Stegen for years has been that player who has always looked like he will become a top keeper. He has finally reached that top bracket and it couldn’t have happened at a better time.

RB: Joshua Kimmich

While the left back slot is much more difficult to decide, right back picks itself. Kimmich is not only the best right for Germany, but one of the best in Europe. This season he has been one of Bayern’s best players, in a team full of quality footballers, it’s been a young German player who has excelled. This season he’s earned 12 assists for his team, with 3 of those in the group stages of the champions league. He’s averaging 2.2 key passes per game. That’s a midfielders numbers. In fact James Rodriguez, who has been brilliant this season, is averaging 2.5 per game. Kimmich has been outstanding and can’t be questioned when starting in this eleven.

CB: Matts Hummels

A centre back who has continued to flourish even though he is beginning to age, Matts Hummels is a guaranteed starter. He has been one of the most consistent centre halves for Germany and for Bayern Munich for a couple of years now. Hummels is a very talented defender, who is not only able to defend like a top defender, but is also able to distribute the ball like all the defenders who are so sought after. Hummels is a player who is a guaranteed starter in this side, alongside his partner

CB: Jerome Boateng

Boateng is a player who is full of talent, but over the past couple of years has struggled with injury. During Bayern’s last title win, Boateng suffered a terrible injury and has finally recovered from it. Bayern Munich currently have three top centre backs in Hummels and Sule. Boateng has had less pressure to return from injury and has able to return at a steady pace. He is now becoming ready for the world cup, and to prove why he is one of the best defenders around.

LB: Jonas Hector

If we are basing this truly on form, then Philipp Max would be starting automatically, but since Joachim Low has a system and certain players he keeps faith in, he will stick with Jonas Hector. The Koln captain has been a mainstay in the national team setup for a couple of years now, and has performed constitently ever since. The issue with choosing Hector right now is the fact he isn’t even playing at left back. He has been playing throughout the midfield for Koln this season. He is still averaging very good numbers however, getting 2.6 tackles and 1.8 interceptions per game. It is a slight issue, because players like Plattenhardt and Max have been very good this season, playing at left back. Hector however has been a consistent in this side, and will continue to be.

DM: Sami Khedira

Another player for Germany who has been an ever present, Khedira will continue this trend by being the first choice for the holders. While he is beginning to decline, he is still a brilliant footballer. The Juventus midfielder is a bit of a jack of all trades. He can be a very good goal threat, from his 9 goals scored in 26 games for the old lady. He has a very strong pass accuracy with 87%, and he has the experience and know how in a tournament where wisdom can be a very good asset. Low will stick with Khedira, but an honourable mention should go to Leon Goretzka. The Schalke midfielder has been absolutely superb. If we are judging this on this season alone, Goretzka should start. But since Low has a system and wants to stick to it, Khedira will be in the starting XI.

DM: Toni Kroos

One of the best midfielders on the planet. Kroos is the definition of elegance on the ball. He has a frankly ridiculous pass accuracy of 93%. He also averages 1.8 tackles per 90 and a very healthy 2.3 key passes, one more than David Silva. What makes Kroos so brilliant to me is his ability in transitioning play. Any team in the world needs Toni Kroos. He is able to pick a pass, whether short or long, to his teammates. Even though Madrid have had a poor season, Kroos’s numbers have been superb. A player on his level has to start, no debate.

RM: Thomas Muller

While he might be slightly out of position, Thomas Muller has to start. Not only because of his brilliant qualities as a footballer, with his 32 goal contributions this season for the champions. But it’s more than that. Muller has been the center piece of this German dominance for this decade. He could well and truly break Klose’s record, with the form he is on in world cups. Muller is a real leader for the current crop of talented players, and it will help his team when seeing him on that right side.

AM: Mesut Ozil

A player that gets way too much stick for the odd bad performance. Ozil is one of the best creators on the planet. He is averaging a frankly ridiculous 3.6 chances created per 90. That is around as many as the world class Kevin De Bruyne. Germany seem to get the best out of Ozil. He is always allowed to be given the time and space on the pitch to pick out the players in those good pockets of space. He is a genuinely world class player who also gets right into this team.

LM: Leroy Sane

Sane justifiably won the young player of the year, when he even deserved a shout for player of the season. The ex Schalke winger has been absolutely incredible. The way he plays reminds me of a young Ronaldo. The speed in which he carries the ball and strength and power he possesses is simply so unique for a winger in the modern era. Sane was always going to live up to this potential. Last season he showed at moments how good he could be, but overall was very inconsistent. But Pep must have spoken to him before the season, because he has been an absolute monster. He is one of very few players to get over 10 goals and 10 assists this season. What I love about Sane the most is his flexibility in attack. He is able to cut inside and take a shot, or seek out a short pass, or even go very wide to stretch the defense and give players like Silva and Aguero space to run into. He has transformed into a potentially world class player. He might have not shown this quality in a Germany shirt yet, but this might be the tournament he shows the world what he is made of.

ST: Timo Werner

There is only one option here. With the national team struggling with strikers since Gomez began to show his age, Werner arrived at a perfect time to give the Germans a centre forward for the next 10 years. For Leipzig this season, he has scored 22 and assisted 9. What has changed the most for the young German is his shot numbers. Last season everything he hit was going in, now this season he is averaging 3 shots per game, which is a 0.6 increase. His numbers overall have dropped from last season. This could be because of Leipzig themselves dropping off this season compared to last. With the extra competitions Leipzig were playing wouldn’t have helped either. It does take some players time to adjust to playing more than one game a week, and this could be his transition into an elite forward. His energy and brilliant finishing will come in handy for Germany team looking to retain the World Cup