Sergej Milinkovic-Savic: The name is everywhere—etched in every paper, uttered in every nook and cranny of social media. He's the player every fanbase yearns for, every Serie A aficionado coos over, every top club seemingly wants.
Per Alex Porter of the Manchester Evening News, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Manchester City are in the hunt for his signature. Calciomercato.com report Juventus' interest is longstanding, while Liverpool attempted to snare him last summer, per TalkSport. That's a serious list of interested parties—one you might expect to be courting Neymar, not a 23-year-old Lazio midfielder.
The danger with these scenarios is they can snowball pretty quickly. The more people talk about Milinkovic-Savic, the more expensive the rumoured fees become. Every highlight-reel moment the Serbia international wows the Twitter world with, the more his legacy builds.
Lazio claim to have already rejected a €70 million bid for him, per the MEN, while Milinkovic-Savic's agent has done a stellar job of mentioning just about every top team in Europe in association with his client at one stage or another. Even his former agent has chimed in, suggesting the midfielder is "worth in the region of €150 million," per Tuttomercato (h/t TeamTalk).
If that's the case, Milinkovic-Savic will become the second-most expensive player in history this summer if he makes a switch. It moves the needle a fair bit when it comes to assessing him as a player; the things a €70 million player and a €150 million player will be expected to do are quite different.
Regardless of how much he costs, he will have one thing working in his favour: He's capable of producing the special moments one would expect from a massive signing. He leaves stadiums stupefied by his actions on a regular basis, fans of both sides left with no option but to stop and applaud.
His build and balance make him a rare footballer. At 6'3" and strong as an ox, he's unreasonably good in tight spaces considering how much of him there is. The control he boasts between those midfield lines is on a par with your typical, 5'8" Spanish playmaker, and yet Milinkovic-Savic doesn't have the low centre of gravity they rely on.
Operating from a left central-midfield role (No. 8) in Lazio's 3-5-2, manager Simone Inzaghi gives him the freedom to drift between the lines and dart into space up ahead. From these positions, he rifles in unstoppable strikes on goal, produces beautiful, curling passes into forward runners, and gets into the box to nod crosses home.
His two most recent games have produced three passages of play that perfectly epitomise why he's so dangerous in and around the area.
Against Sassuolo at the weekend, he netted a dipping effort from around 22 yards and beat two centre-backs to a headed goal; in midweek against AC Milan, he danced past Leonardo Bonucci as if he wasn't there—only to be denied a strike on goal by a desperate Alessio Romagnoli tackle.
The three moments form a neat cross-hatch of his abilities as an attacker. At times all power and thrust, devastating when given time and space; at other times, he is so neat and tricky in tight spots you would think you were watching Paul Pogba.
Inzaghi has built his team around Milinkovic-Savic's final-third abilities, constructing a midfield three that requires the other two to make great sacrifices.
Lucas Leiva does all the dirty work in front of the defence, and Marco Parolo does all the box-to-box running. This allows the Serb to drift, float, interpret. Lucas and Parolo are more than happy to pick up the slack.
What's difficult to ascertain, though, is whether the flaws identifiable in Milinkovic-Savic's game are simply a product of the ecosystem Inzaghi has created or whether they are things scouts should be concerned about.
There are times where the Lazio man can look passive, barely involved in the game as it passes him by. That changes when he is found by a team-mate and begins a trademark surge towards goal, but his intensity and aggression in capturing the ball can be pretty low. At times, it's a case of another team-mate resolving to bring Milinkovic-Savic into the game, rather than him doing so himself.
He isn't relied upon to build play from the back at Lazio—that responsibility falls to the three centre-backs, who fan out to cover the width of the pitch, and Lucas, who picks up the ball deep and tries to feed it forward. That means Milinkovic-Savic isn't dropping in, collecting and turning; he is floating beyond the midfield line, waiting.
Against well-organised teams, such as Milan (who Lazio have played three times in the space of a month and failed to beat once), this can lock him out of a game's involvement for chunks at a time.
Teams who would wish for Milinkovic-Savic to contribute defensively should mull these points over and do their best to figure out whether they can accommodate a No. 8 whose skill set is significantly weighted towards the attacking third. This is probably the factor that decides whether you view him as a €70 million or €150 million player.
For a club such as Real Madrid this wouldn't be an issue, but for Liverpool or Manchester United? It could signal the second instalment in the "record-breaking midfielder doesn't do his job" saga.
All statistics via WhoScored.com