After a dominating 2021 – 22 Serie A campaign, Lazio’s wondrous midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is proving to be a world-class midfielder again this season

This is Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s eighth season with the Lazio shirt after the club signed him from Genk back in 2015. Every Summer – and every January – there are rumors about his imminent move to a different team, and during the last transfer window, the strongest linked clubs seemed to be Manchester United and Juventus. But once again, the Serbian player born in Catalonia - hence the double surname - from a basketball (mother) and a football (father) player is making Maurizio Sarri team’s fortunes.

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After ten games, he had already scored three goals and provided seven assists, two of which were with backheel kicks. Now more than ever, he’s taking his passing quality to a whole new best-assist-man-in-the-world level. People often talk about his ability to win aerial duels, control difficult passes with the chest in the midfield, or assist Ciro Immobile’s runs with header passes (the Italian striker owes Milinkovic-Savic 100% of his non-penalty goals this season). The play with Immobile is a play that they try quite often, at times directly generating from a pass by goalkeeper Provedel, and that led to Immobile hitting the crossbar in the 53rd minute of the game against Fiorentina.

Apart from his physical and aerial abilities, praises are high for his skills in tight spaces - particularly ball controls and dribbles - that he performs with his astonishingly sensitive sole. It is true that Milinkovic-Savic has natural quality and elegance that makes him look lighter than his body size suggests, having the robustness of a rock wall when the opponents run into him, being also able to disappear in a blink when they vainly try to take the ball from him.

It's about his passing game and vision that people mention less, perhaps because he plays slightly deeper under Sarri than he used to do under Simone Inzaghi, and his job is often to consolidate the team’s game, protecting possession and giving plays fluidity. But when he is in the opposing third, he shows the skills of an elite ‘trequartista’.

We picked three assists to show the level that Sergej Milinkovic-Savic has reached in his passing game.

Sampdoria-Lazio, Gameday 4

The backheel assist that created Immobile’s goal against Sampdoria is probably Milinkovic-Savic’s most genius craft so far. Once again this highlighted his ability to ‘read’ the context of the play. The ball that he receives diagonally from the defense would’ve probably been more difficult to control on the spot rather than with a first-touch as he did, taking advantage of the power of the pass to slightly touch it with the external part of his right foot – his strong one – and sending Immobile towards the goal.

Milinkovic-Savic plays with his ability to attract opposing defenders – in this case, Colley – then playing the ball behind them. The synergy with Immobile couldn’t be better: the Italian striker changes his body posture and starts running even before Milinkovic-Savic has touched the ball. He’s the first one to understand what his teammate is going to do, and this gives him the upper hand on Sampdoria’s defense, which wouldn’t be able to stop him.

Lazio-Fiorentina, Gameday 9

In this case, Milinkovic-Savic is the one showing great knowledge of his teammates, attacking the space at the very same moment when Immobile passes the ball back to Luis Alberto. These situations are almost surely prepared during training and Milinkovic knows that his cut in the space left by Immobile can be a lucky one. His movement and Luis Alberto’s pass recall the goal he scored in December 2019 against Juventus, with a superb long pass by the Spaniard and mesmerizing control by the Serbian.

Once he gets into the penalty box, Milinkovic-Savic controls the ball, with the back to the goal. Maybe he expected the goalkeeper to leave the line, maybe he already noted Immobile that, after passing the ball to Luis Alberto, ran to attack the space that Milinkovic left free. Whatever the case, Milinkovic-Savic turns his head to control the position of his teammates and the incoming defender – his national team teammate, Milenkovic.

Milenkovic only cares about preventing a possible shot and therefore he covers the space between Milinkovic-Savic and the goal. Biraghi – just behind him – covers the weak side (even if Cancellieri, that theoretically could’ve attacked him, for some reason just stands by) without noticing the incoming cut from Immobile.

Milinkovic-Savic synchronizes with his teammate’s run and serves Immobile with a quick and precise backheel pass, that the striker shoots powerfully under the crossbar. It’s the 4-0 goal in a game that wasn’t that easy for Lazio, yet certifying Maurizio Sarri's team’s offensive qualities. It’s also their third consecutive 4-0 in Serie A, a feature that no Italian side had ever accomplished before.

Lazio-Cremonese, Gameday 7

The through ball for Immobile in the game against Cremonese, a freshly-promoted team in Serie A, may seem like a simple feat – maybe even ordinary for a world-class midfielder. But watching closely, one can notice not only the precision and quality of Milinkovic-Savic’s pass but also the awareness with which he manipulates the opposing defenses.

When Immobile is about to pass him the ball, Milinkovic-Savic is still complaining and gesticulating with the referee for an alleged foul on Pedro. Two touches after receiving the ball, though, he manages to put Immobile in front of the goal.

To disrupt Cremonese's five-man line, Milinkovic-Savic only needs a small gesture: he pretends to prepare for shooting the ball. By doing this, one defender leaves the line to contrast him, leaving one of his teammates – Caldirola – with Immobile’s threat behind his back but also a free space in front to cover.

Immobile’s almost imperceptible movement is equally crucial, as he distances himself from the defender just enough to let Milinkovic-Savic’s ball reach him.

Milinkovic-Savic’s pass is once again of those passes that stop themselves. Immobile can easily control it and shoot, while Cremonese's defense is still wondering how they managed to get beaten so easily.

Milinkovic-Savic’s thinking and executing speed – other than the vision that allows him to imagine the teammate’s strike before even passing the ball, actually facilitating said shot by perfectly calibrating the strength and timing for his pass – are making the difference for Maurizio Sarri’s Lazio. In Sarri’s technical and rational football, Milinkovic-Savic is the pivot that carries the ball vertically, that creates space even where there’s none, and speeds up the conclusion of the play when the opposing defenses don’t’ expect him to.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is a unique talent that Serie A is enjoying in his prime, capable of making a difference in multiple ways and areas of the pitch, quite simply one of the best and most complete midfielders across Europe’s top five leagues. It’s no surprise that all the best clubs in the world want him. But Lazio – for now – is resisting every temptation.

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