Analysis of Liverpool and Man United target Sergej Milinkovic-Savic in defeat to Juventus

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Paulo Dybala stole the headlines with a fantastic last-gasp winner as Juventus claimed a narrow 1-0 win away to Lazio on Saturday to keep pace with Napoli at the top of the table.

Chances were few and far between for both sides in what was a cagey encounter with Sergej Milinkovic-Savic‘s header in the first half the pick of the home side’s opportunities.

Here, we analyse the Serbian midfielder’s performance.

STATISTICS 

Goals – 0

Assists – 0

Shots – 1

Shots on target – 1

Touches – 61

Passes – 35

Aerials won – 4

Key passes – 1

Dribbles – 3

Dispossessed – 2

30-SECOND REPORT

Starting on the left side of a central midfield three in a 3-5-1-1 formation, Milinkovic-Savic was afforded the freedom to venture forward owing to Lucas Leiva’s disciplined sweeping up in behind as the anchorman.

Marco Parolo operated on the other side of the defensive midfielder but was more inclined to help the Brazilian and maintain possession than stride forward.

Milinkovic-Savic was excellent on the ball – his touch, knocks into space and short-passing was second to none. He was always willing to carry the ball forward as well, finishing the game with three dribbles – second only to Dybala. His runs forward meant he was always heavily involved in Lazio’s attacks.

What immediately came to the fore was his imposing physical presence which made him a real threat from set-pieces and corners. In fact, every time the ball went wide, Milinkovic-Savic made the run into the box to join Immobile in anticipation of a good delivery.

His excellent close control and shielding of the ball made him Lazio’s most influential midfielder and best player on the day.

Sergej Milinkovic Savic (l)

Sergej Milinkovic Savic (l)

GOT RIGHT

Control – Excellent in possession. Always ready to receive the ball in tight areas, fully trusting his near-perfect touch. His close control and quick turns made it difficult to get the ball off him.

Aerial Threat – With a towering frame like his, it’s no surprise he poses a threat in the air. His header that Buffon saved in the first half was arguably Lazio’s best chance of the game.

GOT WRONG

Final ball – Despite his best efforts, his final ball let him, making just one key pass over the course of the game which is a shame considering how he consistently did well to get into the final third.

Tackling – While he does make for a colossal figure in the middle of the park, tackling isn’t his something he is overly concerned with. Against Juventus, he failed to register a single tackle.

KEY MOMENTS

20th min HEADER: Plenty of bodies inside the box but it’s Milinkovic-Savic who rises highest from a corner whipped in by Luis Alberto. However, his header from the centre of the box is saved by Buffon.

32nd min TOUCH: One of his finest assets was on display here. Plucks the ball out of the air with a feather-like touch and lays it off to a team-mate. It’s fizzed back into him and he adjusts his body quickly, with two striped shirts around him, to find Alberto with a clever flick-on.

39th min TACKLE: With Dybala in a great position just outside the box, Milinkovic-Savic slides in with a tackle to keep him from gaining possession in a dangerous area. It is a crucial intervention as the Argentine was winding up a shot with his lethal left foot.

41st min FOULED: The Serbian midfielder shows his ability to protect the ball as he shields it from Andrea Barzagli’s challenge and draws a foul in a dangerous area.

82nd min PASS: Milinkovic-Savic does well to skip past a couple of players on the inside but his ball over the top into the penalty area is over-hit and it drifts harmlessly out of play.

86th minute CROSS: The Lazio midfielder receives possession and shapes to deliver a cross into the box. His attempt is floated in but a little too high as it sails over the head of Felipe Caicedo.

Sergej Milinkovic Savic (l)

Sergej Milinkovic Savic (l)

VERDICT

Sky Italia have claimed Milinkovic-Savic is worth €200 million. While he may not command such a fee at this moment in time, he certainly has the makings of a player who, someday, might.

Against the best the Serie A have to offer, the 23-year-old stood out and bossed the middle of the park. His final ball may have deserted him on occasion but there’s no doubting his talent and quality. He’s only going to get better as well.

RATING: 7/10

All statistics are compiled using whoscored.com

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Crucial clashes in Serie A title race as Napoli host Roma and Juventus travel to Lazio

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In any other season, and perhaps in any other league, Napoli would be cantering to a first Serie A title since the days of Maradona some 30 years ago.

Unfortunately for the Neapolitans, despite having won 22 of their 26 league games, they have yet to shake perennial winners Juventus off their tails.

Juve have not dropped points since December 9. As for Napoli? Not since December 10. But if a weekend could throw the proverbial cat among the pigeons, this is it.

The Old Lady – four points behind Napoli with a game in hand – travel to third-placed Lazio while the league leaders entertain a Roma side also knocking on the door of the Champions League places.

WHY JUVENTUS WILL WIN

Not only have Juve managed to claim maximum points since December, they in fact haven’t lost in all competitions since November when they were soundly beaten by Sampdoria.

No team has even breached their defence this calendar year apart from Tottenham in the Champions League – which is rather handy considering no one has scored more goals than Lazio in Serie A this season (64).

Giorgio Chiellini and Mehdi Benatia are enough to give any opposing attackers second thoughts while Gonzalo Higuain has finally hit his straps, taking six goals away from February.

The simplest reason of all? Been there, done that. Juventus have title-winning experience right through their spine having won the last six on the trot. A big game is just normal business for them.

WHY JUVENTUS WILL LOSE

They are still fighting on three fronts, having emerged from an energy-sapping Coppa Italia semi-final with Atalanta on Wednesday – and there is of course a certain Wembley date to come.

Lazio’s energy reserves also took a hit, going the distance in their extra-time penalties defeat to AC Milan in the same competition.

Juve, however, cannot afford to pool their resources into this game entirely as they must mount a rescue mission in the Champions League against Tottenham on Wednesday.

Their build-up has not been helped by injuries to important cogs Juan Cuadrado and Federico Bernardeschi, who had come into his own in recent weeks since his move from Fiorentina.

Back-to-back Serie A wins have restored some of Lazio’s confidence after being humbled by Napoli and watch out for Ciro Immobile – the former Juve youth product has hit six goals in his last four games.

WHY NAPOLI WILL WIN

There is always expectancy surrounding Juve’s success in Serie A and it makes Napoli’s achievements already this year so astonishing.

They have conceded the same amount of goals as their league rivals – 15 – and have shown the ability to take injuries on the chin, with left-back Mario Rui so far stepping up admirably in Faouzi Ghoulam’s absence.

That defensive record is the reason why a free-flowing Napoli have been so good this year – adding steel to their usual silk.

Ominously if there’s any particular area that Roma have struggled with this season it’s scoring goals, with a misfiring Edin Dzeko finding the back of the net only four times since October.

As for Napoli’s high-octane frontline? After proving a revelation through the middle last season, the nippy Dries Mertens has continued to flourish and has hit seven from his last nine games.

With midfielders Lorenzo Pellegrini and Maxime Gonalons, as well as right-back Rick Karsdorp sidelined, it hardly makes Roma’s day any easier.

Good things come in small packages: Dries Mertens.

Good things come in small packages: Dries Mertens.

WHY NAPOLI WILL LOSE

Napoli on paper have the easier task compared to Juventus – especially at home – but there’s enough about Roma to cause them problems.

Chief troublemaker could well prove Cengiz Under, the 20-year-old Turk who has come alive over the last month with five strikes in his last five matches.

Cutting in from the right, the tricky winger has a devilish left foot and can give Roma an unpredictable dimension in attack.

Their home defeat to AC Milan aside, the Giallorossi have been pretty good nick after an awful Christmas and January racking up draws and defeats.

Victories over Verona, Benevento and Udinese have tightened up the gap between them and fourth-placed Inter Milan to just a point.

And even throughout that dreadful run of form they have maintained a resilience, in much part thanks to Alisson.

The Brazil No1 is one of the most highly-sought goalkeepers in Europe – he is Serie A’s standard-bearer for clean sheets with 11 this season.

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Roma loan signings Patrik Schick and Gregoire Defrel have been bought outright as club reveal reduced losses

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Patrick Shick joined Roma on a loan deal in the summer.

Roma‘s half-year accounts announced on Thursday reveal the Serie A club reduced losses to €40.3 million helped by a boost to revenue from the Champions League.

The accounts revealed that Roma have also bought outright Czech Patrik Schick and Frenchman Gregoire Defrel, two forwards who arrived on loan deals last summer.

The loss of €40.3m for the period up until December 31, 2017, is an improvement on the €53.4m loss for the same period last season.

Operating revenues increased by €35m to €123.9m, with €47.8m coming from participation in the Champions League, compared to €23.7m for taking part in the Europa League last year.

Roma are through to the last 16 of Europe’s premier club competition where they play their second-leg tie against Shakhtar Donetsk in Rome on March 13 having lost the first leg 2-1.

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