As soon as France lifted the World Cup to the sky, silly season went into overdrive.
Some of the brightest sparks in Russia have been linked to big moves and in a series of daily features, we reflect on their time at the tournament – and which teams should be poking around for their services.
Today it’s Serbia and Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.
WORLD CUP OVERVIEW
Serbia began with an underwhelming performance against Costa Rica but were able to come away with a 1-0 win courtesy of an Aleksandar Kolarov free-kick.
Milinkovic-Savic however impressed early on in the encounter. His superb touch and close control in tight spaces came to the fore and he made several promising runs behind the defensive line. He even forced Keylor Navas into a save from a bicycle kick.
Switzerland proved a tougher test though as he came up against two accomplished holding midfielders. He still showed a few glimpses of his class with a couple of nice moves.
He was largely anonymous in a 2-0 defeat to Brazil but came alive during a 15-minute spell when Serbia were on top. He proved to be a real threat in the box and produced a save from Alisson with a header.
Milinković-Savić's first half vs. Costa Rica by numbers:— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) June 17, 2018
1 key pass
2 attacking aerial duels won
100% tackles won
100% dribbles completed
Danger man. #SRB pic.twitter.com/DYhzKqhPml
RATINGS FROM THE ARCHIVE
Costa Rica 0 Serbia 1
8 – Showed plenty of guile in attack and adapted to his advanced role well. Should’ve got on the scoresheet.
Serbia 1 Switzerland 2
6 – A more subdued display but again showed glimpses of his class with some neat touches and passes. Tried to do too much on his own at times.
Serbia 0 Brazil 2
6 – Much-hyped, but Lazio man didn’t pass his test against the best with flying colours. Better in second-half.
WORLD CUP IN NUMBERS
Milinkovic-Savic had few dribbles during the World Cup and his passes were limited as well and that’s down to his role as a number 10.
For Lazio, he is far more involved as he operates from central midfield with one of his chief attributes being his ability to break into space and carry the ball forward. With 12 goals and nine assists last season, the Serbian was arguably the best midfielder in Serie A.
His excellent close control, physicality and dominance in the air suggests he would adapt to the Premier League with ease. He was played out of position in Russia and couldn’t produce his best.
Close control – He has many fine attributes but only a few were allowed to shine at the World Cup. One of them was his superb close control. Playing high up the pitch, Milinkovic-Savic usually received possession in the final third with little time or space to manouevre. He did exceptionally well to control the ball and was often quick to create an opening or a yard to take a shot.
Finishing – While he’s not normally associated with wastefulness in front of goal, he was thrown into the firing line at the World Cup. Though the chances that came his way weren’t exactly easy, he should’ve hit the target more having done so well to get into position.
Chelsea have already had a bid turned down by Lazio for the midfielder but they remain in the driving seat for his signature. The arrivals of Maurizio Sarri as manager and Jorginho from Napoli bodes well for Milinkovic-Savic as Stamford Bridge may be destined to see a more expansive style of football this season.
Although he’s fairly similar to Paul Pogba, Old Trafford remains a viable destination. He fits the bill as a Jose Mourinho player and Manchester United could certainly use more goals and creativity from midfield and have consistently been linked with the 23-year-old.
If he’s keen to stay in Serie A, a move to Juventus should be of interest. Although they have signed Cristiano Ronaldo, a few midfielders have been linked to moves away. He could bring back a lot of the talent and thrust from midfield that Pogba took with him when he left two years ago.
Napoli could also be in the hunt as they look to replace Jorginho, Meanwhile, Real Madrid have been linked as well but the wealth of midfield talent at their disposal means it could be an ill-advised switch for the Serbian at this stage of his career.
New Blues head coach Sarri faces a battle to keep hold of his star players after replacing Antonio Conte at Stamford Bridge.
Goalkeeper Courtois has just a year remaining on his Stamford Bridge contract, while forward Hazard has an additional 12 months.
Chelsea’s failure to qualify for the Champions League will not aid Sarri’s cause but he is hopeful his coaching methods can convince the pair to stay.
“The players you are referring to are very high level players and I would like to keep them in my squad,” said the Italian at his unveiling.
“A telephone call without looking them in the eyes would not give me any certainty.
“I would like to meet these players face to face, talk to them and understand what the best thing to do would be for everyone.
“Before that I would also like a player to come on the pitch for four or five days together with me, to have a clear idea of what the situation is.
“Hazard is a very high-level player. He’s one of the top two or three European players.”
Former Napoli boss Sarri was appointed on a three-year contract on Saturday, just 24 hours after the sacking of compatriot Conte.
Conte’s second season in London was dogged by incessant speculation about his future and his apparent dissatisfaction with the club’s transfer policy.
Sarri appears more diplomatic about recruiting and retaining players. He spoke of his disinterest in the transfer market and said he would be content
to coach the players already at his disposal.
“I feel much more a pitch manager than a general manager,” said Sarri.
“I think that I am one of the few managers who is bored by the transfer market.
“I don’t want to talk about the transfer market and I’m not that interested in it.
“I think our task as managers is growing the players that we have.”
Italy midfielder Jorginho has already followed the 59-year-old from the Stadio San Paolo to London, joining the Blues for around £50million.
Sarri believes central midfield is the area most in need of improvement.
“I spoke with the football club and I said ideally a pinch of quality is lacking in centre midfield for a certain kind of play. Otherwise they’re at a very high level,” he said.
“I cannot claim to come here to Chelsea and change 20 players.
“I must adapt to Chelsea, I must adapt to the available players.”
Despite receiving plaudits for his work in Naples, Sarri failed to deliver silverware – finishing fifth, second and third in Serie A – and has never won a trophy.
Conte’s dismissal followed a Premier League title in 2016/17 and May’s FA Cup success.
Sarri revealed the only target set by Chelsea is to be competitive this season.
He said his primary aim was to enjoy the role without fear of the sack.
“If I was someone who always worried, probably I would do another job. The job means risks, but also a lot of satisfaction,” he said.
“What happened in Chelsea in the past does not concern me. I am not afraid, I don’t want to be afraid.
“My personal objective is to have fun, because I think in life the biggest gift you can receive is have fun while you do your job.”
Speaking at his unveiling as Chelsea head coach at Stamford Bridge, Sarri told a media conference of his disinterest in the transfer market.
After an opening address in English, Sarri spoke in his native Italian, saying: “Clearly we would always like to keep all the strongest players. This is what any manager wants to do, this is what any club wants to do.
“Then we will have to see how the transfer market will go over the next few days.
“I think that I am one of the few managers who is bored by the transfer market. I don’t want to talk about the transfer market and I’m not that interested in it.”