It was not any surprise for Serie A fans when the coach of Manchester United came to personally scout Nikola Milenkovic in 2018 for a league match.
Drawing comparisons to compatriot and defensive legend Nemanja Vidic, Milenkovic was a potential target, although later they would choose to sign Harry Maguire, paying a world-record fee for a defender.
However, Milan have been extensively linked with a move for the Serbia international as the club looks for Alessio Romagnoli’s long-term partner, and a swap involving Lucas Paqueta has been mentioned.
Continuing the trend of scouting our defensive targets this summer, Rohit Rajeev takes a look at what Milenkovic could bring.
Current Club: Fiorentina
Transfermarkt valuation: €25million
While Nikola Milenkovic prefers playing centre-back he is versatile and can also be used as a right-back, albeit with varying degrees of success so far. Under Montella he was deployed on the right of three-man defence. His unnatural pace has made him flexible to slot into full back position during a crisis.
What makes Milenkovic special as a defender is his unique combination of intelligence, reading of the game and physical ability. It is no surprise to say that being 6ft5 makes him aerially dominant and he wins a lot of duels in that area.
Milenkovic main strength is his ability to come out with the ball in 1v1 situations. With his height and long legs, the 22-year-old is able to reach out quite a distance to tackle and dispossess his opponent. Even with fancy dribbling techniques or skills it would take quite an effort to beat Milenkovic.
An example of his technique can be seen in the image below. Shaqiri is approaching Milenkovic at pace with the ball, but the centre-back positions himself at a distance not too far away but not too close to the attacker. Eventually, Shaqiri loses the ball.
Another aspect that Milenkovic has embedded in himself is his aggressive pressing. In the below example, he presses Papu Gomez very high to the extent that he is forced to retreat into Atalanta’s defensive third.
In the image below, Gomez tries to turn and loses possession to Milenkovic which is turned to a counter attack by Fiorentina, who eventually score.
Milenkovic possess good ball playing ability. Not only does he not panic when pressed, he has the ability to play or pass his way out of tight situations which makes him a very desirable player for any team that builds out form the back. Milenkovic also knows how to spot players making runs and picks out passed to advance play to the forwards.
In this image below, you can see how Player 1 (Milenkovic) has the safe option of passing to Player 2 or 3 but chooses to advance play to 4 and split the lines with his pass.
Milenkovic – despite 3 seasons in Italy – is still an unpolished diamond. His pass success rate is quite low at 76.8% despite a lot of his passes being towards the keeper. The player needs to expand his range by distributing the play better.
And like any other young players, he is still inconsistent and lacks exposure which can only grow with time and experience.
A good fit for Milan?
Milenkovic could slot into the system as a right-sided centre-back who advances forward, pressing very high as Rangnick likes his teams to do. With Italian sides generally preferring to sit back and contain, Milenkovic’s ability on the ball could come in useful especially with Rangnick’s 10 second rule.
His pace along with his intelligent positioning could be tailor made for Rangnick to win the ball quickly from the opponent or even to prevent counter attacks, meaning he is – on paper – a good fit.
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