Transfer Talk: Toon and Gunners tussle for magic Milinkovic-Savic
Serbian international Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s long-touted move to English shores may finally be about to become a reality.
The 27-year-old midfielder has reportedly told Lazio chiefs that he wishes to pursue a new challenge, with Arsenal and Newcastle thought to be leading the race for his signature.
Ahead of the Biancocelesti's Coppa Italia tie with Bologna on Thursday, we take a closer look at Milinkovic-Savic’s career to date and assess what he would bring to the Premier League.
After seven-and-a-half years and over 300 appearances, it appears Milinkovic-Savic's glorious Lazio stint has reached its final chapter.
Joining the Serie A outfit from Belgian side Genk back in the summer of 2015, few could have forecast how ingrained the then 20-year-old would become in the club's modern history.
Breaking through under Stefano Pioli, now the head coach of reigning Italian champions AC Milan, Milinkovic-Savic made 35 appearances across all competitions during his maiden campaign.
In the six full seasons that have followed, he has bettered that total every single time.
That outstanding dependability has seen him take the captain’s armband on many occasions, while his 63-goal haul makes him Lazio's highest-scoring midfielder in their illustrious history.
Time for a change
Recent reports suggest the Coppa Italia winner has told current boss Maurizio Sarri he will not be signing a new deal with the club.
Milinkovic-Savic’s contract in the Italian capital ends in the summer of 2024, though the Roman outfit will hope to benefit from a sizeable bid if they are to let their talisman depart.
That means a January sale is a distinct possibility and a fee of £53million is widely considered to be what Lazio expect from potential suitors.
Arsenal were set to splash a similar amount on top target Mykhailo Mudryk before London rivals Chelsea hijacked that deal, so cash should not be an issue for the Gunners this month.
Meanwhile, Newcastle are now one of world football’s richest clubs and, while Eddie Howe insists any winter arrivals would have to improve his first-choice XI, this deal would certainly fit the bill.
It is not hard to see why Milinkovic-Savic’s availability has sparked so much interest.
He is an incredibly well-rounded performer, capable of anchoring a midfield, slotting into a two or three-man unit or even offering a creative threat in a No10 role.
An imposing presence, he offers commanding physical attributes as well as an aerial threat, while his eye for goal is perfectly documented through impressive returns in the final third.
Last term, he reached double figures in Serie A for both goals (11) and assists (11).
Among all midfielders in the division, Milinkovic-Savic ranked first for headers scored (four), second for aerial duels won (102), third for shots taken (75) and fourth for completed passes (1,872).
He also ranked inside the top 10 for touches, tackles, possessions won in the final third, clearances and completed take-ons.
While it has been suggested the Serb considers Arsenal as his first-choice destination, a switch to Newcastle would arguably make more sense.
The Gunners currently have a very settled midfield, with Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka and Martin Odegaard striking an excellent balance in the Premier League leaders’ engine room when fit.
It is unclear which of that trio Mikel Arteta would drop to make room for Milinkovic-Savic, meaning the 39-cap international would likely have to bide his time before nailing down a starting spot in North London.
Meanwhile, the Magpies’ midfield looks like a far easier trio to break into, with Brazilian maestro Bruno Guimaraes currently being partnered by Joe Willock and Sean Longstaff.
As well as that duo have performed this season, there is no doubt that the Lazio star would be an upgrade and the prospect of him striking up a partnership with Guimaraes will leave Toon Army fans salivating.
Adding in the ambitious plans of the club’s ownership and the prospect of Champions League football next season, it becomes a very attractive package indeed.
Aside from gaining the biggest fee possible, Lazio have no real need to sell their No21 this month.
They currently sit just three points outside Serie A’s top four, while they are among the favourites to lift this year’s second edition of the Europa Conference League.
It would be fitting if Milinkovic-Savic could stick around and inspire them to glory on both fronts, though it appears crystal clear he is ready for a change of scene.
By waiting until the summer to make a move, potential buyers risk being engrossed in a bidding war that can easily be avoided.
Now is the time for interested parties to force Lazio’s hand and secure one of world football’s most complete midfield talents.