Sometimes player comparisons can be superficial and stifling. Other times, they feel so obviously right that it’s hard to watch one player without thinking about his doppelgänger. The popular Sergej Milinković-Savić-Paul Pogba comp is one of the second kind.


Milinković-Savić has so much Pogba in his game. You can see it in their towering figures (both players are 6-foot-3), in their strength on the ball, in their surprising speed and agility for their size, in the way they both manipulate the ball at their feet like a yo-yo on a string, in their powerful runs through the middle of the pitch, in their predilection for the perfectly chipped through ball, in their proficiency with headers, and especially in the screamers they score with their rocket-powered right feet. Milinković-Savić is to Lazio and Serie A generally as Pogba was to Juventus and Serie A back when he was still there: both are/were their team’s and league’s most destructive central midfield forces and make/made sweat pour from the foreheads of panicked domestic rivals. Matching that sweat is all the saliva dripping from the big foreign teams’ mouths while they consider the prospect of getting their hands on such a talent.

The 23-year-old Serb will be his national team’s main creative force at the World Cup. Serbia have lots of creative specialists and intelligent runners, so look for Milinković-Savić to drop dimes over and through the defense regularly. This guy is the next big thing in true center midfielders, and he has all the individual tools and surrounding teammates to make this World Cup his official coming out party.


How They Play

If Serbia are to live up to their potential in this tournament, they’ll need to get their attack going. Luckily for them, attacking midfield is probably their best, deepest position on the team.


With Milinković-Savić, Adem Ljajić, and Dušan Tadić, the attacking midfield trio in Serbia’s expected 4-2-3-1 formation will be full of players who can create for others and score themselves. These guys are at their best when running at back-peddling defenses in packs, so the Serbian counterattack should be deadly. Their strikers aren’t quite as good as the players who’ll play behind them, which could be a worry. Aleksandar Mitrović, their starting center forward, has been sort of lost at club level over the past couple years with Premier League team Newcastle, but he has a good record with the national team and he did very well during a half-season loan at Fulham to close this past season.

Serbia’s defense is old and slow, but still pretty talented. Three of the four predicted starters in the defense are in their early 30s, but those three are also some of Serbia’s most experienced and decorated players in the squad. Plus, the back four will get plenty of help from the very good defensive midfielders playing in front of them, Nemanja Matić and Luka Milivojević. Nobody can look at Brazil’s attack and think to themselves Psht, we can handle them, but the other forward lines Serbia will face in Group E shouldn’t worry them much. If the creators are creating and Mitrović is firing and the defenders aren’t isolated and losing foot races left and right, Serbia will be a threat to just about anyone.


Group E Fixtures

All times Eastern

June 17, 8 a.m.: Costa Rica vs. Serbia at Samara Arena

June 22, 2 p.m.: Serbia vs. Switzerland at Kaliningrad Stadium

June 27, 2 p.m.: Serbia vs. Brazil at Spartak Stadium