Premier League

United right to target old flame if Pogba pushes through move

 • by Adam Newson
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Not content with being involved in two of this summer’s biggest, and at this point most tedious, transfers sagas Manchester United are prepared to reignite a third.

According to reports in Italy, the Red Devils have agreed a five-year contract with Sergej Milinković-Savić, the Lazio midfielder they pursued aggressively but failed to sign twelve months ago.

United are prepared to £67milliob plus bonuses for ‘SMS’ but only if Paul Pogba leaves Old Trafford for pastures new.

The French midfielder has been linked with a move away from the Premier League throughout the summer.

Real Madrid are favourites to sign the World Cup winner yet need to offload players – particularly Gareth Bale – if a transfer is to become reality. Juventus, Pogba’s former club, are also interested but also need to sell if they are to come close to matching United’s £150million asking price.

Both clubs will have until August 8, when the transfer window closes in England, to prise Pogba away from Manchester United. The Premier League side will not sell after that despite the window being open in Europe.

Allowing Pogba – who has struggled to perform consistently since returning to Manchester in 2016 – to leave for a premium would be smart business by United, especially if they have an able replacement lined up.

But is Milinković-Savić still the man to fill the hole Pogba would leave? A year ago he would have cost £120million, Lazio now want just over half of that. So should that be cause for concern?

What is evident from the below graphic is that last season the Serbia international did not impact games as regularly as Pogba. In all the metrics listed, he is second best to the United No.6.

Sergej Milinković-Savić, Paul Pogba

Yet Pogba’s numbers were heavily skewed by the two-month purple patch he hit after José Mourinho was sacked; in nine Premier League games he struck eight goals and registered five assists.

Milinković-Savić did not have such a spike in performance. Instead, his displays were deemed lacklustre by Lazio supporters and in October the club’s ultras unfurled a banner at the Stadio Olimpico which dubbed both the midfielder and team-mate Luis Alberto “fake talents out for money”.

The 24-year-old’s output did decline last term, he netted just seven times and registered only three assists compared to 14 goals and seven assists in 2017/18. But his demise was greatly exaggerated by those harsh Biancoceleste supporters

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Milinković-Savić’s underlying numbers for the past campaign were not hugely off what he posted in his breakout season. His expected goals per 90 of 0.21 was not only the 15th highest figure among Serie A midfielders last term but was also just below the 0.22 per 90 he managed in 2017/18.

His expected goals assisted did drop from 0.21 per 90 to 0.17 but it’s not a seismic decline, and that latter figure put him 21st in among his Italian top-flight peers last season.

It’s also worth noting Lazio came eighth last term in Serie A compared to the Champions League push and eventual fifth-place finish they managed two years ago. So Milinković-Savić was a cog in a system that wasn’t as effective.

But how do his underlying numbers compare to Pogba? The Frenchman’s expected goals assisted in the Premier League last term was 0.18, just ahead of SMS.

He does far exceed the Serbian in expected goals per 90 (0.47) but Pogba was United’s designated penalty taker and that influences the numbers. In goals from open play, he managed 0.23 per 90, again only marginally better than Milinković-Savić’s 0.20.

It’s clear Lazio’s No.21 could fill the void should United’s poster-boy depart. When at his best the 6ft 3ins midfielder can bend games to his will and be the driving force Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s have too often lacked.

He may not be as marketable as Pogba but Milinković-Savić could become one of United’s best pieces of business.

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