Southampton midfielder Dusan Tadic is the central figure in Serbia’s national team.
However, World Cup Fantasy managers should think twice before considering Luka Milivojevic, who is unlikely to reproduce the form that saw him become a key Fantasy Premier League asset in 2017/18.
We’ve got everything you need to know about the final Group E nation here…
ROAD TO QUALIFICATION
As is often the case with former Yugoslavian nations, nobody is sure which Serbia will turn up at this World Cup. Will it be the outfit which won a difficult qualification group containing Republic of Ireland, Wales and Austria, all of whom had varying levels of success at Euro 2016 in Serbia’s absence? Or will it be the side beaten at home by Morocco in March with their captain and best defender Branislav Invanovic benched by rookie coach Mladen Krstajic?
Under the management of Slavoljub Muslin, the Serbians lost just one match in qualification making it to a major international tournament for the first time since 2010. Although even then, most of the goals conceded came from defensive errors. So despite successfully winning a group as rank outsiders, Muslin was sacked from his position in October. Other factors in the decision were reported to be disagreements with the country’s football association over team selection, defensive tactics and the omission of young players, namely Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.
However, a change in management has, if anything, made things worse. Serbia could yet prove to be another in a long line of Balkan nations unable to get the best out of a good squad. Since 44-year-old Krstajic took over, the players have struggled to adapt to his new tactics. Muslin booked a place in Russia using a 3-4-3 formation but Krstajic has switched between 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 in friendlies and is still unsure which he will use in Russia. “What formation we will play depends on many factors,” he said in a recent interview. “It’s still early to talk about that.”
It’s just two wins from five under Krstajic so far and with important figures such as Nemanja Matic and Dusan Tadic featuring only as second-half substitutes, Serbia were beaten by Chile on Monday night. Add into the mix that they will be without key centre-back Matija Nastasic through injury at the World Cup and ongoing accusations that most of the squad don’t perform as well for their country as they do for their club and it’s hard to know how much to expect from them in Group E.
Most starts: Branislav Ivanovic, Dusan Tadic (both 10), Aleksandar Mitrovic, Antonio Rukavina (both 9), Aleksandar Kolarov, Filip Kostic, Luka Milivojevic, Vladimir Stojkovic (all 8).
Most goals: Mitrovic (6), Tadic (4), Kolarov, Kostic, Gacinovic (all 2).
Most assists: Tadic (7), Kostic (5).
THE KEY TARGETS
Involved in over half of Serbia’s goal’s during qualifying Southampton midfielder Dusan Tadic (£6.4m on Fantasy iTeam | £8.5m on McDonald’s FIFA) is the most important Fantasy asset for anyone looking to cover this nation. He scored four goals himself (two from the penalty spot) and assisted seven more, contributing to 11 of Serbia’s 20 qualification strikes. Tadic was a mainstay during that stage of the competition too, starting every single match in UEFA Group D. Since passage to Russia was booked he has featured from the beginning in three of the five friendlies played, operating predominantly on the right-wing of either a 4-3-3- or 4-2-3-1 and scoring against Morocco in March.
On the opposite flank is Hamburg left-winger Filip Kostic (£5.7m on Fantasy iTeam | £6.0m on McDonald’s FIFA), who was just as important during the qualification phase. Developing a good relationship with Tadic, he slotted two goals of his own assisting another five. He has started just two friendlies under Krstajic but did add another assist in March’s 2-0 win over Nigeria. Priced much cheaper than Tadic on Fantasy iTeam at £5.7m, he is worth considering as a cheaper alternative.
Much more assured of a starting berth when Serbia face Costa Rica in the Group E opener on June 17th is striker Aleksandar Mitrovic (£6.5m on Fantasy iTeam | £7.5m on McDonald’s FIFA). The Newcastle United man has revitalised his career at Fulham this season and top-scored for Serbia in qualifying with six strikes. Since Krstajic took over he has started all but one of the friendlies in a lone centre-forward role adding a further three goals.
THE LONG SHOTS
The subject of much debate under Muslin’s time in charge, midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (£5.7m on Fantasy iTeam | £7.0m on McDonald’s FIFA) has had another fantastic season with Lazio and is now being linked with a move to Manchester United. The 23-year-old scored 12 goals and assisted another three in Serie A this season but struggled to get into national squad during Muslin’s tenure for being unwilling to play in defensive midfield. Now that the former boss has moved on, Milinkovic-Savic has started two friendlies, ironically one of them in defensive midfield. He’s not completely nailed on to start with three caps to his name but if handed the opportunity on the back of a break-out season at club level, he could do well in Russia.
20-year-old striker Luka Jovic (£6.2m on Fantasy iTeam | £6.0m on McDonald’s FIFA) only has six minutes of senior international football under his belt but has found club form at the perfect time. On loan at Eintracht Frankfurt from Benfica, he scored nine goals in 27 appearances in all competitions, and assisted another as the Bundesliga side went on to win the DFB Pokal final against Bayern Munich. As previously stated, Mitrovic has the centre-forward position nailed on but any injuries or suspensions could see Jovic given a chance. Alternatively, Aleksandar Prijovic (£6.0m on Fantasy iTeam | £6.0m on McDonald’s FIFA) scored the winning goal in the final qualifier and could come in for Mitrovic.
AREAS TO AVOID
Serbia’s unsettled defence is an area to stay away from. Former Chelsea man Branislav Ivanovic (£5.8m on Fantasy iTeam | £5.5m on McDonald’s FIFA) was ever-present at centre-back during qualifying but has been in and out of the side since Krstajic took over, having the captaincy stripped from him and handed to Aleksander Kolarov (£6.0m on Fantasy iTeam | £5.5m on McDonald’s FIFA) too. Kolarov himself has started three of Krstajic’s five matches and five different options have been used at centre-back. Furthermore, Serbia’s back-line is not particularly trustworthy either, averaging at least one goal conceded per game in qualifying. That doesn’t bode well ahead of facing Brazil’s potent attack and the not-so-goal-shy Switzerland and Costa Rica in Group E.
Another player to stay away from is Crystal Palace midfielder Luka Milivojevic (£6.1m on Fantasy iTeam | £6.0m on McDonald’s FIFA). The 27-year-old earned popularity on Fantasy Premier League this season for taking the penalties, free-kicks and corners for his side. Those responsibilities led him to 10 goals and two assists with the Eagles, all at a bargain price. Expecting him to replicate that at the World Cup would be foolish, though. National team set-pieces, including penalties, are taken by Tadic, not Milivojevic.
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