Nikola Milenković has been a stalwart of the Viola defense since debuting against Cagliari in December 2017. Having racked up 158 appearances for Fiorentina—the most of any player currently on the roster—it’s easy to forget that he’s just 24, especially because he’s just such an enormous human being that you assume he’s eternal as the mountains.
Although he’s had a few dips in form, he’s one of the best central defenders in Serie A, largely because he can do everything: he’s dominant in the air, covers ground well, absurdly quick on his feet for such a large man, and pretty clever reading the game. He is, at worst, a fine passer, and may have some untapped potential as a line-breaking playmaker from deep. His game has almost no weaknesses, and he’s only going to get better.
He is, of course, generally considered Fiorentina’s best defender, and I fully concur with that view. The problem, however, is figuring out who’s his best partner in the heart of defense. The options right now are Lucas Martínez Quarta, Igor, and Matija Nastasić, and you can make a case (albeit a very thin one) for all three.
Let’s start with LMQ. He’s a dynamic presence who wants to track opponents high up the pitch to win the ball, and he wants all the responsibility when his team’s in possession, too. He’s quick and strong and surprisingly good in the air, but his enthusiasm gets him in trouble some times: his focus can waver, his positioning can wander, and he’s produced enough catastrophic fouls to where we probably have to accept that it’s part of who he is.
Igor is silky as they come on the ball, both as a passer and a carrier. This is his first year as a central defender in a back four, so his positioning can be iffy at times, leading to opposing forwards getting free runs at times. He’s not nearly as good in the air as you’d expect from his hulking frame and he feels like he’s got a mistake in him, but he’s quick, good in the tackle, and possesses a level of physical imposition that almost nobody else in the league brings.
The case for Matija Nastasić isn’t great, honestly. He’s deeply experienced and pretty good on the ball, but he just doesn’t have the athleticism to play a high line or to run with forwards, and he’s got a mistake in him as well. He does bring more experience than his younger colleagues and has a relationship with Milenković due to their time representing Serbia, but he’s definitely a step or two below the other two.
Who’s the best partner for Milenković?
This poll is closed
Lucas Martínez Quarta
Here’s your weekend thread. Stay loose.