5. Andrija Živković
Andrija Živković is one of those players who seems to have been around forever. After bursting into the wider footballing conscious after a mesmeric U-20 World Cup in 2015, various struggles at club level meant that the Serbian winger has gone under the radar. Even a free transfer to Benfica, after he was frozen out at former club Partizan due to his refusal to sign a new contract, went through quietly–despite a healthy signing-on fee being attributed to the move, heading straight into the player and his father’s bank accounts.
Živković is 21 now. He has matured too, through the scandal at his former club. More promising performances at youth level for Serbia during this year’s U-21 European Championship reaffirmed his sublime potential that already looks fulfilled, as he bossed around opposition players of the same age.
He is still finding his feet at Benfica, though. He has not been a disappointment by any measure, but the competition for attackers at Benfica is fierce, with Gabigol and Chris Willock joining a ever-growing proliferation of young forwards for the Águias this summer. Managing to play over 1,500 senior minutes last season was a good return, and adding in the 11 assists and one goal it yielded, it looks very successful. A goal or assist every 125 minutes is an exceptional record, but it must also be balanced with the fact that he was primarily used as a substitute (which tends to skew this stat), and only four of these assists came in the league.
It is still a strong return though, a return which highlights his ability to turn his wing-play into genuine attacking involvement. Often playing on the left-wing at Benfica, the Serbian has become comfortable with playing the traditional winger’s role that stretches the pitch and encourages him to get to the by-line. It has played a role in his inflated assists-to-goals ratio since his move to Portugal, but limits him in his ability to seek out opportunities to score.
With Serbia and previously with Partizan, Živković has been positioned out on the right. It channels into his ability to cut inside on his venomous left-foot and be effective as a creator and a goal-threat. His accuracy when crossing in from an area close to the corner of the penalty area is striking when you watch the 21-year-old, and when he gets into this position in the half-space, so many creative outlets become open to him. He looks for the goals or for a cross first, but he is perceptive of overlapping full-backs that can create another angle from the by-line, or of the need to recycle possession when there are no clear options. His ability to work with onrushing full-backs is especially important given his discomfort with utilising his weak foot.
When watching the Serbian closely, his technical aptitude is also a standout feature of his game. Despite his tendency to rely on his stronger left-foot, it seems to help rather than hinder his ability to control the ball. It allows him to be incredibly well-drilled in his movements to get past players, so much so that they look automatic at times. These moves are of course aided by the wicked burst of acceleration that Živković possesses off the mark. He is quick too, but his ability to burst from a standing start is more noticeable and is what makes him so effective in a wide range of attacking situations, but predominantly on the counter.
Defensively, his contribution will have to improve. He is not a particularly willing presser, nor does he like going in for challenges. He can often look disengaged on the defensive end, looking to preserve his energy to channel it into attacking. This can create problems with team structure and balance, and with Benfica increasingly looking to play a 4-4-2/4-2-4 this season, this places a lot of additional pressure on the full-back behind.
All of Živković’s best attributes point towards him being best suited out on the right in a 4-3-3. These bursts of pace he possesses allow him to make swift and penetrative moves towards the centre of the field, where the space is unimpeded by a true attacking midfielder. Furthermore, the game is opened up for him to demonstrate his ability to finish on his left-foot; which for years has been one of the most dangerous assets of any player in his age bracket. He especially loves to hit a curling shot across the goalkeeper, and this has manifested itself into an excellent free-kick technique. In fact, a stunning 25-yard free-kick he scored against Mexico at the 2015 U-20 World Cup was named ‘Goal of the Tournament’.
Živković’s career has not advanced as quickly as one may have hoped since that wonderful 2015 summer in New Zealand, in which Serbia beat Brazil 2-1 en route to becoming U-20 World Champions. The 21-year-old has made just five senior international appearances since debuting as a 17-year-old in 2013. His last appearance was an 11-minute substitute appearance over 16 months ago. He looks unlikely to be afforded a seat on the plane to the World Cup in the summer, which Serbia look increasingly likely to qualify for.
There is time to change that, though. Without a doubt, more minutes will be afforded to him this season after more sales were made by Benfica this summer. Eduardo Salvio stands in front of him as the first choice, but the need for Benfica to compete over multiple competitions means that Živković will get chances to prove his worth–and much more regularly on the right. Benfica recently wrapped up a historic tetra–or fourth straight title–last May, but with Sporting and Porto reinforcing their squads this summer, and with Benfica already eight points off first place, they may need some magic from a certain Serb to claim the quinta.
By: Stephen Ganavas/@StephenScouted