In modern day football, every single game is literally won and lost in the heart of the park. It’s an area which can help a team win games at will and dictate play as a whole. The most explosive midfielders of the coming generation are abound this world and one such midfield marvel is Hamburg SV star Milan Badelj.
The 23 year old Croatian had big boots to fill in at a pretty tender age of 17. Luka Modric had completed his Tottenham Hotspur move and Dinamo Zagreb were sifting through for a replacement until their eyes fell on a young Badelj. He became a first team regular in a blink of an eye and made his senior debut for the club in a Champions League qualifier against Linfield F.C. As time fleeted past, Badelj was increasingly gaining a more central role at the club and his performances served as a testimony to that. Soon after making a Hamburg SV move in 2012 for a little more than 3 million euros, it all seemed as if the 23 year old had found a place where he can do his bit and in doing so, could make a name for himself as well.
Milan Badelj is essentially a deep lying play maker, known for his formidable work ethic on the pitch. He’s adept in managing his defensive and offensive duties well and covers virtually every blade of grass that is present with the help of that. He’s already being labelled as the ‘Next Luka Modric’ for his resemblance to the Real Madrid and former Tottenham midfield general largely due to his vision and passing composure and technique. Moreover, an average of key pass per game makes him a player every big club wants to lay hands on.
Badelj has strengths in both sectors of the game. His reading of the play, which couples with vision makes him an interesting prospect for the future. Winning the ball back from the opposition is another key feature in his repertoire as last season he won 50 percent of his duels in the infield.
Towering and well built midfielders like this lad usually stand rooted to a position these days, much like players like Nemanja Matic and Michael Carrick but he’s someone who can carry the ball out of the defenses with ease. His 33 successful dribbles this season rank him joint 17th in the Bundesliga, though those above him are predominantly wingers and attacking midfielders.
He has been lauded with appreciation for his excellent anticipation of passes as former Croatian coach himself claimed “He can anticipate three to four passes” , clearly clarifying why Badelj’s average interceptions per game is 3.4. His link up with star Rafael van der Vaart from deeper positions has had significant bearing on how Hamburg fared last season and may well continue to do so in the near future.
The only visible weakness remains his inability to deal with aerial threats. Due to this, he can clearly be overpowered at the back by burly strikers and wingers who have a physical presence in the final third. Not only when defending, but this has troubled him in front of goal as well, although sometimes. He averages a disappointing 0.8 aerial duels won per game, a figure that leaves him way down the Bundesliga rankings.
A single weakness for a whole bunch of strengths doesn’t make Milan Badelj a bad player from any angle. He is someone who can act as a vital link between the defenders and the strikers or can effectively marshal the play at his own will. He’s a complete package, ask me and in a world dominated by footballing heavyweights, no emerging player can stay isolated from them forever. His inability to deal with aerial threats will be highlighted further in the Premier League, which is a more physical league among the others. Forwards such as Romelu Lukaku, Rickie Lambert, Diego Costa, Christian Benteke and especially Andy Carroll can easily make a mockery of his, bringing to the fore the sole weakness of his. Although, if he can cover up his weaknesses in time, clubs like Arsenal and Manchester United seem to be the perfect match for him. Both are in a frantic need of a tackling midfielder, who can function in deeper roles and Milan can add an extra spark of vision in there too.
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