Lazar Markovic has always been one to watch. Already from his early days at Serbian side Partizan he was considered to be a wonderkid, and already at his first full season, as a 17-year-old, he was voted Partizan’s Player of the Year by the fans and he earned himself a spot in 2011–12 SuperLiga Team of the Year.
Another impressive season, and another spot in the SuperLiga Team of the Year for the second year running, woke the interest of European giants. In the summer of 2013 the Serbian left his mother country to join Portuguese powerhouse Benfica, who had just suffered a horrible end to their campaign, losing the Liga title to fierce rivals Porto in injury time in the penultimate round, losing the Europa League final to Chelsea, also in injury time, and the Portuguese Cup final to Guimarães.
Chelsea were also very interested in Markovic and in January 2013, before he went to Benfica, he visited the London club. Chelsea managed to strike a deal with Benfica and super agent Pini Zahavi, who owned 50% of the player each, where they could sign the young Serbian at any time for €15 million. If the reports coming from Portugal are to be believed they also tried to take advantage of this option, but Lazar Markovic rejected their offer because he was afraid of lack of minutes on the pitch and joined Liverpool instead. Many expected the fee to be higher than the €25 million Liverpool paid for Markovic, but Chelsea forced Benfica to accept the offer when they tried to take advantage of their first option.
Markovic’s season at Benfica
After an impressive pre-season, Markovic got his debut in the second round of the Liga Sagres versus Gil Vicente. He came on as a sub, and scored the equaliser in injury time, as Benfica won 2-1. He made another appearance in the next round against Sporting. Benfica were trailing, and yet again Markovic saved his new team by scoring the equaliser in the Lisbon Derby with a stunning goal. There were no longer any doubts. Benfica had a real gem on their hands. The young Serbian had played less than 80 minutes of football and already scored two decisive goals, one of them being similar to something you have seen Maradona and Messi score like.
Markovic scored another beauty versus Académica in the start of November, but was being criticized for being too lazy and out of form when the calendar approached December. However, he picked his game up and delivered a fantastic second half of the season, starting against Porto at the start of the new year with a great performance. His star performances were undoubtedly in the “big” games, especially against Porto, as mentioned, Tottenham away and the home game versus Juventus in the Europa League semi-final. His great displays got him awarded the Player of the Month for January/February.
He added another Goal of the Season candidate to his name in February against Guimarães and despite not playing the Europa League final because of a stupid (and incorrect) red card against Juventus in the second leg, he ended the season on 49 games (30 starts), 7 goals, 5 assists and 3 titles. He was a big part of Benfica breaking Porto’s series of consecutive Liga titles and Benfica’s historical domestic triple (Liga, Taça da Liga and Taça de Portugal). He outperformed far more established players like Filip Djuricic, Miralem Sulejmani and Ola John. Not bad for a teenager (turned 20 in March, though) at his first season abroad playing out of his favourite position.
Strengths, positions and weaknesses
Lazar Markovic’s best attributes are his speed and his technique, and his excellent ability to mix these two attributes together only a few footballers in the world does this better than him. He was nicknamed A Borboleta [Butterfly in Portuguese] by his Benfica teammates because of his size and that he’s almost impossible to catch.
Markovic is good at passing and crossing the ball, too. He can use both feet, but prefers to use his right. Many players have the gift of being fast and/or technical, but not all have the ability to deliver proper end products. As Markovic is a good passer and finisher this is no problem for him, and he often tends to pick out the right pass when needed.
Benfica manager Jorge Jesus is a very demanding manager, and despite giving his wingers very free roles he wants them to contribute defensively as well. This was something Markovic struggled with at the start, but as the new year set in he picked up his game and intensity.
How the young Serbian adapted to the Portuguese league so quickly, even playing out of his regular position, was incredible, and although his form dropped before the second half of the season, his start in the Benfica shirt was mightily impressive. Not everyone has that ability. Just ask Juan Quintero who struggled to get into an underperforming Porto team.
Even though Lazar Markovic prefers to play as a second striker or as a left winger, Benfica used him out right, which turned out to be no problem for the 20-year-old. Markovic also has the ability to play as a central, attacking midfielder. When playing as a winger he’s no typical winger who runs down to the byline to cross the ball. He’d rather drift inside, to find space from the full-back, and then pick out a pass or finish. Markovic’s versatility gives Brendan Rodgers plenty of options.
Markovic is an intelligent player, and on and off the pitch he is a very quiet man. He tends to get invisible at times and he still needs to get more consistent, but this is typical weaknesses for a young player. When you play the ball to Markovic you can never predict what he’ll do with it, but one thing is for sure, you won’t regret giving it to him.
Lazar Markovic isn’t just a buy for the future; he’ll strengthen Liverpool from day one. In terms of quality he is as good as Sterling and far better than what Liverpool has to offer from the bench. Losing Markovic was a big loss for Benfica, and with the right guidance and time the young Serbian will prove to be worth more than the €25 million Liverpool paid for him.
I have followed Portuguese football for four years and I can, with the hand on my heart, say I have never seen a better teenager, in terms of potential and quality, in Portuguese football. Bruma, Tiago Ilori, Carlos Mané, André Gomes, Juan Iturbe and James Rodríguez. Lazar Markovic beats them all.
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