Milan Makaric: Why Serbian elite finisher will prove a bargain for Europe’s best – scout report
Even though the Serbian SuperLeague is still being dominated by the likes of Crvena Zvezda and Vojvodina, 2020/21 was also a season in which underdogs shined. Seeing how they’re a club of practically non-existent budget compared to the big guns, Radnik Surdulica’s campaign was a true Cinderella story.
Carried on the wings of their prolific striker Milan Makaric, they’re currently fifth in the league while they’ve also tallied a historic achievement by reaching the local Cup semi-final, where they were ultimately beaten by Crvena Zvezda.
Standing at about 6.07 feet (1.85 metres), Makarić is a physically imposing right-footed player who mainly plays as a centre-forward. His versatility and mobility have seen him occupy other positions such as second-striker and on rarer occasions, the attacking midfielder, but he is most comfortable when deployed as the team’s only no.9.
Looking at his player profile in the graph below, we can start identifying some of his main strengths and weaknesses. Makarić has been as lethal as they come this season and his attacking metrics clearly state he stands out from the rest.
The 25-year-old is in the top 20% (or better) of the Serbian SuperLeague strikers in all of non-penalty goals, expected goals per 90 (xG), shots per 90, offensive duels per 90 and successful dribbles per 90. But it’s important to note that every metric we analysed in that graph has him in the above-average group, signalling how incredible of a season he’s having. Makarić is a true poacher, often creating the illusion of being in the right place at the right time but that is down to his intelligent movement in and around the box.
His heatmap suggests he likes to drift wide, where he’ll often be the target of long passes in transitions. Makarić is very strong and decently fast to beat his marker and make a deep run towards the box. Similarly, his back-to-goal game is also strong, meaning he’s often used as a lay-off option for Radnik and can hold up play decently well.
Apart from dribbling and shooting, his passing is also on a good level despite the lack of any extreme technical quality in his player profile. We can see his passing and progression are far above the league average compared to other strikers but with a slight caveat of lower overall volume per 90 minutes.
Defensively, he won’t always work as hard but can be used to press the first line and pick up bad passes from the opposition, as seen from the high PAdj (possession-adjusted) interceptions.
Shooting & goal-scoring prowess
By far Makarić’s best attribute is his clinical nature in front of goal and a great sense of where to position himself to force out the best possible outcome. The fact that he has scored 26 goals and assisted four across all competitions this season is already enough to demonstrate he’s been extremely lethal. But where did those goals come from and how exactly does he ensure that many are scored?
For one, his shot location map will tell us a big part of that story. In 2020/21 according to Wyscout’s database, Makarić has attempted 109 shots with 48.6% of them hitting the target. That means he has scored 26 goals from approximately 52 shots on target. In other words, around 50% of his shots on target have ended up in a goal this season.
Looking at his shot map above, we can see that his shot selection is mostly excellent. The purple dots represent goals, the blues are shots on target and the x means the shot has missed the target. Notice that almost all of his goals have come from central corridors and from inside the box. Makarić is very selective in that regard and will generally score high xG value goals.
Of course, a total of 26 goals from 19.46 xG suggests he’s overperforming but also confirms that he’s a lethal finisher. With 2.98 shots per 90 and 0.53 xG per 90, Makarić almost guarantees a goal every other game. Interestingly, he’s taken 22 shots outside the box in his last 75 attempts (excluding penalties), hitting the target eight times, giving him around a 36% success rate. While not terrible, it still feels like there’s room for improvement there.
But how does he get into those high-value positions to score or just shoot? Let’s explore three main scenarios. The first one is the simplest one on paper – Makarić is excellent at dismarking himself and creating separation through great (and subtle) movement in and around the box.
The image above is a great example of that. While Radnik are trying to dismantle the opposition’s block on the wings, Makarić subtly moves away from his markers and positions himself around the edge of the box. By creating separation from the defenders, he is now free to receive the pass from his teammate and then using a couple of touches repositions again before letting loose a great shot that rattles the inside of the net.
Having the intelligence to recognise when and where to move is a great trait for strikers and then, of course, so is the ability to finish those chances with clean shots. We already mentioned in this tactical analysis how Makarić is often in the right place at the right time. This is a trait we usually connect to excellent poachers and the 25-year-old Serbian striker is certainly in that group.
But there’s more than just luck involved in the whole process. Makarić has decent pace at his disposal and will often start a run from the deep to overtake his marker and get to the ball first. Our next example shows us such a scenario.
Upon seeing his teammate breach the flank of the opposition, he immediately accelerates into the box, overtaking the defender on the left and staying in the blindside of the one to the right. The pass into the box is initially met by the keeper but he can’t control it and it bounces off to Makarić, who due to his great sense of positioning, once again creates an illusion of just being lucky to be there to score.
But when six of his last 14 goals have come from inside the six-yard box, we know this is not a coincidence. The final weapon in his arsenal is using his brute strength and pace to outmuscle and outrun the defenders, making him a valuable tool in transitional attacks. Radnik are not necessarily a transition heavy team at all times but with 43.87% possession on average this season, they tend to leave the control of the ball to the other team.
This is when Makarić can be used as a great target for long balls into the space behind the opposition’s backs. While he is not always a traditional target-man up front, he will outmuscle the defenders using his physique and then create separation through pace to reach the box and, more often than not, score a goal.
Above we can see exactly that. Makarić starts his run from the deep, overtakes the defender and uses impressive strength to stay on his feet even when tugged by the opposition player. The action ends with the 25-year-old bagging another goal for his tally.
Dribbling & pace
We’ve already touched upon Makarić’s pace to start runs from the deep and finish transitional attacks but that is also a tool he often uses in 1v1 duels. Going back to his heatmap at the beginning of this scout report, we noticed a tendency to drift wide and then advance up the flanks. The eye test certainly confirmed this as Makarić is indeed very flexible in his positioning and can be used to create advantages on the flanks.
Below are four graphs from some of his latest games that offered us a big enough sample of offensive duels to study. As you can see, Makarić engages in duels practically across the entirety of the final third, often on either flank.
Generally speaking, he averages 15.15 offensive duels per 90 minutes with a 38.4% win rate. While not outstanding, it still gives us a glimpse of what he can do in the attacking phase. But this suddenly improves immensely when we combine it with his dribbling ability. You wouldn’t necessarily connect a 1.85 metres tall striker with agility, pace and dribbling but Makarić is excellent in all of those despite his stature and lack of technical prowess.
In 2020/21, he averages 4.02 dribbles per 90, winning an impressive 59.9%. Below is an image showing us his dribbles from four of the latest games with a big enough sample. One thing to note in all of those is the location of the dribbles as well as the success rate.
Many of those come from wide areas and Makarić is generally very successful at them. Next, we’ll take a look at one in-game example that will tell us more. The 25-year-old striker receives a long ball after drifting wide and dropping slightly deeper on the pitch. There, he is instantly met by a marker from the opposition’s team.
But Makarić uses his pace and strength to shrug off the defender and burst forward towards the box. After a short commotion in the penalty area, the ball ends up in the net with Makarić’s name on the score sheet once more.
And by consulting both the offensive duels and the dribbles graphs, we can conclude this is not an isolated scenario either. The Serbian will often drift wide and engage the opposition there, ideally in a 1v1 duel, which he has a knack of winning.
Passing & back-to-goal play
Finally, we’ll shortly touch upon Makarić’s passing abilities and back-to-goal play. Generally speaking, he is not a brilliant passer of the ball but compared to the other strikers in the league, still falls in the above-average category in most metrics. But, as alluded to earlier, with a caveat of smaller volume per game.
Makarić only attempts about 17.96 passes per 90, completing 64.5%, which is not an overly impressive stat by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, when we factor in that he doesn’t take that much risk in his distribution either, we get an average result which goes hand in hand with our conclusion that he’s not a technically gifted player.
But his passing still serves a purpose within Radnik’s tactics. Below is a graphic that will show us his passing tendencies.
The first thing we can notice here is the number of back passes and diagonal progressive passes. Intriguingly, both are a direct result of his back-to-goal style of play where he holds up the ball and then lays it off for a teammate bursting into space. It won’t often result in key passes but the data suggests it does so for him more often than for the majority of other strikers in the league.
Makarić is around the 70th percentile ranking in key passes per 90 and beyond the 90th in smart passes, meaning that despite his limited output, he’s still a more proficient passer than many others in his role. Our next example will show him being used in that back-to-goal and lay-off role we spoke about earlier.
Following a throw-in, Makarić uses his strength to hold up the play and lay the ball off for a teammate bursting into space beyond the opposition’s backline. And that’s exactly what you can use his physique for. Not only that but by using him in such situations rather than expecting line-breaking passes, you can limit and somewhat mask his lack of technical quality we keep mentioning in this tactical analysis.
Other than that, the passmaps often feature long switches from one side to the other. These happen after Makarić has drifted wide to receive the pass and then, instead of immediately combining on that flank, he decides to run with the ball and deploy a long ball towards the other wing.
The data supports this too and his passes are longer than roughly 70% of other strikers’ with a higher long-ball ratio than around 70% as well. Above is an example of such a scenario in which he receives wide, runs with it shortly and then swaps sides efficiently.
Milan Makarić is a lethal finisher with a great sense of positioning, decent pace and dribbling abilities and physique that enables him to effectively hold up play and outmuscle his markers. What he lacks in technical quality can be masked by limiting his distribution responsibilities to layoffs and simple switches.
Radnik’s season has been nothing short of sensational and this 25-year-old goal-machine has played a huge role in it. While he’s not exactly Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Braut Haaland, Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski or Atletico Madrid’s Luis Suarez, he might be a very interesting option for many clubs looking for a cheap but excellent addition to their team.
And seeing how he’s modelling his game on Lewandowski and Cristiano Ronaldo themselves, as reported by Calciomercato, it will be exciting to track his progress as he fights for a transfer to one of Europe’s best teams in the future.