Luka Milivojević: The Eagle who continues to soar

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LOOMING THREAT OF RELEGATION AT SELHURST PARK

Balancing precariously above the drop zone in this season's Premier League table, life played out with the ongoing prospect of relegation has become standard procedure for Crystal Palace. Last term the club started terribly under Frank de Boer and were forced to take a completely different approach extremely early on, hiring veteran boss Roy Hodgson to steer them away from danger. The former England boss did just that, transforming things drastically in South London, securing top-flight football for at least another season after guiding Palace to a comfortable 11th placed finish.

This time around, much of the same problems that followed the Eagles last season have reared their ugly heads once more, namely their lack of consistent goalscorers. Sat just three points above the relegation zone as things stand, though Palace wouldn't be the first side mentioned when discussing candidates for the drop this term, they still find themselves very much in the mix. Huddersfield and Fulham already look doomed and with Southampton, Newcastle, Burnley, Brighton and Palace all separated by the finest of margins in the bottom half of the division, there's everything to play for right now.

Next month is absolutely pivotal for Roy Hodgson's side as they look to pull themselves away from danger. The Londoners go up against Burnley, Brighton, and Huddersfield throughout March, before a trip to Newcastle kicks off April. It's make or break for Palace at the moment, they could quite easily widen the gap between themselves and the rest of the relegation-threatened pack with a couple of positive results against teams in a similar position, or fall further down the table with a run of poor performances. One man who is absolutely vital for them though is their no nonsense, tough tackling, goalscoring leader Luka Milivojević, who's importance to the Eagles is as big as Wilfried Zaha's, just without all the hype.

PALACE'S NOT SO SECRET WEAPON

Serbian midfield general Luka Milivojević, who joined Palace from Olympiacos back in 2017, has now established himself as one of the Premier League's most consistent performers. Last season he made headway in the top-flight by scoring ten goals for the Eagles as they rose from the foot of the table to the top half of the division. This time around, the 27-year-old has already notched seven goals and been the difference for the South London outfit as they've beaten the likes of Manchester City away from home and held Manchester United to a goalless draw at Old Trafford.

Although 90% of Milivojević's goals come from the penalty spot, the fact that he has only missed two of his 17 spot kicks in a Palace shirt is testament to his character. The Serbian has nerves of steel and can always be depended on to deliver when his side need him most, which is a great deal of the time. Milivojević also currently finds himself 18th in the list of successful passes made in the Premier League this term, ahead of players like David Silva and Christian Eriksen which further highlights his ability.

Palace's number 4 is a classy player, comfortable in possession and positionally disciplined out of it. He controls the tempo of a football match, picking passes when he feels the time is right, assisting the Eagles' more creative influences in the final third - without him, it's difficult to agree with anyone saying that Palace would remain outside of the bottom three. Milivojević was an understated player who's performances frequently slipped under the radar, but he is now becoming a player of real substance and it's only so long before one of the big boys come knocking.

Milivojević-Penalty
The Serbian is Palace's joint-top goalscorer this season with seven.

MILIVOJEVIĆ IS VITAL FOR THE SOUTH LONDONERS

With seven goals to his name this season - six from the spot - Milivojević is on course to finish the campaign as Crystal Palace's top goalscorer for the second consecutive season. With 10 goals to show for his efforts last time out, his importance to the club needs no further explanation. Palace are one of the lowest scoring sides in the whole division this season with 27 goals scored - only Fulham, Cardiff, Newcastle and Huddersfield have managed less.

Milivojević and winger Andros Townsend are the only players to have scored more than five goals for the Eagles this time around, while 'main man' Wilfried Zaha trails the pair by two goals alongside Jeffrey Schlupp. Michy Batshuayi was brought in on loan from Chelsea last month to help out with the supply of goals at Selhurst Park, however based on his early performances for his new team, the dependance on Milivojević's services don't look like slowing down any time soon.

Palace's dependence on Milivojević isn't just because of his goalscoring habits though, it is much more than that. No other player in the Eagles' squad has played more minutes than the Serbian - he has started all 26 of Palace's Premier League fixtures so far, rested only for their cup matches against Grimsby, Swansea and West Brom. Milivojević is the leader at Palace, he's the man who rallies the team should they need a boost and leads by example in the heart of the midfield, without him they'd be lost.

DONCASTER PERFORMANCE EPITOMISED THE SERBIAN'S GAME

With so many similar upsets featuring in this season's competition, Sunday's FA Cup fifth round clash against League One Doncaster Rovers looked to be a potential banana skin on paper. Instead, Palace cruised to a 2-0 victory at the Keepmoat, resisting pressure from Grant McCann's men throughout the encounter.

Milivojević put in a typically professional performance on Sunday, once again dictating play in the middle of the park and controlling the tempo of the match. He had 96 touches of the ball during the clash - more than anyone on the pitch - whilst also making five key passes, which was again more than anybody from either side managed in South Yorkshire. Defensively, Milivojević's performance epitomised all that he is about. The 27-year-old made five tackles, four interceptions and four clearances, dwarfing any other player on the pitch.

The midfielder also completed 67 passes throughout the 90 minutes, 88% of which were accurate, and yes, you guessed it, that was more than anyone else on the field. To put it into context, left-back Patrick van Aanholt finished the game with the second highest amount of passes and it was still ten less than the Serbian managed. Milivojević is now talked about by many in the same breath as the Premier League's best central midfielders and it's clear to understand why. Should he continue to demonstrate the same form as he has done for the previous two seasons, whilst maintaining an almost perfect record from the penalty spot, it's almost certain that we'll see Milivojević poached by one of the Premier League's biggest sides.

For now though, the Serbian's priorities lie firmly with Crystal Palace as they look to pull away from the drop zone and obtain a top half finish for the first time in four seasons. Winning the FA Cup is also now a real possibility following Sunday's win over Doncaster, and with just four higher ranked sides left in the competition, the Eagles have a real shot of avenging the final defeat suffered by Manchester United in 2016.

One thing is for sure, we'd fancy them to beat anyone on penalties.

Milivojevic
Milivojevic put in another flawless display against Doncaster in Sunday's FA Cup clash.
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