Scouting Spotlight: David Neres, Antonin Barak, Nordi Mukiele
Scouting Spotlight takes a look at an Ajax star who could be what Manchester United need, Udinese's Czech ace who likes to shoot from range and Montpellier's versatile young defender.
David Neres -- Ajax
Signed from Sao Paulo for €12 million in January 2017, Neres has quickly established himself in the first team at Ajax. He scored his first goal for the club in a 2-1 win over Feyenoord in April, and has been in blistering form this season as the Amsterdam side look to rein in PSV Eindhoven at the top of the Eredivisie.
A speedy, skillful forward, Neres favours his left foot and looks to cut inside from the right flank or race to the byline and drag low balls across the box. When dribbling in-field he draws defenders in with his close control, creating space behind that he can then exploit with threaded passes to the forwards.
The 20-year-old has a penchant for a trick or two, shifting his body weight to slalom between defenders, and displays good off-the-ball movement to look for return passes or find goal-scoring positions around the box.
It has been a bright start at Ajax, but you sense there is plenty more to come from Neres as he continues his development.
After Willem II Tilburg took a shock lead against Ajax at the Amsterdam Arena on Sunday, Neres helped inspire a comeback to keep the gap to PSV at five points. The Brazilian crafted a brilliant assist for Kasper Dolberg to complete the fightback following Justin Kluivert's equaliser, and then wrapped up a 3-1 victory late on.
With eight goals and nine assists this season, no player has contributed to more goals in the Eredivisie than Neres. His three assists in the 4-1 thrashing of Feyenoord in Rotterdam were a particular highlight and underlined the exciting talent Ajax have on their hands.
Where would he fit in?
After beating Porto to Neres' signature, Ajax will hope to see the youngster fulfil his potential in the Netherlands. There has already been talk of interest from Europe's heavyweights, however, with Manchester United currently searching for a winger of Neres' quality to provide competition on the right.
Antonin Barak -- Udinese
It has been a meteoric 12 months or so for Barak as he rapidly becomes a familiar name in European football. He won his first Czech Republic cap in November 2016, scoring on his debut against Denmark, helped Slavia Prague claim the Czech title in May, and earned a move to Udinese where he has maintained his goalscoring form.
Barak has caught the eye with a series of long range strikes in Serie A this season, including winners against Sassuolo and Atalanta. His goal against the former emphasised his composure when shooting opportunities arise, rolling the ball under his left foot to set himself before thumping it into the net.
Playing as a central midfielder, the 23-year-old also fulfils his defensive responsibilities for Udinese, demonstrating both sides to his game in the recent 3-1 victory over Inter Milan at the San Siro.
Barak likes to dribble forward on his left foot, can provide dangerous deliveries for teammates, and has the knack of being in the right place at the right time when the ball breaks around the box.
Barak's two goals in the 4-0 hammering of Verona at the weekend took his tally to six for the season, helping Udinese climb to 12th -- three points off sixth-placed Sampdoria -- with four successive victories.
The Czech international has displayed similarly lethal form for the national team, claiming five strikes in seven appearances for the senior side.
Where would he fit in?
Barak is a self-confessed Arsenal fan and has also said, perhaps unsurprisingly, that a move to Barcelona would appeal. He has admitted that he needs to develop his game at Udinese, however, especially in his use of the ball from deeper positions, and so it may be another season or two before his next move materialises.
Nordi Mukiele -- Montpellier
A regular in defence for Montpellier, often appearing on the right side of a back three, Mukiele has impressed with his performances in Ligue 1 as a number of elite clubs monitor his progress.
A versatile defender who can play at full-back or in the centre, Mukiele's adaptability may prove a factor in earning him a big move. The 20-year-old is a key member of Ligue 1's best defence this season, with Montpellier conceding just 13 goals so far -- two fewer than leaders Paris Saint-Germain -- to stand seventh in the table.
At full-back, Mukiele possesses the speed, stamina and tenacity to support the attack and recover his position when Montpellier lose the ball. He reads the game well, a key trait when playing in the centre, is strong in the air, and can carry the ball into midfield to initiate attacks.
Starting 17 of Montpellier's 19 league matches, it has been a breakthrough season for Mukiele. He helped Montpellier pick up a 2-0 win over Bordeaux at the weekend, marking their ninth clean sheet of the campaign in the process.
Mukiele was rewarded for his form with a France Under-21 debut earlier in the year, and should soon become an option for the seniors if he maintains his progress.
Where would he fit in?
Manchester City have sent scouts to watch Mukiele and, given his ability to play in a number of different roles, a move to the Etihad to deputise for Kyle Walker and Danilo would make sense. Montpellier paid just £1.3 million to recruit the 20-year-old from Laval in January, but will no doubt demand a lot more for one of Ligue 1's most promising young talents.
Matthew Stanger covers European football for ESPN and is the editor of The Set Pieces. Twitter: @MatthewStanger