Scouting Spotlight: Jonathan Tah, Adama Traore, Andrija Zivkovic
Scouting Spotlight profiles players across Europe who have caught the eye. This week an imposing Bundesliga centre-back, a product of La Masia and a Manchester United target feature.
Jonathan Tah -- Bayer Leverkusen
A regular for Champions League-chasing Bayer Leverkusen, Tah's steady progress over the past three seasons has seen him claim three international caps for Germany as he aims to impress Joachim Low before the World Cup.
An imposing centre-back who relishes a physical battle, Tah possesses the pace to keep up with even the quickest attackers. Standing at 6-foot-4, the 22-year-old is strong in the air and comfortable forcing opponents away from goal into the channels.
He is composed with the ball at his feet, striding out of from the back and clipping passes over the defence for Leverkusen's speedy forwards to chase.
Tah has previously spoken about working closely with Javier Hernandez during the Mexican's time in Germany, gaining an understanding of how strikers think to improve his positioning.
Following an injury-hit campaign last year, Tah has been a consistent performer for a Leverkusen side that likes to approach matches on the front foot.
While Heiko Herrlich's team are the third-highest scorers in the Bundesliga, Tah has contributed to six clean sheets in his 21 appearances, forming a convincing partnership with Sven Bender in the centre of defence.
As a young defender still learning the game, he has some developing to do -- underlined by his recent error in a 2-0 home defeat to Hertha Berlin. Failing to realise the presence of Salomon Kalou, Tah allowed the ball to run past him, affording the striker the opportunity to race in and seal Hertha's victory.
Where would he fit in?
Amid reported interest from Dortmund, Juventus and Tottenham, Leverkusen tied Tah to a new five-year contract in February. It's thought Spurs remain keen on the centre-back, however, eyeing him as a potential replacement for Toby Alderweireld should the Belgium international leave in the summer.
Adama Traore -- Middlesbrough
A product of Barcelona's famed La Masia academy, making four appearances for the first team, Traore is now in his third season in England after leaving the Camp Nou to join Aston Villa. He moved to Middlesbrough in 2016 and is beginning to fulfil his potential under Tony Pulis as the club look to bounce back to the Premier League at the first attempt.
A lightning quick winger previously criticised for his lack of end product, Traore is now showing the composure to find the killer pass at the end of his lung-bursting runs. Along with rapid acceleration, he possesses excellent close control to shield the ball from defenders, often dribbling the full length of the pitch to send Boro on the attack.
While the 22-year-old's decision-making continues to frustrate his teammates at times, he has taken on more responsibility under Pulis to lead the club's promotion charge. Traore has worked on his defensive contribution, using his powerful upper-body strength to win back possession and put opposing wingers under pressure.
He can be prone to moments of recklessness, however, earning a fourth-minute red card against Villa earlier in the campaign for a late lunging tackle.
It took Traore 53 games to score his first goal in England, finally finding the net for Boro in a 3-0 win over QPR at the end of January. With three goals and three assists in his last nine matches, including a match-winning brace against Reading, his impressive form has seen Pulis' side sneak into the play-off spots.
Traore produced a typical driving run in a 3-0 victory over Leeds last weekend to set up Patrick Bamford's second goal. Picking the ball up near the edge of his own box, he surged past three players before playing a perfect through-ball at the other end of the pitch for the striker to score.
Where would he fit in?
Tim Sherwood, who managed Traore at Aston Villa, recently claimed the winger has the quality to play for Manchester City. That is perhaps overstating his ability slightly, but it wasn't a surprise to see Chelsea linked with a £20m move for the winger last June.
West Ham and Newcastle have also tracked the youngster's progress, with Traore expected to end up back in the Premier League one way or another next season.
Andrija Zivkovic -- Benfica
Serbia's youngest international footballer, Zivkovic has won seven caps for his country after making his debut at 17. He captained FK Partizan at the same age before joining Benfica in 2016 when his contract expired.
A versatile attacking midfielder who can play across the front line, Zivkovic displays excellent vision in the final third. He favours his left foot, delivering dangerous crosses for Benfica goal-machine Jonas, but is confident on his right side as exemplified by his stunning strike against Maritimo at the weekend.
At 5-foot-6, the 21-year-old's low centre of gravity and quick feet enable him to dart past defenders, opening up space around the edge of the box. He likes to drift across the pitch, looking to spot his teammates' runs with sliding through-balls, and possesses a powerful shot from distance.
While Jonas stole the headlines with a hat trick that took his tally to 30 goals in 25 Portuguese Liga matches this season, Zivkovic produced a telling performance in Benfica's 5-0 thrashing of Maritimo on Saturday. His clever pass found Alex Grimaldo's run to make it 2-0, before he crowned the victory with a brilliant curling finish into the top corner.
With three goals and three assists in 12 domestic appearances this term, of which only eight have been starts, Zivkovic is enjoying his most productive campaign to date. After starting the last five matches, he will be hoping to play his part in the run-in as Benfica look to trim Porto's five-point lead at the top.
Where would he fit in?
Manchester United have long been credited with an interest in Zivkovic, but Arsenal have emerged as contenders for the Serbian's signature. Reports in Portugal suggest the Gunners have scouted the midfielder extensively with a view to launching a bid in the summer.
Matthew Stanger covers European football for ESPN and is the editor of The Set Pieces. Twitter: @MatthewStanger