Scouting Spotlight: Upamecano, Willian Jose and Milinkovic-Savic
Which players are attracting attention in Europe's biggest leagues? Introducing Scouting Spotlight, looking at three players each week whose performances are making headlines ...
Dayot Upamecano -- RB Leipzig
A close friend of Barcelona's new record-signing Ousmane Dembele, whom he played alongside in the junior ranks at French club Evreux FC, Upamecano is a defender with the world at his feet. The 18-year-old was tracked by Europe's biggest clubs after helping France win the European Under-17 Championships in 2015, but opted to join Red Bull Salzburg before moving to unofficial sister club RB Leipzig for €10 million in January 2017.
Described by his Evreux youth coach Romaric Bultel as "not a natural talent" when he arrived at the club, Upamecano is clearly a quick learner. Bultel has revealed the youngster often stayed behind after training to work on his control and speed, and those extra sessions have paid off in his ability to recover the ball when caught on the wrong side of his opponent.
A robust, determined centre-back, Upamecano has a keen sense of danger, can pass with both feet and has the pace to play a high line as well as the composure to carry the ball out from the back.
He endured a difficult start in Germany and was replaced just half an hour into his full debut as Leipzig suffered a shock 3-0 home defeat to Hamburg in February. He recovered from that early setback, however, and thriving on the faith shown in him by coach Ralph Hasenhuttl, he has established himself as an important member of the team.
After making 12 appearances last term, Upamecano has started the first two matches of this campaign and impressed in the 4-1 victory over Freiburg on Saturday. Leipzig's opening game away to Schalke reinforced that he is still a raw talent, with the defender bundling over Franco Di Santo to concede a penalty in a 2-0 defeat.
Where would he fit in?
With Liverpool agreeing a club-record fee for Naby Keita to join them next summer, Upamecano could be one of the next young stars prised away from Leipzig. Manchester United, Arsenal, Juventus and Bayern are all keen, while Manchester City should also be following his development given their need to strengthen at centre-back.
Willian Jose -- Real Sociedad
After starting his career in Brazil, Willian Jose was signed by Uruguayan feeder club Deportivo Maldonado in 2011 before embarking on a nomadic journey that saw him loaned to six clubs in five years. A brief spell at Real Madrid in 2014 didn't work out, but the striker stayed in Spain and joined Real Sociedad on a five-year contract in July 2016 after impressing at Real Zaragoza and Las Palmas.
A powerful, mobile centre-forward, Willian Jose's competitive nature has occasionally overstepped the mark. During his year at Real Madrid in 2014, he was sent off twice in the space of four games for the B team, scoring a hat trick in another match that alerted Carlo Ancelotti to his potential. The Italian awarded the Brazilian a single appearance for the senior side when he came off the bench ahead of Gareth Bale in a 2-0 defeat to Celta Vigo, but his efforts weren't enough to earn a long-term deal.
Now 25, Willian Jose has grown into a central figure at Real Sociedad, allowing his teammates to play off him in the final third and imposing himself in the penalty area. His aerial prowess is a key strength, with headers accounting for seven of his 14 goals in all competitions last season. He is more than capable of beating defenders in the air, but he often beats his marker with brains rather than brawn, finding space in the box to get on the end of crosses.
With two goals in two games for table-topping Real Sociedad, Willian Jose has made a fine start to the season. After scoring a late penalty to secure a 3-2 win at Celta Vigo on the opening weekend, the striker demonstrated his intelligent movement against Villarreal last Friday to sneak in between two defenders and stab home at the second attempt. That set the ball rolling for a 3-0 victory, and he also played a part in the second by heading Mikel Oyarzabal's cross back across goal for Xabi Prieto to score.
Where would he fit in?
Everton and Newcastle have both been linked to Willian Jose and he certainly possesses the physicality to make an impact in the Premier League. His buyout clause reportedly stands at £33 million.
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic -- Lazio
Milinkovic-Savic joined Lazio in July 2015 after helping Serbia win the U20 World Cup earlier that summer. The 22-year-old comes from strong sporting stock, with his father playing for several clubs in Spain and Portugal and his mother enjoying a professional basketball career.
A towering figure at 6-foot-4, Milinkovic-Savic relishes applying his powerful frame in Lazio's three-man midfield. His greatest influence comes in the final third, playing a part in 11 goals in Serie A last season, but he also enjoys the combative side of the game, using his long legs to pick the pocket of opponents. The Serbian's impressive technique and close control enable him to protect the ball in tight areas and he will often look for a quick pass, clipping the ball into space to spark a counterattack.
Like most players his age, Milinkovic-Savic's decision-making can be suspect at times, especially with regard to a number of overzealous challenges, but he has also displayed the big-game mentality coaches crave, scoring in both legs of the Coppa Italia semi-final against bitter rivals Roma as Lazio reached the 2017 final against Juventus.
The 2016-17 campaign was a breakthrough year and he was at the centre of the action again at last weekend. Lining up alongside former Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva, Milinkovic-Savic was involved in a tough battle against Chievo, creating several openings for teammates including one notable chance for Ciro Immobile with a lobbed pass over the defence. His persistence eventually paid off when he lashed in a shot from outside the box in the 89th minute to give Lazio their first win of the season.
Where would he fit in?
It was reported that Liverpool had a £24m bid for Milinkovic-Savic rejected in June, with Lazio thought to be demanding more than double that amount. Inter Milan are another possible destination, while Juventus, Chelsea and Manchester United have all monitored his progress.