Scouting Spotlight: Gelson Martins, Ruben Neves, Giovanni Simeone
Scouting Spotlight looks at Sporting Lisbon's version of Cristiano Ronaldo, the Championship's best player and the son of Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone.
Gelson Martins -- Sporting Lisbon
After progressing through Sporting's famed youth academy, Martins broke into the first team picture in 2015. He has since proven to be a key creative talent for Jorge Jesus' side, winning 17 caps for Portugal.
A flying winger with a low centre of gravity to barge his way past defenders, Martins usually starts on the right of Sporting's 4-2-3-1 formation, where he is tasked with supplying the ammunition for prolific target man Bas Dost. The 22-year-old's main strength is his electric pace, driving beyond the opposition backline to find the time and space to pick out a cross. His deliveries can be wayward at times, but such is Martins' evident potential that he has drawn comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo.
Similar to Ronaldo in his younger years, Martins enjoys showcasing his tricky footwork. He has a direct style of play, seizing on loose balls to spark attacking moves, but will need to develop greater composure in the final third.
Martins claimed his seventh Primeira Liga assist of the season in a 2-0 win over Pacos de Ferreira on Sunday, creating numerous chances for Sporting to extend their margin of victory. With 11 goals in all competitions, he has already recorded his best return in a single season, showing he can deliver in big games by scoring the opening goal in January's Lisbon derby against Benfica.
Martins' ability to rise to the occasion was also noted last season, when he scored the winner in Sporting's first league meeting with Porto and repeatedly stretched Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in the Champions League.
Where would he fit in?
Liverpool have been regularly linked with the winger over the past 12 months, and he would suit the quick transitions Jurgen Klopp favours in his attacking system. Sporting have been known to drive a hard bargain, however, and Martins' reported £53.5 million release clause affords them a strong negotiating position.
Ruben Neves -- Wolverhampton Wanderers
As the Championship's best player, Neves' performances have highlighted the influence of Wolves' relationship with super-agent Jorge Mendes. The midfielder was signed for a record £15.8m from Porto, but will command a significantly higher fee in his next move.
After making his debut for Porto at 17, and captaining the club in the Champions League, Neves followed manager Nuno Espirito Santo to England last summer. There were questions about how he would handle the physicality of second-tier football, but the 21-year-old has adapted seamlessly.
Setting the tempo in a 3-4-3 system, Neves' remarkable vision and passing range have been key factors in Wolves' inevitable return to the Premier League. He rarely makes mistakes in possession, but leads by example and is quick to recover his position when he does lose the ball.
Neves likes to shoot from distance, arcing powerful efforts towards the corners, and is a threat from set-pieces -- as he proved with his match-winning free-kick at Cardiff last weekend. His discipline has been questioned at times, with the midfielder banned on three occasions for accumulative yellow cards and a reckless dismissal in Wolves' recent win at Middlesbrough.
While Neves has recorded only a single assist this season, the numbers fail to accurately portray his contribution. He has often been the key to unlocking opponents, sliding passes inside the full-backs for Wolves' wingers to race on to.
Each of his five strikes in the Championship have come from outside the box, with Neves' impact underlined by Wolves losing comprehensively to Fulham and failing to beat Hull during his recent suspensions. The youngster's form earned him a recall to the Portugal squad for a friendly against Egypt in March, and he is now eyeing a place at the World Cup.
Where would he fit in?
Neves signed a five-year contract upon joining Wolves and his future is likely to depend on the advice of Mendes. With fears he had stagnated at Porto, the move to the Midlands has worked out well for all parties, but a player of Neves' quality should be at a Champions League-level club.
It was reported in March that Jose Mourinho wants Neves to replace Ander Herrera in Manchester United's midfield, which would leave Wolves facing a sizeable battle to keep their star player.
Giovanni Simeone -- Fiorentina
Simeone first came to popular attention for the forfeit of being forced to have a humiliating haircut by his River Plate teammates, but he has since gained admirers for his footballing ability. The son of Atletico Madrid boss Diego, Giovanni's form for Fiorentina should soon see him follow in his father's footsteps by representing Argentina.
Unlike Simeone senior, who enjoyed a fine spell in Serie A as a midfield general in the late 1990s, Giovanni is a typical centre-forward. He comes alive around the box, fashioning chances for himself and teammates. Although his finishing can be wasteful at times, Simeone is adept at finding space to get on the end of crosses, often displaying impressive accuracy with his head despite his relatively small frame at 5-foot-11.
The 22-year-old makes intelligent runs playing on the shoulder of the defender and is a confident dribbler, drifting into wide areas and using his close control to protect the ball and drive in-field.
With 10 goals and three assists in 31 Serie A appearances, Simeone has enjoyed an encouraging first campaign at Fiorentina.
He will be aiming to beat his tally of 12 strikes for Genoa last season, and moved one step closer to his target with a well-taken finish at Roma on Saturday. Picking the ball up 40 yards from goal, Simeone drove at the hosts' backline and barged between two defenders before firing past the goalkeeper to seal an impressive 2-0 victory.
Where would he fit in?
Speculation in Italy has suggested Tottenham are plotting a bid for Simeone in the summer, and he would likely prove to be a more effective understudy to Harry Kane than Fernando Llorente. It would be interesting to see how the youngster adapts to a quicker pace of football, with any potential suitors needing to be patient as he continues to develop his game.
Matthew Stanger covers European football for ESPN and is the editor of The Set Pieces. Twitter: @MatthewStanger