Scouting Spotlight: Berkay Ozcan, Matthijs De Ligt, Martin Odegaard
Scouting Spotlight looks at three players whose performances are making waves. Berkay Ozcan, Matthijs de Ligt and Martin Odegaard feature this week.
Berkay Ozcan -- VfB Stuttgart
Born in Karlsruhe to Turkish parents, Ozcan represented Germany Under-15s before switching his allegiance to Turkey and making his debut for the U21 side last year. He is still establishing himself in the first team at Stuttgart, but talk of a big move has already transpired.
Given his family background and style of play, Ozcan has been described as the "new Mesut Ozil" in Germany. His languid gait and eye for the killer ball certainly bear resemblance to the Arsenal playmaker.
Although nominally a left-sided attacking midfielder, the 19-year-old isn't a typical winger, preferring to drift inside to find space to exploit. He is a natural with both feet and possesses the upper-body strength to hold off opponents when driving into the final third.
While he continues to develop and learn the tactical side of the game, Ozcan's speed and technique are both key assets in a counter-attacking system. His dangerous set-pieces are another significant advantage for Stuttgart.
After making 21 appearances in Stuttgart's promotion season, claiming two goals and three assists, Ozcan demonstrated his talent on his full Bundesliga debut in October by creating two goals in a 3-0 win over Freiburg.
His next match saw him substituted early in the second half as Hannes Wolf's side went down 3-1 at Hamburg, but Ozcan bounced back against Borussia Dortmund at the weekend. With the game tied at 1-1, he picked out Josip Brekalo's run with a fine pass from inside his own half for the Croatian to break into the box and score the winner.
Where would he fit in?
Arsenal have been strongly linked with a move for Ozcan and the youngster said in October that the Gunners would be his first destination. There has already been contact with the player's representatives, but it's thought Ozcan is keen to continue developing in the first team at Stuttgart at least until the end of the season.
Matthijs de Ligt -- Ajax
Despite only turning 18 in August, De Ligt is one of the most sought-after defenders in Europe. He caught the eye with a string of impressive displays in Ajax's run to the Europa League final last season and has continued to stand out this campaign.
De Ligt displays all the key attributes of a modern centre-back, having the confidence and technical ability to carry the ball out of defence and exchange short, sharp passes in midfield.
Although these traits give impetus to Ajax's play, the 18-year-old doesn't neglect his defensive duties. His positioning is sound, but his anticipation and well-timed interceptions are what set him apart from other defenders in his age group. He is strong in the tackle and has the speed to track attacking runs and recover long balls over the top.
Considering the general style of play in the Netherlands, De Ligt isn't tested in the air as much as he would be in a more physical division such as the Premier League, but at 6-foot-2 he is a commanding presence and a regular threat at set-pieces.
De Ligt has started every game in the Eredivisie this season, helping Ajax maintain the best defensive record so far with just 10 goals conceded in 12 matches.
The Amsterdam club still trail PSV Eindhoven by eight points at the top of the table, but they thrashed NAC Breda 8-0 away from home at the weekend. De Ligt scored twice, both from set-pieces, claiming the first with an intelligent run to the front post and a well-directed header into the corner, before adding a second with a deft flick.
The youngster made headlines back in March when he was thrown in at the deep end during Netherlands' doomed World Cup qualifying campaign, making two costly errors on his debut in a 2-0 defeat to Bulgaria. In his second appearance for the national team he was sent off after 70 minutes of a 2-1 friendly victory over Morocco.
Where would he fit in?
De Ligt is Barcelona's No.1 defensive target and has reportedly been lined up for a €45 million bid in January. Ajax will fight to keep hold of a player they have nurtured for the past ten years, but face a tough battle with Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United also monitoring De Ligt's improvement.
Martin Odegaard -- Heerenveen (on loan from Real Madrid)
Following the fanfare that greeted his arrival at Real Madrid in January 2015, the then 16-year-old Odegaard struggled to adapt to his new surroundings in Spain and was in danger of stagnating in the club's Castilla side. A season-long loan to Heerenveen has reignited his progress, with the talented youngster now back on the path to the top.
Playing as an inverted winger on the right side of Heerenveen's front three, the hallmarks of Odegaard's game remain the same as the attributes that first caught the eye of Real Madrid, along with every other elite club, when he was playing in Stromsgodset's first team at 15.
He is best with the ball at his feet, gifted with exceptional close control to glide between defenders towards the box. Now 18, his strength has developed, but the speed of his movement and deft touch are the qualities that allow him to effortlessly evade opponents.
While Odegaard relishes opportunities to work his way out of tight spaces, his end product still requires work, occasionally choosing to shoot from poor positions or hold on to the ball for too long.
Odegaard scored his first goal for Heerenveen in a 4-0 thrashing of Twente at the weekend but, having created more chances for teammates than any other player in the squad, you would expect him to have more than a single assist to his name. That came via a smart back-heel to play in Reza Ghoochannejhad against AZ Alkmaar, and Odegaard will now be hoping to add to his tally.
Following an 18-month absence from the Norway senior set-up, he was recalled for the recent friendly against Macedonia after claiming a goal and an assist in an impressive 3-1 win for the U21 side against Germany in October.
Where would he fit in?
Real Madrid have been closely monitoring Odegaard's development and are thought to be keen to partner him with £38m signing Vinicius Junior when the teenagers reach first-team level. Should Real eventually decide to look at other options, Odegaard, a known Liverpool fan, will have a long list of potential destinations for his next move.
Matthew Stanger covers European football for ESPN and is the editor of The Set Pieces. Twitter: @MatthewStanger