Scouting Spotlight: Adnan Januzaj, Justin Kluivert, Mariano
Scouting Spotlight looks at three players whose performances are making waves. A former Man United prospect, a son of a Dutch legend and a former Real Madrid prodigy feature this week.
Adnan Januzaj, Real Sociedad
After struggling to build on his breakthrough at Manchester United under David Moyes, Januzaj is starting out again at Real Sociedad. His performances this season have offered glimpses of the talent that saw him rated so highly as a youngster at Old Trafford.
The 22-year-old is much the same player as when he burst on to scene with two goals on his first start for Manchester United in a 2-1 victory at Sunderland in 2013. A lithe midfielder capable of playing on either flank, Januzaj utilises his close control to beat opponents rather than possessing the pace to surge past them.
He has largely been playing as an inverted winger on the right for Real Sociedad, offering a counterpoint to the left-sided Mikel Oyarzabal. The Belgium international's vision and deadly deliveries with his left foot have provided plenty of ammunition for Willian Jose in the centre, while he still possesses a tenacious streak to fulfil his defensive duties and put defenders under pressure.
A lack of strength saw him bullied at times in the Premier League, but his technical attributes are perhaps more suited to the Spanish top flight.
A goal and an assist in the 2-2 draw with Las Palmas at the weekend took Januzaj's total to two strikes and three assists in nine La Liga appearances this season, three of which have come from the bench.
A delightful pass to set up Willian Jose's first-half goal highlighted what Januzaj is capable of, spotting the striker from a deep position and lifting the ball over the defence to find his run. His own strike was somewhat fortuitous, but he showed keen awareness to position himself at the back post to slide home a loose ball.
Where would he fit?
Although he signed a five-year deal when completing a £9.8 million move to Real Sociedad in July, Manchester United inserted a buy-back clause in Januzaj's contract.
It's unlikely he'll return to Old Trafford permanently, but there is recent precedent for such a situation arising, with Real Madrid bringing back Alvaro Morata from Juventus and Dani Carvajal from Bayer Leverkusen and Barcelona resigning Gerard Deulofeu from Everton in the summer.
Justin Kluivert, Ajax
Son of the great Netherlands striker Patrick Kluivert, Justin is slowly establishing himself at Ajax after progressing through the youth ranks. He made headlines with a stunning hat trick at the weekend in a 5-1 win over Roda JC and has already caught the attention of Premier League scouts.
Unlike his father, Justin isn't a conventional striker, playing in a wide forward role under Ajax manager Marcel Keizer. His greatest assets are his speed, quick feet and low centre of gravity, which allow him to burst past defenders and drive toward the penalty area.
For a player who is just 18 years old, Kluivert often displays impressive decision-making in the final third. He has a tendency to think a step ahead, luring opponents toward the ball and flicking it into the space beyond them or dribbling in-field and sliding teammates through on goal. There are occasions when he could release the ball sooner, but Kluivert is a full-throttle talent who can tear teams apart with his penetrating runs.
Kluivert's breathtaking hat trick against Roda JC brought his first goals of the campaign and demonstrated his raw finishing ability. It also handed him the bragging rights over his father, who never claimed a league hat trick in the Netherlands during spells at Ajax and PSV Eindhoven.
All three of Justin's strikes came when he cut inside from the left flank and shot into the far corner. His second displayed devastating power, but it was the third that exhibited the forward's range of skills as he expertly controlled a long ball, deceived the full-back by rolling it under his foot and showed off a few step-overs before firing in a low finish.
Where would he fit?
Tottenham and Manchester United have both been linked with moves for Kluivert, and it's easy to see how he would offer something different with his pacy wing play. The youngster has been watched by scouts from all over Europe, however, and is certain to be a top target next summer.
Mariano -- Lyon
After six years in the youth teams at Real Madrid, Mariano left the Santiago Bernabeu for Lyon in the summer and hasn't looked back. As the spearhead of an exciting, young team, the striker's goals have helped keep the pressure on Paris Saint-Germain at the top of Ligue 1.
An explosive forward with a lethal eye for goal, Mariano has softened the blow of Lyon losing Alexandre Lacazette to Arsenal. There are some similarities between the two forwards in their intelligent movement around the box, but Mariano often likes to drop deep to receive the ball and dribble at the defence.
His upper body strength is a significant advantage when looking to play in teammates, and this physical characteristic is also telling in his aerial ability. The 24-year-old makes well-timed runs to leap above defenders, but he can score all types of goals from headers to improvised finishes, powerful drives from distance and set pieces.
As a relative newcomer to senior football, there are times when his direct style can be frustrating. It's clear that Mariano still has plenty to learn to make an impact in Europe or negotiate the step up to a bigger league.
Even surrounded by the enormous amount of talent currently at Lyon's disposal, Nabil Fekir chief among them, Mariano's performances have stood out this season.
With 10 goals and two assists in 14 Ligue 1 matches, the striker has built on his scoring form for Real Madrid Castilla that saw him handed several opportunities in the first team under Zinedine Zidane last year. Mariano scored in Sunday's win at Nice (after missing a great chance earlier in the first half) to help Lyon claim their third 5-0 away victory in the space of a month.
He is yet to make a real impression in the Europa League, however, and will be aiming to show more of his qualities in the knockout stage.
Where would he fit?
Having signed Mariano to a four-year deal in June, it's likely that Lyon will generate a significant profit on their €8 million outlay when he eventually moves on. If he continues to progress at the current rate, a switch to the Premier League could materialise, with Manchester United searching for an alternative to the out-of-sorts Romelu Lukaku.
Matthew Stanger covers European football for ESPN and is the editor of The Set Pieces. Twitter: @MatthewStanger