Scouting Spotlight: Benjamin Henrichs, Ryan Sessegnon, Zakaria Labyad
Scouting Spotlight profiles players across Europe who have caught the eye. This week, Ryan Sessegnon is Fulham's answer to Gareth Bale, Germany are excited about young full-back Benjamin Henrichs and Morocco's dead-ball king Zakaria Labyad gets attention.
Benjamin Henrichs -- Bayer Leverkusen
Despite Leverkusen's struggles in the Bundesliga last year, Henrichs enjoyed an impressive breakthrough campaign that saw him selected for Germany's Confederations Cup triumph. Injuries have interrupted his progress this season, but the full-back was on form in his team's victory over Hamburg at the weekend.
Similar to Emre Can during his time at Leverkusen, Henrichs' versatility has seen him deployed in a number of different positions across the pitch. He graduated from the club's youth setup as a midfielder, but has mainly been used as a full-back on either flank in the first team.
The 20-year-old exhibits the same composure in possession as Can, but is more suited to a wide role owing to his speed and dribbling skills. Solid in the tackle, he displays good awareness in his defensive positioning and ability to pick a pass when joining the attack.
After struggling with injuries in the first half of the season, Henrichs is now aiming to win back his starting spot in a Leverkusen side that currently sit fourth in the Bundesliga.
He started 27 league matches last season, but has been selected in the first XI on only nine occasions this term. In November, he was red carded for stopping a goal-bound shot with his arm just seven minutes after coming off the bench in a 2-2 draw against RB Leipzig.
Despite finding himself on the bench again at Hamburg on Saturday, it wasn't long before Henrichs was thrown into the action following Wendell's injury in the first half. He set up Kai Havertz's winning goal with a low, driven cross in the second period after Leon Bailey had earlier opened the scoring.
Where would he fit in?
Manchester City and Manchester United have both sent scouts to watch Henrichs over the past two seasons, with the Red Devils reported to have weighed up a £21 million offer last summer. Tottenham also considered the Germany international as a replacement for Kyle Walker before the full-back extended his Leverkusen contract until 2022.
Ryan Sessegnon -- Fulham
Still only 17, Sessegnon will make his 50th Championship start for Fulham when they face Bristol City on Wednesday. He has been the division's best player so far in 2018, with a summer move now appearing a certainty.
After starting the season at left-back, Sessegnon has been afforded the opportunity to move into a more advanced role in recent weeks following Matt Targett's arrival on loan from Southampton. He has responded with seven goals in his last seven appearances to help drive Fulham's push towards the automatic promotion places.
Comparisons with Gareth Bale are credible, but Sessegnon arguably displays a more intuitive understanding of the game than the Welshman did at 17.
While he is strong defensively, and possesses the pace and technical ability to stretch opponents down the wing, it is around the box that the teenager really comes to life. He exhibits the instincts of a poacher in the penalty area, drifting inside to meet crosses from the opposite flank.
Following a difficult first half on the wing against Aston Villa, where he was marshalled by Manchester United loanee Axel Tuanzebe, Sessegnon demonstrated his knack for finding space in the box once again to give Fulham the lead on Saturday. Pulling away from Tuanzebe to the penalty spot, he steered home his 12th goal of the campaign on his weaker right foot to set the ball rolling for a 2-0 victory.
He has been involved in 24 goals in 57 Championship appearances in total, including seven assists. The youngster also starred in England's European U-19 Championship success last summer, scoring a brace in a 4-1 win against Germany.
Where would he fit in?
Sessegnon has strongly been linked with a switch to Tottenham, with some reports even claiming that the transfer has already been agreed. With Danny Rose tipped to leave in the summer, it could be the perfect move for the 17-year-old to provide competition for Ben Davies, depending on whether Mauricio Pochettino views him as a full-back or winger.
Manchester United have also watched Sessegnon closely, while Real Madrid have been credited with an interest in a player with a bright future in the game.
Zakaria Labyad -- FC Utrecht
After breaking into the first-team at PSV Eindhoven in 2011-12, former Fulham loanee Labyad earned a move to Sporting Clube de Portugal as a 19-year-old. His spell in Portugal didn't go to plan, however, and he returned to the Netherlands with Utrecht at the start of 2017.
A lively attacking midfielder with an eye for goal, Labyad has largely been used in a central role for Utrecht this season but can drift into wide areas to create space for teammates in the middle of the pitch.
The 24-year-old possesses excellent close control to shield the ball from his opponent, and likes to deceive defenders with a drop of the shoulder or by feigning to take a shot or pass.
One of Labyad's greatest strengths is his quality from set pieces, while he makes intelligent runs in the final third and has the vision to find teammates with smart passes around the box.
Labyad experienced a relatively slow start with Utrecht at the tail end of last season but has been in fine form in the current campaign to help the club into fifth place -- just a point behind last year's champions Feyenoord.
The Morocco international, who will hope to earn a recall for the World Cup, has claimed 10 goals and eight assists in 23 Eredivisie matches, including a matchwinning brace away to Ajax in November.
Three of his 10 strikes have come from dead-ball situations, while only three players -- including compatriot Hakim Ziyech -- have created more chances per game in the Dutch top-flight this season.
Where would he fit in?
Following a disappointing spell at Fulham in 2016 there hasn't been a great deal of interest in Labyad from England despite his blistering form. Ajax are monitoring his progress, however, with reports in the Netherlands suggesting he could make the switch at the end of the season.
Matthew Stanger covers European football for ESPN and is the editor of The Set Pieces. Twitter: @MatthewStanger