The Scout's Notebook this week takes a look towards Germany and two of the emerging stars of the Bundesliga as we conduct our latest review of the weekend's action. Lesser-known talents are also a focus this week as we look to bring new prospects to the fore on a regular basis.
Mainz, Wolfsburg and even Guangzhou R&F feature in this weeks' column, as we highlight three players making their "debut" appearance in this column. But, who are our standout performers worthy of note this week?
Johannes Geis continues to impress in Germany
Relative minnows Mainz have been by far the most inspiring storyline of the 2013-14 Bundesliga season, in a year that saw Bayern run away with the title in record-breaking fashion. Young coach Thomas Tuchel has got his side playing an attractive brand of football based around flowing attacking moves and technically gifted players.
Much international attention has been placed upon Japanese striker Shinji Okazaki, who will potentially play an important role for the Samurai Blue at this summer's World Cup. South Koreans Koo Ja-Cheol and Park Joo-Ho also attract interest in the side’s performance from the Far East. However, for German supporters, it is the success of homegrown talents centre-back Stefan Bell, goalkeeper Loris Karius and midfielder Johannes Geis that will be most pleasing.
Of the trio, Geis looks the most promising and over the weekend he grabbed his first goal for the club since his move from Greuther Furth last summer with a terrific long-range strike off his left foot. An Under-21 international, Geis is the midfield base upon which the Mainz side is built, whose presence allows his side's forwards to excel. But, despite his defensive importance, he also leads the way for assists for Mainz, with four this campaign, touching the ball more than any other player in the side.
GOAL! 83' Johannes Geis' long-range effort swerves all over the place before nestling just inside the post. Mainz 3-0 Augsburg. #M05FCA
— Bundesliga Live (@BL_Live_EN) March 29, 2014
At just 20 years old and still a relatively new addition to the squad, he is already the man whose presence is most important to what Tuchel is trying to achieve. In all aspects of the game he is central to Mainz's strategy, with his defensive positioning, distribution and stamina all ever-improving dimensions of his play. It is little surprise, then, that reports this weekend have begun to suggest interest from Borussia Dortmund in his services.
Geis has made somewhat of a breakthrough this season, despite having played reasonably well for Greuther over the past two seasons. He has taken the step up to a senior role in a side that are on the cusp of securing a European place next season, if they can overtake either Borussia Monchengladbach or Wolfsburg over the final ten games of the campaign.
Germany are blessed with a number of excellent young prospects at the current time and Geis is far from the most internationally renowned of his generation. With time, should his development continue, that is sure to change. Geis' reputation is growing quickly and he has undoubtedly been one of the most consistent young players in the Bundesliga this season. In a league that is becoming monitored ever more closely by the great and good of European football, his relative anonymity will not last much longer.
A Swiss left-back star of the future
The left-back position has been one of relative paucity in international football in terms of world class talent. The last few years has seen the likes of Jordi Alba, Marcelo and David Alaba take up the reigns, but it is a position that is still relatively lacking in depth -- despite the emergence of younger talents Luke Shaw, Lucas Digne and Alex Sandro among others.
Another of that new generation who is impressing so greatly is 21-year-old Swiss international Ricardo Rodriguez, who has been an important member of the Wolfsburg side since his 2012 arrival from FC Zurich. This weekend brought a seventh assist of the season for the forward-thinking left-back in a fine display against Frankfurt that demonstrated his attacking abilities to the full. He has also provided five goals.
0 - Wolfsburg's Ricardo Rodriguez and Augsburg's Daniel Baier are the only outfield players not to miss a minute of the BL season. Nonstop.
— OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) March 24, 2014
What Rodriguez does so well, though, is maintain defensive stability for his side in spite of his attacking forays. He may not be the quickest in the side, but he positions himself well, is physically strong and tackles well. Despite his frequent defensive contributions, he commits relatively few fouls in a position that has grown immensely in importance over the past 10 years. His one major fault can be in occasional errors, although he is much improved in that respect.
It is his technical ability when striking the ball with his left-foot, though, which separates Rodriguez from most full-backs. His crossing and final ball are excellent, delivered with pace and precision. He drives forward to the byline effectively, creating space for that delivery, while his set pieces would be an asset to any side.
With a number of top sides looking for left-back recruits this summer, his name will doubtless be on their respective radars. The usual tests that come with stepping up to a side looking to challenge for honours on a regular basis will apply, but 21-year-old Rodriguez shows every indication of being destined to play in Europe's elite competitions over the next couple of years.
Abderrazak Hamdallah takes goal-scoring to a third continent
Moroccan striker Abderrazak Hamdallah has enjoyed an interesting career path thus far, moving from Safi in his native Morocco to Norway's Aalesunds, and now to Guangzhou R&F in China under the management of Sven-Goran Eriksson. Wherever he has played, though, he has scored goals on a regular basis.
Fifteen goals in his final season in Morocco, 15 goals to become the second top-scorer in the Norwegian Tippeligaen in 2013 and now six goals in his first four games in China. Virtually a complete unknown to anyone outside of those three nations, the 23-year-old is proving a reliable goalscorer.
Hamdallah, though, clearly demonstrates the difficulties found in scouting players from "lesser" leagues. He has scored goals, but whether he could make the step up to one of Europe's top leagues remains a subject of much debate. After a disappointing opening two weeks of the season in China, he has shown pace, strength and technique in scoring two consecutive hat-tricks, finishing clinically off both feet and showing aerial ability in the process.
It would be easy to get carried away, with his back catalogue in Norway also demonstrating a similarly broad range of skills. His explosive showings of the past two weeks, though, have come against two of the Chinese Super League's weaker opponents and that must be factored into his successes.
Hamdallah's first task is to ensure that his successes in the south of China are no flash in the pan and maintain them over the course of a season. Guangzhou R&F are ambitious, but are some way off near neighbours Evergrande in terms of ability and, indeed, face a somewhat defining season after boasts of high-spending this winter failed to come to fruition.
Score regularly for a third consecutive year and Hamdallah's stock will rise among scouts of European sides, but he will more than likely need to see out his contract in China given the expense of his acquisition. Many players have had sensational success in front of goal in smaller leagues, but sustaining that across countries and for multiple seasons is a challenge.
Hamdallah has thus far done so impressively and has quickly turned around initial criticism of his capture in China. R&F's biggest tests, though, lie ahead, starting next week with a trip to Beijing Guoan. It is in those matches that the Moroccan must now prove he is no flat-track bully.
For further discussion on any of the players featured in The Scout's Notebook, Christopher can be found on Twitter @chris_elastico. More of his work profiling rising talents can be found at TheElastico.com.