Scouting Spotlight: Jack Grealish, Enis Bardhi, Samu Castillejo
Scouting spotlight looks at Aston Villa's young star, Levante's playmaker of interest to Inter Milan and Paris Saint-Germain, and Villarreal's version of Arjen Robben.
Jack Grealish -- Aston Villa
After breaking into the first team as a teenager, Grealish helped Aston Villa reach the 2015 FA Cup final with a fine performance against Liverpool in the semifinals. His development stagnated somewhat following the club's relegation to the Championship, but he has kicked on this year with manager Steve Bruce hailing the playmaker as a world-class talent.
At his best, Grealish is a joy to watch. He dictates Villa's attacking rhythm, finding pockets of space in the final third and gliding past defenders on driving runs towards goal.
Having worked closely with Villa's strength and conditioning coaches this season, the 22-year-old has bulked up considerably, boasting impressive power to hold off opponents.
His attitude has been questioned in the past, but Grealish has shown the application to match his talent under Bruce. With his dribbling skills and eye for a killer pass, he is the key to unlocking opposition defences, possessing a powerful shot from distance.
Fortunately for Villa, Grealish has found form at just the right time ahead of the club's Championship playoff final against Fulham.
He spent the first half of the campaign on the sidelines with a serious injury, but has chipped in with three goals and six assists in 21 starts since his return to fitness.
Grealish demonstrated his ability with a stunning strike against Cardiff in April, and set up the decisive goal in the playoff semifinal against Middlesbrough to send Villa to Wembley.
Where would he fit in?
If Villa fail to get past Fulham, it has been reported that Leicester will try to poach Grealish for around £20m. The former England under-21 international would be a shrewd replacement for Riyad Mahrez, displaying similar vision and composure to take control of proceedings in the final third.
Enis Bardhi -- Levante
Bardhi has enjoyed a fine debut season in La Liga, helping fire Levante to safety in their first campaign back in the top flight. He only signed for the Valencian side last summer but, if he maintains his current form, it won't be long until Europe's elite clubs come calling.
A talented, diminutive playmaker, Bardhi is often selected on the left of Levante's midfield, from where he can cut inside to create dangerous openings.
His strengths lie in his close control, dribbling ability, and awareness to pick up promising positions around the edge of the box. The 22-year-old is a significant threat at set pieces, with six of his nine strikes coming from outside the penalty area.
A tenacious competitor, Bardhi is eager to press his opponents into making mistakes and tireless in his efforts to win back possession. He can be overzealous at times, picking up 10 bookings in his 30 matches this season.
Bardhi delivered one of his finest performances of the campaign on Sunday as Levante defeated Barcelona 5-4 to destroy the champions' hopes of an unbeaten season.
The Macedonia international scored two excellent finishes, one with either foot, to take his tally to five strikes in four matches.
With Levante currently on a five-game winning run, Bardhi has been integral to a promising end to the season as he looks to build on an impressive start in Spain.
Where would he fit in?
Inter Milan and Paris Saint-Germain are reportedly monitoring Bardhi's progress, with Levante standing to make a considerable profit on their €1.5m outlay.
Samu Castillejo -- Villarreal
Now in his third season with Villarreal after joining on a five-year deal from Malaga in 2015, Castillejo has already reached his best return for goals and assists in a single campaign. His contribution has caught the eye of a number of clubs and helped Villarreal qualify for the Europa League group stage.
A speedy inverted winger, Castillejo usually lines up on the right of Villarreal's midfield, but can often switch flanks or play down the centre in his efforts to make an impact.
With quick feet and lightning acceleration, the 23-year-old opens up opponents with devastating runs into the final third. He possesses the trickery to deceive defenders, taking a subtle touch and then bursting past them into the space beyond.
Castillejo has been praised for his hard-working attitude on the pitch, but his final ball can let him down on occasions. If he improves his delivery and finishing, he could have a future at the very top of the game.
Castillejo earned his comparisons to Arjen Robben at the weekend with a wonderful curling strike into the top corner to set Villarreal on their way to a 4-2 victory over Deportivo La Coruna.
He scored a second before half-time, reacting first to Pablo Fornals' cross, taking a touch around the goalkeeper with his right foot and then converting with his left.
The winger's brace took his tally to five goals for the season, adding five assists in his 25 La Liga starts.
Where would he fit in?
Manchester United and Arsenal were linked with a £35m battle for Castillejo's signature last year, while Spurs, Napoli and Atletico Madrid have also sent scouts to check on his progress.
Diego Simeone is reported to be a big fan of the former Spain under-21 international, admiring the work ethic to complement his talent.
Matthew Stanger covers European football for ESPN and is the editor of The Set Pieces. Twitter: @MatthewStanger