Liverpool Strike Target Ishak Belfodil & The Serie A Starlets Worth Snapping Up Now
Goalkeeper: Mattia Perin [Pescara, on loan from Genoa]
The cliché that goalkeepers are an eccentric bunch isn’t bucked by the shaggy-haired Mattia Perin, the first team Pescara goalkeeper who, at the start of the season, was just 19 years old. Having already received a senior call-up to the Italian national team from Cesare Prandelli, his inexperience has rarely shown as his side battle the Serie A drop. Perin is a slight, athletic goalkeeper whose reflexes have seen him make some great stops. Supposedly under the watchful eye of Milan and Napoli, Perin would make a great signing for Fulham, or indeed any team looking for a long-term goalkeeping solution.
Right-back: Matteo Darmian [Torino, in co-ownership with Palermo]
The ex-Milan defender is one of the oldest players on this list, having turned 23 in December. He’s also one of the most underrated, snapped up by Torino from Palermo on a co-ownership deal. Not an offensive full-back, Darmian is a reliable player who’s excellent defensively and who very rarely loses the ball. Playing a counter-attacking 4-2-4 system which doesn’t require too much offensive work, he’s a solid but unspectacular player who has become an important cog in Giampiero Ventura’s unit. Whether he has enough technical ability or has enough of an all-round impact to make the step up to a bigger team remains to be seen, but he is suited to the Premier League’s bottom half.
Centre-back: Marquinhos [Roma]
Supposedly subject to interest from Manchester United, Manchester City and Barcelona, Marquinhos’ first season in Serie A has seen him become one of Europe’s most coveted talents. Despite being only 18, he’s been a regular first teamer for the Giallorossi. As the links with a move to Barça would suggest, Marquinhos’ ability on the ball is just as notable as his ability off it. A confident centre-back with great pace and anticipation, he’s not overly imposing but his pace and mobility make up for that, as well being able to comfortably control and distribute play from defence.
Centre-back: Juan Jesus [Inter]
21-year-old Juan Jesus has already made four international appearances and swapped Internacional for Internazionale in the summer. Capable of playing at left-back or centre-back, it’s in the latter position that he’s excelled this season, on the left of a defensive trio. Not with the technical ability of his compatriot Marquinhos, he’s nevertheless a strong, quick player, whose only weakness is the occasional example of positional indiscipline.
Left-back: Mattia De Sciglio [Milan]
An unbelievably talented player, De Sciglio was probably the most effective player of the match in the recent Derby della Madonnina. Capable of playing both on the right and the left, he’s defensively disciplined and offensively confident. His overlapping runs combining with the inside movement of winger Stephan El Shaarawy terrorised Yuto Nagatomo in the first half of the derby, with his pinpoint crossing the end product of a marauding run up the flank. Left-back having been a problem area for Milan for so long, he is seen the long-term solution but if Chelsea need to replace Ashley Cole, De Sciglio would be just the man.
Central midfielder: Pedro Obiang [Sampdoria]
Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City are all said to be interested in Sampdoria’s Spanish U21 midfielder Pedro Obiang. Much like Napoli’s Gökhan Inler, he’s a true midfield all-rounder, Obiang played for Atlético Madrid before moving to Italy, where he was instrumental in getting the Blucerchiati promoted, and has since cemented his place in the centre of midfield. His vision and passing match his midfield defensive work, where he is a tall, powerful force.
Central midfielder: Roberto Pereyra [Udinese]
Pereyra has made four appearances for the Argentina U20 side and his talent in evidence in his impressing the meticulous scouting system at Udinese. An attack-minded midfield fighter, he’s capable of playing out wide and in the centre, looking to create chances with driving runs from deep or dribbling in from the flank. Initially arriving at the Zebrette from River Plate as primarily a wide player, coach Francesco Guidolin is reaping the rewards for utilising him in an initially unfamiliar position. With Udinese an established selling club, expect a host of Premier League clubs to be linked with Pereyra in coming seasons. Arsenal would probably suit him most.
Attacking midfielder: Juan Fernando Quintero [Pescara]
After lighting up the South American U20s tournament, the Colombian Juanfer Quintero, the star of the competition-winning side, is wanted by all and sundry. A classic South American number 10, Quintero has been impressive in flashes in Serie A with Pescara, crafting out chances with all manner of chips and through balls, as well as being a fine dribbler and possessing a superb shot. Preferring to play behind a striker, he is unquestionably a part of Colombia’s current footballing resurgence. Manchester United and Chelsea have been linked with a move for Quintero, though he’s expressed a preference to stay in Italy.
Right forward: Erik Lamela [Roma]
Roma’s reign under the recently-departed Zdeněk Zeman wasn’t as successful as hoped, though one player who excelled in the Czech’s 4-3-3 is young Argentine attacker Erik Lamela. Deployed out on the right hand side, his eye-catching performances have occasionally made him look the genuine next world star, notably attracting the attention of Manchester United and Barcelona. A player who prefers to cut in off the flank, his stronger left foot has been the inspiration for several outstanding goals this season, along with a dribbling and incisive passing ability. Tall but slight and very quick, he’s already got an international cap for Argentina.
Centre forward: Ishak Belfodil [Parma]
Comparisons between Parma’s Ishak Belfodi and Real Madrid’s Franco-Algerian striker Karim Benzema seem lazy, though there’s more to them than simply nationality. Belfodil was brought to the Ennio Tardini for a small fee ahead of this season, and he’s gone on to become the Gialloblu’s top scorer. He combines his tall, bulky frame with an outstanding and unusual mobility, frequently looking drift wide and link up play, with an outstanding technical ability, making him a perfect lone striker. A fine dribbler with a good pass and cross, his height also gives him a good aerial advantage in the box. Rumours suggest that Arsène Wenger is lining up a move as he tries to fill the van Persie void, while Juventus made an unsuccessful January bid.
Left forward: Stephan El Shaarawy [Milan]
By now El Shaarawy barely needs an introduction; such has been his impact on Serie A and Milan so far. Much like Lamela, he cuts inside onto his stronger foot from a wide position, and shares many of the same attributes as the Argentine, like his deadly shot, great pace, dribbling and vision. Scoring 16 league goals already this season, he’s widely touted as the attacking future of Italian football. Having just signed a new contract with AC Milan until 2018, a potential transfer to Arsenal or Manchester City looks unlikely to occur - for the time being, but he would be an incredible signing were he to become available.
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