Luis Alberto (Lazio)
Luis Alberto has been the surprise star of Serie A this term – only last season, the Spaniard seemed surplus to requirements at Lazio. He made just four league starts and admitted that “between January and February, I experienced the worst moment of my career”. However, thanks to the help of a mental coach and the tactical nous of Simone Inzaghi, he has turned his fortunes around and reminded everyone why Liverpool once paid £6.8m for him as a young player.
Alberto started the 2017/18 campaign positively, playing an instrumental role in the 4-1 thrashing of an expensively assembled Milan side in September. He then went on a run of assisting a goal for five consecutive matches, one of which came in the shock 2-1 win away to reigning champions Juventus. Currently, the 25-year-old sits inside the top 10 Serie A players in terms of key passes and dribbles completed per game.
Operating between a five-man midfield and lone striker Ciro Immobile, Alberto appears to have found his positional niche. He is now his team’s attacking connector, roaming and combining at will. Spain boss Julen Lopetegui is one important figure who's noticed, and handed the Lazio man his first senior Spain cap in November's friendly win over Costa Rica.
Would suit: Arsenal, Manchester United
Rodrigo De Paul (Udinese)
Many clubs have a knack for spotting talent, though few can boast a record equal to Udinese’s. Over the years they have scouted, signed and sold the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Juan Cuadrado, Medhi Benatia and Samir Handanovic. De Paul could be the next.
The Argentine hasn’t followed the usual process, however. Unlike the aforementioned stars, he was well known in Europe before joining the Zebrette thanks to two years spent in and around Valencia’s first team.
Flitting around in his No.10 role, De Paul’s one-touch passing, close control, dribbling skill and ingenuity make him a real threat between the lines. After an inconsistent maiden campaign in Italy, the 23-year-old now looks set to fulfil his potential and, as so many have done before, he could leave Udinese for bigger things.
Would suit: Leicester, Southampton, West Ham
Arkadiusz Milik (Napoli)
Early on in his time with Napoli, Milik seemed the ideal man to replace Gonzalo Higuain thanks to his blend of physical strength and technical ability. The goals flowed, but he was held back by a series of injuries.
Having spent much of the last year out, the Poland international is now nearing full recovery. However, once he does return to action, the 23-year-old will find his pathway into Maurizio Sarri’s starting line-up blocked by the free-scoring converted winger Dries Mertens.
There have been rumours that Napoli are willing to loan Milik out in January to guarantee him some much-needed time on the pitch. Assuming he stays fit, his combination of aerial ability, precise finishing, clever movement and link-up play would make him a regular source of goals for most Premier League teams – even if only on a temporary basis.
Would suit: Everton, Newcastle, Watford
Rafael Toloi (Atalanta)
Everton couldn’t have asked for a worse Europa League group stage opponent than Atalanta. The Premier League side were overwhelmed at home and away by one of the most aggressive defensive teams in Europe.
Brazilian Rafael Toloi played in both matches with the same relentlessness that he displays every weekend in Serie A. The defender thrives within Gian Piero Gasperini’s old-fashioned man-marking scheme, harrying his opposition with a frenzied desire. Consequently, only one player in the league averages more tackles per game.
The 27-year-old isn’t defined solely by his team’s tactics, however. He is also an astute marker who positions himself well and is more than comfortable carrying the ball down his preferred right side. Indeed, he can often be found in and around the opposition penalty box having successfully broken free of his defensive shackles.
Would suit: Chelsea, Manchester City
Lucas Torreira (Sampdoria)
If you’ve had the good fortune to see a Sampdoria game recently, the chances are you saw plenty of Torreira. The Uruguayan is a pitbull of a midfielder, tearing around the pitch at high intensity with a consistency and effectiveness that stands out in a team filled with technicians.
Head coach Marco Giampaolo has brought with him from Empoli a refined possession game built around triangles and crisp combinations throughout the team, but his 21-year-old defensive midfield terrier operates on a slightly different wavelength.
Amid the serene passing, Torreira is a fiercely physical influence. Strong in the tackle and quick to press, his 5ft 6in frame belies a battling ball-winner. Don’t be fooled, though – he also knows what to do once he’s won the ball back, distributing with admirable efficacy.
Would suit: Arsenal, Liverpool
Simone Verdi (Bologna)
In a league often lauded for the rigorousness of its defences and intricate tactics, Verdi stands out as an unashamedly individualistic attacker. He plays with a steadfast focus on the opposition goal and loves cutting in from his nominal right-wing position to run at defences.
A product of Milan’s renowned youth academy, the 25-year-old had to leave in order to break out at the top level. He was in and out during a loan spell with Empoli, but has found home in Bologna where, ironically, he is coached by former Rossoneri winger Roberto Donadoni.
Fast, aggressive on the ball and with an eye for the spectacular, Verdi relishes having freedom to roam. Perhaps the finest example of his imaginative quality came against Crotone, where he curled in two free-kicks – one with each foot.
Would suit: Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Tottenham
Francesco Vicari (SPAL)
Italian football tends to produce composed centre-backs and Vicari fits right into this wonderful tradition. The 23-year-old has been a key player for newly promoted SPAL, playing with solidity and style at the heart of their back three and transitioning seamlessly from Serie B to A.
West Ham were persistently linked with the 6ft 3in defender over the summer, though SPAL were completely opposed to the idea of selling. On the basis of his showings so far this season, it’s easy to see why the Biancazzurri played hardball.
While he has the build of a conventional centre-back, Vicari is anything but. He’s just as happy receiving the ball as he is marking an opponent, and when it comes to pass accuracy he’s one of the best in his position. His assuredness makes him a calming authority in and out of possession, and there are several Premier League sides who could benefit from his presence in their backline.
Would suit: Stoke, Swansea, West Brom
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