Scouting Spotlight: Elseid Hysaj, Jordan Torunarigha and Fabian Ruiz
Scouting Spotlight profiles players across Europe who have caught the eye. This week a Napoli full-back who is attracting interest from Real Madrid, Hertha's answer to Jerome Boateng and a young star at Real Betis.
Elseid Hysaj -- Napoli
After playing under Maurizio Sarri at Empoli, Hysaj followed the coach to Napoli in 2015 in a €6 million transfer. The Albania international has proven himself to be one of the club's most consistent performers as they chase their first Scudetto in 28 years.
An attacking full-back who can play on either flank, Hysaj offers width down the right in Napoli's possession-based system. He has an excellent first touch to create space for himself, moving the ball quickly with smart passes inside to support the midfield.
Although he likes to get forward, the 24-year-old remains diligent in his defensive duties, showing keen awareness to track back and thwart opposition counter-attacks. Composed in possession, Hysaj uses his strength to shield the ball when under pressure, waiting to pick the right option and spot the darting runs of Napoli's front three.
Hysaj clocked up his 100th appearance for Napoli back in October and continues to be a regular in Serie A and European competition. He claimed his first assist of the campaign in Monday's crushing 5-0 win over Cagliari, breaking down the right and finding Dries Mertens with a low cross in the first half.
With only four league assists in three seasons at the Stadio San Paolo, Hysaj's productivity in the final third is perhaps one aspect of his game in which he needs to improve. His role is largely to act as an extra midfielder when his team are in possession, however, rather than firing crosses into the box from the wing.
Where would he fit in?
A host of elite clubs have been linked with a move for the full-back as his agent, Mario Giuffredi, talks up interest.
Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Real Madrid are among those reported to have made initial enquiries, with the Spanish champions also reported to be considering hiring Sarri following a disappointing domestic campaign under Zinedine Zidane. The coach's future will likely decide Hysaj's next move in the summer.
Jordan Torunarigha -- Hertha Berlin
Torunarigha made the breakthrough at Hertha around this stage last season and has continued to earn opportunities in the current campaign. He impressed in a 0-0 draw against Bayern Munich at the weekend, which denied the Bundesliga champions a club-record 15th consecutive victory.
Son of Nigerian forward Ojokojo Torunarigha, who played for Chemnitzer FC in the German second division in the 1990s, Torunarigha Jr. also started out as an attacker before being converted to a defender in Hertha's academy. He has been compared to Bayern centre-back Jerome Boateng, telling Bild last year that he has studied his role model's game.
Similar to Boateng, the 20-year-old likes to play searching passes deep into the opposition half, although his accuracy can let him down on occasion. His defensive positioning is sound, possessing the speed to recover long balls over the top and the versatility to fill in at left-back when required.
Torunarigha does have a tendency to dive into tackles, but he has been carded only once in 13 appearances this season -- a harsh sending off for an accidental collision against RB Leipzig that the referee deemed to be a professional foul.
After being used sparingly in the first half of the season, Torunarigha has started Hertha's last four matches following his introduction as a first-half substitute in a 0-0 draw at Werder Bremen.
He delivered a solid display in a 2-0 win away to Bayer Leverkusen earlier in February, before being forced off by a challenge with Benjamin Henrichs, and stood out again at the weekend as Hertha prevented Bayern from scoring in a home Bundesliga match for the first time since May 2015.
With three appearances for Germany at the Under-20 World Cup last summer, the youngster is now looking to step up an age level before next year's European U-21 Championship in Italy.
Where would he fit in?
Despite his relatively recent involvement in Hertha's first team, Toruniragha has big ambitions, already revealing that he one day hopes to play for Manchester United.
He has plenty of development to undergo before that move seems likely but, with his contract expiring in 16 months' time, there may be several clubs asking about his situation in the summer.
Fabian Ruiz -- Real Betis
Still only 21, Fabian has become a key player for Real Betis this season, leading by example once more in a 2-0 win over Levante on Monday.
A left-footed central midfielder with quick feet and superb vision, Fabian has played a number of different roles for Betis, impressing as a deep-lying playmaker. He is confident receiving the ball under pressure, can shift his 6-foot-2 frame quickly to find space, and likes to drive forward to open up defences.
Fabian sets the tempo for Quique Setien's side, collecting short passes from the defence to instigate play. This was exemplified by his recent performance against Real Madrid when, despite Betis' 5-3 defeat, he made more passes than any other player on the pitch.
With strong tactical awareness, Fabian is also adept at picking his opponents' pockets, intercepting passes to win back possession and build attacking moves.
The youngster has been instrumental in Betis' bid for a European place this season as last year's relegation battlers stand three points behind sixth-placed Sevilla.
The highlight of the campaign was a 5-3 win over their rivals at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in January, with Fabian opening the scoring inside the first minute when he seized on a loose ball and fired into the corner.
The Spain U-21 international has two strikes and five assists in 21 La Liga appearances, creating both goals for Loren Moron in a recent 2-1 win over Villarreal.
Where would he fit in?
West Ham scouted Fabian in January with a view to bringing him in mid-season, but reports in Spain suggest Barcelona, Arsenal, Tottenham and Roma lead the queue for his signature.
Betis moved to extend the midfielder's contract at the start of February, doubling his release clause to €30m in order to avoid a repeat of Dani Ceballos' departure to Real Madrid last year for well below his market value.
Matthew Stanger covers European football for ESPN and is the editor of The Set Pieces. Twitter: @MatthewStanger