Scouting Spotlight: Bertrand Traore, Bryan Cristante, Benjamin Pavard
Scouting Spotlight profiles players across Europe who have caught the eye. This week features a forward thriving after leaving Chelsea, a Milan youth product linked with the Premier League and Stuttgart's versatile rising star.
Bertrand Traore -- Lyon
Traore caught Lyon's eye during a loan spell at Ajax last season when he scored twice against them in the Europa League semifinal. That prompted the Ligue 1 side to pay a reported €10 million to sign him from Chelsea in the summer, with Traore playing a key role in the club's battle for a Champions League place this term.
An inverted right forward, Traore likes to cut inside to open up space around the penalty area and angle shots towards goal on his favoured left foot.
He is composed in possession, basing his game on close control rather than speed, and will often drop deep to allow the full-back to overlap down the wing.
A languid dribbler, Traore takes his time to pick a pass or switch play to the opposite flank. He can occasionally lose the ball too easily but is diligent in his defensive duties, tracking back to help Lyon maintain a compact shape.
With 12 goals in 35 appearances, Traore has proved to be another shrewd investment for Lyon. He starred in a 3-2 win away to Marseille last Sunday, setting up Houssem Aouar's goal with a carefully measured pass and testing Steve Mandanda with an improvised flick after making a smart run to the near post.
The victory lifted Lyon to within two points of their rivals as Bruno Genesio's side look to steal third place in the remaining eight matches.
Where would he fit in?
At 22, Traore still has plenty of room to develop alongside the rest of this exciting, young Lyon team. He signed a five-year contract in the summer, with Chelsea inserting a clause that will see them earn 15 percent of any future profit made from the forward's sale.
The Blues also have first refusal should Lyon look to cash in on the Burkina Faso international, though it's unlikely he would return to Stamford Bridge after previously complaining about a lack of opportunities.
Bryan Cristante -- Atalanta (on loan from Benfica)
A product of AC Milan's youth system, Cristante moved to Benfica in 2014 after making just a handful of appearances for the Rossoneri. He has spent the past two seasons back in Serie A on loan, earning a first international cap for Italy after impressing at Atalanta.
A rangy midfielder with quick feet and an eye for goal, Cristante is a driving presence in the centre of the pitch. He takes responsibility to set the attacking tempo from midfield and uses his long limbs to protect the ball under pressure.
Picking up good positions to receive passes from teammates, the 23-year-old is a threat at set-pieces and makes well-timed runs into the box in search of goal-scoring opportunities.
Despite his poise in possession, Cristante can display poor decision-making at times, but he works hard to make tackles high up the pitch and regain the initiative.
Cristante opened the scoring inside the first two minutes at Verona last Sunday, but his performance was overshadowed by Josip Ilicic's hat trick in a 5-0 rout for Atalanta.
The midfielder has attracted attention with 11 goals in all competitions, including a powerful point-saving header in a 2-2 draw against Juventus, but has curiously failed to contribute a single assist for his team this season.
Where would he fit in?
Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool have all been linked with Cristante, who is seemingly keen on a move to England. "I can't rule out a move to the Premier League. I think it's a good league for me and my qualities," he said in January.
It has also been reported that Juventus and Atletico Madrid are lining up offers worth around €25m, with the latter possibly holding an advantage through their relationship with Jorge Mendes and Cristante's parent club, Benfica.
Benjamin Pavard -- VfB Stuttgart
Awarded his debut for France in November 2017, Pavard has been an ever-present for Stuttgart this season as they look to consolidate their place in the Bundesliga following promotion last year.
Pavard's versatility and composure have seen him deployed in a number of different roles for Stuttgart, but he usually features as part of a back three.
The 21-year-old stands out for his positioning sense, remaining alert to potential attacking threats and stepping out of defence to intercept passes or carry the ball into midfield.
He is calm in possession, preferring to keep it short instead of hooking long passes down the flanks, and makes well-timed sliding challenges when required.
Having played every minute of Stuttgart's 27 Bundesliga matches this season, Pavard has been crucial in the club's rise to eighth place.
Following a run of defeats over December and January that spelled the end of Hannes Wolf's reign, the youngster has helped his side win five of their past six matches, keeping four clean sheets in the process.
Pavard has been included in the France squad for forthcoming friendlies against Colombia and Russia, and his ability to play in the centre or on the right of defence, as well as in midfield, is likely to see him earn a call-up for the World Cup.
Where would he fit in?
After media speculation set Pavard's price at €11m amid interest from Liverpool and Tottenham, Stuttgart quickly moved to quash that valuation earlier this month.
"If, in the future, a club from Europe's top 10 shows real interest, we'll sit down. Benjamin and his agent are aware of it," said sporting executive Michael Reschke. "But if this summer a club believes they can sign him for €30 million, this club is profoundly wrong. We wouldn't even open the door for such a talk."
With Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig also linked to the defender, there could be a bidding war in the summer.
Matthew Stanger covers European football for ESPN and is the editor of The Set Pieces. Twitter: @MatthewStanger