Liverpool fans have plenty of homework to do this Summer. The Copa America Centenario and the European Championships will both be kicking off this June, and needless to say, they provide ample opportunity to get a feel for how potential targets fare at the highest levels of the sport. Two of these talents, Poland's Piotr Zielinski and Brazil's Alisson Becker, could be of particular interest to Liverpool as defensive midfield and goalkeeper remain positions of need in Jürgen Klopp's resurgent Reds.
Piotr Zielinski has been playing this Serie A season on loan at Empoli, though he is owned by Udinese. The 21 year old is not a pure defensive midfield destroyer type, although he has racked up over twice as many combined tackles and interceptions than he has fouls per 90 minutes this season.
Where the Polish international becomes even more intriguing as a prospect is when he's picking his head up from deep midfield positions and spotting runs to pick out with that smooth striking left boot of his. Speaking of 90 minutes, that is something this guy is familiar with, as he's gone the full match in 20 of his 27 appearances. In a Serie A that has made a concerted effort to get younger, faster, and stronger over the last few seasons, that is no mean feat.
The statistics aren't mind-boggling, with the player is hovering around the 80% mark, but he has chipped in with four assists from that deep position of his. What's striking about the guy is how comfortable he is with receiving and passing, receiving and passing. With Empoli's midfield routinely getting overrun this season, his passing has to come from tight situations where the mark is quickly closing down on him, forcing him to maintain his cool, and execute within extremely tight margins. Combine that cool streak with the variance of his passing--long chips over the backline, short one twos, raking balls across the field--and his robust physicality, and it's an intriguing combination of skills. And in combination with the agrarian Grzegorz Krychowiak, they will be fun skills to watch in the pressure packed Euro 2016 tournament.
A potential complication to the deal is that Udinese is his parent club, and Udinese's ownership also controls Watford. Surely, then, if Zielinski is the sort of player to have a real future in the Premier League, both Udinese and Watford would be best served by having him prove his worth in England for a year, and potentially doubling or tripling his current £12m valuation. If Liverpool do move--and there are enough transfer links, and scout appearances at Empoli games to suggests they may be--then they will be hoping that a bird in hand for Giampaolo Pozzo will be worth two in the bush.
The next player to keep an eye on this summer clocks in at 6'3" and 200lbs of thick-haired Brazilian goalkeeping quality in Internacional's Alisson Ramses Becker. The latest in a long line of claimants to Julio Cesar's throne as best Brazilian netminder, Alisson has yet to make his move over from Brazil. Having come up through the ranks at Internacional, Alisson took over the gloves from former great, then terrible, then great Dida in 2013.
Unlike a lot of defenders who flash good form in Brasil's top flight, a sustained run from a goalkeeper in the Serie A is worth its weight in salt from a scouting perspective. Terrible defending and refereeing combine with a physical game to make things very difficult for a goalkeeper.
To put together anything close to Alisson's highlight reel, you need to be a real commanding presence back there. You've got to have the strength and explosiveness to not come off second best in aerial and 50/50 challenges. You have to be quick off your line to cut down angles when a forward inevitably exploits lacks defending from the centerbacks to break through on a one on one. You have to maintain a steady eye for the flight of the ball in the air and off the bounce from the often atrocious pitches teams play on in Brazil. You have to keep your head and confidence in a league where the majority of goals come from a complete breakdown of the defense.
Alisson checks all of those boxes. To the tune of 14 clean sheets, 83 saves, and nearly three saves per goal rate this year. While stats are to be taken with a grain of salt when they come from (far) lesser competitions, the tough realities for a goalkeeper in Brazil are such that when you see a guy notching up more saves per goal than David de Gea has managed this season, it is something to take note of.
It is no surprise, then, that Dunga has called him up heading into the Copa America. While Valencia's Deigo Alves is deserving of a look in, failing a disastrous falling out with the manager, or a serious injury, Alisson looks set to take the starting gloves for the competition.
He also looks set to be the envy of many a European club if he performs anywhere close to what he is capable of. One look at that hair was all Roma needed to decide it was worth a few scouting trips, and you can be sure the rest of Serie A and La Liga will not be far behind.
Just as they won't be far behind Zielinski. Would it serve Liverpool to be looking at either of these guys to fill needs at defensive midfield and goalkeeper? Keep an eye on these two over the Summer and make your own decision on whether they would or not.