European Under-21 Championships: Ten who have impressed the scouts

Saul Niguez (R) and Marco Asensio shone for Spain U21 against Macedonia

With the group stages complete, scouts have had plenty of opportunity now to assess the talent on offer at this summer's European Under-21 Championships in Poland.

But who will have impressed and which players could be going into scouts' notebooks on the basis of their performances so far?

Recruitment specialist Rob Mackenzie picks out 10 who have caught the eye so far and explains why they will be on clubs' radar…

Group A

Group A was dominated by both England and Slovakia, with Sweden and Poland failing to capitalise on periods within games where they had a number of promising situations. Within this group I think a lot of scouts will have been impressed by how some of the English players have started to adapt to the challenges that the tournament poses as their performance levels have generally improved game by game:

Alfie Mawson

One player who has continued to improve and look at ease with the level is Alfie Mawson. He is quite a late developer in terms of the level that he has played at and, as a result, scouts will be looking at his performances in this tournament with great interest. He has had a significant two years in terms of his development. He achieved success under the guidance of Paul Heckingbottom at Barnsley (winning the Football League Trophy and promotion) before a positive first season in the Premier League with Swansea City.

England's Alfie Mawson celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game during the UEFA European Under-21 Championship, Group A match at the Kolporter
Image: Alfie Mawson (23) continues to make progress in his development

Scouts are continually assessing a player's ability to adapt to new situations or circumstances and Mawson's reading of the game and willingness to play out from the back off either foot in this tournament has demonstrated yet further positive adaptation. His threat from set plays also makes him an interesting prospect and I would expect a number of top 10 to mid-table Premier League teams will be seriously considering him if he continues to deliver at this level. Scouts will be interested to see how he does up against Davie Selke in the semi-final.

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Tammy Abraham

While he hasn't yet got himself on the scoresheet for England in the competition yet, Tammy Abraham's athleticism and physical profile for the number nine role make him one of the most appealing central strikers in the competition in my opinion. His ever growing maturity in securing possession high up the pitch and his ability to both show to feet and also stretch in behind make him a nightmare for defenders to deal with as they can quite easily get caught in two minds as to how best to deal with him.

England's Lewis Baker celebrates with Tammy Abraham after scoring against Poland in the European Under-21 Championships.
Image: Tammy Abraham (9) has enhanced his reputation even without scoring

He showed good awareness to lure in challenges and win free-kicks high up the pitch versus Slovakia in order to alleviate the pressure on his team and he demonstrated those qualities again when winning the penalty against Poland. This part of his game will not have gone unnoticed by astute talent spotters and they will be assessing how much of a goal threat he poses against Germany.

Milan Skriniar

While Skriniar is not the most pleasing on the eye to the traditional scout, his performances for Sampdoria this season in Serie A in his first full season will have contributed to him being on a lot of scouts' lists to assess this tournament. Although the Slovakia backline appeared to lack a bit of discipline against England he still made a number of vital interventions and didn't tend to commit himself easily when faced up one versus one.

His reading of the game generally allows him to mask a lack of pace on the turn and his strength of character and leadership make him a key player for Slovakia. It is perhaps no surprise to see him look unflustered at this level given he played for Slovakia in Euro 2016, most notably when playing holding midfield versus Germany. While Slovakia were perhaps unfortunate not to qualify for the semi-finals, his name will now be in the minds of scouts who were in attendance.

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Highlights of England’s 3-0 win over Poland at the tournament

Group B

Group B had two of the most experienced teams in the competition in Spain and Portugal so it was therefore little surprise to see them both dominate the group. The biggest surprise is that Portugal failed to make the semi-finals. Scouts from the bigger clubs across Europe will have no doubt been watching this group with great interest:

Saul Niguez

Saul Niguez has arguably been the player of the competition so far and it will come as little surprise to scouts from top clubs who watched Group B. As a robust and deceptive athlete who played 53 times for Atletico Madrid this season, including scoring four goals in 12 Champions League games, his superiority has been easy to identify. His quality in possession, coupled with his composure and class when placed under pressure or when finding himself in promising positions, has set him apart.

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These performance levels become even more remarkable when you consider that he played and trained with a catheter for two years and passed blood through his urine regularly. It is this mental strength and resilience in association with his consistency that will encourage many scouts from big clubs across Europe to type his name into Google while they are in Poland to double check the details surrounding the release clause in his current contract.

Marco Asensio

Marco Asensio's quality was another easy spot from Group B. As a 21-year-old who recently scored in the Champions League final for Real Madrid and then scored an outstanding hat-trick in the opening game of this tournament, it is only the fact that he is owned by Real Madrid that will be off-putting for scouts. His poise in possession - as well as his technique - make him one of the competition's standout performers alongside Saul thus far. He will no doubt play a prominent role for Spain versus Italy in the semi-finals.

Marco Asensio
Image: Marco Asensio continues to demonstrate his obvious quality for Spain

Enis Bardhi

One of the lesser known players at the tournament to have potentially impressed scouts so far is Enis Bardhi. Those familiar with the Hungarian Premier League will be less surprised to have seen him perform well in an inconsistent Macedonian side given his 13 goals and seven assists for Ujpest this season. He missed only 92 mins (of a possible 900) in qualifying and his quality on the ball and his set-play threat have been impressive in the tournament.

The accuracy of his delivery coupled with his "knuckleball" free-kick technique make him a threat when presented with a dead ball in and around the final third. Similarly, his finish versus Portugal from the edge of the box further demonstrated his excellent technique. While his lack of physicality and natural athleticism may pose questions for scouts, I would still be surprised to see him at Ujpest next season.

Group C

With both Italy and Germany having been drawn in Group C, scouts who are out in Poland will have been eagerly watching how players from Czech Republic and Denmark fared against two of the most fancied teams in the competition. They will have also been prioritising:

Lorenzo Pellegrini

While Sassuolo will have been disappointed that this season they followed up a sixth place in Serie A with a 12th placed one, Lorenzo Pellegrini certainly played his part with an impressive output of eight goals and eight assists in 34 appearances. It is this level of performance for his club that earned him his first senior cap for Italy versus Liechtenstein and will have ensured that he was on scouts' "to-watch" list in this competition. The audacity and co-ordination that he displayed when executing a sublime overhead kick versus Denmark in Italy's first group game will have done little to discourage potential interest from bigger clubs.

Lorenzo Pellegrini celebrates scoring the opening goal with his team-mates forward Domenico Berardi and midfielder Marco Benassi
Image: Lorenzo Pellegrini celebrates scoring for Italy earlier in the tournament

His mobility and ability to get about the pitch has certainly been noticeable thus far, as has his bravery to get on the ball in tight areas. His high pressing and turnover of possession in the previous game versus Germany, which led to the Azzurri's match-winning goal, further emphasised his ability to influence proceedings. As a player not yet playing at a "top club", many scouts will be watching Italy's semi-final versus Spain with great interest in order to see how he does up against the likes of Saul.

Federico Bernardeschi

Scouts are always looking for players who "make the difference" and who affect games when it really matters. Players who are typically capable of that tend to be ones who are either top level or players who have the potential to be so. Therefore, Federico Bernardeschi's goal versus Germany will have been credited with enhanced importance in scouts' minds given that it ensured Italy's progression and was scored against top opposition.

Federico Bernardeschi celebrates scoring for Italy against Germany
Image: Federico Bernardeschi netted for Italy in their game against Germany

His positivity and quality in possession has been impressive in the competition so far and as a 23-year-old who is coming off the back off his career best top flight season of 11 goals and four assists in Serie A with Fiorentina he is currently meeting expectations in the tournament and will be someone who scouts will want to see up against Hector Bellerin in the semi-finals as a Premier League point of reference.

Marc-Oliver Kempf

Left-footed central defenders are often vital to having a balanced and functional centre-half pairing. They are, however, not that easy to find! As a result, scouts will have profiled the squads going into the tournament and highlighted Marc-Oliver Kempf as one of the few naturally left-footed centre-halves to be playing out in Poland.

Despite injuries in recent seasons, the fact that he played the last 13 Bundesliga games consecutively for a Freiburg side who over-achieved will not have been lost on scouts and recruitment analysis departments within the Premier League and beyond. He poses a threat from set plays, as demonstrated against Denmark, and he is comfortable in possession. This makes him interesting for a variety of teams who play with different styles across Europe. With only one year left on his current contract at modest Freiburg, I would expect that scouts will have earmarked the battle between him and Tammy Abraham as to one to watch closely in the semi-final.

Max Meyer

One of the players within the Germany squad who has been outperforming expectations in his career to date is Max Meyer of Schalke 04. Given he has only one year left to run on his contract at the Bundesliga club, he will have been on the list of many Premier League scouts going into the tournament. His goal in the opening game and assist versus Denmark will have only encouraged scouts to want to watch him up against domestic-based players in the upcoming semi-finals.

Max Meyer celebrates scoring the opening goal
Image: Max Meyer found the net in Germany's opening game against Denmark

His versatility across the front line as well as his positivity in possession will have caught the eye. As a 21-year-old to have already played over 100 Bundesliga games and who has provided 17 goals and 17 assists in his career to date at that level, I would imagine that the name of Max Meyer will be one that scouts put a little star next to on the team sheet when they line up in the semi-finals versus England.

Honourable mentions…

An honourable mention goes to David Kownacki of Poland given his influence on the game against Sweden, providing an assist and scoring a well-taken penalty late on. Scouts value moments like that in games as the pressure to deliver is really on and that's where you see what a player is all about mentally. While his development for Lech Poznan in recent seasons has arguably stalled a bit since his initial introduction to first-team football back in 2013, given he only has a year left to run on his current contract, scouts will have been watching him closely here.

Similarly, Jacob Murphy's performances from the bench for England have certainly been noteworthy and support a positive season in the Championship with Norwich City (eight goals and eight assists). As a player with a similar biographical profile to Demarai Gray and Nathan Redmond, Murphy's positivity and athleticism will make him an interesting prospect for teams in the Premier League and also teams with well-defined recruitment philosophies such as Red Bull Leipzig.

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