Chelsea fans potentially caught a glimpse of a future hero when Lazar Markovic helped Benfica tear Tottenham to shreds during their 3-1 Europa League victory on March 13.
Despite possessing a first option to buy the 20-year-old, Jose Mourinho needs to act quickly to ensure Liverpool don't nick the Serbian starlet away from the Estadio da Luz, as detailed by Jack Gaughan of the Daily Mail:
They [Chelsea] were interested in landing Markovic last summer before the midfielder moved to Portugal. The strong relationship with Benfica, and a desire to be kept in the loop, saw Chelsea strike a deal with the buying club that secured a first option. ...
Liverpool are also sniffing, but do not have any deal in place with Benfica and would need to splurge massively for the talent. And they'd have to do it soon. But spending upwards of £25million on a player so young represents a huge gamble - no matter how promising he appears to be.
Gaughan suggests Chelsea can land the player for "as little as £12.5million," despite his "huge" buyout clause. This is absolutely something Mourinho should entertain, especially considering Markovic's stock is likely to quickly inflate after his dominating performance at White Hart Lane.
Despite only exiting his teenage years on March 2, Markovic is vastly experienced in the professional game.
He enjoyed two full seasons at Partizan Belgrade and made numerous Champions League appearances before heading to Benfica. Chelsea supposedly signed the player and lent him out on loan, per James Dickenson of the Express, but this never appeared to materialise.
The Serbian international is growing in stature all the time. His performance against Spurs highlighted a youngster who isn't intimidated to perform against elite opponents, but more importantly, it made many aware to the multiple facets of his game.
Mourinho likes his forwards to be versatile, energetic and ready for battle. We've witnessed this via Eden Hazard's added work rate this season and the implementation of Willian, who naturally grafts across the pitch.
Despite starting the match in his favoured attacking role, Markovic contributed in all phases of play. He completed two dribbles in the opposition's half but also made sure he aided the Portuguese side's barricading of midfield.
He made two interceptions and supported his defence by whacking away four clearances, as reported by WhoScored.com.
The energy and pace of Markovic's play often took Spurs by surprise. Paulinho and Sandro are combative central midfielders, but when the youngster zipped through the middle in the second half, they were nowhere to be seen.
Brendan Rodgers' reported interest doesn't come as a surprise. His failed bids for Mohamed Salah and Yevhen Konoplyanka defined Liverpool's winter transfer window disappointment, per David Wright of the Express, and Markovic is comparable to these individuals in terms of style.
Simon Jones of the Daily Mail confirmed Liverpool are monitoring the player, saying, "Chief scout Barry Hunter was in attendance at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin, last Wednesday to see the 20-year-old play 75 minutes for Serbia in their 2-1 win over Republic of Ireland."
Rodgers appears to be looking for a versatile forward who is capable of slotting in behind Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez. Rodgers is a fan of utilising young players—we've seen that with his continued use of Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho—but he faces an uphill struggle to land Benfica's brightest talent.
Mourinho shouldn't even give Rodgers, or anyone else, the opportunity to sign Markovic. Chelsea are rapidly developing into a pacey, fully committed side that relies on its young stars just as much as the old guard.
Markovic has proven himself to be an explosive and trustworthy individual who can excel against the best. He will only get better.
Benfica's likely progress through the Europa League is sure to alert many of the continent's top clubs to Markovic's ability. It's perhaps lucky he isn't participating at this summer's World Cup; interested parties would surely have to part with more cash if Serbia made the finals.
Should Chelsea's first option on Markovic prove to be true, Mourinho simply has to act on it. Even if the player is lent out to further his development, the exciting forward has the capacity to be a global star across the coming years and could represent a bargain for the Blues.
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