4 European Under-21 Stars Who Should Be on Liverpool's Radar
The European Under-21 Championship came to its conclusion on Tuesday night, with Sweden vanquishing Portugal by virtue of a 4-3 penalty-shootout victory, bringing an end to a tournament full of stars for the future—many of which Liverpool should be keeping an eye on.
But which European U-21 tournament stars should be on Brendan Rodgers' radar for this summer and beyond?
Here are four top selections, including Germany's star forward.
Jannik Vestergaard (Denmark)
Centre-back Jannik Vestergaard made his mark on the competition before Denmark crashed out with a 4-1 loss to Sweden in the semi-finals.
He made the second-most tackles of any centre-back per 90 minutes on average, with three, the second most aerial duels per 90 of any regular defensive option, with four and was dribbled past less per 90 than all but four centre-backs, being beaten by his man just 0.5 times on average.
Even against Sweden he stood out as one of Jess Thorup's best players, contributing a resolute, 10-clearance performance that was ultimately let down by poor work from his fellow defenders.
A 6'6" behemoth, Vestergaard is a defensive leader, and featured prominently with 15 Bundesliga appearances for 1899 Hoffenheim following his move from Werder Bremen in January; a physical, aggressive centre-back with a measured approach to the game.
The obvious comparison would be Arsenal's Per Mertesacker, but Vestergaard shares elements of his game with Liverpool's no-nonsense centre-back Martin Skrtel.
At 30, and currently at an impasse in terms of a new contract with the Reds, as relayed by Andy Hunter of the Guardian, Skrtel may need replacing sooner rather than later. Rodgers clearly likes to employ a tough tackler to complement Mamadou Sakho's finesse, and Vestergaard would be a wise option if that is the case.
Ludwig Augustinsson (Sweden)
According to Dean Jones of the Mirror, Liverpool have already been in talks to sign Sweden U21s left-back Ludwig Augustinsson.
During Sweden's charge to victory Augustinsson balanced his defensive and attacking duties finely, and it is perhaps his crossing ability for which he is most notable, as former Cardiff City forward Andreas Cornelius, now Augustinsson's team-mate at FC Copenhagen, found out their 1-0 win over Esbjerg in March.
It was Augustinsson's lovely curled cross from deep which supplied Cornelius' powerful headed winner against Esbjerg, and the 21-year-old finished the season with six assists from just 15 Danish Superliga games.
With Jose Enrique looking likely to leave Merseyside this summer, Augustinsson could be brought in as solid competition for Alberto Moreno.
However, having only joined FCK in January, it may be difficult to secure his signature this summer.
William Carvalho (Portugal)
Every single European club should have been scouting William Carvalho at this tournament.
Despite Portugal's eventual disappointment, William stood out as one of the best players in the Czech Republic this summer, helping his side keep four clean sheets from their five games, conceding just one goal.
William is a physically dominant, tactically intelligent defensive midfielder, whose nuanced displays at the base of Portugal's hardworking midfield gave the likes of Bernardo Silva and Joao Mario a platform to build on as they defeated both England and Germany on their way to the final.
The 23-year-old reads the game well, using his movement and positioning to calmly break up play in the middle of the park, but is also blessed with the raw power required in more testing encounters.
For his club side, Sporting Lisbon, William has long shone—he has been on many top European sides' radar for years.
While Rodgers may have a different outlook, Liverpool should be on the lookout for a new defensive midfielder this summer, with a lack of protection for the back line a major cause for concern last season and Lucas Leiva—the only current option in that position—regularly injured.
William would solve this issue for at least the next 10 years.
Kevin Volland (Germany)
As Liverpool search for reinforcements in attack this summer, a key player in Germany's ultimately ill-fated run in the Euro U21s should stand out as a suitable target: 1899 Hoffenheim's Kevin Volland.
Though not a centre-forward by trade, Volland was utilised as Germany's lone striker for three of their four games in the Czech Republic, scoring two goals from this position.
He employed an intelligent off-the-shoulder, lateral-running style, tapping into his substantial reserves of pace when off the ball and his dribbling ability when in possession to trouble the likes of Denmark, who he netted his brace against in Germany's 3-0 victory.
Interestingly, Volland's opener at the Eden Arena was supplied by Liverpool midfielder Emre Can, who fed a delicious through ball for the 22-year-old to run onto—their relationship was key to that victory, and wasn't exploited enough by the now-unemployed Horst Hrubesch.
Currently plying his trade for the same mid-table Bundesliga side that the Reds plundered to sign £29 million Brazilian attacking midfielder Roberto Firmino this summer, Volland could well be attainable.
Most comfortable as a right winger, Volland could come in as a replacement for the likely departing Raheem Sterling, although his prowess in the central striking role suggests he could be moulded into a prolific centre-forward by Rodgers if necessary.