Udinese's former Empoli loanee Piotr Zielinski has emerged as a key target for Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp in his first summer transfer window on Merseyside, with the Poland international linked with the Reds throughout 2016.
According to Polish publication Przeglad Sportowy (h/t the Daily Star) earlier in May, Klopp had "verbally agreed" with Zielinski that he "would try to sign him after the season is over," with television station Canal+ (h/t Metro) even reporting that a deal could be completed before last week's UEFA Europa League final.
A miserable defeat to Sevilla later, and the Reds are seemingly no closer to signing the midfielder, with Daily Express' Paul Joyce suggesting on Monday that Borussia Monchengladbach dynamo Mahmoud Dahoud was Liverpool's "first choice to boost their midfield, ahead of...Zielinski."
Gladbach are unlikely to part ways with Dahoud this summer, however, with Havard Nordtveit's move to West Ham United confirmed by the Hammers and Granit Xhaka close to completing a big-money switch to Arsenal, according to Sky Sports, leaving Zielinski a more viable target for Klopp.
But who is Zielinski, and what could he bring to Klopp's Liverpool squad for the 2016/17 campaign and beyond?
The 22-year-old has recently returned to parent club Udinese after two seasons on loan with fellow Serie A outfit Empoli, a lengthy spell that has spurred his development into a regular international for Adam Nawalka's Poland side.
The youngster joined Udinese in 2011, after four years playing under his father, Bogdan, with Orzel Zabkowice Slaskie, and another four-year spell with Zaglebie Lubin.
After his spell with Lubin, however, Zielinski made the switch to Udine in 2011, and progressed through the youth ranks before making his first-team debut 18 months later, replacing legendary striker Antonio Di Natale during stoppage time as Francesco Guidolin's side cruised to a 4-1 win at home to Cagliari.
It wasn't until three months later that Zielinski was given his next taste of league action, and it was a month after that before he made his full Serie A debut for the club, laying on goals for Luis Muriel and Roberto Pereyra in a 3-0 victory away to Parma.
Zielinski wore the No. 94 shirt, joining Pereyra in an attacking-midfield role in Guidolin's 3-4-2-1.
After sporadic appearances for Udinese throughout 2012/13 and 2013/14, Zielinski joined Empoli on a temporary, two-year deal, and he has since honed his talents with regular first-team football for the Tuscan outfit.
Zielinski is a mobile, box-to-box midfielder who typically took up a role on the right-hand side of a midfield three, in former Empoli head coach Marco Giampaolo's 4-3-1-2 formation.
With AS Roma loanee and fellow rumoured Liverpool target Leandro Paredes, per Calciomercato (via Metro), operating in the holding role between Zielinski and Daniele Croce, Giampaolo's more progressive midfielders were tasked with pushing forward to support playmaker Riccardo Saponara.
Zielinski is perfect for this role, with his ability to cover ground quickly, interchange with slick one-touch passing and play balls between the lines for Empoli's attackers making him a key feature in Giampolo's side in 2015/16.
Perhaps most impressive about Zielinski's attacking play is the momentum he carries with driving runs into the penalty area. Not content with playing the killer pass and watching the rest unfold, the youngster ensures he follows the path of the ball to add pressure on defences, combining with Saponara in this duty.
Three of Zielinski's six Serie A assists last season provided goals for Maccarone, with his well-weighted corner in October's 1-0 victory over top-six rivals Sassuolo resulting in a powerful headed winner from the 36-year-old in the 88th minute.
Though Zielinski finished the season with just five goals and six assists from 35 league appearances, he is a blossoming, multi-faceted creative talent, who would add quality to Klopp's ranks this summer.
Having already signed Serbian midfielder Marko Grujic from Red Star Belgrade in a £5.1 million deal, and with reports linking the Reds with both Zielinski and Dahoud, it is clear that Klopp is looking for reinforcements in the middle of the park this summer.
Jordan Henderson, Emre Can, James Milner, Lucas Leiva and Joe Allen served as the German's principal options last season, with youngsters Kevin Stewart, Cameron Brannagan and Pedro Chirivella filling in when required.
But as Grujic's signing proves, Klopp is searching to add more progressive talents in his midfield, and Zielinski would certainly suit his quick, mobile attacking system.
At just 22, Zielinski would also fit the age profile, with Klopp emphasising a focus on youth during his first months with Liverpool, and both Grujic (20) and fellow summer signing Joel Matip (24) having their best years ahead of them.
This allows great scope for development under the former Borussia Dortmund manager—and Zielinski will likely need this, with his defensive contribution in need of improvement, despite averaging two successful tackles per 90 minutes in Serie A in 2015/16, just one fewer per 90 than Roberto Firmino.
But if Liverpool do opt for Zielinski over Dahoud, the midfielder could look to emulate Klopp's previous Polish stars—namely Lukasz Piszczek, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Robert Lewandowski—and progress into a key role at Anfield.
"He told me about his personality, how is Klopp to the players, gave me some tips, but nothing is known yet," he continued, and while the stage of talks between Liverpool, Udinese and the Reds' young target remains unclear, it is clear that Klopp would be acquiring a hugely promising talent in Zielinski.