Why Sunderland are scouting Austria '“ six players they could be watching
The relative minnows of European football qualified for Euro 2016 in hugely impressive style, topping a group containing Sweden and Russia with nine wins out of 10.
Only England qualified with more points, and Marcel Koller’s side exhibited their potential with a 4-1 thrashing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden in Stockholm last September.
Their defensive record was superb in qualifying, conceding just five goals as they went the entire campaign unbeaten.
And while they lost their final warm-up game against Holland at the weekend – a match watched by Sunderland scout Gordon Chisholm – they are seen as one of the dark horses when Euro 16 gets under way this weekend.
Sunderland have watched Austria four times recently, including a friendly defeat against Turkey in March.
But just who could they be scouting? Austria’s star player is midfielder David Alaba, the Bayern Munich playmaker who has won the Bundesliga five times as well as the Champions League, while captain Christian Fuchs and attacker Marko Arnautovic are well known to the Premier League through their performances with Leicester City and Stoke City respectively last season.
The rest of the squad are fairly unknown, however, and could represent a few bargain captures for Premier League teams looking to set up deals before the tournament starts.
Here are five players that Sam Allardyce could be keeping an eye on:
The Dynamo Kiev defender has been linked with a move to the Premier League in the past, when Allardyce was at West Ham and more recently with Leicester. A tough-tackling centre-half, he would cost in excess of £12million.
The German-born Stuttgart star is out of contract this summer, and available on a free transfer. He operates predominantly as a right-winger, but can also play through the middle. With almost 70 goals for Stuttgart in 213 appearances, he has attracted interest from Hamburg and Cologne. However, he is keen on a move to the Premier League, saying: “England excites me. I definitely make no secret of it.”
The Werder Bremen midfielder offers a threat in behind the main striker. Can also play out wide. At 28, he is highly-rated and something of a dead ball specialist too.
At 6ft 5ins and weighing 205 pounds, the 32-year-old Basel attacker is a handful for defenders. He scored seven goals in qualifying. Originally signed a one-year contract with Basel last summer but looks set to stay
The 23-year-old centre-half spent the second half of the season on loan at Borussia Munchengladbach from Red Bull Salzburg, but the Germans decided against taking up an option to sign the defender permanently in a £7.5million deal. Fell out with the Salzburg coach last season and could be on his way this summer
Established as Austria’s first-choice right-back, the Stuttgart defender was part of a defence which kept five clean sheets in qualifying. At 29, he has just a year left on his contract.