Home Sport 11 young guns ready to take over the Champions League this time...

11 young guns ready to take over the Champions League this time round


When Red Bull Salzburg were drawn into Group E with Napoli and Liverpool last season, few gave them any shot at all of progressing. 

What soon became clear was they possessed the hottest prospect in the Champions League in Erling Haaland. 

A 6-2 opening group win over Genk saw Haaland hit a stunning hat-trick before he got one in a 4-3 loss at Liverpool and two in 3-2 loss to Napoli. He would go on to bag two more before the group was done and while they fell short of reaching the knockout stages, Haaland’s eight goals in six games had all of Europe talking. 

Erling Haaland exploded in the Champions League while at Red Bull Salzburg

He went from strength to strength following a January switch to join Borussia Dortmund

Erling Haaland lit up the Champions League last season, first with Red Bull Salzburg (left) and then with Borussia Dortmund (right) and he finished the tournament with 10 goals

Manchester United began circling but eventually lost out on his signature to Borussia Dortmund – where he netted twice in their 2-1 first-leg last-16 win over eventual finalists Paris Saint-Germain. 

Robert Lewandowski, who won the tournament with Bayern Munich, claimed the Champions League golden boot with Haaland finishing second with a staggering 10 goals in eight games. 

Now the question is, who will be this season’s breakout star and light up the competition just as Haaland did? Sportsmail has picked out 11 potential candidates… 

Giovanni Reyna 

Age: 17 Club: Borussia Dortmund

Haaland’s current residence is as good a place to start when searching for the next big thing on Europe’s biggest stage and there are few better placed than 17-year-old midfielder Giovanni Reyna. 

The USA prodigy is out of contract at the end of the season and while he has voiced his desire to stay with Dortmund, a stellar Champions League campaign could see rivals push for his signature. 

Reyna, who turns 18 in November, made his Dortmund debut against Augsburg in January and has since won the trust of boss Julien Favre. 

He has produced three goals and six assists in 23 appearances to date and will have no fear about the forthcoming Champions League campaign. Opposition defences beware… 

Giovanni Reyna made his Dortmund debut in January and has seized his chance ever since

Giovanni Reyna made his Dortmund debut in January and has seized his chance ever since

Eduardo Camavinga 

Age: 17 Club: Rennes

Few young players heading into this season’s competition can say they know what it feels like to be scrutinised as much as Eduardo Camavinga at Rennes.

The midfielder wonderkid is being pursued intently by Real Madrid but is also not short of Premier League interest. 

Camavinga, Rennes’ youngest ever debutant, broke through last season and went on to make 36 appearances.

He recently became the youngest player since World War Two to make his debut for France and even notched a stunning overhead kick in a rout over Ukraine. 

And so, Camavinga is comfortable in the limelight, used to out-performing his peers. Rennes face a tricky group, which includes Chelsea and Sevilla, but should the French side progress, Camavinga’s stock will soar to new heights. 

Eduardo Camavinga (middle) is used to breaking records and is one to watch this time round

Eduardo Camavinga (middle) is used to breaking records and is one to watch this time round

Ansu Fati  

Age: 17 Club: Barcelona

A sensation. That’s the only way to describe Ansu Fati.

He has shown maturity beyond his years and is now a permanent fixture of Barcelona’s first team before he even turns 18. 

Fati is out-performing Lionel Messi at the same age and the excitement over the Spain international is already at fever pitch.

Messi had managed just nine games for Barcelona back in 2004 at the age 17. In that run the Argentine scored one goal. 

Fati, in comparison, has put on a rise far more rapid – scoring 11 goals and providing one assist in his 36 appearances to date.

He has the faith of Ronald Koeman and Fati, if he continues at his current pace, has all the tools in his arsenal to take over the tournament with Messi and Griezmann as a supporting cast. 

Ansu Fati's rise at Barcelona has been phenomenal and he now looks ready to dominate games

Ansu Fati’s rise at Barcelona has been phenomenal and he now looks ready to dominate games

Jude Bellingham

Age: 17 Club: Borussia Dortmund

It is fair to say 2020 has not been a memorable year for many. 

But for Jude Bellingham, he has gone from Championship football to Champions League football in a matter of months.

The 17-year-old just claimed ‘Bundesliga Rookie of the Month’ following his impressive start to life in Dortmund, having joined from Birmingham City this summer.

Bellingham has played each of Dortmund’s Bundesliga matches so far, mainly deployed alongside Axel Witsel in central midfield, and he is in line for his Champions League debut against Lazio on Tuesday in Rome.

‘With someone like him, I don’t look at the date of birth,’ boss Favre told the Swiss Telegraphic Agency. ‘I like the way he handles the ball, how he defends it. He gives us a number of tactical possibilities and has a fantastic presence.’

Bellingham is turning heads in Germany. Now it’s time to put Europe on notice. 

Jude Bellingham has started well at Dortmund by winning 'Bundesliga Rookie of the Month'

Jude Bellingham has started well at Dortmund by winning ‘Bundesliga Rookie of the Month’

Mason Greenwood

Age: 19 Club: Manchester United

It spoke volumes that as Manchester United fans digested the team news ahead of the win at Newcastle, there was greater concern for not having Mason Greenwood in the side than Paul Pogba.

He won’t feature against PSG, much to the disappointment of supporters, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer refusing to elaborate on his absence from the squad that travelled to Paris. 

But, nonetheless, Greenwood is expected to play a vital role for United in what looks a particularly tricky Group H including PSG and RB Leipzig.

Greenwood has been a breath of fresh air since breaking into the side down the right and his mix of finishing and physicality has made him a nuisance for opposition defenders.

The teenager, seen as the best finisher at the club, scored 19 goals last season and a Champions League explosion is in the pipeline if he follows his current trajectory. 

Mason Greenwood has been described as the best finished in Manchester United's squad

Mason Greenwood has been described as the best finished in Manchester United’s squad

Dominik Szoboszlai

Age: 19 Club: Red Bull Salzburg

Salzburg’s reputation as a hotbed for young talent means little gets left unnoticed in Austria and Dominik Szoboszlai is certainly making a name for himself in Jesse Marsch’s side.

The Hungarian playmaker, 19, has reportedly caught admiring glances from Arsenal as he continues to gather pace, much like Haaland and Takumi Minamino did, before he joined Liverpool. 

Szoboszlai heads into this Champions League campaign in real form, too.

He has three goals and three assists in the opening seven games of this season and is in the kind of form where he will be confident of taking over their group opener against Lokomotiv Moscow. 

Szoboszlai finished with 12 goals and 18 assists last season and another burst will see a scramble for his signature as early as January, it appears. 

Dominik Szoboszlai is a man in form with three goals and three assists already this season

Dominik Szoboszlai is a man in form with three goals and three assists already this season

Dejan Kulusevski

Age: 20 Club: Juventus

Right, that’s the teenagers wrapped up.

But Juventus will hope they have the jewel in the Champions League’s crown in 20-year-old winger Dejan Kulusevski.

Purchased from Atalanta for £35m after an impressive loan spell with Parma, Kulusevski has been favoured by Andrea Pirlo over Paulo Dybala and looks set to lead the line in Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence against Dynamo Kiev.

Ronaldo, sitting out due to a positive Covid-19 test while on international duty with Portugal, is a huge loss for the Bianconeri but it does present a chance for young players like Kulusevski to become the hero. 

‘Andrea is very relaxed, he believes in his players and gives me a lot of faith, so it’s easy to play for him,’ Kulusevski said, after netting his first Juventus goal against Sampdoria. ‘He lets me play and we can have fun.’ 

Dejan Kulusevski said it is 'fun' playing for Andrea Pirlo as he continues to impress at Juventus

Dejan Kulusevski said it is ‘fun’ playing for Andrea Pirlo as he continues to impress at Juventus

Mohammed Kudus

Age: 20 Club: Ajax

Ajax saw Donny van de Beek depart for Manchester United this summer and new No 10 Mohammed Kudus is showing just why there was no mass panic behind the scenes in Amsterdam.

The 20-year-old Ghanaian was crowned Eredivisie Player of the Week following his goal and two assists in a 5-1 demolition of Heerenveen and Liverpool will have no doubt done their homework on the latest emerging star in Holland. 

Team-mate Antony, also 20, has been picked out by many as the one to watch in this side but Kudus is as good as they come in red and white right now. 

Kudus only joined Ajax this summer, becoming the most expensive Ghanaian teenager in history having arrived from Danish outfit Nordsjaelland for €9m (£8.2m).

If Kudus dominates a Liverpool side who tore the rest of the Premier League to pieces last season, he’ll not be a hidden gem for much longer.  

Mohammed Kudus (left) has been a revelation at No 10 for Ajax having arrived this summer

Mohammed Kudus (left) has been a revelation at No 10 for Ajax having arrived this summer

Phil Foden 

Age: 20 Club: Manchester City

Foden has had to have patience but finally he is a mainstay in Manchester City’s first team and at 20, he still has his whole career ahead of him.

Shortlisted for the prestigious Golden Boy award at the weekend, Foden’s stock is already high having won plaudits from boss Pep Guardiola.

But should Foden take over the Champions League with his performances, the mood around the player, particularly on the continent, would likely shift significantly. 

Foden scored eight goals and added nine assists last season and will be targeting double digits in both categories now he has been trusted to fill the void vacated by David Silva, now at Real Sociedad. 

Manchester City are heavy favourites in a group including Olympiacos, Marseille and FC Porto and so Foden will get a better chance than many of his peers to hit the ground running in the group stages as Haaland did last time round.  

Phil Foden has the potential to take over Manchester City's midfield in the Champions League

Phil Foden has the potential to take over Manchester City’s midfield in the Champions League

Michael Cuisance

Age: 21 Club: Marseille

Leeds United will be hopeful Michael Cuisance does not turn into the one that got away after his move to Elland Road collapsed this summer.

The former Bayern starlet eventually sealed a move to Marseille and is now facing the prospect of leading the Ligue 1 side out of a very competitive group.

Marseille boss Andre Villas-Boas was left impressed with Cuisance on his debut in a 3-1 win over Bordeaux and the next step is now whether he can dictate games in the Champions League.

Cuisance is a fine dribbler and is comfortable in possession, even when under pressure, and that will bode well with time on the ball limited in the Champions League in comparison to the French top-flight.

While he won’t come out and say it, Cuisance will be desperate to show Leeds and Bayern exactly what they are missing.  

Michael Cuisance (right) made a stirring impression on his debut for new side Marseille

Michael Cuisance (right) made a stirring impression on his debut for new side Marseille

Patson Daka

Age: 22 Club: Red Bull Salzburg 

With 11 goals from his opening eight games this season, it makes a lot of sense why Patson Daka is seen as Haaland Mark II in Salzburg.

The Zambian striker feels like a guaranteed goal-a-game man right now and Lokomotiv Moscow will be fearful heading to Austria on Tuesday night. 

In a group containing Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich, the odds are stacked against Salzburg progressing. 

But much like Haaland did a year ago, Daka will be aiming to match – or even better – the Norwegian striker’s eight goals in six group games. 

Daka finished his maiden campaign with Salzburg with 27 goals and with 11 already before October is even out, he’s well on the way to eclipsing his own target in Marsch’s free-scoring system.  

Patson Daka (right) is making a name for himself leading Red Bull Salzburg's attack now

Patson Daka (right) is making a name for himself leading Red Bull Salzburg’s attack now

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