Rich and poor alike, clubs around Europe dug deep in their coffers during the summer transfer window to bring in new faces to bolster their squad and give their fans a fair share of excitement.
What adds to the flavour in this seasons UEFA Champions League is the hope of new blood bettering the old guard, as young players aim to breakthrough the ranks and cement their place in the senior team.
Currently, featuring in the domestic leagues in teenage years is the bare minimum— European stage being the zenith.
Like Matthijs de Ligt led Ajax to the semi-finals of last season, Trent Alexander-Arnold sent his team to the final of Champions League last season, Harry Winks and Frenkie de Jong shouldered responsibility for their respective teams, this season too holds promise of transforming boys into men.
RESOLUTE AT THE BACK
Busting the myth that defenders hardly can break into first teams due to lack of experience, Matthijs de Ligt and Trent Alexander-Arnold paved the way for the new crop of those manning the backline.
Ajax is one team that has never shied away from giving teenagers opportunities. But the way Lisandro Martínez has made Amsterdam his home, arriving from Buenos Aires, Erik ten Hag is filled with optimism. The 21-year-old centre-back, already looks comfortable stepping into de Ligt’s boots. He has been tried in a defensive midfield role as well.
Another debutant in the same team this season is 18-year-old Sergino Dest, who has put right-back Noussair Mazraoui’s position in the first team at risk with his direct and incisive movement down the flank.
With no Filipe Luis, Atletico Madrid brought in the 21-year-old Brazilian Renan Lodi to deputise at left-back. He has already registered an assist against Eibar in La Liga, and is one to keep an eye upon. Chelsea’s right-back Reece James, RB Leipzig’s centre-back Ibrahima Konaté, and Benfica’s wing-back Nuno Tavares could also prove to be troublesome for Europe’s elite.
SPINE OF THE TEAM
The name, Mason Mount, is on everybody’s lips now, as the 20-year-old English international consolidated his position in an attacking midfield role under Frank Lampard’s new-look Chelsea. Mount has continued his form from last season whilst playing at Derby County, and has netted three times in the Premier League this season.
Going up against him on the opening day of the Group H encounter is Valencia’s 18-year-old Lee Kang-in. The South Korean playmaker would look to threaten the Blues’ leaky defense. With two goals and four assists for his national team, who finished runners-up, in the recently concluded FIFA U20 World Cup, Lee won the Golden Ball.
Dinamo Zagreb’s Spanish starlet Dani Olmo is another prospect who will hope to build on his positive start into the season (four goals and four assists from six matches into the season).
Meanwhile, Benfica’s return to Champions League has by and large been helped by the aggression and athleticism of their 20-year-old defensive midfield starlet Florentino Luís. Olympique Lyonnais’ new signing Jeff Reine-Adelaide, on the other hand, might have his breakthrough season filling in Tanguy Ndombele’s boots in the heart of midfield.
LETHAL UP TOP
FC Salzburg’s 19-year-old man mountain, Erling Braut Håland will hope to shake things up against the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Kalidou Koulibaly this season, after winning the Golden Boot in the FIFA U20 World Cup. Ever since he started making waves for Norway in the summer, he has carried on with the rich vein of form, hitting a debut Champions League hattrick on Tuesday and bagging 17 goals and 5 assists in nine matches this season.
In Håland’s exact opposite image — is Barcelona’s youngest-ever goalscorer, 16-year-old Anssumane Fati, who will be hoping to make the most of his opportunity in Europe in the absences of Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele. The La Masia product has already registered two goals and an assist in three matches, owing to his clever movement and swift operation from the left flank.
Replacing the attacking flair of Nicolas Pepe and Rafael Leão at Lille is Victor Osimhen. The 20-year-old has proved to be a diamond in the rough for the French side, scoring five goals in the opening five matches of the season.
On the other hand, Bayern Munich would look to 18-year-old Alphonso Davies this season to plug the void left by the departures of Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben.
From England, Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham has hit the ground running in Premier League with a league-high seven goals. Liverpool’s Rhian Brewster and Tottenham Hotspur’s Troy Parrott are yet to get a proper break.
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