• Pablo Lario

Young "Must-Watch" Talents XI: Champions League Edition

Champions League is back, and with it, the most promising starlets of European football will show the world what they're capable to bring to the UCL (UEFA Champions League) table. That's why we reunited 11 young talented players that you should have at least one eye on them during this competition.

Goalkeeper (GK): André Onana (AFC Ajax)

I know... Onana is already a veteran of the Champions League, however... He's only 23 years old! He's the youngest of them all. At least, the youngest of the goalkeepers who actually going to play most of his games in this competition.

Anyway, André Onana was one of the breakout stars of this season. The goalkeeper of Ajax reached the semi-final of the Champions League and won the Eredivisie, as well as the Dutch cup. He missed just three out of the 58 games of Ajax in this campaign. Is not that enough to make you watch him?

The guy is not like usual "amazing" goalkeepers. Most of his saves look really simple. However, this is because of his good positioning and that’s one of the most important skills for goalkeepers. Due to his placement, he doesn’t always need to make spectacular saves. Last season, the Cameroonian only conceded 0.86 goals per game...

His passing accuracy is also something to take into account: On average he played 12.86 short passes per game 2018/19 season, while 97.4% of them were successful. Clearly, Onana has the potential to be among the best goalkeepers in the world. So, keep an eye on him, would you?

Right-Back (RB): Colin Dagba (PSG)

Adored by PSG's Thomas Tuchel "after one game", the young right-back has shown how well he could fit in PSG starting line-up against Real Madrid in the UCL (Which he didn't, unfortunately).

A fast, aggressive, and dynamic modern full-back, the French U-21 international already has 25 games under his belt after emerging in 2018. It's unsure if he'll have minutes in the Champions League this season, with Meunier and Kehrer on the top of the pecking order, but, PSG's academy star Colin Dagba has a lot to say.

Centre-Back (CB): Matthijs De Ligt (Juventus)

Turin fans still doubting if they have been robbed by Ajax or not, but arguably, Matthijs de Ligt is already considered as one of the top defenders in Europe.

The youngster was a revelation for Ajax, one of the key players in a team that shocked all Europe after surprisingly reaching the Champions League semi-finals, eliminating the likes of Real Madrid and Juventus along the way. De Ligt won the third-highest number of aerial duels of any player in the UCL last season, 78 in total. Clearly, this made the richest and most powerful clubs in Europe go after such talented center-back.

Juventus signed him in the end, and now, after a difficult start in Serie A, the Dutchman will be a "one to watch" during the Champions League with the "Vecchia Signora".

Centre-Back (CB): Ibrahima Konaté (RB Leipzig)

Ibrahima Konaté... Not many know about this guy, but I tell you know: HE'S AN ABSOLUTE ROCK IN DEFENCE! ANY BIG TEAM OUT THERE, HEAR ME: BUY THIS GUY! NOW!

Why am I saying this? And why you should keep an eye on Konaté during this Champions League?

Konaté ranks 17th in the Bundesliga for aerial duels won, which is 9th for defenders, showing his expected competence in the air at 6 feet 3 inches tall. This means teams can’t target, or unsuccessfully target him in this area due to his lean physique and as a result, their striker struggles in the game. Furthermore, Konaté is lightning quick, and so if teams opt to play passes in behind Leipzig’s backline, meaning he can chase back and keep up with opposition attackers.

But it isn’t just physically that the young French man excels. He's an accomplished dribbler and is currently averaging a dribbling success rate of just under 85%, which when we compare to some Premier League center-backs (His most likely destination one day) we can see his true qualities. Compared to Van Dijk, the best defender in the world right now, Konaté has made more progressive runs forward on average than Van Dijk by some margin and the two have very similar successful dribble percentages (0.47 per game, 87.2%). He's also fouled more often and wins more offensive duels on average than Van Dijk did (1.35 per game, 59.3%).

Still, he has some areas to improve, but, defensively speaking, he's a GOD! Overall, Konaté has already established himself last season as one of the best center-backs in the Bundesliga despite being only 19 years old. Without a doubt, he'll be a good player to watch.

Left-Back (LB): Nuno Tavares (S.L. Benfica)

Nuno Tavares appear on to the European scenario earlier this season, scoring a goal and graving two great assists on his Benfica debut against Pacos De Ferriera to announce himself as one of world football's most exciting full-back prospects right now.

Even if his current position is right-back, he predominantly started as a left-back due to being left-footed. He's adept at crossing and passing with either foot, so he'll probably give more than one surprise during Benfica's Champions League campaign this season.

Centre-Midfielder (CM): Kai Havertz (Bayer Leverkusen)

The German midfielder is two-footed, and can maintain a high technical profile during the game, showing an outstanding ability to create any chance no matter where he's stationed on the pitch. The beauty of Kai Havertz is in his versatility, already compared to great German midfielders such as Ballack and Kroos. Big shoes to fill, but having scored 30 goals and provided 22 assists from 110 appearances for Bayern Leverkusen, at such young age (20), Havertz is clearly a "must watch player" this 2019/20 UCL campaign.

Centre-Midfielder (CM): Mason Mount... [UPDATE] The Chelsea man got injured on his first UCL match, so... WE NEED A REPLACEMENT! WHO SHOULD REPLACE HIM? ... GOT IT! (Still, when he comes back, keep an eye on Mason as well, please)

Centre-Midfielder (CM): Phil Foden (Manchester City)

Mason Mount compatriot, but rival Phil Foden, is understandably one of the most promising young talents to watch in the Premier League, as well as in the Champions League this season.

Phil Foden boasts excellent speed of thought and evasive dribbling, something that has made Pep Guardiola, consider by many as "the best f****** football manager in the universe", say too many good praises about the 19-year-old English man. Foden's ability is super, drifting around the pitch effortlessly, demonstrating a level of understanding many players older than he can only dream of.

The question for Foden now is, will be able to establish himself as a first-team regular, just like Jadon Sancho and Hudson-Odoi have done for Dortmund and Chelsea respectively? Only Champions League football will answer that question.

Left Winger (LW): Anssumane "Ansu" Fati (FC Barcelona)

Is that a plane? Is that a bird? Is that Leo Messi's re-incarnation? No... IT'S ANSU FATI, MOTHER F*****!

Ansu Fati, "the jewel of La Masia", was the most promising player in Barcelona UEFA Youth League last season, performances that have seen him make his debut with the first team this 2019/20 season. Fati became the youngest player in La Liga history to score and provide an assist in the same game. Also, he has until the semis of this UCL to become the youngest player to score on the biggest European competition. His close control at speed is also ridiculous for a player so young (16), and his ability to step up in levels and transition so effortlessly will be a joy to watch this Champions League campaign.

Finally, a little secret: You know that Fati was close to a Premier League move this season? To... WEST HAAAMMM!? Thank God, it didn't... I mean, "Thank Messi, it didn't happen".

Right Winger (RW): Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund)

Seventeen goals and 29 assists in 61 appearances is a quite remarkable record for a 19 years old English boy outside England, in Germany instead, am I right?

That's exactly what Jadon Sancho has achieved, and his move from Manchester City to Dortmund was, clearly, the right move for his career to developing. Sancho's brilliant close-co-ordinated dribbling, excellence in one-v-one situations and raw pace have made him a fan's favorite at Signal Iduna Park. Undoubtedly, a "must watch talent" in the UCL this season.

Centre-Forward/Striker (CF): João Félix (Atletico Madrid)

The second most expensive teenager in football history and the fifth most expensive signing of all-time? Certainly, Felix has a lot to live up to. A mix between a number 9 and a 10, Felix can work perfectly as a second striker but is also able to adept in wide areas, using his magnificent technique and quick feet to glide past any opponent. And, clearly, he has more shooting accuracy than Vinicius Jr.

After Griezmann's farewell from Atletico, João Felix is the new "Atletico" man everyone will be watching this season in the Champions League.

Striker (ST): Erling Braut Håland (RB Salzburg)

Erling Braut Håland, son of former Leeds and Man City midfielder Alfe-Inge, has been a revelation this season. The Norwegian is a pure dominant brute of a center-forward. The combination of a huge strength plus his electric pace had made him a nightmare for any rival defender. His left foot is also his greatest asset, scoring goals with superb efficiency. 9 goals in 1 one game at the Under-20 World Cup last summer? And 11 goals in only 7 league games this season!? HOLY ****!

Furthermore, Håland is the youngest player (18 years old) to have scored a hat-trick in the first 45' of his UCL debut. Clearly, the guy has amazing qualities and potential to become one of the greatest strikers in the future. His game is growing at a rapid rate since his move to RB Salzburg from Molde FK back in January, so, if it continues at this rate, it won't be strange a big team from Europe signs him sooner than later. Seriously: KEEP AN EYE ON THIS GUY! HE'S AN ABSOLUTE MONSTER!

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