The Champions League returns this week and we take a look at 10 players who could shine in their debut campaigns in Europe’s elite competition.
Moussa Dembele – Celtic
Tipped for big things in our Scout feature last season, Celtic pulled off a major coup in landing Moussa Dembele from Fulham, with the striker having been linked with a host of top clubs around Europe.
The 20-year-old has already made himself a firm favourite at Parkhead thanks to his hat-trick in the 5-1 thrashing of Rangers in the Old Firm derby at the weekend, but faces a daunting task in trying to make an impact against Europe’s elite, with Celtic drawn in Group C alongside Barcelona, Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach.
Celtic have troubled Barcelona in the past, with Tony Watt scoring a famous winner against the Catalan giants four years ago. Dembele has more than enough ability to help spring another surprise.
John Stones – Manchester City
What a difference a few months can make. After ending last season out of favour at Everton before failing to play a single minute for England at Euro 2016, John Stones is now looking every bit of a £47.5million defender under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
After being tipped to become one of the best centre-backs in Europe, this is now the natural step up for Stones. The 22-year-old will be thrown in at the deep end with a fixture against Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez on the horizon.
Kalidou Koulibaly – Napoli
Last summer Kalidou Koulibaly rejected an offer to join Norwich City. This summer the defender has been the centre of a transfer tug-of-war between Chelsea and Napoli, with the Serie A outfit reportedly rejecting a bid of around £40million.
Now Koulibaly needs to prove he is worthy of such a valuation.
The 25-year-old is likely to line up alongside Nikola Maksimovic, who joined Napoli from Torino in the summer and was another of the numerous centre-backs to interest Chelsea. The duo have the potential to forge a formidable partnership but will be tested by Europe’s best.
Jamie Vardy – Leicester City
The Champions League is renown as the main stage for the players of utmost class, grace and skill. Think Andrea Pirlo, Zinedine Zidane, Clarence Seedorf etc… And now Jamie Vardy is going to join that illustrious list of players.
Jamie Vardy, former non-league player. Jamie Vardy, human greyhound with a taste for volleys. Jamie Vardy, tear-arsing around the Estádio do Dragão chasing after Porto defenders. Jamie Vardy, eyes glazed over, singing “chat s**t, get banged” while the Champions League anthem plays over the tannoy in Copenhagen. Jamie Vardy, screaming “all mine, all f***ing mine” after breaking Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s competition record for consecutive goals.
He’s not the atypical Champions League player, but that’s why it is going to be all the more fun watching the Leicester striker ruffle a few feathers.
Ousmane Dembele – Borussia Dortmund
While the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Tottenham linked with the attacker, Borussia Dortmund won the race to sign Ousmane Dembele in a €15million deal from Rennes this summer.
The 19-year-old is a serious talent, just ask Manchester United.
Marco Asensio – Real Madrid
Despite having a transfer ban looming over their heads, Real Madrid somewhat surprisingly failed to significantly add to their squad over the summer, with the return of Alvaro Morata from Juventus their only signing. However, a crop of promising young players have returned from loan spells elsewhere, with Marco Asensio chief among them.
The attacking midfielder spent last season at Espanyol, where he scored four goals and registered ten assists. At only 20 years of age, Asensio has already broken into the Spain squad and has now played a part in all of Los Blancos’ opening La Liga fixtures, while he also netted this beauty against Sevilla in the Super Cup.
Dele Alli – Tottenham
After such a remarkable breakthrough season for Tottenham, Dele Alli went on to be one of a number of disappointments with England at Euro 2016. However, as a 20-year-old who only a year earlier had yet to play at a level higher than League One , it should perhaps be no surprise that the attacking midfielder found his first major international tournament a struggle.
A slow start to the season has been followed by a bright cameo in England’s victory over Slovakia and a goal in Spurs’ thumping of Stoke. Sam Allardyce was criticised for leaving Alli on the bench in Slovakia, if the former MK Dons prodigy produces the goods in the Champions League, the England manager may be left with no choice but to start the Spurs star.
Oleksandr Zinchenko – PSV Eindhoven
Amid all of Manchester City’s high-profile signings this summer, the arrival of Oleksandr Zinchenko came relatively under the radar. The 19-year-old winger has since joined PSV on loan and will get the chance to prove to Pep Guardiola he is worth keeping around at the Etihad Stadium next season.
Zinchenko broke Andriy Shevchenko’s record to become Ukraine’s youngest-ever goalscorer earlier this summer and will have to be in impressive form to help PSV get the better of Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid in Group D.
Denis Suarez – Barcelona
One that got away from Manchester City, where he made only two League Cup appearances, Barcelona made sure they did not make the same mistake when allowing the midfielder to join Villarreal but inserting a buy-back clause. After his performances earned him a call-up to the Spanish national team, Barcelona brought Suarez back to the Camp Nou for only £2.7million.
Still only 22, and having won the Europa League while on loan at Sevilla, Suarez will now get the chance to prove to City they were wrong to allow him to leave when he comes up against his former club.
Lucas Perez – Arsenal
Some sections of Arsenal’s support may have written off Lucas Perez after the Spaniard’s debut, but the former Deportivo hitman provides an alternative option to Olivier Giroud, and will allow Arsene Wenger to set up his side to sit deep and hit teams on the counter attack at pace, which could prove crucial if the Gunners are to progress past the last-16 stage.
Wenger was accused of panicking after Arsenal signed the 28-year-old, the Frenchman needs the forward to impress on the biggest stage.
Which players are you most looking forward to seeing? Who are you tipping to win this season’s tournament? Use the story comment box, below, to let us know your thoughts….