As the UEFA Champions League kicks off its 2023/24 season this Tuesday, football fans across the globe eagerly await the drama, excitement, and moments that this prestigious competition never fails to deliver. With Europe’s most elite clubs vying for glory, the stage is set for another unforgettable journey.
A platform for rising stars
One aspect of the Champions League is its ability to catapult young talents into the global spotlight. In the past, players like Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland emerged from anonymity to become household names, due to their remarkable performances on the grand stage of European club football.
Punch Online identifies six young talents to watch, all born in 2004 or later. They are;
Lamine Yamal (Barcelona)
Lamine Yamal’s emergence as a force for both club and country has been one of the season’s biggest stories, with the Barcelona winger already looking like he could live up to the claims that he is the best player to emerge from La Masia since Lionel Messi.
During the international break, the 16-year-old became the youngest player to both debut and score for the Spain national team, and he has given Xavi’s side a spark in La Liga as well.
Youssoufa Moukoko (Borussia Dortmund)
Youssoufa Moukoko will play in his fourth Champions League season this season despite the fact that he won’t turn 19 until November, with the Germany international striker hoping to stay fit and build on the incredible promise he demonstrated in Dortmund’s academy.
The addition of Niclas Fullkrug in the summer threatened to knock the striker down the pecking order, and he will be hoping that his performance in Europe will persuade Edin Terzic to put him back in the starting lineup.
Rico Lewis (Manchester City)
While Manchester City continue to earn handsomely from the sale of elite youth stars, one youngster who will not be sold anytime soon is versatile defender Rico Lewis, whose breakthrough delighted fans last season.
City’s favourable draw means Pep Guardiola may rotate in Europe, giving Lewis the opportunity to shine in the competition where he scored his first professional goal last season.
Arda Guler (Real Madrid)
Arda Guler will miss the first few matchdays of this season’s Champions League due to knee surgery, but there is hope that he might offer Real Madrid an X-factor off the bench later in the competition.
The 18-year-old joined Real Madrid for an initial €20 million (£17 million/$21 million) over the summer, beating Barcelona to the acquisition of a midfielder who averaged a goal or assist every 91 minutes since breaking into the Fenerbahce first squad in 2021-22.
Alejandro Garnacho (Manchester United)
Alejandro Garnacho turned 19 this summer, but the winger is already well entrenched in the Manchester United first-team picture and is poised to make another step forward this season.
Garnacho, who is already a full Argentina international, might be crucial for Erik ten Hag as he attempts to fill the void left by the withdrawals of Antony and Jadon Sancho from the group at the moment.
With nearly 100 Barcelona appearances under his belt and 23 Spain caps, it’s difficult to believe Gavi is still only 19, but that just goes to show how talented the midfielder is.
The gifted youth, now a leader in Xavi’s squad, offers energy, a creative spark, and a touch of bite to the Blaugrana in the middle of the pitch. He might be crucial in helping them reach the knockout stages for the first time since 2021.
Past winners and historic triumphs
In the 2022/23 season, Manchester City claimed the trophy defeating Inter Milan. It marked a triumphant moment for the club and showcased the continued strength of English football on the European stage.
Spanish giants Real Madrid clinched the title in the 2021/22 season, adding to their already impressive collection of Champions League trophies. The full list of winners in the last 15 years is as follows;
2022-23: Manchester City (ENG)
2021-22: Real Madrid (ESP)
2020-21: Chelsea (ENG)
2019-20: Bayern Munich (GER)
2018-19: Liverpool (ENG)
2017-18: Real Madrid (ESP)
2016-17: Real Madrid (ESP)
2015-16: Real Madrid (ESP)
2014-15: Barcelona (ESP)
2013-14: Real Madrid (ESP)
2012-13: Bayern Munich (GER)
2011-12: Chelsea (ENG)
2010-11: Barcelona (ESP)
2009-10: Inter Milan (ITA)
2008-09: Barcelona (ESP)
Opening round fixtures
Here are the fixtures for this week’s clash, Nigerian time;
Group E: Feyenoord vs. Celtic (20:00)
Group E: Lazio vs. Atletico Madrid (20:00)
Group F: AC Milan vs. Newcastle United (17:45)
Group F: Paris Saint-Germain vs. Borussia Dortmund (20:00)
Group G: Young Boys vs. RB Leipzig (17:45)
Group G: Manchester City vs. Red Star Belgrade (20:00)
Group H: Barcelona vs. Antwerp (20:00)
Group H: Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Porto (20:00)
Group A: Galatasaray vs. Copenhagen (17:45)
Group A: Bayern Munich vs. Manchester United (20:00)
Group B: Sevilla vs. Lens (20:00)
Group B: Arsenal vs. PSV Eindhoven (20:00)
Group C: Real Madrid vs. Union Berlin (17:45)
Group C: Braga vs. Napoli (20:00)
Group D: Real Sociedad vs. Inter Milan (20:00)
Group D: Benfica vs. Salzburg (20:00)