10 young stars to watch in Champions League

Martin Macdonald
Trevoh Chalobah, Chelsea, 2021/22

The Champions League returns this Tuesday and as the elite sides around Europe compete against each other to take the crown as the best team on the continent.

The tournament is noted for having the best players in the world plying their trade, but it also provides fans with an opportunity to get a view of the stars of the future.

For the purposes of this piece, FootballTransfers will avoid players like Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho, as they are already superstars despite their young age.

So, here are 10 players under the age of 23 to look out for in the 2021/22 edition of the Champions League.

Dominik Szoboszlai - RB Leipzig

Dominik Szoboszlai is the latest in a growing and proven production line from RB Salzburg, having initially caught the eye in the Champions League with goals against Lokomotiv Moscow and Atletico Madrid.

In January of 2021 he completed a transfer to affiliate club RB Leipzig after turning down a move to Arsenal.

An injury meant he didn't feature in the 2020/21 season, but he has started the new campaign well, scoring two goals in three starts in the Bundesliga.

Karim Adeyemi - RB Salzburg

Born in Munich, Germany, Karim Adeyemi worked his way up the TSV Forstenried youth system until local giants Bayern Munich picked him up in 2010.

Adeyemi would still be at the club to this day, if not for a breakdown in contract negotiations and so the player left for SpVgg Unterhaching, where he spent six years before Red Bull Salzburg swooped in for the player in 2018.

This season has since seen the young striker firmly grasp his opportunity in the Salzburg first team, with seven goals and an assist in his first 10 games, including a goal in the club’s Champions League qualifying round against Brondby.

Yeremi Pino - Villarreal

At youth level, Yeremi Pino was at Huracan and Las Palmas before joining Villarreal in 2017. At that time, he reportedly had the opportunity to sign for Barcelona but turned the Blaugrana down in order to join the set up at Villarreal.

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The fact Barcelona were so keen to sign him in his mid-teens does provide an indication of the type of player he is and his potential quality.

Pino is blessed with a cracking burst of pace but his best ability is probably his incisive dribbling as it allows him to often get into positions inside the box to score. Though he has primarily featured on the left this season, he can play at right wing or even through the middle.

Jamal Musiala - Bayern Munich

Quiet, polite and unassuming, Jamal Musiala can often be mistaken for a shy teenager in need of a good, hearty breakfast. But when he steps onto the pitch he quickly becomes a star in the making.

With a remarkable ability to exploit space, jink by defenders and find the back of the net from all angles, Musiala has quickly been compared to Bayern Munich teammate Thomas Muller. And it’s certainly an accurate one.

With Leroy Sane and Kingsley Coman struggling with consistency on either wing, new head coach Julian Nagelsmann has happily turned to Musiala a number of times this season in the Bundesliga. He’ll surely do much of the same in Europe too.

Angel Gomes - Lille

Angel Gomes began his career in Man United youth academy, before being promoted to the first team in May 2017, when he replaced Wayne Rooney in a 2–0 home victory over Crystal Palace at the age of 16.

He signed his first professional contract with the club seven months later, but then struggled to nail down a spot in the first team with just four further appearances in the next three seasons. 

Gomes would subsequently turn down the next contract offered by the club, and would eventually leave on a free transfer to Lille.

He spent the 2020/21 season on loan at Boavista and recorded nine goal contributions.

Giovanni Reyna - Dortmund

It feels as though Gio Reyna has been part of the furniture at Borussia Dortmund for some time, but at just 18 years of age the young American is only getting started.

Giovanni Reyna signs new Borussia Dortmund contract

Now that Jadon Sancho has departed for England, Reyna will look to establish himself as one of Dortmund’s main stars in Marco Rose’s new-look side. A shift from traditional winger to a more dynamic No.10 could prove vital to Reyna’s development and how he will step up in vital Champions League games this season.

Erling Haaland may be the star of the show, but Reyna could end up playing an impressive supporting role in this season’s competition.

Trevoh Chalobah - Chelsea

Trevoh Chalobah impressed in pre-season for the Blues, so much so that Thomas Tuchel opted to start him in the opening match of the Premier League campaign versus Crystal Palace.

He was excellent against the Eagles and even scored on his debut with a cracking long-range strike into the corner.

Chalobah has spent the last three seasons on loan at Ipswich, Huddersfield, and Lorient to continue his development.

After Chelsea failed to sign Jules Kounde, Chalobah has taken advantage to become a member of the first team squad, and he will more than likely feature in the Champions League.

Jude Bellingham - Borussia Dortmund

Despite only joining the club last summer, Jude Bellingham has quickly established himself as one of new coach Marco Rose’s key midfielders this season.

With a maturity and technical ability that far exceeds his young age, the England international marauds across the pitch like a classic No.8 and is already considered one of Dortmund’s most influential players.

After thriving against Manchester City in the quarter-finals last season, Bellingham will be keen to sink his teeth into another Champions League campaign for Dortmund.

Sandro Tonali - Milan

Sandro Tonali struggled a bit last season after his big-money move to Milan from Brescia. However, he seems ready to explode in 2021-22 after a brilliant start to the campaign.

Milan midfielder Sandro Tonali playing in Serie A

The central midfielder has been labelled the ‘new Andrea Pirlo’ due to his playmaking qualities but Tonali sees Rino Gattuso in himself given his ability to press and win the ball back aggressively.

Francesco Totti said of Tonali: “He’ll become one of the world’s best midfielders. He has everything a great player should have – technically gifted, good mentality & sharp in any situation.”

Maxence Lacroix - Wolfsburg

Signed from Sochaux for just €5m, Maxence Lacroix was a nobody when he arrived at Wolfsburg 12 months ago but in that time the young player has quickly grown into one of German football’s most exciting defenders.

Quick, technically gifted and a great reader of the game, the French defender wasn’t slow in establishing a strong defensive partnership with John Brooks to form one of the most formidable defences in the Bundesliga last season.

This season’s Champions League will undoubtedly be a step up for the French talent, but will undoubtedly be one he’s looking forward to.