The UEFA Champions League kicks off on Tuesday, Oct. 20. Teams and players are beginning to plan tactics and formations as they prepare for a packed game schedule. European soccer talent is spread out among different leagues and different nations in Europe. I will outline a few key players to watch for the 2020-20201 Champions League campaign. These players could be surprise packages as reigning champions Bayern Munich look to retain their crown.
Writer’s note: Here is how I will note each player:
Players name (Club Team, Nation of Club Team) National Team of Player or Potential National Team
João Félix (Atlético Madrid, Spain) Portugal
20-year-old Portuguese International Félix has a lot to prove during this Champions League run. One of the most expensive transfers for such a young player, Félix has a lot to prove this year as Atlético looks to return to Champions League stardom. Atlético last reached the Champions League final back in 2016 when they lost to their fierce rivals Real Madrid. Félix will look to learn from his national teammate Cristiano Ronaldo, as Ronaldo has extensive experience in the tournament. Félix should look to score at least double-digit goals as it looks like the group stage, other than Bayern Munich, are easy teams.
Leroy Sané (Bayern Munich, Germany) Germany
Another young player with a lot to prove, Leroy Sané is a new arrival at Bayern after transferring from Manchester City in the summer of 2020. During his time at Manchester City, Sané was plagued with injuries. He should look to start every game for Bayern and create plays along the left flank. He will help with Bayern’s fast-paced, high pressing, counter-attacking style. With Leroy Sané upfront, Bayern has a good deal of attacking potential and will look to exploit the defensive weaknesses of other teams through a high pressing system that relies on fast wingers and an established center-forward, particularly Robert Lewandowski.
Martin Ødegaard (Real Madrid, Spain) Norway
Ødegaard returns to his parent club after a successful loan move to Real Sociedad, another young player with both potential and a lot to prove, Ødegaard must secure a starting spot at Real Madrid if he wants to further his career. He should look to capitalize on the weak showing of Eden Hazard and force his way into the starting 11, or at least establish himself as a strong substitute with regular playing time. Ødegaard’s presence as a young, fast-paced, creative midfield, makes him a strong contender to feature in the early stage of the Champions League against weaker opponents. If he can show a strong showing in the group stage, manager Zinedine Zidane will be likely to choose him in the latter stages of the Champions League.
Achraf Hakimi (Inter Milan, Italy) Morocco
Moroccan international Hakimi will be pushing to be one of the best players in the world for his position. At such a young age, Hakimi has already established himself as one of the most skillful midfielders with both defensive ability and extreme speed. He will have no problem being a regular in Inter Milan’s unique defensive structure. His attacking potential is there and once he sharpens his defensive quality, he can be one of the best players in his position for the upcoming decade.
Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City, England) Brazil
Another player with lots of potential, Jesus is the oldest person on this list so far at 23 years old, however, his time at Manchester City so far has been underwhelming. Playing backup to one of the best forwards in the world, Sergio Agüero, it is no wonder why Jesus has been limited in his game time. However, given Agüero’s injury tendencies, Jesus might play a starting role in Manchester City’s Champions League push. As Pep Guardiola looks to bring Champions League glory to Manchester City, this may be Jesus’s last chance to win the Champions League with Guardiola. Although his preferred position is center forward, Guardiola has experienced playing Jesus as left midfielder or a left forward. With Aguero struggling with injury, Jesus needs to establish himself as a regular at Manchester City.
Kai Havertz (Chelsea, England) Germany
At only 21 years old, Havertz has already established himself as one of the best attacking midfielders in all of Europe. With so much potential, Havertz needs to position himself as the focal point of Chelsea’s attack. Creating plays and carrying the ball into the attacking third of the field. His good passing ability, as well as his soccer IQ, makes him an intelligent playmaker on and off the ball. Havertz should look to rack up assists as Chelsea look to make it into the later stages of the Champions League for the first time in a while.
Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund, Germany) United States
Seventeen-year-old Reyna has already solidified himself with a starting spot on one of the best teams in all of Germany. With so much pressure on him already, he will look to strive while the spotlight is on him. As he represents the United States on the national team, Americans will be looking to him, as well as Christian Pulisic to lead the next generation of American soccer players. In regards to his Dortmund career, he’ll be looking to make a lasting impact right as Dortmund begin the tournament. Dortmund have trouble in the tournament, however, with their young team including Ering Haaland, Dortmund can make an impact on the team that could see Reyna as a crucial part of the team chemistry. If Reyna can mature as a player, he can be a long-lasting servant of the Dortmund fans.
Weston McKinnie (Juventus, Italy) United States
American Weston McKinnie joins Italian giants, Juventus, on a year-long loan from German team FC Schalke 04. Although McKinnie joins a team with plenty of midfield options, his role as a deep-lying defensive midfielder makes a valuable asset to a team such as Juventus. Against weaker teams, Juventus utilize a high press and use possession to press into an opponent and open up space for either Cristiano Ronaldo or Paulo Dybala to find space to score. This being the case, allows for their full-backs to push up, leaving the back exposed. Here is where McKinnie can excel. His work as a defensive, strong, playmaking midfielder, make him a viable option against weaker teams as Juventus looks to exploit the defensive weaknesses of weaker teams. If McKinnie can solidify a starting spot on the team, he can be an excellent option to play as the pivot in a midfield three. If McKinnie can lead a successful campaign in the Champions League and Juventus make it deep into the competition, it could lead Juventus to sign him on a permanent basis, or perhaps a high level Spanish or English club might come in to sign the youngster.
Some honorable mentions that may have an impact this Champions League season include:
Alex Telles (Manchester United, England) Brazil
Romelu Lukaku (Inter Milan, Italy) Belgium
Diogo Jota (Liverpool, England) Portugal
Hakim Ziyech (Chelsea, England) Morocco
Lucas Ocampos (Sevilla, Spain) Argentina
Eduardo Camavinga (Stade Rennais, France) France
As teams buckle up for the Champions League, clearly, this season will be unlike any other season in the past. It can be highly assumed that fans will not be in stadiums for probably the entire season. I believe this will be positive for the smaller teams which can excel when they play in the larger stadiums given that no fans will be present. As some players get COVID, younger players may be called on to play harder games and in different positions, and this will give them a great position to shine in the largest tournament in all of Europe. This season will be extraordinary, and teams will be relying on their young and new players more than ever.