The 2020/21 Champions League campaign gets underway this evening and all 32 sides will be in action over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday.
Current holders Bayern Munich kick off their campaign on Wednesday in an enthralling looking Group A clash with Atletico Madrid, while Ajax’s clash with Liverpool on the same night is bound to be laden with enchanting sub-plots amid Virgil van Dijk’s injury and a busy summer of transfer activity for the Dutch giants.
A multitude of world football’s most talented players will, as always, be on display in this season’s instalment of Europe’s revered knockout competition, but who are the ones to watch?
Naturally, Erling Haaland, Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi et al. will be keen figures of interest.
However, here at GiveMeSport, we’ve analysed all 32 of the participating teams and identified an intriguing individual from each side who, for one reason or another, you’d be wise to keep your eye on as the competition progresses.
Take a look at all 32 of our selections below…
Lucas Torreira – Atletico Madrid
Lucas Torreira arrived in the Spanish capital on transfer deadline day with a point to prove.
Having effectively swapped places with the departing Thomas Partey, the Uruguay international has big boots to fill at the Wanda Metropolitano.
Under a manager of Diego Simeone’s calibre and style, expect to see the best of Torreira’s bulldog-like approach.
Sekou Koita – RB Salzburg
RB Salzburg is rapidly establishing itself as Europe’s main wonderkid hub.
Sadio Mane, Naby Keita and Erling Haaland all came to fame via the Austrian outfit, and Sekou Koita, a deadly centre-forward, could be the next big thing to emerge here.
The Mali international is just 20 years old but he has already managed to score five goals and provide four assists in eight games this season, proving that Patson Daka isn’t the only promising RB Salzburg attacker worth shouting about.
Fedor Smolov – Lokomotiv Moscow
Fedor Smolov is far from prolific but he remains one of Lokomotiv Moscow’s strongest goal threats.
The Russia international has 14 goals from 39 appearances for his national side and three from nine games so far this season.
Jamal Musiala – Bayern Munich
The next Jadon Sancho?
Jamal Musiala left Chelsea for Bayern Munich in 2019 and that decision is already paying off.
Despite being just 17 years old, the dazzling attacking midfielder has already played 64 minutes of Bundesliga football this season and caught the eye with his speed and trickery.
He could be a real menace from the substitutes bench.
Florian Neuhaus – Borussia Monchengladbach
Florian Neuhaus is one of the rising stars in German football.
The 23-year-old central midfielder scored on his Germany debut during the international break and has even been compared to Thomas Muller due to his space interpreting capabilities.
Another Raumdeuter in the making? Keep a close eye on this one.
Martin Odegaard – Real Madrid
It’s been more than five years since Martin Odegaard completed a famous move to Real Madrid aged just 16.
Following a glowing 2019/20 season on loan at Real Sociedad, in which he scored seven goals and assisted nine, there is an expectation that he will make an impact with Los Blancos as the campaign progresses.
A calf injury is expected to rule him out until 20 November but he should get a chance to impress upon his return.
Viktor Kovalenko – Shakhtar Donetsk
Viktor Kovalenko has bagged four goals from Shakhtar’s first five league fixtures so far this season.
An attacking midfielder by trade, the Ukraine international will be desperate to open his Champions League goal scoring account having failed to do so in 21 appearances thus far.
Nicolo Barella – Inter Milan
The immensely promising Nicolo Barella merited his recent summer switch from Cagliari to Inter Milan and has enjoyed a solid start to his career at the San Siro.
With 16 international caps to his name, Barella is regarded as the future of Italian football.
The Champions League lends the 23-year-old a big opportunity to showcase his class in front of a broader, international audience.
Duje Caleta-Car – Marseille
Marseille’s colossal centre-back, formerly of RB Salzburg, reportedly turned down a move to West Ham United in the summer due to his desire to play in this competition.
The 24-year-old Croatia international will be a stern customer for Man City’s attackers.
Mady Camara – Olympiacos
Mady Camara is another player who has been linked with a Premier League move.
The 23-year-old is Olympiakos’ most valuable asset, per Transfermarkt, and he could put himself firmly in the shop window with a series of fine European performances.
Jesus Corona – Porto
No, this is not a pandemic related pun, Jesus Corona is a flying winger who carries sufficient threat to exploit Man City’s left-back issues.
Corona has started the season in exceptional form, scoring two and assisting two in four Liga Nos appearances.
Equally comfortable with both feet, the 27-year-old could be a menace in Group C.
Ruben Dias – Man City
Can Ruben Dias be the final piece of City’s jigsaw in their search for a maiden Champions League trophy?
As things stand, this is Pep Guardiola’s final season at the helm and the Spaniard will be desperate to depart in the most sensational of circumstances.
At £65m, Dias will be expected to solidify a suspect defence alongside Aymeric Laporte.
Joel Matip – Liverpool
Van Dijk’s lengthy injury setback leaves Joel Matip as Liverpool’s most senior central defender.
The 29-year-old has looked assured alongside van Dijk, but he will now be expected to lead the defensive unit in the Dutchman’s absence.
Is he up to the challenge?
Anders Dreyer – FC Midtylland
Anders Dreyer, 22, scored two and assisted two in four Champions League qualifying games to help Midtylland earn their presence in this season’s competition.
The exciting winger actually left Brighton & Hove Albion for Denmark at the beginning of 2020 and has since scored eight goals in 24 appearances across all competitions.
He will have to be at the peak of his powers to give the minnows any chance of progressing to the knockout phase.
Mohammed Kudus – Ajax
Mohammed Kudus joined Ajax from FC Nordsjaelland in the summer transfer window and any lingering fears over his ability to make the transition to Eredivise football have been swiftly quelled.
The 20-year-old attacking midfielder has helped Ajax fans forget about Donny van de Beek and Hakim Ziyech by scoring one and assisting three in his first three league games.
Kudus played his way into De Telegraaf’s Team of the Week following a domineering display against Heerenveen at the weekend, and he looks primed to make his Champions League debut against Liverpool on Wednesday.
Mario Pasalic – Atalanta
Free-scoring Atalanta were a breath of fresh air in last season’s competition and Mario Pasalic was at the heart of it, scoring three and assisting two en route to the quarter-final.
Having completed a permanent switch from Chelsea in the summer, Pasalic has picked up where he left off in Serie A with a goal and an assist from central midfield already this season.
Jules Kounde – Sevilla
Manchester City and Manchester United have both been linked with Jules Kounde.
The 21-year-old won’t be able to participate in the opening round of fixtures after testing positive for coronavirus, but the prodigious centre-back will certainly be a regular at the heart of Sevilla’s defence upon his return.
Keep an eye on Kounde to appreciate the clamour.
Danielle Rugani – Stades Rennais
Danielle Rugani has a chance to breathe life into his career at Stades Rennais this season.
The 26-year-old struggled to cement his place in Juventus’ starting XI and may well see the summer loan deal as an opportunity to drum up interest in his services.
Chelsea have been linked with Rugani in the past, so who knows what a pair of positive displays against the Blues could lead to…
Marcus Berg – FC Krasnodar
Veteran striker Marcus Berg is the oldest player on the list at 34.
The Russian side aren’t fancied to progress and they will need Berg to find his goal scoring touch to stand any chance of sneaking through.
With five goals in ten games this season, the 79-cap Sweden international is in form heading into their opening fixture with Stades Rennais.
Billy Gilmour – Chelsea
Widely regarded as one of the most talented players to emerge at Chelsea in years, Billy Gilmour is yet to make a Champions League appearance.
The all-action midfielder, 19, was lured away from Rangers in 2017 and the early prognosis suggests the Blues were wise to snap him up early.
Gilmour is injured and yet to feature this season but is expected to return after the next international break.
If you don’t know, then get to know.
Giovanni Reyna – Borussia Dortmund
Quite simply, there are too many players to watch at Borussia Dortmund, but Giovanni Reyna gets the nod here.
The rising American wonderkid enjoyed a breakthrough campaign in 2019/20 and managed to provide an assist in just 41 minutes of Champions League action.
Expect greater involvement this time round.
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic – Lazio
The Serbian midfielder is a regular fixture in the transfer gossip columns but remains at Lazio for his fifth season with the club.
A multi-functional talent with a knack for finding the net, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s performances are likely to be a determining factor in the Serie A club’s ability to progress into the last-16.
Hans Vanaken – Club Brugge
Hans Vanaken has enjoyed a stunning five-year career at Club Brugge.
The colossal 6ft 4 attacking midfielder has showcased his aerial threat this season by heading in three goals from nine Jupiler Pro League appearances, while also adding another two with his right foot.
The Belgian underdogs need to utilise Vanaken’s goal scoring prowess to compete in Group F.
Sardar Azmoun – Zenit St Petersburg
Sardar Azmoun, who has 31 goals in 48 appearances for Iran, is a prolific goal threat.
With six goals and three assists in 11 league games this season, expect Azmoun to be a real handful up top.
Dejan Kulusevski – Juventus
Dejan Kulusevski could be the next big thing to emerge at Juventus.
A flying winger with raw potency in the final third, the Swede scored nine times and assisted ten on loan at Parma last season.
Now back with the Old Lady, he has an opportunity to impress on the Champions League stage.
Sergino Dest – Barcelona
Another promising American prospect on this list.
Sergino Dest joined Barcelona from Ajax in the summer window and made his La Liga debut against Sevilla earlier this month.
The right-back, who is also capable of playing on the left side of the back-four, could make a name for himself as the competition unfolds.
Mykola Shaparenko – Dynamo Kiev
Mykola Shaparenko, 22, is an all-action central midfielder with plenty in his locker.
The Ukraine international has been linked with a Premier League move in the past, and his first foray into Champions League football looks set to be a baptism of fire.
If he can shine against Barcelona and Juventus, however, his stock is bound to climb to new heights.
Tokmac Chol Nguen – Ferencvarosi
The Hungarian minnows stand little chance of advancing from this group even if Tokmac Chol Nguen hits top gear.
With seven goals and two assists to his name already this season, much of the attacking responsibility rests on the 27-year-old’s shoulders.
Donny van de Beek – Man United
Donny van de Beek carved his reputation in the game via his outstanding Champions League performances at Ajax.
The Dutch midfielder will need to integrate into a United midfield that is blessed with quality options, and the speed at which he can achieve that could be a determining factor in the Red Devil’s European campaign.
Alexander Sorloth – RB Leipzig
Alexander Sorloth flopped miserably at Crystal Palace but managed to galvanise his career on loan at Turkish outfit Trabzonspor last season.
The result: an £18m switch to RB Leipzig to replace Timo Werner.
Did the Eagles throw away a top class talent when he was underneath their nose or have they managed to make a generous profit on an average striker?
Sorloth’s Champions League performances might just provide the answer.
Demba Ba – Istanbul Basaksehir
Demba Ba, the striker who famously capitalised on Steven Gerrard’s slip in the 2013/14 season, is still on the scene.
The 35-year-old syrup enthusiast is well past his best, but he’s worth an honorary mention here.
Moise Kean – PSG
Moise Kean joined Paris Saint-Germain on loan from Everton during the summer window and made his Ligue 1 debut last Friday, playing the full 90 minutes at centre-forward in a 4-0 win over Nimes.
The striker rose to fame in 2016 when he became the first player born after 2000 to appear in the Champions League, but his career hasn’t quite taken off as many expected.
Perhaps he can re-establish himself as one of Europe’s hottest prospects alongside Kylian Mbappe.