Soccer has seen its fair share of gifted youngsters over the years. They tend to burst onto the scene out of nowhere, giving fans hope of a new era of unadulterated soccer wizardry. Most of the said wunderkinders, however, end up fizzling out, as they find it difficult to shine among the best in the business.
The UEFA Champions League is where prospects turn into starlets and starlets emerge as full-blown stars. It is the ideal competition for youngsters to show their mettle, and we believe there are five top contenders who will look to take the tournament by storm this season. Here are the top five U21 stars one should keep an eye on in the 2023-24 UEFA Champions League campaign.
#5 Rasmus Hojlund – Manchester United
Manchester United are coming into the competition in poor form, having lost three of their first five Premier League games. They need someone to lead the way and help them find their footing. And there is hardly a person better suited for it than new signing Rasmus Hojlund.
The 20-year-old, who joined from Atalanta BC in August, is not only a gifted goalscorer but he also has a penchant for creating chances. Hojlund scored 16 times and provided seven assists in 42 games across competitions last term and he has the quality to come good for United this season. It will be interesting to see if he manages to score his first United goal in the clash with Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday (September 20).
#4 Gavi – Barcelona
Barcelona’s famed youth academy La Masia has produced many gems over the years. Gavi, who was officially promoted to the senior team in June 2021, is one of the best players to come out of La Masia in recent years.
Just 19 years old, Gavi already has the traits of a world-class midfielder. He exudes calmness on the pitch, works tirelessly from start to finish, and has a knack for the spectacular as well. The teenager, who is one of the first names on Xavi’s team sheet, has already played 101 games for the Blaugrana across competitions, scoring six times and providing 13 assists. He is set to play a crucial role as Barca look to secure knockout football for the first time in three years.
#3 Pedri – Barcelona
Gavi’s Spain and Barcelona teammate Pedri is widely hailed as one of the best young midfielders in the business. The 20-year-old is mature beyond his years, can play in all midfield positions, passes the ball around with nonchalant ease, and has a penchant for popping up with important goals as well. Pedri has struggled with niggling injuries over the last couple of years, which has caused him to miss quite a few games for the Catalan outfit. If he can recover in time from his current hamstring injury and avoid further setbacks, Barca will fancy themselves going deeper into the competition.
Pedri has played 117 times for Barca in all competitions so far, scoring 17 times and providing eight assists.
#2 Jamal Musiala
One of the best attacking midfielders on the planet, Jamal Musiala will be a player to watch in the 2023-24 UEFA Champions League. The 20-year-old Germany international is a gifted dribbler, an excellent passer, and has developed a taste for coming good in do-or-die games. With him on song, Bayern can fancy unlocking even the best defenses in the world.
Musiala, who made headlines at the 2022 FIFA World Cup for Germany, has played 128 games for Bayern’s senior team in all competitions, scoring 31 times and providing 23 assists.
#1 Jude Bellingham
One of the best midfielders on the planet, Jude Bellingham could set the 2023-24 UEFA Champions League campaign on fire this season. The Englishman, who is only 20 years old, has been unplayable at Real Madrid so far. Playing in an advanced midfield role, Bellingham has scored five times in five La Liga games, outscoring all of his Real Madrid teammates. If he can carry the form to Europe, Madrid will have a real chance of going deep into the prestigious cup competition.
Formerly of Borussia Dortmund, Bellingham has played 23 Champions League games so far, scoring six times and providing five assists.