Champions League group stage: 10 rising stars to watch out for in this season’s group stage

Real Madrid beat Liverpool to lift the Champions League for the 14th time in May

Just 102 days since Real Madrid lifted the Champions League for a record 14th time, the competition proper returns when the group stage begins on Tuesday evening.

After Vinicius Jr.’s second-half winner glory for Carlo Ancelotti’s side against Liverpool in Paris, the Whites head into the competition looking to defend their title.

With the qualifying rounds completed, 32 teams are in eight exciting groups of four and this year’s competition is expected to provide as much drama and intrigue as ever.

Real Madrid beat Liverpool to lift the Champions League for the 14th time in May

Karim Benzema, Vinicius, Mohamed Salah and Thibaut Courtois were a selection of elite names who stood out in Europe’s elite competition last season and will be expected to shine again, along with other stars such as Erling Haaland and Robert Lewandowski.

But as the famous anthem is played again tonight to signal the return of the Champions League, who are the rising stars of European football to watch out for in the group stage?

Just three years ago, it was Erling Haaland as the teenager who turned heads in the first round of the competition. Here, Sports mail take a look at who could be next…

Benjamin Sesko

RB Salzburg wonderkid Benjamin Sesko is one to watch in this year’s competition after a summer in which he caught the eye of a much wider audience.

The 19-year-old Slovenian was linked with a number of top European clubs, including Manchester United and Chelsea, but signed for Salzburg’s sister club RB Leipzig before it was announced he would be staying in Austria this season .

Sesko is 6ft 4in and has scored 36 senior goals despite only turning 19 in May, while he is also Slovenia’s youngest goalscorer.

Regarded as one of the best young talents in Europe, Sesko has already scored six goals in nine games this year and is expected to have a breakout season.

Wonderkid Benjamin Sesko was linked with a host of top European clubs this summer

Wonderkid Benjamin Sesko was linked with a host of top European clubs this summer

Mykhailo Mudryk

Shakhtar Donestk winger Mudryk was heavily linked with a £25million move to Arsenal during the transfer window, while Everton also failed in their pursuit of the 21-year-old.

Ukraine international Mudryk enjoyed a great campaign last season with 10 assists and two goals for Shakhtar, alerting Europe’s top clubs to his undoubted quality and potential.

The winger has been dubbed the ‘Ukrainian Neymar’ and broke into the national team last season, impressing in cameos against Scotland and Wales in June’s World Cup qualifiers.

Shakhtar face a tough group with games against Real Madrid, RB Leipzig and Celtic, but this year’s competition will be an opportunity for Mudryk to showcase his talents to a wider audience.

Shakhtar Donestk winger Mykhaylo Mudryk enjoyed a great campaign last year

Shakhtar Donestk winger Mykhaylo Mudryk enjoyed a great campaign last year

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia

New Serie A superstar Kvaratskhelia has taken Italy by storm since his £8.6m move to Napoli from Georgia’s Dinamo Batumi.

Nicknamed ‘Kvaradona’, he was awarded Serie A’s best player after three goals and one assist in his first month in Naples.

The attacking midfielder had previously starred for Russia with Rubin Kazan before returning to his homeland following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Kvaratskhelia has also scored eight goals in 17 games for Georgia and is destined for stardom.

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia won Serie A Player of the Month after joining Dinamo Batumi

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia won Serie A Player of the Month after joining Dinamo Batumi

Karim Adeyemi

Another devastating young striker who came through the Red Bull way with Salzburg, Adeyemi moved to Borussia Dortmund for £32.5m this summer after shining in Austria.

The 20-year-old German scored 23 goals in all competitions last season and was being chased by a host of Europe’s biggest clubs this summer.

Adeyemi has already won four caps for Germany, scoring once, and will be hoping to help fill the huge Erling Haaland-shaped hole at the Westfalenstadion.

Karim Adeyemi will be hoping to help fill the huge hole in Erling Haaland's form at Dortmund

Karim Adeyemi will be hoping to help fill the huge hole in Erling Haaland’s form at Dortmund

Raphael Leo

Despite AC Milan’s rich history in the Champions League, winning it seven times, the second most in history, they have struggled to make an impact on the competition in recent seasons.

However, fresh from winning the Scudetto last year, they are full of confidence heading into this year’s group stage and the performances of striker Rafael Leao will be key if they are to succeed.

The Portuguese star scored 11 goals and added 10 assists in Serie A last year, and has already been involved in five goals in five games this season.

Chelsea made a move for Leao this summer and with a £127million release clause, the forward is expected to cause a host of problems for opposition defenses in this Champions League year.

Chelsea have made a move for Rafael Leao this summer as the striker continues to impress for Milan

Chelsea have made a move for Rafael Leao this summer as the striker continues to impress for Milan

Aurelien Tchouameni

Tchouameni’s £85m move to Real Madrid this summer was one of the most high-profile transfers of the window.

The France international was expected to be released at the Bernabeu, but Casemiro’s £70m exit to Mancehster United has meant the midfielder has started the last four games for Carlo Ancelotti’s side.

He has impressed as Real Madrid have a perfect LaLiga record and Tchouameni will be hoping to continue his good form to give himself every opportunity to play for France at this winter’s World Cup.

After impressing in the Europa League with Monaco last season, Tchouameni is expected to have no trouble making it to Europe’s elite competition.

Aurelien Tchouameni joined Real Madrid from Monaco for £85m this summer

Aurelien Tchouameni joined Real Madrid from Monaco for £85m this summer

Fabio Miretti

Fabio Miretti has burst onto the scene at Juventus this season after impressing at the U19 Euros in the summer.

Fabio Miretti has burst onto the scene at Juventus this season after impressing at the U19 Euros in the summer.

Dubbed the ‘Italian De Bruyne’, Miretti has broken into the Juventus first team this season after impressing with Juventus’ youth ranks.

The midfielder also impressed for Italy at the U19 Euros, scoring in their final defeat to England.

He has already made five appearances for Massimo Allegri’s side, having made just seven all of last season, and provided his first assist against Spezia Calcio last week.

With Paul Pogba in a race to be fit for the World Cup, Miretti is likely to continue to step up in the Frenchman’s absence.

Victor Osimhen

The £69m signing of Osimhen from Lille in 2020 was completed with an eye on the future.

Now 23, the prolific Nigerian forward is poised to be the mainstay after a summer of change for Napoli, which has seen the departures of strikers Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne.

He has already impressed in his two full seasons at Napoli, scoring 30 goals in just 64 games and has two so far this year.

In an intriguing group with Napoli up against Liverpool, Ajax and Rangers, don’t be surprised to see Osimhen score big.

Victor Osimhen is set to be the main man after a summer of changes for Napoli

Victor Osimhen is set to be the main man after a summer of changes for Napoli

Evanilson

The Brazilian striker scored 21 goals last season and was linked with a £55m move to Manchester United not long ago.

After arriving in Portugal from his native Brazil, he earned his spot at the Porto side before impressing last year as he helped the Portuguese giants to a league and cup double.

Evanilson has made a strong start to the campaign, scoring twice and his form will be key for Porto, who have a favorable group after being seeded in the first pot for the draw.

Brazilian striker Evanilson scored 21 goals last season for Porto and will be a threat

Brazilian striker Evanilson scored 21 goals last season for Porto and will be a threat

Josko Guardiol

The 20-year-old Croatian has been highlighted as a talent since he was named among The Guardian’s 60 next-generation European footballers in 2019.

A left centre-back, Guardiol excelled in his debut campaign with RB Leipzig and almost moved to Chelsea for £75million this summer, proving how highly rated he is.

He was key as the German side reached the semi-finals of the Europa League last season before losing to Rangers.

After signing a new deal with Leipzig until 2027, Guardiol, who is expected to play for Croatia at this winter’s World Cup, looks set to be another star to progress through Red Bull’s stable of clubs.

Josko Guardiol almost moved to Chelsea for £75m this summer after impressing last season

Josko Guardiol almost moved to Chelsea for £75m this summer after impressing last season

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