Champions League

Future Champions League stars to watch on Matchday 6

 • by Adam Newson
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There will be joy for some, disappointment for others. The Champions League group stage comes to a close this week and only a select group of clubs will be making it into the Round of 16.

For the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur only a win on Matchday 6 is likely to keep them in the competition. But several European giants have already booked their place in the knockout stages and will use their final group game as an opportunity to give younger players a chance to shine.

So we have identified six players you should look out for in this week’s Champions League games.

Christian PulisicBorussia Dortmund

The U.S. superstar has been usurped in the BVB starting XI by England’s teenage sensation Jadon Sancho this season, but he is likely to be given an opportunity to shine against Monaco on Tuesday with the Bundesliga side already assured of their place in the Round of 16.

Pulisic will be desperate to impress, and not only to make a point to Dortmund boss Lucien Favre. The 20-year-old is a transfer target for Premier League giants Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur and will want to prove he is worth the £70million price-tag placed upon him.

Interestingly, three of Pulisic’s last four starts for Dortmund have come in the Champions League. And what has stood out is the American’s innate ability to weave his way past opponents with the ball.

This season he has averaged 4.69 successful take-ons per 90, the second-highest total in the competition. Pulisic can be scintillating to watch in full flow; the problem has been, however, he hasn’t translated these dribbles into goals and assists, with only one strike to his name in Europe’s premier club competition.

The Pennsylvania native will hope to change that on Matchday 6.

Gelson MartinsAtlético Madrid

The Portuguese winger joined Atleti in the summer after leaving Sporting and has been slowly bedded into the side by coach Diego Simeone.

Martins has made just three starts across all competitions this season and has only appeared once in the Champions League, a 23-minute cameo in a 2-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund. But with Atletico already through to the the knockout stages, the 23-year-old is likely to be given an opportunity to impress against Club Brugge.

Blisteringly quick, the Portugal international is a constant threat when running at opposition defenders. In the Champions League last season with Sporting he completed 2.33 take-ons per 90 minutes, the 15th-best tally among attackers.

With a first-team position to win, Martins could well be one of the standout performers on Matchday 6.

Frenkie de JongAjax

When a 21-year-old midfielder is wanted by one of Europe’s biggest sides you know he is a talent. But when said 21-year-old is wanted by almost every big club going, then you know he is truly special.

And that is the case for De Jong, who has been linked with Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City, Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain and many, many more.

There will come a point – likely to be next summer – when the Dutch international makes his big move, and recent reports claim he will be heading for PSG.

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Until then he is starring for Ajax and helping the Amsterdam side battle for top spot in Group E, which contains German powerhouse Bayern Munich.

The two sides will go head-to-head on Matchday 6. The victor takes top spot and there will be pressure on De Jong, one of the team’s leaders, to help Ajax to victory.

An expert technician, the midfielder’s most obvious gifts are his passing and dribbling qualities. So much so that he’s been compared to one of the greats of the game.

“De Jong is a better version of Franz Beckenbauer,” Arie Haan, the great Ajax and Netherlands star of the ‘70s has said. “And that’s because he has speed and passes the ball easily.”

Vinicius JuniorReal Madrid

It is a mark of Vinicius’ talent that Real Madrid paid £38.7m to sign him from Flamengo in May 2017 when the forward was just 16 years old.

Since arriving in Spain this summer, the Brazilian has been eased into life at the Bernabeu. He has often featured for Castilla, Los Blancos’ second team, while making sporadic cameos from the substitutes’ bench for the first team.

His only start so far was against UD Melilla in the Copa del Rey, but with Real already assured top spot in Group G, new manager Santiago Solari is likely to give the teenager an opportunity to shine in the Champions League.

Like compatriot Neymar, Vinicius is an excellent dribbler and often cuts inside onto his stronger right foot to threaten the goal or create an opportunity for a team-mate. He already has three assists and a goal to his name for the Champions League holders and is a star of the future.

Phil FodenManchester City

“I feel guilty,” Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola said after leaving Foden out of his matchday squad in September. “He deserves to play. I like him a lot. Every time he plays, he plays so good. He will play minutes.”

Yet just under four months into the campaign and the teenager has managed only 259 minutes for the Premier League champions in all competitions. Guardiola is a man who likes to keep his word, which is why it’s likely Foden will be given an opportunity to star when Manchester City take on Hoffenheim at the Etihad Stadium.

Phil Foden, Manchester City

Only 18 years old, Foden has all the attributes required to become a top-class midfielder. His touch is sublime and his vision is that of a seasoned veteran. He impressed when handed a rare start against Chelsea in the Community Shield at the start of the campaign and will be keen to prove himself against elite opposition once more.

With English football’s busy festive schedule just around the corner, Foden will know a strong display will go some way to earning more minutes in the coming weeks. He will be one to look out for on Matchday 6.

Tanguy NdombeleLyon

There is little doubt that Lyon have been one of the standout teams in this season’s Champions League. They went to Manchester City and won. Then they held Guardiola’s side to a 1-1 draw at home. Avoid defeat on Matchday 6 in Ukraine against Shakhtar Donetsk and they will make the knockout stages.

Several OL players have impressed during the group stages. Memphis Depay has led the attack superbly. Nabil Fekir has shone, too. And 20-year-old Houssem Aouar is a huge prospect.

Yet it’s Ndombele who has made the biggest impact. Quite simply, the 21-year-old has the lot. Stong, quick, and brilliant on the ball, the France international can breeze past opponents or carve open defences with a single pass – as he did against City at the Etihad Stadium.

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