These footballers are bound to grab attention with their quality in this season’s continental extravaganza.
The 2021-22 UEFA Champions League season is underway now. This season, as ever, 32 teams containing the continent’s creme-de-la-creme of talent will battle it out for a chance in the showpiece final on May 28, 2022. The Krestovsky Stadium in St. Petersburg will host the final.
The UEFA Champions League turns good players great and great players into legends. It is the stage for players to make a name for themselves and find glory for their clubs. As another season of euphoric and captivating European football resumes, the focus will be on some top-notch players.
Here are 10 players on whom you need to keep an eye in this season’s Champions League’s group stages. We’ve left out the obvious choices of Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi to give others a chance.
10. Dominik Szoboszlai
The 20-year old Hungarian is one of the most exciting young talents in European football this season. Dominik Szoboszlai came through the ranks of RB Salzburg before making the switch to RB Leipzig in January 2021.
This season, Szoboszlai has already scored thrice in five games in all competitions for Die Roten Bullen. Despite being only 20, Szoboszlai has already scored 45 goals in 130 professional appearances. He also scored four times in eight games for RB Salzburg in the UEFA Champions League group stages last season.
In a tough group against Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City, Leipzig will look to Szoboszlai to continue his electric form. The Hungarian also has the quality and the capabilities to come good on his promise.
9. Joshua Kimmich
Kimmich has turned into one of the most versatile players of this era and it makes him a vital cog in Bayern Munich’s wheel.
Kimmich is only 26 but shows the shade of a veteran. He has already made close to 180 appearances for Bayern Munich. He was part of their treble-winning juggernaut in 2019-20. Kimmich was also named in the UEFA Champions League Team of the Season, the UEFA Team of the Year and was also awarded as the UEFA Champions League Defender of the Season.
Kimmich exhibits maturity on the ball and leadership off it. He will once again be the heartbeat of this formidable Bayern side and guide his team deep into the competition.
8. Federico Chiesa
The Juventus man has had a fantastic 2021 and is coming off the most prolific season in his career in 2020-21.
Chiesa scored the third-highest number of goals in the Juventus squad last season with 14. He scored four in eight UEFA Champions League games in his first season in Europe’s premier club competition. His tally of four was the same as Cristiano Ronaldo and second behind Alvaro Morata (6) in the Juventus squad.
Now with his heroics in the Euros, Chiesa is one of the key players in the Juventus squad. They will be expected to qualify from their group containing Chelsea, Zenit and Malmo. But his tireless work rate and skill could be the critical piece for the Old Lady to make it deep in the competition.
7. Romelu Lukaku
The lethal Belgian will lead the line for the defending champions Chelsea. Lukaku has scored 11 goals in 31 UCL games so far. But with his current form, he looks set to add a lot more to that tally. He also has quality options around him to achieve the same.
Lukaku has started the league season on fire with three goals in as many games. The Blues will face competition from Juventus but should find it easy against Zenit and Malmo. But Lukaku will look to start strong and will be critical for Chelsea to once again compete for the title.
6. Karim Benzema
The Frenchman is the fourth-highest goalscorer in UEFA Champions League history. The Frenchman has 71 goals in 130 appearances and has won four UCL titles with Los Blancos.
The elegant Frenchman has been one of the most consistent strikers in the last few years. He has been the lynchpin in Real Madrid’s attack and will once again be their go-to man this season as they look to negotiate a group containing Inter, Shaktar Donetsk and debutants Sheriff Tiraspol.
5. Virgil van Dijk
The Dutchman missed almost the entirety of the 2020-21 season and the Euros with an ACL injury. Liverpool struggled without their talismanic centre-back and were eventually knocked out of the competition by Real Madrid in the quarterfinals.
But the Dutchman is now back at the heart of the Reds’ defence. He has started the season well and will be crucial to the club’s efforts for a seventh continental title. Van Dijk already has experience leading his side to the summit, having won the title in 2018-19 and won the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year award. He was also nominated to the UCL Team of the Season for three consecutive seasons from 2017-19 till 2019-20.
Liverpool face a tricky group featuring Atletico Madrid, AC Milan and Porto but should be favourites to go through with the Dutchman back in action.
4. Ruben Dias
The 2020-21 UEFA Champions League Defender of the Season will look to go an extra mile than his final appearance last season. Ruben Dias was an almost impregnable presence in the back for City. He was a vital part of their run to the final as well.
City are part of a tough group with Paris Saint-Germain who they vanquished in the semifinals last season and RB Leipzig. Therefore, the Portuguese will need to be on top of his game and recreate his form from last season.
3. Kylian Mbappe
The Frenchman will be one among the many stars who are on Paris Saint-Germain’s payroll this season. A lot of eyes will be on him owing to his summer transfer saga.
Mbappe perhaps has the best chance to win the UEFA Champions League. He has world-class players around him in Neymar, Messi, Ramos, and Hakimi among others. But he will be the key man for the goals for PSG this season. It could well turn his mind to stay and win more at the Parc Des Princes.
2. Erling Haaland
The Norwegian is one of the most lethal goalscorers in the world right now and has broken many records despite still being very early in his career. Haaland already has 20 goals in just 16 games in the UEFA Champions League.
He was named the UCL Forward of the Season in the previous campaign. The youngster was part of the tournament’s Team of the Season as well. Despite being only 21, Haaland has smashed 65 goals in as many games for Dortmund. He has scored 134 goals in just 176 games in his professional career.
This season, he will once again look to plunder goals. Put in a group containing Ajax, Sporting CP and Besiktas, there is every chance that Haaland could once again feature among the top scorers in this season’s competition.
1. Robert Lewandowski
The 2019-20 awardee of FIFA Men’s Best Player will once again lead the Bavarian charge in the UEFA Champions League this season. Lewandowski has turned himself into one of the best strikers of this generation. The Polish attacker has smashed more than 300 goals in just over 330 appearances for the record German champions.
Lewandowski enjoyed the best season of his career when he led Bayern to the Champions League title as part of their second treble in 2019-20. He scored 55 goals in all competitions, including 15 in the Champions League. Last season, he broke the Bundesliga record for the most goals in a season (40) set by the late Gerd Muller. He is the third-highest scorer in UCL history with 73 goals. His goal ratio of 0.76 goals/game is the same as the all-time top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo.
Lewandowski is in the form of his life and will look to cash in on this form by trying to win another continental title with Bayern.