Lamine Yamal, Takefusa Kubo and Karim Konate (L to R) could star in this season's UCL

Champions League 2023/24 players to follow: Hidden gems and stars set to shine

Each year, the Champions League offers the perfect platform for upcoming talents or late bloomers in the game to showcase their talents at the highest level against the best teams that Europe has to offer.

This season's edition of the competition is no different, with plenty of exciting talents as well as interesting older players set to make a splash.

Here are 10 hidden gems and one star who's already shining.

Roony Bardghji - Copenhagen


Nicknamed the Swedish Messi, 17-year-old Roony Bardghji has all the makings of a very exciting player, destined to play for a top club in the future.

He's gotten off to a superb start this season, with four goals in seven starts. Cutting in off the right flank, Bardghji uses his left foot to devastating effect for Danish side Copenhagen.

Averaging 0.71 npxG+xA per90 (non-penalty expected goals and assists per 90 mins) so far this season in the Superliga, Bardghji is a dangerous presence when receiving between the lines and could be the key for his side to cause some upsets in Group A.

Mathys Tel - Bayern Munich


Mathys Tel continues to progress on an upward trajectory at Bayern Munich and rejected strong interest from across Europe to stay with the reigning Bundesliga champions to fight for his spot.

Tel has yet to find regular minutes domestically ahead of senior players but he has been seriously impressive whenever he's been on the pitch, especially this season, where he came off the bench to score the winner at Borussia Monchengladbach.

With Harry Kane the first-choice striker under Tuchel, expect Tel to get minutes in the group stages to impress and, no doubt, his explosiveness and finishing ability will serve him well.

Johan Bakayoko - PSV


There have been a few notable arrivals into the Premier League from PSV Eindhoven over the past few seasons and, with the form he's showing, it's difficult to rule out Johan Bakayoko making that jump next.

The 20-year-old has become a regular in the starting XI for the Eredivisie side since Noni Madueke's January departure to Chelsea.

Bakayoko finished last season with five goals and five assists to his name and he can usually be found on the right of PSV's attack, using his impressive on-ball abilities to dribble past markers and progress the ball by carrying.

Ranking in the 95th percentile or higher for multiple possession metrics, under the right coach, Bakayoko can certainly become an elite wide creator in the future.

Andy Diouf - Lens


Finishing just one point behind Paris St-Germain in Ligue 1 last season, Lens were the second best team in France.

Unfortunately, the team has been weakened ahead of their Champions League return, with captain Seko Fofana leaving for Al Nassr this summer, but the young Andy Diouf has been entrusted to replace him and will be one to keep an eye on.

Lens face a tough task ahead of them against Arsenal, PSV and Europa League champions Sevilla, but if they are to have any success, then Diouf's performances in central midfield will be key.

The 20-year-old is still raw in terms of his chance creation output but he is a very strong progressor of the ball and is technically very secure as well. He will draw fouls, dominate physically and be the connective tissue between Lens' defence and attack.

Josip Juranovic - Union Berlin


Union Berlin's rise in recent years has been almost unprecedented, qualifying for European competitions in back-to-back seasons thanks to smart recruitment and excellent coaching.

But if they are to get out of their group and cause upsets against some daunting opposition, then Josip Juranovic will be key.

The 27-year-old Croatian has seen his stock rise in the past few seasons, impressing under Ange Postecoglou at Celtic, before moving on to the Bundesliga and Union Berlin.

He is an extremely industrious wing-back on the right side and, in possession, his value from crossing, as well as set-pieces, is second to none. Wing-backs are crucial to Urs Fischer's system working well and no doubt his side will look to Juranovic's creative strengths during the group stages.

Karim Konate - Salzburg


Salzburg's production of top-class strikers refuses to hit a pause. After producing Erling Haaland, Patson Daka and Benjamin Sesko, the next big hope is Karim Konate. Signed from ASEC Mimosas in 2020, his talents have been honed by Salzburg and he has really come to the fore this season.

With six goals and two assists in seven games in all competitions, 19-year-old Konate is showing plenty of promise. He is already a level above technically compared to the average Austrian Bundesliga forward, and has a lot of variety to his abilities in and out of possession. The comparisons to Didier Drogba are not entirely out of place.

His underlying numbers are reflective of his quality - second in the Austrian Bundesliga for npxG per90 (0.74) from open-play while creating 1.51 chances as well.

Konate's ability to generate chances from his carries is excellent, totalling the most chance creating carries (11) in the league so far according to Opta. Expect him to be more than a handful for Group D defences.

Takefusa Kubo - Real Sociedad


Another player from Group D likely to leave a mark is Real Sociedad star Takefusa Kubo, who is beginning to fully deliver on the huge promise he has shown in the past.

After 13 goal contributions in La Liga last season, he has started this season just as strongly, with three goals and one assist so far in four starts.

What makes the 22-year-old Japan international so exciting to watch is his ability to dribble past opposition markers to get shots away or create chances for team-mates. He brings a great deal of pace as well as precision to the pitch.

Kubo viz

More than that, however, his versatility as a forward has been crucial for Imanol Alguacil's side, capable of playing more centrally or in a supporting striker role too. Only Rodrygo (9) has had more chance-creating carries so far this season than Kubo (7), underlining the latter's abilities with the ball.

Santiago Gimenez - Feyenoord


Feyenoord striker Santiago Gimenez has gone from strength to strength since signing for the Eredivisie giants last season and will be one of the standout strikers in Group E.

After scoring 15 goals in the league last season, Gimenez's star has continued to shine this season too, netting five times in four starts so far.

Averaging 0.78 npxG per90 from open play as per Opta, the 22-year-old Mexican is among the best the Eredivisie has to offer when it comes to all-round number nine profiles. Gimenez is the perfect combination of link-up, back-to-goal play as well as finishing ability.

Warren Zaire-Emery - PSG


The things that Warren Zaire-Emery is doing at 17 should not be possible - starting games week in, week out for PSG, captaining the French Under-21 national side and, in such a short space of time, establishing himself as one of the top young talents in the world, he is destined to be among the best.

After breaking into the senior side last season, the youngster has been entrusted with a place in the first team by new boss Luis Enrique and it's safe to say he has taken full advantage so far.

Playing in a midfield alongside Manuel Ugarte and Vitinha, Zaire-Emery's abilities as a passer and carrier on the ball, and his willingness to work for the team off the ball, make him the perfect compliment to PSG's options in the middle.

WZM viz

Already a darling of the PSG ultras and fans at large, Zaire-Emery will undoubtedly leave opposition defences in a daze in the Champions League this season.

Xavi Simons - RB Leipzig


Leipzig boss Marco Rose has hailed 20-year-old Dutchman Xavi Simons as a "prototype" of what he wants his team's game to be - this is huge praise for Simons, who is now playing for a third major European side in four seasons of professional football.

His performances at PSV last season, including 19 goals and eight assists, forced PSG to activate their buy-back clause this summer. On loan at Leipzig for the 23-24 season, Simons has started with a bang, scoring twice and making three assists so far this season in the Bundesliga.

The youngster is arguably one of the most press-resistant attackers in the world, blessed with quick feet, the ability to progress with his carries, being decisive with his final actions as well as a willingness to be a pest out of possession. Simons is the perfect player for Leipzig's style and will be a nuisance to opponents in the Champions League this season.

Lamine Yamal - Barcelona


As if Zaire-Emery's achievements weren't insane enough, 16-year-old Lamine Yamal has taken to Barcelona's senior side as if it were child's play. On top of that, he recently became Spain's youngest ever goalscorer, which means we can't really call him a hidden game anymore - more a star that is already shining.

He's been discussed as the best player in Xavi's side so far this season, a huge validation of his prodigious talents. Following the exits of Ansu Fati on loan and Ousmane Dembele permanently to PSG, Yamal is taking centre stage at the Camp Nou with his displays.

Averaging a superb 0.30 xA per90 from open play, coupled with 2.69 shots per90, Yamal's underlying figures back his serious potential. He's one for the present and future of Barcelona.

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