For some footballers, playing in the Champions League is simply the norm.
Being part of one of continent’s biggest club means playing in Europe’s elite competition is part of the territory. But for many players, Champions League football is the ultimate ambition, and often it remains a pipe-dream.
Others, of course, are lucky enough to play in the competition from a very young age. And this season’s edition has already set the stage for a number of talented starlets to make their Champions League debuts.
From Barcelona to Chelsea via Lille and Benfica, we’ve picked out 10 debuts we can’t wait to see.
Many football fans hadn’t even heard of Ansu Fati before the beginning of the season. Now the teenager is taking La Liga by storm, and his sights are now firmly set on the European stage.
Fati made his first start for Barcelona on Saturday. By the eighth minute he had scored and provided an assist as the hosts eased past Valencia at the Nou Camp. Whether Ernesto Valverde believes the 16-year-old is ready to start a high-profile European game so soon remains to be seen, but Fati has already done enough to suggest we will be seeing plenty of him in the Champions League in the years to come.
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) September 13, 2019
Ryan Sessegnon is yet to make any kind of debut for Tottenham having arrived at the club with a hamstring injury. The full-back trained for the first time last week but failed to make the bench for Saturday’s 4-0 victory over Crystal Palace.
Perhaps, then, Mauricio Pochettino was saving Sessegnon for Olympiacos. It would be some baptism of fire for the teenager, but as someone who has already made 120 senior appearances in his short career, he won’t be fazed. He has, however, felt irritation in that same hamstring this week, so his long-awaited debut might have to be held off a little longer.
Erling Braut Haland
Club: Red Bull Salzburg
No player in Europe has made a more impressive start to the season than Salzburg’s Erling Braut Haland. The 19-year-old English-born striker has scored 11 goals in seven league appearances, and he bagged a hat-trick in his only OFB-Cup appearance so far.
That’s a ridiculous 14 goals in eight games. Throw five league assists into the equation and you have one of the most promising young players in the continent. The Austrian top-flight may be inferior to Europe’s top leagues, but Haland certainly looks capable of translating his domestic form to the Champions League.
It feels like Rhian Brewster should have made his Liverpool debut a long time ago, but in truth he is yet to make a senior appearance for the Reds. The 19-year-old was on the bench for last season’s Champions League final and so left Madrid with a medal.
But it’s game time he’ll truly be hoping for this season. Divock Origi’s ankle injury means Brewster may be given a chance sooner than he thought possible. The striker is in the squad for Liverpool’s group stage opener against Napoli. Now it’s time for him to prove he is capable of providing another centre-forward option for Jurgen Klopp.
When Lille lost Nicolas Pepe, there were fears they may not be able to significantly compete in Europe this season. But young striker Victor Osimhen has given the fans hope of a good showing.
Osimhen has scored five goals in five Ligue 1 games so far this term. The 20-year-old, who spent last season on loan at Charleroi in the Belgian top-flight, is yet to feature in the Champions League and will be dreaming of making a similar impact to the one he has made domestically. His task begins with a tough trip to Ajax.
When Chelsea were handed a two-window transfer ban, there were discussions on how the Blues would deal with it. Under Frank Lampard, they have looked to their academy products, with Mason Mount one of those to benefit.
But Mount’s place in the starting XI is not just because he came through the academy; the 20-year-old has already proven himself to be a fine addition to the Blues squad. And now he’ll have the chance to test his midfield creativity against some of Europe’s bigger teams, who will undoubtedly be trying to put him down.
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Tammy Abraham is not a newbie to senior football, having played 136 games so far for Chelsea and three loan clubs. The 21-year-old also has some experience of European football, playing in the UEFA Youth League and this season’s Super Cup.
But Chelsea’s new No.9 is about to embark on a new journey with the Champions League having already started his Premier League life at the Blues well. No player has scored more goals in England’s top-flight this season than Abraham’s seven, and the Englishman will be eager to prove he can do it on a wider stage – as the likes of Didier Drogba have done in the past.
It’s time to highlight a more defensive-minded midfielder. Since breaking into the Benfica first-team in February, Florentino Luis has become a regular starter for the Portuguese champions.
A product of the Benfica academy, Luis’ run in the team has been a long-time coming. He now has the opportunity to show he can do it on Europe’s biggest stage. And if all goes well, his 18 appearances for Portugal’s Under-20s may soon transform into senior international caps. RB Leipzig could be his first Champions League opponents.
Lisandro Martinez was playing in his native Argentina until this summer when he was snapped up by Ajax. The centre-back impressed in Champions League qualifying and is now set to make his debut in the competition proper.
Filling the boots of Matthijs de Ligt, who captained Ajax to the semi-finals last season before moving to Juventus in the summer, won’t be an easy task. But Martinez has already helped his new side make a fine start to the new Eredivisie season, winning four of their five games and topping the table. It will be fascinating to see how the 21-year-old gets on in Europe.
Club: Atletico Madrid
This summer marked the end of an era for Atletico as Filipe Luis left the club for the second time, and it’s unlikely he will be returning this time around. His exit has allowed Renan Lodi, signed from Brazil, to make the left-back spot his own.
Playing on the opposite flank to Kieran Trippier, Lodi has ensured Atletico have been freshened up at full-back this season. He will be given the ultimate test against Juventus in what could be his first Champions League outing this week.