The Europa League may be the poor cousin of the Champions League, but this competition has been a proving ground for many up-and-coming prospects down the years. This was where Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford honed their skills before becoming stars for club and country.
Several of the young players on this list are already first team regulars, but they’ll be hoping that the Europa League can be their ticket to the Champions League – either with their current clubs, or elsewhere.
Keep an eye on these eight youngsters who could rip up the group stages.
1. Leon Bailey (Bayer Leverkusen)
If you support Liverpool or Chelsea, chances are you’ve already checked out numerous YouTube compilations of Leon Bailey after he was linked with a Premier League move during the summer. His pace and ability to play on either wing would make him an ideal signing for any side.
Bailey has a good record in the Europa League, having scored seven in 12 games in this competition during his time at Genk. After a poor start to the season, Bailey must be thinking that the Europa League can be his shop window to ensure that he is playing Champions League football next season, even if Leverkusen aren’t.
2. Luka Jovic (Eintracht Frankfurt)
A striker who has already well and truly caught the eye in Germany will now get the chance to show his potential on the European stage. Luka Jovic scored on his Eintracht Frankfurt debut last season and went on to score 8 Bundesliga goals during the campaign.
A director at Red Star Belgrade, where Jovic started his career, claimed: “Jović will become the best striker in Europe.”
It’s early days for statements like that, but the Serbian definitely has the potential to help the German Cup winners go deep into this competition.
3. Matteo Guendouzi (Arsenal)
You’ve already had the chance to check out Arsenal’s big-haired Frenchman in the Premier League, but adapting to the English game is difficult. He struggled against Newcastle on Saturday and only after he was replaced by Lucas Torreira did Arsenal take control of the game.
The Europa League should provide a slower pace for Guendouzi to show what he can do while he gets acquainted with Unai Emery’s style of play.
The 19-year-old has the enthusiasm and the raw talent to be a success, and he will be able to prove it in a relatively easy group.
4. Dayot Upamecano (RB Leipzig)
At the tender age of 19, Dayot Upamecano is already approaching a century of senior club appearances. He was a European regular for RB Leipzig last season and two fixtures against Celtic this year will give British audiences a chance to check out the imposing French centre back.
Strong in the tackle, composed on the ball and intelligent in his reading of the game, Upamecano has everything in his arsenal to become a world-class defender as he matures. France are spoiled for options at centre back, but it surely won’t be too much longer until Upamecano represents Les Bleus at senior level.
5. Hannes Wolf (Red Bull Salzburg)
Hannes Wolf was a peripheral figure during Salzburg’s run to the Europa League semi finals last season, but you would fancy him to play a much more important role if the Austrians are to repeat that journey again.
After honing his trade in the Austrian second division, Wolf had a big impact on his return to Salzburg, scoring 12 goals in all competitions last season. A goal and an assist in the Austrian Bundesliga on Saturday will stand him in good stead ahead of Salzburg’s Group B opener against RB Leipzig.
6. Kai Havertz (Bayer Leverkusen)
Everyone’s talking about Leon Bailey, but his younger teammate Kai Havertz is well worth watching too. Havertz broke into the Leverkusen team at the age of 17, but never let it be said that footballers don’t have to make sacrifices – he missed a Champions League knockout tie because he was revising for school exams!
Now 19, Havertz became the youngest player to reach a half-century of Bundesliga appearances last season, and recently made his international debut in Germany’s friendly against Peru earlier this month. His style has been compared to that of Mesut Ozil, who Havertz himself has spoken of as a role model.
7. Ethan Ampadu (Chelsea)
With Chelsea facing long trips to Greece, Hungary and Belarus, Maurizio Sarri may see the Europa League as a chance to rest some first team regulars and blood young talent. After his dominant performance for Wales against Ireland in the recent international break, Ethan Ampadu must be pushing for his first European start.
Ampadu proved himself against senior teams as Chelsea’s academy side reached the semi finals of the EFL Trophy last season. Chelsea showed their faith in Ampadu with a new five-year contract this week but it’s time to start rewarding him with minutes on the pitch.
8. Sander Berge (Genk)
Genk have an outstanding record when it comes to developing young players, as Kevin De Bruyne, Kalidou Koulibaly and Thibaut Courtois can all testify. Sander Berge is the cream of the current crop, and although injuries slowed his progress last season, this could be the year when he proves what all the hype is about.
Berge stands 6ft 5in tall but doesn’t just rely on his physicality. He’s a good technical player with the ball at his feet, and from his deep-lying midfield role he specialises in breaking up opposition moves and launching counter-attacks.
Defensive midfielders are worth their weight in gold in modern football, and Berge looks like he could be a really useful player.
Source : 90MIN