The Champions League returns this week for what promises to be another thrilling season as Europe’s biggest clubs go head to head.
There can only be one winner from the 32 teams entered in the group stage, and nearly every match is worth watching from the opening day all the way through to the final.
This is the competition that displays all the best players in the world game, with every star wanting to have the chance to prove themselves in the Champions League.
Champions League commentaries LIVE on talkSPORT
Tuesday, September 18: Internazionale vs Tottenham, kick-off 17:55 – CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO INTER VS SPURS
Wednesday, September 19: Young Boys vs Manchester United, kick-off 20:00 – CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO YOUNG BOYS VS MAN UNITED
But who are the ones to watch this year? talkSPORT.com have taken a look at the opening round of fixtures and have pulled out eight players linked with moves to the Premier League that you should keep an eye on.
You can see them all below…
Manchester City vs LYON
Wanted by: Tottenham
21-year-old Ndombele has quickly established himself as one of the finest young midfielders in the game, showcasing his talents while on loan at Lyon last season. He joined Les Gones permanently from Amiens over the summer and has picked up where he left off.
Typecast as nothing more than an athletic midfielder, Ndombele’s excellent physical attributes are just one of his strengths. He is a fine ball carrier, particularly excelling in the transition phase; the speed with which he moves the ball forward after winning possession is astounding.
His passing is good enough for a player at this level, but it could do with some work, and if Ndombele manages to build influence in the attacking third of the pitch, he will become one of the most dynamic midfielders in the game.
Tottenham have been linked with Ndombele as they seek a replacement for the ageing Moussa Dembele.
Real Madrid vs ROMA
Wanted by: Chelsea
It was clear one of Maurizio Sarri’s priorities over the summer was to bring a new centre-half to Stamford Bridge, but he failed to do so and has been forced to start the season with a defensive pairing of David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger.
Manolas, the Roma defender, was one player Sarri was known to be keen on and the Chelsea manager is sure to be keeping an eye on the 27-year-old this week.
Since moving to Italy in 2014, Manolas has been a consistent performer for a Roma side improving year on year, showcasing his no-nonsense style of defending. Always excellent at winning both tackles and aerial duels, Manolas has started to incorporate a more elegant side to his game, learning to build play from the back as all modern centre-backs should be able to do.
He will be put to the toughest test this week as Roma come up against Julen Lopetegui’s Real Madrid, who have scored 11 goals in their four league games this term.
Club Brugge vs BORUSSIA DORTMUND
Wanted by: Liverpool.
After making a rapid rise through Borussia Dortmund’s academy, 19-year-old forward Pulisic is entrenched in the Bundesliga side’s first-team. A US international, Pulisic is a known target of Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp’s, and it is not hard to see why.
He is already an excellent playmaker who has an eye for a pass, and he is only going to continue improving given his youth. He has enjoyed a couple of breakthrough seasons with BVB, though 2017/18 was a relatively poor one for Pulisic under Peter Stoger, who replaced Peter Bosz as manager in December. Stoger’s conservative game did not allow Pulisic to flourish, but new coach Lucien Favre plays a dynamic game that should be perfect for the teenager.
Pulisic has been directly involved in nine league goals in each of the last two seasons, and he has shown to excel in a system built to get the best out of him. He looked bright in Favre’s league debut – playing 77 minutes of a 4-1 defeat of RB Leipzig – though Pulisic was forced to miss the following two matches through injury. However, reports say the youngster will return for Dortmund’s clash against Brugge, and all eyes will be on Pulisic as he looks to make his mark on the European stage.
Frenkie de Jong
AJAX vs AEK Athens
Wanted by: Tottenham.
Tottenham are alleged to have bid £45million for De Jong, the Ajax midfielder, over the summer – only to see the offer quickly rejected. The 21-year-old, who recently won his debut cap for the Netherlands, is the shining light of Dutch football who promises a bright future after a couple of years of mediocrity.
A stunning midfielder, De Jong has all the talents required to make it at the top of the game. He drifts past players with ease and finds space no one else can, before laying off a pass to a team-mate a millisecond before anyone else has seen that ball was on. He’s been compared to Frank Rijkaard and even Franz Beckenbauer: “De Jong is a better version of Franz Beckenbauer, because he has speed and passes the ball easily,” former Dutch international Arie Haan said. De Jong has even been tried out in defence, with manager Marcel Keizer experimenting last season by fielding the youngster as a marauding centre-half to relative success.
Barcelona are also known admirers of De Jong – unsurprisingly given he has also been likened to a hybrid of Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta – but never before has he been tested in the Champions League. This is the highest level of club competition, and will prove whether De Jong has what it takes to represent the biggest clubs in Europe. Starting against AEK Athens is a nice way to bed in, as Ajax definitely have tougher tests to come.
Matthijs de Ligt
AJAX vs AEK Athens
Wanted by: Manchester City.
De Jong’s Ajax team-mate De Ligt is another of Holland’s great hopes, having made his international debut as a 17-year-old after making just two club appearances. He, like De Jong, is being tracked by Barcelona, while Manchester City have also shown a keen interest in the now 19-year-old.
A central defender who is technically able, both tall and strong, and has a fair amount of pace, De Ligt looks to have all he needs to develop into a fine player. His ability to play out of defence does not make him stand out that much in the modern game, but the teenager’s intelligence to keep play simple rather than over complicating things does make him one to keep an eye on.
Like De Jong, the big question hanging over De Ligt is whether he can cut it at the highest level. Sure, he has represented his country seven times, but the real test will be this Champions League campaign. He has struggled in the biggest matches of his career to date – his Netherlands debut and the 2017 Europa League final vs Man United – and this is the year De Ligt can prove he belongs in the elite tier.
Schalke vs PORTO
Wanted by: Tottenham.
Porto captain Herrera, 28, is out of contract next summer and he has started to be linked with various new clubs – including Tottenham..
A veteran of over 200 club appearances and 70 caps, Herrera is a physically gifted box-to-box player who is best in the transitions. He is great at breaking up play and launching his own team into attack, while his own goal record is not too shabby for a player in his position. He is never going to be a standout performer, but his work rate, commitment and unselfishness make Herrera a valuable component of any team.
He has always looked pretty good when turning out on the European stage, but the eyes will be more focused this season as interested parties know Herrera is free to speak to new clubs when January rolls around.
Schalke vs PORTO
Wanted by: West Ham.
West Ham wanted to bring centre-forward Marega to the London Stadium over the summer but were unwilling to pay his £36million release clause. Marega is said to be annoyed the move didn’t go through, as though he penned a new deal with Porto, he refused to increase the clause.
The 27-year-old is something of a late bloomer, not earning a move to Porto until January 2016. He then spent the following season away on loan, scoring 13 times for Vitoria Guimaraes, before returning to Porto and establishing himself as one of the most lethal strikers in the Portuguese league in 2017/18. Marega hit the back of the net 22 times last term and he’s started this season win one goal and one assist in two appearances, and he’ll be hoping to continue his fine form when Porto kick-off their Champions League campaign against Schalke.
Porto have been drawn in a group they will be confident of getting out of, meaning Marega could get to test himself in the latter stages of the competition against some of Europe’s best teams. West Ham will be keen to see how the forward gets on against such opposition, ahead of a renewed swoop for him either in January or next summer.
INTERNAZIONALE vs Tottenham
Wanted by: Manchester United.
Despite being regarded as one of the finest strikers in world football, Icardi has still never appeared in the Champions League. He makes his debut on Europe’s biggest stage on Tuesday night against Spurs, hoping to better England’s goalscoring hero Harry Kane. Both Icardi and Kane are 25, and both have shown loyalty by sticking with their club rather than moving to greener pastures.
Unlike Kane, a Spurs academy graduate, Icardi took a while to find his club, leaving Barcelona’s youth system for Sampdoria before joining Inter in 2013. Since moving to the San Siro, Icardi has scored 107 goals in 185 games, become Inter’s captain, and twice been joint-winner of the Capocannoniere – awarded to Serie A’s top scorer.
There are no doubts Icardi is a top class centre-forward, and the links to a club the size of Man United make total sense. However, until he proves himself in the Champions League he is unlikely to break the glass ceiling and be judged as an elite striker. In a group with Spurs, Barcelona and PSV Eindhoven, Icardi has the kind of opposition where if you score against them, the world starts to take notice.
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