Champions League 2022/23 wonderkids: five youngsters set to shine - including Barcelona and Napoli starlets

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Some of the hottest young talents in European football are set to dazzle, as the Champions League makes its return

The group stage of the 2022/23 Champions League is finally here, as Europe’s top teams return to compete for the iconic trophy.

The competition has been dominated for over a decade by the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, while Kylian Mbappe and others are now starting to make their mark.

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So, who could be the next breakout star in UEFA’s top level competition? Who will be the next European wonderkid to catch the eye of the footballing world?

Here are five of the best players aged of 21 and under to keep an eye on during this season’s Champions League:

Joško Gvardiol

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  • Age: 20
  • Club: RB Leipzig
  • Nationality: Croatian

RB Leipzig could have made a list of their own with so many bright young players, having established themselves in the first team over the past season.

Christopher Nkunku, Dominik Szoboszlai and Mohamed Simakan (who turned 22 in May so just missed out in this category) were all also worthy of inclusion but the gem of RBL’s current crop of young players is Croatian centre-back Gvardiol.

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He only turned 20 in January but already has a full season in the Bundesliga under his belt and 10 caps for the Croatian national team.

After an impressive first season at Leipzig, he was linked with a move to Chelsea this summer with figures ranging between €90 million and €100 million quoted.

Benjamin Šeško

Sesko is said to be a targetSesko is said to be a target
Sesko is said to be a target | Liverpool FC via Getty Images
  • Age: 19
  • Club: RB Salzburg
  • Nationality: Slovenian

From one RB to another and a teenager who already has many admirers across the top leagues in European football.

The striker was also linked with a move to the Premier League in the summer, with Manchester United touted as a potential destination, but Salzburg have done well to keep a hold of their prize asset.

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With all due respect, he’s undoubtedly destined for greater things than the Austrian Bundesliga, and will have another season of Champions League football to show the big boys what he’s capable of.

At 19, he already has 36 senior goals from 96 appearances across all competitions and has earned 13 caps for his country.

Ryan Gravenberch

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  • Age: 20
  • Club: Bayern Munich
  • Nationality: Dutch

The midfielder already made his big money move by leaving Ajax for the German side this summer in what looks like a steal, with the fee reported to be just €18 million with a potential €5 million in add ons.

Like the other players on this list, Gravenberch is already an established international despite his young age, with 10 caps for the Netherlands already and has plenty of Champions League experience from his four seasons at Ajax - two of which he was a first team regular.

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He has featured in all five of Bayern’s league matches this season but only as a substitute, and started their German Cup win over Viktoria Koln where he also scored his first goal for the club.

Breaking into an established side ahead of the likes of Joshua Kimmich and Marcel Sabitzer will be tough but, with a hectic schedule leading up to the World Cup in the winter, we may see a few starts for the Dutchman in continental competition.

Gavi

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  • Age: 18
  • Club: Barcelona
  • Nationality: Spanish

The future of Barcelona looks bright, with a player who seems to be destined to be the next big world football star breaking into the first team at the Nou Camp.

Gavi made the step up from Barca’s B team last season and racked up 47 first team appearances for the Catalonian side including 11 in European competition.

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Again, like the other players on this list, he is already an established international with a highly impressive 10 senior caps for Spain at the age of just 18.

He caught the attention of many last season and now there will be plenty of rival supporters eager to get a look at the latest midfield maestro to come through the esteemed youth set up in Barcelona.

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Khvicha Kvaratskhelia

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  • Age: 21
  • Club: Napoli
  • Nationality: Georgian

The oldest player on this list, but still with an entire promising career ahead of him is the Georgian winger.

Football experts have known about Kvaratskhelia as far back as 2017 when he made his senior debut with Dinamo Tbilisi as a teenager, but his name has never really entered the mainstream knowledge of the average punter.

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He already has four seasons in the Russian Premier League under his belt with Lokomotiv Moscow and Rubin Kazan and, after briefly returning to Georgian football, he has now earned a move to one of Europe’s top divisions with Napoli.

This will be his first season playing in the Champions League, meaning a much larger audience will get the chance to see what he is capable of.

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