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The Eredivisie giants lost several key players in the summer transfer window, but their stars of tomorrow could cause the Rossoneri problems in Tuesday's Champions League playoff

By Stefan Coerts

When AC Milan were paired with PSV in the draw for the Champions League play-off, Rossoneri players and fans will have felt optimistic about their chances of making it into the group stages.

Not only have Eredivisie sides struggled in Europe recently, but PSV also lost numerous key players this summer. The Eindhoven side opted to cash in on stars such as Kevin Strootman (Roma), Dries Mertens (Napoli) and Jeremain Lens (Dinamo Kiev), while first team regulars like Boy Waterman, Erik Pieters, Atiba Hutchinson, Wilfred Bouma, Marcelo and Mark van Bommel all said farewell to the club, too. 

While Adam Maher, Jeffrey Bruma and Stijn Schaars arrived to add some much-needed quality, PSV's new philosophy is one which gives youngsters the chance to prove their worth rather than relying on expensive older players. Their keenness to develop the stars of tomorrow was illustrated by the average age of the team that took on Belgian runners-up Zulte-Waregem in the third round of Champions League qualification: a mere 21 years.

Goal takes a look at some of the teenagers who have impressed in the opening stages of the 2013-14 campaign and could cause Milan problems in their Champions League playoff tie.

ZAKARIA BAKKALI
Date of birth: 26 January, 1996

Place of birth: Liege
Position: Winger

Contract: 2015

 Strengths:
Dribbling, creativity, finishing

A month ago Bakkali was a virtual unknown, but now the Belgian attacker is seen as one of the most exciting prospects in the Eredivisie.

The 17-year-old sprung to life in the opening weeks of the season, scoring for PSV in a Champions League qualifier against Zulte, receiving a call-up for Belgium and rounding off a fine seven days with a hat-trick in a 5-0 win over NEC to be named Goal's World Player of the Week.

Bakkali started his footballing career in Belgium at RFC de Liege and Standard Liege, before making the decision to join the PSV academy at just 12 years old.

His immense potential did not go unnoticed with clubs across Europe, including Manchester United and Manchester City, monitoring his progress before the age of 16. The youngster opted against a move from Netherlands, though, and signed a three-year deal with the Eredivisie giants.

After making the match squad for the first time in 2012-13, his decision to stay at PSV is starting to pay dividends as Bakkali is on his way to becoming a sensation. Head coach Phillip Cocu is a keen admirer of the teenager and, given the way Bakkali has started the campaign, he is a genuine contender for a regular first-team spot this season.

The youngster may have to sit out Tuesday's first leg due to injury, but is expected to be match fit for the return at San Siro next week.

MEMPHIS DEPAY
Date of birth: 13 February, 1994

Place of birth: Moordrecht
Position: Winger

Contract: 2017

 Strengths: Dribbling, shooting, crossing

Depay was one of the star performers of the Netherlands Under-17 team who were crowned European champions in May 2011, and the young winger seemed to have a bright future ahead of him after putting in a number of impressive cameos as a substitute throughout the 2011-12 campaign.

However, the 19-year-old’s progress began to stutter as he struggled to break into the first team last season, with competition for places from the likes of Mertens, Lens and Luciano Narsingh. Depay made 20 Eredivisie appearances, mostly coming off the bench, but found it difficult to impress then head coach Dick Advocaat.

It appears this season could be when the versatile attacker secures his status as one of the most exciting youngsters in the Dutch top flight, with the departure of Mertens opening up a first-team role and boosting his confidence.

The Netherlands Under-21 starlet was compared to Milan star Robinho when he first burst onto the scene because of his flair and creativity, but Depay's style has changed, becoming much more efficient and direct, illustrated by his stunning goal in the 2-0 win over Zulte.

ADAM MAHER
Date of birth: 20 July, 1993

Place of birth: Ait Izzou
Position: Attacking midfielder

Contract: 2018

 Strengths: Passing, vision, creativity

Although Maher only just turned 20, the Netherlands international is already one of PSV’s more experienced players. The attacking midfielder is a product of the AZ youth academy and made his official first team debut aged 17 in the Europa League match against BATE Borisov, scoring once to become the youngest Eredivisie player to register in a Uefa club competition.

The gifted midfielder has since gone on to develop into one of the most promising youngsters in Europe and his rise to prominence even caught the attention of then Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk ahead of Euro 2012. Maher eventually missed out on last summer’s tournament in Poland and Ukraine, but he did make his first appearance for the national team shortly after.

A fine 2012-13 campaign earned him the interest of clubs such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City, but Maher made it clear from the start that he was not interested in a move abroad just yet, setting his sights on a move to Ajax or PSV instead. The Eindhoven side were quick to react to his come-and-get-me plea and shelled out €6.5 million for the youngster this summer.

Maher has yet to replicate the form that turned him into one of Europe’s most wanted in his first few weeks at PSV but he is still adapting to his new surroundings, and there’s little doubt that he has a bright future ahead of him. A player with impressive vision, creativity and an eye for the final pass, Maher has what it takes to decide a match single-handedly.

KARIM REKIK
Date of birth: 2 February, 1994

Place of birth: Den Haag
Position: Centre-back

Contract: On loan from Man City

 Strengths:
Marking, heading, passing

PSV's main Achilles heel in recent years has been their vulnerability in defence, but the arrival of Rekik on a one-year loan deal seems to have initially solved their problems. The centre-back is widely regarded as one of Netherlands' top defensive prospects and has had little trouble living up to the high expectations in his first few weeks at the Eindhoven giants.

Like Depay, Rekik also excelled at the 2011 U-17 Euros and the left-footed defender even earned himself a transfer from Feyenoord to Manchester City later that summer. However, securing regular first-team football immediately at the Etihad appeared to be too much of a challenge, but Rekik did show plenty of promise.

He made his official first team debut at the tender age of 16, before being farmed out on loan to Portsmouth and Blackburn Rovers, respectively, in the past two seasons. His desire to play football at the highest level led him to Eindhoven this summer and he has already impressed with his aerial prowess, forceful defending and confidence on the ball.

Admittedly, top-class strikers are hard to come by in the Eredivisie, so he will have to up his game in the tie versus Milan. However, having locked horns with Mario Balotelli more than once during training at City, he could come in rather handy in the playoffs.

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