Malcom, Weah & the youngsters to watch in the 2018-19 Champions League

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With the draw for the Champions League group stage taking place on Thursday, Goal lists some top under-23 talents to watch this season

  1. Dani Ceballos (Real Madrid)

    "The coach's confidence is paramount to playing well," Dani Ceballos told Real Madrid TV earlier this month. "[Julen] Lopetegui has given me that confidence."

    The implication was obvious: Ceballos had never felt fully trusted by former Blancos boss Zinedine Zidane, who used the midfielder just 12 times in La Liga last season.

    The 22-year-old Spaniard still has Luka Modric, Casemiro and Toni Kroos ahead of him in the pecking order but with Mateo Kovacic now gone, Ceballos is expected to see far more game time in 2018-19.

    If he truly does have his self-belief back, we should see the former Betis star reproduce the kind of magic that lit up the Under-21 European Championships last year.

  2. Frenkie de Jong (Ajax)

    Ajax are back in the Champions League group stage for the first time since 2014-15 but not everyone was happy to see the Dutch outfit prevail in their play-off tie with Dynamo Kyiv.

    Indeed, the Amsterdam outfit's qualification scuppered Barcelona's hopes of signing Frenkie de Jong before the close of the summer transfer window on Friday. 

    The Blaugrana had made the 21-year-old, who has just been called up by the Netherlands national team, their primary midfield target but he has now confirmed that he is staying at Ajax.

    "Maybe someday I'll join Barcelona, but not this season," he told NOS. "I think it will be a good year for Ajax. Now we're about to find out what we're capable of."

    We're also about to find out exactly what De Jong is capable of.

  3. Phil Foden (Manchester City)

    On May 13, the then 17-year-old Phil Foden became the youngest ever recipient of a Premier League winners' medal, after making five appearances during Manchester City's title procession. 

    The classy and versatile midfielder is now set to play an even bigger role in his club's bid to hold on to their crown. As coach Pep Guardiola enthused, "He was ready [for the first team] last year but now he is one year more mature."

    His composed performance in the season-opening Community Shield win over Chelsea certainly belied his tender age, with Foden creating the game's opening goal, for Sergio Aguero. 

    Nailing down a regular berth in the City starting 11 is an unenviable task but Guardiola has the utmost faith in Foden, who last season became the youngest Englishman ever to start a Champions League match.

  4. ​Willem Geubbels (Monaco)

    Rarely can such fuss have been made over a player to have featured so little at senior level.

    Willem Geubbels only saw 87 minutes of game time for Lyon last season but, in doing so, the 16-year-old forward became the first player born in the 21st century to appear in Ligue 1, and the Europa League.

    Monaco certainly liked what they saw, as this summer they paid €20 million (£18m/$23m) to beat some of Europe’s biggest clubs to the signature of the France Under-18 international.

    Geubbels will be used sparingly but Monaco are quietly confident that they have got another Kylian Mbappe on their hands.

  5. Goncalo Guedes (Valencia)

    Goncalo Guedes was good last season, too good as far as Valencia were concerned. 

    Having taken the Portugal international on loan from Paris Saint-Germain, los Che became increasingly concerned that the French club would demand too much money for the winger, or that someone else would swoop in and take the 21-year-old away from them.

    Luckily for Valencia, they eventually managed to thrash out a €40 million deal for Guedes, meaning a €10 profit on a player that had failed to prove himself at the Parc des Princes.

    He has had no such trouble at Mestalla, though, and now looks set to take the Champions League by storm this season.

  6. Justin Kluivert (Roma)

    There are few better judges of talent than Monchi and the Roma sporting director is in no doubt that he has pulled off another masterstroke in signing Justin Kluivert from Ajax for an initial €17 million.

    "I think that Justin is already one of the most exciting young players in European football," he enthused. “Because of this it was not easy to bring him to Roma ahead of a number of other clubs."

    Indeed, the likes of Manchester United were linked with the Dutch winger, who earned his first Netherlands cap earlier this year, but both Justin and his father Patrick believe that Roma was the right choice at this stage of his career.

    Kluivert Junior has already racked up his first Serie A assist, after coming off the bench to set up Edin Dzeko's winner at Torino, and he should prove an excellent impact substitute for a team that reached the semi-finals of last season's Champions League.

  7. Hirving Lozano (PSV)

    Despite Barcelona's interest in the services of Hirving Lozano after his stellar World Cup campaign, PSV have somehow managed to hold on to the gifted Mexico international.

    It's just as well too, as they might not have made the Champions League group stage without him, with the 23-year-old scoring in both legs of the play-off win over BATE Borisov.

    How long he remains in Eindhoven is unclear, though.

    The free-scoring winger tore up the Eredivisie last season, netting 17 times in 29 appearances, and if 'Chucky' makes the Champions League look like child's play too, it won't be long before Europe's elite come calling again.

  8. Malcom (Barcelona)

    Malcom was the star of the most dramatic transfer soap opera of the summer, a tale of broken promises, revenge and recriminations. 

    After originally agreeing to join Roma from Bordeaux, the Brazilian and his agent failed to board a scheduled fight to Italy because Barcelona successfully hijacked the deal at the 11th hour.

    Malcom's representative, Leonardo Cornacini, claimed it was payback for the Giallorossi concluding a deal for another player with a rival agent, while Roma threatened legal action against Bordeaux.

    The pressure is now on Malcolm to show just why the Blaugrana went to such trouble to secure his signature and he has impressed in pre-season – even scoring against Roma – but forcing his way into a line-up containing Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho and a resurgent Ousmane Dembele will be no easy task.

  9. Lautaro Martinez (Inter)

    With everyone at Inter getting very excited about Lautaro Martinez, it has been left to coach Luciano Spalletti to try to attempt to ease the growing sense of expectancy surrounding the club's latest Argentine arrival.

    The forward scored a spectacular volley in the International Champions Cup win over Atletico Madrid during the summer but his new boss pointed out afterwards that the €22.7m signing from Racing Club had been sloppy in possession and had not linked well with his team-mates.

    However, Spalletti is well aware that the 20-year-old is a special talent, one who has already struck up an excellent rapport with star striker and skipper Mauro Icardi, off the field at least.

    Martinez is unlikely to be a regular starter at Inter, at least initially, but he undeniably has the ability to quickly become a fan favourite at San Siro.

  10. Rodri (Atletico Madrid)

    It may not have been as significant as losing Raul to Real Madrid, but Atletico's decision to release Rodri in 2013 for being physically weak was an incredibly costly one. 

    Indeed, the Rojiblancos had to pay Villarreal €20 million to bring the tall and gangly midfielder back to the Vincente Calderon this summer, yet nobody doubts the wisdom of the decision.

    Since leaving his native Madrid, Rodri has developed into one of the most promising players in Spain, a player blessed with deceptive dribbling skills and an excellent range of passing.

    Upon his return, he was presented with the No.14 jersey vacated by former captain Gabi: "I'm really looking forward now to wearing this shirt."

    It would be a major surprise if Rodri does not make it his own.

  11. Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund)

    Manchester City were understandably infuriated by last year's loss of Jadon Sancho to Borussia Dortmund, with manager Pep Guardiola admitting that the forward was a "great talent".

    The Premier League side received €8 million for the then 17-year-old but that now looks like pittance for a player who has since become the youngest Englishman ever to score in the Bundesliga.

    Sancho is obviously being carefully managed by BVB but he has begun the new season in impressive fashion, with two assists from two competitive appearances already, and looks perfectly placed to make his eagerly-awaited Champions League bow.

  12. ​Martin Terrier (Lyon)

    Perhaps no one caught the eye in pre-season quite as much as Lyon attacker Martin Terrier, who spent the 2017-18 campaign on loan to Strasbourg from Lille.

    OL swooped to sign the 21-year-old from Lille in January, paying €11m for his services, but sent him straight back to Strasbourg to see out the remainder of the season at the Stade de la Meinau. 

    He impressed with Racing, scoring three goals in Ligue 1, and creating four more, but suffered from injuries in the second half of the season.

    However, Terrier has looked fit and sharp since belatedly arriving at Parc OL and should develop rapidly training and playing alongside the likes of Nabil Fekir and Memphis Depay this term.

  13. Timothy Weah (Paris Saint-Germain)

    Having a famous father can open doors but it can also be a tremendous burden to carry, particularly for a teenager trying to make a name for himself at one of the world's biggest clubs.

    However, Paris Saint-Germain ace Timothy Weah is making it all look ridiculously easy.

    The United States international, who is the son of Liberia's Ballon d'Or-winning legend George, has been in sensational form for the Ligue 1 champions this summer, impressing in the International Champions Cup before racking up his first senior goal in the Trophee des Champions rout of Monaco and then getting off the mark in Ligue 1 the following weekend, against Caen.

    A versatile forward blessed with blistering pace and a cool head in front of goal, Timothy Weah looks destined to become a star in his own right.