Which African players will star in the Champions League this season?

Group A – Ajax AmsterdamLiverpoolNapoliRangers

Potential Winners: Mohamed Salah will be desperate to go one better than last season’s run to the final – the Egyptian’s third such showpiece with Liverpool.

Sadio Mane may have departed, but the likes of Naby Keita and Joel Matip will also hope to go the distance again, the latter having been snubbed for Ibrahima Konate in the May final.

Salah has already eclipsed Didier Drogba as the top scoring African player in the Premier League, and needs just nine goals to surpass him as the continent’s all-time top scorer in the European Cup.

Player to Watch: Mohammed Kudus remains at Ajax despite skipping training before deadline day to attempt to force through a move to Everton. Now he needs to knuckle down and force his way into Alfred Schreuder’s starting XI on a consistent basis.

Kudus has never yet proven himself at this level – he’s played just 33 minutes across two campaigns – and really needs to rediscover his 2020-21 Eredivisie form.

Napoli have been weakened by the departure of Kalidou Koulibaly, but Victor Osimhen – playing at this level for the first time since he left LOSC Lille – has the talent to fire the Partenopei out of a tricky group…and impress Prem suitors.

New arrivals: Speedy Nigeria defender Calvin Bassey was part of the Rangers squad that reached the Europa League final before moving onto Ajax during the offseason.

He’s settling well in Amsterdam, and should develop significantly at the club. Expect him to relish life at the European high table — and a return to Ibrox.

Outsiders: Rangers’ recent European experience makes them one of the tougher Pot Four teams, although they surely need more from Zambia striker Fashion Sakala, who scored seven in 26 in the league last term, and didn’t net at all in Europe. He was linked with Championship Burnley late in the window.

Group B – FC PortoAtletico MadridClub BruggeBayer Leverkusen

Potential Winners: Atletico Madrid will fancy their chances of going deep into the tournament, with Geoffrey Kondogbia — Thomas Partey‘s replacement — a key destroyer in midfield. Only six players averaged more tackles per game in La Liga last term.

Player to Watch: Nigeria’s Zaidu Sanusi starred in the Champions League as FC Porto reached the quarters in 2021. He’s struggled with injury and a loss of form over the last 18 months, but can he rebound in the competition this time around?

New arrivals: Bayer Leverkusen’s Callum Hudson-Odoi has arrived on loan from Chelsea, looking to revitalise a career that has promised so much but rarely — if ever — delivered. Having flirted with Ghana for several years, he could well end the year with the Black Stars in Qatar.

Outsiders: Hudson-Odoi will come up against his potential new Ghana teammate Denis Odoi when Leverkusen travel to Club Brugge in Gameweek One. The 34-year-old is tasting Champions League football again for the first time in a decade, and, having made his international debut earlier this year, will be hoping to start for the Black Stars at the World Cup.

Group C – Bayern MunichBarcelonaInternazionaleViktoria Plzen

Potential Winners: Mane and Franck Kessie will both be hoping to end the campaign with a UCL winner’s medal, having swapped clubs during the summer. Kessie left AC Milan after winning Serie A to sign for Barcelona, taking his place as the new heartbeat of Xavi Hernandez’s side.

For Mane, Liverpool’s defeat in the 2022 final preceded his prompt exit from Anfield, and he’ll now fancy his chances of inspiring Bayern Munich to their first crown since 2020. The reigning African Footballer of the Year was a winner in 2019.

Player to Watch: Noussair Mazraoui was part of the Ajax side that reached the Champions League semifinal in 2019, excelling with both his versatility and in-game intelligence. A move to Bayern gives him the platform to become Morocco‘s second UCL winner, although he must force his way into the starting XI ahead of Benjamin Pavard.

New arrivals: Andre Onana was also a member of Erik ten Hag’s fine Ajax side, and followed up his successful spell in the Netherlands by securing a free transfer to Internazionale. He’s arguably still recovering from a 10-month suspension for taking a banned substance, and currently finds himself playing understudy to Samir Handanovic.

Outsiders: Viktoria Plzen have their work cut out upon their return to the UCL after being pitted alongside Barcelona, Bayern and Inter. They’ll be hoping that Nigerian striker Fortune Bassey can land a punch on the big boys; he’s currently on loan from Ferencvaros, having scored nine in the Czech top flight for Ceske Budejovice last season. The 23-year-old has already scored two goals in three UCL qualifiers.

Group D – Eintracht FrankfurtTottenham Hotspur, Sporting Lisbon, Marseille


Potential Winners
: Spurs are group favourites, and will be hoping that Yves Bissouma can make the step up having never before featured in the tournament.

Eintracht Frankfurt can build on last season’s momentum from winning the Europa League to escape the group. Arsenal target Evan Ndicka made 11 appearances in that run, but faces an uncertain future after entering the final year of his contract.

Player to Watch: Africa’s Young Player of the Year Pape Matar Sarr remained at Spurs despite rumours of a loan move, and the departures of Harry Winks, Giovanni Lo Celso and Tanguy Ndombele now push him up the pecking order. Given Tottenham’s intense fixture schedule before the World Cup, will Sarr be given some gametime to prove himself — and to consolidate his place in Senegal‘s World Cup squad?

New arrivals: Franco-Congolese striker Randal Kolo Muani signed a five-year deal with Eintracht in March, months before he won the Coupe de France with Nantes. He’s scored 21 goals across the last two seasons in France, and has already had a hand in six goals in his first five Bundesliga outings.

Outsiders: Olympique de Marseille can’t be underestimated, despite their lowly placement in Pot Four ahead of the draw. They’ve recruited African duo Eric Bailly and Chancel Mbemba as options in their back three, while Morocco playmaker Amine Harit returns from Schalke 044 with an eye on the World Cup. Wantaway striker Bamba Dieng — he of the transfer deadline-day U-turn and failed medical — hasn’t been registered in the club’s UCL squad, nor has Cedric Bakambu.

Group E – AC Milan, Chelsea, RB Salzburg, Dinamo Zagreb

Potential Winners: 2021 winners Chelsea will be hoping to reach another final, with Edouard Mendy and Hakim Ziyech veterans of that success. Koulibaly has joined from Napoli to bolster the defence, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang — returning to the competition for the first time since 2017 — will be desperate to make up for lost time.

Player to Watch: Ismael Bennacer retains a prominent role in Milan’s midfield following the departure of his wing man Kessie, but he must improve on some ineffectual displays in the tournament last season. He’s made a strong start to the season, and was exceptional in the weekend’s Milan derby, creating four goalscoring chances and registering a 93.8-percent pass-success rate.

New arrivals: Carney Chukwuemeka arrives at Stamford Bridge for approximately £20 million from Aston Villa, in a deal which should prove to be an absolute bargain in the years to come. Will the wonderkid be given the opportunity to shine by Tuchel?

Outsiders: Dinamo Zagreb are one of only three teams without any African players, while Red Bull Salzburg can call upon a swathe of continental talents who find themselves on the club’s rich list of prospects. Nigeria’s Samson Tijani will miss the group stage due to a broken leg, but CAR duo Oumar Solet and Lucas Gourna-Douath could attract some covetous glances from Europe’s bigger boys.

Group F – Real MadridRB LeipzigShakhtar DonetskCeltic

Potential Winners: Real Madrid won’t have any African representation in their squad against this season…unless they promote Casablanca-born Marvel from the Castilla squad. Could he follow in Achraf Hakimi‘s footsteps?

Player to Watch: Amadou Haidara was linked with a move to the Premier League ahead of deadline day, with Newcastle United reportedly attracted by his well-rounded technical qualities and midfield dynamism. The player preferred to remain at Leipzig, but suitors could become more insistent if he impresses.

New arrivals: Abdou Diallo — tipped for a move to the Premier League — ultimately secured a deadline-day switch to Leipzig, signing on loan from Paris Saint-Germain. Only months after winning the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal, Diallo was informed by Christophe Galtier that he wasn’t part of his plans, and a change of scene gives him the opportunity to get his career back on track. He can immediately improve a Leipzig defence that shipped four against Frankfurt at the weekend.

Outsiders: Shakhtar Donetsk have to play their home games in Poland, and will struggle to emulate their glorious runs to the knockouts in years gone by.

Once of Manchester City, Olarenwaju Kayode hasn’t been named in the UCL squad, although Burkina Faso striker Lassina Traore has. He once scored seven goals in 12 Eredivisie outings with Ajax, and the goals have continued to flow — when circumstances have permitted — with the Ukraine giants.

Group G – Manchester City, SevillaBorussia DortmundFC Copenhagen

Potential Winners: Will this finally be the year Manchester City get it right in the Champions League? Riyad Mahrez will struggle to replicate his performances in the semifinals of the 20-21 season, when he near-single-handedly inspired City past PSG, although he is still capable of vital contributions in Pep Guardiola’s latest bid for European gold.

Player to Watch: Yassine Bono never gets the credit he deserves, both in organising the Sevilla defence ahead of him and making vital saves to keep opponents at bay. Sevilla conceded just 30 goals in La Liga last season — the best defensive record — and the Rojiblancos will need him at his best in the UCL this term. Is it time that Bono, and not Mendy, was considered Africa’s top stopper?

New arrivals: Sebastien Haller was Borussia Dortmund’s pick to replace Erling Haaland up top, although he’s currently sidelined after being diagnosed with testicular cancer, so his appearance in the tournament is a secondary concern.

Outsiders: There’s plenty of African interest at group minnows FC Copenhagen, with Nigerian duo Akinkunmi Akoo and Paul Mukairu providing a threat from out wide. Striker Khouma Babacar was heralded as the new Didier Drogba during his early career with Fiorentina, but he registered just three goals in 14 games as the Danish heavyweights romped to the title last term.

Group H – Paris Saint-Germain, JuventusMaccabi HaifaBenfica

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Potential Winners: Paris Saint-Germain have offloaded Diallo and Idrissa Gueye as they reshuffle their pack for their latest assault on that elusive European crown. There’s no danger of Hakimi leaving, with the right-sider establishing himself as a key asset — in attack and defence — under Mauricio Pochettino and now Galtier.

Player to Watch: Big things are expected of Juventus wonderkid Marley Ake, although will he still boast the acceleration and agility that made him such a tantalising prospect as he recovers from a broken leg?

New arrivals: PSG have snapped up Hugo Ekitike from Stade de Reimsafter the 20-year-old scored 10 in 24 in Ligue 1 last term. Eligible for Cameroon, he’s represented France at U-20 level.

Outsiders: Maccabi Haifa will be pinning their hopes on Abdoulaye Seckas they look to give themselves a fighting chance in a strong group. The centre-back was capped by Senegal a decade ago, and having never before featured in the Champions League, will need to learn fast. Anchor man Ali Mohamed will fly the flag for Niger in the group stage.

ARTICLE LINK:https://www.espn.com/soccer/uefa-champions-league/story/4739522/champions-league-preview-african-players-to-watchand-way-too-early-predictions

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