Europa League: 5 Players to Watch This Season

Michael CummingsWorld Football Lead WriterOctober 25, 2012

Europa League: 5 Players to Watch This Season

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    The UEFA Champions League is Europe's best and most prestigious club competition, but the Europa League offers plenty of excitement of its own.

    Europe's second-tier club competition is nearing the halfway point of its group stage. Once the groups are finished, the knockout phase will begin with a fresh crop of third-placed Champions League group teams.

    That means there's tons of action left in the Europa League this season. Here are five of the most exciting players to watch.

Radamel Falcao

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    Club: Atletico Madrid

    It sounds like hyperbole, but it's true. Apart from Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, you won't find a hotter, more lethal attacker on the planet right now than Radamel Falcao.

    Falcao, 26, has basically turned the Europa League into his own personal party over the last two seasons. After leading Porto to the title in 2011, he repeated the feat with Atletico last season.

    In the 2011 final, he scored the only goal of the match in Porto's 1-0 victory. In the 2012 final, he scored the first two as Atletico won 3-0.

    This season, he scored a hat trick in the UEFA Super Cup as Atletico ripped defending European champions Chelsea. He has already bagged nine goals in eight La Liga appearances.

    When Falcao is on the pitch, don't you dare look away.

Gareth Bale

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    Club: Tottenham Hotspur

    Gareth Bale's pace, power and dangerous dribbling transform Tottenham Hotspur into a different club.

    Case in point: Compare the difference between Tottenham's performance in losing to Chelsea this past weekend in the league to their win over Manchester United three weeks earlier.

    Bale, a 22-year-old Welsh international winger, missed the former and scored in the latter.

    Bale is taking some time off from football after becoming a father for the first time (via ESPN FC), but when he returns, Spurs should benefit.

Hernanes

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    Club: Lazio

    Hernanes is a 27-year-old Brazilian international who pulls the strings in midfield for Lazio. A two-footed playmaker, Hernanes is described by Sky Sports' scouting profile as "neat and tidy when in possession" and able to hold possession while pressured.

    Those traits are valuable with the never-aging Miroslav Klose up top. The 34-year-old German scored 16 goals in all competitions last season and already has seven this term.

    Oh, and Hernanes can also score sick individual goals like this one against AC Milan recently.

Kevin Strootman

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    Club: PSV Eindhoven

    Dutch midfielder Kevin Strootman has been a hot name in the gossip pages lately. According to talkSPORT, Strootman's agent has dropped a strong hint that the 22-year-old could move on after the season.

    Manchester United are thought to be interested, so why not take a sneak peak at a guy who could be the next big thing at Old Trafford?

Demba Ba

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    Club: Newcastle United

    Speculation continues to surround Senegalese striker Demba Ba's future with Newcastle United (via Daily Mail). For now, though, he remains with the Magpies—and he keeps scoring goals.

    Ba, 27, was a hit during the first half of his first season with Newcastle. After a slip in form down the stretch last term, he's rediscovered his scoring touch this term.

    Through eight English Premier League matches, Ba is joint-top of the scoring table with six goals (the same number as Manchester United's Robin van Persie).