World Football: Power Ranking the Top 15 Young Players in the Champions League

Vijay MuraliAnalyst ISeptember 16, 2011

World Football: Power Ranking the Top 15 Young Players in the Champions League

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    The Champions League is one of the most exciting competitions in the world considering that the best teams from each highly competitive league play against each other.

    It is a competition which involves huge revenues for the teams and is considered one of the most prestigious competitions in the world. It also provides an excellent platform for many youngsters to showcase their potential against some of the best teams in the world.

    In the last edition of the Champions League Jack Wilshere was one of the standout performers and his performances against Barcelona stood out among the others.

    Similarly, there are a number of exciting youngsters who will be looking to make an impression in this Champions League, some of whom might be interested in a move to a big club in the near future.

    Most clubs develop youngsters because they can play an integral role in the future of the team and it is a great opportunity for many of them. This is an article on 15 talented youngsters in the Champions League with the criteria that they are aged 21 and below.   

15. Joshua McEachran (Chelsea)

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    Chelsea youngster Joshua McEachran is one of the most talented midfielders to have emerged from the Chelsea academy in the recent past, and could be one of the club's best midfielders in the future.

    There is no doubt that he is one of the most talented youngsters at his age, but the 18-year-old has not played a lot of games for his club since breaking through to the first team in the previous season under Carlo Ancelotti.

    Chelsea do have good midfield depth following the signings of Juan Mata and Raul Meireles, but if McEachran is given the appropriate playing time, he will continue to develop into a world-class player.

    McEachran could be loaned out for the second half of this season, but he is certainly a player of the highest potential.

14. Andre Ayew (Olympique Marseille)

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    Andre Ayew has established himself as one of Olympique de Marseille's most important players and is still only 21 years old.

    He has a bright future ahead of him and will continue to develop under his current club manager Didier Deschamps. The versatile midfielder provides a lot of depth to the team and is considered as one of Ligue 1's most talented players.

    A vital player for the team, the Olympique de Marseille would like to retain the midfielder for as long as possible.

    The midfielder is also a regular for the Ghana national team, and has represented his nation in important tournaments, including the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

13. Mario Balotelli (Manchester City)

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    Manchester City's Mario Balotelli is one of the most gifted players in the world, but he has also been the subject of some controversies.

    With the club signing Sergio Aguero and retaining Carlos Tevez, it has meant that the mercurial Italian international has had less playing time—especially with Edin Dzeko also finding his form for City.

    However, Balotelli is a very talented player with world-class potential, and should he stay clear of so much controversy, has a bright future ahead of him. He also has the ability to be a game-changer and could prove to be the difference for City this season.

    He provides good depth to City, but he will not be happy on the bench—giving Roberto Mancini a tough job in motivating the young Italian.

12. Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow)

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    Alan Dzagoev is a young midfielder who has attracted the interest of a number of big clubs by performing excellently for his club CSKA Moscow.

    The 21-year-old has established himself as one of the most important players for his club and contributes regularly with both goals and assists. The talented attacking midfielder signed for CSKA Moscow in 2008 and has made excellent progress since then.

    Dzagoev has also been selected to represent the Russian national team, which includes quality players like Andrei Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko, and the young CSKA midfielder will only get better with the experience of playing alongside these players.

    He could be a target of other clubs in the near future and, with the right offer, there is a chance he could leave, considering his high quality.

11. Chris Smalling (Manchester United)

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    Manchester United made a surprise signing last year when they signed young Chris Smalling from Fulham, but his signing has again been shown to be another astute move by Sir Alex Ferguson.

    He was also recently called up for the England national team and could prove to be a world-class defender for the future. He can also play at right-back, which means he brings more depth to the squad as well.

    Last season, Rio Ferdinand was injured for a number of games and Chris Smalling stepped into the role excellently, producing many calm and solid performances in helping Manchester United's title run.

    Smalling is a player who keeps it simple and has an excellent understanding of the game, which enables him to make good interceptions and tackles. He has certainly shown that he can be an asset for the future, and the partnership of Phil Jones and Smalling is one to look forward to.

10. Douglas Costa (Shakhtar Donetsk)

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    Shakhtar Donetsk have some talented Brazilian youngsters in their squad, and Douglas Costa is one of the most talented individuals among them.

    The former Gremio midfielder made his move from Brazil to Ukraine in 2010 and has excelled for his club. Costa was a regular for the Brazil U-20 squad, and if he does perform to his potential, then he certainly has an excellent chance of breaking into the Brazil national team as well.

    Costa is a very naturally talented player and can play on both wings effectively. He has a lot of potential and could become a world-class player if he progresses well.

    The midfielder has attracted the attention of a number of clubs, but Shakhtar are keen to retain his services and he could use the Champions League as the competition to showcase his potential on a big stage.

9. Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)

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    Aaron Ramsey is one of the most talented youngsters in the world, and the central midfielder has a key role to play at Arsenal to help the club reach its best level following the exits of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri.

    Ramsey did not play for most of the 2010-11 season, but he has an important role to play this season, and he could be a vital part of the future for the Gunners. He played excellently in preseason for Arsenal and, if he can produce his best form, it will benefit Arsenal's consistency.

    He was also appointed as the Wales captain by manager Gary Speed due to his strong mentality. He was touted by many as the replacement for Cesc Fabregas when Fabregas left the club, and he bow has the opportunity to establish himself on the club.

    Though he was out of the game for more than a year due to a horrific tackle by Ryan Shawcross, he has shown great mentality and could have an excellent future at Arsenal.

8. Phil Jones (Manchester United)

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    In what could be considered a surprise move considering they already had Chris Smalling, who is also doing a great job at United, Manchester United beat competition from a number of other clubs to sign youngster Phil Jones from Blackburn.

    However, Sir Alex Ferguson was keen to sign the versatile defender, and it seems like signing Jones was another fine bit of business from Sir Alex Ferguson.

    Jones has the technical ability, pace and the physicality to be one of the best defenders in the Premiership. Also, the former Blackburn youngster has excellent leadership skills and could become a future captain for Manchester United (and England as well).

7. Xherdan Shaqiri (FC Basel)

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    Xherdan Shaqiri is one of the best Swiss talents to emerge in recent years, and the 19-year-old has already represented his nation quite a few times, impressing in many games.

    The versatile midfielder will be representing FC Basel in the Champions League and will certainly be scouted by a number of major world clubs at the competition.

    Shaqiri, who can play as an attacking midfielder or as a winger, has played from a very young age for both club and country and could prove to be one of the best players in the world in the future.

    He has been linked with various clubs in the past, and when the time is right, it is likely he will move to a bigger club where he can further develop his skills.

6. Wojciech Szczesny (Arsenal)

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    The Arsenal goalkeeper is one of the best young goalkeepers in the world and has established himself as the first-choice goalkeeper at Arsenal.

    The goalkeeping slot has been one of the main problems for Arsenal in the last few seasons, but with the emergence of Szczesny, it looks like that it might be one they might not need to worry about for a long time.

    Szczesny has also established himself as the Poland No.1 and he has shown the excellent mental strength required to be successful. He has shown great reflexes along with good command of his defense, and could help Arsenal win trophies in the near future.

    The Polish international is very confident in his abilities, which is good because it helps him get over the odd error and he looks to be developing with more games under his belt.

5. Thiago Alcantara (FC Barcelona)

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    The Barcelona academy has produced some of the best midfielders in the world, and the Blaugrana's current team consists of a number of world-class players who have graduated from their famed academy, such as Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta.

    The latest in that line to make the grade with the senior team is Thiago Alacantara. Thiago is a player who has made rapid strides in the last year and deserves to have more chances to showcase his ability.

    However, the arrival of Cesc Fabregas could probably limit his playing time, though Pep Guardiola is convinced of Thiago's ability and will give him the opportunity to prove his potential.

    The Barcelona youngster has represented the Spanish U-21s and could soon be a national team regular as well.

4. Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)

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    After breaking into the first team last season, Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere has established himself as one of the best young talents.

    The England international has shown that he has the quality to hold his own against the best and he proved it by performing brilliantly against FC Barcelona last season, where he excelled against a midfield comprising the likes of Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Cesc Fabregas. 

    Wilshere has also established himself as an England national team regular, but has sustained an ankle injury at a bad time for his club—ruling him out for approximately six weeks.

    The versatile midfielder has the quality to be a world-class player in the near future for the Gunners, and should he continue to progress under the tutelage of Arsene Wenger, he could help the club end its trophy drought in the near future.

3. Christian Eriksen (Ajax)

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    The Ajax midfielder has established himself as one of the best young talents in the world and his performances for Denmark and club, Ajax, have been impressive.

    The 19-year-old attacking midfielder is rated very highly and has attracted interest from a number of clubs, though he has opted to stay at least another season at Ajax following their title win last season.

    Eriksen is excellent on the ball technically and his off-ball movement also helps him create space and opportunities for others. The young Danish midfielder has shown that he can score and create many goal-scoring opportunities.

    At a minimum, Ajax will hope to qualify for the Round of 16 phase in the Champions League this season after they were eliminated in the group stages last season due to a tough draw featuring the likes of AC Milan and Real Madrid.

2. Eden Hazard (Lille)

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    Belgian international Eden Hazard was named as the French league player of the season for his 2010-11 season, helping Lille win the league title along the way.

    The tricky Belgian has attracted plenty of interest from other big European clubs, but Lille were able to hold on to the midfielder after losing some important players like Gervinho and Yohan Cabaye in the summer.

    However, a player with huge potential, Hazard has an excellent chance to impress in the Champions League, and is likely to move to a big European club in the near future.

    His playing style has drawn comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo, and should he continue to progress, he could be one of the best in the world in the near future. 

1. Mario Goetze (Borussia Dortmund)

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    Mario Goetze is one of the world's best young talents, and has shown that he can become a world-class player like Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo in the future.

    The Borussia Dortmund youngster has shown he can help deliver trophies and could move to a bigger club in the future.

    Goetze has also represented the German national team and could provide some serious competition for the likes of Mesut Ozil and Thomas Mueller.

    The 19-year-old midfielder has an excellent eye for goal and links up play excellently, while he can also produce difference-making, defense-splitting passes.

    Under the guidance of Jurgen Klopp and Germany manager Joachim Low, he will only continue to improve and could even have a role in the centre of midfield in the future, where he has played in the past.