Five emerging players from the 2019/20 Champions League season
With a 1-0 win over Paris Saint-Germain in this year’s Champions League final, Bayern Munich became the first team in tournament history to win 11 straight games in the competition. While Bavarians set several records en route to the title, the competition also put on some enthralling performances.
That said, we take a look at five players who exceeded expectations and emerged as one of the top performers of this year’s competition.
Dayot Upamecano (RB Leipzig)
“He was a beast from the first to the last minute,” coach Julian Nagelsmann explained in the press conference after defender Dayot Upamecano succeeded in keeping Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa quiet for the entirety of their quarter-final round against the Spanish side.
His performance, however, wasn’t limited to Costa, as he completed his game with a 100 percent tackle rate, won six of his seven duels on the ground, and three of four he had in the air. In eight Champions League appearances this season, Leipzig’s number 5 has averaged 3.1 tackles and 3.4 clearances per game. A vital member for the Leipzig squad under Nagelsmann, Upamecano’s understanding of tricky situations at 21 years of age has attracted comparisons with the former greats like Rio Ferdinand.
The 21-year-old French centre-back has signed a new contract with Leipzig in July, but given the performances he has put in this year’s Champions League, Leipzig are certain to have issues in keeping him at the club.
Houssem Aouar (Lyon)
Lyon’s run till the semi-finals was exhilarating, to say the least. The French side defied odds to eliminate Juventus before causing the upset against Manchester City in the quarter-finals. A defeat against Bayern Munich in the semis was heartwrenching but Lyon showcased what is to come from their relatively young side.
Amongst the lot that made Rudi Garcia proud, a certain Houssem Aouar shone the brightest. A return of a solitary goal and four assists might not sound profound, but the fact that Lyon were majorly dependent on his performance speaks volumes.
At 22, Aouar not only exuded sheer confidence but the tactical side of his game was so spot on that former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand compared him to Samir Nasri. "He has it all. He reminds me of Samir Nasri at times. He’s someone who can be a top player at one of the top clubs in Europe," said Ferdinand.
Serge Gnabry (Bayern Munich)
Serge Gnabry’s rise from being a West Brom reject to a Bayern Munich starter was perfectly documented this season. The former Arsenal winger has finished his season with 23 goals and 12 assists, nine strikes of which came in the Champions League in a mere 10 appearances.
Gnabry was lethal for Bayern since football resumed post-pandemic as he was one of the scorers during his side’s 8-2 rout over Barcelona. He followed that up with a brace over Lyon in the semi-finals. In fact, his numbers against the French side were truly inspiring, having completed the game with 100 percent shot accuracy. He attempted three shots on the night, two of which found the back of the net.
He was relatively quiet in the final against PSG, but that was just a one-off game. Keep in mind that he had scored four against Tottenham early in the tournament.
Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich)
From one Bayern player to another, left-back Alphonso Davies was an unassailable revelation in this year’s UEFA Champions League. The 19-year-old Canadian defender provided three assists in the competition but his contribution was simply much more than that, having attempted more take-ons than any other Bayern player this season.
The first-ever Canadian to win the UEFA Champions League, Davies has enjoyed a great run under Hansi Flick, having started in 35 out of 36 games under the German. Blessed with speed, precision and sheer understanding of the game, Davies’ best Champions League outing came against Chelsea in the first leg of the round-of-16 at Stamford Bridge where he dismantled the entire Chelsea defence with his pace to provide an assist for Robert Lewandowski.
Quick stat: Davies clocked a speed of 36.51 km/h in June 2020, which forced Thomas Muller to name him the roadrunner.
Mario Pasalic (Atalanta)
Attacking midfielder Mario Pasalic, who recently made his Atalanta tenure permanent from Chelsea, has been one of the top performers for his side this season, having scored 12 goals and seven assists in 46 appearances in all competitions. In Champions League, the Croatian has returned with a figure of three goals and a couple of assists, which includes THAT goal against PSG in the quarter-finals.
Gian Piero Gasperini has been applauded for playing free-flowing football at Atalanta and Pasalic has been a vital component of it. Playing alongside former Middlesborough man Marten de Roon and Switzerland rookie Remo Freuler, the 25-year-old has duly delivered what was asked from him. A perfect team player, Pasalic is your typical silent vigilante who delivers when least expected.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Miguel A. Lopez