The Champions League is upon us again, with the group stages providing the platform for a plethora of football’s brightest stars.
Europe’s heavyweight clubs boast a wealth of household names, though there are more than a handful of hidden gems at teams that represent leagues beyond the established ‘big five’, too.
We used the Twenty3 Toolbox to pick out three stars to watch.
Erling Haaland (Manchester City)
Let’s begin by getting the obvious out of the way: Erling Haaland is very good at football.
Fifteen European leagues are represented in this year’s Champions League – not a single player from any of those divisions can better Haaland for goal contributions (eight), non-penalty shots on target (15), post-shot xG (7.4) or non-penalty post-shot xG (6.53) in league competition prior to the start of the group stages.
His tally of seven goals and one assist in just five Premier League games is remarkable, particularly given he has exceeded his expected goal contribution (6.01) and xG (5.33) tallies in the process.
The reigning champions will be confident of navigating the group stages with ease with the Norwegian goalscoring machine in their ranks – while RB Leipzig, Crvena Zvezda and Young Boys can only hope to emerge from Group G unscathed.
Kevin Diks (Copenhagen)
A perhaps less well-known name is Copenhagen’s Kevin Diks.
The versatile defender can play anywhere across the back line and has primarily featured as a centre-back this term, though he has played at left-back as well.
The 26-year-old is brilliant on the ball and has been crucial to his side’s build-up play in the Danish Superliga this season, helping them sit atop the league standings after eight games.
His heavy involvement is evidenced by his tallies for passes received (485), attempted (604) and completed (572), as well as the number of possessions (348) and sequences (396) he has featured in.
The Dutchman is positive in possession, too, featuring in 212 sequences ending in the final third, attempting 95 final third passes and completing 150 of his 167 forward passes.
Furthermore, Diks has recorded 76 successful defensive actions – particularly important given Copenhagen are up against European giants Bayern Munich and Manchester United in Group A, as well as Turkish champions Galatasaray.
If the Danes are to spring a few surprises in the Champions League this term, they will need Diks performing at his brilliant best both on and off the ball.
Oleksandr Zubkov (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Shakhtar Donetsk may have lost Mykhailo Mudryk to Chelsea in January, but they still possess an electric threat from out wide in the form of Oleksandr Zubkov.
The 27-year-old right-winger has been involved in more sequences ending in a shot (60) in league competition than any player from the 15 European leagues represented in this year’s Champions League.
The Ukrainian’s direct approach in possession has seen him succeed with 45 of his 102 attacking actions, including completing 29 dribbles.
Zubkov has also taken 31 shots in his 514 league minutes, an impressive indication of intent and incision following his regular mazy runs.
Left-backs from Group H opponents Barcelona, Porto and Antwerp will certainly not relish coming up against the relentless wide forward.
All visualisations in this article were produced with the Twenty3 Toolbox. For more information, please get in touch below.