Best U23 XI in the UCL | UEFA Champions League 2019/20
We're set for the opening fixtures of the 2019/20 Champions League this week. Once again, we go through the entire process to weed out the contenders and pretenders. There will be heroes and villains in this story, old guard will carry their teams, and fresh talent will grace the biggest stage for us to feast our eyes on one of football's largest stages.
It was only a couple of years ago that a young Monaco team took the Champions League by storm. Last season Ajax reached the semi-finals of the Champions League buoyed by the young talent in their team. We see some of the most attractive football, sometimes come from the most unexpected sources. However, now, we expect these teams to perform and hold them to a higher standard.
It's the same with some of the younger players who have either moved to bigger clubs and are finding their feet there, or are on the cusp of a big move and still lighting up the big stage with smaller teams. Either way, if you want to be noticed as a promising young player, often the best way to do it is to stand up and be counted on the big stage.
This year's Champions League campaign will feature plenty of young players who'll be vying for attention from the world's audiences. We take a dive into the world of young talent looking to burst onto the UCL stage.
The Unfair XI
The football world is constantly finding new heroes. Now in a technologically connected world, information is even more readily available and simplified. Audiences recognise names and faces not just from watching them on the pitch, but on TVs, in a video game, fantasy football, and so many more platforms. It only means that there is so much more talent recognised at a young age, and so may players to sort through.
Another implication of this is that players often become superstars at ripe young ages, and there's often no turning back for them. There are plenty of those superstars who've established themselves to a certain point already and it would be mildly unfair to judge some of the other talent on-show against them.
If we were to put the most recognisable, and in many ways the best U23 XI of the Champions League forward, it would be this XI.
At the age of 23, Andre Onana is Ajax's rock at the back and will likely continue to play that position at least for the near future. The back four ahead of him would include a World Cup winner Lucas Hernandez (23) at left-back, Champions League winner Trent Alexander-Arnold (20) at right-back, and league champions Andreas Christensen (23) and Matthijs De Ligt (20) as the two centre-backs. Their backups in Jonathan Tah (23), Abdou Diallo (23), Benjamin Pavard (23), and Noussair Mazraoui (21) are no slouches either.
Ahead of them, there's the midfield trio of Frenkie de Jong (22), Fabian Ruiz (23), and Donny van de Beek (22). While de Jong has already made his big-money move, Ruiz and van de Beek seem like they're only guests at Napoli and Ajax. Juventus' Rodrigo Bentancur (22) or Dortmund new boy Julian Brandt (23) could also easily fit into this squad.
The number of options in forward positions is actually a scary and exciting proposition. The starting three of Kylian Mbappe (20), Timo Werner (23), and Jadon Sancho (19) have a tremendous amount of skill and pace among them. Perhaps just about enough to keep the €126 million boy Joao Felix (19) on the bench. He would be in illustrious company alongside USA wunderkind Christian Pulisic (20), Mbappe's national teammate Ousmane Dembele (22), and Ajax's David Neres (22).
Given the calibre of this side, it seems only fair that we leave them out of contention for this U23 XI that focuses on some of the other bright young sparks that could climb up the ladder in this campaign.