The UEFA Europa League provides a stage for some of the continent's brightest young stars to showcase their talent. Here Chris Burke picks six of the best who have been turning heads during an absorbing campaign.
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Position Forward | Age 21
A merciless predator in the area, Jović has enjoyed a breakthrough campaign during his second season on loan from Benfica. That was obvious enough when he slotted five goals past Fortuna Düsseldorf in the Bundesliga last October, and the Serb has carried on at a prolific rate ever since – his natural finishing skills earning comparisons with Gerd Müller. “He’s a street footballer and has a nose for goal,” says former Eintracht colleague Kevin-Prince Boateng. “He scores with his head, his right or his left foot. He has technique and a powerful shot with both feet. He just has everything a striker needs.”
Position Midfielder | Age 18
This has been a season of heady feats for Hudson-Odoi. The dynamic, pacy winger ended 2017/18 by appearing in the UEFA Youth League final, but since then he has made history as the youngest player to debut for England in a competitive match. Still only 18, the son of former midfielder Bismark Odoi can also play through the middle, terrifying defenders with his dribbling acumen. “He can become one of the best players in Europe,” says Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri, who has been rewarded for allowing Hudson-Odoi to develop his precocious gifts in the UEFA Europa League. Sadly, injury cut short the youngster's season in April.
BAYER O4 LEVERKUSEN
Position Midfielder | Age 19
A “once-in-a-century talent” according to Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Völler, Havertz has been turning heads since his Bundesliga debut at the age of 17 in 2016. The two-footed midfielder can do it all and is deceptively quick to boot, his broad range of talents bringing him three goals and three assists during the Werkself’s first three UEFA Europa League outings. Havertz cites Mesut Özil as his role model but is fast forging his own reputation. “What he brings in terms of playmaking, technique and mentality is tremendous,” says team-mate Julian Brandt. “He’s so talented and has everything to become a star.”
STADE RENNAIS FC
Position Forward | Age 21
A bright spot for Senegal at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Sarr has built on his encouraging displays in Russia this season, catching the eye during Rennes’ historic run to the UEFA Europa League round of 16. The 21-year-old brought pace, trickery and a hunger for goals from his usual berth out wide, scoring four times, including both in a 2-0 win against Astana, and delivering three assists. “The star of this team is Ismaïla Sarr and no one else,” says the former France defender Willy Sagnol. “He carries the side in an attacking sense. Whether it’s raining, snowing or windy, he’s always effective.”
Position Forward | Age 19
João Félix is the figurehead of an exciting new generation at Benfica, and having helped the club reach the UEFA Youth League final in 2017, he is now making that experience count on the senior stage. The 19-year-old compensates for a slender frame with his technique, vision and devastating passing. He knows where the goal is too, as he proved with a hat-trick in Benfica’s 4-2 quarter-final first-leg win at home to Frankfurt – though ultimately it did not prove enough to take Benfica through. “Let’s take it easy, and let him develop and enjoy himself,” coach Bruno Lage advised. Félix is doing just that.
Position Midfielder | Age 20
Arsenal fans had little idea what to expect when Guendouzi joined from Lorient in the summer, but the frizzy-haired midfielder quickly established himself under new manager Unai Emery. Barely out of his teenage years, the French Under-21 international played with supreme confidence from the start, showing a dogged tenacity in defensive tasks and an impressive passing range to help the Gunners build from the back. “Every training, every match, he shows his ambition and motivation to be an important player,” Emery says. The youngster scored his first goal for the club against Qarabağ in the group stage.