Yash Thakur looks ahead to the upcoming UEFA Women’s Champions League and picks out five youngsters you should keep an eye on.
Tonight marks the opening of what is a historic season for the UEFA Women’s Champions League with the first-ever group stage set to kick off from 17.45 GMT.
This 16-team setup involves debutants Real Madrid, Hoffenheim and HB Køge and will host stars from 11 different countries. It’s the biggest stage in women’s football and a platform for tomorrow’s stars to showcase their abilities.
In this article, I’ll use TransferLab’s tools to have a look at some of the most exciting under 21 players who will be in action in the upcoming UWCL group stages.
Club: Paris Saint-Germain
Sandy Baltimore, the French left winger, completes a deadly Parisian attacking trio along with Kadidiatou Diani and Marie-Antoinette Katoto. Baltimore is the youngest of the three and complements the other two really well, something that led to them scoring 42 league goals between them last season.
On TransferLab’s preset profile for All Round wingers, Baltimore scores highly, a score of 98 putting her among the best wingers in the world:
A standout trait in Baltimore’s game is the ability to cross the ball. A naturally left-footed player, the power and curl on her crosses is inch-perfect more often than not:
Baltimore has brilliant close control and is great at completing take-ons thanks to her low centre of gravity and quick acceleration allowing her to create separation from her markers. She has a great strike on her, making her a threat even from range.
PSG lost some really important players after beating Lyon to the league title last season–some directly to Lyon–but the front three of Baltimore-Katoto-Diani will be central to how PSG fare this year.
Position: LW/ Striker
Melvine Malard led the charge for France in their U19 European Championship victory in 2019, finishing the tournament as the top scorer with 4 goals.
After growing up playing for her home club Saint-Denis, Mallard signed for Lyon in 2014. Following a loan spell at Fleury in 19/20, she made her return to Lyon and is currently heading the attack for the French club with Ada Hegerberg out with injury and Eugénie Le Sommer on loan to OL Reign in the US.
Malard is capable of playing out wide or through the middle. Her biggest strength lies in her ability to receive the ball in dangerous positions. In TransferLab, she is ranked in the 100th percentile for the quality of forward passes received underlining her movements to get into threatening positions.
When playing out on the left, she is capable of taking on players and beating them with her quick change of pace. On top of this, her ability to turn facilitator when out wide with her driven balls, makes her such a complete asset for any attack. She is never static and is always quick to move into space after playing the pass. Her ability to link up by laying off passes and quickly moving into space is great as well.
A Barcelona academy graduate who ended the previous season with 12 league goals, Bruna Vilamala has a knack of scoring goals at will. At Barcelona, ger talent was quickly recognized. She was handed her first-team debut at 17 years and 6 months, making her the 4th youngest debutant ever at the club.
Bruna has a diverse skillset that allows her to fulfill multiple roles across the forward line. In TransferLab’s All Round Striker profile, she has an overall rating of 89, highlighting her well-rounded ability.
Bruna’s movements inside the box are stand out, enabling her to get into good positions and lose her marker with ease. This shows up in her number, picking up 0.72 Expected Goal per 90 minutes from open play, putting her in the top 2 percentile in the Primera Iberdrola.
Bruna’s spatial awareness and her ability to drop deep, pin the backline or drift wide to stretch defences and move in relation to her other teammates is absolutely phenomenal. She is good on the ball, as is typical for most players from La Masia. She also has great close control making her good in tight areas and in 1v1 situations, enabling her to be an effective player from out wide as well.
Athenea del Castillo
Club: Real Madrid
There are players who glue you to your seat and seem pull off something outrageous every time they touch the ball. Athenea del Castillo is exactly that. The Cantabria-born winger was signed by Real Madrid in the summer and has since proven to be every bit as exciting as promised.
Athenea’s biggest strength lies in her dribbling ability. She isn’t just a voluminous dribbler but also a really effective one:
This Player Plot compares under 21 forwards from the English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Swedish and Norwegian leagues. Athenea is in the top right corner in terms of volume and quality of dribbles. She has an incredible change of pace and uses quick feet to escape the tightest of spaces and take on multiple players.
Beyond this, her eye for threading the ball between the legs of opposition players is otherworldly. No matter who you are, Athenea will find you and she will nutmeg you:
Another standout quality in Athenea’s skillset is her ability to carry the ball into dangerous areas. There are few players who can rival her when it comes to progressing the ball. She is tireless driving at defences which makes her a threat at any point in the game. Not only a central threat, she is also excellent at stretching defences horizontally by sticking out wide.
Although her end product can improve, given her age, it’s highly likely it’s going to happen, something which makes Athenea a really exciting prospect for Las Blancas.
Two-time Czech talent of the year in 2017 and 2018, Andrea Stašková is one of the most promising talents in the country.
After finishing the 2018/19 season as the top scorer in the Czech league with Slavia Prague, the 18-year-old was signed up by Juventus in the summer of 2019. Now 21, Stašková has largely been behind Cristiana Girelli in the pecking order but has shown her quality whenever called into action.
In the recently-concluded Euros qualifiers, Czech Republic played Poland and Stašková produced this goal from a set piece:
The minimal run-up and backlift resulting in that amount of power in a freekick is incredible.
Stašková has brilliant hold-up ability, owing to her tall frame, which in turn gives her a significant advantage in aerial duels as well.
A good example for her hold-up ability would be her goal against Fiorentina in the league. Receiving the ball with defenders on her back, she holds off the challenge, turns and slots the ball home:
Juventus find themselves in a tough group against Chelsea and Wolfsburg and having a player who can influence games off the bench or while starting in Stašková will be invaluable for Joe Montemurro’s side.