The Rundown

Seven Champions League debutants to watch

The Rundown

Each year, the Champions League brings together some of football’s biggest names and most exciting talents. Adding an extra layer of excitement and intrigue are those players making their very first appearances in the event's group stages.

From non-European superstars who made their way to the continent, to young talent getting their first crack as a starting player for a qualified club, there happens to be a large number of great players arriving on the big stage for the very first time.

We have picked out seven such players worth keeping an eye on from now until December (and beyond) as the 2013-14 Champions League gets set for take-off:

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1) Neymar, Barcelona

Barcelona’s newly-acquired Brazilian talisman needs no introduction – except for his pending introduction to the European football's premier competition.

The 21-year old could make his debut when 2011 winner Barca begin their campaign at home on Wednesday against Ajax – a world-famous academy club who themselves have given countless top players their first taste of European competition.

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2) Asier Illarramendi, Real Madrid

Bled through the Real Sociedad system from his youth days, the 23-year-old defensive midfielder looked bound to make his CL bow this season for the Basque club after being a key figure in their fourth-placed finish last season.

A €32.2million switch to Real Madrid came in the summer, however, and you can expect his promising partnership in the middle of the park with Luca Modric to feature in a group stage game or two, perhaps starting with Tuesday’s trip to Galatasaray.

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3) Marquinhos, Paris Saint-Germain

Considered to have to potential to join fellow PSG Brazilian Thiago Silva as one of the world’s top centre-backs, the 19-year-old made headlines with a big-money switch from Serie A – as Silva did before him – when he left Roma for around €32million.

With maturity beyond his years, the record-breaking teen is a strong candidate to have a role in the Ligue 1 champions’ away fixture on Tuesday against Olympiacos.

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4) Bernard, Shakhtar Donetsk

At one point the young Brazilian forward looked set to join Arsenal in the summer, but instead the 21-year-old ended up replacing some of the outgoing South American talent at Ukrainian outfit Shakhtar.

Like Neymar, he shined on international duty earlier this month and could be involved when his side head to Spain to begin against Real Sociedad on Tuesday.

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5) Lorenzo Insigne, Napoli

Napoli’s breakout star of 2012-13 is set to take his talents onto the bigger stage under new boss Rafa Benitez, though the Italians begin with a testing tie at home to last season’s runners-up Borussia Dortmund.

For more on what Insigne brings to the table, our Serie A expert James Horncastle documented his rise to prominence last year.

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6) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Borussia Dortmund

In the very same fixture on Wednesday, Dortmund are likely to unleash their free-scoring new recruit on the Napoli defence.

Aubameyang didn’t get the chances at AC Milan, but a number of loan spells at French clubs ended with his last destination – Saint-Etienne – becoming a permanent switch. Now, the Champions League awaits the man who scored a hat-trick on his Bundesliga debut.

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7) Aleksandar Mitrovic, Anderlecht

While the above six are fairly well-known to most and will represent sides this season expecting to progress to the last 16, Anderlecht will be happy not to finish bottom of Group C.

But when the Belgians head to Benfica on Tuesday, keep an eye out for the well-built Serbian striker, who recently scored his very first senior goal against Croatia aged just 18. Can he produce a similar maiden performance in the Champions League?

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