Five underrated players to look out for in the Champions League knockout rounds

Presnel Kimpembe
Presnel Kimpembe

The Champions League Round of 16 promises to live up to expectations with some absolute cracking matches on display.

Everyone will have an eye on the best players in the world, but some of the closer games could well be influenced by players who are not on everyone’s radars.

Here are five players who are not yet internationally acclaimed, but could be hugely important for their clubs:

Presnel Kimpembe: centre back, Paris Saint-Germain

The 22 year old French defender has risen through the academy ranks at Paris Saint-Germain in just over three years. 

Kimpembe is a luxurious, ball-playing central defender that was on the shortlist of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City this January. The Citizens opted for Aymeric Laporte, but they were very keen on the athletically astute Parisian. 

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The Frenchman has been partnered with Brazilian Marquinhos for a large part of the season, causing Thiago Silva to play a peripheral part in PSG’s campaign. It is likely that Silva will feature against Real Madrid, which means it will be a straight fight with Marquinhos to see who is awarded the other starting spot.

What is impressive about Kimpembe is his composure for such a young central defender. It is rare to see a 22 year old command in the manner he does with such elegance, as well as be so assured in his own abilities on the ball.

Kimpembe is a physical player, but it is his deft touches and spatial intelligence that makes him one to keep a close eye on.

Anderson Talisca: Attacking midfield, Besiktas

José Mourinho has been a long time admirer of Brazil’s Talisca, but work permit regulations in England have made it very difficult to acquire the signature of the attacking midfielder.

On-loan from Benfica, Talisca has been plying his trade with Besiktas in Turkey. The Black Eagles have been ever so impressive this season, topping their Champions League group consisting of RB Leipzig, Monaco and FC Porto.

While Brazilians have a reputation of inconsistency on the biggest stages, Talisca is slowly spinning that narrative with some excellent performances in Europe’s top-tier competition. 

This season, Talisca has scored in four of the six Champions League games in the group stages, with two of those goals coming in important away matches. In Turkey’s Super Lig, the Brazilian is second in terms of shots per-game, which is at a staggering 3.9, showing how often he tests the opposition’s goalkeeper. 

In Besiktas’s 4-2-3-1 formation, Talisca plays as the number 10, with the view to dictate play from advanced positions and pose as a major goal scoring threat.

With 14 goals to his name, it is fair to say that Talisca is one of the most prominent goal scoring midfielders in Europe right now, but is still largely unknown. If he impresses against Bayern Munich, there is no reason why he cannot be granted a move to one of Europe’s heavyweights. 

Cengiz Ünder: Winger, Roma

Cengiz Under
Cengiz Under

Like Talisca, Ünder was playing in Turkey last season before making a very courageous move to Italy with Roma. 

While adapting to life in Rome has been a difficult process so far, the Turkish talent has found last season’s form in recent weeks for the Giallorossi.

In Roma’s most recent game against Benevento, Ünder managed to score twice and was hugely impressive throughout. While it was against the worst team in Serie A, the Turkish international has shown great promise and has improved his level of performances.

Ünder might not have featured in the Champions League as of yet, but he has been named on the bench throughout the group stages, and it will be hard for coach Eusebio di Fransesco not to utilise a player who is in red hot form.

As shown against Benevento, one of Ünder’s main strengths is his ability to shoot from anywhere on the pitch. We might have seen less of it this season due to competition for places in Roma’s starting XI, but he has it in his locker and has shown glimpses of what he can do.

The 20 year old might not be starting against Shakhtar Donetsk, but he can cause damage off the bench. Di Fransesco would be wise to bring on the Turkish winger in the final 20 minutes of the game when there is more space available for Ünder to drive into.

Dimitri Oberlin: centre forward, Basel

The Swiss forward is currently on-loan at Basel from RB Salzburg in Austria, and he has more than impressed since making the switch.

Oberlin is likely to be remembered for a goal he scored against Benfica in this season’s Champions League group stages. The game was already sealed, but Basel broke away from the edge of their area with lightening speed, and it was Oberlin’s sheer pace and determination that got him to the other side of the pitch to finish off an incredible counter attack goal.

Against Manchester City, it is likely that Basel are going to pick and choose their moments to attack. They cannot go up against Guardiola’s team man-for-man, and so utilising Oberlin’s pace on the counter could work wonders.

The Swiss U21 international already has four goals and one assists in Europe, suggesting he is a threat from either the bench or starting from the off.

The Citizens are likely to progress, but if Basel can release Oberlin in space, it could become testing at times for Guardiola’s defence. 

Moussa Marega: second striker, Porto

Another centre forward who has been impressive in the past 18 months has been Porto’s Marega.

Last season, Marega found the back of the net 14 times in all competitions, while also recording eight assists. However, he has taken those statistics to a new level this campaign as he is currently on 17 goals in 30 appearances and six assists.

The alarming thing for teams coming up against Porto, just like Liverpool will be doing, is the double-pronged attack of Marega and Vincent Aboubakar.

Marega is not the spearhead of the Portuguese teams’ attack – that’s Aboubakar. The Mali striker usually plays just in-behind in a secondary striker role, or is placed on the right wing.

Between the two forwards, they have scored 43 goals in all competitions – an unbelievable amount given it is only mid-February.

Luckily for Jürgen Klopp’s men, Aboubakar is currently on the sidelines with a muscle injury, but that will not stop Marega’s influence on the game.

The 26 year old was of interest to Crystal Palace over both the summer and January transfer windows, but Porto held strong and kept one of their key players. Marega is an incredibly physical player that is seemingly always in the right place at the right time.

Against a very feeble and disorganised Liverpool defence, Marega’s job will be to isolate his opponent and create space in the pockets for his teammates to attack into. He has upped his level this year, but his biggest test awaits him in Liverpool.

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