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Five Players to Watch in the Champions League



The Champions League begins tonight with some huge games to kick it off. Who are the top five players to watch out for in Europe’s elite competition?

Julian Draxler (Schalke 04)

In Schalke’s strange 2010/11 season when they limped to a 14th-place finish in the Bundesliga but still reached the Champions League semi-finals, they unearthed a real gem in attacking midfielder Julian Draxler. The then 17-year-old struck a late winner on his debut, remarking afterwards about how he would have to come back down to earth for school the next morning, and even got a taste of European action later in the campaign. The following season Draxler became a first-team regular at the Veltins Arena and his career has been on an upward trajectory since.

He was even considered to have an outside chance of making Germany’s Euro 2012 squad and while he might have missed out on that competition, he was included in Joachim Low’s 23 for this year’s World Cup, returning home in mid-July with a winner’s medal. Draxler’s pace, shooting prowess and ability to play anywhere in midfield makes him a phenomenal young player, one who has grown steadily since breaking into the first team ranks at Schalke. He is what Arsenal and English fans would like Jack Wilshere to be.

Antoine Griezmann (Atlético Madrid)

The French attacking midfielder was Real Sociedad’s outstanding player as they stunned Spanish football to claim fourth in La Liga two seasons ago. He also impressed for the San Sebastian club as they ousted Lyon in the Champions League play-offs to reach the group stage, where they failed to get going. Griezmann continued to draw glances of admiration from some of Europe’s top teams, though, and with Sociedad sliding back to mid-table, it seemed only a matter of time that he would be enticed elsewhere.

After featuring in the World Cup for France, Griezmann was lured to last season’s Champions League runners-up Atlético Madrid, who sought to replace several key figures from the team that lost out to city rivals Real Madrid in Lisbon. A reliable source of goals and a bundle of energy on the flanks, this should be the season when the 23-year-old emphatically announces himself as one of Europe’s best young midfielders.

Jackson Martinez (FC Porto)

Colombia’s excellent World Cup, when they were one of the most exhilarating teams to watch, naturally put several of their players in the shop window, most prominently James Rodriguez, although another striker who had been expected to undergo a big-money transfer stayed put for the time being. Martinez is the chief marksman at FC Porto, the former club of fellow countrymen Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao. There is something about Colombian strikers and the Estadio do Dragao.

Martinez’s game is chiefly about one thing – goals. Lots of them. More than 50 in two and a bit seasons with Porto. His scoring rate in the early weeks of this campaign is more than one per game. These are statistics which make it all the more surprising that he hasn’t been the subject of a substantial transfer fee to one of Europe’s big hitters. Anyone wishing to place a goalscorer bet on a Porto match is bound to have the name Jackson Martinez on their docket, even though the odds are sure to be short.

Radja Nainggolan (AS Roma)

It might seem strange that a 26-year-old defensive midfielder on loan from Cagliari is touted as ‘one to watch’ in the Champions League, but in Nainggolan’s case it is a justified decision. The Belgian has had to take his share of the rough with the smooth, having lost his mother at just 22 and slogging in Serie B with Piacenza for a number of years. He is nothing if not strong-willed, though, and seems to relish having obstacles being put in his path so that he can enjoy the satisfaction of overcoming them.

Nainggolan joined Roma on loan in January and instantly made a name for himself at the Stadio Olimpico. In a team with no shortage of flair players, he was happy to do the dirty work that often goes unappreciated. His commitment quickly endeared himself to the ‘giallorossi’ faithful and he also chipped in with the occasional goal, such as the one he plundered neatly in their season opener against Fiorentina a couple of weeks ago. Man City will soon find out all about this uncompromising yet cultured midfielder.

Son Heung-Min (Bayer Leverkusen)

South Korea haven’t had a genuine goal-poaching threat since the retirement of Ahn Jung-Hwan, but that gap may well be plugged by this young striker. Son went to Germany as a teenager, pitching his tent at Hamburg and emerging into the first team upon entering his adult years. A prolific season with the northern club in 2012/13 persuaded Bayer Leverkusen to part with €10million for his services. He slotted nicely into an attack-minded line-up and netted often enough to make South Korea’s World Cup squad.

The Asians had a hugely disappointing summer in Brazil and returned home to a hail of toffees from their irate supporters, but Son was one of very few Korean players to enhance his reputation at the tournament. While he has stiff competition up front in Stefan Kiessling and new arrival Josip Drmic, new Leverkusen boss Roger Schmidt might find room for all three of them. Even if he chops and changes, Son has probably done enough to justify being his primary go-to option up front.

Which of these five players do you think will have the greatest impact on proceedings in the Champions League this season? Let us know in the comments or on twitter @TBRFootball .


27-year-old Liverpool supporter from Ireland with a keen interest in Irish, English and European football. Been writing about football in either a personal or professional capacity since I was 12.

Atletico Madrid

What is Diego Costa’s Chelsea legacy after three eventful years in the Premier League?

Rob Meech



Diego Costa

Diego Costa’s controversial Chelsea career is finally set to come to an end. According to The Guardian, the Blues have agreed to sell the striker back to his former club, Atletico Madrid, for £57 million, subject to agreeing personal terms and passing a medical. Costa scored 59 goals from 120 appearances in all competitions for Chelsea, winning the Premier League title on two occasions as well as the League Cup.

His uncompromising style won him few friends but there was no denying his influence and suitability to England’s top-flight. Costa’s relationship with Antonio Conte turned sour this summer when it emerged the Chelsea manager had told the Brazilian-born forward via text message that he was no longer in his plans. Costa pushed for a return to Atletico and was ostracised by Conte, who will no doubt be relieved this saga is now resolved.

What is Costa’s legacy at Chelsea?

Regardless of the negative reputation he had among the wider public, Costa was loved by the majority of Chelsea supporters and played a huge part in their domestic success during his spell at the club. Due to its competitiveness, the Premier League is notoriously difficult to win, so for the Blues to have done so twice in three years – under two different managers – is a remarkable feat. Costa’s goals were fundamental to this. Put simply, the Blues would not have been crowned champions without him. He netted 20 times in each of their title-winning campaigns and made life miserable for defenders.

Costa never strayed too far from controversy though and occasionally crossed the line of acceptable conduct. Infamously, he received a three-match ban in January 2015 for stamping. But the 28-year-old was always at his best when playing on the edge. Take that out of his game and he would definitely not be the same player. Jose Mourinho understood this compromise, but Conte found it harder to accommodate. With his high-intensity style, the Italian needed to know he could rely on each and every one of his players. Ultimately, he could not trust Costa to follow his instructions.

How will Chelsea fare without him?

Conte is a ruthless character and once he had made it clear that Costa’s days at Stamford Bridge were numbered, there was never a way back. The high-profile capture of Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid was confirmation, if it were needed, that their relationship was irreparable and Conte had moved on. The biggest compliment that can be paid to the Spaniard, though, is that Conte signed a replacement very much in his image. Costa had taken to the Premier League like a duck to water, and Morata has very similar attributes. He too, has started in blistering fashion and looks tailor-made for the English game.

After their opening-day blip against Burnley, Chelsea have rediscovered their best form and are unbeaten in four Premier League games. On that score, it doesn’t appear that they are missing Costa. No player is bigger than the club and Conte had obviously grown tired of the Spain international’s antics, however entertaining they were for us, the viewers. Financially, the Blues have made an enormous profit on Costa, having signed him for £32 million just over three years ago.

Can Costa rebuild his career at Atletico?

Costa’s public desire to rejoin the club at which he won the La Liga title in 2014, highlights the affiliation he has with the club. He is perfectly suited to Diego Simeone’s brand of football and he will relish linking up with Antoine Griezmann. Atletico of course, remain under a transfer embargo, which means Costa will not be eligible to play for them until January. But once he is, it will surprise nobody if he is back on the goalscoring trail straight away.

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Atletico Madrid

Could Atletico Madrid striker Nicolas Gaitan make a surprise move to Watford to pave the way for Diego Costa’s return?




This is certainly one of the more surprising stories to surface from transfer deadline day but the Hertfordshire Mercury claim that Watford have been offered Atletico Madrid striker Nicolas Gaitan.

It is understood that the Spanish side are looking to clear room for Diego Costa – who is edging closer to an Atletico return according to the Daily Mail – and as such are ready to off-load Gaitan.

The report continues to say that although the La Liga outfit would rather have an up-front loan fee paid in the region of €2 million (£1.8 million) they are happy to add an option to buy in the deal.

What could the Argentine international bring to Vicarage Road?

It’s fair to say that Watford fans didn’t expect this when they woke up this morning. Nicolas Gaitan has been one of the most consistent goal-scorers across Europe in the past seven seasons, bursting on to the scene at Benfica in 2010 after arriving from Argentine side Boca Juniors.

In a six-year spell, spanning over 250 appearances, the 29-year-old found the net 41 times in all competitions and played a massive part in Benfica winning three consecutive Primeira Liga titles.

Despite beginning his footballing career in Argentina as more of a left-sided midfielder he began to develop into a dangerous player further up the pitch in Portugal, often being utilised in the number ten role just behind the striker, but he could easily fit in wherever Watford boss Marco Silva sees fit.

To attract a team like Atletico Madrid you already know that there’s a little bit of flair to his play, comfortable when driving at a static back-four and using his speed and close ball-control for results.

His excellent sense of vision in and around the final third would be an incredibly underrated asset should he join too, and he could spark a very productive partnership indeed with new man Andre Gray.

And although he played second fiddle to Antoine Griezmann and Fernando Torries for most of last season, scoring three times in just 11 starts in La Liga, there’s little doubt he’d impress at Watford.

The Boot Room’s Verdict (1/5)

The arrival of Gaitan really would send Watford supporters into dream land following the summer business done to date, but this is one of those deals that is dependent on something else happening.

And with Costa’s future well and truly in the air, and time ticking away, it doesn’t seem like there’s enough time remaining before the deadline to see both Chelsea and Watford complete their deals.

Gaitan to Watford
Reader Rating1 Vote1.85
Transfer Likelihood
The Boot Room's Verdict
The arrival of Gaitan really would send Watford supporters into dream land following the summer business done to date, but this is one of those deals that is dependent on something else happening. And with Costa’s future well and truly in the air, and time ticking away, it doesn’t seem like there’s enough time remaining before the deadline to see both Chelsea and Watford complete their deals.
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Atletico Madrid

As Atletico close in on Diego Costa, will Chelsea’s Antonio Conte rue his decision?




All decisions have consequences, and football managers in particular live or die by the paths that they choose during the course of their job.

So, with the Mirror reporting that Atletico Madrid are closing in on a £30 million deal for Chelsea outcast and former Los Rojiblancos striker Diego Costa, Antonio Conte will be the latest manager to put himself on the line with a seemingly impulsive leadership decision.

After telling the controversial forward that he was no longer part of the club’s plans by text at the end of last season, one of the summer’s most unsavoury transfer sagas could well be coming to a close.

The question is whether Conte will rue his decision in a season in which Chelsea must compete on both domestic and continental fronts, or unify the squad by removing an occasionally unsettling influence from its midst?

Will Conte return home to Madrid?

The deal itself is an unusual one, as while all parties are motivated to complete the transfer there is no guarantee that Atletico will sign their man before the window closes.

Due to the breakdown of the relationship between player and manager and Costa’s decision to remain in his native Brazil until a deal is concluded, Chelsea are determined to drive a hard bargain and the club’s posturing has hindered talks.

Even with a £30 million compromise in the offing, this is a transfer that is likely to run and run until the final moments of the window.

Atletico’s transfer embargo has also complicated any potential deal, but as The Guardian confirmed in pre-season the club can officially agree terms with Costa if Chelsea accept their bid.

The player would then be eligible to represent the club when the embargo is lifted on January, although Atletico would be keen for Costa to play on loan somewhere else in order to maintain his match fitness. This is unlikely to be a deal-breaker, but it could distract Atletico in their attempts to land the Brazilian-born Spanish striker.

Everton may also be ready to provide a solution, with the club short of established strikers and the Independent reporting that manager Ronald Koeman would be willing to secure his services on a short-term loan. This would certainly add another piece to the jigsaw, helping to smooth any complications and help Costa achieve his dream move back to Madrid.

Will Conte Regret his Actions?

The saga surrounding Costa has been bizarre, with the striker deemed surplus to requirements despite scoring 20 league goals in 35 appearances as the Blues secured the title in Conte’s first season as manager. The issue first emerged last January, when Costa was linked to a move to China amid concerns over his fitness and dedication to the club.

Although a deal did not materialise, this seemed to fracture the relationship between the player and his manager, with the Italian famously discarding his striker by text at the end of last season.

While the relationship is almost certainly beyond repair, the question that remains is whether Conte will rue his conduct towards Costa. Deeming an experienced and proven forward surplus to requirements so soon after the season ended appeared reckless at best, particular with the Blues already short of alternative number -nines.

The subsequent signing of Alvaro Morata has done little to assuage the issue, as Chelsea continue to lack a strong and powerful centre-forward who can retain possession and link play.

Morata’s disappointing display during the 2-1 win against Tottenham at Wembley reaffirmed this, as while the Blues secured an impressive win they were constantly subjected to heavy pressure from Spurs due to their inability to retain the ball. Morata was too easily dominated by Tottenham’s powerful centre-halves, and Chelsea would have greatly benefited from Costa’s presence.

This is a trend that could well be repeated during other away games this season, during which the Blues will need to find alternative ways of playing if they are to be successful.

Time will tell for Conte, but Chelsea need options in attack

On a fundamental level, the Blues need further options and number in attack, particularly as they look to compete in both the Premier League and the Champions League this season.

In this respect, discarding a player who is capable of scoring 20 or more goals each season seems detrimental to the team, regardless of how difficult he can be to manage within the group.

Only time will tell whether Conte made an inspired managerial decision by axing Costa, or simply allowed ego and impulse to weaken his squad at a time when Chelsea are looking to build on last years’ success.

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