Top 10 players to watch in UEFA Champions League 2013-14

Posted by Christopher Atkins

Bernard, Gareth Bale and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should star.GettyImagesBernard, Gareth Bale and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should star.

The UEFA Champions League Group Stage commences on Tuesday and, as ever, the competition will throw players from across the globe into the limelight that bathes European football's flagship competition should they succeed in standing out in their respective sides.

The neutrals favourite last season was Shakhtar Donetsk and three of that side, in Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Fernandinho and Willian, have made high-profile moves to the major leagues of Western Europe. Around Europe, each year, there are similar instances of players earning career progression with a standout showing in the Champions League.

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With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the potential stars of this year's competition.

Bernard (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Brazilian attacking midfielder Bernard was linked with a number of Europe's biggest clubs over the summer but eventually moved to Ukrainian champions Shakhtar for the hefty sum of €25 million.

Bernard is a nightmare for defenders to deal with. His seemingly endless energy supplies see him continually hassling opponents in possession, while he possesses excellent close control and electric acceleration when on the ball.

While at Atletico Mineiro, he formed a wonderful partnership in attacking midfield with former World Player of the Year Ronaldinho and will now have to prove he can succeed on his own in European football. Anyone who saw his inspired display for Brazil against Australia in recent days will be fully aware of his potential.

Real Sociedad midfielder Ruben Pardo.
GettyImagesReal Sociedad midfielder Ruben Pardo.

Ruben Pardo (Real Sociedad)
La Real's qualification to the Champions League this season came as something of a shock, given that the Basque team had never really threatened such a feat previously.

It was a success built upon a team of young, talented players in the likes of Asier Illarramendi (now at Real Madrid), Antoine Griezmann, Inigo Martinez and Carlos Vela, the majority of whom have come through the ranks at the club. Illarramendi may since have departed, but he has a ready-made replacement in another home-grown player -- Ruben Pardo.

Now 20, Pardo has been a regular at age level competitions for his country and has begun the season well as part of the Sociedad first XI. An excellent distributor off either foot, he will sit deep in midfield and attempt to run the game for his side. If he can impress against Manchester United, in particular, his star will rise higher still in the coming weeks.

Kolbeinn Sigthorsson (Ajax)
Icelandic forward Sigthorsson hit 15 goals for AZ Alkmaar in the 2010-11 Eredivisie season to earn a move to Dutch giants Ajax but has seen his first two seasons in Amsterdam heavily disrupted by injury.

This year, though, he would appear to be back to some sort of fitness and has begun the new campaign well with three goals in his opening five appearances. Ajax may face a difficult group containing both Barcelona and AC Milan, but they will feel confident that they could down the Italians if they perform to their potential.

Sigthorsson will be supported by Danish starlet Viktor Fischer and Barcelona-owned Bojan in attack but will be expected to take on the bulk of the goal-scoring duties for his side. A fine all-round spearhead to the attack, with excellent finishing abilities, he could well surprise a few people in the coming weeks.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund)
Gabon striker Aubameyang is far from an unknown force, having already excelled for Saint-Etienne over the past two seasons. However, he is now set to face the challenges of the Champions League for the first time.

Arriving at a Dortmund side that moved quickly and efficiently to replace the departing Mario Goetze this summer, Aubameyang has settled quickly into an important role in Klopp's favoured attacking unit -- finding the net three times in his initial four Bundesliga games.

With his incredible straight-line speed and dribbling abilities, he is proving a good alternative to either Jakub Blaszczykowski or Marco Reus in Dortmund's wide attacking roles. Aubameyang, though, is more direct an attacking threat than either player, with his first instinct to look towards goal. He has already added an extra dimension to a very good Dortmund side and could easily become one of the stars of European football this campaign.

FC Basel winger Mohamed Salah.
GettyImagesFC Basel winger Mohamed Salah.

Mohamed Salah (FC Basel)
Egyptian forward Mohamed Salah came to wider prominence at the 2012 London Olympic Games, where he scored three goals to help his country to the quarterfinal stage.

The tricky winger naturally attracts attention both on and off the field and his first season in European football was no exception, with his performances in the latter stages of the Europa League drawing acclaim from all quarters -- particularly for goal-scoring contributions against both Chelsea and Tottenham.

With excellent close control and the ability to beat defenders at pace, he will cause problems in the Champions League. Basel showed last season that they can compete well in continental competition and, in Salah, have a natural showman ready to rise to the occasion.

Juan Fernando Quintero (FC Porto)
A name that will be familiar to regular readers of the Scout's Notebook is Colombian playmaker Quintero, who earlier this summer completed a move from relegated Serie A outfit Pescara to Porto.

A traditional, creative No.10 with a golden left foot, Quintero was the undisputed star of the 2013 South American Youth Championship in which he guided his Colombia side to success. He then followed up that showing at the Under-20 World Cup earlier this summer, by which stage Porto had already swooped for his services.

Quintero scored just a minute into his league debut for his new side, but he has been used as a substitute option thus far in the Primeira Liga. The excellent start of new signing Josue will delay his rise to a starting role, but he will undoubtedly get there sooner rather than later -- hopefully in time to impact on this year's group stage.

Massimo Bruno (Anderlecht)
Belgian right winger Massimo Bruno, 19, burst onto the scene last season alongside fellow teenager Dennis Praet, with the duo hailed as the future of Brussels giants Anderlecht.

While Praet, a classy central playmaker, has had his ups and downs thus far in his early career, Bruno has continually improved over the past 12 months to make himself an essential part of his club's plans.

Playing on the opposite flank to tricky Ghanaian Frank Acheampong, Bruno has begun the current season in fine style -- scoring five goals in six league games from the flank. With the ability to also hog the touchline in the manner of a traditional winger, utilising his excellent crossing skills, he could be key to the Belgian club's chances in what is a difficult group.

Marseille midfielder Gianelli Imbula.
GettyImagesMarseille midfielder Gianelli Imbula.

Gianelli Imbula (Marseille)
Arriving from Guingamp earlier this summer, 20-year-old midfielder Imbula has immediately settled in at his new club to become a key figure in the middle of the park.

The France Under-21 international was voted Ligue 2 Player of the Year last season, attracting attention from across Europe, but it was Marseille who beat off the competition for his signature. Settling in alongside anchor Alaixys Romao in the midfield pivot, Imbula's dynamism will be key to Marseille's hopes of progression.

The signs have been positive. Imbula has been in fine form, distributing the ball well, breaking up attacks and carrying the ball out of midfield. He is a very rounded central midfielder, and one that Marseille have done well to snap up ahead of the crowd.

Gareth Bale (Real Madrid)
With just two spaces remaining in our Top 10, we now arrive at the two players who simply could not be omitted given the interest their presence in the Champions League will generate this season.

Bale will have to get used to the attention that he is now under since joining Real Madrid, with life at the Santiago Bernabeu akin to a circus on occasion. The reported €100 million man, though, will need to do his talking on the pitch, and it is his impact on Real's search for a tenth Champions League that will ultimately decide how he is judged.

The Welshman lining up alongside Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo will be a fearsome prospect for opposition defenders, with both players incredibly quick and powerful when breaking forward. Bale scored 21 league goals last season and performed well for Tottenham in his one previous Champions League campaign. Given his fee, Real Madrid will expect that sort of impact on an immediate basis.

Neymar (Barcelona)
Brazilian forward Neymar has enjoyed a sensational summer, earning the Best Player of the Confederations Cup award, before quickly opening his Barcelona account in the Spanish Super Cup.

The skillful left forward has silenced his doubters for the time being and will now hope to transfer his skills into the Champions League -- the competition that has become the proving ground for modern footballing greats.

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