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While we’re only in the middle of the play-offs of the UEFA Champions League, there have already been some standout moments of the 2015/16 season. Not only do the play-offs give us our remaining 10 teams, we also get to see the rising stars and fighters of teams throughout Europe.
In Manchester United’s opener against Club Brugge, Memphis Depay impressed so much that club manager, Louis van Gaal, stated that he wanted to kiss him. This was hardly surprising, as not only did the 21-year-old winger score two individual goals, he also set up fellow teammate, Fellaini, with a 94th-minute header to finish the game 3-1.
Another young newcomer to the league, Keita Baldé, made an impression during his team Lazio’s match against Leverkusen, scoring the only goal of the game. Coming off the bench in the second half, the substitute made his Champions League debut with a 77th-minute goal that he described himself as “important for the team and for the fans.” Lazio coach, Stefano Pioli also expressed his admiration of the young player. “All my players need to respond like Keita did tonight. He showed me he’s ready and I’m delighted he scored.” Whether this impressive showing means that Keita will start when Lazio face Leverkusen away on 26th August will be seen on the day.
The 10 winners from the play-offs will go on to join the 22 automatic entrants in the group stage. Due to a change in regulations this season, pot one is formed by the champions of the top seven associations – Spain, England, Germany, Italy, Portugal, France and Russia – plus the Champions League holders, Barcelona. However, as Barcelona also currently hold the Spanish Liga, this will be given to PSV Eindhoven, winners of the Netherlands championship. Unsurprisingly, Barcelona are favourites to win the league. Take advantage of William Hill’s generous Champions League odds, including Barcelona on 3/1 and Bayern Munich and Real Madrid not far behind on 4/1.
The group stage draw will take place on Thursday 27th August, with the first match day on 15th and 16th September. Whether new players like Depay and Keita can hold their own and work with their teammates to get to this point and face the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid remains to be seen.