Breakout Stars To Look Out For In Europa League’s Opening Matchday
With the Europa League kicking off on Thursday evening, there will be a host of players looking to leave their mark in Europe’s secondary competition.
Highlighted here are three players of varying ages and abilities who will want to prove they can handle European football.
Ibrahim Salah (Rennes)
At 22 years old, Salah is a relatively late bloomer in terms of young Ligue 1 talents. This should not take anything away from the impact he has had in the final third so far this term.
Although Rennes already have an array of attacking talents, it is Salah who has had the biggest impact this term with three goals from just four substitute appearances, including a late leveller at the weekend against Lille.
Rennes’ opening Europa League game is against a stout Maccabi Haifa side who made the Champions League last season. Having made a great cameo appearance at the weekend, the Morocco international will be disappointed if he does not start here.
With pace and trickery in abundance, Salah could well be an outlet for this Rennes side that already looks like they are missing the drive of Jeremy Doku who left for Manchester City.
Zakaria Aboukhlal (Toulouse)
Remaining in Ligue 1, next up on the list is Aboukhlal who helped Toulouse qualify through an unexpected victory in the Coupe De France.
Having already scored three goals so far in league action, Aboukhlal will be excited to showcase his talent on the European stage for the first time in his career. On Thursday, it will be no easy task though as they take on last season’s quarter-finalists, Union St Gilloise.
Just like Salah, Aboukhlal likes to take on opponents down the wing but he also has the ability to come further inside and link with teammates in central zones.
If Aboukhlal can prove himself in the Europa League and inspire Toulouse out of the group stage then other top European sides may just come calling come summer 2024.
Morten Hjulmand (Sporting Lisbon)
Having arrived for a hefty fee of €18 million this summer from Serie A side Lecce, Hjulmand will have a lot to prove to his new fanbase in Portugal.
A defensive midfielder by trade, Hjulmand likes to break up play and then spring attacks from deep. Although he has undoubted quality, the step up to Europa League-level football could prove tough for the Danish destroyer.
Having captained Lecce for the majority of last season, Sporting CP may have just found another leader to follow on from the influential Sebastian Coates.
With Manuel Ugarte departed for the riches of Paris Saint-Germain, a lot of responsibility will fall on the shoulders of Hjulmand this Thursday as they face an awkward game against Sturm Graz away.