Just 102 days on since Real Madrid lifted the Champions League for a record 14th time, the competition proper is back as the group stage begins on Tuesday evening.
After Vinicius Jr.’s second-half winner secured glory for Carlo Ancelotti’s side against Liverpool in Paris, Los Blancos head into the competition looking to defend their title.
With the qualifying rounds completed, 32 teams are in eight enthralling groups of four and this year’s competition is expected to provide as much drama and intrigue as ever.
Real Madrid beat Liverpool to lift the Champions League for the 14th time back in May
Karim Benzema, Vinicius, Mohamed Salah and Thibaut Courtois were a selection of elite names who excelled in Europe’s elite competition last season and will be expected to shine again, along with other stars such as Erling Haaland and Robert Lewandowski.
But as the famous anthem is played once again tonight to signal the return of the Champions League, who are the rising stars of European football to look out for in the group stages?
Just three years ago, it was Erling Haaland as the teenager turning heads in the competition’s opening round. Here, Sportsmail takes a look at who could be next…
RB Salzburg wonderkid Benjamin Sesko is one to watch in this year’s competition after a summer in which he was brought to the attention of a much wider audience.
The 19-year-old Slovenian was linked with a whole host of top European clubs including Manchester United and Chelsea but signed for Salzburg’s sister club RB Leipzig, before it was announced he would stay in Austria for this season.
Sesko is 6ft 4ins and has netted 36 senior goals despite only turning 19 in May, while he is also Slovenia’s youngest-ever goalscorer.
Rated as one of Europe’s best young talents, Sesko already has six goal contributions in nine games this year and a breakout season is expected.
Wonderkid Benjamin Sesko was linked with a whole host of top European clubs this summer
Shakhtar Donestk winger Mudryk was heavily linked with a £25m move to Arsenal during the transfer window, while Everton also reportedly failed in their pursuit of the 21-year-old.
A Ukrainian international, Mudryk enjoyed a breakout campaign last season with 10 assists and two goals for Shakhtar, alerting Europe’s top clubs to his undoubted quality and potential.
The winger has been dubbed the ‘Ukrainian Neymar’ and broke into the national team last season, impressing in cameos against Scotland and Wales in the World Cup qualifiers in June.
Shakhtar face a tricky group with games against Real Madrid, RB Leipzig and Celtic, but this year’s competition will be an opportunity for Mudryk to demonstrate his talents to a wider audience.
Shakhtar Donetsk winger Mykhaylo Mudryk enjoyed a breakout campaign last year
Serie A’s new superstar, Kvaratskhelia has taken Italy by storm since his £8.6m move to Napoli from Georgian side Dinamo Batumi.
Nicknamed ‘Kvaradona’, he was awarded Serie A player of the month after three goals and an assist during his first month in Naples.
The attacking midfielder had previously starred in Russia for Rubin Kazan before he returned to his homeland after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Kvaratskhelia has also scored eight goals in 17 games for Georgia and is destined for stardom.
Khvicha Kvaratskhelia won Serie A player of the month after joining from Dinamo Batumi
Another devastating young striker to come through the Red Bull pathway with Salzburg, Adeyemi moved to Borussia Dortmund for £32.5m this summer after shining in Austria.
The 20-year-old German scored 23 goals in all competitions last season and was chased by a plethora of top clubs across Europe this summer.
Adeyemi has already won four caps for Germany, scoring once, and will hope to help fill the huge Erling Haaland-shaped hole at the Westfalenstadion.
Karim Adeyemi will hope to help fill the huge Erling Haaland-shaped hole at Dortmund
Despite AC Milan’s rich history in the Champions League, winning it seven times – the second most in history – they’ve struggled to make an impact on the competition in recent seasons.
However, fresh off of winning the Scudetto last year, they are full of confidence heading into this year’s group stage and the performances of forward Rafael Leao will be key if they are to be successful.
The Portuguese star scored 11 goals and added 10 assists in Serie A last year, and has already been involved in five goals in five games this season.
Chelsea made a move for Leao this summer and with a reported £127m release clause, the forward will be expected to cause a whole host of problems for opposition defenses in this year’s Champions League.
Chelsea made a move for Rafael Leao this summer as the forward continues to excel for Milan
Tchouameni’s £85m move to Real Madrid this summer was one of the standout transfers of the window.
It was expected the French international would be eased in at the Bernabeu, but Casemiro’s £70m departure to Manchester United has meant the midfielder has started the last four games for Carlo Ancelotti’s side.
He has impressed as Real Madrid have a perfect LaLiga record and Tchouameni will hope to continue his fine form to give himself every chance of playing for France at the World Cup this winter.
After impressing in the Europa League for Monaco last season, Tchouameni is expected to have no problem stepping up to Europe’s elite competition.
Aurelien Tchouameni joined Real Madrid from Monaco for £85m this summer
Fabio Miretti has burst onto the scene at Juventus this season after impressing at the Under 19 Euros in the summer
Labeled the ‘Italian De Bruyne’, Miretti has burst into the Juventus first team this season after excelling for Juventus’ youth sides.
The midfielder also impressed for Italy at the Under 19 Euros, scoring in their defeat in the final to England.
He has already made five appearances for Massimo Allegri’s side, after making just seven in the whole of last season, and laid on his first assist against Spezia Calcio last week.
With Paul Pogba in a race to be fit for the World Cup, Miretti is likely to continue to step up in the Frenchman’s absence.
The £69m signing of Osimhen from Lille in 2020 was completed with one eye on the future.
Now 23, the prolific Nigerian forward is ready to be the main after a summer of change for Napoli which has seen long-serving forwards Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne depart.
He has already impressed in his two full seasons in Naples, scoring 30 goals in just 64 games and has two so far this year.
In an intriguing group with Napoli facing Liverpool, Ajax and Rangers, don’t be surprised to see Osimhen score plenty.
Victor Osimhen is ready to be the main man after a summer of change for Napoli
The Brazilian forward smashed in 21 goals last season and was linked with a £55m move to Manchester United not so long ago.
After arriving in Portugal from his native Brazil, he earned his stripes in Porto’s reserve side before excelling last year, as he helped the Portuguese giants to a league and cup double.
Evanilson has made a bright start to the present campaign, scoring twice and his form will be key for Porto, who have a favorable group after being seeded in pot one for the draw.
Brazilian forward Evanilson smashed in 21 goals last season for Porto, and will pose a threat
The 20-year-old Croatian has been highlighted as a talent ever since he was named in The Guardian’s 60 Next Generation European footballers in 2019.
A left-footed center back, Gvardiol excelled in his debut campaign for RB Leipzig and almost moved to Chelsea for £75m this summer, demonstrating how highly he is rated.
He was key as the German side reached the Europa League semi-finals last season before they lost to Rangers.
After signing a new deal with Leipzig until 2027, Gvardiol, who is expected to play for Croatia in the World Cup this winter, looks destined to be another star to progress from the Red Bull stable of clubs.
Josko Gvardiol almost moved to Chelsea for £75m this summer after impressing last season