Ben Doak, Aleix Garrido and the best-performing wonderkids in the 2022-23 UEFA Youth League

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Ben Doak Liverpool 2022-23
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The winners of Europe's biggest academy tournament will be decided in the coming days - but which stars of the future have shone this season?

Since its advent in 2013, the UEFA Youth League has pitted the best teenage footballers in Europe against one another.

Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joao Felix, Mason Mount and Matthijs de Ligt starred for their respective clubs when coming through the ranks, and more Youth League graduates are making their mark at the elite level each year.

Last season, GOAL picked out some of the best performers from the 2021-22 Youth League, and some of those on that list, including Xavi Simons, Jamie Bynoe-Gittens and Warren Zaire-Emery, have gone onto shine for some of the biggest clubs in European football over the past 12 months.

This season, the four semi-finalists are rather eye-catching, in part because they represent academies of clubs who are not renowned as being European superpowers at senior level.

AC Milan are the outlier in those terms, but they have been joined in the last four by Sporting CP, AZ Alkmaar and Hajduk Split, with the semis set to be played on Friday, before the final takes place on Monday.

So who have been the teenage stars of this season's Youth League campaign, and will they become household names in the coming years?

  1. Jayden Addai (AZ Alkmaar)
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    Jayden Addai (AZ Alkmaar)

    AZ have been a revelation in this season's Youth League, knocking out both Barcelona and Real Madrid with relative ease on their way to the semi-finals, with Addai one third of what has become a fearsome attacking trio.

    The 17-year-old winger, who plays mainly off the right and cuts inside onto his stronger left foot, has used his direct dribbling style and quick feet to score three goals and provide three assists in the competition so far.

    He is yet to break into the first-team picture at the Eredivisie outfit, but expect that to change before 2023 is over.

  2. Victor Barbera (Barcelona)
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    Victor Barbera (Barcelona)

    Barca are not renowned for developing strikers at La Masia, but Barbera looks to be the real deal after a breakout season in 2022-23.

    The 18-year-old scored seven goals in five Youth League games, including a hat-trick against Bayern Munich in the group stage, and has backed that up by netting eight times for Barca Atletic, the club's reserve side who play in the Spanish third tier.

    The bad news for Barca fans, though, is that Barbera is set to leave the club this summer after rejecting the chance to sign a new contract. He is instead poised to join Club Brugge on a free transfer as he goes in search of first-team football.

  3. Carlos Borges (Manchester City)
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    Carlos Borges (Manchester City)

    A star in English youth football, Borges' record since arriving at City from Sporting CP in 2015 is remarkable, and it's clear that the 19-year-old is now too good to be playing alongside his peers.

    Borges' record of four goals and six assists in just six Youth League appearances this season does not look out of place against his overall statistics for the campaign, with the winger having also netted 18 times in Premier League 2 this term.

    A winger who likes to drift inside from the left, Borges is yet to break into City's senior squad, and the likes of West Ham and Southampton are now being linked with him in the hope that the promise of first-team opportunities might be enough to tempt him away from the Etihad Stadium.

  4. Iker Bravo (Real Madrid)
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    Iker Bravo (Real Madrid)

    Once one of the top prospects at Barcelona, Bravo now finds himself at Madrid and is showing why the Blaugrana were so upset to see him leave back in 2021.

    The 18-year-old forward, who actually left Barca to join Bayer Leverkusen before he was loaned to Madrid a year later, only played four times in this season's Youth League, but still managed three goals and three assists, including a spectacular free-kick against Red Bull Salzburg in the last 16.

    It remains to be seen whether Madrid decide to make Bravo's move permanent, but there are reportedly Premier League teams ready to pounce and snap him up if they do not.

  5. Ben Doak (Liverpool)
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    Ben Doak (Liverpool)

    Likened to Wayne Rooney for his aggression and running style, Doak has enjoyed an excellent first season at Liverpool having joined from Celtic in a £600,000 deal last summer.

    Perhaps the highlight of his whole campaign came in the Youth League when he scored a dazzling individual goal against Rangers for one of his four goals in the competition, while the 17-year-old also provided four assists in his eight appearances.

    The winger has gone on to make five first-team appearances for Jurgen Klopp's side, and expect him to be even more involved in the senior set up in 2023-24.

  6. Aleix Garrido (Barcelona)
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    Aleix Garrido (Barcelona)

    In news that will shock no one, Barcelona have developed yet another diminutive midfielder whose passing ability allows him to stand out as an elite talent within one of world football's best academies.

    Garrido, who played a lot of his youth football alongside Gavi, has broken into the Barca first-team squad off the back of his performances in the Youth League, where he was head and shoulders above most others on the pitch as he pulled the strings.

    The 19-year-old provided six assists in as many appearances in the competition, and made his La Liga debut in April as Xavi begins to introduce him into the senior set up.

  7. Ilyes Housni (Paris Saint-Germain)
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    Ilyes Housni (Paris Saint-Germain)

    PSG's attack possesses more talent than most, but they are lacking a natural No.9, and that - along with his immense talent - is why Housni has a chance of making it to the very top at Parc des Princes.

    Ahead of the semi-finals, no player has been directly involved in more Youth League goals this season than the 17-year-old, who scored eight goals and provided three assists in seven appearances before PSG were eliminated in the last 16.

    That form earned him a first-team debut in January, with that coming a few weeks after he signed his first professional contract with the club amid speculation that Barcelona were trying to tempt him to Camp Nou.

  8. Bilal Mazhar (Panathinaikos)
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    Bilal Mazhar (Panathinaikos)

    The current top scorer in this season's Youth League is not involved in the final four - in fact, they only made four appearances in the competition before their team was eliminated.

    That was still enough time, though, for Mazhar to net nine times for Panathinaikos, as he bagged five times against Slavia Sofia in the first round of the Champions Path, before scoring a hat-trick against AS Trencin in the following round.

    An Egypt youth international, he is yet to make his first-team bow for the Greek side, but has clearly shown he has an eye for goal.

  9. Mexx Meerdink (AZ Alkmaar)
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    Mexx Meerdink (AZ Alkmaar)

    The second member of AZ's feared attacking trio, Meerdink is an archetypal modern No.9 who is equally adept at dropping deep to link play as he is deadly in front of goal.

    The 19-year-old has scored seven goals in five Youth League games this season, including a hat-trick against Eintracht Frankfurt in the play-off round and two against Real Madrid in the last 16.

    That form has seen him begin to earn regular minutes in the first team, but he is set to drop back into the Under-19s as they chase the title in Nyon.

  10. Jorge Meireles (Porto)
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    Jorge Meireles (Porto)

    Few players have made the same level of impact on their team in this season's Youth League than Meireles, who dragged Porto to the quarter-finals with his goals and assists.

    Of the 12 goals the Portuguese side managed in the competition, Meireles was directly involved in nine of them.

    A central striker, the 19-year-old is a regular for Porto's B team, and he will be hoping to take the next step to the senior side in the not too distant future.

  11. Adrian Nino (Atletico Madrid)
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    Adrian Nino (Atletico Madrid)

    A winger who can also play centrally, Nino has emerged as a star of the Atletico academy this season thanks to his exploits in the Youth League.

    The 18-year-old netted eight times in as many games for the Spanish side, with the only match he failed to score in their quarter-final defeat at the hands of AC Milan.

    Teams from around Europe, including Atletico's neighbours Real Madrid, are now said to be monitoring Nino's progress in the hope they can prise him away from the Wanda Metropolitano.

  12. Cesar Palacios (Real Madrid)
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    Cesar Palacios (Real Madrid)

    Real Madrid continue to be linked with a move for Jude Bellingham, but if they fail in their pursuit of the England midfielder this summer, then they could do worse than begin easing Palacios into the first-team picture.

    The 19-year-old has been marked out for his ability to get up and down the pitch, while also providing quality on the ball and finishing that helped him score five goals in seven Youth League games this season.

    Though far from the finished product, the former Numancia academy star certainly has the drive to make it at the top level, and the €50 million release clause in his contract suggests that Madrid believe he has the ability too.

  13. Ernest Poku (AZ Alkmaar)
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    Ernest Poku (AZ Alkmaar)

    Perhaps the most exciting of AZ's front three, Poku already has four Eredivisie appearances under his belt from last season, and he continues to impress at youth level.

    Comfortable playing anywhere across the forward line, the 19-year-old has netted five times for the Dutch side in the Youth League this season.

    With sensational ball skills and electric pace, he is almost impossible to stop when he gets up to full speed, making Poku a nightmare to deal with for defenders.

  14. Rodrigo Ribeiro (Sporting CP)
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    Rodrigo Ribeiro (Sporting CP)

    The first 16-year-old to ever play in the knockout rounds of the Champions League after he stepped off the bench against Manchester City in March 2022, Ribeiro continues to show why so many have been tipping him to become an elite forward over the past few years.

    The 17-year-old, who can play as an out-and-out striker or as a deep-lying forward, has scored six goals in eight Youth League games this season, including the winner against Liverpool in the quarter-finals.

    A prolific scorer throughout his academy career, he has continued to earn minutes in the senior side under Ruben Amorim, and it will not be long before he becomes a regular contributor in Lisbon.

  15. Luka Vuskovic (Hajduk Split)

    Despite having only turned 16 in February, Vuskovic is set to be one of the most in-demand defenders in this summer's transfer window, with Manchester City, PSG and Bayern Munich all said to be willing to pay eight-figure sums to sign the Hajduk centre-back.

    He has only played four times in the Croatian side's surprise run to the Youth League semi-finals, and is unlikely to feature in Nyon this week, but he looked a class above when he was on the pitch, despite being younger than the majority of his opponents.

    His absence is due to him becoming a regular starter at first-team level having made his senior debut in the Eternal Derby against Dinamo Zagreb in February. He netted his first goal for the club three days later, making him both the youngest player and goalscorer in Hajduk history.