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The stars behind the surprising Champions League run

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We’re half way through the 2022/23 Champions League group stage and there have been a few bonkers storylines to follow.

Barcelona and Juventus are facing elimination, while Chelsea and Liverpool are making hard work of things, but nothing is more surprising than the three-for-three start enjoyed by Belgian side Club Brugge.

Drawn in Group B alongside Bayer Leverkusen, Porto and Atletico Madrid, Brugge were most fans’ favourites to finish bottom of the group, but not only have they won all three games so far, they are yet to even concede a goal.

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So, who’s behind all this?

Ferran Jutgla

Jutgla is shining in Belgium / ANP/GettyImages

The star of the show so far has been Spanish forward Ferran Jutgla, whose name may ring a bell because of his nine appearances for Barcelona last season. He even scored on his first La Liga start, opening the scoring in a 3-2 win over Elche in December 2021.

The 23-year-old striker moved to Brugge during the summer for a fee of €5m, with Barcelona also securing a 10% sell-on clause. At the time of writing, he sits atop the team’s scoring charts and has managed both a goal and an assist against both Porto and Atletico.

A natural goal scorer with an immense work rate and a love for drifting out wide, Jutgla has already justified Brugge’s expense and Barcelona will be kicking themselves for failing to secure a bigger sell-on clause.

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Simon Mignolet

Mignolet is back to his best / BSR Agency/GettyImages

Yep, that Simon Mignolet.

Laughed out of Liverpool in 2019, Mignolet is just one of two goalkeepers not to have conceded a goal so far in the Champions League – the other being Manuel Neuer of Bayern Munich. Not bad company to keep.

Now 34, Mignolet is playing some of the best football of his career this season and has definitely played his part in Brugge’s early success.

Kamal Sowah

Sowah has had a tricky few years / BSR Agency/GettyImages

Brought over to Europe by Leicester City in 2018, Ghanaian winger Kamal Sowah has saved his best performances for the Champions League.

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In 31 appearances for Brugge, the 22-year-old has scored just two goals, and both of those have come in this season’s European run as he put one past both Porto and Atletico.

The tricky winger is widely assumed to be on the cusp of a real breakout season after initially struggling to find his feet in Belgium, so Sowah absolutely one to watch for the future.

Hans Vanaken

Vanaken is on West Ham’s radar / BSR Agency/GettyImages

One of the top stars from outside Europe’s major leagues, veteran midfielder Hans Vanaken continues to lead by example at the heart of everything Brugge do.

The 30-year-old, who was wanted by West Ham in the summer, boasts an uncanny ability to find the back of the net from his position. He averages just under one goal every three games, which is outstanding for a midfielder.

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Vanaken signed a new five-year contract in August 2022 and now looks set to end his career with Brugge.

Andreas Skov Olsen, Mitchel Bakker

Skov Olsen is flashing signs of his potential / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

It’s taken Andreas Skov Olsen a little longer than many expected to start shining, but the 22-year-old’s January move from Bologna to Brugge appears to have been the catalyst to get him firing again.

A product of the famed Nordsjaelland academy, Denmark international Skov Olsen is the prototypical modern winger: tall, agile and dangerous when he gets through on goal. During his teenage years, he was seen as a future star but an uncomfortable three years with Bologna saw the hype train slow down.

Now strutting his stuff in Brugge, it feels like just a matter of time before Skov Olsen finds himself on the books of another top European side.

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Raphael Onyedika

Onyedika is a disruptive midfielder / BSR Agency/GettyImages

Defensive midfielder Raphael Onyedika is flying under the radar with his excellent performances.

Brought over from Midtjylland in the summer, Onyedika is a traditional midfield destroyer. The Nigerian thrives on pressing opponents high up the field and overpowering them by brute force, recovering the ball before offloading it to his creative teammates.

The 21-year-old is now flirting with a breakthrough to the Nigerian national team, and if he keeps playing like this, he won’t be long until he’s a permanent fixture.

Abakar Sylla

Sylla has been an inspired signing / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

Brugge have a rich history of producing young defenders and the next man to steal the show is 19-year-old Ivorian Abakar Sylla.

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Reports have suggested Brugge paid just £200,000 to recruit Sylla in 2021 having done nothing but watch highlight videos from the young centre-back, who is in just his second year in Europe but plays with an unreal level of maturity. It looks like he’s been playing Champions League football for years, not weeks.

He’s comfortable on the ball and loves a physical challenge, which will attract plenty of interest from Europe’s big boys in the very near future.



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Monterrey signs midfielder Jordi Cortizo from Puebla

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Rayados de Monterrey have signed midfielder Jordi Cortizo from Club Puebla, ahead of the 2023 Liga MX Clausura. 

He joins the Guadalajara team on a four-season contract, according to Diego Armando Medina of TUDN.

“I have been delighted since the opportunity to come here was given, I always knew that I had to make a leap to these big leagues with one of the biggest clubs in Mexico,” Cortizo said of his transfer. 

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Cortizo kicked off his professional career with Queretaro in 2017, recording four goals in 76 appearances over the course of three years before seeing stints with Tijuana and Puebla. He managed well in Liga MX, but it wasn’t until the 2022 Apertura that he became a standout. 

The offensive midfielder recorded five goals in 20 overall matches to inspire Puebla to eighth on the table and the Liguilla quarterfinals. 

Overall, Cortizo has 12 goals in 149 Liga MX appearances. 

“They are going to see a player who always tries, that will never fail, who will go for the ball, will try to play, propose offensive play, go forward and who will always give himself up for the club. It is my dream to be champion of the Liga MX, there is no better option today than to be sitting here and with this squad to achieve it,” he said.

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Cortizo stands as the first signing under new Monterrey president Jose Antonio Noriega, who replaced Duilio Davino  following the team’s elimination from the 2022 Apertura. Upon his arrival, Noriega insisted he needed to evaluate the team’s needs before making drastic changes. 

But the arrival of Jordi Cortizo will now set off the several moves already planned. 

The 2023 Liga MX Clausura kicks off on January 6.



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Club America sign defender Israel Reyes from Puebla

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Club America has finally signed defender Israel Reyes from Club Puebla.

He stands as the team’s first reinforcement ahead of the 2023 Liga MX Clausura, joining on a four-year contract.  The Mexico City team reportedly paid $4.5M for Reyes, after he established himself as one of the most promising defenders in the Mexican league.

Reyes kicked off his professional career with Atlas in 2019, before quickly securing a loan deal to Puebla. After 19 games with the Franja, the team exercised his purchase option to make Reyes a staple of the backline. 

But it wasn’t until the 2022 Apertura that he became a standout in the Mexican league. The 22-year-old managed three goals in 17 games of the 2022 Apertura, inspiring Puebla to eighth place in the regular season and the Liguilla quarterfinals. 

Overall, he recorded six goals in 76 appearances with Puebla before joining Club America.

Internationally, the player holds one cap with the Mexican national team. He made his debut on December 8, 2021, coming on as a substitute in the 68th minute of a friendly against Chile.

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England vs Senegal: Confirmed lineups

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England vs Senegal: Confirmed lineups

On Sunday, England and Senegal, their opponents in the last-16 of the World Cup, square off at Al Bayt Stadium in a battle for a spot in the quarterfinals.

The Three Lions take on the Lions of Teranga, who advanced to the knockout stages thanks to a crucial intervention from their captain, in a first-ever meeting after Gareth Southgate’s team defeated Wales to win Group B.

Line-up

England XI: Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw; Rice, Henderson, Bellingham; Saka, Foden, Kane.  

Senegal XI: E. Mendy; Sabaly, Koulibaly, Diallo, Jakobs; Ciss, N. Mendy; Diatta, Ndiaye, Sarr; Dia. 

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