The Europa League is the second biggest club competition on the continent. Launched in 1971, it was known as the UEFA Cup until 2009 when a rebrand gave it its current name. Qualification for the tournament comes via performance in domestic leagues and cups. For instance, the fifth and sixth-place finishers in the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, and Serie A are guaranteed a place in the following season’s edition of the tournament.
Here is our preview of the 2022/23 Europa League campaign. We cover the schedule and key dates, the relatively new format, the favourites to win the competition, players to watch and plenty more.
Schedule and key dates
The 2022 World Cup has been moved from June and July to November and December this year. That is because it is impossible to play football in Qatar in the summer, even with air-conditioned stadiums. The tournament is therefore being held in the European winter, and in the middle of the 2022/23 club campaign.
That has forced UEFA to tinker with its usual Europa League schedule. The group stage is usually held over a three-month period, but it will be squeezed into just two months this time around. The knockout phase of the tournament is unaffected by the World Cup’s unusual position in the footballing calendar.
|STAGE OF COMPETITION||DATES|
|Group Stage Matchday One||8 September 2022|
|Group Stage Matchday Two||15 September 2022|
|Group Stage Matchday Three||6 October 2022|
|Group Stage Matchday Four||13 October 2022|
|Group Stage Matchday Five||27 October 2022|
|Group Stage Matchday Six||3 November 2023|
|Knockout Round Play-Offs||16 & 23 February 2023|
|Round of 16||9 & 16 March 2023|
|Quarter-Finals||13 & 20 April 2023|
|Semi-Finals||11 & 18 May 2023|
|Final||31 May 2023|
Group games to watch
|Fenerbahce vs Dynamo Kyiv||8 September 2022|
|Lazio vs Feyenoord||8 September 2022|
|Manchester United vs Real Sociedad||8 September 2022|
|Arsenal vs PSV||15 September 2022|
|Braga vs Union Berlin||15 September 2022|
|Roma vs Real Betis||6 October 2022|
|Freiburg vs Nantes||6 October 2022|
|Real Betis vs Roma||13 October 2022|
|Nantes vs Freiburg||13 October 2022|
|PSV vs Arsenal||27 October 2022|
|Union Berlin vs Braga||27 October 2022|
|Dynamo Kyiv vs Fenerbahce||3 November 2022|
|Feyenoord vs Lazio||3 November 2022|
|Real Sociedad vs Manchester United||3 November 2022|
History and competition format
The Europa League was launched in 1971, 16 years after UEFA founded the European Cup. That tournament was entered only by the champions of various European leagues, which meant giant clubs across the continent were often not involved in European competition.
If Liverpool, Real Madrid and Borussia Monchengladbach won their respective league titles, there was no route into Europe for Manchester United, Barcelona and Bayern Munich unless they won a cup competition to qualify for the Cup Winners’ Cup.
The Europa League was therefore created to give European football to a wider range of clubs, which was also the motivation behind the launch of the Europa Conference League in 2021.
The inaugural season of the Europa League (or the UEFA Cup as it was known back then) was a straight knockout competition, featuring 63 teams from 31 different UEFA countries.
These days, a group stage comprising 32 teams is held before Christmas. The sides that finish top of the eight groups progress to the round of 16, while the runners-up advance to the knockout round play-offs. They are joined there by the eight teams that finished third in their Champions League groups, and the winners of those eight ties join the Europa League group winners in the round of 16.
It is therefore a distinct possibility that the winners of the Europa League 2022/23 will be competing in the Champions League group stage over the next couple of months.
Favourites to reach the knockout stage
You can find the draw for the group stage below, together with our predictions for which teams will make it through.
Arsenal are looking strong in the Premier League and they should have little trouble finishing top of Group A, with PSV the likeliest candidates to finish as runners-up.
With Dynamo Kyiv forced to play their home games in Poland due to the war in Ukraine, Fenerbahce and Rennes are our tips to make it out of Group B.
Roma won the Europa Conference League under Jose Mourinho last term and will be competing for top spot with Real Betis.
This feels like one of the most open groups in this year’s competition. Union Berlin have had a superb couple of years in Germany, and they could be joined in the next round by the Swedish side Malmo.
It is difficult to look past Manchester United and Real Sociedad making it out of Group E, with the other two teams set to struggle.
Midtjylland have grown accustomed to competing in continental tournaments, but our money is on Lazio and Feyenoord in Group F.
This is another group where all four teams will harbour ambitions of finishing in the top two, but Olympiacos and Freiburg probably have the best chances of doing so.
|Red Star Belgrade||Serbia|
Monaco are the deserved favourites to finish top of Group H, with Red Star Belgrade the likeliest candidates for second.
Favourites to win the tournament
Arsenal have made a blistering start to the new Premier League season, with Mikel Arteta assembling a vibrant side capable of playing excellent football. The Gunners look to be defensively sound, and they boast considerable attacking firepower, but a lack of experience within the ranks could be a disadvantage in crunch matches later in the competition.
Manchester United should not have the same problem, although whether this team is capable of reaching the same heights as Arsenal is up for debate. Erik ten Hag must make his side equal to the sum of its parts if the Red Devils want to go all the way in a competition, they won six seasons ago.
The Italian challenge will be provided by Roma and Lazio, two arch-rivals from the capital. Roma have Jose Mourinho in the dugout and have strengthened their squad impressively over the summer, but do not write off Maurizio Sarri’s Lazio. The former Chelsea boss encourages attacking, entertaining football, so the Biancocelesti will be fun to watch.
Two other contenders worth mentioning are both from Spain: Real Betis and Real Sociedad. The former probably have a better chance of reaching the final, with Manuel Pellegrini having done a fine job since taking charge.
Players to watch
Arsenal have a youthful team brimming with dynamism and enthusiasm, so Oleksandr Zinchenko’s trophy-winning experience will be hugely important if the club is to achieve its objectives this term. The former Manchester City man has played in a Champions League final and will not be fazed by European knockout ties.
Despite spending all summer seeking a move away from Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo remains at Old Trafford. The Portuguese superstar would rather be participating in the Champions League, of course, but the Europa League does at least offer him the opportunity to win a trophy he has never got his hands on before.
Paulo Dybala has rocked up at Roma after Juventus declined to extend his contract at the end of last season. The Argentina international will add further creativity to a team that tasted continental glory in the form of the Europa Conference League in 2021/22, with Jose Mourinho desperate to get his hands on this trophy for the third time, after triumphs with Porto in 2003 and Manchester United in 2017.
Ciro Immobile has an enviable goalscoring record in domestic Italian football, but he has not always been able to transfer his prolific form to the continental or international stage. That is the perception at least: dig a little deeper and it turns out that the Lazio striker averages two goals every three games in European competitions.
Cody Gakpo has been heavily linked with a move away from PSV throughout this summer, but he now looks set to stay at the club for at least another year. A skilful forward with an eye for a goal, he found the back of the net 21 times in all competitions in 2021/22, drawing admiring glances from the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United – two potential rivals for the Europa League trophy.
Wissam Ben Yedder is now 32 years of age, but he is playing the best football of his career. Last season yielded 32 goals for the Monaco frontman, and the principality club will be just as reliant on him this term. Do not bet against the Frenchman being one of the Europa League’s top scorers.
With the caveat that we do not know which eight teams will drop into the competition from the Champions League, we fancy Arsenal’s chances of victory this season. Mikel Arteta has assembled a talented young team at the Emirates Stadium, and the Gunners have what it takes to win only their second ever European trophy, after the Cup Winners’ Cup of 1993/94.