Last year was a vintage one for football. The World Cup, played in November and December rather than June and July, rounded off an eventful 12 months that also included the Women’s European Championship and a thrilling Champions League campaign.
Attention has now turned to 2023, with several big events to look forward to before the end of the year. In this guide we have picked out the major highlights from right across the world of football.
The decision to move the tournament in Qatar to the northern hemisphere winter was controversial to say the least. It was a break from tradition and necessitated an entire restructuring of the football calendar, with domestic leagues forced to take an unprecedented break in the middle of the campaign.
It was certainly not ideal, but the hassle was justified by a fantastic competition. There were shocks and surprises aplenty, not least in Germany’s elimination in the group stage, while Croatia and Morocco upset the odds to reach the semi-finals.
The highlight, though, was an astonishingly good final between France and Argentina, which the latter won on penalties following a 3-3 draw after extra time. It was a stunning match that will live long in the memories of all those who witnessed it – especially the Argentinians who celebrated their country’s first triumph since 1986 for weeks afterwards.
In the European club game, Real Madrid reigned supreme. They won the Spanish league at a canter as the likes of Barcelona and Atletico Madrid struggled to keep pace, while the Champions League ended up in their hands for a record-extending 14th time.
Madrid frequently confounded expectations in Europe’s principal competition. They beat Paris Saint-Germain in the round of 16 thanks to a remarkable comeback in the second leg, with Karim Benzema notching a hat-trick.
The Blancos then held off a fightback from Chelsea in the quarter-finals, before an even more extraordinary turnaround in the semi-finals saw Carlo Ancelotti’s side knock Manchester City out in dramatic fashion. Vinicius Junior’s goal was enough to bring Madrid a 1-0 victory over Liverpool in the final at the Parc des Princes in Paris.
Liverpool also finished as runners-up in England’s top tier, with Manchester City amassing one more point than Jurgen Klopp’s side to win the title for the fourth time in five years.
AC Milan came out on top in Italy, while Bayern Munich won the German championship for a 10th consecutive year. In France, PSG finished first after missing out on the title in 2021.
Elsewhere on the continent, Eintracht Frankfurt won the Europa League and Roma triumphed in the inaugural edition of the Europa Conference League.
Brazilian club Flamengo won the principal continental competition in South America, while England were the victors at Women’s Euro 2022 on home soil. The Women’s Champions League saw Lyon get the better of Barcelona in the final.
|Number of Teams
|January 1 – May 28
|January 1 – June 4
|January 1 – June 4
|January 1 – June 4
|January 1 – May 27
|Club World Cup
|February 1 – February 11
|February 7 – November 11
|Champions League (knockout stage)
|February 14 – June 10
|Europa League (knockout stage)
|February 16 – May 31
|Europa Conference League (knockout stage)
|February 16 – June 7
|March 7 – October 28
|Nations League Finals
|June 14 – June 18
|June 24 – July 16
|Women’s World Cup
|July 20 – August 20
|Australia and New Zealand
This is the first major trophy up for grabs this year. Morocco were confirmed as hosts by FIFA president Gianni Infantino in November, with the North African nation welcoming seven clubs from across the world to its shores for a relatively short tournament.
Real Madrid, as the reigning European champions, are the strong favourites to claim the prize. But Flamengo, the South American representatives, could push them hard in the final, assuming they get there. Al-Hilal of Saudi Arabia could be ones to watch, while African champions Ah Ahly will be looking to spring a surprise or two.
The Ibn Batouta Stadium in Tangier and the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat will play host to the seven matches, with the latter ground set to host the final on February 11.
As ever, this competition is one of the highlights of the football schedule 2023. The group stage took place before Christmas, and it did not entirely go to script: Barcelona, Juventus and Atletico Madrid were among the teams that were eliminated against expectations.
There are 16 teams still standing, with the knockout phase set to begin in February. In the round of 16 Real Madrid, the defending champions, will take on Liverpool, last season’s runners-up. Elsewhere, PSG (the biggest club in France) and Bayern Munich (the strongest side in Germany) will go head-to-head.
Keep an eye on Napoli given their scintillating form in Italy, while Manchester City are desperate to lift the trophy for the first time in their history.
There was considerable skepticism about this tournament when UEFA unveiled it in 2018, but there is no doubt the event has been a huge success. Meaningless friendlies have been replaced by competitive matches, with teams generally facing opponents at a similar level to themselves.
After the group phase was completed last year, the winners of the League A groups will feature in the Finals this summer. The Netherlands will fancy their chances of triumphing in the four-team competition on home soil, but Croatia will not be easy opponents to overcome in the semi-finals.
The other semi will be contested by Spain and Italy, the winner of which will go through to the final at De Kuip in Rotterdam.
After the best men’s international teams gathered in Qatar in November and December, it will be the turn of the women this summer. Thirty-two teams will be involved in Australia and New Zealand, which is an increase of eight sides compared to the previous edition in 2019.
The United States will begin as the favourites. They have won this tournament four times in total, including in France four years ago. England, the European champions, will also be hoping to go all the way in Oceania.
Other potential contenders for the crown are Germany, Spain, France and Sweden. Morocco, the Philippines, the Republic of Ireland, Vietnam and Zambia will be taking part in the competition for the first time ever.
Brazilian clubs have dominated South America’s premier competition in recent years. Flamengo were the victors in 2022, which means Brazilian sides have lifted the trophy in each of the last four years, and in five of the last six seasons.
Flamengo, who also triumphed in 2019, will hope to go all the way again this term. Palmeiras, the champions in 2020 and 2021, are another team who will have designs on the trophy, while the big two from Argentina, Boca Juniors and River Plate, can never be written off.
Independiente del Valle of Ecuador have overachieved in continental competition in recent years, and they have the potential to shock bigger clubs this year. Nacional will be flying the flag for Uruguay, ditto Olimpia for Paraguay, but it would be a surprise if the winner was not from Brazil or Argentina.
Of all the football leagues 2023, England’s top flight will receive the most attention. At the time of writing Arsenal are in pole position to win the title, as Mikel Arteta seeks to lead the Gunners to glory for the first time since 2004. However, Manchester City have won four of the last five championships and they may yet overhaul Arsenal at the summit of the standings.
Liverpool and Chelsea are the big underachievers, with both teams likely to miss out on the top four. Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur are targeting Champions League qualification, as are surprise packages Newcastle United and Brighton & Hove Albion.
The relegation battle will be worth watching too. Three teams will be demoted to the Championship by the end of May, but no one has been cut adrift at the bottom yet. The fight against the drop promises plenty of drama and intrigue in the months to come.
Barcelona were way off the pace in Spain’s title race last term, but Xavi Hernandez’s men lead the way at the midway point of a season which will finish in June 2023. Real Madrid have been in mediocre form in recent months, and they consequently have ground to make up at the top.
Atletico Madrid have been unable to keep pace with the big two and are instead locked in a battle for a top-four finish, along with the likes of Real Sociedad, Villarreal and Real Betis.
Elche have endured a season to forget and will surely be relegated, while every team currently in the bottom half of the table – including Sevilla, who finished fourth last time out – is still involved in the fight to stay up.
Bayern Munich are by some distance the richest team in Germany, which is the main reason they have won 10 titles on the bounce. Julian Nagelsmann’s men have not had everything their own way this season, though. As things stand, Bayern are top of the division by a narrow margin, with Union Berlin, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig in hot pursuit.
Some of those sides are primarily focused on qualifying for the Champions League rather than winning the title. Wolfsburg, Freiburg and Eintracht Frankfurt could also be in the mix for a top-four finish in 2023.
Two teams will automatically be relegated to the second tier. Schalke are in danger of becoming cut adrift at the bottom, but Hertha Berlin, Bochum and Stuttgart are all struggling too.
Napoli are on fire in Italy’s top division. A team without a title since 1990 and the days of Diego Maradona, the Partenopei have opened up a significant lead at the top of the table. They are playing superb football under Luciano Spalletti, who is seeking the first Italian championship of his managerial career.
It is hard to see any of the chasing pack closing the gap. Indeed, the likes of Inter, AC Milan and Roma have now turned their attention to the race for the top four. Juventus, however, are in the bottom half of the table after a 15-point deduction for financial irregularities.
Three teams will go down to Serie B. Cremonese and Sampdoria are likely to be two of them, while Verona, Spezia and Salernitana are also fighting to stay in the top flight of the Italian game.
PSG are on course to win the title in 2023, although Christophe Galtier’s side have had a mixed start to the year over in France. Theirs is by far the most talented squad in the country, though, and their superior all-round quality is likely to make the difference in the end.
Clubs like Marseille, Lens and Monaco are targeting a top-three finish – unlike in the other leagues mentioned above, fourth place in France does not bring with it a place in the Champions League.
Four teams will be relegated to Ligue 2 this year, as French football prepares to slim down its top division from 20 teams to 18