The 2022 FIFA World Cup kicks off this Sunday, with hosts Qatar taking on Ecuador, and while the entire world will be watching the action unfurl over the next five weeks, the major European clubs will be hard at work to prepare for the second half of the 2022-23 domestic season.
Every big club will have several stars representing their national teams, but for those left behind, a steady schedule of training, tactical work and midseason friendlies awaits.
With that groundwork organised and games arranged, ESPN writers Mark Ogden, James Olley, Rob Dawson, Julien Laurens, Alex Kirkland, Sam Marsden and Constantin Eckner take you through the plans of the top clubs. What do they need to work on during the break? Which players are absent at the World Cup, and which key players are still reporting to work?
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
League position heading into World Cup: 1st (37 points from 14 games.)
Where they’re going: Dubai, then back to London.
What they’re doing: Those not involved in Qatar will be given a break before heading to Dubai for a warm-weather training camp. Arsenal are expected to announce friendlies around Dec. 8 and Dec. 13 against Lyon and AC Milan respectively. A third game will take place a few days later at Emirates Stadium against opponents yet to be finalised before the side return to Premier League action on Dec. 26 against West Ham.
Notable players left behind: MF Martin Odegaard (Norway, failed to qualify), DF Gabriel Magalhaes (Brazil, not selected), DF/MF Oleksandr Zinchenko (Ukraine, failed to qualify), DF Kieran Tierney (Scotland, failed to qualify), MF Mohamed Elneny (Egypt, failed to qualify)
What they need to focus on: Somehow, Arsenal need to figure out how to maintain momentum. They head into the domestic break five points clear at the top of the table after the best start to a domestic campaign in their 135-year history. They did not want a month-long hiatus given the rhythm and focus they have shown to surge clear of Manchester City, while also securing safe passage to the Europa League round of 16.
Arteta has nine players engaged at the World Cup, so over half of his 25-man squad are expected to travel to Dubai where they will look to stay fit and retain the feel-good factor that’s been such a key part of their progress. The manager has spoken about the five weeks having “different phases,” which will be targeted towards peaking on Boxing Day, when the Gunners are back in action. Players will also be given a short break before returning to training.
“The way we’re going to communicate with our players [at the tournament] is going to be very important,” Arteta said last week. “Understanding how they’re feeling, what we’re doing and trying to support them and help the boys if they want anything and be there.” — James Olley.
League position heading into World Cup: 2nd (32 points from 14 games.)
Where they’re going: Abu Dhabi.
What they’re doing: Pep Guardiola won’t have many first-team players with him in Abu Dhabi because the majority of his senior squad are at the World Cup, but the Manchester City manager will use the training camp to take a closer look at some of the club’s young players and begin piecing together a team to face Liverpool in the Carabao Cup fourth round on Dec. 22.
City head to the Middle East on Dec. 5 and will spend a few days training and preparing for what is expected to be a busy second half of the season as they challenge in four competitions.
Notable players going to the World Cup: FW Phil Foden (England), FW Jack Grealish (England), DF John Stones (England), MF Kalvin Phillips (England), DF Kyle Walker (England), GK Ederson (Brazil), DF Manuel Akanji (Switzerland), MF Ilkay Gundogan (Germany), MF Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium), DF Joao Cancelo (Portugal), MF Bernardo Silva (Portugal), DF Ruben Dias (Portugal), DF Nathan Ake (Netherlands), MF Rodri (Spain), DF Aymeric Laporte (Spain), FW Julian Alvarez (Argentina)
What they need to focus on: Guardiola’s priority during the break will be to make sure Haaland is fit and firing when the domestic season resumes, because the Norway striker will be central to City’s bid to overhaul Arsenal at the top of the Premier League and win a first Champions League trophy.
Off the pitch, the club should use the window to sort out Guardiola’s future. He has a contract until the end of the season and City will know that if the season restarts without him signing a new deal, there will be a lot of noise around the situation when the players should be concentrating on collecting as many trophies as possible before May. — Rob Dawson.
League position heading into World Cup: 3rd (30 points from 15 games.)
Where they’re going: Saudi Arabia.
What they’re doing: Eddie Howe’s squad will spend a week in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in December for a warm-weather training break that will also include a friendly game against Al-Hilal, the Saudi Pro League champions, on Dec. 8. The club have also arranged a friendly at St James’ Park against Rayo Vallecano on Dec. 17. Newcastle have just five players on World Cup duty, so Howe will be using the trip as a springboard for the second half of the season as the club attempt to maintain their push for Champions League qualification.
Having made a similar trip to Saudi in January — Newcastle are owned by Saudi Arabia’s largest investment fund — Howe is aiming to repeat the work of that training camp. “The break for the World Cup gives us the opportunity for a mini pre-season ahead of a crucial part of the season,” he told the club website. “Our trip to Jeddah in January was pivotal for us last season. It galvanised the group and the hard work the players put in was rewarded in performances and results on our return.”
Notable players left behind: DF Sven Botman (Netherlands, not selected), MF Joelinton (Brazil, not selected), MF Miguel Almiron (Paraguay, failed to qualify), FW Alexander Isak (Sweden, failed to qualify), FW Allen Saint-Maximin (France, not selected)
What they need to focus on: Wilson’s selection for the England squad gives Howe and his coaches the opportunity to work on a plan for when the former Bournemouth striker is unavailable. The 30-year-old is a proven Premier League goal scorer, but injuries have always restricted his appearances, so the trip to Saudi will enable Howe to work with Chris Wood and €70m club-record signing Isak who is close to fitness following a thigh injury lay-off. — Mark Ogden.
League position heading into World Cup: 4th (29 points from 15 games.)
Where they’re going: Staying in London.
What they’re doing: Antonio Conte was keen on joining a raft of other top clubs in a warm-weather training camp, but Spurs ultimately opted to stay in London after struggling to find a suitable location. The players remaining are expected to play around three behind-closed-doors friendlies against opponents yet to be confirmed publicly.
What they need to focus on: Tottenham must consider the first stage of the campaign a success given they sit fourth in the table with a Champions League round-of-16 tie against AC Milan on the horizon, but it has often felt like a battle of attrition. Spurs conceded the first goal in 12 of their last 15 matches prior to the break, a repetitive pattern of slow starts they must address in the coming weeks. Conte will surely be frustrated that Spurs are one of the few top European sides not to travel overseas during the World Cup, but they can at least benefit from the club’s excellent facilities at Hotspur Way.
A meeting is planned between Conte, chairman Daniel Levy and football managing director Fabio Paratici over the club’s January targets, with the Italian pushing for new signings. Conte’s contract situation may also be reviewed given his existing deal expires at the end of the season, although the club are thought to have an option to extend by a further year. — James Olley.
League position heading into World Cup: 5th (26 points from 14 games.)
Where they’re going: Cadiz, Spain.
What they’re doing: Erik ten Hag is taking his team to southern Spain for a week-long training camp, which will include friendlies against Cadiz and Real Betis. United will give their non-World Cup players some time off before travelling, but the camp in Spain is set to be intense.
United restart their season with a Carabao Cup tie against Burnley in the week following the World Cup final and Ten Hag is expecting to rely heavily on the players who are not part of the tournament in Qatar. There will be some fitness work as well as a tactical focus on Ten Hag’s system, which is still relatively new to the players, but it’s also a chance to further improve their team spirit and togetherness.
Notable players going to the World Cup: FW Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), MF Bruno Fernandes (Portugal), DF Diogo Dalot (Portugal), DF Raphael Varane (France), DF Harry Maguire (England), FW Marcus Rashford (England), DF Luke Shaw (England), MF Casemiro (Brazil), MF Fred (Brazil), FW Antony (Brazil), DF Tyrell Malacia (Netherlands), DF Lisandro Martinez (Argentina), MF Christian Eriksen (Denmark), FW Facundo Pellistri (Uruguay.)
Notable players left behind: GK David de Gea (Spain, not selected), MF Donny van de Beek (Netherlands, not selected), FW Alejandro Garnacho (Argentina, not selected), MF Scott McTominay (Scotland, failed to qualify), FW Anthony Martial (France, not selected), FW Jadon Sancho (England, not selected), DF Victor Lindelof (Sweden, failed to qualify), MF Anthony Elanga (Sweden, failed to qualify.)
What they need to focus on: Ten Hag will be grateful for time with his players — even if it is a small group — after dealing with such a hectic schedule following his appointment, but the Dutchman also has issues to sort out off the pitch. Ronaldo needs to be moved on after his explosive interview during which he said he doesn’t respect the United manager, while the club will also have to decide whether they can find the money to sign a replacement.
The Ronaldo issue is now the most important item on Ten Hag’s to-do list, and he will not want the fallout to continue when the season re-starts in December. — Rob Dawson.
League position heading into World Cup: 6th (22 points from 14 games.)
Where they’re going: Dubai.
What they’re doing: With only seven players on World Cup duty, manager Jurgen Klopp has a sizeable squad to work with during the break, so after a brief rest, Liverpool will head to Dubai in December for a training camp and two friendly games against Lyon and AC Milan. The trip will also be used to help accelerate the rehabilitation of Luis Diaz (knee), Diogo Jota (calf) and Naby Keita (hamstring.)
With Liverpool due to return to action after the World Cup with a Carabao Cup fourth-round clash against Man City at the Etihad in the midweek following the World Cup final on Dec. 18, Klopp is planning to use the Dubai trip to ensure the players not in Qatar are at full fitness.
Notable players going to the World Cup: GK Alisson Becker (Brazil), MF Fabinho (Brazil), DF Ibrahima Konate (France), DF Trent Alexander-Arnold (England), MF Jordan Henderson (England), FW Darwin Nunez (Uruguay), DF Virgil van Dijk (Netherlands.)
Notable players left behind: FW Mohamed Salah (Egypt, failed to qualify), FW Roberto Firmino (Brazil, not selected), FW Luis Diaz (Colombia, failed to qualify), MF Thiago Alcantara (Spain, not selected), FW Diogo Jota (Portugal, injured), DF Joe Gomez (England, not selected), DF Joel Matip (Cameroon, not selected / retired from international duty), DF Andy Robertson (Scotland, failed to qualify), DF Kostas Tsimikas (Greece, failed to qualify.)
What they need to focus on: It’s a pretty simply equation for Liverpool. With so few players heading to the World Cup in comparison to the majority of their rivals for the top six, they need to use the break to recharge their batteries ahead of the second half of the season. But crucially, having had the shortest summer break of any club due to their involvement in the Champions League final and Community Shield, the next six weeks give Klopp and his squad the opportunity to switch off, refresh and re-focus and use this winter break as a delayed summer rest. — Mark Ogden.
USMNT captain Christian Pulisic believes his team can “beat anyone” as the 2022 FIFA World Cup fast approaches.
League position heading into World Cup: 8th (21 points from 14 games.)
Where they’re going: Abu Dhabi, then back to London.
What they’re doing: A holiday will precede a training camp in Abu Dhabi, where Chelsea won the FIFA Club World Cup under Thomas Tuchel in February.
Notable players going to the World Cup: FW Christian Pulisic (USA), DF Thiago Silva (Brazil), MF Kai Havertz (Germany), FW Raheem Sterling (England), MF Mason Mount (England), DF Cesar Azpilicueta (Spain.)
Notable players left behind: MF N’Golo Kante (France, injured/not selected), DF Wesley Fofana (France, injured / not selected), DF Reece James (England (injured/not selected), DF Ben Chilwell (England, injured/not selected), MF Jorginho (Italy, failed to qualify), GK Kepa Arrizabalaga (Spain, injured/not selected), FW Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon, failed to qualify.)
What they need to focus on: Graham Potter has had precious time to work with his players since replacing Tuchel in September. An international break preceded a run of 13 matches across October and early November, so he will be grateful for a chance to pause for breath and begin trying to make a proper mark on his new club. Potter has heavily rotated in terms of tactics and personnel, making the break a chance to clarify his thoughts for the remainder of the campaign.
Chelsea have a number of high-profile absentees at the World Cup and while that is a huge individual disappointment for the players, the Blues could benefit in the second half of the campaign. James is expected to return to fitness from a knee injury in early December while Kepa could also recover from a foot problem, although Kante and Chilwell will be sidelined until next year. — James Olley.
League position heading into World Cup: 1st (37 points from 14 games.)
Where they’re going: Most of Barcelona’s players are going to the World Cup — 16, in fact — so it is difficult for manager Xavi Hernandez to make too many plans. The club are in talks over a couple of friendly matches in December, with ESPN sources confirming a game against Premier League leaders Arsenal in London has been discussed. Barca don’t resume LaLiga action until Dec. 31, against Espanyol, so should have time to fit in some games once players start returning from Qatar and are eased back into training.
What they’re doing: The few Barca players who will not be at the World Cup have been given the rest of November off, more or less. Xavi will spend some time back in Qatar, where he spent six years as a player and a coach, to follow the tournament up close. Young midfielder Pablo Torre, meanwhile, will get some minutes with the B team.
Barca will then begin a mini-preseason at the start of December, with the hope of fitting in two friendlies before LaLiga resumes at the end of the year.
Notable players going to the World Cup: DF Eric Garcia (Spain), DF Jordi Alba (Spain), MF Sergio Busquets (Spain), MF Gavi (Spain), MF Pedri (Spain), FW Ferran Torres (Spain), FW Ansu Fati (Spain), MF Frenkie de Jong (Netherlands), FW Memphis Depay (Netherlands), DF Jules Kounde (France), FW Ousmane Dembele (France), GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Germany), FW Raphinha (Brazil), DF Andreas Christensen (Denmark), FW Robert Lewandowski (Poland), DF Ronald Araujo (Uruguay.)
Notable players left behind: DF Marcos Alonso (Spain, not selected), DF Alejandro Balde (Spain, not selected), DF Hector Bellerin (Spain, not selected), DF Sergi Roberto (Spain, injured), MF Franck Kessie (Ivory Coast, failed to qualify.)
What they need to focus on: Barca are still assimilating Xavi’s ideas and while they are top of LaLiga at the break, their Champions League group-stage exit shows they still have plenty of work to do.
With a hectic schedule pre-World Cup, there has not been much time to do work on the training field, so Barca could benefit from December’s mini-preseason. The summer signings are still adapting and Barca often seem stuck between two ideas: controlling the game with possession or letting it open up a bit to allow players like Dembele and Raphinha to flourish. Unfortunately, with so many players away, Xavi may not get the time he would like to work with the whole squad. — Sam Marsden.
League position heading into World Cup: 2nd (35 points from 14 games.)
Where they’re going: Staying in Madrid.
What they’re doing: Manager Carlo Ancelotti has said the players not involved at the World Cup have been given time off until Dec. 1, when they’ll return to training. That will give them four full weeks to prepare for the return of LaLiga on Dec. 31. The club have looked at the possibility of organising some friendly matches during that time, but nothing has been finalised yet.
As for players representing their countries in Qatar, they’ll be given 10 days’ rest after they return from the tournament, and Ancelotti has admitted that he’s unsure about what kind of team he’ll be able to field in Madrid’s first league game back, away at Valladolid. “We don’t know what is going to happen,” he said last month. “We’re thinking about how to manage the situation … Until the middle of January we’ll have to play with the players who have stayed here.”
Notable players going to the World Cup: GK Thibaut Courtois (Belgium), DF Dani Carvajal (Spain), DF Antonio Rudiger (Germany), DF Eder Militao (Brazil), MF Aurelien Tchouameni (France), MF Eduardo Camavinga (France), MF Luka Modric (Croatia), MF Federico Valverde (Uruguay), MF/FW Marco Asensio (Spain), FW Vinicius Junior (Brazil), FW Rodrygo Goes (Brazil), FW Karim Benzema (France.)
What they need to focus on: Madrid had an underwhelming end to the first part of the season, following a blistering start that saw them go unbeaten in their first 16 games and secure qualification from the Champions League group stage, with a late slump in dropping points against unfancied Girona and Rayo Vallecano. That left them two points behind Barcelona at the top of the LaLiga table, which led to some criticism and introspection, if not a full-blown crisis.
Tiredness played a part there, and this break gives the team a chance to recharge and reset. Ancelotti will be looking to tighten up the defence too, having conceded 14 league goals so far compared to Barca’s five. — Alex Kirkland.
League position heading into World Cup: 5th (24 points from 14 games.)
Where they’re going: Staying in Madrid.
What they’re doing: Atletico played their last pre-World Cup game on Saturday, fielding a strong side in an unconvincing 2-0 win away to lower-league Almazan in the Copa del Rey. Players and staff who aren’t involved in Qatar have been given two weeks off before returning to training on Nov. 28. No friendly matches have been confirmed yet, and the team’s next competitive match will be in the Copa del Rey second round the week before Christmas, ahead of the return of LaLiga.
Training sessions will be notably different from their usual formats given the absence of Atletico’s infamously demanding fitness coach Oscar “Profe” Ortega, who has been given permission to help coach the Uruguay national team in Qatar. Atletico assistant Daniel Castro will be in charge of managing the players’ workload until Ortega returns.
Notable players going to the World Cup: DF Jose Maria Gimenez (Uruguay), DF Nahuel Molina (Argentina), MF Axel Witsel (Belgium), MF Koke (Spain), MF Marcos Llorente (Spain), MF Rodrigo De Paul (Argentina), MF Yannick Carrasco (Belgium), FW Joao Felix (Portugal), FW Antoine Griezmann (France), FW Alvaro Morata (Spain.)
What they need to focus on: Atletico’s season so far has frankly been a mess and Simeone has admitted that the World Cup comes at the right time. “The break will be good for everyone,” he said after their latest embarrassing loss, away at Mallorca last week. The club’s elimination from the Champions League, failing to qualify even for the Europa League after finishing bottom of the group, was arguably the low point of the Simeone era to date.
Atletico’s ambitions this season are now limited to finishing in the LaLiga top four and a possible Copa del Rey run. Simeone will be looking to regain some defensive solidity and decide whether the likes of Cunha, who hasn’t scored this season, should be moved on in January to help balance the books. — Alex Kirkland.
League position heading into World Cup: 1st (34 points from 15 games.)
Where they’re going: Bayern will let the team go on holiday on Dec. 10, start training again on Jan. 3 and will hold a training camp in Qatar between Jan. 6-12 in preparation for the restart of the season on Jan. 20.
What they’re doing: In all, 17 out of 23 first-team players will be at the World Cup. The small group staying in Munich have been granted a week off before they return to the training pitch, where manager Julian Nagelsmann will prepare individual exercises for them.
The Bayern players in Qatar are expected to return to Munich once eliminated from the World Cup unless Nagelsmann gives them additional time to rest, which will be a player-by-player decision. Nagelsmann has called the planning for the winter break “challenging” because of all the uncertainty involved, which might explain why Bayern have not yet released a schedule with any friendlies.
Notable players going to the World Cup: GK Manuel Neuer (Germany), MF Joshua Kimmich (Germany), FW Thomas Muller (Germany), MF Jamal Musiala (Germany), MF/FW Serge Gnabry (Germany), DF Matthijs de Ligt (Netherlands), DF Alphonso Davies (Canada), Sadio Mane (Senegal.)
Notable players left behind: MF Ryan Gravenberch (Netherlands, not selected), Marcel Sabitzer (Austria, failed to qualify), Bouna Sarr (Senegal, injured.)
What they need to focus on: The most important aspect is load management, as so many players are likely to stay in Qatar for a while. Given that Bayern have performed quite well in recent weeks, Nagelsmann does not need to introduce a lot of new tactical elements; instead, they need to work on the finer details that ought to be improved. More importantly, he and his staff have to prepare the team’s fitness and figure out how to make the players peak in April and May, when Bayern could compete in the quarterfinals and potentially semifinals of the Champions League. — Constantin Eckner.
League position heading into World Cup: 6th (25 points from 15 games.)
Where they’re going: Dortmund are touring Asia between Nov. 21 and Dec. 1. In January, they will travel to Marbella in southern Spain for a training camp in preparation for the restart of the season.
What they’re doing: Dortmund will play three friendlies in Asia, with scheduled games against Lion City Sailors (Singapore), the Malaysian side Johor Southern Tigers and the Vietnam national team. These three games won’t have much of a competitive character as the club decided to travel across the world mainly for promotional purposes. The real preparation for the second half of the season starts in January when BVB travel to Spain. There, head coach Edin Terzic and his staff intend to bring the players back to the required fitness level and work on tactical weaknesses.
What they need to focus on: Understandably, the mood within the club was negatively affected by two consecutive losses before the break. Terzic even said that Dortmund will start the second half of the season at “less than zero,” meaning that his team have to catch up to their leading pack in the Bundesliga.
BVB have been struggling at both ends of the field and in all four phases of the game recently. The back line suffers from a lack of communication; the build-up often looks unimaginative; and the undoubtedly talented attacking players are rarely put in situations where they can shine. Bellingham has tried to put the team on his shoulders, but the young midfielder looked tired in recent weeks.
Terzic has the backing of the board and will be given time to gather more experience, but he still needs to show the leadership and tactical skills to improve his team’s performances. Most importantly, he has to find tactical structures with and without the ball that make Dortmund better than the sum of its parts. Individual quality alone won’t be enough to challenge Bayern for the title or even qualify for next year’s Champions League. — Constantin Eckner
FRENCH LIGUE 1
League position heading into World Cup: 1st (41 points from 15 games.)
Where they’re going: Staying in Paris, with no training camp abroad planned.
What they’re doing: The squad is due back at the Camp des Loges training ground between Dec. 5-7. The exact date will depend on each player’s latest activity. Those who didn’t take part in the World Cup will be back earlier, while for others, the date will depend on how far they went in the tournament or if they have just been knocked out.
Manager Christophe Galtier will give the World Cup players a few days off after their country’s elimination. Considering the amount of PSG players going to Qatar, there will be a lot of case-by-case evaluations when it comes to returning to training. There will be a lot of fitness work done as a group at the start, while the individual players gradually returning from the World Cup will do solo fitness work to catch up before joining the group. There will be one or two friendly matches (no opposition or dates have yet been confirmed) before the team’s first competitive game back, which is Dec. 28 or 29 at home against Strasbourg.
Notable players going to the World Cup: FW Kylian Mbappe (France), FW Lionel Messi (Argentina), FW Neymar (Brazil), DF Marquinhos (Brazil), DF Achraf Hakimi (Morocco), MF Vitinha (Portugal), DF Nuno Mendes (Portugal), DF Danilo Pereira (Portugal), GK Keylor Navas (Costa Rica.)
Notable players left behind: DF Presnel Kimpembe (France, withdrew due to injury), DF Sergio Ramos (Spain, not selected), MF Renato Sanches (Portugal, not selected), MF Marco Verratti (Italy, failed to qualify), GK Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy, failed to qualify.)
What they need to focus on: PSG’s second half of the season will be huge. They are not fully clear of the competition in Ligue 1 yet, as Lens are hanging on five points behind them. The big challenge is the Champions League round-of-16 tie against Bayern in mid-February. Galtier will make sure that the fitness work gets his players at their peak for that game, while they will also work on their defensive transitions and finding a better balance.
The club are looking to strengthen the squad in January with the arrival of a centre-back (possibly Milan Skriniar from Inter Milan), a midfielder and a forward (possibly Joao Felix from Atletico Madrid). Money will be available for Galtier and sporting director Luis Campos, and they have time to work out what players will fit best. — Julien Laurens.