Matchday One of ESPN’s Battle of the Soccer Leagues is in the books. To recap, the Premier League and MLS each picked up wins against Liga MX and Serie A, respectively, while nothing separated Ligue 1 from La Liga or the Bundesliga from the Brazilian Serie A in their draws.
In Matchday Two, Serie A take on Liga MX and the Premier League battle MLS in Group A, and Group B sees the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 square off and La Liga meet the Brasileirao.
These two teams lost their opening game, which puts a ton of pressure on them both to deliver here.
WHAT THE MANAGERS SAID PREMATCH:
BANDINI: Andra tutto bene. Everything will be OK. That’s the message to the players after our setback against MLS. Italian teams start slowly in big competitions, but then come good. It’s what we do.
Cristiano Ronaldo let us down with his penalty miss in our first game — if we get a spot kick this time around, he won’t get to take it — but I messed up, too, ditching the three-man defence this squad was designed for in a greedy effort to squeeze in more forward talent. I won’t make that mistake twice.
At the back, it’s out with Leonardo Bonucci, whose distribution could not make up for that “challenge” on Carlos Vela, and in with the more robust Inter Milan combination of Stefan de Vrij and Milan Skriniar.
Full-back was always a weak spot in the back four, and I feel much happier with Robin Gosens and Manuel Lazzari out wide. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic should give us more drive and direction in midfield, but what we need most of all is a goal. Over to you, Ciro Immobile. Your doubters say that you can thrive only on a smaller stage, that you need things to be just so. I say this is your year.
MARSHALL: Liga MX were robbed in the first game against the Premier League. The tactics were spot-on until a scrappy late goal cost us, following what could best be described as 85 minutes of Mexican domination.
The thinking for this next game is to not change it up too much. Why should we? Serie A lost to a lowly MLS team, so you have to question the opposition’s mindset and whether there is a negative team spirit there. That said, we need to remain respectful of the individual talent Serie A possesses, especially the frontline of Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku.
It’s a similar side this time around for Liga MX. Once again, we’ll look to hit on the break and take full advantage of any set pieces. In come Angel Mena and Brian Lozano for extra penetration down the wings, while Enner Valencia will bring some extra pace up front. At center-back, Bruno Valdez will play alongside Pablo Aguilar. Ronaldo isn’t going to enjoy this one.
Nicky Bandini’s Serie A (3-1-4-2): Samir Handanovic; Milan Skriniar, Stefan de Vrij, Kalidou Koulibaly; Lucas Leiva; Manuel Lazzari, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Miralem Pjanic, Robin Gosens; Ciro Immobile, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Subs: Salvatore Sirigu, Leonardo Bonucci, Aleksandar Kolarov, Blaise Matuidi, Alejandro Gomez, Josip Ilicic, Romelu Lukaku.
Tom Marshall’s Liga MX (4-4-2 holding): Guillermo Ochoa; Miguel Layun, Pablo Aguilar, Bruno Valdez, Leonel Vangioni; Brian Lozano, Guido Pizarro, Rafael Carioca, Angel Mena; Enner Valencia, Andre-Pierre Gignac.
Subs: Javier Orozco, Oscar Murillo, Igor Lichnovsky, Luis Montes, Jonathan Rodriguez, Ventura Alvarado, Rogelio Funes Mori.
Serie A: Pressure on heavy touch (defense), fast buildup (offense)
Liga MX: Drop back and allow opponent possession (defense), fast buildup (offense)
Nicky Bandini’s Serie A XI have their backs against the wall in Matchday 2 vs. Tom Marshall’s Liga MX.
Both sides got off to winning starts in Matchday One. Who will emerge victorious?
WHAT THE MANAGERS SAID PREMATCH:
OGDEN: They say that you should never change a winning team, so who am I to argue with the best managers in the game? Same team, same tactics, same result.
DAVIS: WHY CHANGE WHAT WORKS?!?! We’re on top of the group, hey hey!
Mark Ogden’s Premier League (3-4-3 diamond): Ederson; Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk, Aymeric Laporte; Kevin De Bruyne, N’Golo Kante, Bruno Fernandes, Luke Shaw; Sadio Mane, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mohamed Salah.
Subs: Rui Patricio, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, James Tarkowski, Wilfried Ndidi, Emil Buendia, Bernardo Silva, Jamie Vardy.
Noah Davis’ MLS (3-4-3 flat): Kenneth Vermeer; Walker Zimmerman, Ike Opara, Aaron Long; Sebastian Blanco, Alejandro Pozuelo, Diego Valeri, Yimmi Chara; Cristian Pavon, Josef Martinez, Carlos Vela.
Subs: Eloy Room, Jorge Moreira, Ali Adnan, Jonathan dos Santos, Pedro Santos, Nani, Javier Hernandez.
Premier League: Balanced (defense), balanced (offense)
MLS: Press after losing ball (defense), fast buildup (offense)
Matchday 2 in Group A heats up as Mark Ogden’s Premier League XI take on Noah Davis’ MLS side.
Another heavyweight clash in Group B! Who will emerge with the points?
WHAT THE MANAGERS SAID PREMATCH:
LAURENS: I was very happy with the players’ performance in MD1 against La Liga. We should have won the game instead of drawing 1-1. We created more chances, we were solid defensively, and we controlled Lionel Messi very well.
Now, we have another tough game against the Bundesliga. After watching them in their disappointing draw against the Brasileirao side, I will try to exploit their weaknesses by changing my formation to a 4-3-1-2, with Neymar playing as a No. 10 just behind Kylian Mbappe and Wissam Ben Yedder. The Brazilian will have a free role and play between the Bundesliga’s lines to find some space while our two strikers make runs in behind. I expect more from Mbappé in this game. He was a threat in MD1 but lacked sharpness in front of goal and tried to dribble too much.
We will have more creativity in midfield, with Houssem Aouar starting alongside Tiemoue Bakayoko and Thiago Mendes. The latter pair were excellent against the Spaniards, and Aouar will add more composure on the ball. I expect him to have a great relationship with Neymar and link up well with Neymar and the strikers.
Defensively, there will be no changes. The back five did well in MD1, even if the goal we conceded came from Juan Bernat‘s side. In the new system, Youcef Atal and Bernat will have more opportunities to go forward. They will provide width with Gelson Martins on the bench and Neymar playing as a 10.
MARCOTTI: We had the bulk of the possession and the better chances against the Brazilian league and should have done better. Maybe I was a bit too conservative, so I’m being more aggressive here. With a heavy heart, I’m dropping Niklas Sule for Dayot Upamecano, who can better deal with Ligue 1’s fast forwards. I figure they’ll play on the counter, so I’ve moved Joshua Kimmich to full-back and put Thiago in midfield. They better not let me down.
Julien Laurens’ Ligue 1 (4-3-1-2): Stephane Ruffier; Youcef Atal, Marquinhos, Jason Denayer, Juan Bernat; Tiemoue Bakayoko, Thiago Mendes, Houssem Aouar; Neymar; Wissam Ben Yedder, Kylian Mbappe.
Subs: Benjamin Lecomte, Malang Sarr, Laurent Koscielny, Memphis Depay, Gelson Martins, Cesc Fabregas, Florian Thauvin.
Gabriele Marcotti’s Bundesliga (4-2-3-1 wide): Yann Sommer; Joshua Kimmich, Dayot Upamecano, David Alaba, Jerome Roussillon; Thiago, Axel Witsel; Jadon Sancho, Marco Reus, Timo Werner; Robert Lewandowski.
Subs: Erling Haaland, Kai Havertz, Filip Kostic, Salif Sane, Denis Zakaria, Peter Gulacsi, Bas Dost
Ligue 1: Drop back and allow opponent possession (defense), fast buildup (offense)
Bundesliga: Press after losing ball (defense), balanced (offense)
Kai Havertz saves the day for Gab Marcotti’s Bundesliga XI against Ligue 1 in Matchday 2.
Neither of these sides looked sharp in its opening game, putting plenty of pressure on them here.
WHAT THE MANAGERS SAID PREMATCH:
LOWE: We have a couple of tweaks from the first lineup, with Luka Modric in and Marc Cucurella going in at left-back. Casemiro should give more defensive cover, but the aim remains the same: Dominate the ball, and attack.
HOFMAN: We got a very good result in the first round. Bundesliga has a strong team, La Liga too. We have another big challenge ahead. Our forwards were very important and we’ll need them a lot again, especially Dudu and Everton. Defend and pressure the ball, recover it and attack with good pace. Organization, with and without the ball, and above all, seize the opportunities created. Let’s keep the 4-3-3 and hope for another good match.
Sid Lowe’s La Liga (4-3-3 holding): Jan Oblak; Kieran Trippier, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Marc Cucurella; Luka Modric, Casemiro, Manu Garcia; Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Eden Hazard.
Subs: Inaki Williams, Gareth Bale, Jesus Navas, Santi Cazorla, Saul, Martin Odegaard, Dani Parejo.
Gustavo Hofman’s Brasil (4-3-3 holding): Vanderlei; Dani Alves, Pedro Geromel, Gustavo Gomez, Filipe Luis; Everton Ribeiro, Bruno Henrique, Giorgian de Arrascaeta; Dudu, Gabriel Barbosa, Everton.
Subs: Weverton, Lucas Verissimo, Victor Cuesta, Tche Tche, Edenilson, Carlos Sanchez, Paolo Guerrero.
La Liga: Balanced (defense), possession and slow buildup (offense)
Brasil: Press after losing ball (defense), fast buildup (offense)
Gareth Bale and La Liga XI were taken to task by Gustavo Hofman’s Brasileirao XI in Matchday 2.
LAURENS: It’s another unlucky draw for the Ligue 1 team, but our confidence is still high before the decisive final group game!
MARCOTTI: Unlucky, my ass! It was bad German defending again. How do you not pick up Fabregas and give him an hour to advance into the box? Forget this … I’m changing my whole XI. This is appalling — just one foul committed the whole game. My guys didn’t want it enough.
BANDINI: God, this is turning out worse than Ventura’s Italy. Why did nobody tell me that EA programmed Ronaldo’s likeness onto the skill set of Ali Dia?
LOWE: I’m protesting how clearly fixed this whole thing is. Crooked.
OGDEN: Can you imagine if somebody as anti-video games as me wins this? The scenes …
So there you have it: the second round of fixtures is complete for ESPN’s Battle of the Leagues!
Group A is taking shape nicely: with the Premier League picking up another win, they lead the way on six points, with MLS tied with Liga MX and Serie A all on one point following Nicky Bandini’s side taking a 1-1 result off Tom Marshall’s Mexico select XI. Group B is living up to its reputation as the toughest: a pair of 1-1 draws between La Liga and Brazilian Serie A and the Bundesliga with Ligue 1 means all four teams are on two points heading into the third matchday tomorrow.
Matchday 3, releasing Thursday, sees Noah Davis and MLS look to settle their long-standing rivalry with Tom Marshall and Liga MX. A spot in the semifinals awaits the victor unless Nicky Bandini and Serie A can defeat Mark Ogden’s Premier League XI and take that second spot.
In Group B, all four teams are in with a shot at the knockouts: the Bundesliga (led by Gab Marcotti) face Sid Lowe and La Liga while Julien Laurens’ Ligue 1 side will aim to crack the defenses of Gustavo Hofman and the Brazilian Serie A select XI. With all four teams level on points, the winners in Matchday 3 can look forward to the semifinals while the losers go home.
Visit ESPN FC on Thursday for all the highlights and analysis as we continue Battle of the Leagues!