We’ve reached the nail-biting conclusion of the group stage in ESPN’s Battle of the Leagues, presented by EA Sports FIFA 22, and after bidding farewell to the four eliminated teams after the group stage — LaLiga, Eredivisie, Major League Soccer and Liga MX — we are ready for the semifinals. Mark Ogden’s Premier League take on Gab Marcotti and the Bundesliga, while Kay Murray and her Serie A All-Stars square off against the defending champions, Julien Laurens and Ligue 1.
You can catch up on the tournament rules and format here, then check out below to see the team selections, tactics and prematch chat before watching highlights of the matches and managers’ real-time reactions.
MANAGERS’ PREMATCH BRIEFINGS
Julien Laurens (Ligue 1)
“Now that we’re into the business end of the competition with a place in the final at stake, I will of course bring my “A” game again. The Bundesliga game didn’t matter to us as we had already topped the group, but I was still happy with the team’s performance despite a last-minute defeat. However, for this huge game, I’m going back to my strongest team and tactics. We are reverting to our trademark 4-3-3 formation, and all of our key players are back.
“I have to make a big call this week between Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi. Considering the lack of pace in the Italian defence, I think it would be great to play Mbappe from the start with Messi able to come off the bench if needed. I don’t think this Serie A side is very good — I don’t rate their manager much either, to be fair — so if we are focused and serious, we will go through to the final. We have so much talent in our squad and plenty left to give.
“The best is definitely yet to come from us, and hopefully Serie A will push us a bit so we finally have a bit of competition in this tournament. It has been far too easy for us up to this point, but I have a lot of faith in my players and feel confident we’ll reach our second final in a row.”
Kay Murray (Serie A)
“After having a settled team and formation through the group stage, it’s time to change things up against Ligue 1. We are going with a back five to try to negate the world-class attack that Ligue 1 — aka Paris Saint-Germain — has up front.
“I’m taking advantage of the depth of defensive options available to me in Serie A — what other league would be able to bring a player of Giorgio Chiellini off the bench after reaching the semifinals without him?
“But we should still be able to maintain balance throughout the side to make sure there’s enough firepower in our attack, with Paulo Dybala moving up to join Ciro Immobile in the the front two.”
TEAMS & TACTICS
Ligue 1: 4-3-3 (with holding midfielder), balanced (attack), balanced (defence)
First XI: Anthony Lopes; Hamari Traore, Marquinhos, Jason Denayer, Hassane Kamara; Houssem Aouar, Benjamin Andre, Renato Sanches; Kylian Mbappe, Wissam Ben Yedder, Neymar
Substitutes: Pau Lopez, Youcef Atal, Lionel Messi, Gelson Martins, Boubacar Kamara, Tiago Djalo, Andy Delort
Serie A: 5-2-1-2, balanced (attack), constant pressure (defence)
First XI: Samir Handanovic; Juan Cuadrado, Milan Skriniar, Kalidou Koulibaly, Giorgio Chiellini, Theo Hernandez; Franck Kessie, Nicolo Barella; Sergej Milinkovic-Savic; Paulo Dybala, Ciro Immobile
Substitutes: Mike Maignan, Leonardo Spinazzola, Luis Alberto, Kostas Manolas, Federico Chiesa, Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne.
Wissam Ben Yedder slams home to put Ligue 1 1-0 up vs. Serie A in the Battle of the Leagues semifinal.
MANAGERS’ PREMATCH BRIEFINGS
Gabriele Marcotti (Bundesliga)
“So Erling Haaland is out, and I’m OK with that. I figure it gives me a chance to play two wingers with Robert Lewandowski, supported by attacking wing-backs Raphael Guerreiro and Nordi Mukiele. That’s why I’m switching to a 3-4-3, with Matthias Ginter coming into the back three. I’m slightly uneasy because of Ginter’s pace, but I figure it’s time to take some risks.
“Axel Witsel is back in central midfield and, given that the Premier League feature two central attacking midfielders behind three strikers, I’m hoping that will give me a bit of extra experience.
“Do I miss Haaland? Yes, obviously. But I did feel like too often he and Lewandowski were getting in each other’s way and he was retreating into midfield. Hopefully this slimmed-down system will work. The Premier League’s weakest area, quite clearly, is the full-backs defensively and by playing a winger and wing-back on each side, I’m hoping to exploit that. I can’t wait to face Juls again in the final… “
Mark Ogden (Premier League)
“Having qualified as group winners, albeit a little unconvincingly, it’s time to make some tactical changes for the semifinal. So I’ve bolstered defensive midfield by pairing Kalvin Phillips and N’Golo Kante, and with Cristiano Ronaldo ruled out by injury, I’ve tweaked my attacking options by operating with Harry Kane as a lone striker ahead of Christian Pulisic, Kevin De Bruyne and Sadio Mane.
“With a more solid look to the team and plenty of great attacking options, I’m expecting to win against the Bundesliga.”
TEAMS & TACTICS
Bundesliga: 3-4-3, balanced (attack), balanced (defence)
First XI: Manuel Neuer; Mats Hummels, Edmond Tapsoba, Matthias Ginter; Nordi Mukiele, Joshua Kimmich, Axel Witsel, Raphael Guerreiro; Moussa Diaby, Robert Lewandowski, Filip Kostic.
Substitutes: Andreas Luthe, Angelino, Martin Hinteregger, Denis Zakaria, Serge Gnabry, Christopher Nkunku, Andrej Kramaric.
Premier League: 4-2-3-1, balanced (defence), balanced (attack)
First XI: Edouard Mendy; Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ruben Dias, Virgil van Dijk, Luke Shaw; Kalvin Phillips, N’Golo Kante; Christian Pulisic, Kevin De Bruyne, Sadio Mane; Harry Kane.
Substitutes: Ederson, Kurt Zouma, Bruno Fernandes, Kai Havertz, Jack Grealish, Mohamed Salah, Michail Antonio.
An action packed semifinal between the Premier League and Bundesliga saw three missed penalties.
Ligue 1 1-0 Serie A
Ben Yedder 9′
Premier League 3-2 Bundesliga (after extra time)
Kane 50′ (pen) 80′, Grealish 104′ (missed pens: Salah 113′)
Witsel 54′, Lewandowski 69′ (missed pens: Lewandowski 10′, Kramaric 105′)
Bundesliga 1-1 Major League Soccer
Ligue 1 2-0 LaLiga
Premier League 4-2 Serie A
Liga MX 1-2 Eredivisie
Bundesliga 1-1 LaLiga
Ligue 1 3-1 Major League Soccer
Liga MX 0-1 Serie A
Premier League 1-2 Eredivisie
Bundesliga 2-1 Ligue 1
Major League Soccer 0-2 LaLiga
Serie A 3-1 Eredivisie
Premier League 3-1 Liga MX
Ligue 1 1-0 Serie A
Premier League 3-2 (AET) Bundesliga
GRAND FINAL (NOV. 11)
Ligue 1 vs. Premier League