Battle of the Soccer Leagues final
And then there were two. With Liga MX and the Premier League falling by the wayside at the semifinal stage, the final is now set: the Bundesliga and Gab Marcotti will take on Julien Laurens and Ligue 1 for the crown of ESPN's Battle of the Soccer Leagues.
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If you've missed any of the tournament, have no fear: Click here to see all the rules, squads, tactics and formations as well as how we pulled this competition together. Catch up here on the tournament so far.
BUNDESLIGA vs. LIGUE 1
There's nothing more to say about this game other than: let the best team win!
WHAT THE MANAGERS SAID PRE-MATCH:
MARCOTTI: So I went way attacking in the last two games — against La Liga and Liga MX — and won both of them, scoring three goals each time. Juls knows this and, I suspect, expects me to suddenly be more balanced/safety conscious. So I hope to surprise him by attacking all out again.
It's the same lineup as before, the only change is Marco Reus back in for Timo Werner and a slightly narrower formation. Neither Werner nor Reus have been great, but I figured Reus deserved another chance after sitting out.
LAURENS: This is it! We are in the final and we are ready for it. We meet again with the Bundesliga XI. We faced them in the group stage and conceded a late draw. I respect their team and their manager Gabriele Marcotti but this is our final, our time. Ligue 1 has been waiting for this for a long time and we won't let it go. I have told my boys to have no regrets and to go for it.
Tactically, nothing changes. Our back three will be perfect to defend against Lewandowski and Haaland. Our two wing-backs, Youcef Atal and Juan Bernat, will take advantage of the spaces ahead of them and the lack of defending from the Germans' winger. We can easily create 2-vs.-1 on each wing in their last 30 yards.
In midfield, there is a change. Houssem Aouar is a very talented young player and he showed it with yet another goal in the semifinal, coming off the bench. This time, he deserves to start. This is a final and it's the biggest game of his career, but I don't think that the pressure will get to him. He will partner Thiago Mendes in midfield. The OL player has been our best player so far in this tournament.
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Up front, I am keeping faith with my usual front three Neymar, Wissam Ben Yedder and Kylian Mbappe. So far, Neymar and Mbappe have been below their best. I have spoken to them and they are highly motivated to be back to their best in this game. Big games belong to big players and they are our biggest players. They will be there and deliver.
Once more, I will also rely on my bench. Our depth has been our strength and I know that Cesc Fabregas, Gelson Martins, Memphis Depay or Tiemoue Bakayoko will be ready to come on and have a big impact on the game.
Gabriele Marcotti's Bundesliga (4-2-2-2): Yann Sommer; Joshua Kimmich, Dayot Upamecano, David Alaba, Jerome Roussillon; Thiago, Kai Havertz; Jadon Sancho, Marco Reus; Robert Lewandowski, Erling Haaland.
Subs: Peter Gulacsi, Denis Zakaria, Axel Witsel, Lukas Klostermann, Timo Werner, Bas Dost, Filip Kostic.
Julien Laurens' Ligue 1 (3-4-3 flat): Stephane Ruffier; Marquinhos, Jason Denayer, Laurent Koscielny; Youcef Atal, Thiago Mendes, Houssem Aouar, Juan Bernat; Kylian Mbappe, Wissam Ben Yedder, Neymar.
Subs: Geronimo Rulli, Cesc Fabregas, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Memphis Depay, Loic Perrin, Florian Thauvin, Gelson Martins.
Bundesliga: Pressure on heavy touch (defense), fast build-up (offense)
Ligue 1: Drop back / allow opponent possession (defense), fast build-up (offense)
Bundesliga vs. Ligue 1 square off in the final, but will Neymar and Kylian Mbappe finally come good?
So there it is! After a wild final, Ligue 1 are the champions of our first Battle of the Soccer Leagues event.
After getting through the entire competition with timely contributions from the fringe members of the squad, the stars shone brightly in the final when Ligue 1 needed it most.
As for the German Bundesliga, their confident approach finally came unstuck as their defense couldn't match the exploits of their high-octane attack all tournament long.
LAURENS: Ha ha ha!!! You cannot defend Marcotti!!! We thrashed your defence and your 4-2-4 formation!!!! Who do you think you are?
We had the perfect game plan, Mbappe and Neymar came big. And we should have scored two more goals at least!!! Thank you for playing though. Just go back to the drawing board. Hopefully, you could improve for the competition next year!!! Ligue 1 best league in the world!!!! Georges Clope, best manager in the world!
MARCOTTI: Well played Juls…. 😪
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