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Personal Foul Offense: FTRS Champions League, Part 2

The games begin!

Villa Park - Home of Aston Villa Football Club. Photo by VISIONHAUS

Need a primer on FTRSCL? Here’s one!

The first round of FTRS Champions League play kicked off last week, as our three competitors waged mighty war across the sporting battlefields of FIFA 20. Our British commentary crew has the latest from the Bubble (of quarantine, since all of our competitors are sequestered) — here’s River Baxter and Frederick McDonald*.

Thanks, gents! Well, readers: it was a lovely week across the virtual pond for the beautiful game, everyone. When we spoke to the players on media day last time, they seemed excited, ready, and anxious to get things started and prove themselves on the pitch. In this first week, we saw a lot of that excitement turn into offensive aggressiveness, as we saw one of our marks light up the scoreboard for the throngs of fans back home. Our look back at the week that was starts out in Italy, where Akshay and Brescia hosted Stephen and Aston Villa.

Akshay vs Stephen

Brescia (ITA) 0, Aston Villa (ENG) 2

I think we saw an interesting battle play out in the midfield here — Brescia kept up the pressure on Villa’s wingers and defensive line, but the Englishmen held firm in the defensive third, keeping their shape and sussing out Brescia’s attacks as they entered the penalty area. The Brescia high press meant that Villa found it easy to sneak in behind and counterattack and it very nearly cost them early on: in the 18th minute, while sprinting up the left wing while the Brescia defense struggled to find their shape, wingback Matt Targett fired a whizzing cross towards midfielder Douglas Luiz, who had gotten in front of his defender in the middle of the Brescia penalty area. Luiz tried to redirect it into the goalmouth, but the ball pinged off of the outside of the near goalpost. Shame.

But that doesn’t mean Brescia’s high pressure didn’t generate chances for the men in blue — in the 28th minute, after some nice interplay and a flubbed tackle gifted forward Mario Balotelli the ball at the Villa 18, he threaded a pass through enemy lines to find forward Dimitri Bisoli, who quickly fired a shot off towards goal. Villa defender Frederic Guilbert stepped up to block the shot, and then quickly shut down Bisoli’s follow-up, forcing the Italian to cycle the ball back to his midfield. Later, Balotelli found himself with the ball in the left channel and tried to cut outside to sneak a shot just past the near-post, but Villa goalkeeper Pepe Reina just barely got his fingers on it to clear it away.

That final pass and clinic finishing eluded Brescia for most of the day. Villa struck first with a brilliant piece of ball-handling in the 37th minute from forward Mbwana Samatta, who received a pass from midfielder John McGinn centrally, cut to his right, twirled around one defender to make some space, and then fired a heater into the top corner of the net past Brescia goalkeeper Jesse Joronen. A devastating blow dealt here to a Brescia side that had been building and chipping away at the wings of the Villa defense all half to that point.

It didn’t get better for the Italian side from there; barely four minutes later, Samatta snagged his second goal, streaking past Brescia defender Andrea Cistana into the penalty area and getting his head on the end of a looping Jack Grealish cross, putting an exclamation point on what had been an otherwise scrappy and unproductive half for the Villans.

Brescia adjusted their formation at halftime, shifting Balotelli into a target striker role while bringing on midfielder Birkir Bjarnason for Ernesto Torregrossa to play left midfield, looking to really exploit the one-on-one matchups on the wings and give Balotelli more room to maneuver in the center of the pitch. But while the Icelander was able to provide some danger on the left wing, it was all for naught — Villa forced another midfield scrap for the majority of the second half and held on to their two-nil victory in Italy. A disappointing loss for Brescia — one they’ll look back on later in the tournament and wish they had snagged even a point from to show for how they’d created chances, especially early on.

A doubleheader matchday for Stephen ended in Sweden, where Jeff and AIK awaited him and Portuguese club Boavista FC.

Jeff vs Stephen

AIK (SWE) 0, Boavista FC (POR) 4

Despite being at home, the Swedes found themselves undone by a few brilliant moments of magic by their Portuguese guests. Boavista winger Mateus opened the scoring in the ninth minute after dancing past midfielders and narrowly avoiding a late slide from AIK defender Per Karlsson — AIK keeper Helton Leite got hands on two of Mateus’s rebound shots, but couldn’t quite get in front of the third. An early disappointment for the Swedes, especially with a vocal contingent in town supporting the away side — but nothing they couldn’t overcome defensively.

But in the 25th minute, Boavista’s Rafael Costa found himself completely uncovered when receiving a headed ball from midfielder Nwanko Obiora, who had prevented Leite from punching the ball clear of his defensive third. Costa trapped the ball, turned, and fired a left-footed screamer towards goal, his rocket of a shot zooming by Leite’s outstretched arms and doubling the visitors’ lead.

Three minutes later, Obiora added a goal of his own to the Portuguese side’s tally: when receiving a pass from midfield, he found that the AIK backline had dropped back a little bit to protect their keeper. Taking advantage of the situation and the extra space, he took an extra touch forward, cut to his left, and curled the ball perfectly into the top left corner of the net. “They’d given him the space,” Stephen quipped after the match, “why not take that shot?” With his strike, he’d turned a comfortable 2-0 lead into a full-on rout with almost 20 minutes left until the halftime break.

The halftime scoreline didn’t entirely faze the Swedes, who worked the ball around and shored up the defense coming out of halftime as they looked for a way back into the match. But in the 61st minute, some sloppy play in the back cost them another goal and very nearly an ejection: winger Daniel Granli found himself stuck into a late challenge on a streaking Mateus on the left wing and had to thank his lucky stars that he only received a yellow card for his troubles. On the ensuing free kick, Mateus found Costa’s run towards the near post, and Costa toe-poked the ball around two AIK defenders and just past goalkeeper Leite for the fourth and final goal of the contest.

Our final scoreline in Sweden belies a sublime effort from AIK to keep their guests off the scoresheet for the remainder of the match, but the margins in the beautiful game are just so razor-thin that when things go wrong in a tight match like this, they go very wrong.

And finally, we end Matchday 1 in —

What’s that? We lost the match footage for this one? To shreds, you say? They’ve scheduled a replay?

It looks like we’ll have to wait on the final match of this matchday, as it looks like our commentary team has...misplaced the footage from the matchup between Jeff and Akshay. We’ll be back from the Bubble next week with coverage of Matchday 2 from the FTRSCL — back to you in the States, guys.

Before we move on to complete Matchday 1 and start Matchday 2, here’s a look at our league table:

  1. Stephen (2-0-0, 6 pts, +6 GD)
  2. Akshay (0-0-1, 0 pts, -2 GD)
  3. Jeff (0-0-1, 0 pts, -4 GD)

Stephen has seized control of first place with his two wins and +6 goal differential, with Akshay and Jeff following quite a-ways behind. Akshay has a narrow lead over Jeff due to goal differential (-2 to -4, respectively). But Matchday 2 could really shake things up: can one of Jeff and Akshay separate themselves and challenge Stephen for first? Can Stephen match Arsenal’s 2002-03 “Invincibles” side in going undefeated through league play? Tune in next week to find out!

Enjoying our FIFA playthrough? Let us know what matchups you’d like to see and what you’re looking forward to in Matchday two and beyond!