Season 2 – the return to the top flight
So after the promotion party had finished we all sat down to discuss how the club will more forward and looking towards the season ahead. It also gave us chance to launch the new kits ahead of the season.
We were all in agreement that in order for us to survive we need to strengthen the squad. Unfortunately the club weren’t as understanding with this and gave us a massive transfer budget of €2.5m. I pleaded with them for a smidge more as the squad will be really stretched otherwise, but they declined and promptly told me to concentrate on results rather than finances. So a €2.5m war chest to sign better players, however our wage budget has been increased from €300k to €460k, so we have a bit of play. Hoffenheim offered €3m for Avevor, our super speedy centre half. I plain right laughed at that bid and negotiated €10m for him. He has 17 pace, 23 years old and has a bright future ahead of him, I really didn’t feel it was unreasonable. They came back but my money grabbing board accepted the revised offer of €6.5m, typically he accepted their contract offer in the same day and before I could even think about a replacement he was gone. 6 bloody million €’s for him. What made that deal even sweeter is that the bloody board once again have screwed me. Out of that €6m, I get a massive €1m extra to spend on a replacement, so all in all I have €3.5m to spend on my squad to try and attempt to avoid dropping straight back down again.
So as you can see we have brought in a 13 players and 7 of them are on loan, this is purely down to not having enough funds to bolster the squad. In terms of outgoings it has mainly been a handful of 2 nd team players who wanted stupid money that have left. Apart from that 3 main squad players left, Avevor as I mentioned earlier, as well as Bodzek and Koch. This provided me with just a little extra to spend. Not much though by any stretch. I won’t go into detail all my signings as it will get very dull and be the death by screenshots, but I will just mention the ones that I thought were a good deal and how they have got on.
Helmke has been a pivotal part of the team since arriving, he has bags of experience and at €400k, the 29 year old has been a bit of a bargain. He hasn’t completely dominated but his return has been very pleasing, a very decent average rating of 7.32, with 6 goals and 2 assists to his name.
Now Bader has probably been the signing that I have been most pleased with, as the €2.3m transfer fee shows. The 18 year old really caught my eye last season whilst playing against him at Karlsruhe. His attributes look great and at such a young age he is bound to improve. My scouts and coaching staff all believe he has the potential to be a 4.5 star defender. He was initially brought in as back up the Schauerte but has kept the experienced right back out of the side. Every few weeks I keep getting messages from my coaching staff that he is excelling in training and his attributes are on the up. Very happy with Bader, will have to try and tie him down to long tern deal.
My other signings have all played their part so far and are continuing to cause problems with selection which is always a good position to be in. Younes and Horn are youngsters who look pretty decent and have mostly played as back up. Holtmann and Marin were brought in to strengthen the side in wide areas, disappointingly Marin hasn’t been as effective as I would have like him to be. Rani Khedira, the younger brother of Sami, brought in on loan, looks like he could become a similar player to his brother, once again adding strength and steel in the midfield. Yannick Stark similar to Khedira and only costing €100k. Felix Schroter has been my main goal scoring threat, playing in the pivotal shadow striker role, picking up 8 goals so far. Uphoff and Schafer are both young centre backs that I like the look of. Avevor was transfer listed by Hoffenheim due to lack of first team football so my diamond in the rough has returned for the second half of the season to add that bit of pace back to the back line. I will be keeping a close eye on him and hope to snap him back for a fraction of the €6m my board let him go for.
So how have we got on?
The expectations of the board are to attempt to avoid the automatic relegation places, as highlighted just after promotion and when the board announced our transfer budget, this was going to be a very hard task. Safe to say things have gone exactly how it was predicted. We have struggled, and when I say struggle, oh how I mean it. The most encouraging thing is that 9 out of 10 games we are putting up a fight and competing against the much more superior sides in the Bundesliga. Even more pleasing is that we are scoring goals, not specifically from one player, but as a team.
We started off the campaign with the 1 st round DFB-Pokal tie away to Eltersdorf from the 4 th tier. As expected we came away 3-0 winners which was a great moral boost going into what would be a tough season. Our opening game in the Bundesliga was in the Rhein derby away to Gladbach, we played pretty well and overall I was happy with the performance, but to be denied a point from a late goal was a blow and we lost the game 2-1. I told the lads not to be to downhearted, on another day we could have won with that kind of performance. Another similar story in our next fixture at home to Stuttgart, this time it wasn’t a late goal that denied us just a few breaks as we tried to push on. We lost the game 3-1, the positive here is we have scored in both games. A nice international break gives our players a rest and a chance to concentrate on training, focusing on defensive positions and set pieces. We return from the break with a home tie against Hamburg, the rest and training has paid off here and a run out 2-0 winners. Thank god, our first win in our return to the Bundesliga. Honestly I didn’t know when it was going to come, I’m just glad it only took 3 games to get it as opposed to say 10 or more. A massive weight off of our shoulders and a clean sheet too, something to build upon.
How I was so very, very mistaken. Our next 4 games saw us take on Bayern, Schalke, Koln and Wolfsburg, which we lost all 4 games, cementing ourselves at the foot of the table. We lost 1-0 to Koln which is the first time we have been unable to find the net. All the rest we lost 3-1, which isn’t great although we scored against 3 big clubs, so still a small positive. If we hadn’t scored in any of them, then there would be some cause for real concern. We ended our losing run with a point away to Hannover and to be honest we should have won. We were the better side for the majority of the game but they pegged us back on a swift counter and the match finished 1-1. Now I thought we could perhaps change our fortunes with a nice run of games against some opponents where I could envision us getting some more points on the board. By this point we were sitting rock bottom on 4 points and Freiburg were our closest rival miles ahead on 10. So we had a lot of catching up to do and this is where I hoped we could do that. Once again I was very wrong, we lost all 3 games, scoring 3 goals but conceding 7. Our run without a win now stretched to 8 games. Sandwhiched in between these fixtures we played a 2nd round DFB-Pokal tie again RB Leipzig, who are still in the league bellow. We scraped through on penalties after a poor 1-1 draw, but I can’t grumble too much, we are through to the next round.
Our next Bundesliga match was at home to Hoffenheim and a return to the ESPRIT arena for my beloved Avevor. I held a meeting with the lads and told them that things haven’t quite gone our way recently but we have been playing well enough that our fortunes are bound to change. The lads put in a performance that was so pleasing and ended our dreadful run of defeats with a 2-0 win, 2 goals and a clean sheet, something we only dreamt of. We have got another 3 points on the board but so did the rest of the pack, 17 th placed Freiburg were now on 12, a 5 point gap ahead of us. 5 games to go before the winter break and we needed to get some points on the board before then to have any hope of staying up. We lost the next 2 games to Mainz and Dortmund,2-1 and 1-0, to be honest it we were defiantly the underdogs in these games and didn’t expect too much. The next game was away to Leverkusen and I thought that rather than trying to encourage the players putting pressure on them to try and win, I would tell them to relax and play with no pressure at all. This has worked many times for me in the past on other sides and we had come away with a point or a win, but on that day it went horribly wrong. We were battered 7-1, an utter embarrassment, 6-0 down at half time. Second half we matched them but they clearly took their foot off the gas so I can’t really say we were better, just better in the sense that we didn’t concede another 6. What made this more painful is that prior to the game we beat Stuttgart again, 1-0 but this time in the DFB-Pokal, a clean sheet and through to the quarter finals.
Our remaining 2 games before the break were Freiburg and Hertha, both sitting above me on 12 and 13 points respectively. I knew that we had to get at least 3 points from 6 here to stand a chance, otherwise moral will seriously be tarnished. Both games are massive 6 pointers, even at this stage of the season; results here could be vital come the end. Boom 6 more points on the board, a 4-2 against Freiburg and a 2-0 win and clean sheet against Hertha. We move off the foot of the table sitting in 16 th place on 13 points, but it is still ever so tight down here, at least we can look down at rivals now as opposed to straining our necks constantly looking up at them in the distance. We have now got hope, especially come off the back of that drumming from Leverkusen. But we are on a great run now and the winter break couldn’t have come at a worse time, we have won 3 out 4 in all competitions, our best run since promotion last season. Let’s hope we can continue this kind of form after the break, our first match back is at home to Stuttgart, let hope we can replicate out cup match and come away with another win.
That concludes the current update, I am encouraged by many of the performances, especially the last few fixtures. I hope this will push us on for the second half and ensure survival. Stay tuned for the next instalment.
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