Success has many fathers… room for one more? – Episode 9

Welcome back to this Liverpool FC series from @anfmoldtimer. You can catch up with the series starting here if you haven’t done so already.

Episode 9 – The Italian Job

Champions League

cl-up-to-group-stage

After getting through our Champions League group with only conceding two goals (both away against Zenit) but without exactly setting the group alight, we still come out on top. The draw for the First Round Knockout pits us against Internazionale, a team I have a soft spot for following my game breaking save with CM 2 Italia. Given we won our group, we play the first game away at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza.

The Set-Up

We go into the game with our standard formation, player roles and team instructions. Isik and Ascacibar have struck up a good relationship and balance with each other so start ahead of Henderson and Dahul. Willems will dribble down the left flank and stay out wide to offer us width when (not if) Coutinho tucks in with his AP(S) role. All forwards have the added instruction to close down more to compliment our pressing style of play.

starting-roles

Starting TIs.png

The Game

Starting formations

Inter notably have an attacking right wing back in Svensson, Paredes looks to be playing in a defensive position in the DM, Vazquez and Sanson are likely AP(S)’s, with Elyounoussi also clearly on an attacking duty.

starting-formations

Inter 1-0 Liverpool (Elyounoussi – 12mins)

After 12 minutes we go a goal behind. Inter take a throw in down our left-hand side. Immediately, I have worries over our set up. Coutinho is marking Guidetti and Willems is guarding Candreva. Ideally, I’d like a central defender to be marking Candreva and Coutinho to be marking the spare man, Paredes, to whom Svensson throws the ball.

inter-goal-build-up-1

As soon as Paredes receives the ball, both Isik and Coutinho press him, but because he has so much space the pass across to Sanson is easy – especially since Isik runs directly towards Paredes rather than closing down the passing lane (possibly wise given Paredes’s vicinity to the box). Ascacibar anticipates the pass from Sanson across to Vazquez but from a position that’s too deep to do anything about it. Remember Svensson was set to be an attacking wing back.

inter-goal-build-up-2

This free space that Vazquez has is enough for him to see the space that Svensson has to run into in the area behind Coutinho, who has switched off. With Willems still sat centrally marking Candreva, this ball is simple and without risk.

inter-goal-build-up-3

Svensson receives the ball and Willems and Coutinho realise their defensive mistake and close him down quickly but not in quick enough time to prevent the cross. As it happens, this cross is cut out by Clyne at the back post and cleared, but only as far as Paredes who has dropped away from the box.

inter-goal-build-up-4

Paredes then resets the move, passing it on to Sanson who is freed up from Isik moving on to press Paredes. Willems is still marking Candreva, leaving Svensson wide open as Coutinho has lost his man again. Yet another risk free ball goes in behind us.

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Svensson delivers another simple cross as Willems and Coutinho react too late again. The difference this time is that Clyne has completely switched off at the back post and lets Elyounoussi drift past him for an easy goal.

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This was a frustrating way to concede. In looking into the tactics of throw ins, it seems that you can only set up attacking throw-ins – presumably leaving defending throw ins to PIs and team set up. I can’t help think that poor anticipation, poor pressing and a lack of positional awareness from the likes of Coutinho let us down here. To not learn from the errors of the first chance created down the same flank just seconds before is also an annoyance. With a very fluid team mentality, I need all players to contribute to all stages of both attack and defence. Clearly Coutinho’s effort here did not meet my expectations and Willems positional play was questionable too.

We needs an immediate response if we’re to get back in this tie with defending like this.

Inter 1-1 Liverpool (Eggestein – 18mins)

We reply within 6 minutes. Berardi receives the ball in space from Ascacibar after various losses of possession from both teams. Berardi, set as an IF(S), drives inside at the defence and commits men to him.

liverpool-goal-1-build-up

This halts his run, and after a rather weak attempt to win the ball from the Inter midfield, Berardi lays it off to Ascacibar who then plays it across to our AP(S) in Coutinho.

liverpool-goal-1-build-up-2

Coutinho then finds himself pressed but Isik has moved to the side of the press which gives Coutinho an easy out. Willems sees the space that is in behind the Candreva and how narrow the Inter back four is set, and bursts past him. You can also see how balanced my team are set up with Luis holding his position in the DLP(D) and Ascacibar pushing on towards the Inter defence as the BBM(S) into the vacant AM area.

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Svensson comes out to close down Willems but doesn’t block the cross at source.

liverpool-goal-1-build-up-4

Eggestein, who for a time was hovering in an offside position, cleverly drops back temporarily to lose his marker when Isik lays out the pass to Willems. This allows him space to attack the box and meet the whipped low cross from Willems and side foot it with his left foot into the corner of the net, leaving Handanovic with no chance.

liverpool-goal-1-build-up-5

Inter 1-2 (Coutinho 18mins)

Two minutes later we find ourselves with a throw in down our right-hand side. Clyne throws it in to the open man, Ascacibar.

liverpool-goal-2-build-up-1

Ascacibar then lays across an easy pass to Berardi as he’s closed down.

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Berardi spots Eggestein is goal side of his marker, lays it off to him and Eggestein tries to double his and our tally, but his shot is blocked by Handanovic.

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Such is the force of the shot, it falls to Coutinho puts the ball away into the open net and gives us the second away goal. Poor defending from Inter, who were probably shell-shocked from the first goal just two minutes ago. Good, simple, play from us to exploit their weakness at the back through poor concentration and marking.

liverpool-goal-2-build-up-5

Inter 1-3 Liverpool (Eggestein – 46mins)

To take a two goal lead into half-time would probably kill the game and possibly the tie, given that would mean three away goals. The players, accordingly, seem determined to have an easy half-time team talk from me. Ascacibar plays a pass across to Isik who in turn plays it to Coutinho who is completely open having found space to exploit to the side of the two-man central midfield. Coutinho’s role of AP(S) will see him drift in from the flank to act as a third central midfielder as you see here.

liverpool-goal-3-build-up-1

Willems has a feeling of de ja vu and attacks the open space behind Candreva as Svensson is sucked in to press Coutinho, who after all should be his man to mark, leaving even more space in the vacant right back spot. Coutinho plays an easy lofted pass into the vacant space.

liverpool-goal-3-build-up-2

Willems controls the ball, takes it deeper into the Inter half, is loosely closed by the Inter right-sided centre back and a back tracking Candreva, and then hits a cross to Eggestein who has considerable space away from his marker.

liverpool-goal-3-build-up-3

Eggestein hits a first time shot, this time to the front post, past a hapless Handanovic who has been badly let down by his defenders for all of the goals thus far. Four goals in the game and all of them came from the sides of the 18-yard box.

liverpool-goal-3-build-up-4

Inter 1-4 Liverpool (Eggestein – 88mins (hat-trick))

The second half is a much quieter affair with Inter clearly trying to attack us but getting frustrated by our high levels of team work and counter-attacking style. We make changes, with Bazoer, Stevens (a regen of our youth academy) and Dahul coming on for Luis, Coutinho and Isik respectively. Two of these players are involved in our fourth and last goal.

Inter take a throw in from our half, which Bazoer anticipates is weak and short across to Sanson. Sanson doesn’t see Bazoer coming until it’s too late and Bazoer is able to pick off the ball.

liverpool-goal-4-build-up-1

Bazoer then drives forwards until the half-way line and plays a cross field pass to Willems who is rushing forwards, in line with his attacking duty.

liverpool-goal-4-build-up-2

Stevens, who is playing in the role he’s natural at, IF(S), continues his run as Willems is stopped and pushed wider by Svensson, who has had a torrid night, first of all with Candreva offering him no support (resulting in him getting hooked at 45 minutes) and then when Inter go 4-3-3 as he is isolated down his flank. This is evidenced when Stevens’s runs in behind him, dragging their right-sided centre back out of his typical comfort zone. Willems plays a pass into space, in behind the Inter defence.

liverpool-goal-4-build-up-3

Stevens then pulls back a cross to the on-rushing Eggestein, who despite being more tightly mark, isn’t about to give up his chance of a hat-trick. He scored again by slotting it beyond Handanovic. Game, set and match to Liverpool.

liverpool-goal-4-build-up-4

I can only imagine the rage that’s going on in the Inter changing room. On the other hand, I’m very pleased with my players and their desire to come back from being 1-0 down. Our determination and desire to perform was very pleasing, as was our creativity down the flanks. Eggestein takes the match ball home, being awarded the Player of the Match to go with it. To play in such a style and create far more chances and better quality chances than Inter is also encouraging. Two to one in shots, with eleven of ours on target, six of which are clear cut and a further three half-chances gives you some idea of our domination. Were we perfect? No. Take a look at how we conceded the goal earlier. Something for us to work on in training.

Our higher tempo style play contributed towards three of our four goals, with the team transitioning quickly from winning the ball to attack and creating the chance. Despite having work the ball into the box on, we still put a considerable number of crosses into the box and it was clear from some of our passes, that we were passing it into space well. The crosses Willems hit in were also low, as per the instructions to the team, leaving Eggestein with every opportunity to beat his defender. This was made all the easier given that Inter appear not to have been marking tightly.

This advantage means that I can realistically afford to rest players for the home leg, giving game time to our up and coming players, or other squad players who don’t get sufficient game time in the League. We draw the game 1-1 and advance on to the Quarter Final.

To find out how our venture in the Champions League continues, check back for the next episode.

 

Be sure to catch up with Chris on twitter @anfmoldtimer and join both our FM Slack channels, #anfmoldtimer and #limitedfullback. If you haven’t checked out the FM Slack then get in touch with @FM_Samo and join the rest of the FM community. Over 500 people have join already, so if you haven’t, get involved.

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RCD Espanyol 4.2 & the unconventional Defensive Winger

espanyol-header2

Welcome back to my RCD Espanyol save, where we finish off season 4 here in Barcelona. As it’s been a while since the first half of the season, you might want to catch up with 4.1 before continuing this post.

After signing for us in the summer window of a free transfer, Matheus Pereira has put in some very good performances, scoring a very impressive 9 goals in his first 12 games. This kind of form from the 21 year old Brazilian, attracted the mighty Bayern Munchen, who came in towards the end of the window matching his 29mil release fee. Frantically, I offered him a new contract but his agent was being a typical agent and demanded 180k for his weeks wages. That’s a massive 167k pay rise! I don’t want to keep you that much Matheus, go on to Germany where you probably wont play.

So with David Lopez also leaving the club for 7.25mil, after wanting a new challenge, the club have broken their record income in one season. It has reached a massive 117mil.

rcd-espanyol_-transfer-history

So enough about how much money we have raised and onto our results in the 2nd half of the season. Considering we were sitting in 3rd place only 2 points behind 1st with our new back 3 tactic I was pretty chuffed at  the mid way point. The 2nd half of the season saw us have our first injury problem in FM. Dolberg, Angel Correa, Duate and Deulofeu all picked up injuries and were out between 3-5 months! This tested our the depleted squad and had to promote one of two youngsters just to fill spaces. To make matters worse during the last 5 weeks of the season, our star GK  gets injured so our young number 2 stepped in. This is what cost us the most as our end to the campaign was our poorest run so far.

But I’m not going to sit here and blame it all on injuries, who am I kidding, they cost us everything!

RCD Espanyol_  Senior Fixtures.png

As you can see apart from our slip up against Eibar, which are starting to become very frustrating to play against as they also beat me last year, we actually managed really well, winning 10, and drawing 5 before our poor ending run. Only having 2 defeats all season up to the last 6 games, then we get another 3. Barca, our arch rivals I can accept with a back up GK, but I believed we could out play Atletico at home and especially Levante! Furious was an understatement. We still picked up points during our blip so that was something. However, our title rivals were much more clinical at this important time of the season and ran away with the league.

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11 points behind Real at the end of it, those 3 games mathematically wouldn’t have made a difference in the final outcome but it may have put more pressure on Real to get results, which could have influenced a slip up on their part. It’s all IF’s and BUT’s though! We still scored a very decent amount of goals and our defensive record was again the best in the division. 20 goals all season is a cracking result, especially with 3 defenders and no natural cover from conventional wing backs. Only cover from our Defensive Wingers something we shall look at later.

Champions League

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Two very disappointing games against the Rossoneri saw us crash out at in the last 16. I was optimistic going into the 2nd leg with only 1 goal in it, but Milan were solid and we could not break them down. We done an Arsenal, but with capitulating in the first leg.

Copa del Rey

RCD Espanyol_  Senior Fixtures-2.png

For the third year in a row RCD Espanyol reach the final of the Copa del Rey, however this time, we couldn’t come home with the trophy.

The Defensive Winger

“The defensive winger”, not something that sounds all that thrilling does it. You wouldn’t describe your star winger, e.g Cristiano Ronaldo in that way would you? It sounds dull, boring, safe. So why is it an option in Football Manager? As a game, why would you want you pacey, flair wingers to be cautious and defensive?

As discussed on the Deep Lying Podcast, George and Guido confirmed that it was a role that they have never really used and wouldn’t be something that they would ever use. George also put out a calling cry for anyone who uses the Defensive Winger to get in touch if they had any idea of how to implement them.  Well “cometh the hour, cometh the man.”

So with my  3-5-2 strikerless system, known as Stuka,  I have 3 Central Defenders and rather than go with the conventional Wing Back approach, I tested out the Defensive Winger.

In game, this is how SI describe the Defensive Winger:

The Defensive Winger aims to press the opposing fullbacks, win the ball high up the pitch and either hold it up for the rest of the team, drive to the byline or get a quick cross or through ball for the forwards

Within the role, you have two mentalities to choose from, Defend or Support.

Defend – “With the defend duty, the Defensive Winger’s job is to primarily provide insurance for the defenders behind him, working diligently to reduce the threat posed by opponents in his area of the pitch and to break up attacks higher up the pitch

Support – “With the support duty, the Defensive Winger’s job is to try and win the ball, get past his man and get in a early cross for the forwards.

Within my system, the CB’s are covered with a hard working, disciplined DM sat in front of them. He not only provides as the first line of defence but he can also drift from flank to flank offering support out wide. With that in mind, I opted for a DW with a Support duty. Initially when testing out the system in pre season I went with Defend, but that swiftly changed as they were bring too cautious.

With any tactic there will be a flaw, a weakness an Achilles heel, in this tactic it is in those wide areas. I know that,  so rather than be too cautious, lets be more adventurous. Support mode on, lets see it in action.

My 4 wingers that I use in this system are, from right to left:

  • Gerard Deulofeu – W(s)
  • Lasse Schone – AP(s)
  • Victor Alvarez – WB(s)
  • Jaoquin Diaz – IF(s)

Aside from Alvarez, who is a natural defender, none of these players you would associate as hard working, tracking back or tackling, so how can it possibly work?

Sorry in advanced as we shall now spam the screen with images taken from our analysis throughout the season, so we can understand the positioning, tackling and how effective this role is.

rcd-espanyol-v-real-sociedad_-analysis-players

As you can see Deulofeu’s average position is deeper than you imagine him to be. In real life he isn’t the most defensive minded player and would would even really associate him with tracking back or even showing much interest in doing so, well here is where things tell a slightly different tale.

During this specific game, Deulofeu won 7 tackles (the highest amount from our team), made 6 successful dribbles, made 0 mistakes, made 5 interceptions and gained possession 13 occasions.

real-hispalis-v-rcd-espanyol_-analysis-players

Lasse Schone & Victor Alvarez Vs Betis

The thing that makes this role so effective in this system is the ability to transition for defence to attack. Not having fullbacks means the added pressure of the DW’s getting back covering the flanks. Due to their high pressing nature, this means that even someone like Deulofeu can do a decent defensive job if needed. Now we don’t play a high pressing game, as our team instructions are set to sometimes, but the DW likes to press aggressively, so whether it is high up in the final third or just outside our own penalty area, they are hassling the opposition.

During games where we are up against a tough opponent, our mentality changes. A notch back from ‘Standard’ to ‘Counter’, as well as increasing our pressing to ‘More Often’. This makes us a little deeper but increases our overall function to press. This increases the DW to press like a angry Rottweiler, increasing his desire to win the ball back at any opportunity. The chasing back that even Deulofeu puts in is very pleasing to watch.Our CB’s being split do cover the wider areas quite well, but the DW just wants to run and chase like cheetah hunting it’s prey.

So what makes a good Defensive Winger?

  • Determination
  • Positioning
  • Work Rate

Pace, Acceleration, Teamwork, Stamina, Tackling & Aggression will all be an added bonus, but as of yet I am unable to find a Wide Midfielder with all these attributes, so ho does Deulofeu match up.

gerard-deulofeu_-overview-profile

With Deulofeu it’s his pace, stamina and his determination that makes him work as a DW in the Stuka system. Going forward his has all the attribute you could ask for from a winger. He technically shouldn’t be a good DW but I can’t put up a reason to keep him out of the side.

I am currently training up some defensive minded fullbacks and wide midfielders that have come through the academy over the last 2 years in a DW role, so the future ma hold a more purpose built DW ready to exploit this position in Stuka.

When facing a 442, 433 or a 4231 we seem to manage well, coping with the oppositions wingers and advancing fullbacks. The only system so far that we seem to be struggling with is a 424. My 3 CB’s have to mark 2 ST’s so that makes covering the width difficult on one side. This is where the DW struggles and needs support or changing role to a deeper WB position.

Thank you so much for reading, any feedback on this post will be much appreciated as it’s something very different. Be sure to check out the incoming post for season 5 at RCD Espanyol.


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Success has many fathers… room for one more? – Episode 8

Welcome back to this Liverpool FC series from @anfmoldtimer. You can catch up with the series starting here if you haven’t done so already.

Episode 8 – End of 2019/20 report – Must try harder

Transfers

After last year’s relative debacle in the League and coming within a whisper of being sacked, I decide to strengthen the team far more than last year. I identify that, with Mignolet ageing and conceding too many simple goals, we needed to upgrade our goalkeeper. My scouts had the same thoughts and were recommending goalkeepers to me on a monthly basis. I spot a good quality regen in Nieto who despite only being 20 is already capped for Mexico. At 20, it looks like he’s already well-rounded, if a little on the short side. However, despite his caps for Mexico, he still can’t get a work permit. I take another gamble, as I did with Dahul and Ascacibar, and hope that he’ll be able to go out on loan and continue to pick up caps for Mexico to earn a permit. At £6.25m (rising to £7.5m), I think he’s a bargain. So whilst he won’t be able to replace Mignolet this year, at least with Svilar and Nieto, we’re covered for quality goalkeepers from next season. Hopefully Nieto won’t be too short at only 6’0″.

Nieto.png

Chelsea bid for Johannes Eggestein, who I’ve been tracking since taking on the Liverpool job. He’s come on well at Werder Bremen and after Origi’s comparatively poor performances with only 18 goals in 29 Premier League games, I want someone to push him here and now so I match their bid. His demands are perfectly reasonable at £99k/week (absolute steal!) and some OK bonuses, including £2.7m loyalty bonus to be paid over the duration of his five year contract. He turns down Chelsea and heads to Melwood. Wise boy since we can offer them Champions League football and Chelsea are in the Europa League. Eggestein instantly becomes our key player – a sure sign he should start ahead of Origi.

Eggestein.png

To further complement our striking capabilities, I spot José Roberto and Franco Landa. Landa looks a gem and at £8.5m – I think I have another bargain on my hands – the problem… yup, no work permit again! I send him out on loan to Schalke and he soon scores bundles of goals to earn his work permit just through being a quality player. José earns himself a work permit, though I’ve no idea how, and the dual nationality Brazilian/Japanese player comes in for £15m rising to £17.5m from Chapecoense. Worryingly, he’s now worth less than his transfer fee, but he looks a good prospect for the future.

landa

jose-roberto

All other regens are ones for the future and a gallery is below for your perusal. I’m most excited about Thomas, though his star rating is not very high, so I’m ignoring it.

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Firmino and Lovren are moved on, both to West Ham, as I didn’t play them much at all last season. Both are pushing towards 30, so I feel I’ve got a good deal out of West Ham. Wijnaldum goes back to Newcastle, believe it or not, for a profit. Kovalenko has properly fallen out with me, since he believed he should be getting more first-team action than he did last season. He’s valued at near £30m, but he’d been bringing down morale in the squad, so he leaves for Monaco for only £16m.

Gomez and Vardy leave, along with the useless Karius. Dolan (an academy regen) leaves for Sunderland. Grujic has barely improved at all and isn’t being given a work permit for a new contract, so he goes on a free. Many others leave on loan to play first team football, again, largely for fees and their wages being paid in full. We have twice the incomings from transfers than we spend, with our transfer budget now at £246m and £300k/week left to spend in wages.

Transfers 20-21.png

Other notable transfers around the Premiership – Colidio had been lethal at Valencia and Kuki looks spectacular after developing well at Malaga. Quite what the thoughts were of Benteke going to Arsenal were, I have no idea, but they’d previously sold Giroud to Atlético, so maybe they wanted a Target Man!?

Notable transfers 20-21.png

Season expectations

Win the Premier League, reach the Quarter Final of the Champions League, reach the Final of the FA Cup… standard expectations at this point.

FA Cup

Why am I starting with a competition that doesn’t begin until January for Premier League teams? Wasn’t the Board’s expectation to win this competition? Yeah… we didn’t last long.

I decide that our second-string XI have enough to get past Hull. Wrong. We lose 2-0 in an entirely unconvincing performance thanks to an Upamecano own goal and a goal by Ponce. It’s me that’s left feeling a right ponce as the journos rip into me and my selection after the game. The Board are none too pleased either. Nor am I with my players after the match, Alexander Arnold receives a fine for a 6.1 rating, de Vrij a two week fine for a 5.9 and Eggestein (who are one point goes 12 games without scoring(!)) a 6.3 and a one week fine. On the plus side, I think to myself, at least it will free up fixture congestion. Hull actually go on to smash Arsenal in the Fourth Round.

Sunderland win the Cup under Moyes… Yes, really.

EFL Cup

Despite their disappointing performance in the FA Cup, our back-up players performed very well in the EFL Cup. Very well indeed. For the second time, we win this competition. Against largely lesser teams, other than Arsenal, we win each game convincingly and only concede two goals across six games. Very pleasing – even if the Board couldn’t care too much.

efl-cup-win-schedule

efl-cup-win

Premier League

After last season’s fourth place finish, I was keen to make tactical adjustments. I don’t want to move away from 4-1-2-2-1/4-1-2-3 formation as that’s the way that I’ve built up the squad. After the tweaks, it still plays like a 4-1-4-1, but I adjust some of the player roles throughout the season.

The changes are minor, with only two role changes during the season and one change from the previous season. Willems now becomes a FB(A) rather than a WB(A) as he was getting caught out of position too often. Whilst he was contributing a considerable amount going forwards with his crosses from the by-line, too frequently the opposition would exploit the space he left and then utilise it by putting crosses in for themselves. Whilst he will leave space in behind as a FB(A), this position seems to offer a better balance. I still want him to attack the open space down the left flank given Coutinho moves inside as an AP(S).

During the season, I play with having Bazoer as an anchorman rather than a DLP(D). I notice that too frequently he was pressing up to join the attack and leaving a gap in behind. However, he seemed too constricted playing under this role and wasn’t adding anything else but playing in the hole in front of the two central defenders. Dahul occasionally plays as a DLP(S) – his natural position – but he then fails to join the attack and means we’re only left with four players trying to get in and around the box. Dahul also seems constricted in his movements, making it easy for the opposing sides to press him and win the ball to set up their own attacks. Switching him back to a BBM(S) alongside the same player role on the MCR seems to better balance the side. This also means that I can neatly rotate between Ascacibar, Goretzka, Henderson and the ever-improving, now capped for France, Isik.

After losing numerous games to our rivals at the top of the table, I’m more confident that this tactic leaves us less open to their attacks and desire to attack us, unlike lesser teams who tend to sit back. At least until we score. This approach is more successful – 17/30 points from our main rivals to the league, an 11 point improvement on last year’s pitiful efforts. I put part of this down to removing playing out from the back as it doesn’t all for the bigger teams to press us on our own 18-yard box.

Opposition Points Earned
Arsenal 2
Man City 3
Man United 4
Chelsea 6
Tottenham 2
17/30

So where does this improvement leave Liverpool? Back at the top, that’s where! The board were clearly right to give me a new four year contract at the end of last season despite our failings.

Premier League victory.png

Four of our players top the average ratings, proof of just how well we’ve played and four players score more than 10 goals in the season (Berardi – 17, Eggestein -15, Formela -13 and Ascacibar 11). Origi barely plays a game all season, only coming of the bench a few times following an injury which ruled him out for four months – the players we brought in in attacking positions were certainly required, so I was glad I brought them in. Real Madrid want Origi and I’m tempted to sell him if they offer me big money given I have Eggestein, Landa, Jose Roberto and Formela on the books.

Berardi wins FWA and PFA Player of the Year, with Eggestein picking up PFA Young Player of the Year and I’m awarded Manager of the Year, with four players making Team of the Year.

record-prem-wins

This pleases me greatly

Chelsea sack Joachim Löw after the players lose confidence in him and Roman Abramovich seems determined to give caretaker manager Steve Holland a run at the job, only for Chelsea to lose game after game, before Roman finally sees sense and appoints Ernesto Valverde. Man City dispatch Espírito Santo after missing out on the top four. Brendan Rogers is fired as Southampton manager and Eddie Howe leaves Boro to go to West Ham after they fire Paolo Fonseca. Leicester dismiss Laurent Blanc after just surviving the drop. Stoke relieve Big Sam of his post and then later sack his replacement, Christophe Galtier, as they’re relegated along with Watford and Cardiff.

Champions League

cl-up-to-group-stage

We’re forced to go into the Best Placed Playoff round given our fourth placed (how is fourth best placed?!). A drubbing of Olympiacos at home means I can rotate the team for the second leg. We finish first in our group with a relatively easy group and solid, if not destructive, wins against the other members of the group. We draw Inter in the First Round Knockout.

To find out how we did, tactical analysis of the Inter away leg and the remaining progress in the Champions League, check back next week.

 

Be sure to catch up with Chris on twitter @anfmoldtimer and join both our FM Slack channels, #anfmoldtimer and #limitedfullback. If you haven’t checked out the FM Slack then get in touch with @FM_Samo and join the rest of the FM community. Over 400 people have join already, so if you haven’t, get involved.

Success has many fathers… room for one more? – Episode 7

Welcome back to this Liverpool FC series from @anfmoldtimer. You can catch up with the series starting here if you haven’t done so already.

Episode 7 – From domestic success to… surely not??

Having successfully defended the Premier League on the last game of the season, I felt relatively confident in the squad, especially after winning all the domestic trophies we were eligible for.

Transfers

There weren’t too many areas I was looking to improve. Yes, by all means build on success, but don’t destroy a team simply because changes ‘have to be made’.

Saying that, I needed another new central defender as I was still not happy with our defensive depth. Mikel San José wasn’t up to physically competing as his strength and pace attributes were well below what I require of a centre back, so he left for £16.75m. In his place came Daniele Rugani from Juventus for £35m (with add-ons to take it up to £40m). Moreno only had one year left on his contract and so I offer him out to clubs after noticing that I could pick up Kurzawa, a statistically stronger player, from PSG who have transfer listed him for £6.75m. West Ham take Moreno, who had been a back up to Willems, and spent most of last season out with a serious injury, for £12.5m. Top business in my eyes.

transfers-19-20-1

My remaining signings are regens, as I look to build up my reserves further. The more immediate highlight of the prospects is probably Mikel Rodriguez from Bilbao, who had a £2.5m release clause. He looks like a talented left-back, with good physical attributes and reasonable attributes in the key areas for a left-back. Eduardo Lopez also looks a decent young striker, but one who needs to improve all around, notably his finishing to make it at the top level. He will almost certainly make me a profit in the future transfer market though. Di Guiseppe came in being touted as the future Buffon, and his goalkeeping statistics do look strong for an 18 year old upon arrival. I’m hoping we can find a place for him in the team in the future, but given I bought Svilar last season and Mignolet has won the Golden Glove in the Premier League two years running, he won’t be getting near the first team any time soon. It will be a period of loans for him to build up his abilities and get some good level of football behind him.

I clear the decks of Belotti, glad to be rid of his incessant desire to be offside, ruining multiple good periods of build up or counter-attacking from our creative midfield. I also want to offer as much first team football to a regen as I can that I’m quite excited about the prospect of – Bogdan Formela, from Poland who is now back up to Origi.

formela

Van de Beek, who moved on for a healthy profit as it became clear he wouldn’t develop well enough to have consistent first team action; ditto Berge. Ings, Ward and Ojo were surplus to requirements, as were some regens who already weren’t looking like they were going to make the cut. So out go Garmendia and Bogaerts (both bought for £1m each) for a tidy profit.

Squad restrictions are still an issue – I clear more of the players out of the squad that started there but simply aren’t good enough to warrant a spot. So I’m forced again to loan our Gorgeous Gigi, this time to Sporting, Grujic to Lyon and Joe Gomez (OK, no registration issues, just not good enough). Many other young players go out on loan to garner first team experience and hopefully improve. If not, I’ve at least identified those that won’t make it at this elite level. All go out with wages being paid in full by the team taking them on loan, and many for fees of around £1m-£2m for the year, topping up my burgeoning transfer kitty. However, a moneyball save this isn’t, as no one can claim to be moneyballing having previously signed Vardy and Drinkwater.

Vardy actually leaves in the January transfer window on loan to Stoke as he wasn’t getting enough game time in his eyes. Mané leaves permanently as he was subject to a bid from Barcelona which I thought wise to accept given it’s Barca; it’s over his value and I’m not playing Mané because he’s behind Berardi in the pecking order.

Many teams around us have strengthened again over the season, with Delle Alli going to Manchester City for what seams like a steal at £45.5m (£59m inc add-ons). This is definitely one that I wish I’d kept a closer eye on as he’d have made a good addition to my side  – though quite who I would have sold to make way for him, I’m not sure. He joins Barkley as part of their desire to add young British talent to the squad. It’s not enough to stop Pep getting the boot though. Man City’s board fire him in March, with Nuno Espirito Santo taking the reins as he leaves Porto to do so.

Chelsea sign Bernardo Silva and Strootman at the start of the 2019/20 season under Joachim Löw’s managership. United add Diawara, Brandt, Morata and Kessié to their fold as they considerably strengthen and add youth to the mix. Arsenal decide to only add Vlasic to their ranks, presumably to replace Bentacur who goes to PSG.

Season expectations

board-expectations-19-20

I gulp a little bit looking at how much they expect us to improve in the Champions League, but having won the Premier League back-to-back, I thought this should be OK. You’ll note the hefty transfer kitty I have to spend and £500k/week spare in wages too. Except according to FFP, I’m not allowed to spend that remaining wage, so I can’t really go about signing too many more players on big wages!

The Board have invested heavily in our facilities, so these are now maxed out. Fingers crossed we’ll get some quality regens coming through from the extensive youth recruitment, and the ones that are already here (and not out on loan) will benefit from the state of the art training facilities.

facilities

The season

I’d like this to be a tale about how I managed to achieve the somewhat difficult and defended all of the domestic trophies and made tremendous strides in Europe. This isn’t that tale. That would be a work of fiction. The season did not go to plan. Not at all.

Check out the board confidence rating below for the Premier League.

end-of-season-19-20

EFL Cup

As has become the norm, I blood young players to give them exposure to first team football and see what they’re like in competitive action. Awful was the answer. We lose to Huddersfield Town in the Fourth Round after having only scrapped past Crystal Palace in the Third Round in extra time. This makes me frustrated as much as angry as I’d have really liked to have seen more of Luis, Svendsen and the like in the team, with Luis pushing Bazoer to be the linchpin of the midfield. Sadly, this will have to be done via coming off the bench in games when required rather than the starting eleven.

efl-19-20

Champions League

Our group looks reasonable enough, with Legia, Schalke and Galatasary. I’m obviously aware that Schalke represent the toughest of challenges in the group, so I’m astoundingly pleased when we demolish them 2-6 away from home with Divock Origi bagging four, including this effort. An incredible goal after the long pass out from Goretzka, who returns to play his old team after missing most of last year having damaged his cruciate ligaments. Origi’s dribbling and impudence to nutmeg their keeper after running from inside his own half is up there with one of the best goals I’ve seen in any Football Manager.

We go through the group only conceding two goals, both in the away match at Schalke in the group, and we’re given Monaco who finish second in their group. We draw 3-3 away from home, in an end-to-end game, with both teams putting their noses in front only to be dragged back by the opposition. Monaco looked good offensively at home with sharp movement and pace, so to keep them to no goals in the second leg and to score a further three goals ourselves was very pleasing. The draw for the Quarter Finals saw us being pulled out against Manchester United. An absolute stinker for us as we can’t seem to find a way past them in the Premier League. Luis Enrique has the rule over me and I’m very concerned this could be the end of our run. And so it proved. We set up defensively in the first leg, not looking to let Manchester United take any sort of lead to Anfield and it results in a nervy 0-0 draw.

The second leg was a complete role reversal. United come set up to take the match to penalties. We have shot after shot, but our finishing is woeful and the chances we create poor because United have so many men deep in their own half, and often their own 18-yard box. The game does go to penalties and we lose after Rugani remembers he’s Italian and this is a penalty shoot out, so he does the dutiful thing and misses. We had 17 shots (7 on target) to their 8 (and 4). Origi and Formela (our new Polish regen striker signed last January), record ratings of 6.3 and 6.4, with Origi removed for Formela after 62 shockingly bad minutes. Yet again, our aim of a sixth Champions League goes unfulfilled.

cl-19-20

Premier League

All this wouldn’t be so bad if we were doing well in the Premier League. But we weren’t. It was a terse, hard struggle. A struggle to even get back into the Champions League. On the day of the last game of the season, pre-kick off, we were lying in 5th and the Board were making it clear in the press that they are not happy with my performance. My contract is up in the summer, so names are already bandying about as to who is going to replace me with the press, especially those that have taken a dislike to me, and there are a few that I’ve built a bad relationship with for flat-batting their tedious questions with the same repetitive responses.

Ahead of us are Manchester City, and even a win might not get us Champions League football, which I undoubtedly need to save my job. They have the easiest run in with three games to go, playing the bottom three teams: Palace, Watford and Derby. To myself, and definitely not my staff or my players, I’m thinking there’s nothing we can do. City will pick up 9 points and its the Europa League for this lot next year and the dole queue for me. I’m right in my thoughts, 6 easy points gained for City with games 36 and 37 of the season, but we don’t miss a step either, carving open West Ham and Palace. We follow City in playing Watford, who were already relegated, and City play Derby, who were bottom of the League with 23 points to their name compared to 72 for City. City need the win to put us out of our misery. They can’t screw it up against Derby. Football Manager doesn’t do that to you.

Except it did, and City lose 3-0 to Derby. And I now love Weimann as though he was one of my own. I send him a bottle of champagne to drown the sorrows of relegation, but also as a thank you for saving my skin. It’s the least I owe him. We barely look like scoring against Watford, drawing 0-0 and ‘earning’ ourselves a qualifying spot in the Champions League for next year. I almost feel dirty.

final-pl-game-of-19-20

Dirty, but rewarded with a new contract for four more years. Never has board confidence been so low and a new long-term deal been offered.

new-contract

Where did it go wrong? Against all the rest of the big teams around us. Too often we were undone by better, more clinical teams. Tactically, we need to adapt against these teams going forwards if we’re going to gain points and have any hope of regaining the Premier League title. We were simply too exposed playing Willems as a WB(A) in games against these teams and they exploited our strength, turning it into our weakness. They would counter-press our counter-pressing style and prevent us from having any time and space on the ball, then pushing forwards to exploit our defensive frailties. If we tried to play it out from the back, Mignolet rolling it out to Lovren, Matip or de Vrij, the opposition attack would press them hard and win the ball back on our 18 yard box and have clear cut chances.

Opponent Points Gained
Arsenal 3
Man City 0
Man Utd 0
Chelsea 3
Tottenham 0
Total 6/30

If you look too at the players with the lowest win percentages in the team, it’s clear that the back up players, including the hopeful prospect of Formela, simply weren’t good enough to win us games when they had to step into the team because of injury or the need to rotate in order to rest our strongest players. The number of mistakes they’ve made is far too high and their average ratings too low. Lovren shows clearly why I need more defensive cover yet still in this team, with only a 52% win ratio. Not good enough if we’re to push for titles/trophies on all fronts. I’m hoping that this can be solved in-house next year with the development of Upamencano who has done well out on loan and developed nicely, rather than plundering again into a thinning pot of central defenders.

squad-win-ratio-19-20

I have though, clear targets in mind who I would like to sign, as I was perhaps a little too cautious in the transfer market last time around and I need to change that if I can. Origi misfired many times over during the season and so he will need a quality back up or even first choice now, partly too to replace Vardy who is on the downturn and transfer list.

To find out who I sign and whether or not things improve in the 2020-21 season, continue reading with Episode 8.

 

Be sure to catch up with Chris on twitter @anfmoldtimer and join both our FM Slack channels, #anfmoldtimer and #limitedfullback. If you haven’t checked out the FM Slack then get in touch with @FM_Samo and join the rest of the FM community. Over 400 people have join already, so if you haven’t, get involved.

Success has many fathers… room for one more? – Episode 6

Welcome back to this Liverpool FC series from @anfmoldtimer. You can catch up with episodes 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5 if you haven’t done so already.

Episode 6 – Tactics: FA Cup Final at Wembley v Manchester City

After defeating Manchester City in the Community Shield, EFL Cup and FA Cup, as well as pipping them to the Premier League title in the last game of the season, I wanted to go more into depth with my tactics. I’m going to focus on the FA Cup match and walk you through how I set the team up in terms of tactics and then look at the goals we scored to win the game.

The set-up

fa-cup-18-19-starting-xis

We play a back four, with Matip and Lovren playing at CD(D)s, Clyne as FB(S) and Willems as WB(A). Willems has been deadly down the left hand side, providing an overlap for Coutinho who is more frequently found in the middle of the pitch when we’re in the attacking phase. As part of his PIs, he’s set to run wide with the ball and stay wider to supply width. Clyne will still push forwards, since he has the same PIs as Willems, but only when he feels confident to do so. Typically he will hang back to provide more support/protection to the two centre backs. Bazoer is playing a DLP(D) – his vision and creativity within the retreated role enables him to find either simple passes to the centre midfielders or to spray it out to Willems and Coutinho and set off an attack down the left. He also provides cover for the back four when we’re in attacking phase of our game, whilst enabling us to recycle possession quickly if the opposition launch the ball forwards under pressure from our forwards.

Henderson and Ascacibar both line up as BBMs. I want to look for both players to push on, though not together, into the box to act as support to Origi and to run onto crosses/balls through the back line from Origi or Coutinho to hopefully have a free shot on goal. Both players are set to close down the opposition to look to win the ball back quickly as/when we lose possession and then quickly distribute it to take advantage of any space that we may have created.

Berardi lines up as an IF(S) – his natural position. He is deadly with free-kicks and also when cutting in from the left hand side. He is set to close down much more and really press his opposing full back, hopefully pinning him back into his own half and forcing him to either pump the ball towards our defensive line or to turn possession over to a Liverpool player further up the field to start a counter attack. On the other flank, nominally, is Coutinho, who I set to play AP(S), meaning that he dribbles into the middle of the field and the number 10 position behind Origi, causing mayhem amongst the opposition defence as their right back tracks him across field, dragging him out of position. Coutinho is also set to close down much more and also specifically mark the opposing right back tighter so that he can provide cover for Willems who is not the strongest defensively. This also allows us to cut down passing lanes for opponents when we’re counter pressing them.

Up front, Origi lines up as a CF(A). He roams around to find space, but effectively leads the line. When in attack, he’s often found in the half space, enabling Berardi to hit the gap he’s created, or Ascacibar and Henderson to do the same from central midfield. He too is set to close down more so that he presses the opposition centre backs into making mistakes or lump it forwards. I know from playing them on multiple occasions this season, and because Pep is Pep, Man City will look to play the ball out from the back, so this pressing can work in our favour if we can pin Manchester City into their own half.

Using a counter mentality and a team shape of very fluid, the team instructions are to pass it shorter to try to play fast neat football, utilised through a higher tempo of play. We look to hit low crosses to attempt to catch the defence out of position and make it easy for Origi to drill the ball into the box. We have set work ball into the box on to make sure that we try and play through the opposition with our creative playmaker in Countinho doing the magic. Mignolet has a PI to distribute it quickly in order to start quick counters. We look to close down slightly more, though PIs for relevant players override this to press more, and also use tighter marking as part of our counter-pressing mentality to cut out passing lanes. I opt not to play it out of the back, which is our typical tactic, because I know that the City team will look to press us very high up the pitch and we’re prone to making stupid mistakes and gifting them a goal.

In game

fa-cup-18-19-lfc-gegenpressing-in-action

Above is a screenshot of all the interceptions we made in the game. You can clearly see that we were able to win back possession from Manchester City on the half way line repeatedly as they were pressed into making mistakes or lumping the ball long, against Pep’s express instructions. Our compact midfield three are constantly winning back and recycling possession into our attacking movement. This enables us to spend a considerable amount of time in the Manchester City half, clocking up chances and quickly moving it around the outside of their box, looking to break down their defensive line.

fa-cup-18-19-lfc-average-player-positions

As we look to push up slightly higher, wary of Agüero’s threat in behind as well as the ability of Dybala and Griezmann, we have a strong back line that is relatively high up the field. Despite being set up in a clear 4-1-2-2-1/4-1-2-3 tactic, our fluidity means that it looks more like a 4-1-4-1. I’m not too happy about how far up Origi is to the rest of the team, but then he doesn’t come back to support in his CF(A) role and was likely countering the back line of Manchester City when we weren’t in position where he’d be looking to run in behind them.

FA Cup 18-19 LFC Average player positions with-without the ball.png

Our positions with and without the ball are somewhat more telling. Without the ball (red dots), we look to drop back and our wide players, Berardi and Coutinho go out to man mark/press the opposing full backs to prevent them from getting down the pitch and causing us a problem down the flanks. When we’re in possession, due to our short natured passing, the players come together again to shorten the gaps between them. Coutinho cuts inside, as does Berardi. The defensive line moves up together to keep the gap between midfield and defence minimised, preventing Dybala and Griezmann finding space. With the ball, the above makes us look more like a 4-5-1, but Bazoer does play more in the withdrawn hole, providing cover at the back when we have the ball.

FA Cup 18-19 LFC shots 1.png

Here are the shots taken by Liverpool players during the match. I’ve watched the highlight back from the Ascacibar hit from the half way line and he was trying to catch Hart off his line, but he doesn’t have the technique/long shots to pull that sort of thing off. I told him he’s no Xabi Alonso (or indeed Charlie Adam) at the end of the game when we were doing our victory lap with the Cup, just to keep him grounded.

FA Cup 18-19 LFC cc, hc and goals.png

We have a series of shots in this match, 18 to be exact. Of these, four are clear cut chances and four are half chances. We score just from four of these opportunities, wasting two clear cut chances.

Goal analysis

Berardi’s goal, made from a nice attacking movement down our right flank, starts from a long goal kick. After the knock down, it finds Berardi with all the space in the world as Man City’s midfield have dropped to win the header, forgetting about the second ball. Berardi and Origi then link up and Origi holds the ball until Clyne makes his run down the right. Griezmann doesn’t track him properly, leaving him to the left back, Duarte. Clyne swings in a cross which is met by the Man City defence, but with no threat in the air from a Liverpool player. Instead, the ball falls to Henderson who has withdrawn from the box, seeing that our front three of Origi, Berardi and Coutinho are already in there. The Mancester City then move up as one but all towards the ball and Henderson who shows composure and vision.

berardi-goal-movement-1

He feeds it out to a wide open Berardi who then lashes it against the post and in past Joe Hart. Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher would have had a field day if they were covering the FA Cup. Instead, since Sky don’t have the coverage, the BBC have roped in some blond haired, Welsh, big-mouthed, self-centred idiot who claims to have been a “footballer”, so any proper analysis is missed. Shame.

It’s the goal below though that most pleases me from the four we score. It epitomises our counter-pressing, team work and desire to win back the ball through our work rate. I’ve purposely edited the video to include us losing the ball to demonstrate how we go about trying to win the ball back, showing our determination and team work, so critical our style of play. It also shows our potential weakness.

Pressing and passing lanes.png

Can has the ball, but our team has set itself up well. All passing lanes blocked, Duarte marked by Berardi, who has tracked back, and Griezmann man-marked by Clyne, who has pushed up to keep close tabs on his man. This forces Can to play the simple pass across to Camacho who tries to stab it through to Agüero, but Kovalenko has that passing lane covered and it breaks to him to attack the space in behind Camacho. We look to counter quickly, and had Origi seen the run that Berardi made in transitioning into attack, we could have been more successful with this move. Instead, he tries a far more risky, and very poor weak pass across to the on-running Kovalenko. Manchester City take up the loose ball and try to counter our counter, playing it out to Sterling (on for Dybala) who is in acres of space as Willems is our second most advanced player (our weakness and one of our strengths). Luis, on for Bazoer, comes across from his holding role to close down Sterling before he gets to utilise his pace and run at our defence, which gives time for Willems to get back into position.

man-city-counter

Coutinho, Luis and Kovalenko (on for Ascacibar) then surround Sterling, who has tried to make a run up field, but with no support.

counter-press-2

Luis wins the ball off him (note from the below statistics the game hasn’t counted this as a tackle!?) and then plays a one-two with Kovalenko, in line with the short passing instruction, shifting Camacho out of position. When Luis receives the ball back from his midfield partner, he spots Origi making a run off the shoulder of the centre back.

Long pass.png

The ball is inch perfect, giving a great demonstration of Luis’s improvement in vision, technique and passing ability, and his improvement since joining us in 2016. Origi has a clear cut chance and slots it past the onrushing Hart into the goal.

What also pleased me about this goal was Coutinho’s work ethic and teamwork. Watch the video back and track his movement. He not only runs back to help surround Sterling when Manchester City launch their counter, but he also then fills in Luis’s role in behind the midfield when Luis is playing a one-two with Ascacibar. Wonderful stuff – especially when this goal was scored late on in the second half and we were already 3-1 up.

FA Cup 18-19 LFC Stats.png

Origi is Player of the Match for his two goals, awarded a 9.2 rating. You’ll notice that interceptions far outweigh the number of tackles we make . This (I think) is due to us cutting out passing lanes and staying on out feet when making challenges (that or FM17 is bugged?). Coutinho, our play maker, makes the most attempted passes and the most passes out of our team.

Manchester City’s defenders plight is really shown in their average ratings. Origi and co have pulled them apart and destroyed them. Laporte, a supposedly world class centre back, has an FA Cup Final to forget.

FA Cup 18-19 Player ratings.png

Quite why Pep is determined to play a centre back at right back, I don’t understand, but it’s been a constant in this save for Otamendi (who is now supposedly a natural there) to start in that position against me. Why he then brought Kompany on to replace Otamendi in that position really is baffling.

I hope you enjoyed this change from the norm, and to look back at our victorious performance against Manchester City. The next episode will focus upon the start of the 2019/20 season and the transfer incomings and outgoings.

Be sure to catch up with Chris on twitter @anfmoldtimer and join both our FM Slack channels, #anfmoldtimer and #limitedfullback. If you haven’t checked out the FM Slack then get in touch with @FM_Samo and join the rest of the FM community. Over 400 people have join already, so if you haven’t, get involved.

Success has many fathers… room for one more? – Episode 5

Welcome back to this Liverpool FC series from @anfmoldtimer. You can catch up with episodes 1, 2, 3 & 4 if you haven’t done so already.

Episode 5 – Tense and Intensity

Liverpool v Real Madrid in the First Round Knock Out stage of the Champions League and the strains of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” finishes around Anfield and a roar overtakes it as the Kop urges the team on against the all-white of Spain’s Real Madrid.

I’m looking for a high intensity performance from the boys, to show Real Madrid we aren’t just here to let them pass on by to the next round, as they think is probably their right. I remember watching on TV the last time that Liverpool hosted Real Madrid in the Champions League. What resulted was 0-3 drubbing and a footballing lesson. I hoped not this time now that I’m in charge. My prayers were answered.

A resounding 4-1 with an inspired Divock Origi scoring a hat-trick, two before half-time and one immediately following it. I’m especially pleased about the speed at which we rip apart Real’s defence with a cheeky back heel from Henderson, one touch from Ascacibar, who has dragged the lone defender our of position, into Origi who slots it home.

Ascacibar’s was the one that really made me sit up. He hits a stunning volley from outside the box and smashed it in the top corner past the Real Madrid keeper. Screamer!

Slick Ron gets a consolation goal just before the final whistle as the ball skims of his greasy head and flies into the top corner following a free kick. This doesn’t matter though as we hold out for a 2-2 draw at the Bernabéu with goals from Berardi and Vardy. Progress, I think to myself as I’m walking down the tunnel off to the changing room.

I await the draw of the Quarter Final eagerly, wondering who we can look to push past next. Arsenal. Hmmm, could have been worse I feel. English opposition, so less travelling time is in our interests and an opponent we know. A Gabrigol, Icardi, Ozil and Sanchez led team will be tough, but we’ve faced tougher I feel. That draw against Barcelona’s MSN may have gone to my head at this point…

The first leg is away at The Emirates. We managed a 1-1 draw with an away goal from Divock Origi just before half-time. I encourage the players to push on and take confidence in the goal they’ve scored. But whatever Ancelotti has said to his team in their dressing room certainly did the trick. They came out firing in the second half with Icardi looking dangerous. In the end, it’s a Santi Carzola goal that levels things up, ready for the Anfield leg. I’m not disappointed by the draw, and hope that we can show Arsenal what we’re made of and repeat our Real Madrid showing with the Anfield crowd on our side.

In truth, it was a tense affair. Neither team really showing much quality in a disappointing evening. At least until the 82 minute when Arsenal press forwards and Barbosa scores. Is this is? Are we destined to be knocked out again after another disappointing performance? I push the team forwards, changing our style to attack and then see Robert Firminho run at the Arsenal defence. They drop off him, allowing him to run. Still they drop, allowing him to run into the middle of the pitch just outside the 18-yard box and he doesn’t take any time to think about it, he just larrups a curling shot into the top right hand corner of Cech’s goal at the Kop end. 1-1 with two minutes left of normal time. Anfield bursts into excitement and relief all in one euphoric moment as I struggle to contain myself from running onto the pitch.

Arsenal are clearly jaded and I decide to continue to push and look for the next goal, but it isn’t forthcoming. To penalties it goes. And to penalties we go out of the competition. Gutting doesn’t describe it and to lose at Anfield is equally galling. Our target of European dominance is missed again.

champ-league-18-19-results

Premier League

After our early season blip (always good to get that one out of the way!), we had stormed up the Premier League putting lesser teams in their place with great regularity. Our away form though, was concerning, dropping points to the likes of Norwich and Crystal Palace, along with the bigger teams around us. Luckily, other teams around us were doing the same.

The run in was tense with Man City, our title rivals, and Newcastle, our bogey side, both away from home and then Arsenal again, at Anfield, as the last game of the season.

A 0-0 draw away against City was celebrated like a victory since they were deprived of the three points and the gap remained the unchanged with us in the driving seat. At St James’s Park, I tell the boys the title is in their hands. Sadly, pressure was too much for them and they could only manage a 1-1 draw despite going 0-1 up from another Ascacibar goal from midfield in his BBM role. Newcastle, determined to get something from the game push for players into advanced attacking positions and it’s too much for our somewhat brittle back four to cope with as runners come from every direction. I scramble to keep the point locked up, and succeed in doing so. This meant that nothing less than a win would guarantee the League for us, as goal difference was too tight to make it comfortable.

So it proved, as Man City won their final game of the season away against Chelsea with enough goals to overtake our goal difference.

At least, that would have been the case had we not put two past Arsenal and won the game comfortably with a resounding victory to claim the spoils and revenge over our earlier Champions League knock out. We press them high and repeatedly win the ball back in their half, not giving them time to build attacks and feed Icardi who is so lethal.

Two clear-cut chances to their none and seven half chances don’t tell the true nature of this contest. It wasn’t one. Arsenal were hustled and harried out of the game, as is reflected in the average rating of player ratings from the two teams.

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Completing back-to-back Premier League titles this early in my managerial career at Liverpool wasn’t really expected. It is most definitely welcomed though. I feel like I’ve added more strength in depth and also sorted out the woeful lack of quality in the U23s and U19s by scouting for genuine prospects to coach in our fully developed Kirby Academy, with some like Luis pushing Bazoer for first team action with his improvements on the training pitches with the First Team at Melwood.

A small and inconsequential team across Stanley Park become even smaller as they get relegated. Proof that Chinese money can’t buy you everything in life. We say the same to Aston Villa as they go straight back to the Championship. I don’t think I’ll bother to scout for any potential acquisitions at those clubs as I did with Vardy and Drinkwater last year.

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FA Cup

Besides our extra-time win over Arsenal our progression through the FA Cup was somewhat simple. We beat the likes of AFC Wimbledon, Bolton and Brighton before meeting Arsenal, and doing so with so-called weakened sides as we’re forced to rotate thanks to still competing on all four fronts up until April. Game time is given to Mané, who has been behind Berardi in the pecking order, comes up trumps as he scores two and provides three assists in three games. Vardy gets to start ahead of the rested Origi, and bags himself four in two starts.

On to the final, after a demolishing of West Brom 4-0 in the Semi-Final (where Vardy grabbed a hat trick) and we meet Man City in the third Cup Final of the year. Pep must be sick of the sight of me when he shakes my hand at the start of the game. The boys have agreeably moved yet further away from the fashion-disaster choice of the cream suits that the Spice Boys wore in the ill-fated 1996 Cup Final.

After beating Man City in both the Premier League title chase, and both the League Cup and Community Shield, we knew we had the psychological advantage going into the game and the boys did Liverpool proud. A Berardi goal before half-time sees us take the lead into half-time. I say that the Cup is in their hands, now go out and make sure that it’s in both of them at the end of the game. Origi takes special notice of this and bags himself a brace in the second half, one straight after half-time, the other to cancel out an Agüero goal for Man City, and with Lovren chipping in to the party too.

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A quadruple of English domestic titles makes for one heck of a celebratory open top bus ride, only beaten by that of the England Cricket Ashes-winning side of 2005. Liverpool streets are full of red shirts, flags and scarves being waved around as our fans bask in the warm May sunshine along the Mersey and around Anfield. The second title and cup victories is enough to lift some of my players and even myself into favoured personnel at the Club. It looks as though we’re on the right path but we’re some way short of our goal of European dominance enjoyed in the 1980s.

At the end of season awards dinner the Best XI is announced with Bazoer replacing Can, rather aptly, and a clear victory in Coutinho for Fans’ Player of the Season Award, something he’s becoming rather accustomed to receiving, given his tactical importance in the wide playmaker role out on the left.

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My scouts have been busy and have identified potential talents to come in and I’m still not happy with our defensive depth and centre back so I’ll be entering the market again in the forthcoming transfer window. Safe to say that Arsenal’s Giménez won’t be on my short-list after last year’s demands from his agent…

To find out who I sign, who gets sold on, what tactical tweaks I look to make and whether or not Liverpool can continue to make progress in the Champions League again, see what happens next Friday. A special tactical focus on the victorious FA Cup Final will be released on Thursday morning.

Be sure to catch up with Chris on twitter @anfmoldtimer and join both our FM Slack channels, #anfmoldtimer and #limitedfullback. If you haven’t checked out the FM Slack then get in touch with @FM_Samo and join the rest of the FM community. Over 400 people have join already, so if you haven’t, get involved.