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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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