Episode 8 – End of 2019/20 report – Must try harder
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″.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!?
Win the Premier League, reach the Quarter Final of the Champions League, reach the Final of the FA Cup… standard expectations at this point.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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