North Of The Wall

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-17-24-48So, those of you that follow me on Twitter (@JLAspey) will have seen that The Tactical Annals is back, and I’m finally back playing Football Manager. I apologise for my inactivity lately. Those of you who know me well will know that I’m currently in my training year to become a teacher, and through the school term I really struggle to find the time to play FM properly enough to write about it. I’ll have the odd dabble with old saves, but I don’t want to revisit any of those on this blog months down the line when you’ve all lost interest.

However, I’m now back with a fresh new save for the blog, and I’m going somewhere I’ve never really managed before. As you can probably tell from the title of the article, I’m in Scotland, north of the border. Beyond the wall. I’ve only ever managed briefly in Scotland before with Falkirk in FM13 (I think?) before this blog even existed, so it should be a fun save to explore Scottish football in Football Manager. I also have to credit Iain Macintosh, Alex Stewart and Matt Stanger for making me take notice of Scotland in the game again via the FM17 Project.

1577So, who am I playing with? Again, those of you that follow me on Twitter will already know, but I’m in the Highlands with Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Why Inverness? Well, they were predicted to finish mid table in 6th in the first season, so it provided me with a nice challenge, and I also really like their logo. Who needs deep reasons to manage a club on Football Manager? As so often happens on FM though, I’m starting to quite like Inverness. I’ve already played the first season of this save, so we’ll be starting from Season 2, but I’ll quickly go through what happened in Season 1.

Screen Shot 2017-04-11 at 18.11.45

Well, we finished the full league season in second place, blowing our 6th placed prediction out of the water. Celtic were never ever threatened and comfortably took the title by 9 points – although we remained unbeaten against them – and it was a three horse race for the remaining two placed in European competition. It doesn’t look like it, but Hearts were right there with us and Aberdeen until the last few matches. Much of the credit for our amazing season must go to this tactic that I developed, a sort of 3-4-2-1. It sits deep, provides plenty of defensive cover with a Back 3 and 2 DM’s, and looks to work the ball forward carefully and patently. However, I moved away from the 3-4-2-1 in the last few games of the season, but I’ll cover that later. It worked absolute wonders against Celtic, drawing against them three times and beating them once at home. It really struggled throughout the season against Aberdeen and Hearts however, and I feel the team can afford to be less defensive this season with the improvements in players. Player wise, most of the credit should go to loan signing Jordan Williams, playmaker Greg Tansey and free signing striker Blaz Sujica, who scored 25 goals for the season. I desperately wanted to sign Williams, having agreed a £425k fee for him with Liverpool, but after I received the Season 2 transfer budget, I knew this was impossible. He’s sat on the transfer list at Liverpool for £1.2M as I write this. I miss him.

Screen Shot 2017-04-11 at 16.48.51

A pretty good first year.

Screen Shot 2017-04-12 at 10.58.59So, Season 2 – the difficult second album – can we repeat the heroics of the first season? As I said above, I believe the first key step is to develop tactically. Last season, the 3-4-2-1 worked wonders, and we played some incredibly solid defensive minded football. However, against Hearts and Aberdeen we really struggled, largely due to their excellent wide play, and our increasingly slow wing backs (with single digit attributes for pace and acceleration). As a result, I decided that we needed to switch to combat this threat, so I switched a 4-4-2 diamond that you can see on the right with a FB-D, CD-C and a BWM-S all on the side that Aberdeen and Hearts were most threatening – and our weakest flank. Unfortunately, I only decided to make this switch 1-0 down at half time against Aberdeen, but we came back to level the game at 1-1, before a last second penalty gave us a defeat. However, with the diamond installed full time, the last three games of the season were all won to secure us 2nd place, with a comfortable 2-1 win over Rangers on the final day.

Because of the solid performances of the diamond towards the end of the season, I want to bring it into this season and see if we can convincingly make it our Number 1 tactic. The 3-4-2-1 will remain, but as we get better and our reputation increases, I really think Celtic are the only team we should be using it against. However, it will probably make an appearance in the Europa League should we make it through a decent way in qualifications. It’s unbelievably solid defensively, but it’s not a tactic we will be using in 5 years time.

Screen Shot 2017-04-12 at 12.23.34

The squad has also improved considerably moving into this season. I feel I’ve used the shoestring budget I was given pretty damn well. Free transfers and the transfer list have been my friend, as I’ve only spent £115k in total. First in were Ben Killip from Norwich, Adam Barton from Partick Thistle, Keith Watson from St. Johnstone and James Keatings on a free.

  • My backup goalkeeper had retired, so I needed reinforcements in goal, and Killip is a decent prospect, but importantly was more than happy to be a backup option. Cheap as chips at £3.2k.
  • Barton was being played inconsistently at Partick Thistle, and comes in to be a starting player within the diamond, playing either at DM the or the CM-S role. In reality, I think he’s versatile, and could realistically also be a playmaker moving forward. Incredible value for money at £45k.
  • Watson comes in to be our new first choice right back. I’d been playing David Raven at right wing back last season, but his speed just fell off a cliff at the end of the season and I feel that Matej Jonjic – a crucial free signing last season and an excellent Back 3 centre back – can do more than play right back. I just don’t know what yet. Watson is solid, with good attributes and was only played 14 times for St. Johnstone last season. This is a steal at £60k.
  • James Keatings was a total shock when Hibs decided to let him go at the end of the season – as well as losing Jason Cummings – so I quickly snapped him up. I had to give him a fairly large wage for Inverness (£1.9k p/week) along with bonuses, but he’s a massive upgrade upfront, and should partner well with Sujica. Could well prove to be the signing of the season.

In the next batch were goalkeeper Viktor Noring from Hearts, full back Bob Harris from Bristol Rovers, centre back Dejan Kurbus from USV and attacking midfielder Graham Carey from Plymouth Argyle. Only Noring cost anything at a measly £7k.

  • Noring was a stubborn signing. Initially he wouldn’t take the pittance of a wage I could offer him, but once I’d already signed Killip he came crawling back asking if I could big for him again. I still needed decent cover in goal, so £7k was still an absolute bargain for a decent back up keeper.
  • Bob Harris was signed as a Bosman partway through the season, and has come in to be the first choice left back. He’s got more than decent defensive stats for the FB-D, and depending on how the tactic works going forward, could well end up playing FB-S. Dribbling is his only real weakness, which doesn’t bother me as I want build up going through the diamond anyway.
  • Kurbus was also signed as a Bosman through the season, and was initially intended to be a backup to the LCB position held by McKay. With the move to a Back 4, he’s still backup left centre back, but could also provide support to the FB-D role if needed. A solid squad player.
  • Carey was a Bosman signed later than the rest, and one that I’d hummed and hawed about, but with Aaron Doran our only good option at AMC, I felt the gamble on Carey was well worth taking. I think he’ll be a good quality player in Scotland, if only as a relatively short term option for a few seasons. Plus, I like left footed Number 10’s.

Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 20.41.24

Pre-season has been pretty plain sailing, and the diamond has had an extensive run out in all matches, save 45 minutes of experimenting with a 4-1-3-2 against H&W Welders – the greatest club name ever – which didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. It’s performed excellently, and has clearly resulted in wins as you can see above. We efforltessly defeated Alloa, AaB from Denmark and H&W Welders. It then travelled back to Denmark in the first round of our attempt to qualify for the Europa League against moneyballing legends FC Midtjylland. We comfortably dominated the ball against them both at home – helped by Tim Sparv getting himself sent off – and in Denmark, and came away with a 5-2 victory on aggregate, and even that flatters them because we conceded a last minute penalty in Denmark. I was beyond proud of my imaginary players, and it just goes to show how much the club has improved in a short amount of time.

Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 19.20.43

The greatest night in Inverness Caledonian Thistle history?

Of course, we then came crashing back down to Earth against English League 2 side Morecambe, a match that I played twice as the result of my computer crashing midway through saving the game – and I didn’t have a backup. Yes, I was worried the save was gone. The first play through we lost 2-0 with a heavily rotated (quite frankly rubbish) side, and the second time when the game was holidayed, we drew 1-1. Clearly my assistant is better than I am. We then travelled to Kazakhstan – no Borat jokes – to face Kairat, and beat them 3-0 in extremely comfortable fashion with Keatings scoring a brace. The only problem was this match was a mere three days before the beginning of the Scottish league season, and I played a full strength lineup. I tried to take as many key players off as I could to rest them, but I fear St. Johnstone will take advantage of the classic FM European hangover in the opening game of the season.

Nevertheless, we enter the beginning of the 2nd league season of this save in very good shape, and looking like we might just have an outside chance of making waves in Europe. Expectations wise for this season, I simply just want to consolidate our position. I don’t expect to finish 2nd again, but I would definitely like to finish 3rd, qualify for Europe again, and continue to bring in the money that will help the club press on and eventually rival the Old Firm in terms of money and wages. Updates for my saves are going to return to the old format, simply to allow me to play more often and not have to keep updating, so until January – in game, I promise – thank you very much for reading, and should you have any questions about this save, Football Manager 17, or anything in general, please feel free to contact me either on Twitter (@JLAspey) or in the comments section of this blog. Thank you again.

Draft One

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-17-24-48Right let’s get started. 3-1-4-2 DM. In case you didn’t read the last update, I’ve joined the Community Formation Experiment over on the Sports Interactive tactical forum. The premise of this challenge/experiment is simple – formations don’t matter. In theory, base formation’s aren’t important. It’s the interpretation of those formations that makes the difference, and they can all be interpreted in many different ways, and in the end they all become unique. The challenge is to take whatever formation you draw, and turn it into a viable tactic.

I randomly drew 3-1-4-2 DM. That’s a back 3, a defensive midfielder, a midfield 4 and two strikers. An interesting formation with plenty of challenges, but definitely not one of the most challenging formations. There’s some horrible base formations in Football Manager if you take the time to look. All members of the experiment are also required to play as Sassuolo in Italy. This update will cover the first observation I did of the tactic I drew up as a first draft, and what positives and negatives I saw in the tactic’s first match against OGC Nice of Ligue 1 in France.

For reference, here is the tactic I’m kicking off with. If you have any questions about the tactic itself, please feel free to ask. Any details on why I chose certain roles are in the previous update.

So first things first before I dive into the in-match analysis, here is an overview of the game. I love this new post-match report feature. You can get a bunch of information from this little report.


Firstly, we won 1-0 which is nice, with our CM-A Lorenzo Pellegrini getting forward – a good sign already – to score in the 39th minute. We absolutely dominated the ball with 63% again proving the theory that using the lower risk mentalities like counter and defensive can lead to high possession statistics without the need for shouts like ‘retain possession’. I’m not really looking for a possession hungry tactic, but I’m not adverse to it either as long as we create chances. Another glance shows that our biggest passing connection was from the Regista to the CM-A, a really good sign. This shows that we’re being able to advance the ball through centre midfield, from our playmaker Sensi to our most aggressive attacking central midfielder. Pellegrini also made the most key passes in the side, showing he’s being a clear threat when he gets forward.

Another glance will show that we only managed 3 shots on target, which is not good. However, in 90 minutes, Nice only managed one, showing that we may well be doing something well defensively.

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 13.10.32.png

A deeper look into the shots we took – 17 during the game – shows that actually our profligacy in front of goal may have been our issue – a slightly worrying issue – rather than having any issues with the shots we’re taking using this tactic.

As you can see by the yellow arrows, there’s a fair amount of them that have simply been missed, and there’s two orange arrows that have been saved. Plus, the majority of the shots are in and around the box, and therefore are in good positions to score. I’ve told the side to ‘work the ball into box’ so this should be expected. However, it’s pleasing at this early stage to see that there isn’t a load of long shots, suggesting that the players have options when attacking, and aren’t reduced to simply hoofing it towards goal. However, you can see here that we’ve created plenty of chances, we just haven’t finished them. Let’s hope this doesn’t continue to be an issue, or I’ll be begging for Berardi to come back early.

So now for the in game images – how did I feel everything looked?

Screen Shot 2017-02-13 at 14.08.22.png

Well, this is a screenshot I took straight from kick off – I always do this to see how the base shape looks in game. We can see that the back 3 looks good, the Regista is deeper than the midfield 4 but is looking for the ball, and he’s well connected to the rest of the midfield. The defensive wingers are also in close proximity to the Nice wingers should we turnover the ball and need to get back into defensive shape quickly. The only issue I could see from this image was that the two strikers initially looked quite isolated from the rest of the side – something I would need to keep an eye on throughout the rest of the game.

Screen Shot 2017-02-13 at 14.22.22.png

So far, I’m very happy with the shape of the team when we get into attacking positions. Here you can see Magnanelli (playing Regista) with the ball, with plenty of options ahead of him. The Defensive Wingers have pushed forward, and we’ve ended up in a 3-3-4 shape. This would normally be an issue, but we’ve pushed Nice so far back that we can more than cope with our back 3. It’s also a shame there isn’t some kind of CD-S role in FM17 à la Azpilicueta at Chelsea, because there’s a bunch of available space for the LCB to advance into and cause overloads. At this point, I’d decided to make the change and push the defensive line higher up, and as you can see, the connections between the team are far better. It also compresses the space, and makes a counter attack far less likely.

Speaking of counter attacks, what was our defensive shape like?

Screen Shot 2017-02-13 at 14.30.56.png

Well, the fact that we held Nice to only 1 shot on target through the whole game suggests that we did something right defensively. Above you can see our shape, with Nice moving the ball out to their right flank. Our defensive winger has gone out to close down Pereira, and therefore we’ve moved into a pseudo Back 4. The shape itself is nice and compact, and we’ve got 7 men behind the ball, something I’m very comfortable with – those that read this blog will know I’m unashamedly defensive minded. However, what eventually resulted from this move was a cross that caught our defensive winger on the right flank napping, leading to a slight chance for Nice. It was the only time during the whole match that I was ever unhappy with our defensive work. Other than that, we were comfortable, compact and dominated the available space on the pitch. Tactically, you cannot compensate for a player losing focus and allowing a winger to make a run into the box. Still, I am very happy with only one shot on target against a very decent Ligue 1 team.


So in the (very) early going, this 3-1-4-2 DM is looking pretty promising. I’ve now added the shout ‘push higher up‘ after this game, and I’ve also included my usual goalkeeper personal instructions (something I stupidly forgot for the first 10 minutes of this game). As you can see above, everything’s still fairly basic for now, but the tactic is developing. I don’t think it’s anywhere near perfect, but as a baseline I’m very happy with the initial version of this tactic. The only irritating thing is that Defrel was injured in this game, meaning I’m down to Iemello and Matri as a strike partnership until Defrel and Berardi return.

I also need to consider any possible transfers. I can make two permanent ones and one loan deal, and I need to assess where I think the team is weak. At the moment, I’m thinking we need depth in central midfield (and I have a brilliant potential cheap option there) and potential improvements at defensive winger.

I’ll update again at the start of the Serie A season in order to show you any changes I’ve made until that point, but for now thank you very much for reading and as always, should you have any questions about FM17 or this tactic in particular, then please feel free to leave them in the comments section or contact me on Twitter (@JLAspey). Thank you again.

Changing Things Up

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-17-24-48It’s time for something a little bit different. When I first broke through onto the FM Scene, I did so doing tactical pieces only. This can be seen in the early articles on this blog, such as the Central Winger articles, the Mjallby 4-1-2-3-0 and the defensive 4-1-2-2-1. As time has gone on, I’ve started to focus more on the story of my saves, and taking inspiration from other people across the FM Community. This is obviously something I’ll continue with, as it helps me immerse myself in the save I’m actually playing, but at times I feel like the focus I initially had on tactics has been lost.

It’s for this reason that I’ve signed myself up to the Community Formation Experiment over on the Sports Interactive forums (a forum I regularly lurk on, but rarely post). The premise of the experiment is simple. Everyone who enters is randomly allocated one of the standard formations within Football Manager, and your challenge is to create a viable tactic using only the formation you’re given. You can change roles, duties, team shape etc, but the formation itself must remain the same as the one you were given at the start.


Everyone is also required to use the same team and the same database (the current one).

There are a few more additional rules to ensure fairness:

  • Only 2 permanent transfers are allowed, and 1 loan transfer.
  • No limitations on outgoing transfers.
  • The same past experience for managers (international experience and highest coaching badges).
  • No database edits.

So, which formation did I get? As you can see to the right, I drew 3-1-4-2 DM.

There’s plenty of challenges to the 3-1-4-2 DM formation, but considering some of the formations I could have drawn, this is a fairly pleasing formation. Quite frankly, there are some horrible formations that are left in the game by default – particularly those with absolutely no coverage through the middle of the pitch – and I look forward to see what others do with those they are given. I was pleased to have received a formation with a Back 3 as well, as I haven’t used one so far on FM17, but my love for them is well documented.

So, which club will I be playing as? For this year’s edition of the experiment, the Italian side U.S. Sassuolo Calcio has been chosen, for their positionally flexible squad, and good young players with plenty of potential. Also, Domenico Berardi is a Sassuolo player. Sassuolo are predicted to finish 9th in Serie A, so there’s mid-table expectations, but the potential to do far better with the promise the squad has. Still, first things first. The tactic needs planning and developing.

Screen Shot 2017-02-11 at 23.43.41 2.pngThis is the basic structure of the 3-1-4-2 as it appears when you select it. A back 3, 1 holding midfielder, a midfield 4 and 2 strikers upfront.

There is one key weakness of this formation, and one that will be my biggest challenge when developing the system. This the red circles in the image to the left, the positions where wing backs would usually be. If I was creating a 3-5-2 system, I would always prefer to have wing backs in this role rather than MR/L’s. However, this is the challenge, and I have to make sure that the wide midfielders can track back and cover these key areas.

Another potential – but more easily solved – issue is that there’s no Number 10 role within the system, shown by the white circle. However, a simple solution for this is to have either an attacking central midfielder to move into this area, or to use a creative deep dropping striker who can move into the 10 space and link the play with the midfield. Ideally, I’ll be able to use both of these to make us dynamic in attack. Berardi could thrive in a creative role upfront.

Here are my other basic thoughts on the system:

  • A back 3 means that I have the ability to be quite aggressive with my role and duty selection in central midfield, aware that I’ve always got 3 men back to cover any errors.
  • The above point means that I can quite probably use a Pirlo-style Regista in defensive midfield to control the game, giving me the runners from midfield that I need to support the strikers.
  • A good number of men back, and two strikers upfront lends itself quite nicely to counter attacking football.
  • The fact that our ‘wing backs’ are at MR/L rather than the wing back slots means that any pressing we get involved in could be more effective.

From all of this information and theory, I need to create a first version of the tactic, a base level from which I can tweak and develop. It may be full of mistakes, but it ‘s a start.


Here is the first draft. It follows much of what I’ve discussed above, with a Regista from defensive midfield, and the use of Defensive Wingers to ensure that we can cover the wide spaces. The midfield is also a basic recreation of the Pirlo – Vidal – Marchisio midfield that worked so well for Juventus several years ago, with the CM-A given the license to move into the 10 space and support the strikers. The Back 3 is very basic – at least for now – with just a covering central centre back flanked by two CD-D’s, and upfront I’ve gone for an ultra basic AF-A/DLF-S combo. It’s a tried and tested combination, and I feel like Berardi could be lethal when given the license to drop deep and run at the defence. For now, Defrel and Matri will have to fill in until Berardi returns from injury. If the DLF-S isn’t giving me enough, there are other creative roles I can turn to instead.

The system itself is set up with a counter mentality, but this is very changeable. I’ve asked the side to pass out from the back and work the ball into the box, and that’s it. Pre-season will be spent reviewing the base tactic, spotting any mistakes I’ve made in the initial setup, and looking at how I can improve it moving forward into the Serie A season.

I’d hoped that this would be a nice side series for the blog, and would allow you all to see how I formulate and develop a tactic. Plus, it should provide me with a nice challenge. I hope you all enjoy reading this, and should you have any questions – or suggestions – about the tactic, or just FM in general, then please do feel free to ask via the comments section, or on my Twitter (@JLAspey). Thank you again.

Exclusive Interview with Everton boss Aspey ahead of derby

Image result for sky sports logo

Exclusive Interview with Everton manager Jonathon Aspey ahead of this weekend’s first Merseyside Derby of the season.

Read more below:

11th place. That’s where Everton finished last season under now Belgium boss Roberto Martinez. Perhaps the very definition of underachievement. Fast forward 5 months, and a rejuvenated Toffees enter the first Merseyside Derby of the 2016/17 Premier League sitting 3rd in the table, ahead of their crosstown rivals. Replacing Martinez and his entertaining – but leaky – football was Jonathon Aspey, who has guided the club back up the table, to a position it hasn’t been in since the heyday of Martinez, and the days of David Moyes. Much of this has been done with the same squad as last season, save for a few key additions in important positions within Aspey’s system. It has been some turnaround of form, and one which the blues attending games at Goodison Park this season have relished.

With Everton fans – and the club as a whole – feeling new found confidence, I sat down to speak to Aspey ahead of this weekend’s derby, to try and find out more about the man, and how far he thinks Everton can really go this season.

Good afternoon Jonathon, and thank you for agreeing to this interview. It’s been quite a season so far for your Everton side, how has the Premier League and full time management been treating you?

JA: Thank you. It has been quite a season so far! Growing up in England, I have always followed English football, but I don’t think I truly appreciated the intensity or quality of the games at Premier League level until I was pitchside watching them first hand. As for full-time management, this is what I’ve wanted to do since my playing career ended, so this is a dream come true, and I’m beyond proud to be manager of Everton.

Have your club’s performances this season surprised you at all given their 11th place finish last season?

JA: No, not even slightly. I knew coming into this club we had some fantastic players, who just needed direction and guidance to find their best roles. Ross is a perfect example of that, and has put in some unbelievable performances this season high up the pitch with encouragement to get into the box. With the players we have, we should be challenging the top teams, and I think that’s been seen so far with our performances against Chelsea and Manchester City.

This Sunday you go up against Jurgen Klopp, one of the Premier League’s most active managers on the touchline. What are your opinions of his so called ‘antics’, and do you think it has any effect?

JA: First off, I’ll just say that I’m looking forward to going up against Jurgen on Sunday. As for what he does on the touchline, that’s entirely his business, as long as it’s not directly aimed at any of the opposition players. He’s a fiery character and he’s certainly passionate, and I’ve seen the positive effect it can have on his players. As you well know, my style is a little more reserved on the touchline, but I like to think that it still has the same effect on my own players.

As always, this is going to be a passionate Merseyside Derby, but where do you see this game being won and lost?

JA: I think an important element in every single Merseyside Derby I’ve seen is the emotion of the game. Tempers will flare and emotions will run high. It’s our job to use those emotions in a positive way, and compete. I don’t expect our players to lose their heads. Obviously the on pitch events will matter, but a Merseyside Derby is also a psychological battle. We have to win that battle. At Goodison, I know we’ll have the fans behind us for the whole 90 minutes.

On that, is there any Liverpool player that you feel you most need to keep an eye on?

JA: Liverpool obviously have several very talented players, but I think Sadio Mane is one that we really need to keep in check. His ability to penetrate through a defence is well documented, and we need to make sure that he’s not able to make those runs. Obviously there’s Coutinho and Lallana to watch, but I think Mane is the game changer for their side. Of course, we’ve got plenty in our team.

Do you foresee any tactical changes then to combat those threats? Do you have a plan to deal with Jurgen Klopp’s counterpressing system?

JA: Obviously, I’m not going to go into this too deeply, but I’m happy with how we’ve played tactically this season. I think there’s a danger in changing too much, and losing what has brought us to this position. We’re ahead of Liverpool in the table and I think they should be the one respecting our form and our system of play. As for Jurgen’s counterpressing style of play… well…. I think our style of play, with fast passing and forward movement actually mirrors Liverpool’s style to a certain extent. I have some backup ideas in mind of course that I can go to during the game, but I feel that we can more than cope with gegenpressing.

Do you therefore see your team coming straight out of the gates and going for Liverpool, or will you cautiously build your way into the game?

JA: I don’t think anyone that has seen our games this season could in any way refer to us as cautious. As I said, we’re going to come out and play our usual way, and I have confidence in our team to play our game, and impose our style. I see no reason why we can’t. We’re at home, and we’re not inferior.

Well, it should be a fascinating game. Thank you very much for this interview Jonathon, and good luck on Sunday.

JA: Thank you.

Everton vs. Liverpool from Goodison Park will be live on SkySports1HD and SkySports1 on Friday Night Football from 6pm.

These Toffees Might Be Quite Good Actually…

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-17-24-48So, I have played until the Merseyside Derby at the end of October, so it’s once again time to update you all on how things are going with the toffees.

The last update covered the month of September, where we defeated Middlesbrough at the Riverside, Chelsea at Goodison and West Brom at the Hawthorns. We also stumbled upon a new 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree formation – largely as a result of me promising Kevin Mirallas he’d be in the starting lineup when he decided to moan about being on the bench – that had helped us to those wins and brought some brilliant performances out of our central midfielders – and Mirallas. In fact, the only negative in the month was that we’d lost 1-0 to Southampton at Goodison Park. However, when you finish the month 3rd in the Premier League, you can’t complain. Of course, I’m not raising expectations just yet. Realistically, we had only faced Chelsea at that point who are really a top class side. There are many more to come.

This month we faced Swansea, Pep’s Man City and reigning champions Leicester in the league, and Crystal Palace in the League Cup. Have we managed to continue our good form? Has the 4-3-2-1 fallen to pieces? Can I list any more questions?


Well, we’ve had a decent month, but one that I really feel we could have done better in. We opened the month with an effortless win over Swansea at the Liberty, with goals through Barkley and Mirallas – I knew he was too good to stay on the bench – who are quickly becoming our dynamic duo and our most dangerous pair. We absolutely dominated Swansea, with 67% of the ball, and only allowed them 2 shots on target in the whole game – at their ground.



Next up, Pep’s – until that point – perfect Manchester City side at the Etihad. Prior to the match, Pep even said that we’re a good side. That’s nice of him. Lukaku had picked up a knock in the game against Swansea, so Enner Valencia took his place in the striker role. Apart from that, it was my usual full strength side, full of central midfielders and playmakers. That’s my kind of tactic.


Awwww, thanks Pep. Please, be gentle.

However, we surprisingly had the better of the game and the ball, and took the lead through Ross Barkley again in the 28th minute. Despite that, we never really took control of the game, and I always felt City were one good attack away from scoring. I was proved right in the 73rd minute, when we lost the ball in the centre of the park, and City countered with De Bruyne finding David Silva in the box, with Conti being forced to bring him down with a trip – somehow only getting a yellow. Fernandinho then tucked away the penalty to make it 1-1. From there, we continued to have more of the ball, but few chances came our way and the match just petered out and ended 1-1, a frustrating draw. Still, if you’d offered me a 1-1 draw before the game I’d have taken it, and it’s another match that shows the fantastic progress the team is making.

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 18.53.52.png

Barkley scores again, firing in from the edge of the box to make it 1-0 against City at the Etihad.

We then welcomed Leicester to Goodison Park. We came out of the traps firing, with Mirallas continuing his good form by giving us the lead in the 14th minute, arriving late in the box to tuck in from Coleman’s cross from the right byline.When we got a pelantly in the 38th minute, I pretty much thought the game was done. However solid and dependable Leighton Baines – who has actually been slightly shaky at times this season – missed the spot kick, and we failed to kill the game off. We were looking extremely passive in the second half, so I made the stupid brave decision to increase the mentality, looking to kill the game of. Of course, Leicester then hit us on the counter in the 78th minute, and we left Goodison with a 1-1 draw that we really shouldn’t have. Leicester had 3 shots, and one of them went in. I’d say I’d been FM’ed, but it was through my own doing. I’m clearly the Kevin Keegan of Football Manager. I will love it if we beat them…Sorry.

Lastly, we played Crystal Palace in the League Cup, and with the game being 3 days before the Merseyside Derby – info on what I’m doing for that is at the end of the update – I rested everyone. With a weakened team, we promptly went 2-0 down with goals by Zaha and Benteke. Palace are like my bogey team in FM sometimes, I don’t understand why. At about 70 minutes, I decided that I wasn’t making any substitutions, and was more than happy to let the game just fizzle out. Yes, go forth my sacrificial lambs! Of course, my sacrificial lambs then scored 2 through Oviedo and Rodriguez to equalise and take the game to extra time. Lovely. Just what I needed. I decided that only Lukaku – who needed fitness having returned from injury just before the derby – would be brought on, and he came on in the 105th minute. He promptly scored 2 in 3 minutes before being subbed off, and two more from Arouna Kone gave us a 6-2 win AET. Why we suddenly exploded in extra time, I have no idea. Anyway, we’re through.


So, before the Merseyside derby, we sit 3rd in the Premier League, 5 points behind an unbeaten Manchester City in first, and 3 points behind the also unbeaten Arsenal in second. Amazingly, 4th and 5th are Burnley and Watford. Now that we’ve faced Chelsea and City, and not lost both, I’m starting to feel more confident about our prospects this season. I’m still not going to necessarily change my expectations, but I’m starting to think that maybe European football is very possible next season. However, we still have to face other top teams like United, Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool.

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 19.32.48.png

Now,  speaking of Liverpool…..As I said in the previous update, I want to do something a bit more special for the first Merseyside Derby of this save. So, what I’m going to be doing before the game is an ‘interview’ with my manager. So, what I need for the interview are some questions. So, I would like you all to come up with the questions that you want my manager to answer prior to the derby. Do you want me to talk tactics? Or how Liverpool will play? Or player selection? You can send in your questions either in the comments section of this blog, or on Twitter (@JLAspey). I really look forward to seeing what you all come up with, and once I’ve got a good amount of questions, I’ll post the interview as the next update, and then the Merseyside Derby itself will form part of the proper November update, in which we’ll also play Man United, Burnley and Sunderland in the league, and we’re also in League Cup action again.

So until then, thank you very much for reading, and as always should you have any questions about the save itself or FM17, please feel free to ask in the comments section or on my Twitter (@JLAspey). Thanks again.

Lovely, Sweet Toffees

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-17-24-48So, I have very quickly reached the end of September in the Everton save – I am really enjoying this save – so it’s time to update you all once again on how things are going, and whether we’ve been able to keep up our good start.

In the last instalment of the Evertonia story, we went unbeaten through the month of August, comfortably defeating Stoke City, Bournemouth, and Crystal Palace in the Premier League on our way to 2nd in the table. The only thing even resembling a blip in the month was having to go to penalties to defeat Peterborough in the League Cup after a 1-1 draw after 120 minutes. We had also made a tactical switch, quickly ditching our 4-3-3 system we’d used in pre-season and moving to a narrow 4-3-1-2 formation, and continued our odd obsession with Italy by signing talented Croatian midfield playmaker Andrija Balic from Udinese for £11M.

So, have we managed to keep this up? Have we continued to be fighting at the top of the table, or like so often with Everton, has reality set in and pushed us back down into mid-table obscurity?


Well, no. Not at all. Reality is quickly changing at Goodison Park, at least for now.

We opened the month travelling to the North East – Everton great Howard Kendall was from the North East as well you know? Just saying – to face Middlesbrough at the Riverside. We continued with the 4-3-1-2, but were forced into a fairly heavy rotation, with Lukaku and Valencia injured, so the front two was Arouna Kone and Leandro Rodriguez and Gareth Barry came in for the suspended Idrissa Gueye. My selection ‘policy’ was backed up in the 34th minute when Rodriguez fired past Victor Valdes – a shot that the former Barca keeper should really have saved. However, I was brought straight back to Earth when Daniele Baselli idiotically brought down Gaston Ramirez in the box. Penalty. Negredo then tucked the penalty away, and when a shot deflected in off Gareth Barry after half time, we were in trouble. I then ramped up the mentality to attacking, and within minutes we were back to 2-2 through Barkley. I then calmed things back down to control – whilst still higher than our normal ‘standard’ – and in the 84th minute Ashley Williams headed in from a flicked on corner to give us an incredibly hard fought comeback win.

Screen Shot 2016-12-29 at 20.00.56.png

Ashley Williams heads in from Edoardo Goldaniga’s flick on to complete our comeback in the North East.

Next up was tricky Southampton – with Yannick Bolasie – at Goodison Park and well…we lost, somehow. We were by far the better team in what wasn’t a great game, but one that we definitely didn’t deserve to lose. We had the lions share of possession, and more shots than they had, but in the 92nd minute, Ashley Williams decided it was a good idea to foul a Southampton player in the box at a corner, and Charlie Austin tucked away the penalty in what must be the FM definition of daylight robbery. To say I was disgusted would be a slight understatement. We in no way deserved to win, but that hurt.

Fortunately, we then had a less important fixture to deal with in West Brom in the League Cup. I heavily rotated the side again – more than Tony Pulis – and we laboured for most of the match, having chances but failing to actually tuck them away.  Finally in the 75th minute after I had brought on Baselli, Goldaniga and Lukaku – who returned from injury against Southampton – we took the lead, as Baselli laid on a pass for Seamus Coleman – making his first start since returning from injury himself – to smash in. That part of the move was actually quite like Carlos Alberto’s goal from the 1970 final. Another goal followed in the 81st minute from Deulofeu as he fired in at the near post after a lovely through ball from Lukaku, and we secured a comfortable – in the end – 2-0 win, sending us through to the next round. Lovely. Next up, Chelsea, and yes they play 3-4-3.


Prior to the game with Chelsea, I received this. Kevin Mirallas is not content with being a backup to Ross Barkley at Number 10. I tried to tell Mirallas that if he worked hard in training I’d give him a shot, but he wasn’t having it, and therefore I – perhaps weakly – told him that I would start him over the next few games. However, I’m not about to drop Barkley (who I’m quickly becoming quite fond of ) and he can’t play upfront, so I made the brave – probably stupid – decision to switch to a 4-3-2-1 formation, and play Barkley alongside Mirallas, with Barkley as an AP-S and Mirallas as a Shadow Striker. Lukaku then moved to a CF-A, and everything behind remained exactly the same. Barkley and Mirallas were also told to move into channels in order to give us width and create movement.

NOTE: I know I said that Barkley wouldn’t have a controlling role in midfield, but Balic and Baselli are the real controllers, Barkley just needs a creative role next to Mirallas.

So, how did things work out?


Yeah, quite well.

2-0 doesn’t really do justice to how good a performance it was. Chelsea’s 3-4-3 didn’t cause us any problems at all, and our control of the centre of the pitch was quite outstanding. I was brave in the second half and moved the mentality up to attacking, and the speed of our attacking movement was breathtaking, and Chelsea (with a Back 3 and 2 DMC’s) simply couldn’t handle us. Mirallas more than repaid my faith in him by opening the scoring after a through ball from Lukaku, and Coleman completed his fantastic return to the side, scoring his second in the month, tucking in at the back post after a wonderful move involving Lukaku, Barkley (playing DLP-S at this point), Oviedo and Mirallas. A fantastic end to a good month for the Toffees.


So, we end the Month 3rd in the league, three points behind an already rampant Manchester City under the maestro Pep Guardiola. At this point to still be in the position we’re in is fantastic, and the Chelsea game has given us a bit of a litmus test to see where we’re really at in comparison to the top clubs in the country. Right now, I’m chuffed to be 3rd, but I’m still being very cautious with my expectations. We’re a top half team who finished 11th last season, and we’ve only played 6 games, there’s 32 still to go. Until mid-season, I won’t even begin to start changing my aims for the season. Call me Cautious Charlie, but I always find things work out better if I don’t start expecting too much. I am delighted with the way things are working tactically, and I’m getting good performances out of every member of the first team.

Next month, we face Swansea at the Liberty, before the big test of Pep’s City at the Etihad. We then welcome champions Leicester to Goodison, and take on Palace in the League Cup 4th Round. After that, we’ve got the first Merseyside Derby of the season, and I feel like I want to do something special for that – I’ll at least be doing a tactical preview – rather than just adding it into the normal monthly update, so I’m not 100% sure whether I’ll do an update before or after the derby. Either way, thank you for reading, and if you have any questions or queries about this save, of FM17 in general, please leave them either in the comments section, or contact me on Twitter (@JLAspey). See you next month!

Building Evertonia

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-17-24-48Well, I’ve reached the end of August 2016, so it’s update time in the Everton Project. Has the Everton curse bitten me as well, or have I managed to stabilise the wobbly ship Goodison?

In the first update of the save, I covered the early decisions I’d made, and the pre-season fixtures. I had signed entirely from Italy in order to strengthen the squad before the Premier League season, bringing in Daniele Baselli from Torino, Andrea Conti from Atalanta and Edoardo Goldaniga from Palermo, reducing the serious weaknesses the squad had when I joined. We’d also had a good pre-season, comfortably defeating all the teams we faced – including Werder Bremen – before being defeated by Man United in Wayne Rooney’s testimony. Congratulations Wayne. Traitor. I also felt that our system was developing with the team naturally fitting into a 4-3-3 structure, with Baselli controlling the midfield, allowing Barkley to get forward in a Lampard-esque fashion and support Lukaku upfront.

Has this optimism continued, or have things fallen to pieces, as they have with so many others attempting to take the Toffees back to glory?


Well, for a first month, pretty damn well. We opened the month facing Stoke City at the bet365 – oh that’s so catchy – and all my tactical confidence in the side promptly went out of the window, with the side barely being able to move the ball in the first half, let alone keep it, and we quickly went 1-0 down to Stokealona. I then quickly made the decision to switch to the formation I know best, and re-ordered the side into a 4-3-1-2 playing this lineup:

Stekelenburg; Conti, Williams, Goldaniga, Baines; Baselli, Gueye, Barry, Barkley; Lukaku, Kone

Gareth Barry therefore came into the side to play as a Deep Lying Playmaker on the left side of the diamond, and Barkley played as Number 10, still given license to penetrate through the defence as an AM-A. Lukaku was converted from a CF-S in the 4-3-3 to a DLF-S, and Kone came in as an AF-A to stretch the defence to create space for Barkley and Lukaku. This change paid dividends, as we went on to tear Stoke’s defence apart with two goals from Kone, and another from Lukaku as we won 3-1. The only issue was new signing Andrea Conti was injured in the game, and would be out until the end of the month. Brilliant.

I decided before the Bournemouth game that I would continue with the 4-3-1-2 moving forward. This meant that we needed to sign another central midfielder, with Everton simply not having enough cover there for me to realistically use it. I therefore returned to – you guessed it – Italy, and signed the Croatian maestro Andrija Balic for £11M from Udinese. As someone pointed out to me on Twitter, this is basically ‘The Italian Job’. I prefer to call it Evertonia. Balic is reminiscent of a young Modric, and should be absolutely fantastic in the DLP role on the left side of the diamond. This also coincided with Yannick Bolasie leaving the club for £19M to Southampton. This helps balance out the books, as well as preventing any issues with Bolasie not being played in a system that no longer suited him.

We then faced Bournemouth, and promptly swept them away 4-0 at Goodison Park, with a second half hattrick by Barkley from Number 10, and a fourth from substitute Leandro Rodriguez. We were incredible, only allowing Bournemouth 3 shots on target, recording 12 ourselves from 23 shots. The 4-3-1-2 worked perfectly, and Bryan Oviedo performed well enough at right back to prevent me signing Daniel Guedes from Santos. Until Coleman and Conti return from injury, Oviedo can continue at right back. Plus, I really don’t want to disrupt the – already unstable – harmony within the squad. Of course, everything wasn’t plain sailing. Romelu Lukaku went off injured in the 76th minute, and would be out for the rest of the month along with Conti.

Screen Shot 2016-12-26 at 19.58.44.png

Ross Barkley picks up the ball from debutant Andrija Balic to make it 2-0 at Goodison Park.

We then faced Peterborough in the League Cup, and I rotated the side as much as I could, removing as many vital players as possible, giving some of the young players a chance. In classic Football Manager fashion, we then struggled, but made it through on penalties after a 1-1 draw in 120 minutes of football. Not great I admit, but I rarely put much stock in cup competitions until I actually reach a point where I can manage both league challenges and cup campaigns. Still, we should be beating Peterborough more comfortably than on penalties.

We then finished off the month travelling to Selhurst Park to face Alan Pardew’s – FM is alternative reality – Crystal Palace. Palace away is never an easy game on FM. Some of the players were struggling for fitness after the cup game – such as Ross Barkley – but I decided not to make too many changes to the first choice lineup, aside from bringing Barry in for an exhausted Balic. Enner Valencia came in to partner Aroune Kone upfront in place of the injured Lukaku. We didn’t perform anything like we had against Bournemouth, but still managed to pull out a 1-0 win, with Mirallas scoring from a cross from Baines after the Belgian had come on in place of Barkley at Number 10. There were some iffy moments – and Idrissa Gueye didn’t help us by getting sent off for a stupid second yellow card – but realistically we were never threatened by Palace, and ended the month with a perfect record. Hey, who would have predicted that?


So, we end the month 2nd in the Premier League, with three straight wins. I don’t expect this to continue at all, but it’s good to have gotten off to a good start. However, we haven’t faced any of the bigger teams yet, and realistically we’ve won the games that we would be expected to win. The move to 4-3-1-2 was a risky move, but it appears to be one that has worked out well, and this allows me to move forward in the save using a system that I know inside out (for those of you that have recently followed this blog, I have always preferred narrow formations, and 4-3-1-2 in particular). The squad itself is only a few signings – a top strike partner for Lukaku, and some rotational options in midfield – away from being able to challenge for European qualification in a 4-3-1-2. More depth is certainly needed, but the foundation is there.

We face a busy month in September, facing Middlesbrough and Southampton in the league, then West Brom in the 3rd Round of the League Cup, before returning to the league to take on Chelsea, our first real test of the season. If we can still be in the top 8 by the end of the month I’ll be extremely happy. We’ve got a steadily growing injury problem, with Lukaku, Conti (out for a second time, this time for 4 to 5 weeks with a hernia), Valencia, McCarthy, Coleman and Robles all out, although Coleman is back in a matter of days. Not before long as well. So, I’ll update again at the end of September, hopefully still going strong in the league, and comfortably in the top half. Until then, thank you very much for reading Evertonia, and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask them either in the comments section, or by contacting me on Twitter (@JLAspey). Thank you again.