Time To Push The Boat Out

901So, it’s time to begin the fourth season of the Bayer Leverkusen save, as we enter the 2022/23 season. This save is still very much alive and I plan to continue it for a few more seasons, so there’s no concerns about this save stopping (I am considering an African international save before FM16). In the last update, we finished the third season, and repeated (if not quite matched) the epic highs of the second season, winning the Bundesliga, DFB Pokal and the Champions League, whilst adding to that with both Supercups and the Club World Championship. All in all, that’s 6 trophies, the best season we’ve had so far in this save.

It’s meant that we’ve risen up the club rankings, moving from 15th to 9th in the world, above PSG and Real Madrid, who have really declined over the past few years. Juventus are 4th in the rankings, which I find strange, as we’ve dominated them every time we’ve played them since I took over.

So this season, it’s time to push the boat out in every sense of the word, with signings and tactics. I’ll cover the tactics later on because it’s highly dependant on the signings I’ve made, but I have definitely pushed the boat out. As you’ll remember in the last update, I said that quite a lot of players were going to be leaving the club this summer, and they have, with us raising £139M in transfer fees. Firstly, 26 year old Julian Brandt was sold to Man City for £56M. I wasn’t going to be using Brandt in the new tactic I was developing, and £56M is way above what I’d value Brandt at. He was voted as German Player of the Year last season, and I’m not totally sure why. He’d played well for sure, but he wasn’t outstanding (hence why he wasn’t included in the POTY section in the last update), so I was more than happy to cash in on him.

Dominik Kohr was also finally sold to Dinamo Moscow for £2.8M after happily sitting in the reserves for the past season following the signing of Towa and development of Vener. I also finally made the decision to move on Ulrich Isa, selling him to Schalke for £28M, a fantastic profit on the £2.9M I paid for him from PSG two seasons ago. He could come back to haunt us, but at 28, he’s approaching his later years, and now was the time to cash in. Isa’s been a huge player for us over the past two seasons, scoring some huge goals in big matches. The signing of Isa represents some changes at Schalke, as Diego Simeone is now their manager, with Luis Enrique having left them to manage Bayern (after I told them to do one) in effectively a swap manager deal.

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 09.53.46Arsenal also came in for Dirk Bruinsma, who was signed last season to replace Ivan Ribeiro. I negotiated Arsenal up to £26.5M and was more than happy to make the £12.5M profit on him, and look for a replacement. Jose Luis Gaya was also sold, moving back to Juventus for £16M. I’ve made a £5M loss here, but Gaya has been extremely valuable over the past few seasons so I don’t mind making a loss on him. With the development of Evan Viennet, it was time to move on the 27 year old. The last proper sale was a big one, as Number 10 Hakan Calhanoglu was sold to Valencia for £8.5M. He’d really started to decline, and now was the time to move him on, and at this point in his career, £8.5M is reasonable value.

In the last update, I said this:

“Well, there are yet more changes to come, and there’s a lot of players to move on this summer. Isa, Gaya, Hakan, Kohr, and possibly even Medaglia (who had the best averaging rating this year) will hopefully be sold, to make the most of the money we can get for them at this point, and to lower the average age of the squad. Even Julian Brandt is now 26, and if a good offer comes in for him, I could be tempted. The big clubs are after him.”

So out of those players, I’ve only held onto Medaglia, and that’s largely because there isn’t the right option out there right now to replace him. Pere Busquets works very well as our utility man, and always plays well when he’s needed, but he isn’t the long term replacement for Medaglia at right back. I consider that to be very good business, and I’ve made the moves I wanted to make. It means that there aren’t many players still at the club that were there when I joined. They’re now my players.

So, with this it was time to go out and let loose on the transfer market, and I spent £98.5M, much less than the fees I received. Firstly, I needed to replace Bruinsma, so a centre back was absolutely a priority.

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I signed Brazilian centre back Elaninho from Cruizeiro for £18M. He’s perhaps a little less cultured on the ball than Bruinsma, but he’s strong and more than capable of filling the Dutchman’s shoes. He very much reminds me of Ribeiro in the sense that he’s a tank of a defender. I don’t think he’s necessarily an upgrade on Bruinsma, but I don’t think he’s a downgrade either, and his performances so far have been very encouraging, and it looks like £18M well spent. I’ve swapped a player, and made a nice profit out of it.

With the sale of Hakan to Valencia, I now definitely needed a new permanent Number 10, and I decided to splash out here. Money was no object. I’ve needed a top class Number 10 since the beginning of last season as Hakan started to decline. You know who my top target (not named Alexander Walter) was…

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Yep, I finally got him. I signed Belgian Francis Mbiyavanga from Arsenal for £53M. Yes, it’s a huge outlay for one player, but in effect we’ve swapped him for Brandt, and made £3M profit. He’s got everything that I’ve been looking for. He’s a great dribbler and finisher, a willing passer able to see and pick out any pass, and he’s strong with a good amount of pace. He’s going to be a key part of the new tactic, and he’s dominating early on, scoring and making assists. I couldn’t be happier that he’s finally part of the team. In a way, his style of play reminds me of Ruud Gullit.

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We also needed another left back with the sale of Jose Luis Gaya, and I signed Maguila from Coritiba to provide competition for Evan Viennet. Maguila looks like a fantastic player, and I managed to get him for only £850k, which is a ridiculously low fee. He’s actually been the starter in our early games, and he’s been very solid so far, and it’s going to be tough to choose between him and Viennet. Viennet is the much faster player (Maguila’s only real weakness), but Maguila is a more rounded player in terms of his technical and mental attributes. I think both players are going to push each other all season, and bring the best out of each other.

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I wanted another attacking player with the sale of Isa and Brandt, so I signed Dudé from Sao Paulo for £26.5M. He’s fast, strong, with great dribbling, finishing and first touch. He’s also a very good passer, if an uncreative one. So far he’s proving to be a key part of the new tactic, and has pushed Thiago onto the bench. That alone shows how good he’s been so far. His direct running gives us so much in attack, and he can change games in an instant, combining with Mbiyavanga.

Speaking of the new tactic, it’s time to cover it, and show you the craziness that I’ve got planned for this coming season. Early signs are very good, and it looks like (somehow) it’s a very solid tactic, and it fits the players we have.

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 10.34.30Strikerless and a Libero. Yes, I’ve gone full on tactical hipster here. It’s in effect a strikerless 3-4-1-2-0 with a Libero rather than a third central defender. Due to issues with the Libero in game, he plays as more of a sweeper, and rarely steps forward as I’d like. However, Bodin is still playing very well in the role, and it isn’t causing us any problems at all. Full on hipster role selection here. However, I am searching for a way to make him play more like a Libero that I’d recognise.

Ahead of Bodin are two standard central defenders on defend to complete the ‘back 3’. Ahead of that is a bank of 4, with two DM’s and two wing backs. I’ve moved Vener back to being a DM for the purposes of this tactic, but he’s now been given license to move forward as a Roaming Playmaker, and he gets forward to the opposition’s box a lot, and really causes havoc. Beside him is Towa, who is a standard DM-D and is far more defensive. The two CWB’s provide the width and get forward plenty, stretching the defence out, creating gaps for Dudé and Mbiyavanga.

Ahead of that is a BBM-S. Etou’s energy and stamina work fantastically and he gets up and down the pitch, providing a scoring threat when we go forward. The only problem is that his finishing is too low for him to be an elite player in this role, and I think this is where we can improve. Ahead of him is an effective front 2, with Francis Mbiyavanga as an AM-A (the more playmaking of the two roles) and Dudé as an SS. Dudé is basically a deep striker, and I see some of the direct running and attacking that I wish strikers would do more often on FM15.

This tactic might seem crazy, but FM15 is starting to wind down and I can feel the whole scene is now waiting for FM16. I felt it really was time to have a last hoorah on FM15 and do something different and push the boat out. I’ll be doing some tactical pieces to cover the development of this tactic, and show how it works in game.

But, is it actually working? How have our results been this pre-season?

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Things are going fairly well considering the drastic tactical switch. It was world cup year, so I gave the players an extended break for the summer, only starting pre-season in early July. We went on a short tour of China, beating Beijing and Liaoning 3-0 and 5-0 respectively in very easy matches. We then came up against Luis Enrique’s Bayern (of course) in the German Supercup, and despite having the better of the game, we went through to penalties, where Bayern managed to win when they scored all of theirs, and Elaninho was the unlucky one for us, missing his. Still, it was early days with the new tactic, and in the league it would have been a draw, which I’d have been more than happy with. Still, I hate losing to Bayern.

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 17.50.46Francis arrives.

After the penalty disappointment, it was time to move onto another Super Cup, this time the European Super Cup, where we’d face Monaco. In a match where the new tactic worked perfectly, Francis Mbiyavanga announced his arrival into the team with two goals, striking up a fantastic partnership with Dudé. Early days, Mbiyavanga and Dudé look like a much better partnership than Mbiyavanga and Thiago, and I even considered selling Thiago over the summer. However, no club got anywhere near the £70M it would require to make me sell, and as a result, Thiago’s staying and I’m going to hopefully work things out.

Anyway, after that we beat Sandersdorf 6-0 in the first round of the DFB Pokal, before starting off the Bundesliga with a nice easy opener – against Dortmund.

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 18.00.35Close game.

Well, it wasn’t even a competition. The new tactic was in full flow, and we demolished Dortmund 4-0. Dudé and Mbiyavanga just ripped their back 3 to shreds, and Vener and Etou were magicians from midfield. I’ll probably do an article on this match, showing why the tactic worked so well in this game, and why we won so easily.

So up until now, things are going well. I think I’ll make a few more transfers to bring in some youngsters, but I’ll cover these in the next update.

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 18.38.33I also thought I’d briefly cover the finances of the club, and show how beneficial our success has been for us financially. We’re now now longer in debt, sitting with a good amount of money in the bank, and I’m still comfortably under the wage budget. I’ve got some transfer budget left to sign those youngsters. It’s a complete turnaround from the first season where we were millions and millions in debt. We’re projected to have £108M in the bank by the end of the season, pretty impressive considering this is running alongside the development of a new stadium, and new upgrades to our facilities, which I’ve had to hold off on until now.

It’s nice to not have to worry about the financial situation any more, as that’s a side of the game I know I’m not good at. We’re established as a top side in Germany now, and can be comfortable with the seasonal windfall we receive from challenging for the Bundesliga. Even finishing second or third leads to a nice injection of cash.

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I also said in the last update that it would be the last time you’d see my Leverkusen with the old kits, and I’ve had some lovely new ones made to match with the big changes that have happened this season. They were made by @DaleNichol, and they’re absolutely fantastic. It’s little things like this that make the game feel special to me, and little details help keep it fresh. As we wind down now towards FM16, that’s an important factor for me as I want to keep producing content for this blog, but I don’t want to be bored and just keep playing, otherwise it will come across in my updates. I want the content to be quality.

I’ll update this save again just after the transfer window closes in January, but until then thank you very much for reading and continuing to support this blog. If you have any questions or queries, please feel free to ask either on Twitter (@JLAspey) or in the comments section. Thank you again.

So, Can We Repeat?

901So, we’ve reached the end of the third season of the Bayer Leverkusen save, and this is probably the fastest I have ever played FM. I’m usually criminally slow, taking a couple of months to play just one season, but I’m enjoying this save so much and enjoying writing about it that I’m getting through it faster than ever before. So it’s time to update once again, and were we able to recreate the epic highs of last season, where we won the Bundesliga, DFB Pokal and Champions League?

Well I’m hardly going to ruin that right now, but I will say that no matter what, I do consider this to be a successful season, one that has absolutely confirmed Leverkusen’s status as a top club in Europe. Still, this is by no means the end of the save, and I’m planning on taking things even further next season, including perhaps another tactical change. So, how did we finish in the Bundesliga?

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 09.25.43The Three-Peat. Champions of Germany three times in a row. We didn’t make it easy this time, stumbling out of the blocks and playing some shocking football, but once the diamond really settled in, we were unstoppable. We only suffered one more loss in the season, an abysmal 2-1 defeat to Red Bull Leipzig (just enforcing my hatred of everything Red Bull) when they scored in the 87th minute.

Bayern slipped more times than I expected them to, and they really let us in, especially considering our two games in hand. Eventually we finished with a 4 point gap, a gap which really doesn’t show how close the league was. For example, when we played Bayern in the second fixture, it finished 4-4. We led 3-0, then they came back to 3-3 in the space of a torrid 5 minutes. We then look the lead again, before Bayern equalised at the death. The draw was more than acceptable for us, being the ones with the games in hand, but I still love beating Bayern. We haven’t done it that many times in this save though and I’d like to get to a point where we don’t have to worry about facing them. We don’t tend to get beaten by them, but we don’t seem to beat them that often either.

You can see that the diamond has altered the style of our team a little bit this year. Our defence has been still good with only 28 goals conceded, but that’s not as stingy as last year with 8 more goals conceded. However, we’ve scored more than last season, ending with a Bundesliga record (breaking Bayern’s record from last season) of 106 goals.

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You can see the sheer amount of goals we’ve scored since the winter break. The amount of 3, 4 or 5 goal wins is astounding. Whilst the Bundesliga win might not be as dominant as the unbeaten season last year, it’s still pretty impressive, and 4 points is a fairly comfortable gap. I expect Bayern to come back strong next season though. They’ve now sacked manager Diego Simeone, with Arsenal boss Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino the bookies’ favourite for the job. Winning the Bundesliga is now something I expect us to do though, and we had bigger fish to fry again. Before that though, there’s the matter of the DFB Pokal. Can we win two in a row?

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Well, we did it again, but it was closer this time, with a much more difficult run to the final. After the Lippstadt demolition job, only Bochum in the quarter finals weren’t Bundesliga opposition. With both the Bundesliga and the Champions League to consider, I used weaker lineups all the way through until we met Dortmund in the semis, scraping through with a 1-0 win at Signal Iduna Park. Predictably, we faced Bayern in the final, and drew 2-2 after 90 minutes, coming back from 2 goals down thanks to big goals from big match players Vener and Isa. We finished off the stunning comeback in a penalty shootout, to win our second straight DFB Pokal.

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Some comeback.

That’s now 5 trophies in total for the year. Supercup, European Super Cup, Club World Championship, Bundesliga and DFB Pokal. So, can we make it 6 with a second straight Champions League triumph?

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Not to be totally predictable, but yes we did. After a very shaky 0-0 draw against Benfica in the first leg of the 1st Knockout round, we demolished them at home 4-0 to easily make our way through to the quarters, where we drew Juventus, the team we’d faced and effortlessly beaten in the groups last year. As a result, I really wasn’t worried by Juve, and rightfully so, with us winning a ridiculous 8-1 on aggregate. I still felt like we were avoiding all the ‘big boys’ of Europe up until this point (which I didn’t want) until we drew Barca in the semis, still with Messi, Suarez, Neymar et al. That’s more like it. A huge 1-0 win at the Nou Camp put us in the driving seat for the second leg, and an epic 2-1 at the BayArena win put us through to another Champions League final, where we would play Arsenal at Old Trafford, and therefore Francis Mbiyavanga, the Number 10 I’ve been after since the beginning of last season. He no longer wants to sign for Leverkusen, so it was time to stuff Arsenal, and show Mbiyavanga what he’s missing out on…

Well, we didn’t stuff them in the end, drawing 1-1 after extra time (with Ramsey scoring early and Thiago being injured 5 minutes in), and going through to another penalty shoot out in a cup final. Again, we won on penalties, and won our second straight Champions League. It may not be as dominant as the first one, but it’s still the Champions League, and therefore a 6 trophy haul for the season. I’ll take that after the changes that the club has gone through this season.

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Penalties again. How very German.

So, 6 trophies in one season. That’s as good a season as I can remember having on Football Manager in terms of trophies won. We literally won everything we entered. It wasn’t as dominant as last season, or nearly as convincing in finals, but at the end of the day we were the victors. Supercup, European Super Cup, Club World Championship, Bundesliga, DFB Pokal and the Champions League. Top of the mountain.

As is usual in the end of season updates, I’m going to do a top 3 players of the year. This year it’s a bit strange given the comings and goings that occurred in the winter transfer window, but these are undoutbedly our best 3 players this season.

3. Evan Viennet

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This might be considered an odd choice, given the fact that Viennet only joined in the winter transfer window, joining from Saint Etienne £17.25M. At this time, I felt I might have overpaid for him, but couldn’t have been more wrong. He’s a £20M+ player. He made 20 appearances in the second half of the season, averaging 7.82, good for the second best rating at the club. He’s been so good that he’s pushed Jose Luis Gaya out of the Number 1 spot at left back, and Viennet will be one of the first names on the teamsheet next season. As a result, I’m considering selling Gaya, knowing that he’s 27 now, and at optimum selling age.

2. Bienvenu Etou

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Etou was just brilliant. He controlled the midfield in a way that Tielemans never did, and for much less money. He may be less traditionally creative than Tielemans, but he’s a fantastic, composed playmaker who always make the correct choice. He doesn’t rush the pass forward, and keeps the tempo of the side going. Absolutely the metronome to which we play to. Probably the second name on the teamsheet behind Thiago, and a cornerstone of this side going forward. Averaged 7.74 in 27 appearances, the fourth best at the football club. Getting him for such a low fee (£5.25M) makes this even better. In contrast, Tielemans has been injured with a torn hamstring, only making 10 appearances for PSG for an average rating of 7.24. Definitely a good deal.

1. Thiago ❤

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I think it sums up how good Thiago is, and how much I expect from him, that I consider this to have been a much worse season for him than last season, and he’s still undoubtedly the best player at Leverkusen with 41 goals and 16 assists in 41 appearances. However, I think his ‘lack’ of form at certain times during the season has largely been my fault. He’s been swapped between the Advanced Forward and Trequartista positions upfront, largely to accommodate Ulrich Isa, and I don’t think this is helping Thiago’s form.  I felt that with his progress last season he was increasingly becoming a more creative player and could play in the Treq role, but this hasn’t continued this season, and it’s confirmed his status in my eyes as an Advanced Forward. As a result, Ulrich Isa (who is now at selling age) will be sold, in order to prevent Thiago’s form declining midway through the season as it did this time. We’re at our best when Thiago is scoring goals for fun, and he does this best from Advanced Forward.

So, where do we go from here? Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 10.04.06

Well, there are yet more changes to come, and there’s a lot of players to move on this summer. Isa, Gaya, Hakan, Kohr, and possibly even Medaglia (who had the best averaging rating this year) will hopefully be sold, to make the most of the money we can get for them at this point, and to lower the average age of the squad. Even Julian Brandt is now 26, and if a good offer comes in for him, I could be tempted. The big clubs are after him.

You’ll probably notice that as this save goes on it’s starting to have a bit of a ‘Moneyball’ feel to it, with me selling players for huge fees, and reinvesting in (sometimes) cheaper alternatives. I’m aiming to make profits with my transfers now, rather than just splashing the cash like I did in the first season, so it should make for an interesting read as this ethos develops.

Things are also going to be changing tactically next season (again). I don’t think I’m going to be able to sign the Number 10 I’ve wanted, and as a result I think I’m going to move to something without an AMC. This isn’t for certain, but I’ll have decided on the new tactic by the time pre-season comes round. I may also do some standalone articles running alongside these save updates where I go through the development of the tactic. Let me know if you’d be interested in that.

So until then, thank you for reading and I’ll update again after the pre-season. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me via Twitter (@JLAspey) or in the comments section of this blog. Thank you again.

Screen Shot 2015-05-24 at 23.09.37It’s also the last time you’ll see these Leverkusen kits.

Inconsistency, Idiocy and Yet More Changes

901So, we’re back with another update on the never ever boring Bayer Leverkusen save. This is probably the most complicated save I’ve had in a long time on Football Manager. You’d think after a season as dominant as last one that this one would be largely the same, and I’d continue with the same exact squad. Well, no. I’d identified that the squad was ageing in certain areas and certain players were no longer pulling their weight as much as they had in the previous two seasons. As a result, changes were needed.

Also a confession. This isn’t quite the usual mid-season update, because I’ve played through the transfer window, for reasons that you’ll see later. I was going to do a full season update, but with so much to discuss, I think you’d all be very bored by the end of that. Plus, I just love writing about this save.

I’ll discuss tactics first and foremost. In the last update, I revealed that I was switching to a diamond formation (probably my favourite real life formation), and I’ve stuck with it. It’s taken me quite some time to figure it out, but I’ve now settled (I think) on the roles etc. going forward. The main changes are to the instructions (which the diamond seems to be incredibly sensitive to) with the main change being asking the players to play through the middle (whilst increasing the width in order to create central spaces), but I’ve also changed the CWB-A’s to normal WB-A’s after experimenting with WB-D’s similar to @StatisticalApp’s Diamond Dominator tactic that he uses with Stamford (if you haven’t seen that series, go check out his fantastic YouTube channel). The CD-D has also changed to a CD-C, as I noticed that it seemed to work better with a DM-D, giving both positions enough room to manoeuvre, and cover defensively. It also helps when we build up the play, with both players not ending up on top of each other.

Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 20.05.47In terms of the Bundesliga, we currently sit 2nd in the table, three points behind Bayern, but crucially with two games in hand. The reason we’ve got these two games in hand is as a result of the Club World Championship in December. By the time we went into the competition (which I’ll try not to describe as an inconvenience) we were still three points behind Bayern. Fortunately they’ve slipped up a couple of times in that span, meaning that we can actually leapfrog them if we win our remaining games in hand.

A 16 wins, 1 draw and 1 loss record doesn’t even begin to show how shaky we were at the start of the season. I’m not 100% sure why, but we were pretty terrible. Thiago couldn’t score at all, and Ulrich Isa got injured for 3-4 weeks, and has been in and out of form ever since. We seemed to have a never ending spell of games where we’d play well for 15 minutes in the first half, scrape a couple of goals, before barely being able to string two passes together in the second half. The defence looked a lot more shaky too. The tactic is certainly more attacking than the 4-3-1-2, but we looked very hesitant at the back, something I haven’t been used to. We came up against Bayern at the very end of this horrible run of performances, and managed to scrape a horrible, ugly, defensive 0-0 draw, where we pretty much just kept them at bay for the full 90 minutes, with Alexander Walter (who I now despise) dominating from the wing. I’m going to have to sign him, otherwise he’s going to cause us real problems for the next decade. He still wants to come to us, but Bayern are having none of it. Selfish.

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The Bayern match proved to be the turning point, as we started to rediscover our form, and became the Leverkusen that I’ve come to know and expect again. The diamond really settled in after I’d stopped tweaking things, and we went on the run you can see above, going 12 games unbeaten. They’re all comfortable wins too, and we’re scoring more goals this time round, which is due to the prowess of the diamond. All this has brought us back to a point where we can return to our spot at the top of the Bundesliga, and go for three titles in a row. After the inconsistent horrible performances to begin the season, I think we’re pretty lucky to still be in with a shout. Thiago found his scoring boots again too, and although he hasn’t been quite as prolific (he’s been feeling pressured by the attention of Real Madrid, who can do one quite frankly) he’s still within a chance of finishing as Bundesliga top scorer.

I’d also discussed the form of Youri Tielemans in the previous update, and explained that he was a large reason why I moved to the diamond, in order to allow him to get a better grip on games, and have more influence than he’d had for the previous two seasons. He’d been complaining that he didn’t feel that important to the club, so I thought I’d give him a chance, before deciding whether to sell him (knowing the value I could get for him). Tielemans’ form did recover, and he ended the half season with a 7.60 average rating (following some shocking performances at the beginning of the season, where I debated playing ‘8 for first touch’ Pere Busquets instead of him).

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We’ve also been pretty active in the cup competitions. We’re still in the DFB Pokal after defeating Mainz and Hertha (who were demolished with Isa scoring a hattrick) to draw Bochum in the quarter final. Like last season, I want to win this trophy, as the club is now at a point where we can just aim to win everything we’re in.

We also won the Club World Championship at a canter, beating Marinos in the semi final, before demolishing LA Galaxy in the final. I did find it to be an annoying inconvenience, but it’s another trophy, making that three so far this year, with both Super Cups and the Club World Championship.

We’ve also been making our way through the group stages of the Champions League. We drew Manchester United, Bordeaux and Sparta Prague this year, with only United really giving us any trouble in the first fixture, but we still won 2-0. I think it shows how far we’ve come that we can ease through the groups like this. Mind, United are not the force they once were, and haven’t won the Premier League since 2017. Either way, we’ve drawn Benfica in the 1st Knockout Round, and hopefully we can make our way past them, and look to repeat in the Champions League. I’d be disappointed with anything less than the semis this time, and I’m hoping to come up against some of Europe’s big boys, who we seemed to miss out last year.

So results wise, things are moving along smoothly after a shaky start. We’re playing good football again and winning games very easily, usually by the end of the first half. We’ve always been very good at killing games before the first half’s even over, and we’ve rediscovered that.

Still, I’ve made yet more changes in the winter transfer window.

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Despite his improvements in the first half of the season, I sold Youri Tielemans. I probably wouldn’t have shipped him out had an offer not come in, but PSG wanted him, and wanted him badly, eventually negotiating a deal that will add up to £64M with instalments. When you consider that Tielemans was signed for £26M, that’s a fantastic profit of £38M…..

Or so I thought. This is where the ‘idiocy’ bit comes in. When I signed Tielemans, I’d included a percentage of future fee in my desperation to sign a player of the quality of Tielemans (we were only a Europa League side first season and Tielemans was effectively taking a step down from Juventus). Unfortunately (and stupidly) the future fee was 25%, and I’d forgotten all about it. As a result I had to kiss goodbye to a quarter of the money and give it to the player that was off to PSG to be paid megabucks (£240k a week in fact, a bit bigger than the £105k I was paying him). To say I was annoyed with myself was an understatement, but I still ended up with around £30M to spend on a replacement, with more to come over the next 12 months. Even if you take out greedy Tielemans’ quarter, it’s still a massive profit, and one I was happy to make. Of course, this left me needing an AP-S for the diamond. I tried to sign Sarnataro from Torino, but they wouldn’t even begin negotiations with me when I bid £30M for him. I also tried to sign Pedro Miguel Lopes Souza from CSKA Moscow, but they wanted £45M for him upfront, and I decided it wasn’t worth adding huge future fees into any transfer. Instead I decided to look for a cheaper option.

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In the end of a lot of scouting I signed Frenchman Bienvenu Etou from Rennes, for a ridiculously low £5.25M. Etou was coming towards the end of his contract with Rennes and looked unlikely to sign. With other top clubs wanting his services, I decided to make the move now (I needed him immediately anyway). £5.25M for a player that my scouts rate as world class is amazing value. He’s been plugged straight into the diamond at AP-S, and has really hit the ground running, playing 3 games for us with an average rating of 8.30. This looks like a fantastic piece of business. He doesn’t quite have the vision I’d like, but he more than makes up for it in other areas.

This left me with plenty of money left from the Tielemans sale, and I decided to spend a bit more of it. Throughout the past one and a half seasons we’ve been a little bare at full back and it’s undoubtedly been our weakest area. Medaglia and Gaya have been the first choice options, with Pere Busquets being retrained to play right back. When he’s been played elsewhere, 34 year old Gonzalo Castro (who really has declined) has been used as the backup option. Part of it is my loyalty to a player who has never complained about not playing, or playing in lesser competitions, but at the same time I couldn’t find another option for full back. This time however, I was determined to reinvest the money in a left back to provide competition for Gaya, and at the very least, be a solid backup.

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This took a long time as there aren’t a lot of good full backs around the footballing world, but I signed another Frenchman in Evan Viennet from Saint-Etienne for £17.25M. He’s still young at 22, and with pace to burn. His attributes aren’t out of this world and I do feel I’ve overpaid a little with this one, but he’s solid in all the important areas, and he’s also hit the ground running for us. I threw him into the starting lineup in the first two Bundesliga games after the winter break and he was player of the match in one of them and has averaged 7.75 for both matches. I’m not sure he’s the starter of the future, but at the very least he will be a very solid backup to Gaya and provide him with some much needed competition, and give us options as the fixtures become more congested towards the end of the season.

This leaves the current first choice lineup as (front line is interchangeable with Thiago/Brandt/Isa as is Oliveira/Bruinsma in the back line):

Zapata (SK-D)

Medaglia (WB-A), Oliveira (CD-C), Bodin (BPD-C), Gaya (WB-A)

Towa (DM-D)

Vener (BBM-S), Etou (AP-S)

Hajji (AM-A)

Thiago (AF-A), Brandt (T-A)

Very different to the previous years’ teams isn’t it? There are more changes coming at the end of the season too. I don’t think Isa will be staying around any longer, and will probably be moved on with Spurs sniffing around him. Although he’s very good (if in spells), I still get the feeling that he’s getting in the way of Thiago, and Thiago/Brandt is the best strike partnership at the club. I also still need a Number 10. That is the highest priority in the summer. Hajji has been good, if not spectacular, with 6 goals in 9 games from AMC (3 of those have just been scored in our last match). He’s a decent player, but he has games where he just goes missing, and it reminds me why I only signed him as a backup. Still, for now I prefer him to Hakan, who really seems to be declining. I’ll use up every bit of budget I have in the summer to make sure I sign that AMC. If I can’t find a cheaper option, it will have to be Arsenal’s Belgian youngster Francis Mbiyavanga. Ideally, I’d take Alexander Walter, but I’m 99% sure that’s not going to happen.

So that’s everything that’s happened so far this season, and it hasn’t been a quiet one! I’ll update again at the end of the season, hopefully Bundesliga champions for the third time in succession, and doing well in Europe again. Until then, thank you very much for reading, and if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me either via Twitter (@JLAspey) or in the comments section of this blog.

Diamonds of Bayer Leverkusen

901So, pre-season is over at Bayer Leverkusen as we move into the third season of this save, and it’s definitely going to be an interesting one. In the last update we finished the second season, winning our second straight Bundesliga (remaining unbeaten), our first DFB Pokal and the Champions League, in our first season back in the competition. To go with the Supercup at the beginning of the season, this gave us a 4 trophy haul. It was quite probably the best season I’ve ever had on Football Manager, but there’s no time for us to rest on our laurels, and it’s time to move on, and keep things going.

There’s also some changes afoot. I discussed some changes that I wanted to make in the last update (particularly relating to Hakan and Kohr). These haven’t worked out yet (despite my best efforts with Kohr but he rejected a move to Liverpool), but there’s still been plenty of activity at Leverkusen over the summer. One of these days, I’m going to get a quiet summer transfer window, and retain everyone I want to. One day… Probably not. Unfortunately I’m probably going to lose out value wise with both, but I’m not going to sell Hakan for a pittance simply because he’s reached a certain age, and then bring in someone much worse because people won’t pay over £20M for him. I know his worth, and he’s been epic for me so far. I’ll move onto my plans with the #10 later, but for now, I’ll cover the transfers I’ve made, because they’re somewhat related.

If you remember in the last update, I said that Man City had come in with a £27M bid for Ivan Ribeiro, the player who I rated as the third best player last season, behind Isa and Thiago ❤ (quite a compliment really). I said that I would only consider accepting if I could move it up towards £40M. Well, I eventually negotiated City up to a fee that will amount to £45M in future fees, so it was time to scout the market to find a replacement before accepting City’s offer.

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I eventually found Dutchman Dirk Bruinsma at PSV, available for a fraction of what I was making with Ribeiro’s sale. As you can see with the above comparison, he’s skilled in all the right areas for a centre back, and is actually better than Ribeiro in some very important areas. He’s also a better player on the ball, and is able to pick out a pass better than Ribeiro. As a result, he will also be more than able to cover for Bodin should he get injured/suspended. Comparing the two, and considering the £45M offer, I more than considered this to be an upgrade. As a result, Bruinsma was signed for a £14M, meaning it’s a decent outlay for one player, but still a massive profit.

If you also remember, Liverpool were fishing around Omer Toprak, my perennial backup at the centre back position. At 31 years old, I was more than happy to move Toprak on, and managed to sell him for an initial £5.75M that will work it’s way up to £7M with instalments. I think that’s fantastic value for an ageing 31 year old, and I expected to have to keep Toprak at the club. The fans aren’t happy with me, but it’s certainly the right decision. This left me needing another centre back, so I jumped back into the transfer market.

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I signed Brazilian defender Oliveira from Palmeiras for a ridiculously low fee of £9.5M. As you can see, the game values him at £21M, so to get him for £9.5M is an absolutely fantastic deal. I’ve now got three properly world class centre backs to rotate. To go from Bodin/Ribeiro/Toprak to Bodin/Bruinsma/Oliveira is nothing other than a brilliant upgrade. I’m still figuring out my preferred two though. Oliveira does look like a slightly better player than Bruinsma, but about 15 minutes before I started writing this update he rather oddly passed the ball straight to a Monchengladbach player to allow them to score, making it 4-1 rather than 4-0. Bruinsma on the other hand, has been solid thus far, and he may well be the one I prefer of the two. Oliveira is still a fantastic centre back though, and I’m sure his mistake is part of him settling in. Apart from that, he’s been solid.

Believe it or not, thanks to my extremely generous board, this still left me with around £45M to spend. To be honest, I was scouting around looking for that elusive #10, trying to find a cheaper and better option than Alexander Walter or Francis Mbiyavanga.

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Then I found this German youngster at Kaiserslauten by accident. At 17, his attributes are absolutely ridiculous. A skilled (if uncreative) passer, with strength in the tackle, height, and ability in the air. He’s also ridiculously hardworking, a born leader, with composure that way exceeds his age. I just had to sign him, and shelled out £41M, and he’s gone straight into the first team. He’s like a German Makelele with better passing. I don’t even see £41M as being too much for him, and this is mirrored by the Leverkusen supporters who feel we’ve got him for less than his true value. He’s going to be the best defensive midfielder in the world by the time he’s 22.

But hang on, we don’t use defensive midfielders at Leverkusen?

Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 22.19.10Well, we do now. I said in the last update that I was searching for a new project, and having felt like I’d ‘done everything’ I could with the 4-3-1-2, it’s now time to make a switch, and I’ve gone for a diamond. My thinking for this is that not only will it accommodate Towa’s ability better than the 4-3-1-2 and allow him to play defensive midfield, but it will exploit the growing talent of Daniel Vener, who really is becoming an all rounder, with the attacking side of his game developing. As a result, I want him to get forward more often, and he’ll have to as one of the CM’s, playing box to box. He should be marvellous at this once he gets used to actually being able to go forward.

It’s also allowed me to be a bit braver down the flanks. With no natural width, we need our full backs to provide it, and Medaglia and Gaya have always been up and down in the 4-3-1-2, they’ll just need to do it faster and more aggressively in the diamond as CWB-A’s. Early signs are very promising here.

It’s also part of the plan to set up for the (eventual) arrival of the #10 I’ve been looking for. I’m a huge fan of classic Number 10’s, and whilst I’ve got the AMC set as an AM-A, he will play as a classic playmaker, he just won’t be set as one in game, making the system a little more natural and less forced. For this season, Hakan and Hajji can share the duty of playing at AMC. I’ve never really given Hajji a proper run in the side due to injuries and the form of Hakan, and I feel it’s worth giving him plenty of playing time this season before deciding whether or not I definitely need a new AMC.

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The diamond is also designed to try and get more out of Youri Tielemans. Signed for £26M back at the very beginning of my time at Bayer Leverkusen, he’s been played in the Central Winger role in the 4-3-1-2 the past two seasons. He started off fantastically in the CW role and looked like he would be a world beater there, but as time went on, he was just ‘there’, and didn’t really affect games. I found this very strange, especially considering @MrEds had used him at CW in the earlier years of his Dortmund save, and had raved about how good Tielemans had been there. I don’t know whether it’s because of the two years he spent at Juventus not playing week in week out, but Tielemans has not been the world class player I expected him to be. The switch to the diamond allows me to play him in the AP-S role, and see if that will let him control and dominate games like I want him to. It’s not as if he’s been bad, but for the value I think I can get for him (Manchester United are interested) if an offer comes in, I expect a bit more. Especially when you consider I’m paying him £115k a week in wages.

To put things into perspective, I’ve just played a Bundesliga game against Monchengladbach, and played Pere Busquets (with only 8 for first touch) in the AP-S role due to Tielemans being too low on fitness to start. Busquets absolutely dominated the game from AP-S, and controlled everything like I’ve been wanting Tielemans to. As soon as I get an offer in for him that I can negotiate up to around £40M, he’s gone. I’ve already scouted his replacement, and while he won’t come cheap, I really want to sign Antonio Sarnataro from Torino. I’ve declared interest several times and Torino are still ‘unwilling to sell’, so it’s going to take a large bid to sign him, but at 19, he just looks fantastic. It all depends on Tielemans though. I’m not going to give him away for nothing, but I am very much looking to sell him now. I’d love him to change my mind.

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I didn’t really hold a ‘pre-season’ this year due to the majority of the players coming back from the summer break shattered as a result of international commitments etc. As a result we dived straight into things after a 1-1 draw against 1860 in a friendly with a second string lineup. We then had yet another close match with Bayern in the Supercup, going all the way to penalties after a 2-2 draw, where we managed to win 4-3 on pens, to pick up our first bit of silverware this year. We then demolished Lippstadt 12-0 in the Pokal, as the diamond started to take shape (I am still tweaking it though).

The Bundesliga began following that match, with a 3-0 win over Towa’s old club Kaiserslauten, with Towa opening the scoring and coming off with a 7.8 match rating. I was pleased to say the least. We then beat Schalke (German European dominance?) comfortably 2-0 in the European Super Cup with goals from Tielemans and Isa, and demolished Furth 5-1 in the Bundesliga. Then Dortmund brought us back to Earth at their place, beating us 2-1 with an 85th minute goal in a match that we never really looked like winning, with everyone except for Oliveira having a stinker. It was just one of those matches where you know after 30 minutes you aren’t winning. Their 3-5-2 (they’re managed by Walter Mazzarri now) bypassed our midfield press relatively easily in the first half (showing the diamond still needs work) and by the time we got our act together in the second half it was too late and we could only get one goal back. So, no undefeated season this year, but with the change in tactics and yet more changes coming to the first team lineup, I expected the standard to drop a little bit this year.

However, following some tweaks to the diamond, we then got right back on track with dominant wins against Union Berlin and Gladbach. This has left us 3rd in the Bundesliga as I type, 3 points behind Bayern. I’m not worried at this point though, we still have to play Bayern and can make up those 3 points easily. The team is still getting used to the new tactic (as am I), and I’ve made a few changes this season to keep things fresh. We’ve also had some inconveniences, with Ulrich Isa going down injured after a good start to the season. He’ll be back in 3 to 4 weeks, but for now we’re more than capable of scoring plenty with the tried and trusted partnership of Thiago and Brandt upfront. It’s a lovely luxury to have, that if any of our 3 world class strikers go down, we’ve still got partnerships of Thiago & Isa/Isa & Brandt/Thiago & Brandt to rely on for goals.

The Number 10 conundrum continues to annoy me. I can’t find a 10 as good as Francis Mbiyavanga at Arsenal, and I just know I’m going to have to pay megabucks (at least £40M) for him. This is irritating, because right now I feel as if the AP-S role in midfield is more of a problem area than AMC, where I can get by on a combo of Hakan and Hajji for a couple of seasons. As a result, I’m probably going to have to prioritise and focus on the signing of Sarnataro, and wait to sign the Number 10 I really feel will take us to another level.

Either way, it’s going to be a time of change at Leverkusen with the change in tactics, and a change of some of the personnel, including some key figures from the first Bundesliga triumph. I’ll update Screen Shot 2015-07-18 at 11.02.08again in January, hopefully with the diamond all settled in, and Tielemans rediscovering his form like Isa did last season. It’s going to be a weird season, and it feels like one of those transition seasons that Manchester United would go through every now and then. We might not win the league this year, but certain changes are definitely required. It’s strange to say after a season as dominant as last season, but I can see where we need to change to remain at the top.

Until then, thank you for reading, and as always, feel free to ask any questions on Twitter (@JLAspey) or in the comments section.

The Perfect Season on FM15

901So, we’ve reached the end of the second season of the Bayer Leverkusen save, so it’s time to update, and there’s lots to talk about this time. Lots and lots. In the January update, we were sat 2 points clear of Bayern at the top of the Bundesliga with an unbeaten record. We were also still in the DFB Pokal, and had qualified for the First Knockout Round of the Champions League against Porto after easily making our way through as leaders of a group that featured Juventus (who have been kind enough to give away Youri Tielemans and Jose Luis Gaya over the past two years).

However, that was only the beginning, in what has become probably my best ever season on any edition of Football Manager. This Leverkusen save is also quickly becoming my favourite FM save ever. But anyway, first things first, how did we finish in the Bundesliga?

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 23.35.45Bundesliga champions again for the second year in succession. 5 points clear of second placed Bayern, who never really threatened us at all after January. 2 points quickly became 4 points, and from there we simply maintained our lead, constantly winning games.

Speaking of winning games, you’ll also notice the big ‘0’ in the losses column. Yes, we went undefeated all season, something that I haven’t managed many times on Football Manager. I managed it earlier on FM15 with Sturm Graz, but this is at a very different level. Particularly considering the strength of the Bundesliga and Bayern especially, I’m very proud of this achievement.

As always with every team I build, it was build on a foundation of watertight defence. We only conceded 20 goals in 34 games, a concession rate of 0.58 goals per game. Again, when you consider the attacking prowess of the teams in the Bundesliga, this is a fantastic feat. I’m looking to make the defence even better next season, and hopefully drop below 20 in goals conceded. Our total of 96 points is also a Bundesliga record.

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Our fixtures show our sheer dominance. We were only held to one draw after the Winter break, by Furth at a point where I simply wanted to remain undefeated and win the Bundesliga. There’s some fantastic results in there, particularly the 6-1 victory away at Dortmund, with Thiago taking over the game with a hattrick. We also beat Bayern at the Allianz, to effectively seal the title, but it was the 6-0 victory against Paderborn that won us the league. Going into the game, we knew a win would give us the title, and to win in that style, with Dutchman Ulrich Isa (who has rediscovered his scoring form) scoring a hattrick to help us on our way. Isa really settled in in the second half of the season, and I’m ecstatic I decided not to sell him in January. I really can’t say enough about our Bundesliga form, but we were brilliant all the way through. A thoroughly deserved Bundesliga title, and our second in a row.

If you remember, we were fighting on more than one front, so how did we do in the DFB Pokal, after crashing out last season?

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Yes, we won that too. This was a trophy I really wanted to win this season, but as the unbeaten season progressed, I had to rest players in the cup, making things a little bit more nervy than they perhaps would have been. To show how good the squad has become, the semi final against Schalke was played with a second string lineup, and we still comfortably came through 3-0 winners. I played the full strength lineup in the final against Frankfurt (who had a poor season in the Bundesliga), and we just dominated the game, thrashing them 7-0 with Isa bagging 4 goals, and lifting the Pokal trophy!

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Utter dominance.

So that’s three trophies wrapped up for the year (Supercup, Bundesliga, and DFB Pokal). We had also made our way through the Champions League, drawing Porto in the Knockout Rounds. How far could we go, in our first season back in the Champions League?

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We only went and won the thing. I thought we were done for after we lost 2-1 to a very good Porto side in the first leg of the 1st Knockout Round, clinging onto the fact that we had an away goal and the home leg to come next. I needn’t have worried, because we demolished them 4-0 at home, with Thiago setting us on our way with a 13th minute opener. Further goals from Kohr, Brandt and Ribeiro finished the rout, and we went through to face AC Milan, who have recovered financially, and seem to be after Tielemans. We went through 5-3 on aggregate, but both games were very close, and I was happy to even make it through. In the semis we could have drawn Atletico, Liverpool or Arsenal, and drew Atletico, the toughest opponent. A nervy 0-0 draw (and rare Isa missed penalty) at home put us in a position of just needing any result in the second leg, and a 2-1 win with two goals from Isa (more than making up for his miss in the first leg) put us through to the Champions League final!

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European Champions.

We faced Carlo Ancelotti’s Liverpool in the final, with Raheem Sterling *cough*, Emre Can and Jordan Henderson. We just flattened them. It took us until the second half to really get going, but then it was no contest, and the stats from the match clearly show our dominance (24 shots to their 11). Very fittingly, Thiago was Man of The Match scoring the last two goals, in a season where he swept up all the player awards. I’ll move onto Thiago later, but for now it’s amazing to say that for the first time in their history, Bayer Leverkusen are European Champions. It really sums up how fantastic our season has been. Supercup, Bundesliga, DFB Pokal and Champions League. Four trophies, and the best season in Leverkusen’s history.

So, who has contributed most to this success? I’m going to do the usual end of season top 3, but this season is even more difficult than last year. I could pick the majority of the squad, because some do jobs that really do go unseen.

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I’m not including him in the top 3 (no knock on his performances this season, the top 3 have just been that good), but the most honourable of honourable mentions goes to our CM-D Daniel Vener. If you remember, I signed this guy on a free transfer from Lanus through the Winter break of last season, and he’s now worth £26.5M. In terms of value, it’s probably the best signing I’ve ever made. He constantly reminds me of Sergio Busquets. He reads the game like a veteran, and despite his lack of strength (which is increasing) he bosses games. He’s a master at doing all the little things that you don’t notice. He’s become such a well rounded player that I’m considering moving him to BWM-S to upgrade on Kohr, and signing a new CM-D. I’ve used him at BWM-S a few times, and every single time he’s dominated the game, scored goals and won man of the matches. He’s a better all round player than Kohr too.


3. Ivan Ribeiro

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In his first season at the club, Ribeiro just dominated in defence. Signed as the destroyer tank to play next to the smaller, more cultured Bodin, he’s more than proved to be an equally good, if different defender. He averaged 7.57 for the season, and chipped in with 5 goals too, a nice return from a defender. Unfortunately he was unavailable for the Champions League final due to international responsibilities, but helped us get there, and hopefully we can give him his CL moment another year. However, he is attracting interest from the big boys.

2. Ulrich Isa

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Signed from PSG for a measly £2.9M at the start of the season, Ulrich Isa was a bit of a gamble. I had planned to play Thiago at Advanced Forward with Julian Brandt (someone who just missed out on this list) at Trequartista, but stumbled upon Isa, and had my head turned by those wonderful attributes. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why PSG would let him go for so little, and was happy to take the gamble for £2.5M. Thiago moved to Treq, and Isa was plugged in at AF. However, he started really slowly, and Thiago played so well that he had to play at AF. Post Winter break though, he rediscovered his goalscoring touch, and proved to me why I felt he was such a good player, and an absolute bargain at £2.9M. Considering his lack of goals at the start of the season, he ended the season with 30 goals in 27 appearances for an average rating of 7.75. He also chipped in with a bunch of important goals, like his double salvo in the CL semi final 2nd leg to put us through to the final. At 26, I’m aware I can’t keep him for too long, but his value just keeps increasing, and I’m sure I can sell him for around £25M if I keep him around a couple more years.

1. Thiago ❤

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The reason I’m happy to keep Isa is the development of Thiago into a properly world class player. Now able to play either position across the front line, his brilliance allows me a ton of rotational freedom. I can play him at AF and use him as the primary goalscorer, flanked by Brandt at Treq, or bring in Isa at AF and play Thiago at Treq. He’s fantastic at either. It’s noticeable that his goalscoring dropped once Isa’s form returned and I started playing him at Treq, but his assisting increased, and he ended the season with 16 assists, only two less than Brandt, who played more games at Treq. With a couple more seasons, he’ll become an even more cultured player, and will develop the higher ‘vision’ that I’m looking for from my Trequartista. He’s starting to attract the attention of Brendan Rodgers’ Real Madrid (yes you read that), but it will take a bid of up to £70M to tempt him away. He’s my star player, and possibly the best signing I’ve ever made on FM. He won almost every player award worth winning this season, and now he can look for the really top awards, like the Ballon D’or. He finished the season with 44 goals in 40 appearances, for an average rating of 7.77. It was so fitting that he scored the two final goals in the CL final, in a season that was ‘his’ in every sense of the word.

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 19.50.07A large amount of the success is also down to the asymmetric 4-3-1-2 I created at the very beginning of the save. It’s only been tweaked very slightly since the beginning, with the main alteration being the switch of the AMCR from an AP-A to a SS-A. I’d noticed that whilst it worked, the AP-A was too close to the BWM-S when in possession, and it effectively neutered the BWM-S in an attacking sense. Moving to a SS-A moved the AMCR (usually Hakan) further up the pitch, creating a pseudo-4-3-3 at times, or 4-3-2-1 when the Treq drops deeper. At times, it is extremely Messi/Neymar/Suarez like.

The lineup on the left is the lineup from the Champions League final, and apart from Ribeiro instead of Toprak, this is my first choice lineup.

Now that I’m 100% happy with the tactic, I’m going to put it up for download for others to use. Here is a link to download the 4-3-1-2, at mega file upload. If you need another hosting site, please feel free to ask and I’ll upload it somewhere else.

This tactic is 100% plug and play. I didn’t make one change throughout the season, and I wouldn’t encourage any tactical tinkering mid match. Feel free to if you believe you will improve it, but I’ve never needed to change a thing.

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So, where do we go from here? Is that it for the save, now we’ve conquered Germany and Europe within two seasons?

Not even close. This save will carry on, and we’re going to dominate Europe, and create a real super team. I haven’t played at the top level on Football Manager for a few versions, always playing in lower leagues, and this is quite a breath of fresh air for me, having a team full of world class players. However, there’s still areas we can improve on.

Firstly, we’ve got some areas where we’re ‘ageing’. I don’t mean ageing in the normal sense of the word in football, but we’ve got certain players that are approaching the time where I’m going to have to sell them, or risk losing value on them down the road. Particular examples of this are Hakan and Kohr, who are both 27 years old now. Hakan is valued at £29.5M, and I’m looking to move him on this Summer. He still played well this season, averaging 7.48 and achieving a Bundesliga record 15 assists, but now is the time to move him on. He’s a club icon, and the fans will hate me for it, but it has to be done.

This has meant I’ve been scouting for #10’s all season long, and I’ve narrowed the search down to two options, both of whom will not come cheap. At all.

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Ideally, I’ll sign Alexander Walter. The problem is that he’s a Bayern Munich player, and they really do not want to lose him. I’ve tried to sign him earlier in the season, and to put things in perspective, Bayern opened negotiations at £309M. However, I’ve managed to unsettle Walter, and now he wants to leave Bayern. Hopefully I can manage to sign him, but I still think it’s unlikely. At just 20, he’s still got plenty of time to develop, and he’s already good enough to start for us. He’s like a young Ozil, and I really want to sign him.

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The other option is Francis Mbiyavanga (Francis from now on if I sign him) from Arsenal. He’s a cheaper option than Walter, but still will probably cost me around £35M to sign. Again, he’s not cheap, but he’s a fantastic player and is brilliant at all the things I need the SS role for. We’re in a good position financially with the success we’ve had over the past two years, with £30M in the bank, and the game now classing us as ‘rich’.

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However, the board have now put that newfound financial stability in jeopardy with a rather odd decision to build a new stadium following our success this season. ‘Leverkusen Stadium’ (possibly the most boring stadium name since Juventus Stadium) will hold 48,639 and will require a massive £98.71M loan to fund. Hopefully we don’t feel the effects of this loan too much, but it’s now very likely that we need to keep winning trophies in order to keep the financial situation in check. I’ve only just managed to get us into the black again!

I also have a feeling that the big clubs are really going to go for our top players this Summer. I’ve already had Man City come in with a £27M bid for Ribeiro, and Liverpool want Toprak, with a deal that will eventually rise to around £5M. I may well accept the the Toprak bid, since £5M for a 31 year old is pretty good value. Ribeiro however, isn’t leaving for anywhere near £27M, but I would be tempted if I could move it up towards £40M. However, I’ll only accept such a bid if I have already scouted a ready made replacement. On top of that, AC Milan want Vener, and United and Liverpool want Brandt. I don’t want either of those to leave though, and it would take large bids to make me sell.

Tactically, I’m also looking for something new. I’ve been tempted to move to something with wide players like a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-1-1 of some sort, but I simply haven’t found players good enough to warrant the switch, and I’m not going to risk the success that we’re having. Next season I will be sticking with the 4-3-1-2, but I’m definitely looking for a new project now, feeling like there’s nothing more I can do with the 4-3-1-2. I’m tempted to move to something with a classic Number 10 rather than the SS ‘runner’ type 10 in the 4-3-1-2, but that entirely depends on the signings I make this Summer. Walter would be dominant as a classic Advanced Playmaker Number 10 though.

So, after that very long postScreen Shot 2015-07-13 at 20.55.04, that’s all for the second season, probably the best season I’ve ever had on any version of Football Manager. I’ll update again after the pre-season, and you can see if any tactical inspiration has come to me, or whether I’ve stuck with the 4-3-1-2 for now. I hope everyone that downloads the tactic finds it to work as well as it has for me, and I will welcome any feedback that you can give me. So, as always thank you very much for reading, and if you have any comments/questions, please feel free to ask via Twitter (@JLAspey), or in the comments section.

Making The Step Up

901I’ve reached the 1st of January again in the Bayer Leverkusen save, so it’s time to update you all again on where we currently stand in the 2020/21 season (but only the second season with Leverkusen, after I left the Sturm Graz job). This season we have had to withstand far more demanding football than last season. The Bundesliga has been a far different affair to last season due to the improvements I made to the squad over the Summer, but in Europe we’ve faced new challenges and sterner competition that we’ve had to deal with.

First and foremost though, how are we doing in the league, our bread and butter?

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 21.15.03Well. Very well. Better than last season in fact.

Like this point last season, it’s a two horse race between us and Bayern, who spent big in the close season, signing Divock Origi, Mario Lemina and others in a bid to regain the Bundesliga title. Dortmund are far more adrift than they were at this point last season, and for this reason, I can pretty confidently say that it’s down to just us and Bayern. We drew 0-0 with Bayern in the first fixture this season, and again, I’ll take draws against them in the league to maintain our lead. I know it’s only a two point league, but I’m very confident now going into league games with the strength of our squad, and only really Dortmund and Bayern worry me. Dortmund shouldn’t really, as we demolished them 4-0 at home earlier in the season.

We’re still unbeaten up until this point (so are Bayern mind), and once again you can see what our strength is. We do score proficiently, but we’re watertight at the back, with a joint best (with Bayern) defence in the league. It’s nice to see that the defence has remained so strong after I made the decision to ship out Jeison Murillo to Barca, and bring in Ivan Ribeiro to replace him as the ‘destroyer’ centre back ahead of the cultured Cyril Bodin. Ribeiro’s been fantastic so far, averaging 7.45 for the season in all competitions, and more than complimenting Bodin, who himself has continued to improve into a properly world class centre back. With Eros Medaglio and Jose Luis Gaya defending the flanks, we’re ridiculously good defensively. If we can keep up the performances of the first half of the season, I’m more than confident that we can achieve consecutive titles.

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There really isn’t much to discuss with the DFB Pokal, other than we’re still in it. We’ve come through some fairly easy matches in the early rounds (Union are a Bundesliga team mind) and have drawn Koln in the Quarters. The board expect me to reach the final of the Pokal, and this is my aim this time. This year with the improved squad and step up in quality, this is a trophy I’d quite like to win.

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Where you can really see our progress is in the Champions League, where we’ve strolled through our group unbeaten. We were given a fairly easy group, drawing Juventus, Celtic and Olympiacos. We dealt with every match in the group very easily, and even the 4-3 against Juventus is misleading, as we were in control for the entirety of the match. It shows our progress, because the Juventus side is very good. Olympiacos really provided our only trouble of the group, holding us to a 0-0 draw in Greece. We finished top of the group with relative ease, something that’s quite frankly fantastic for our first season back in the Champions League whilst I’ve been in charge. We’ve been drawn against Porto in the 1st knockout round, a very good team, but I’m hoping we can have a good run through the CL now and reap the financial rewards.

Tactically, I’m still using the wonderful asymmetric 4-3-1-2 that I’ve been using since the start of this save, but it’s now been changed ever so slightly. I’d started to notice that the AP-A (usually Hakan) drifted far too close to the BWM-S in possession, so decided to change his role to a SS-A to push him further up the pitch and improve our spacing with the ball. Hakan has still played well in the new role, but I’m starting to look for someone a bit more suitable. Even before the switch in role, it was noticeable that Hakan wasn’t playing quite as well as last season (a major reason why he was named in the World XI).

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Hakan’s still clearly a fantastic player, but he’s not quite the kind of player I want in the SS role. I very much want an all rounder in that role, a creator and a goalscorer. I’d like someone faster, with better dribbling and finishing on top of his fantastic creative ability. On top of that, Hakan’s also 26, and approaching the time where he’s going to be at his peak of sell on value. If I can get around £20M for him, I’ll sell him. Even if I don’t, I will be looking for his replacement over the January window and at the end of the season. It just depends whether the right player pops up.

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Alessio Nazio is one I’m considering. At only 5’5″ he’s a little short, but he’s got good attributes in all the right areas, and at only 20, he’s got plenty of room to improve. He can dribble, pick out a pass, and has good pace. I’m not sure he’s exactly what I need though, so this transfer will probably have to wait until the end of the season. Plus, my scout report says that Roma are unlikely to want to sell Nazio, so it’s probably going to take quite a bid to prize him from Roma’s grasp. He does want to play for Leverkusen though.

Anyway, it’s time to cover the actual transfers I’ve made. I discussed our fantastic defence above, and one of the reasons for that was goalkeeper Timo Horn. His performances through the season attracted the interest of PSG, and when they made a formal bid, I managed to negotiate them up to £33M, a fee I was more than happy to accept. With that, I needed a new first choice goalkeeper, and so started to scout around.

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Eventually, I found Alberto Zapata at River Plate. My scouts absolutely love him, and so do I. Signed for £8.5M, he’s a fantastic piece of business. I’ve got younger for cheaper, and made a hefty profit. At only 22, I hope he’ll be our first choice keeper for the next decade, and I’ll never have to bother about goalkeepers again. I’m not fantastic at scouting for goalkeepers, and I’ll go on record as saying it’s the toughest position to sign on Football Manager.

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What’s more, clubs (particularly Barca) are starting to sniff around Eros Medalgia, my world class right back, so I decided to reinvest the money gained from Horn into an early replacement for Medaglia. I couldn’t find a right back that fit exactly what I wanted, so instead searched for attributes and found Pere Busquets at Real Madrid. It took a fee that will eventually rise to £30M to sign him (Madrid considered him a wonderkid), and my scouts initially didn’t want me to sign him (they now think he’s world class). Once he’s retrained, I think he’ll be absolutely dominant in both attack and defence. Hopefully we can hold onto Medaglia until the end of the season, allowing Busquets time to become comfortable in his new position, whilst rotating the two. I know I’ve spent a lot of money here, but I’m very happy with this signing.

They’re the only two signings I’ve made so far, but with the January window now open, there’s a chance that some bids may come in for some of my players and I may be forced to reinvest. Clubs are interested in Julian Brandt again, Toprak, Castro and Medaglia, so it could be another busy transfer window at Leverkusen.

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It’s also worth talking about Thiago, now undoubtedly the club’s best player. In the last update, I was humming and ha-ing about how to fit Thiago and Isa into the same side, and in the end decided to play Thiago at Trequartista and Isa at Advanced Forward. Well, that lasted for about 3 matches until I threw Brandt into the mix, playing him at Treq and Thiago at Advanced Forward, and Thiago has never looked back from there, dominating every single match he’s played in this season, scoring 28 goals in 21 appearances for an overall rating of 8.00. He’s just unbelievably good. In the battle of Thiago vs. Isa, Thiago won by a country mile, and Isa has struggled to make an impact, and will probably be sold on by at least the end of the season, as I’m not willing to pay his wages just to have him sit on the bench. Thiago however, I’m willing to pay whatever he wants. I’d also like him to stay at the club throughout the save, and probably won’t sell him, unless I get a ridiculous offer. In a classic FM love affair, I’ve become quite attached to Thiago.

So that’s how things stand right now, and I’ll update again at the end of the season, hopefully champions of Germany again, and having had a good run in the Champions League. Until then, thank you as always for reading, and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask on Twitter (@JLAspey) or in the comments section.

Risky Business

I’ve finished the pre-season 901of the second season of my Leverkusen save, so yet again it’s time to update you all on how things are going. In the last update, we won the Bundesliga and the Europa League at the end of season 1, and had somewhat recovered the financial situation, sitting with £9.71M in the bank, a hell of a lot better than the near £30M in the red were were in partway through the season.

I’d outlined that I needed a centre back, and probably a striker. I was planning on selling Jeison Murillo and possibly Julian Brandt. Things didn’t quite go to plan, but in the end I feel I’ve strengthened the squad, putting us in a good position both domestically and in Europe.

Firstly, I did sell Jeison Murillo. I didn’t get as much for him as I’d have liked, but he eventually went for £18.5M to Barcelona, nearly offsetting the £19.25M I paid for Ribeiro, who can be seen in the previous update. However, I couldn’t sell Brandt. I kept offering him out, but clubs wouldn’t bite, and I wasn’t going to just give him away for nothing. He’s still a classy player who led the Bundesliga in assists last season (despite inconsistencies), and he can stay and compete for his place.

I was then given a >£40M warchest with which to strengthen the squad, and that I did.

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The second arrival was Brazilian striker Thiago from Palmeiras for £17.75M, which I think is a steal quite frankly. He was coming up towards the end of his contract, and as a result, his asking price had dropped from nearly £40M to £17M. A great finisher, with good dribbling, and great movement and pace. At only 21, he’s going to be a star for us for the next decade. I’d planned to play him at Advanced Forward ahead of Drmic, but I’ve taken a punt on another player, which has meant Thiago has moved into another position.

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After the sale of perennial non-goalscorer Karim Ansarifard in the January window, I needed a backup in the Trequartista position. Someone who would provide a good alternative to the starter, but who was very much at the ‘backup’ level. I found the perfect option in Ahmed Hajji at Chelsea, and signed him for £14M. He’s only 20, and has plenty of time to develop, and could be a world class player, but for now I’m happy to have him be the backup. That was the plan. Thiago at AF, Brandt still at Treq, with Hajji as the backup, and Drmic as the backup for Thiago, with Mehmet Sahinoglu the third string.

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… and then I stumbled upon Dutchman Ulrich Isa at PSG, available for £2.9M on the transfer list. Considering the plan I had above, I tried to resist signing him. I took to Twitter for advice, and @MrEds and @StatisticalApp persuaded me that he was worth the punt, and to play him at AF. So I bought him, for a frankly ridiculous £2.9M. For some reason, my scouts really do not rate him, only giving him 2 stars. I can’t for the life of me see why, and to me, he looks like a properly world class striker that’s been languishing in PSG’s reserves. My only concern is his lack of pace, but I’m hoping that this won’t really be an issue. To be honest, even if it is, I’ve only paid £2.9M for him, so it’s well worth the risk.

As a result, we were left with too many strikers, so I sold Josep Drmic for an admittedly cut price £4.8M to Sevilla, and I finally got rid of Heung-Min Son and his massive wages for £7.25M to Zenit (thank you Zenit again for taking my useless players). I would ideally have liked to get much more for Drmic, but I no longer had any need to keep him around with the new influx of attackers, and he would have just wasted away unused. At least this way I get a bit of cash for him before he becomes too old to sell. However, Drmic had recently become an ‘icon’ at Leverkusen, and as a result, the fans are disgusted. Isa has scored 4 goals in 2 league games to start the season, so hopefully that shuts them up.

As a result, the first choice starting lineup this season will be:

Timo Horn (SK-D)

Eros Medaglia (CWB-S), Ivan Ribeiro (CD-D), Cyril Bodin (CD-C), Jose Luis Gaya (CWB-S)

Dominik Kohr (BWM-S), Daniel Vener (CM-D), Youri Tielemans (CW)

Hakan Calhanoglu (AP-A)

Ulrich Isa (AF-A), Thiago (T-A)

Early doors, things look good look good, with Isa scoring 4 goals in 2 league games, and Hakan seemingly continuing his great form from last season. I haven’t had much chance to see Thiago and Ribeiro, as both have been on pesky international duty.

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Early signs are positive as far as results go as well. We breezed through our (admittedly easy) pre-season friendlies, before facing Bayern in the Supercup, with Diego Simeone now under considerable pressure. a 2-0 victory for Leverkusen heaped even greater pressure on him, especially considering I had to play our 4th string centre back, as Ribeiro and Bodin were on international duty. The progress we’ve made in just a season is ridiculous. from 6th and the Europa League, to champions, and playing Champions League football, having won the Europa League.

Speaking of the Europa League win, we then played Barca in the European Super Cup, and lost 3-2, conceding in the last 5 minutes after leading partway through. It was gutting, but it’s indicative of how far the club has come that the Champions League winners only just beat us, and it gives me plenty of confidence for the season to come. Again, it’s worth noting that I couldn’t play my full strength side against Barca, playing my 3rd and 4th string centre backs. Against Messi, Neymar and Suarez, that’s a nightmare.

In terms of plans for the season, we have to at least compete for the title again. Considering the money gained from a high placed finish in the Bundesliga, we can really strengthen our position financially if we manage that, especially considering the bank loan we have to shell out for every month. I’d also like to do well in the Champions League, but I’m taking baby steps, and not expecting anything from our first season in the top echelon of European competition. Squad wise, I’m now in a position to rotate much more, with more versatile players upfront. Isa is really the only player who can only play one role upfront. I’m still a little bit unsure about the Isa transfer, and I don’t think he’ll stay at the club too long. Thiago is clearly the future at AF, and he will play that position this season as the front line rotates. At the very least, I will make a profit on Isa, as his value keeps going up week by week.

I’ll update again in January, hopefully again challenging for the Bundesliga and doing well in Europe. Until then, thank you very much for reading, and if you have any questions please feel free to ask either in the comments section, or on Twitter (@JLAspey).