Well, That Was Unexpected…..

156Well, I’ve finished the 2016/17 season with Sturm so it’s time to update once again. I think it shows how much I’m enjoying writing these updates that I’m playing FM faster than I have in a long time. Usually it takes me forever to actually play a season on FM, and I’m already through 3 of them with Sturm. So, last time I updated we were 4 points clear of RBS, had been beaten to end our undefeated run at 56 games, and had made our way through to the first knockout round of the Europa League, having been knocked out of the CL by Celtic in the final qualifying round. I’d also started to use a 3-5-2, that I felt got the best out of our new striker ‘Super Kev’ Kevin Friesenbichler.

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We carried on our great form in the league, beating Wacker, Ried and Grodig in ridiculously easy fashion. In between other cup games, we were in sublime form, playing ‘attractive football’ according to the game. Then we played Salzburg, and it all just went away. Rather than the 4-1-4-1 they used in the first game of the season between us (a 1-1 draw), they went back to the 4-2-4, pressed us very aggressively, causing us to struggle to maintain possession and play through them. They got one decent chance in the match, and it ended 1-0.

I then proceeded to rant on Twitter, which just shows how much I hate Salzburg. I actually said that I’ve never disliked a team so much on FM, and it’s pretty spot on. They’re funded well, and just buy their way out of trouble. Some of their signings this season smacked of desperation as they tried to win the league, but also irritated me as they bought two very, very talented Austrians in Marcel Buchel and Louis Schaub from Juventus and Rapid respectively. Not only that, but Schuab was on the bench the majority of the seScreen Shot 2015-01-04 at 18.13.12ason, and Buchel was rotated constantly. They’d have been 1st teamers for me, particularly Schaub. It’s almost like RBS have figured out my signing policy, and are snapping up the best Austrians, only to do nothing with them. Anyway, this loss reduced the gap to 1 point, and I was worried.

Fortunately, I didn’t need to, as we recovered our form following that game, and Salzburg lost theirs. They still kept winning games, but there was the odd draw thrown in there, giving us the chance to capitolise. We didn’t manage to every time, particularly when drawing against FAK and Altach, but then in the penultimate week, Salzburg failed to beat Floridsdorfer and we finally took our chances, beating Admira to take a 5 point unassailable lead, and the Austrian title for the second year running.

We ended up winning the league by 7 points, but it was far closer than that suggests. Salzburg drew again on the final day, meaning the gap looks much bigger than it was in reality. Still, two league titles in a row is a huge achievement, and gives me another crack at the CL groups, which I’m determined to reach this year. Speaking of Europe, how did we do in the Europa League?

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If you’ve followed me on Twitter, you’ll have seen me going crazy over this, but pretty damn well. Very well. We absolutely demolished Alkmaar 7-2 on aggregate in the first knockout round. They tried to go with a deep 4-4-2, but the 3-5-2 just tore it to shreds, with Friesenbichler and Quaschner getting most of the goals. We then drew Dynamo Kyiv, and I was positive we’d go out. We beat them 2-1 at home in the first leg, but allowing an away goal is always iffy, and I presumed in their stadium, Dynamo would finish us off. Not even close. Sallahi scored an early free kick to effectively kill the tie, before Schnaderbeck finished the game off. At this point, I was happy whatever happened, and if we’d gone out I’d have still bragged about it. We drew Everton (still with Lukaku, Barkley, Coleman etc.) in the quarters and proceeded to demolish them 3-0 at our place, thanks to a tweak I made with the tactic that was enforced. Super Kev had been injured in the game before, and sometimes I feel he’s too disconnected from the rest of our team in the build up, so I changed the front two from an AF-A and a DLF-S to a CF-S and a DLF-S. Quaschner was moved to the CF-S role (which the game reckons is his perfect role) and Alar was moved away from the CW role and played at DLF-S. It seemed to work pretty well, as Quaschner became the focal point of the attack, scoring 2 goals, with Alar getting one of his own. The team played so well, I decided to use the same setup from then on (with Friesenbichler out for 4 weeks). The fantastic results you see in the league above are as a result of this switch, I’m sure. The only issue is that it now has me questionning Super Kev’s place on the team, as he is neither a DLF or a CF, and the team were so good with these roles, and Quaschner grew into our top attacker. Anyway, back on topic. We then managed a 1-1 draw in the second leg, to put us through to face Spurs in the Semis. At this point, I really did know there was no chance of us going through, but for us to manage a narrow 5-4 aggregate loss was absolutely heroic. They were brilliant, all of them, and I had this very weird moment of pride towards my fictional players on a computer game. We got all the way to the Semis, to finally be knocked out. An unbelievable cup run. Ridiculous progress in 3 years.

So we’d won the league, and got to the Semis of the Europa League. Last season we’d managed to achieve the double, winning the OFB Cup for the second year running. I would have liked to make it 3 in a row, but of all the tournaments we were in, the OFB Cup received the least attention.

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Unfortunately we couldn’t make it 3 years in a row. The OFB eventually just got in the way of the league campaign and our Europa League cup run, so in a way I was happy to be knocked out. There was one run of games where we faced Salzburg in the cup, then faced Dynamo in the EL, then Salzburg in the league (the 1-0) and then Dynamo in the second leg. It was a crazy run of games. We were knocked out on penalties by Ried, but honestly didn’t deserve to win the game at all.

I think it’s also worth mentioning how Quaschner did this season. As I said in the last update, he wasn’t cheap at all, costing £2.2M from Salzburg, where he was busy languishing on the bench (notice the trend). He started off playing in the DLF-S role, very much the Number 2 to Super Kev, but still did very well. However, when Super Kev got injured, Quaschner became the focal point of the attack, and just ripped everything up. He ended the season with 14 goals in 18 games, with 8 assists. That’s a pretty good return for £2.2M. Again, he played so well that I’m really questioning Super Kev’s role within the team, which is strange really as he managed 20 goals in 33 games, with 10 assists. I just feel that the whole team played better with Quaschner as the focal point of our attack. He’s a more rounded player than Super Kev, and that’s obvious when we’re building up play. I’ve got a choice to make this Summer. If I continue with the CF-S/DLF-S combo, Super Kev won’t fit that, and I’d rather sell him than have him kick up a fuss when he doesn’t play. For what it’s worth, I also think Quaschner is a more consistent performer than Super Kev, who despite having 15 finishing, has games where he can’t hit a barn door. Choices, Choices.

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I also bought our keeper for the future in the January transfer window. Pliquett, who is now 32, started to worry me by feeling homesick (after 5 years at Sturm, yeah right SI), so I felt now was the time to go for a new keeper. I looked through the best keepers in the league, and the best option that was available was Andreas Leitner, who was doing very well at Admira. He was signed for 375k, a fantastic bargain. He was rotated with Pliquett (who recovered from his brief homesickness after a trip home) for the rest of the season, and performed very well. He finished the season with an average rating of 7.07 for us, and both he and Pliquett topped the clean sheet charts with 13 for Leitner and 12 for Pliquett. I’ll slowly start to phase Pliquett out, but I’d like to keep him on as a coach when he retires, so don’t want to irritate him too much and have him ask to leave.

I also realised after the last update that there’s a few people from the squad that I’ve sold that I haven’t mentioned, so I’ll mention them now to make sure you all have a fair idea of what the current squad is. I’ve sold Akiyoshi, Stankovic and Barbaric. All three of them were sold for asking for first team football that I simply wasn’t willing to give them. Rather than face a potential mutiny, I took the easy way out and let them leave. I’ve also let plenty of youth players go, who just weren’t going to make the cut. Speaking of youth, we’ve now had 3 poor youth intakes (or FM Christmas). Apart from Simma (who’s now at PSG), we’ve not had anyone decent come through, which is starting to concern me. The other Austrian clubs aren’t producing any future Alaba’s either.

Tactically, the 3-5-2 is the formation to go with as we move forward, it’s just figuring out the front two. Putting Spendlhofer, Dibon and one of Piesinger or Madl together as a Back 3 just means we dominate defensively. In 30 games, we only conceded 13 goals because of their utter brilliance. I’m also a tad concerned about the Regista role at DM, where Lovric plays. Against Salzburg, we were quite exposed there, and I’m beginning to think of toning it down, perhaps to a DLP-D or something along those lines. I’ll experiment at the start of next season, before making the final choice.

I’d do a ‘Top 3 Players’ like I did last season, but it would be so difficult to choose this time around. Not only because the squad is so heavily rotated, but also because everyone was fantastic. Not one player had a bad season, and they all contributed considerably. The whole defensive unit (including the goalkeepers and wing backs) do deserve a special mention though. 13 goals conceded in 30 games is absolutely fantastic. Hopefully next season we can kick on and become even stingier, whilst still scoring plenty.

So only one trophy for the cabinet this season, but I’d argue it was a much better season than last season’s double. We have progressed considerably as shown by the European campaign, and can actually compete on thScreen Shot 2015-01-04 at 19.50.04e continent. We’ve developed a much stronger squad, have trimmed the fat even further, to a point now where everyone cam come in and do a good job. The squad now needs heavy rotation to keep everyone happy, but it’s worth it to be able to challenge in Europe like we did this season. The absolute priority for next season is to make it to the Champions League groups. We need the cash from the groups in order to begin upgrading the facilities. In terms of transfers, the only places I’m really looking at are striker and Central Winger. I’ll probably end up going with the CF-S/DLF-S combination upfront, and therefore the choice will need to be made whether to sell Super Kev or not. Alar will therefore continue to play at DLF where he was fantastic at the end of the season, so a new first team Central Winger will be needed. I’m currently playing Schmerbock there, but he’s not good enough to really affect games in the role. If Schaub becomes unhappy at RBS, I’ll try and sign him, rather than have his development be ruined at RBS sitting on the bench. If I do manage to sign Schaub, I’ll have the Austrian/German team I wanted when I started this save.

Once again, thank you for reading my ramblings on this save, and I’ll probably update before the next season starts, depending on how many transfers I make. I don’t anticipate many, but my search for a Central Winger might be interesting to write about. As always, if you have any questions at all, please do ask.

Why Can’t It Just Be Simple?

156First off, Happy New Year to everyone. Although this blog is only a few months old, it’s received some fantastic support in 2014, and I’d like to thank everyone that has supported this blog in any way, be it commenting, favouriting, retweeting or following. It really does mean a lot to me. I hope to bring you more quality tactics based FM content throughout 2015 and onwards.

Anyway moving on. I’ve reached the Austrian mid-season break in the 16/17 season, so it’s time to update you on where we stand with Sturm. The last update on this save outlined my transfers beginning the season, and I think it came across how excited I was for the next season with the players I’d signed. I was expecting big things after signing Dibon, Wydra, Spendlhofer (now here permanently), Ligeon, Sallahi and Gregoritsch. I also covered a new 3-5-2 formation I was looking at trying alongside the 4-1-4-1, particularly in the games against Salzburg. I ended up betraying my own ideas in the Salzburg game, but I’ll cover that later on.

What I did do however, was make a massive mistake with my signings, particularly upfront. Sometimes I become very blinkered with signings, and just decide I want ____ player. That’s all well and good, but it caused me to miss the fact that Gregoritsch is extremely injury prone. When he plays, he does well, but I can never keep him in for a consistent run of games because he’ll be crocked for a couple of weeks or so. On top of that, my star striker Manu Molina is also very injury prone. He’s brilliant when fit, but it’s just not often enough. Even Kevin Pirker (who I brought up from the youth team last season) is fairly injury prone, at times leaving me with only Alar (who is very hot and cold upfront) to play at striker.

Naturally, I realised I had to make a signing. As you will have seen in my previous post on this blog, I couldn’t find anyone who quite fit what I wanted for the money I had available. I through the question out on Twitter, and the Austria expert @Shrewnaldo suggested ‘Super Kev’ Kevin Friesenbichler.

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Here’s Super Kev in January. A great finisher, fast and strong. Not a DLF though, so this wrote off the 4-1-4-1 as our main tactic going forward. Super Kev’s so good I can’t simply rotate him in and out, he is our Number 9 (or 22). This necessitated a change of tactic, and as I outlined in the 4-4-2 article, I tried the 4-1-4-1, a 3-5-2, a 3-6-1, a diamond and finally a 4-4-2.

Now, as you saw in the previous article, the 4-4-2 worked gloriously against Sevilla and Antonio Conte’s 3-5-2. Ominously, its next test was against Salzburg, and well, it failed hideously. Salzburg switched formations before the game, using a 4-1-4-1 against us, and they completely dominated midfield. Lovric and Wydra were chasing shadows as our aggressive pressing was bypassed constantly. At half time we were 1-0 down, and were damn lucky it was only that. The players received a bollocking to pep them up, but I knew the result would have been my fault if we’d lost. It was at this point I changed the tactics of the side, and once again, stumbled upon something that has taken us forward in the league and now looks to be our shape moving forward. We recovered in the second half, absolutely dominated Salzburg, and were unlucky not to win the game after coming back to 1-1.

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 10.52.11Yep, it’s a 3-5-2. Why is this working now when it didn’t before? Largely because our injuries have reduced, meaning I can actually field two(ish) strikers, but also because I’ve been far braver with my role selection.

It’s no coincidence I’d read @RTHerringbone’s fantastic article on his move from 4-1-4-1 to 3-5-2 days before making this switch, and this article identified where I felt I was going wrong with my 3-5-2, particularly in midfield. It’s changed from DM-D, RPM-S and a CW to a RGA-S, BBM-S and a CW. Clearly far more attacking, and the whole setup is better as a result. I’ve also been trying out the CWB-S role for the wing backs, and I absolutely love them. They gradually move up with the play, rather than immediately running forward like CWB-A’s do. They still end up in the same positions, but it’s a far more patient build up.

The move to 3-5-2 really is a logical one for us. We aren’t blessed with gifted wingers, but we have some outstanding wing backs in Ligeon and Sallahi, who are the 2nd and 3rd best players in the league respectively by average rating.

It also allowed me to increase Lovric’s influence within the team. Previously, he’s been our super dependable DM-D in the 4-1-4-1, covering space, making tackles and keeping the ball, making short simple passes to our higher midfielders. That’s all well and good, but Lovric has developed to a point where I now feel I can put him in a deeper creative role, and allow him to control the game, in the same way Xabi Alonso does for Bayern. He’s absolutely dominated games from the Regista role, and has gone from strength to strength. When he isn’t available, Wydra has also proved himself to be more than capable in the role.

But most importantly, how has Super Kev performed, the man who this tactic is designed to get the best out of?

11 goals in 14 league appearances for an average rating of 7.48, the best in the league. I’ll take that. All of that for 275k when he was transfer listed at Benfica. Bargain of the century.

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So, how’s the league going this year? Well, pretty well again. We’ve been beaten though, and finished with a record of 56 games unbeaten. It wasn’t even Salzburg, Rapid or FAK that finally ended our run, but Austria Klagenfurt, who completely dumbfounded me. It was just after a European match, and we were comfortably beaten.

Still, I’m very happy to be 4 points clear of Salzburg at this point of the season. It would have been 6 points, but we drew our last game before the break, and Salzburg won theirs. Apart from that they’ve been relatively poor this season and have already lost as many games as they did in the first season of this save. Their squad size is just ridiculous, and they bought Marcel Buchel, who they didn’t even need, a very talented Austrian who I was looking at to play Box to Box for us. If he begins to waste away at Salzburg, I’ll make a move for him.

You can clearly see where our strength is, with only 10 goals allowed. Even before the move to a Back 3 we were solid defensively, but now with the trio of Dibon – Spendlhofer – Piesinger, we just don’t let anyone through. We press from the front, and most of the time, we force the opposition to kick it long, allowing our CB’s to restart the play. Dibon and Spendlhofer particularly are very good on the ball, and Piesinger does the basic stuff very well when he has the ball, either getting it to Spendlhofer or to Lovric.

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So, how are we doing in Europe? Did we manage to make it to the CL groups? Unfortunately not. We got all the way to Celtic, who knocked us out, just like last year in the Europa League. They’ve become my bogey team in Europe, and I’m determined to beat them next time we face them. Despite that, we went straight into the Europa League, and were drawn with Sevilla, Trabzonspor and Club Brugge. Rather impressively, we stayed unbeaten throughout the group, showing how much progress we’ve made to finish top of the group. We’ve gone through to the next round and been drawn with AZ Alkmaar, and I’m fairly confident that we can make it past them.

So, results wise everything’s been rosy. Outside of that, it really hasn’t been, and it’s something about FM15 that has annoyed me. In order to balance the books a little and make a small amount of money, I sold a young player called Phillipp Seidl who was never going to achieve the potential he looked like he might have had at the start of the save. He wasn’t even close to being called up for the first team, but this infuriated Manu Molina so much that he said that the squad had to be strengthened, just after I had signed Dibon, Wydra, Spendlhofer et al. Naturally, I didn’t have the cash to further strengthen the squad, but neither did I want to, and I wasn’t going to buy a player I didn’t need and risk the financial stability of the club just to please Molina. Well, he didn’t like this, and eventually I had half the squad with very low morale. Then, I had players complaining about low ‘squad harmony’ even though it was rated at 80% by the game! On top of this, there’s largely nothing you can do to fix this, and some very good FM players have been sacked this year because of the reactions of one player. I then tried a squad meeting, which seemed to do absolutely nothing. I then decided enough was enough, and started shipping Molina around to other clubs. Sion came in with an offer of £2M, and whilst I could probably have got more money for him, he’d become such a cancer in the club that I took the money. The problems still continued though, and it was only when I dropped Molina to the reserve squad that the players finally picked up. He’s gone in two weeks, and as far as I’m concerned, it can’t be soon enough.

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On top of that, I received a £4M big from PSG for my best regen Gerald Simma. I never felt he was that promising, and bit PSG’s hand off. I also allowed Marko Stankovic to leave for 33k when he began complaining about not getting first team football. I wanted to keep him around and have him retire at the club, but at this point in his career, he was no more than a backup option. He wanted first team football, and with squad morale in mind, I allowed him to leave for almost nothing. I’d made almost £6.1M from three players, but now absolutely needed a DLF to play next to Super Kev in the 3-5-2. Looking for the attributes I wanted, I found Nils Quaschner one of the many talented players languishing at Red Bull Salzburg.

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Quaschner certainly wasn’t cheap, and cost me £2.2M with instalments, but I needed a quality player to play in the DLF role. Alar plays well there at times, but it’s largely very inconsistent. Quaschner becomes my first German signing of this save, and most importantly isn’t injury prone. On top of that, he also looks like he can play an AF role too, so will work as a lone striker. His all round attributes also bring the 4-1-4-1 back into play, giving us that tactical flexibility again. Now we can play 4-1-4-1 and 3-5-2 with ease. I’m also looking at developing a formation with a Number 10 at some point, because Alar was peerless when playing there when we used the diamond. I also love Number 10’s.

I’ll update the save again at the end of the season. I’m hoping to make a real impact in Europe this season, so hopefully we can make it past AZ. Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

A Brainstorm

Before I begin this post, I feel it’s probably best to explain that I’ve always been a Pep/Bielsa disciple. I’ve always particularly believed in Pep’s style of football, and his philosophies. Looking at my Sturm save, you can identify this. I put my best players (Alar, Lovric and now Wydra) in the centre of the park as a midfield 3 in order to achieve numerical superiority there. I’m a firm believer that, like chess, achieving dominance in the centre is a sure-fire way of giving yourself a good chance of victory. It’s now become a football cliché, but this is something I’ve believed since I first started to watch Pep’s legendary Barca side. I’ll always maintain that the Barca/Real 5-0 is the best I’ll ever see a team play, and watching that match in a full pub at University confirmed my allegiance to Pep Guardiola.

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Lately however, I’ve started to become influenced by a different style of football, that has moved me away from wanting my teams to play just like Pep. This probably started with the first time I watched Mourinho’s Madrid perfect the counter attack, or the first time I watched Dortmund’s gegenpressing. Now, I always make the point that possession isn’t everything to me, and I always look for that point of perfection between vertical movement and possession play. The epitome of this other style of football is former Red Bull Salzburg boss (I won’t hold that against him) Roger Schmidt, someone who Pep has openly admitted his admiration for.

There have been some fantastic articles written on Schmidt, especially after his move to Leverkusen this Summer, and I highly recommend you go and read some of them. Schmidt’s teams tend to play a 4-4-2 shape (although Leverkusen have been called 4-2-3-1 at times) and press extremely aggressively, attacking half spaces, and staying narrow, avoiding many of the issues that come with the 4-4-2, such as getting between the lines, and dominating midfield. Leverkusen also attack very directly, and shoot from distance quite often (logically, as Leverkusen have several good shooters from distance), maintaining the same intensity that they do whilst pressing. The first goal they scored vs. Dortmund this season is a perfect example, attacking directly from the kick off, and scoring within the first 15 seconds. Glorious, aggressive, attacking football, and the very opposite of those who adore ‘tiki-taka’ (for views on that particular style, go read Pep Confidential). Whilst I love Pep, I despise aimless possession football, more defensive than attacking.

But why am I rambling on about this? Well, this season with Sturm has been a very strange one so far. It’s absolutely my mistake, but I’ve ended up with two strikers (Molina and Gregoritsch) who have problems with injuries. As a result, I’ve not been able to really use a consistent tactic due to having different types of strikers. Gregoritsch can’t play CF-S, and Molina isn’t the kind of striker who can stretch a defence. I’ve used the 4-1-4-1, a 3-6-1, a 3-5-2, and a diamond so far. Not exactly the tactical consistency I want. It’s not Pep levels of tinkering either, it’s tinkering because I have to.

I’ve almost stumbled upon the latest development. Needing a decent striker, I took to Twitter, and naturally being knowledgeable on all things Austria, @Shrewnaldo suggested ‘Super Kev’ Kevin Friesenbichler. That name might not mean too much to some people, but having read Shrew’s stuff since I got back into FM around FM10, I know Friesenbichler was a large part of Shrew’s Rapid and Austria C&C, and therefore the recommendation made sense.

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Here’s Super Kev (easier to type from here on in) on FM15. As you can see, he’s also not the type to be able to play the DLF-S in the 4-1-4-1, or a CF-S in the 3-5-2 I’d developed. He’s the perfect quick and powerful striker to stretch a defence, and therefore I had to fit the team around him, and get the best out of him.

This is where Schmidt comes in. I’ve been wanting to try a Schmidt-esque 4-4-2 for some time now, but didn’t have that fast striker I needed to stretch the defence. Now I do, a 4-4-2 seemed to be a perfect way to get the best out of Friesenbichler, and try that combination of Pep and Schmidt that I believe in, within the framework of a 4-4-2. I know it’s difficult to get excited about a 4-4-2, but bear with me.

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 23.48.19Immediately, you can see all the Schmidt influences. There’s a striker to push forward and stretch the defence, a midfielder that will press and push forward, and a sitting midfielder. We’ve also got narrow wingers. Alar (who I’ve discovered can play well anywhere but striker) plays as an AP-A at AML and is asked to roam from position, and is very influenced by my attempt at creating the David Silva role last year. Sallahi sits slightly deeper but gets forward plenty. Both are asked to ‘press more’ in order to ensure the aggressive pressing that I want. This is already on top of an attacking mentality, and asking the team to ‘press much more’. This makes our pressing absolutely relentless, and we press high up the pitch.

The team as a whole is asked to ‘sit narrow’ in order to firstly, attack those same half-spaces that Leverkusen do, but also to make sure that the CWB-S’s get forward. I’ve also asked the team to look for the overlap, so they should do this pretty well.

At this point, I think it’s probably best I explain the title. This is a brainstorm, because the tactic is nowhere near settled yet, but I have a feeling I have something with this tactic. I’m using this post to explain my thoughts, and brainstorm what I want to do with it from here on in. Most importantly, I’m also going to do an analysis of the second match I’ve used it in, a Europa League match against the Spanish side Sevilla, now managed by Antonio Conte, and his usual deep 3-5-2. We won the match 1-0, but I think it’s important to look at why we won the match, considering we were underdogs for the match and it was at Sevilla. Just so you don’t think I’m avoiding an potential bad matches with the 4-4-2 and only showing the good one, I’ve only used it in one other match, a 3-2 win in the league, with Super Kev scoring a hat-trick as I worked out the kinks with the formation and instructions through the match.

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I’ll start off with this, as I believe it’s the most important element of why we won the game. Again, Conte’s Sevilla were using his typical 3-5-2, with wing backs and a midfield 3 behind 2 strikers. We have just finished an attack here, and the keeper has rolled the ball back out to their central defender. Now, there’s two ways of looking at this image, which I’ll show. One way is to suggest that the Sevilla midfield 3 have managed to get into the soft spot of our midfield, allowing them to play through the centre and utilise their perceived superiority there against Wydra and Lovric. However, the way I see it is that Sevilla are playing right into the hands of our pressing trap. Whilst the classic criticism of 4-4-2 is that you get outnumbered in central midfield because of 3 v 2 situations, modern 4-4-2’s like Leverkusen/Salzburg’s and Atletico Madrid’s feature narrow wingers, who therefore condense the space horizontally, and cram the midfield. Here you can see we’ve got that with Alar at AML and Sallahi at MR sitting extremely narrow.

Firstly, when the ball is rolled out, Friesenbichler goes to press the man with the ball. This makes it difficult for him to pass the ball into the midfield 3, and we force them wide. However, should the ball manage to find it’s way into the centre, we’ve got any of the 6 who can press and trap the midfield 3 within the blue circle, and take the ball from them. In addition to this, when the ball moves wide, we follow it. Alar can go up to press the RCB, and Molina can move up to press the LCB. Sallahi’s set at RM, and is therefore covering the left sided wing back, which is fine with me.

Not everything is rosy in this screenshot though, as you can see from the circle around the centre circle. We’ve left a ton of space behind our midfield 2, which is something I’m going to have to address as I continue with this tactic. Sevilla didn’t use a Number 10, but if they did, they could have caused us serious problems. I’d left the defensive line untouched until now, and I think it’s time to move it forward to condense this space.

We were also dangerous on the counter, which I wanted. Not depending on the counter, but I wanted it to be a part of our game as well as our possession play The best sides blend these style together. Bayern are a perfect example. Our goal came from a fantastic counter attack, which I’ll illustrate.

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Here’s the beginning of the goal, and it’s fairly innocuous. At this point you’d never think we were 10 seconds away from scoring. Their RWB Manquillo is making a run down the right flank and goes to cross the ball in. It ricochets off Klem and ends up moving along the red arrow, which Super Kev spots and moves in white to pick up the ball. You can see that our counter attacking quartet Super Kev, Molina, Alar and Sallahi are there (circled in blue) and are fairly narrow.

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Super Kev continues and makes the run in red, taking out the Sevilla defence. Molina in the centre breaks from deep as well, and the eventual goalscorer Alar (circled in yellow) is giving the RCB some serious issues. Does he come across to stop Super Kev’s run, or does he stick with Alar?

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In the end the RCB (in purple) decides to come narrow and deal with the threat of Super Kev. From there it’s a very simple pass for Friesenbichler to Alar (in yellow) who finishes the move. You can also see that our entire attacking quartet is there, with Molina slighly deeper, and Sallahi deeper still, should Super Kev be unable to get the pass through to Alar. A perfect 10 second counter attack, and we’re 1-0 up. Brilliant. Vertical football at it’s best. Super Kev may not have scored the goal, but this tacic is certainly making him effective, and getting the best out of him.

We were also very good on the ball. We retain possession at the correct times, whilst still moving the ball forward up the pitch. Wydra (later Offenbacher) and Lovric dominated the game from central midfield, particularly Lovric, who continues to astound me.

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We also dealt with them extremely well defensively. Here the ball is with Oviedo, their LWB, and he’s not left with many options. Lovric comes across to press the sideline (another fantastic pressing trap), and Sallahi screens to cover the orange options. Left with little options, Oviedo tries the light blue pass, and Spendlhofer simply makes the green movement and steps in front of the pass. It’s the way I prefer to defend (via interceptions) and both Spendlhofer and Dibon are extremely adept at it.

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Here’s something I absolutely feel I need to change. Conscious of Sevilla’s perceived superiority to Sturm, I only selected CWB-S’s, thinking they’d get forward just about enough. They did get forward well, but there were certain times that we could really have exposed them if I’d been a little braver with my duty selection. Here, we’ve got a potential 3 v 2 down our right flank. Sallahi has the ball, and makes the pass in red to Molina making the run in blue. However, if Ligeon had been positioned slightly higher, perhaps in the spot in yellow, Sallahi could have made the yellow pass, and from there, we’d have forced their back 3 to split up and caused them real issues defensively.

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 11.59.22Alar’s performance was just majestic in the AP-A role at AML. I’ve come to the conclusion that he can play well anywhere apart from striker. He’s fantastic. He ran the show. He made 75 passes, for a completion percentage of 82.7%. As you can see as well, they’re not just backwards passes. Alar also made 4 key passes through the game, and of course he was the one that finished off the counter attack to score the goal for us as well.

It’s also worth mentioning that Molina was fantastic with a strike partner, making 3 key passes. He’s injury prone and temperamental (he’s now complaining I didn’t strengthen the squad, after I strengthened the squad), but when he’s on form, he’s absolutely fantastic. If he was only a little faster, he’d be perfect.

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 12.04.34I feel it’s also worth showing just what we did to Sevilla’s formation and gameplan. To the right you can see just how deep we’ve pushed their defence and midfield back, both with our attacking movement, and with our defensive pressing. There’s a huge gap between their highest midfielder and their strikers, a gap where Lovric can absolutely dominate.

We controlled everything. The only period where they really gave us any trouble was the last 5 minutes, where they threw everything forward. I deliberately left the tactic as it was, just to see if it would hold out, and despite Sevilla throwing man after man forward, we held out, and passed the ball around to run out the clock. We were absolutely fantastic and the result shows massive progress for the club, considering we would have lost this match a season ago, and the match itself was fairly comfortable. Stats wise we were pretty even with them, but we didn’t allow them one CCC, and they fouled us a lot, perhaps a sign that they couldn’t handle us?

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my rambling on this 4-4-2 as it’s developing. I hope to be able to continue using this tactic, injuries allowing *fingers crossed*. It’s got definite potential. It’s next test? Salzburg in 3 days. No biggie.

Hmmm, Upgrades…

If you got that Matrix reference, then well done. 156

I’ve finished all of the transfers I plan to make for the Summer at Sturm, and it’s been a very busy Summer, so I felt it was probably best to do a quick update, outlining what’s changing for the next season, and look at how the club as a whole is progressing. As you will have read from the previous post on this save, we won the league last season, going undefeated and still only beating RBS by one point. Worrying in a way, but winning the league is still a huge achievement in the second season of the save, as well as going undefeated on top of that.

When the save began, the club was not in a good position financially, and very quickly reduced my transfer revenue to 30%, which wasn’t ideal considering we weren’t getting very much money in to begin with. Good league performances over the last two seasons and the Europa League run last season helped the financial situation severely, to a point that we now sit with a good amount of money in the bank, and the club gave me £6.06M to invest over the Summer in order to allow us to withstand the demands of Champions League football, and continue to compete for the title with Salzburg. It really is exciting times at Sturm.

Of course, with the club now giving me 85% of the transfer revenue, I didn’t spend it all. In addition to this, a decent chunk of it was converted to wages, in order to prepare for the incoming Bosmans, and in order to allow me to re-sign Lukas Spendlhofer, who I was willing to re-sign whatever the price. I ended up with a wage bill of over 100k and a budget of £4.51M.

Speaking of Bosmans, I’ll cover those first. As I said in the last update I had signed Michael Gregoritsch and Ruben Ligeon, both of who I think will be fantastic signings for Sturm. Gregoritsch is another good young Austrian (as those of you that follow this blog will know, I’m focusing on Austrian and German signings with this save) who provides us with a different option upfront. He can play as more of a target man, and perhaps give us the option to go with two strikers at times. Ligeon (although Dutch, our first out of two possible ‘foreign’ signings this season) is a massive upgrade for us at right back, and can also play anywhere up the right flank. I’m looking to go more attacking with my full backs this season, and Ligeon provides the perfect wing back type player I’m looking for.

The absolutely key Bosman, and perhaps the most important signing of the Summer was Lukas Spendlhofer. He’d been available on a free from Inter (idiots) since January, but I didn’t quite have the wage budget to sign him. I named him as the third best player of last season, but the top 3 were all so close that Spendlhofer was just a vital player for us. If I can keep him for long enough, he is absolutely a future captain of the club. I’ve had to give him a fairly large wage at 7.25k a week, but he would have been a massive loss for us if he hadn’t signed. The financial stability of the club now allows me to make these decisions.

Following that, I had several names that I’d been looking at for a while that I wanted to sign. Firstly I weakened Rapid and signed Christopher Dibon and Dominik Wydra, two of their best players who I’d wanted for a long time. I managed Dibon last year at Salzburg (yuck), and he was absolutely dominant in defence. Naturally, it was an easy decision. Austrian and a fantastic defender. He was snapped up for £1.1M. I’ve had my eye on Wydra since the start of the save, and had to choose between him and Alar before the start of last season. This time, I made sure he was signed. He’ll come in and upgrade the Roaming Playmaker position, and rotate with Offenbacher when fixtures become congested. He’s first choice though. He was signed for £1.5M. The fans are a bit confused that I’ve signed them from rivals Rapid, but they felt the same when I signed Alar, who they now worship. Being able to spend £2.6M on two players is a lovely novelty in comparison to the first two seasons at the club. I didn’t stop there though.

One of the problem positions over the past two seasons has been the wings, both left and right. I’ve been using makeshift or fairly average players there, who haven’t quite given what I want. Akiyoshi has certainly been a surprise on the left wing, but he needs upgrading eventually. I kept looking for an Austrian or German right winger, and no-one stood out, apart from Louis Schaub at Rapid. He wasn’t keen on moving to us, so I moved on. I then started to look for attributes rather than the position itself, and remembered Ylli Sallahi at Bayern, who I’d also wanted to sign since the beginning of the save. For a nominal left back, he’s got fantastic finishing attributes, and was signed for a ridiculous 475k, thanks to being transfer listed. Absolute bargain. His only weakness is his dribbling, but I see the right midfield WM-A role as the player who finishes the moves, similar to Robben at Bayern. It was only a friendly against minnows, but in his first game at right midfield, he had 2 goals and 1 assist by half time. Extremely promising. He can also play anywhere up the left wing, so is very versatile, and incredibly useful to us.

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Speaking of versatility, that’s exactly what we’ve got. I’m one of those people that believes universality and versatility is the future in football, with players able to change and play different positions and roles with equal ability. Partly by design, and partly by accident, that’s what we have at Sturm. We’ve got players who can play in at least three positions across most of the squad, and you’ll probably notice that the specialists aren’t really finding spots in my squad anymore. Ligeon can play anywhere up the right, Spendlhofer can play defence and defensive midfield (as can Piesinger), Klem can play left back and central midfield, Sallahi can play anywhere up the left and is playing right midfield, Alar can play CM, left wing, right wing, Number 10 and striker. The list goes on.

After those signings, I’ve also achieved the depth that I was looking for last Summer after the loss of Djuricin. The first choice team (in the 4-1-4-1) is:

Pliquett; Ligeon, Spendlhofer, Dibon, Klem; Lovric, Sallahi, Wydra, Alar, Akiyoshi; Molina

On top of that however, there’s an entire squad’s worth of depth to come in, all quality, and all able to fill in several positions. The only weaknesses left in the squad are left midfield, and goalkeeper (only because Pliquett is 31 and the youth keepers are just not good enough to take over). We’ve got all the quality I was looking for, and enough versatility to rotate the squad throughout the season to cope with the increased fixture congestion. Again, exciting times at Sturm.

I’ve reached the point of the save where the squad feels like it’s ‘mine’. I’ve made the signings I wanted and have established a style of play now, focused on fast, but patient movement of the ball, passing it forward at the right times. However, I still don’t quite feel like we’re the best team in Austria. We’re not going to repeat last season’s undefeated season, and Salzburg will still be strong. It’s going to be another battle this season, but I do feel that we’re probably two signings away from being better than RBS. Perhaps I’m being pessimistic, as I do feel we can win the league again this season.

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FM clearly still feels that Salzburg are the better side though.

Anyway, enough of that mumbo jumbo, and let’s talk about the fun stuff, tactics. Again, I’ve reached the point now where the squad feels like it’s ‘mine’ and therefore, I feel it’s time to start developing the side tactically as well. The style of play will remain, but we need to become more versatile in terms of formations. The 4-1-4-1 is our bread and butter and will still be our go to tactic, but I’m looking at developing something new for only 4 games of the season.

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 20.01.26Here’s what I have in mind, a 3-5-2. There are several reasons for this, which I’ll go into. This tactic has largely been designed with Salzburg in mind, but I’ve also got Zizou’s deep 4-4-2 in mind at FAK. Crucially, I’ve never felt that our 4-1-4-1 has done that well against Salzburg’s 4-2-4 formation.

I’m a big supporter of Bielsa’s ‘plus one’ principle of defenders, and therefore against Salzburg, it makes sense that we have three central defenders, two to man mark and one (Spendlhofer will be the free central defender) to cover space. Anyone who knows me also knows that I absolutely love Back 3’s. I’ll irrationally like any team if they use a Back 3. Not forgetting that I’ve got 3 very good defenders in Spendlhofer, Dibon and Piesinger, it also makes sense. I’ve also kept the midfield three together who work so well together, although Wydra will be the first choice RPM ahead of Offenbacher, who isn’t really improving that much.

This formation also plays to Molina’s strengths, and allows me to get him in between the lines as a False 9, and allow him to create for the midfield runners and the wing backs. This is where Sallahi’s versatility comes in, and allows me to play him at LWB, where I’m sure he’ll be extremely effective.

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 22.07.11On the right, you can see how it will line up vs. Salzburg’s 4-2-2-2/4-2-4 formation, and we match up pretty well. In the key red areas of the centre of the pitch, we either match their numbers, or outnumber them. I’m a firm believer that dominating the centre of the pitch is a sure fire way to give yourself a good chance of winning the match. As you can see, we outnumber them 3 vs. 2 in our defence, 3 vs. 2 in central midfield, and we have 2 vs. 2 upfront, which should keep the Salzburg defence pretty honest, Until now, it’s been 2 vs. 1 in their favour, and we’ve struggled at times.

The only problem area will be the wings in blue, which I’m somewhat happy to concede to them. The danger will be if they push far forward and overlap the wingers. However, even then they can only cross, and we’ll have so many players back centrally, that to cut in and score would be extremely difficult.

I’ll be testing it in friendlies and European matches against teams playing 2 strikers, and see how it goes, but I really feel it has the potential to dominate Salzburg. We’ll see.

The first choice line up with the 3-5-2 will be:

Pliquett; Dibon, Spendlhofer, Piesinger; Lovric, Ligeon, Wydra, Alar, Sallahi; Molina, Gregoritsch

Not bad at all.

I’ll update mid-season and let you all know how things are going, and look at how the 3-5-2 worked against Salzburg, perhaps with an in depth match analysis if it’s needed. Until then, as always, if you have any questions please feel free to ask.

The Perfect Season, And We Needed It

156Apologies for the lack of mid-season update in my Sturm Graz save. I’m enjoying playing this save a lot (once again thanks to @Shrewnaldo for developing the edit) and ended up playing past the mid-season break pretty quickly, meaning all the screenshots I’d need would be unavailable. So you’re going to get one long season update, and I apologise if it ends up being too long.

So last time I updated, we’d lost star striker Marco Djuricin to Vitesse for £1.5M, and sold Hadzic for making wage demands I simply couldn’t afford. I then brought in Manu Molina to play at striker, and Deni Alar from Rapid to play the Central Winger role I developed on FM14. This would prove to be a fantastic piece of business. I’d intended to use the close season to get the depth I wanted for the team (particularly considering that we qualified for the Europa League, effectively) but these transfers left me with pretty much the same level of depth as I had before once I’d brought up some younger players. Some good bench players, but not a full squad, with particular weaknesses at striker, full back, and on the wings. I said that this next season would be vital, challenging Salzburg again, and fighting with what I was sure would be a rejuvenated Austria and Rapid Wien.

So how did my two Summer signings get on? I’ll talk about Alar first. He was signed as a striker to play my Central Winger role. For anyone who hasn’t seen my previous articles, I developed the Central Winger on FM14 after seeing Angel Di Maria’s performances in central midfield for Real Madrid. I wanted to use a central midfielder that dribbled and ran directly at opposition defences. In my mind, this became a far more dangerous prospect, with the defence being unable to use the sideline to defend with. Last year I had ridiculous success with the role, and it became a key part of most of the tactics I developed. Alar was simply brilliant in the CW role. I’d initially been unhappy with how the role worked on FM15, and I felt it was less effective than FM14, but it fit what I wanted to do with the 4-1-4-1 so well, that I had to use it. Alar completely changed my mind about the CW, to a point where I now think it might actually be more effective than FM14, and I see more of the actions that I wanted to see when I developed the role last year. Until the end of the season when he had a few injuries and off games, Alar was rated as the 3rd best player in the league, and developed a fantastic relationship with the left winger (usually Akiyoshi) and Klem, our attacking left back.

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I’m going to save most of the Central Winger examples for the upcoming article, but here’s an example of Alar doing exactly what I want. He picks up the ball in central midfield and drives directly towards the space, making the run in white. The gravity of Alar in the Central Winger role is so great that 5 defenders cover his run. A simple square pass inside to Schmerbock gets us a shot on goal, and a decent chance.

Molina on the other hand, I’m still a little unsure of. He averaged 7.08 for the season, meaning a good return of 12 goals in 29 appearances, and a return of 11 in 21 in the league. There’s no doubt he scores goals and I was right to spot him as a striker. The striker role has changed between a CF-S and a DLF-S throughout the season, and I’m still not sure which one I prefer. I identified that Molina has the ‘dictates tempo’ PPM, which I felt would be interesting upfront, but I’m starting to feel it hinders us somewhat. There are times when he drops deep, and all I want him to to is spread the play wide and break towards the box, but he holds it too long, and the moment is lost. For example, Kevin Pirker who is far worse than Molina, scored 5 goals in 11 starts playing the same role. He has no PPM’s, and when I want the ball spread wide and for him to break towards the box, that’s exactly what he does. For these reasons, I’m hoping I can get Molina to unlearn his PPM, and just allow him to be a goal scoring machine. He’s also a touch injury prone, meaning he missed quite a few games this season that I needed him in.

AnywayScreen Shot 2014-12-09 at 13.04.44, how did the league go? As you can see on the left (and perhaps by the title), we went undefeated this season, a massive achievement that I haven’t managed to do for a long time on Football Manager. You’d think going undefeated we’d have walked the league, but no, it went all the way down to the last day, with RBS constantly fighting with us. They just wouldn’t go away, and kept winning. We’d get a comfortable 3-1 win, and they’d go and smash someone 6-0. This was worrying.

On the last day, we faced Austria Wien, and they faced Rapid Wien. Rapid did absolutely nothing to help us, and succumbed to a 3-1 loss. Thanks guys. Fortunately, we beat Zinedine Zidane’s Austria Wien 2-1, and became champions of Austria. You read that right through, the French master is managing FAK. I welcomed him to the league with a 4-1 drubbing in his first game.

It shows how ridiculously strong Salzburg are in this game that we went undefeated, and still only won the league by 1 point. The achievement is certainly not lost on me, but I can’t help but notice how good Salzburg were as well. There’s a huge gap after us down to Ried, and once again the Wien sides were largely ineffectual, something that’s strange to me, but something I’m going to take full advantage of this Summer with transfers.

Speaking of transfers, I was allowed a lot more money through the season in terms of wages, and so in January went out into the Bosman market armed with my chequebook. As you know, I’ve got a focus on Austrian and German players in this save, and intended to stick to that. However, when I saw Ruben Ligeon available on a free from Ajax, I jumped at the chance. Our defence was actually fantastic this season (only conceding 21 goals), but Ligeon will be a massive upgrade at right back, and may tempt me to be a bit more attacking with my full backs. He’s a Bosman, so technically I’m going to count this as one of next season’s foreign signings, leaving me only one foreign spot left, should I decide to use it.

Michael Gregoritsch was the next Bosman signing. As I’ve previously mentioned, striker has been a weak spot throughout the save, with only Djuricin, and now Molina decent first choice options. Still being unsure of Molina, I felt I’d go for a young Austrian striker who can provide some competition, and Gregoritsch was available. He still needs some work to properly fit in the striker role in my 4-1-4-1, but I have a feeling he’s going to be very good. He also adds a target man dimension to our play, should I wish to go more direct, or perhaps switch to a 2 striker setup. They were my 2 Bosmans, and I was absolutely ecstatic with them. With two signings, I’d solved the issues upfront and at right back for next season.

So, how did we get on in Europe this season? Last season we finished 2nd, and therefore went into the qualifiers for the Champions League.

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Not amazingly, but pretty well for a club of our stature. We absolutely dominated Basel 3-0 in the home leg of the Best Placed Qualifier, before stumbling to a 3-2 loss in the 2nd leg, which I think was largely due to my team talk more than the players themselves. We then drew Spurs in the next round, and proceeded to be destroyed 7-0 on aggregate. Tough losses, but we were outclassed in both games, and deserved to lose.

This put us into the Europa League, where we drew Schalke (later to be managed by Pep Guardiola), FC Twente and Lokomotiv Moscow. We largely struggled throughout the group, but key wins against Twente and Lokomotiv sent us through to the next round, where we were unlucky to go out 1-0 on aggregate to Celtic. All in all, a pretty decent European campaign, but it was certainly tough going, particularly rotating the squad for the important league battle with Salzburg.

Last, but not least, was the Austrian Cup.

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Once again, Salzburg somehow managed to lose to someone not named Sturm Graz on their way through the competition. We had a much tougher route through the draw this year, facing Ried, Rapid, Mattersburg and Wolfsberger, all the way through to Zizou and his deep 4-4-2, defensive FAK side. He’s awful to play against at times. We absolutely destroyed them through the match, only allowing them 1 shot on target, and still managed not to score, which became a real issue for us towards the end of the season. In the end, it went to penalties, and the FM gods smiled on us, with Stankovic scoring the winning penalty. A nice moment for a player that’s happily gone from being a regular starter to a reliable bench player, stopping me from selling him.

So, who’s been Sturm’s best players this season?

1. Sandi Lovric – Absolutely fantastic. Averaged 7.18 for the season in the DM-D role at the base of the 4-1-4-1. Only 18 years old, but very probably our best player. Composed in midfield, never loses the ball, and makes key interceptions at important times. Can’t say enough good things about him. He’s becoming such a rounded player that I am really starting to consider moving him up into the RPM role currently taken by Offenbacher. Has the big clubs sniffing around him, but I’ve got him contracted until 2018, and don’t want to let him go.

2. Deni Alar – Brilliant in the Central Winger role. Averaged 7.20 throughout the season and dominated games. Again, I have to give credit to @Shrewnaldo for discovering Alar’s brilliance in central midfield.

3. Lukas Spendlhofer – The perfect defender. I could have named the entire defence for this really, but Spendlhofer was the standout, averaging 7.32 for the season. He’s constantly improving, and is available on a free this Summer (Inter are morons). I’ve tried to sign him throughout the season, but haven’t managed to stretch the wage budget that far. With the new increase I’ve got after winning the league, I should comfortably be able to manage his wages now. If I can sign him, he will continue to dominate the league for years to come.

The club are now in a far better position than they were when I got there. We’re in the Champions League, are competing with Salzburg every year, have won the league and cup double, and most importantly for the development of the club, are now financially solid. The transfer revenue has gone up to a staggering 85% (at least for Sturm), and we’ve got almost £7.5M in the bank thanks to the league positions over the past 2 years, and the European campaign this year. All this has led the club to give me a budget of £6.06M to work with over the Summer, which I’m thrilled with. I don’t intend to use all of it, but a large amount of it will go into finally achieving the depth I wanted last season, and I will focus on signing Austrians and Germans as usual. The next Summer will probably be quite a big one for the club, and I’ll do a pre-season update, as I plan to have signed a decent number of players by that point.

As always, please feel free to ask if you have any questions, and I’ll update at pre-season. The FM15 Central Winger article will also be on it’s way soon.

Developing The First Team

156I’ve finished all of the transfers that I want to make for Sturm in the transfer window, so I thought I’d do a quick update to summarise what I’ve been up to. As the transfer window started, I was given a budget of absolutely nothing, so I came to the conclusion that it was best to stick with what I had, and begin to re-sign those that were coming to the end of their contracts. Sound like a good plan? Football Manager had other ideas.

In the last update, I talked about our top striker Marco Djuricin, and how he wanted to leave Sturm, and had clubs (particularly Werder Bremen) sniffing around him. This would have been fine, but he’s got a £1.5M release clause in his contract, that had me worried, particularly considering we already had a lack of depth upfront, with the other options nowhere near the calibre of the Austrian international. Well, in the end, it was Vitesse Arnhem who matched the release clause, and off he went for 1.5M. I couldn’t do anything to stop him.

Nevertheless, £1.5M is a decent amount of money in Austrian football, so I felt I could bring in a replacement, and continue to build around what we already had. I then decided to start re-signing those that had contracts expiring in a year, particularly Beichler and Hadzic, who were bench players, but players I could count on to come in and do a good job mid-match. Again, FM had other ideas. Both wanted wages far above what I could offer them for the level of player I felt they were, and I wasn’t willing to let them leave for nothing after January. Hadzic was put up for sale, and was shipped out to Lens for 875k. Again, nothing I could really do about this. I wouldn’t have been able to afford the wages he was wanting, and I had to at least make something from him. This left me needing a striker and a midfielder at the very least.

My first signing was the midfielder, signing Deni Alar from Rapid Wien for a total of 600k including future fees.

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As you can see, central midfield isn’t one of Alar’s preferred positions, but he has all the attributes needed to come in and play the Central Winger role, playing alongside Offenbacher in central midfield. I’m not going to claim any kind of genius for putting Alar in central midfield, as this was discovered by @Shrewnaldo, who managed to get some fantastic performances out of Alar whilst playing in a central midfield role. Ideally, I would have liked Valentino Lazaro for this role, but he’s currently getting a lot of game time at Salzburg, and therefore isn’t willing to make the move to Sturm. He’s also more money than I can afford right now. Alar is being trained to play CM, and hopefully will be accomplished in the position fairly quickly.

Striker was a trickier one. As I’ve said before in these updates, I’m looking to focus on Austrian and German signings in this save, in order to develop a German speaking squad. I started scouting around, looking at options like Friesenbichler, Gregoritsch, Pellegrini and Hinterseer. Hinterseer was perfect, and I had a fee agreed, but his wage demands were simply too high and I had to back out of the deal. Gregoritsch looks like a fantastic prospect, and is absolutely going to be someone I look at signing within the next season or so, but I didn’t feel he was ready to lead our line yet. After looking at those options and a few German ones (all too expensive or not good enough), I decided it was time to allow myself a foreign signing. I originally said that I would allow myself no more than 2 foreign signings a season, and this was about to be my first.

Recently, there’s been some fantastic articles around the FM scene, particularly @Cleon81’s article on the deep lying forward at his blog sisportscentre.com, which I highly suggest you go and check out. In the article, Cleon looks at how he retrained a left back to play at striker, leading to 22 goals in one season. After failing to find the perfect ‘striker’, I decided to do the same, and look for a player with the right attributes, but perhaps not the right position.

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I then discovered this gem. Good attributes in all the right positions for the CF-S role in my 4-1-4-1. Fantastic traditional ‘striker’ attributes like finishing, composure, first touch and decent enough physicals. He’s also got an added creative side that Djuricin didn’t have, with 16 passing and 16 vision. Lovely. His name is Manu Molina and he’s a central midfielder. I do realise the irony that I’ve bought a CM to play striker and a striker to play CM. He was signed for 700k from Recreativo in the Liga Adelante, and has gone straight into the first team. He also has the PPM ‘dictates tempo’ which is noticeable in comparison to Djuricin, he drops deep, contributes to our play more, and vacates space for others to move into, particularly the WM-A Schloffer who I think will thrive from Molina’s brilliant movement.

They’re the only transfers I intend to make. I was considering selling Stankovic, but after losing Hadzic, I now need the cover in midfield, and will probably hold onto him for one more season before letting him go. Hopefully we get more cash flow coming in to allow me to strengthen the squad (the transfer revenue is now back up to 45%). It’s an unfortunate consequence of the outgoings this Summer, but the squad depth hasn’t improved like I wanted it to, if at all. The first team however, has improved considerably

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This is the result of the first leg of our Champions League playoff, where we comfortably beat Basel, themselves a very good team. It shows how far we’ve come in one season that we’re able to ease past a team like Basel 3-0. Molina played a staring role, opening the scoring in the first minute, and showing utter class every time the ball moved up to him, making 6 key passes, with a completion rate of 91.3%. If that’s a sign of things to come, I can’t wait to see how he plays this season.

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Just to add a little bit to the save, I also had some kits made for the new season by Kush over at Football Manager Now, a forum I highly recommend you go to for some great FM discussion. I’ve moved Sturm away from the hooped home kit to an all black look, which I really like. The away kit is a favourite of mine though. Kits are available on request at FM Now, so if you would like some for your save, why not go ask in the request thread?

That’s it for now, and I’ll update again midway through the season, hopefully competing with Salzburg once again. Thanks for reading, and as always, feel free to ask any questions.

Well, I Was Right

156Well, I’ve reached the end of my first season in charge of Sturm Graz. First off, I’d like to say thank you to @Shrewnaldo for creating this edit. I’ve had a lot of fun this season, and I can tell it’s going to be a challenging save. When I last updated, we were at the end of December, were pushing Red Bull Salzburg as hard as we could in the league, and were 3 points behind, having suffered two horrible losses against them. I was also having issues deciding whether to stick with the 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1 I’d been using at the start of the season, or switch to the Hidden Diamond I’d started using once Stankovic broke his foot.

At the end of my procrastination, I ended up doing neither, but I’ll cover that later in the update. So, most importantly, how did the league go, and did we manage to achieve the Champions League qualification I was so focused on?

Screen Shot 2014-11-22 at 22.04.11Thankfully, yes we did. We comfortably finished 19 points ahead of the 3rd placed team Wolfsberger AC. We didn’t manage to keep pace with Salzburg. At one point we moved back to 1 point behind them, but a series of draws cost us, and that’s how good Salzburg are. If you draw, you can guarantee they will win, and that was the title challenge over.

I’m not down heartened by finishing 2nd though. I knew we weren’t ready to topple RBS, and to finish far above both Wien sides and finish 2nd has to be considered a successful first season. I’ve now got a good idea of which players are going to be key going forward, and which ones I can afford to let go or ship out. We’ve got a style of play which the team are now comfortable with, that I can build upon.

You can see where we’ve slipped up. We’ve actually lost less games than RBS, but we drew 5 more than them. If we don’t draw those games and win 1 of our games we played against them, we’d be champions. 7 points away, but not as far away as I thought we’d be after the first season.

So a trophyless season then? Well no actually. Somehow Salzburg managed to lose a game in the cup, and we managed to make our way all the way through to the final. The majority of the games were fairly comfortable, and we got pretty good draws all the way through. The 0-0 penalty win against Wolfsberger was the match I mentioned in the previous update that caused me to move away from the 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1 for the time being. Things were pretty uncomfortable in the final, as both Offenbacher and Stankovic went off injured, and it took until the 108th minute for us to get the breakthrough, despite us having 23 shots on goal throughout the match. It seems to be an element of this ME, that if you dominate possession and have plenty of shots, your conversion rate isn’t great.

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Speaking of dominating possession, I’ll go into tactics (I can’t help it) to outline what I eventually did. As you know, I’d developed the Hidden Diamond, but wasn’t completely happy with it, despite winning games. I felt we didn’t dominate games quite as well as with the 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1, and when I looked at the stats, they supported this. Generally, we dropped to a low of about 60% with the 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1, whereas the Hidden Diamond led to far more even games, getting to around 50%. Stankovic returned just before the end of the mid-season break, and the decision to go back to the 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1 was made. However, I still wasn’t completely happy with it, feeling I wasn’t getting enough from midfield, and we weren’t as solid as I’d have liked. Therefore, I moved the DMCR back into DMC, keeping him central and able to control our midfield from there. I’d experimented with a roaming playmaker/advanced playmaker combination in the 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1, and it confirmed to me that Offenbacher had to play RPM no matter what. When he plays in that role, he’s the best player in the league. I liked having two playmakers, but it was unnecessary, and we needed more vertical movement, so I introduced the Central Winger to the tactic, sitting alongside Offenbacher in the RPM role. Stankovic played the CW role, and improved as the season went on, eventually starting to get himself on the scoresheet, and doing what I wanted from the Central Winger.

This led to what you can see above, a more standard 4-1-4-1, with Djuricin offset to the left. His movement is so fantastic that he often drifts out wide, leaving the striker zone open for runners, leaving the opposition defences largely unsure who to mark and where to go. By the end of the season I’ve found myself very happy with the 4-1-4-1, to the point where I’m now comfortable moving forward fitting players into this setup.

So, who do I feel are the players I can build around? The main one is certainly Sandi Lovric, who went from strength to strength as the season went on. Only 17 now, his attributes are increasing rapidly, and he was averaging over 7.0 a game by the end of the season in the DM-D role. Utterly brilliant. Salzburg came in with a 300k bid for him around February/March and were promptly told to piss off (unfortunately, there’s isn’t that dialogue option).

Daniel Offenbacher is another. He always looked good when I was playing him in the DLP-S role in the 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1, but as soon as I started using him as a Roaming Playmaker in the Hidden Diamond, he became the playmaker of the side, controlling everything, and becoming the best player in the league on average. As we moved to the 4-1-4-1, I eventually kept him in a RPM role, and he continued to be the best player in the league, finishing with a 7.39 average rating.

Simon Piesinger is the third pillar I’m building around, and another who has improved dramatically through the season. A player who I signed at Salzburg last season (ridiculous that I played as those tossers), and he’s been fantastic for me again. He’s scored quite a few goals as well, not all headers from corners, and ended as the 3rd best player in the league. He just never, ever makes a mistake. Brilliant.

Everything’s rosy then? Not really. You might wonder why I didn’t include Marco Djuricin in that list? He scored 16 goals in 28 games this season, so he certainly played well enough and contributed enough to be in the list. However, he wants to leave Sturm. Werder Bremen are sniffing around him, and should they decide to sign him, it will only take them £1.5M due to a release clause in his contract that I can’t do anything about now. As a result of this, I need to get scouting for replacements should he leave, and hopefully I can stick to the Austrian/German ideology that I’ve got behind signings in this save. Hopefully he decides to stay and I can renegotiate his contract, but I’m not overly hopeful.

We need to strengthen as well. The first team squad is good enough, and some of the subs are, but not all of them. There are weak spots in the squad, particularly upfront, left wing and full back (both right and left). Of course, I need the money to be able to do this, and the initial budget for me next season is 0 again. The board have increased the wage budget up to £67k, so hopefully I can work some magic with that and get some depth. I would rather not have to sell my best players in order to buy. As we’ve qualified for the CL, we can hopefully get some cash from that that helps us financially. There’s some very good players that are now interested in joining Sturm (particularly Rapid’s Louis Schaub and Dominik Wydra, who would bolster our midfield) but we just do not have the cash to bring them in. I am tempted to sell Stankovic, which must seem strange as I said in the last update how important he is for us, but as Offenbacher has developed through the season, Stankovic’s impact has lessened, and I’m tempted to sell him (he’s 29 now) in order to replace him with someone younger. I’ll put some feelers out in the Summer, and see what price I can get for him.

The second season of this save is vital. Can we get in some much needed cash to allow us to buy players, develop, and compete with Salzburg? Or is this a one season wonder, and do we slip back next season behind what I’m sure will be a resurgent Austria and Rapid Wien?

I’ll update at the mid-season break again, unless I do manage to make the signings I want to, in which case I’ll update before the season starts. Thank you for reading.