A Fresh(ish) Start

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 19.50.04After 3 seasons, I’ve decided to shelf my Sturm Graz save for a bit. Not so much because the save has become boring, but more because I feel I need a greater challenge. Sturm were probably the 4th best team in Austria when I took over, and it really didn’t take long to make them the best side in the country, thanks to the collective collapse of the Wien sides. This meant every season it’s just been Sturm vs. Salzburg for the title. Again, this isn’t boring, but I want to be in a league where it’s far more competitive, and far more of a challenge for me to become a top club, and win the league.

When I started the save, I also loaded the German league (to allow me to look at a large number of German players), and as time has gone on, that league has looked more and more interesting, leaving me feeling a real desire to move to a bigger league with more competition. Therefore, I holidayed until the end of the 17/18 season (my incompetent assistant finished 9 points behind RBS, that won’t happen when I return to the save), resigned from the Sturm job, and became unemployed. I looked around at the job market, and the only league that interested me was Germany. I’d loaded Spain and France as well. I’d have loaded Italy but I have played there on FM so many times. In particular though, I’ve never managed in Germany or Spain. But, Germany it was.

To explain why I wanted to play in Germany so badly, well, there’s several reasons. Pep was sacked either in the first or second season of the save, and replaced by Diego Simeone, who has since gone on to win the Champions League. Clearly holding a grudge, Pep took over at Schalke and started competing for the Bundesliga. Klopp has left Dortmund, but Cesare Prandelli has taken over, and created a side that features Reus, Immobile, Gundogan and Gabriel Barbosa in a 4-4-2. On top of that, Leverkusen are competitive, and won the league the season before I came to the league.

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 19.07.18

This screenshot just shows how competitive the league is. Bayern are still very strong, but have only won the league 2 times in 5 years. Dortmund are incredibly consistent and always challenge, but have only won the league once in 5 years. Pep’s Schalke side have won it too, and Leverkusen have finally fulfilled their promise and won the league last season. Clearly, there are 4 teams going for the title every season, with Borussia Monchengladbach sometimes joining the battle. An extremely competitive league, with some fantastic coaches to face as well. It really is an FM player’s wet dream.

Looking at the jobs available in Germany there was only really one option. FC Union Berlin were available, but they’d just been relegated, and although I wanted a ‘recovery job’, I didn’t want one with a club I felt nothing towards. Stuttgart then sacked their manager, a960nd I immediately wanted the job, applying and going through the process of having an interview (really fun SI). As the save had gone on, Stuttgart had slipped from being a midtable team, to a team that just escaped relegation, and were a long way away from the top 4 teams in the league. Still, the club itself has bucketloads of potential. Sounds like a good challenge to me.

Looking through the squad, I could immediately see the problem – it was HUGE. I’m not exaggerating. It was bigger than Salzburg’s, and that was the biggest I’d seen on FM ever. It was just full of average players that had one or two decent attributes, but had significant weaknesses. There were players who’d have a really high tackling attribute, but nothing else at all. Unless you’ve got a super specialised role for him, he’s going to be largely useless. There was also a bunch of creative players, that initially had me excited, until I noticed that none of them were the kind of dynamic playmakers that I like. All of them were fairly slow and lazy. Defensively, things weren’t too bad, but on the whole (as usually happens with AI management) the entire squad was ageing badly. On top of it all, the club was badly over budget on wages, a situation that needed addressing immediately.

The shining light above it all was that Timo Werner was still there, looking like an absolute star upfront for the team. Even still, he’s not really the kind of striker I like. Call me picky, but I like my strikers to be a little bit of everything, fast, agile, good finishers, and a little bit creative if possible. Werner was fast and a great finisher, but couldn’t pass well, and most of all, couldn’t see the pass to make with 10 vision.

I looked around at the squad and realised that it needed a massive overhaul. Massive. Way bigger than £10M would allow, which was what the board gave me to work with. Therefore, I had to make the difficult decision to put some feelers out for Werner and sell him for as much as I could. The game rates him as being worth £24M, and when I offered him out I got some fairly decent offers back, but all from German clubs. The sale was badly needed, so I swallowed my pride and sold him to Dortmund for £27M. Call me an idiot, but this turned out to be the best transfer of the Summer. People will often say that no-one is irreplaceable, and although I’ve sold him to a German team, I’m alright with that. Plus, @MrEds sold Reus to Bayern (admittedly for a ridiculous fee) when he joined Dortmund in his save, so I’m going to claim that it’s the same, and therefore acceptable.

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 23.49.16

However, that was just the tip of the iceberg, of what would probably be called an exodus by the sporting media. A bunch of fairly average players were then sold, some even starters for fees that I considered good enough considering their relative worth to me. Apart from Werner, none of the teams who bought our other players were top teams, which I think shows just how sub-par the team was. I sold the useless playmakers, the players who could dribble but nothing else, and the players who just didn’t belong at the club in any capacity. Some young players were sent on loan, but none of them look fantastic, and our top prospect is an unbelievably average DM who isn’t going to get anywhere near our lineup any time soon. As soon as a club comes in with a decent bid for him, he’s off. There’s a couple of decent starters in there, particularly Deikmeier and Arnold. Deikmeier was sold mainly for age reasons. He’s 28 now, so is entering his peak years, but hasn’t developed mentally at all, and if you’ve read this blog before, you know that I place a high value on mental attributes. Arnold was sold mainly because he didn’t fit the system I wanted to use, and I wasn’t going to let him rot, and cause havoc with the squad like Molina did at Sturm. All in all, we made £56.75M from the sales (not including clauses etc.). Not bad.

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 00.01.25

Then I went a bit crazy. As you can probably tell, I’m not going to be putting the same restrictions on myself regarding transfers as I did at Sturm Graz. I’m going to just buy anybody I want. After the restrictions at Sturm, it’s been quite a breath of fresh air (as you can probably see!).

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 00.08.38

The first man to join the club was probably the most important, our new Number 10, Ante Roguljic. On top of that, he’s a left footed Number 10, which I’ve always loved. A great passer, good dribbler, with good vision and a nice bit of pace (unlike the slow lazy playmakers). He’s got some very good mental attributes for a 22 year old as well. In the tactic we’ll be using, he’ll be the fulcrum of the side, that the rest of the team plays through and around. After selling almost all the clubs playmakers, we needed one anyway, and I’ve massively upgraded here. Like the rest of our transfers, he’s also young, with plenty of time to develop.

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 00.14.53

The second signing of the Summer was something the club needed even if I hadn’t completely destroyed the first team squad with transfers. We badly needed a midfield destroyer to tackle, and pass the ball on. Wagner was the outstanding candidate for this role. His aggression and bravery aren’t fantastic, but he’s a good tackler, who will work hard, and can run for days. In the role I have chosen for him, he’ll have to do a lot of work as well. Most importantly, he’s still young, and has plenty of time to develop. I have high hopes.

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 00.22.29

Next up was Matej Vydra, signing from Udinese. A good finisher, fast, nimble who can pass the ball, and very creative. He’s going to be a key part of what I’m wanting to do tactically, and I’m hoping he’ll score plenty of goals this coming season. He didn’t come cheap wage wise, but the club’s allowed me plenty of room to negotiate there, so it isn’t such a worry.

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 00.29.42

The next signing was Henri Lansbury. I found him still languishing with Forest in the Championship, and for £6M, I think I’ve got an absolute steal. A fantastic all round player who can probably do anything I ask of him. At 27, he’s still got a few years left, and for now, he’ll be absolutely fantastic. Plus, more English players should play abroad, but I anyway, I digress.

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 00.35.16

Well, I couldn’t resist myself here. I always like a good ball playing defender in my lineups and Stuttgart didn’t have one. Even looking across the available talent, there wasn’t anyone who would play the role as well as Spendlhofer. I’m in his favoured personnel from Sturm, and he was an absolute bargain at £1.5M. I’d pay £10M for him. I don’t see the Bundesliga as being too much of a step up for him, I think he’ll fit in very well at this level. Future captain.

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 00.40.25

Next, came our star striker, Erick Torres. You can see he’s everything I said I was looking for in a striker. He’s a good finisher, is fast and nimble, can pass the ball, and is creative. Everything I look for in a striker. He’ll lead the line for us, move intelligently, and hopefully, score plenty of goals once he settles in. The game already says that Torres is our key player, so hopefully he proves himself to be just that.

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 00.45.41

I then began to look deeper into the midfield, and this was a difficult one. I’m going to be utilising a Roaming Playmaker in the tactical setup at VfB, and I debated whether Selpa could play the role as soon as I saw him. Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 00.51.55He’s clearly a great player, but his defensive attributes leave a lot to be desired.

I debated and debated, but I think this (left) shows that he can, and he will pretty damn well. In the setup I’m going to use (which I’ll cover later), the RPM is required a lot when the team is attacking, and therefore he needs to be pretty good going forward, which Selpa is.

It’s also why I need Wagner, and why he’ll be so important this season, as he’ll be played as a CM-D, to stay back, work hard and mop up whatever comes his way whilst the RPM recovers his position to receive the ball back.

This is definitely a project, and I debated buying Lovric, but to keep things different, I’ll leave him at Sturm for now. I do think Selpa will be fantastic at RPM though.

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 00.57.53

Last, but certainly not least was Wallace, who came in at a cut price £2.7M from Chelsea. After I sold Diekmeier, we needed a good first choice right back, and Wallace fits everything we need, whilst being a far more rounded and more intelligent player than Diekmeier. He’s the typical marauding Brazilian full back, and his PPM’s reflect that. He’ll be played as a WB-A from right back, and should provide us with some fantastic support from the wings.

Support on the wings? What on Earth am I planning on doing tactically then?

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 10.51.01Well, I’m continuing something I was planning on doing with Sturm, only on a much larger scale and with better players. It’s a narrow 4-2-3-1, with 3 AMC’s, and plenty of vertical movement. Lovely attacking football. I’d already tested it in early season matches with Sturm, and it showed a lot of promise, so I’m comfortable plugging the players into the system.

The system relies on a few things. Firstly a pacey, intelligent striker is needed to pull the defence around and create space. Then, the wider AMC’s will need to break forward when the space presents itself, whilst moving wider to support the attacking full backs when the ball is on their side. In addition, Selpa in the Roaming Playmaker will need to get up and down the pitch, providing the last layer of the attack. With 18 long shots, he should hopefully score quite a few coming in at the end of moves.

Surely we’re going to get destroyed down the wings though? With only full backs there, teams like Bayern, Schalke, Dortmund and Leverkusen are going to expose this. Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 11.58.02

Not if I have my way they won’t, and I’ve got a plan to counteract this as you can see on the right. I’ll be asking the wider AMC’s to mark the opposition full backs to ensure defensive width (something I feel is extremely important this year).

This will create a 4-4-1-1 like shape when we’re defending, that hopefully will keep the top 4 at bay.

In addition, the transitional movement of the wider AMC’s will be vital. When we win the ball back, they will immediately move inside, and very often end up unmarked, as the full backs are unwilling to move inside with them. It’s something I utilised last year, and I think it’s going to be very effective again this time. Lansbury and Vydra are no slouches, and should be real threats on the counter, with Roguljic to play the through balls and Torres to finish the moves off. In the few games I used it with Sturm, it provided some lovely football, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it works with VfB. I’d show you a screenshot of the players in their roles from the tactics screen, but they’re all on holiday at the moment, and therefore the screenshot would look terrible. These are the roles I’ll be using though:

SK-D; WB-A, BPD-C, CD-D, WB-A; RPM-S, CM-D; SS-A, AP-S, AM-A; AF-A

Obviously, this is subject to change though, and might well have been tweaked by the time I get to the January update.

Clearly, with only 3 of the first choice starting line up having been at the club when I joined, familiarity is going to be a real issue at the start of the season. There’s a lot of players to bed in, and I’m anticipating a poor start. I have faith that the players will come good though, and by the end of the season, I think challenging for the Europa League spots is a real possibility. It’s way too early to challenge the top 4 yet though, and we just aren’t good enough for that.

I’ll update again in January, hopefully doing well and still in a job. Until then, thank you for reading, and as always, feel free to as any questions either here, or on Twitter (@JLAspey).