When Life Gives You Lemons…

R24Shirt1As you will have seen in the first update of my new save with AC Milan, it’s been quite a tumultuous summer for the Rossoneri. A quite frankly ridiculous amount of average players were sold, loaned or released, amassing £103M total in player sales. A massive part of that was any players that can play on the wings. I had planned to use a 4-4-1-1, with Giacomo Bonaventura on the right wing as a WM-A, and Suso on the left as a W-A, with a few iffy rotational options to provide backup to those two. I had attempted to sign Gonçalo Guedes – who wouldn’t talk to me – and Nicola Sansone, but as you’ve seen, he would rather go play for Roma and earn £15,000 less a week. Their mistakes.

However, Bonaventura would go down with a torn calf that would put him out for 3-4 months, and Chelsea would come in for Suso on deadline day with a bid that when eventually negotiated up to £29.5M (with extra fees etc.) I simply couldn’t refuse. This left me extremely weak on the wings, my only real options being Simone Verdi (really a Number 10) and Manuel Locatelli (a central midfielder). There were also no realistic options out wide that I wanted to sign, with my ethos for the save being to create an Italian core with a foreign contingent (much like Milan have throughout their history). This effectively ruled out the 4-4-1-1 as a viable tactic, and as a result, I’m committing to playing a narrow formation.

This article is going to serve as a tactical think tank for me to plan my ideas on how to move forward with the Rossoneri. I hope that through seeing my mental processes, you will be able to see how I formulate a tactic, and how I assess my squad in order to create a tactic that should be successful.

1099So, going narrow effectively limits my options in terms of formation. I’m left with a 4-4-2 diamond, the old fashioned 4-3-3, a 4-2-2-2 box, 3-5-2, 4-3-1-2 and 4-3-2-1 as options, as well as a few others. However, I can rule out any back 3 immediately because we simply don’t have enough good centre backs to utilise a back 3 to it’s fullest extent. I could perhaps look at this in future years when we’ve signed a few more talented CB’s, but for now I only really have faith in Stones and Romagnoli. Plus, there are only 4 decent centre backs in the squad itself, so I simply don’t have enough cover in that position to risk a back 3, considering injuries and suspensions.

4-3-3 is also a non-starter. I don’t have enough strikers in the squad in general anyway, so to play that many upfront would be nonsensical. Plus, I like Niang, but I very much see Gabigol and Belotti as the first choice pairing, and I signed Belotti in order to partner Barbosa upfront. That choice therefore commits us to playing two strikers, and the formation obviously needs to fit to that.

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Here’s our midfield corps. What you’ll notice is that we’ve got more central midfield types than defensive midfield types. Although Mauri is classed first and foremost as a DM, M(C), I feel he’s much more of a central midfielder, and he’s fantastic when he moves further forward and executes long range crossfield passes. Bazoer is much the same, and I like him operating as a holding playmaker, but from the MC strata. He’s got too much talent as an attacking force to be held back as a defensive midfielder. Montolivo is perhaps the only true DM in the squad, but even then I feel he’s more than capable of playing in central midfield.

We also don’t have a great number of AMC’s, especially considering that Bonaventura is currently injured and out for 3-4 months. This leaves me with just Wijnaldum and Bertolacci, and Bertolacci is more of a central midfielder. This leaves me likely having to use a formation that only uses one AMC and features central midfielders.

So we need a narrow formation, featuring central midfielders heavily, only one AMC at most, and two strikers. That effectively leaves us with just one choice. 4-3-1-2.

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My next move is to draw out the formation itself, and plot a rough example of my first choice team, along with the available backups. As you can see, we have adequate cover in all positions, apart from possibly upfront, a weakness I intend to eradicate in the winter transfer window. Should this continue to be an issue, a switch to 4-3-2-1 may be on the cards, but that’s a tactical experiment I would rather attempt at a later date – and also when I’ve found this save’s Kaká.

Anyway, back to the 4-3-1-2, and from here it’s time to figure out what I actually want from the formation itself. The 4-3-1-2 lends itself nicely to control of the ball, with the amount of midfielders in the centre of the park allowing for swift ball movement. Furthermore, it also allows the addition of more playmakers than you’d usually be able to get on the pitch. AC Milan used a 4-3-1-2 in 2003 when they won the Champions League, with a team featuring 3 central playmakers in Manuel Rui Costa, Andrea Pirlo and Clarence Seedorf. So in a basic sense, I want fluid strikers who will move around and find space, and at times leave the centre open for my Number 10 to exploit. I want attacking full backs to provide width along with the strikers pulling wide, and I want a deeper midfield playmaker in the central position, along with shuttlers in the wider CM positions.

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 16.03.35From that, this is the first plan I’ve devised. This is in no way the final version, and I haven’t even tested it in a game (let’s hope it destroys Lazio).

I’ve gone for a CF-A and a DLF-S upfront, who will hopefully move wide and create space for runners. Belotti has the ‘moves into channels’ PPM already, and the CF-A role also has it as standard. I’ve had to add it in for the DLF-S, hoping that he will drop a little deeper than the CF-A, but will also pull out wide. With Gabigol in this position, it could be lethal.

I’ve then put an AM-A at AMC, hopefully to run into the space vacated by the two strikers, and combine with them to produce some nice goals. Behind the Number 10 are two shuttlers out wide, and a deeper playmaker in Bazoer, who will drop into the DM strata anyway. In addition, the 3 man midfield will have more natural width than the diamond, the main reason I prefer it. Plus, I can make the DLP move into that space anyway, so it really is the best of both worlds. I often find the diamond plays too narrow in game, and is easily outflanked.

I’ve gone for a very standard back 4, with two CD-D’s flanked by FB-A’s in order to provide width. I’ll assess how these full backs perform in the first games, and decide whether I want to reign them in, or perhaps switch them to WB-S’s, or something along those lines.

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In terms of instructions, I’ve kept things simple thus far. I want us to keep our passing short, since our players are close together, and I want us to work the ball forward intelligently, meaning that we play out of defence and work the ball into the box. I also prefer my teams to prevent short distribution as standard, simply to make things harder for the AI every now and again. In terms of pressing, I think that’s a decision I’ll make partway through the first match, when I assess how easily (or not) Lazio are able to move the ball around. However, at this early point, and considering that it’s the season proper and not pre-season, I’d rather keep things simple for now. I could go complicated straight away, and lose the next few games. For now, stability is key.

I’ve also gone for a control mentality because I want the passing, and defensive line to be positive, and I’d like us to play higher up the pitch and play forward. Again, this is something I’m unsure of at this point, and I’ll assess what needs doing after the first game. In addition, I’ve chosen flexible because at this point I think it’s the safest option to go with, and I tend to like it as a middle ground anyway.

So for now, I’ll leave things there. Fingers crossed, this tactic doesn’t require much work to finalise, and we can move forward and focus on progression in Serie A this season. So until the next update, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my thought process regarding the new tactic, and as always if you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section or on Twitter (@JLAspey). Thank you again, and FORZA MILAN!

Rebuilding The Rossoneri

R24Shirt1So, I messed up. I apologise.

Those of you that follow me on Twitter (@JLAspey) will have seen my utter disgust at myself the other day. I keep different versions of saves – effectively rolling saves – just in case one of my saves somehow becomes corrupted. It means that if said incident does happen, I don’t have to go too far back. The other day, I was going through and deleting some of these older backups, and accidentally loaded one of them. This would have been fine, had I not previously deleted the most recent Napoli save, intending to re-save it under a better name than ‘Napoli 6’. This would have been fine, but this meant that the most recent version of the Napoli save I have is all the way back in May, and for the life of me, I can’t bring myself to go back to May and re-do the entire Summer and get myself back to October. So – and I really hope that this is for the last time on FM16 – I have started a new save, one that is a bit different, and one that I am really motivated to write about. I hope you enjoy reading this.

This new save will also follow the format that I was planning to use in the Napoli save. Again, I don’t know if these updates will be monthly, or bi-monthly, but I hope you’ll stick with me whilst I figure it out a bit. Again, I hope that this allows you, the reader, to actually see the progression of the side through the months of the season, and allows you to actually see the narrative that Football Manager games provide.

But anyway, who is it that I’m actually going to be managing?

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Again, those of you that follow me on Twitter have already had this spoiled for you, but yes I’m going to be managing the Rossoneri, AC Milan. If you follow Italian football, you will know that AC Milan have gone through a dramatic and steep decline in the past several years. Their last Scudetto was in the 2010-11 season, when Serie A was arguably at it’s lowest point for decades, with Inter going through a transitional period post Mourinho, and Juve still making their way back up to their former glory. So although it is their last Scudetto, it is covered with questions of ‘yeah, but…’. Even then, the team boasted names such as Ibrahimovic, Pato, Seedorf, Pirlo (who was moronically allowed to leave and enjoy his swansong with the Bianconeri), Thiago Silva, Robinho, Cassano, Zambrotta, Ambrosini and Nesta. Sure it was an ageing squad, but there’s plenty of quality in those names. The Rossoneri are far away even from those days.

Here’s where I come in, well, sortof. I have holidayed the first season, simply to make things interesting for myself, and shake the game up a little bit. Milan finished 6th in the first season, a massive 22 points behind Juve, who secured their 5th straight Scudetto, with Dybala (who else?) winning player of the year.

I took over with Milan on the verge of a buyout, £17M in the red, and in dire need of a clearout. The squad didn’t boast the names that the 2010-11 side did, but it was still ageing and on the decline. There is some fantastic young talent at this club (such as Jose Mauri and Manuel Locatelli), and it must be allowed to flourish. It was time to gut the squad, and move on.

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Yeah, lots of transfers out. All in all, I made £103M from player sales alone. On top of that was money that suddenly became free with the sales of these players, and by the end, I’d left the club £106M in the black (before I bought any players of course). Armed with this money, I was ready to go out into the market and get buying…

… and then the embargo happened.

Berlusconi was on his way out, about to be replaced by a new consortium, and as a result, I was banned from making any signings. I waited and waited – with Silvio himself even telling the consortium to hurry up and stop risking the future of the club – and by the time the embargo had cleared, I’d missed my chance to sign Domenico Berardi – my priority signing – being unwilling to enter the contest with Real Madrid at a ridiculous £59M. I also missed out on Federico Bernardeschi, available on the cheap with Fiorentina going down, with him going to hateful Inter. I also missed out on Bernardo Silva (for some reason available for £21.5M) waiting weeks to make a bid for him before he signed for Manchester United just before the embargo cleared. At this point, I was tearing my hair out, genuinely worrying that by selling the players above, I’d actually made the club a lot worse.

However, once the embargo finally cleared I went back into the market, and looked at players I knew I could afford and were available. Oh, if only it had been that easy. After negotiating a fee with Monaco for Thomas Lemar, he refused to discuss a contract, feeling he needed European football at a higher level than we could offer. Gonçalo Guedes also refused to even negotiate with me, as did Jaïro Riedewald of Ajax. Nicola Sansone, available from Tottenham for a cut price fee, turned us down to join Roma. I won’t forget this. When I’ve returned Milan back to the top table of European competition, you can all go and cry into your cheerios about it.

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Once I’d recovered, these are the transfers I made. I wanted a new option at Number 10, and after missing out on Bernardo Silva, Thomas Lemar and more, I decided to sign Georginio Wijnaldum from Newcastle. I know Wijnaldum extremely well from my Newcastle save, and I know that he’ll do well for us, no matter what. He’s still only 25, and hopefully will be the fulcrum of the side for the next several years, the Ruud Gullit, in effect. The club also badly needed a left back, so I signed another Dutchman in Jetro Willems from PSV for a cut price £10M. He’ll motor up the left wing all night long, and will be exactly what we need. I’m extremely happy with this signing. It was also after Riedewald turned me down that I made our next signing in John Stones for £33M. I noticed that he was unhappy at Everton, wanting to move to a bigger club, and swooped in with a £33M bid that is certainly expensive (and more than I really wanted to spend), but the squad needs quality, and in the end we’ve got one of the best young centre backs in world football, and one that should be absolutely fantastic alongside Romagnoli – once the Italian returns from injury anyway.

We also desperately needed a striker after the sale of Bacca to Chelsea, and after assessing the available options, and those that would come to AC Milan, the best option by far was Gabigol, who was signed from Santos for £13M. I’d hoped to sign an Italian here, but there really was no better option than Gabigol. Although I signed him for Napoli, I don’t feel I really got to see him hit his stride – he was top scorer with Lemar when that save ‘died’. Hopefully he and Wijnaldum will strike up a lethal relationship. My next signing was Riechedly Bazoer from Ajax, again another Dutchman – completing my Dutch contingent – for an amazingly low £9.5M (FM Analysis has confirmed he’s worth 5 times that) with him unhappy at Ajax. I see Bazoer as the perfect utility player at this point, being able to play both in defence and midfield, and I like that flexibility. However, I see Mauri and Bazoer as the cornerstones of our midfield moving forward.

Simeone Sini was an unplanned transfer, but after Chelsea came in for my backup left back Luca Antonelli with a £10M bid that I negotiated up to £12.5M with some conditional add ons, I needed a new rotational option. Sini looks like an extremely solid left back, albeit with only 10 for first touch, and should provide solid play behind Willems in the pecking order.

My final two transfers were also unplanned, and are the result of a last minute tactical switch. I had planned to use the 4-4-1-1 I developed with Newcastle (and briefly used with Napoli), using it throughout pre-season. However, my planned WM-A Giacomo Bonaventura went down with a torn calf and will be out for 3-4 months, and as you can see in the massive ‘out’ list above, Chelsea came in with a bid for Suso that I simply couldn’t turn down once I’d negotiated up to £24.5M, that will turn into £29.5M through later installments. With my wingers either injured or sold (or in reality like Bonaventura, really just fast Number 10’s), I committed to my usual transfer policy of buying as many central midfielders as possible. So, in came the 20 year old Luca Valzania from Atalanta. I’d hoped to spend less on him, but £8.25M was his release clause, and Atalanta seemed unwilling to budge for anything less. With the move to narrow football, I now needed another striker, and again wanted to prioritise Italians, so signed the talented young striker Andrea Belotti from Torino for £15.75M. Again, more than I would have ideally wanted to pay, but the deal for Suso was made on deadline day, and it was a transfer I badly needed to make.

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Here are our results from pre-season (we have played two Serie A games, but I’ll save those until the next update), and they’re all played with the 4-4-1-1, so in a way, these are somewhat worthless now. What you will see (and what I’m really noticing now on second reading) is that our goalscoring isn’t really as prolific as you would expect against teams of this quality. So in a way, perhaps I was trying to fit square pegs into round holes, and the move to narrow football will actually benefit the squad? I guess only time will tell, but at least we’ve made it through into the group stages of the Europa League (which hopefully won’t be too much of an annoyance). Our group should be fairly comfortable for us, with Villarreal being the only real threat in a group that also features Ludogorets and Qarabag Agdam.

1099In terms of Serie A, my expectations are fairly low for this season. I have told the board that we will make the Europa League qualification places, but in reality, with the massive turnover in players we’ve had this Summer (not all my own fault), I expect us to probably struggle in the early going, with familiarity issues and players new to Italy to acclimatise themselves to the Italian style of football. I do think we should finish at least 5th, and I’d like to see us do even better, but I’m well aware that this is a season of transition for the club, both tactically and in terms of personnel. Hopefully we can hold out for the first couple of months, and really kick on from there. Either way, it should be fantastic to play.

I’m going to hold back any tactical details until the next update, where I’m hoping to do a bit of a tactical preview for the season showing my (very new) plans. I hope that it can serve as a bit of a think tank, and you can see my thought process regarding the players I have and how I formulate a logical tactic from that. So, until then, thank you very much for reading, and as always, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section of this blog, or contact me via Twitter (@JLAspey). I promise I won’t accidentally delete this one.

FORZA MILAN!