Well, we’re back in the North East with Newcastle United. Those of you that follow me on Twitter (@JLAspey) will have seen me discussing this save for the past couple of weeks, as I’ve re-found my love for this save, developed the side tactically, and continued building the club in Season 2 after the success of the first season. After the relegation of Newcastle in real life, it seemed fitting to go back to this save, and see how I can build the team, and hopefully turn them into a European powerhouse. Plus, I was really enjoying this save before putting it down and taking a break, and I could never really understand why I’d stopped playing it. Now it’s back, and it’s time to keep going, and I’m updating at the end of the winter transfer window.
In the last update, I covered the signings I’d made at the beginning of Season 2, upgrading the squad with the signings of Enzo Roco, Silvan Widmer, Julian Weigl and Leon Goretzka, funded by the sale of Moussa Sissoko to PSG for £30.5M, a sale I was more than happy to make. Geronimo Rulli was also signed to bolster the goalkeeper position, and hopefully battle with Alisson and bring the best out of each other. Considering we won the league by goal difference on the final day in the first season, I’d expected that our upgrades should hopefully have made things are a little bit more comfortable this season, despite having to work around Champions League football.
So, how have we done in the league so far?
Well, as you can see, we have absolutely dominated the league until this point. We’re 11 points clear at the end of the winter transfer window, and I’d be stunned if we didn’t win the league from this point. We’ve simply been fantastic, and the upgrades I made in the transfer window have clearly separated us from the rest of the pack. Where previously we only had a first team that somehow took us to the league title, I now feel that we have an entire squad that can win the league, and compete in European competition.
We have improved defensively from last season, where we were the second best defence in the league, to now where we are the best by a long way, only conceding 18 goals in 24 games. To give you some perspective, the 2nd best defence is Liverpool with 24 conceded. The first choice back 4 has been Widmer – Roco – Mbemba – Augustinsson, and they’ve simply been amazing so far, averaging 7.72, 7.42, 7.35 and 7.72 respectively.
However, on top of their fantastic performances, the defence have been helped by the Bosman signing of Rulli, who has averaged 7.44 for the season, and has had games where he has saved the entire defence with his fantastic saves. At the start of the season, I was debating over whether Rulli was a smart signing with Alisson having performed so well in the first season, but Rulli has just played on a totally different level. This is the first time I’ve ever signed Rulli on FM, and he has more than lived up to his billing as the best young goalkeeper in the game. He’s been so good that Alisson has barely played, and I’m currently stalling for time on selling him whilst I look for a viable backup to Rulli.
We’ve also continued to be prolific in attack, scoring 55 goals in 24 games to be the top scorer in the Premier League. Ayoze Perez has continued to be our star striker, scoring 20 goals for the season so far, and he’s been supported by Zach Clough scoring 13, and Florian Thauvin scoring 11. However, it really has been a team effort again this season, especially with the new rotational policy I’ve put in place, meaning we don’t rely on Perez half as much as we did last season. We actually have two proper lineups I can switch between now, but I’ll cover that later in the update.
Aren’t they so much nicer?
In the last update, I also covered our draw in the Champions League, with us being drawn with Atletico Madrid, Dynamo Kyiv and AS Roma. At the time, I’d felt that although all 3 clubs were regular fixtures of European competition, we stood a decent chance to progress out of the group. At the very least, I felt that we’d make it into the Europa League as a result of a 3rd place finish.
However, my initial feelings that this was a group we could qualify from were certainly correct, and we managed to advance to the knockout rounds in our first season back in Europe’s top competition. We opened the group fairly lethargically, with a 0-0 draw away in Kyiv, and a 1-1 draw at St. James’ against Roma, with a 92nd minute equaliser from Roma robbing us of a win we absolutely deserved. However, we rebounded brilliantly to defeat Atleti 1-0 at the Vincente Calderon through a Clough penalty, before defeating them 3-0 at home, through Clough (again), Mbemba and Augustinsson as I switched to a new version of the 3-4-1-2-0 tactic I developed last year. It’s not the regular tactic just yet, but it was nice to see that it does still work on FM16 in certain instances. Atleti just couldn’t handle with our movement and passing through the middle of the park. We then drew 1-1 with Kyiv at home through another late equaliser, meaning that we were already through to the First Knockout Round going into the final game, facing Roma in Italy to determine who topped the group. We put in one of our best performances of the season so far to defeat Roma 2-1, meaning that we topped the group, in theory acquiring a favourable draw for the second round.
Who have we drawn? Paris Saint-Germain….. Great. At the time of writing, I am four days away from the first leg, and although I don’t have high hopes for the encounter, I wouldn’t ever count us out with some of the performances we’ve put in so far. I will likely use the counter attacking 4-4-1-1 that won the league last season, as it seems to cope best with the really top teams. Either way, even making it to this round shows massive progress, and the financial benefits of making it this far should help the club grow in terms of our influence in the transfer market and our ability to develop our facilities.
We’ve also been progressing well in the domestic competitions. We’ve advanced to the final of the Capital One Cup against Chelsea at Wembley, defeating Bournemouth, Man City, Arsenal and Leicester on our way, in probably one of the hardest paths to the final we could have had. Fortunately Leicester are a Championship team in this save (I know), and although we didn’t play well against them, we easily made our way through to the final. We’re playing Chelsea in the final, a team who defeated us in the league earlier in the season, so I’m a little concerned about the match, but either way it’s nice for us to make a cup final in the second season. We’ve also steadily made our way through the FA Cup thus far, defeating Peterbrough United and Shrewsbury Town, before drawing Liverpool in the 5th round. Hopefully we can make our way past them, and hopefully compete for a domestic treble.
I’ve also been forced to make a couple of transfers in the winter transfer window, so I’ll cover these too. Both Siem De Jong and Jack Coback wanted to leave the club as a result of not getting enough game time (I really never felt both were good enough to play anymore), and they were dispatched to Aston Villa and Torino for £2.5M and £4M respectively. This left us with a weakness in central midfield and attacking midfield, so armed with a surprise £44M winter warchest (Mike Ashley may be an appalling owner in real life, but in Football Manager, he’s absolutely fantastic), I went out into the market looking to buy.
Well, my first signing was a biggie. I’ve been playing Georginio Wijnaldum in the Number 10 role throughout the season, but I wanted another option there as I try to build my squad to basically have two first team lineups. I could play Zach Clough there, but I prefer to rotate him with Ayoze Perez upfront. I always check the transfer list market, and low and behold, there was Kevin De Bruyne, available for £27.5M from Man City, an absolute steal for a player of his quality. I jumped at the chance, and signed him, negotating him down to a £150k per week, still a massive outlay in comparison, but one I can afford to make thanks to my generous owner. I see De Bruyne as the first choice AMC, playing behind Perez and causing havoc with his passing and vision. He’s also a very versatile player, so will come in handy should I wish to tweak our tactics moving forward. He started off somewhat slowly for us, but our most recent match before this update was against Spurs in the league, and De Bruyne absolutely dominated the game, coming away with a 9.0 rating, and the man of the match award. I can’t wait to see how he will perform moving forward.
The loss of Colback also meant that I needed to sign a new central midfielder. I looked at various options, such as Jack Wilshere available for £10M on the transfer list (if you aren’t checking that market regularly, you should be) and Ruben Neves – available from Porto for around £25M – but in the end I decided to go with a much cheaper option (but one of the same quality) in Andrija Balic from Croatian side Hadjuk Split for £6.25M. At 19, his skillset is absolutely fantastic, with the ability to dribble, and not only see a pass, but make it. Right now, he looks like a younger version of Luka Modric to me (not just the hairstyle), and he’ll battle it out with Goretzka for the starting role alongside Weigl in central midfield. He’s certainly started well in his first few games, but Goretzka is playing better at the moment and is first choice for the time being.
Now, let’s get onto the good stuff to end the update – tactics.
These are the tactics that I’m currently using. As you can see, the old faithful 4-4-1-1 is still there from last season and it still gets brought out in certain situations against bigger clubs (it certainly will be against PSG), or when I feel teams are really pushing forward against us. However, it’s been somewhat phased out this season in favour of a new 4-4-1-1 that you can see above. It’s much more focused on keeping the ball and controlling the game through our passing, and we’re regularly getting around 60% possession with it. The ethos of the tactic is very similar to the old 4-4-1-1, with Thauvin cutting in from the flank and a Number 10 combining with a lone striker. However, the Wide Playmaker on the left has been converted into a proper winger on an attack duty to give us more natural width to stretch teams that want to park the bus against us. In the older 4-4-1-1, we almost entirely relied on the full backs to provide width, particularly on the left side. Furthermore, the relationship between the striker and the attacking midfielder is a little more complex than it was in the old 4-4-1-1, with the Number 10 now asked to penetrate beyond the defensive line as an AM-A in order to combine with the striker who pulls off to the left as a CF-S, moving into the channels to combine with the left winger. It really is a development in style, however many of the key links and connections from the original 4-4-1-1 still remain in this new version, despite the changes to several of the roles.
I’ve also started to develop a more adventurous and creative tactic in the 3-4-1-2-0. It’s only been unleashed in a couple of matches so far (although successful ones such as the one against Atleti) and for now, it’s very much the third tactic whilst I still have talented wingers like Thauvin at the club. However, I’m sure I’ll get bored of the new 4-4-1-1 within a couple of seasons, and look to further develop the team around the 3-4-1-2-0.
However, for now that’s all I can update you on in the Newcastle save. I’ll update again at the end of the season, hopefully league champions for the second time (I’ll be very surprised if we don’t win the league now), and having gone far in the Champions League and domestic competitions. So, until then, thank you very much for reading, and as always if you have any questions about FM16, the tactics I’m using, or anything else, please feel free to ask either in the comments section of this blog, or via Twitter (@JLAspey). Thank you again for reading.