Sorry For The Wait

688Well, 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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Note: Upgrades Completed

688So, I’ve come to the end of the Summer transfer window in the Newcastle United save (a save that I am absolutely loving), so it’s time to update you all on how things are going, what I’ve done to change things and keep things fresh for Season 2, and how I’ve improved the squad. Although we did very well last season, the squad as a whole wasn’t strong enough, and I relied heavily on the first team players. Whilst I always have a First XI in mind when creating sides, I heavily invest in rotational players, who can come in and help us through cup games, or lesser matches in the league. This was perfectly shown in my Leverkusen save last year, where players such as Ulrich Isa and Julian Brandt came in and out of the side depending on form, and kept the whole side fresh. It’s an approach I’ll be bringing into this Newcastle save.

In case you missed the last update, here’s a brief recap. We won the Premier League title in thrilling fashion on the final day, defeating Leicester (to send them down, sorry Leicester) 2-1, and through the grace of God, Man United beat Chelsea, meaning that we won the league on our ridiculous goal difference, with Arsenal also winning on the final day against Norwich. It was by the skin of our geordie teeth, but who cares? We’re the champions of England, and now it’s time to push on in Season 2.

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Firstly, we got a couple of pieces of good news. Due to the advancements made around the world, the ratings of our youth and training facilities had dropped, so after a short (but fairly persuasive) chat with Chairman Mike Ashley – hated by Newcastle fans in real life, but is actually a decent Chairman in FM – improvements were on their way. Lovely. I then had to hire a new Chief Scout as the legendary (among Newcastle fans) scout Graham Carr retired, so in came Malcolm Elias to replace him.

Then came time to upgrade the squad. I knew there were areas of the first team that could be upgraded, but through the selling of expensive assets, I hoped to be able to strengthen the entire squad. Firstly came the sale of Papiss Cissé to Stoke for £1.3M. He was rarely getting a game, being behind Ayoze in the pecking order and had started to complain about it, so I was happy to let him leave for a small fee. Next came the sale of Rémy Cabella to Marseille for £5.75M, a sale I probably wouldn’t have made, but it was arranged before the save began. Next came a bunch of free transfers leaving the club, mostly young players who I could see were never going to reach the first team, and who were simply taking up wage budget. Then I sold Vernon Anita to Lazio for £6M. Again, Anita had found himself out of the first team, and realistically was only played when Sven Bender was injured or suspended. Plus, I had a very particular signing I wanted to make in central midfield (I mentioned it in the last update), so Anita was very much surplus to requirements. Paul Dummett was also sold to Wigan for £325k, that will eventually rise to £400k.

However, the main sale of the transfer window was the sale of first team player Moussa Sissoko to (yes, you guessed it) PSG for £30.5M. This added a bunch of money into my already considerate transfer budget of around £25M. Sissoko was an important player last season averaging around 7.30 for the entire season, but I always had the feeling that another player could come in and do just as well – if not better – in his role. Furthermore, his sale was made necessary by a signing I’d made in central midfield, a signing that I felt was a definite upgrade on Sissoko.

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I found youngster Leon Goretzka somehow on the transfer list at Schalke (German football really is helping me in this save) for £16.25M, and quickly snapped him up to come in and play the Box to Box role. This meant that the Sissoko sale was necessary, and I see Goretzka as a younger, better player than Sissoko anyway. Sissoko plays very physically in game, but Goretzka is more of a technical player, with graft and guile to go with physical ability, and he should combine well with Wijnaldum, Clough and Ayoze on his side of the pitch. His early performances for the club have been nothing short of fantastic, so this looks like a fine piece of business.

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On the same day as Goretzka, I brought in the aforementioned Julian Weigl, who again was transfer listed at Dortmund (the transfer market is always something to keep an eye on, particularly this year) for a ridiculously low £10M. Anyone who has seen Weigl’s performances for Dortmund this season in real life will know how good he is, and how good a transfer this is. Weigl is listed as a wonderkid in game, and will only progress in the coming years. I had signed him to be the backup to Bender, but he’s played well starting the first few games, and therefore I’m going to give him the opportunity to keep the place in the First XI. His mentals are unbelievable for a player of his age (they aren’t overrated either), and his technicals should continue to develop, making him a perfect sitting midfielder. I see Goretzka and Weigl as my midfield pair for the next several years. They can also both play DM, which gives me some tactical flexibility, should I look to move away from the 4-4-1-1 in the future.

I’d also felt that centre back was a position of weakness as we came to the end of last season. Charles Mbemba had been fantastic throughout the season, but I felt that Jamaal Lascelles was a good squad player, but just wasn’t good enough to be in the first team of a Champions League side. Therefore, I went out into the market looking for a couple of good, young centre backs. I initially tried Jesús Vallejo from Real Madrid, meeting his release clause, but he decided to resign with Real anyway. Poor decision.

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Firstly, I signed Enzo Roco from Espanyol for £6M. I had actually tried to sign Roco at the start of last season, but he didn’t want to come to us. Oh, how times have changed. One look at his new value shows how much of a bargain this transfer is. He’s a physical machine at 6’3″, and is almost a complete defender, being pretty decent when on the ball with his 11 passing and 12 vision. He’s a massive upgrade on Lascelles, and has been fantastic so far.

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Secondly, I signed Emanuel Mammana from River Plate for £4.4M, another amazingly low figure for a player of his ability and potential. I had to appeal in order to get his work permit pushed through, but the extra time spent waiting was well worth it (now that I’ve got him at least). Those of you that have played FM16 several years into the future will know that Mammana develops extremely well, becoming one of the best players in his position, and this signing has the next 5/10 years in mind. He’ll probably be better than Roco in the long term, but for now he’s in a backup role, but will still get game time. However, he certainly has the ability to push for a First XI place this year, and I’ll be keeping an eye on Mbemba’s performances in particular. Last year, we had Mbemba, Lascelles, Taylor and Williamson as our centre backs. This year, we have Mbemba, Roco, Mammana and Lascelles. That’s a massive upgrade however you look at it.

I then realised that a new right back was essential. Last year, I’d somehow (luckily) made it through the entire season with Ricardo Van Rhijn as our only proper right back. I know what FM is like, and decided to avoid any issues by signing a backup right back for Van Rhijn. The only problem was that there weren’t any players of the ability, or age I was looking for. Therefore, I decided to ditch the ‘backup’ idea, and simply upgrade on Van Rhijn, with his contract classing him as a rotation player anyway.

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Therefore, in came Silvan Widmer from Udinese for £16.25M as our new first choice right back. The outlay was certainly costly and sapped almost all of my remaining budget, but you can see from his value of £20.5M, that this is still good value for money. He has an all round skill set, which I like my full backs to have, and he’s another physical machine. In my system, both full backs have to get up and down the pitch an awful lot, and therefore his pace, stamina and ability will be vital. He’s also just as good defending as he is going forward, and so far has performed very well for us, averging 7.63 in the league. As long as I rotate him properly with Van Rhijn, this transfer should work out very well. This leaves our first choice back 4 as:

Widmer – Roco – Mbemba – Augustinsson

That’s so much better than last season. Hopefully there won’t be any of the late season collapses we saw from last year either.

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 This year’s kits. Ah, Newcastle Brown Ale. No more Wonga.

We’ve also got a new set of kits this year. I’d decided that I would move away from Wonga before the save even began, and with a couple of messages dropping into my news feed that we’d signed new sponsorship and manufacturing deals, it also seemed fitting to make wholesale changes to the kits. I’ve gone with Nike as the new manufacturer (who have never made Newcastle’s kits before), and returned to fairly classic designs with the home and away, based on old Newcastle designs. The home kit is designed to be reminiscent of the 1993-1995 kits worn by Andy Cole and Peter Beardsley, and the away kit is designed to be very similar to the 1995/96 away kit, the season where Newcastle came so close, but so far. We’ve also returned to Newcastle’s classic sponsor Newcastle Brown Ale, and somehow it just looks so right having the blue star back on the Newcastle kit. These lovely kits were created by the fantastic rmb87 over at soritoutsi.

Tactically, I’m sticking with the trusty 4-4-1-1 this season (if you wish to download the tactic, there is a link in the previous update). It worked beautifully for me last season, and with a new set of challenges to put it against (one being the Champions League) I see no reason why I should move away from it. However, I can feel that I am starting to get the tactical itch, and so my mind has started to wander regarding Season 3 of the save, and a possible tactical switch influenced by another team that wear black and white. Then again, I can guarantee I’ll have a new idea by the time I reach Season 3.

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Speaking of the Champions League, here is the group that we’ve been drawn into. Atletico Madrid will undoubtedly be a tough fixture, but with the upgrades and improvements we’ve made, I really fancy us against Roma and Dynamo. It may be me being overly optimistic, but I think there’s a possibility we could actually qualify from this group. Even if we don’t, it’s good experience, and will only stand us in good stead for the coming seasons.

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Here are our results for the season so far, and it’s fair to say that things are going pretty well. We had a very good pre-season with a tour of Holland (Schteeve would have been proud), defeating N.E.C. Nijmegen and AZ Alkmaar, before coming back and beating Hartlepool, Bradford and Notts County. We then beat Chelsea on penalties in a fairly poor match in the Community Shield, with several first choice players unavailable, and our third choice keeper in goal with Rulli and Alisson both away on international duty. However, after that we’ve effortlessly marched through a fairly difficult first few fixtures. We comfortably beat newly promoted Reading 2-0 at their place, before facing a massively upgraded Manchester United (with Stones, Shaqiri and Barzagli) at St. James’. I needn’t have worried, as we swept them away with our attacking football, with Ayoze scoring 2 and Clough and Thauvin scoring the others. We then faced Chelsea again a week later, and again easily beat them, with our front two Ayoze and Clough scoring the goals in a 2-0 win. We were so good we only allowed Chelsea one shot on target in the whole 90 minutes. These results leave us top of the table, with only Arsenal really competing so far (having themselves spent considerable money on Kranevitter, Clasie, and Alcacer). All the new signings appear to have bedded in well, and we’re going from strength to strength. I can’t wait to kick off the Champions League campaign. The only negative to the start of the season is that Augustinsson has told me that he wants to leave if we don’t reach the latter stages of the Champions League. No pressure in our first season back in the competition then.

So for now, that’s as much as I can update on the Newcastle save. I’ll update again after the January transfer window, hopefully still top of the Premier League, and doing well in the Champions League. Until then, thank you very much for reading and for your continued support of this save. As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments section of this blog, or contact me on Twitter (@JLAspey). Thank you again.

Professional Bottlers – Sort Of

688Well, we’ve have reached the end of the first season in the Newcastle United save, so it’s time to update you all on how the season ended. In the previous update, you saw that we were defying expectations and sitting top of the table at the end of the January transfer window ahead of United, City et al, and were well in with a shot at the Premier League title, and Champions League qualification at the very least. I’d also covered the actual signings (or signing) I’d made in the January transfer window, signing Kasper Kusk from FC Kobenhavn – seemingly an FM goldmine for bargains – for £1.8M. All in all, the first half of the season had gone pretty well to say the least.

So, where did we finish? Did we manage to hold onto first place and ease our way to the title, or did we bottle it and give it away, in (almost) classic Newcastle fashion?

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One quick glance at the table shows you how close the league was, and we only won the league by the benefit of our goal difference, which was significantly better than everyone else in the league, and a full 8 goals better than Arsenal below us. It was one of the closest leagues I’ve ever seen on Football Manager, with several teams still in with a shot until pretty much the last two weeks.

The table doesn’t tell the whole story however. Immediately after the January update, we went on an absolute tear, wining game after game by massive margins, and stretching our lead at the top of the league. Then we went into the crucial last 8 games, and started to throw it all away. We put in an absolutely appalling performance to be beaten 3-0 by Watford, and then laboured to draw 1-1 against Southampton when we had the lead. We then recovered our form and played fantastically to defeat City 1-0 at the Etihad, leaving us with a 6 point lead with 5 games to go. Easy right? Well, that’s what I thought, but it wasn’t to be, and we so very nearly threw everything away. After coming all that way, I really felt like FM was just saying ‘no Jonathon, you’re not having this one’.

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We then did this over the next 4 games. We threw away a 2 goal lead at home to Spurs in the space of 5 minutes, drawing 2-2 and losing vital points on Chelsea, United and Arsenal, who had by this point replaced City as the main challengers (with Pellegrini being sacked). We then drew 1-1 at West Brom again after leading, and threw away a 2 goal lead again at home to Liverpool. All this meant that we dropped off the top spot down to 2nd, with Chelsea replacing us at the top. We needed a nice easy game to get us back on track. The Tyne-Wear derby wasn’t really what I’d have liked. However, we finally figured out how to defend again and how to hold onto a lead, and won 4-1 at the Stadium of Light. However, Chelsea and Arsenal both won, meaning that going into the last day were were 1 point behind Chelsea, and level on points with Arsenal in 3rd. Arsenal would play Norwich, and Chelsea faced a tough match against Manchester United. We would play Leicester, who were fighting for their Premier League lives.

We started off well, and took the lead in the 14th minute through Zach Clough after a Kasper Kusk cross (replacing the injured Thauvin) rebounded to him, and he finished well. Just after this goal, news came through that Arsenal had scored against Norwich through Alexis Sanchez, meaning that they would remain level on points with us. We went in at half time 1-0 up, as did Arsenal, and Chelsea remained locked at 0-0 with United. We came out for the second half and scored a second through a Sven Bender header (money well spend thank you Dortmund). Ten minutes later, United took the lead against Chelsea, and although they responded almost immediately, United took the lead again through Depay, meaning Chelsea would drop points. Of course, this was FM and it couldn’t remain that comfortable, and Leicester then scored late on to make things nervy. However, we managed to hold on, and win 2-1, finishing one point above Chelsea, and level on points with Arsenal, but winning the league through our superior goal difference. Newcastle United are champions of England!

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Last time, I promise. Brown Ale next season.

It was a season that I never expected for one minute. I knew that squad had real potential when the season began and thought Europa League would be a real possibility, but I never once thought we could win the league. As you all know, at the ends of season I usually do a ‘Best 3 players’ list or some such, and this season will be no different. It must be said that the entire first team were fantastic throughout the season, so this is an extremely difficult list to make. Firstly, honourable mentions go to Zach Clough, Alisson and Ludwig Augustinsson. Anyway, here’s the top 3.

3. Georginio Wijnaldum

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In third place is Georginio Wijnaldum. Wijnaldum starred for us all season out on the left wing in the Wide Playmaker role. He actually ended the season as technically the best player in the league with an 8.14 average rating, perhaps slightly skewed by the fact that he makes a lot of passes that the game considers to be key passes. Nevertheless, he deserves that acclaim, and was fantastic all season, providing a fantastic link between the midfield and the ‘front 2’, and has chipped in with vital goals in big matches. He’s garnered quite a bit of interest now, and I’m not totally sure what I’ll decide to do should bids come in for him. At only 25, he still has plenty of time before he hits the point where I usually sell players (around 28) and has undoubtedly been a fantastic player for us this season. More than deserves his position in the top 3.

2. Florian Thauvin

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In second place is Florian Thauvin. He has diligently played in the wide right role this season, being a very versatile role, that can sometimes cut inside and attack, but then also go to the byline and put in crosses. He’s excelled in this role, scoring 9 goals and making 10 assists in the league. He would have had more, but was injured midway through the season, and missed the last few weeks of the season again due to injury. At times however, he was absolutely unplayable, and was player of the month earlier in the season when he was tearing opposition defences to shreds. Again, his performances have attracted interest, particularly Chelsea, so I’ll have a decision to make again should a bid come in for him. It could be quite a Summer of turnover, but hopefully I can retain the majority of the squad that took us to the title, whilst moving out some players to allow us to improve

1. Ayoze Perez

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36 goals in 38 Premier League games. A Premier League record. Who else was going to be Number 1? Ayoze Perez’s goals were undoubtedly the main factor in us winning the Premier League. We scored the most goals in the league, and Perez finished a large amount of those. Playing as the lone striker in an Advanced Forward role, Perez thrived off the through balls from Sissoko, Clough and Wijnaldum, sitting on the shoulder of the last defender. He seems to spend a lot of his time offside, but it means that when he does get through rather than being called offside, he’s usually through on goal, and his finishing is so composed that he usually sticks it past the keeper. He’s also a creative threat too with his good vision, and has struck up a fantastic partnership with Zach Clough. I’m hoping I can teach Clough to play one two’s in order to improve this relationship. As with the other two, Ayoze has plenty of clubs after him, but it would take an astronomical fee to take him away from St. James’ Park. Our best player, and the crown jewel of Tyneside as we move onto the second season.

Transfer wise, I only have one already sewn up for next season, and it’s the bosman signing of Real Sociedad goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli. Last year, Rulli was arguably the best young non-regen keeper on the game, and when he popped up available for a free, I simply couldn’t resist.

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Alisson has been fantastic all season, and features in my player awards as an honourable mention, but I simply couldn’t resist signing Rulli. As you can see, he’s better than Alisson in terms of attributes, and my plan is to go into next season allowing them to compete for the Number 1 jersey. Whichever keeper does better will stay, and the other will be moved on in the January window, as I can’t imagine either being content with remaining at the club as a backup. It’s very much the Courtois/Cech dilemma Jose Mourinho faced last season, and hopefully it should bring the best out of one of them. If I had to put money on it, I’d say that Rulli wins the battle, but either way, the club wins and makes money out of another fantastic goalkeeper. Of course, I’ll make further transfers (transfers such as picking up the £10M transfer listed wonderkid Julian Weigl from Dortmund – thank you again Tuchel), but this is the only pre-arranged bosman signing.

So, the first season has been pretty successful to say the least, and as I promised (should it continue to work), I’m going to release the 4-4-1-1 that I used throughout the majority of the season. Here is the link to the 4-4-1-1, the tactic that brought me such success this season, and if you have a middle to lower table team in your save, I would highly recommend it. I don’t think it’s quite on the same level as the 4-5-1-0 I used last year with Eibar for teams of that level in terms of sheer overachievement, but I still believe it’s a very effective tactic.

I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading the first season of the Newcastle save, and I hope that the 4-4-1-1 works as well for all of you as it has for me. I won’t lie, I’m starting to have ideas for another save (quite a complex one) that I might end up writing about, but for now, thank you again for reading the first season of this save, and as always thank you for your continued support of The Tactical Annals. Should you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section, or contact me on Twitter (@JLAspey). Thank you again.

Makin’ The Toon Proud

688Well, I’ve reached the end of the January transfer window with Newcastle United, so it’s time to update you all on how the save is going so far. I hope you all enjoyed the first post for the save, and I’d like to thank everyone for the support that this save has gotten so far. I usually find playing in England relatively boring, but things seem different this time. Whether it’s because of the close geographical links I have to Newcastle, or the fact that I’ve been watching a lot more English football lately (particularly the late 1980’s Liverpool sides of Barnes and Beardsley), I’m actually looking forward to playing this game, and not just for purely tactical reasons. Hopefully that continues as we move forward, and the centre of English football can shift from the North West and London to the North East, an area where football is possibly loved more than any other part of the country. It’s a shame we’re deprived of decent or attractive football for the most part.

In the last update, I covered the early transfers I’d made. For quick reference, I’d sold Cheick Tiote, Daryl Janmaat and Tim Krul (Janmaat and Krul both to Chelsea) and brought in Ludwig Augustinsson, Ricardo van Rhijn, Alisson, Zach Clough, and Sven Bender. I’d massively upgraded the squad, whilst giving the club a nice little injection of cash, and this made me confident we could do far better than Newcastle are (and should be) doing in real life, and push towards the top half of the table.

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I promise they’ll be gone soon.

So, how have we actually been doing in the league then?

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 12.13.48Yep, I can’t quite believe it either. With 23 games played in the first season, we find ourselves top of the table, 3 points clear of Manchester United in 2nd and 5 points clear of Arsenal in 3rd.

It hasn’t been quite as simple as that table might suggest mind. We’re only 3 points clear because we’ve just beaten United 3-1 at St. James’ in the last match before the update. For the majority of the season, it’s been neck and neck at the top between ourselves, United, City and Liverpool, with only a few point separating us. Only recently with the Christmas/New Year fixtures has a gap started to develop between us, and Arsenal are latecomers to the party, having spent the majority of the season in 5th/6th. Chelsea were also in the title race until just recently, and have sacked Jose Mourinho (FM imitating life?) and dropped back to 6th.

As always with my teams, this success has been built first and foremost on a solid defence. We have the second best defensive record in the league, conceding only 15 goals in 23 games, with only Man City having a better record with 13 conceded. However, we’ve also been extremely prolific in attack, and are the top scorers in the league with 46 goals scored, an average of 2 goals per game. The next closest scorers are Liverpool in 5th with 39 goals. A large amount of that goalscoring is due to the outstanding performances of Ayoze Perez, who is the top scorer in the league with 25 goals.

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We haven’t spend the whole of the season at the top though. It’s been a steady rise from the first day of the season, moving in an around the Champions League places for a few weeks, before ending up top, and apart from a couple of weeks where we dropped points, remaining there.

I have little doubt that we will eventually lose steam and drop away from the very top of the table, but right now I’m looking at our position with 15 games to go, and thinking that Champions League qualification is very much a possibility. I now know how Leicester feel, and although I’d love to win the league in our first season, I know it’s highly improbable. Our next game is against Arsenal, and that will really be a big game. If we can get a good result at the Emirates, and hope that United slip up, we’ll be in a really fantastic position. I can’t count the side out though, because the performance they’ve just produced to defeat United was absolutely outstanding. We dominated them for the entire game, and Ayoze scored an outstanding hat-trick as we sent them packing.

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A simply amazing performance.

Our performances in the cups however, have been less than stellar. We were unfortunate to draw City in the 3rd round of the FA Cup, and were knocked out by Chelsea in the 3rd round of the Capital One Cup. Disappointing for sure, and I’d have liked to go further in the FA Cup particularly, but it has allowed me to focus entirely on the league, with the other top clubs having other distractions. Much like Liverpool’s run in the 13/14 season, I hope our ability to solely focus on the league helps keep us at the top of the table.

In terms of the transfer window, I had a far quieter window than I expected. I expected the top clubs to come in for my players, particularly Ayoze Perez and Moussa Sissoko. I wouldn’t have let Ayoze leave for anything less than a ridiculous fee, but I would have considered Sissoko, who has been good, but not amazing. Despite that, no bids came in, and I have the fortune of being able to continue with the players that brought us to this point. In terms of outgoings, I offloaded Gabriel Obertan to Birmingham City for £475k, and club captain Fabricio Coloccini to Norwich for £700k. Obertan had no future at the club, and Coloccini was no longer at the standard required, and hadn’t played all season. I also let Sylvain Marveaux leave on a free transfer, paying a considerable fee to get him out of the club. He’d complained at not getting any game time (game time that was unlikely considering Georginio Wijnaldum has been the best player in the league this year with an average of 8.23) and had started to try and cause trouble within the dressing room. I therefore needed to replace him and sign a wide player with some creativity to provide cover for Wijnaldum.

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 I signed 24 year old Kasper Kusk from FC Kobenhavn (the same side I bought Augustinsson from) for £1.8M. Considering the fact that the game values Kusk at £7M, it’s an absolute steal, especially when you consider that Kusk agreed to signing a contract as a rotational option. He’s a fantastic creative option on the left wing, and performed well when Wijnaldum was briefly out injured, and he’s averaging above 8 so far in the few games he’s played. He would have played more, but he then went down with a twisted ankle for a few weeks. His good performances are tempting me to tweak the system to incorporate two wide playmakers so I can play both Wijnaldum and Kusk, but for now I don’t want to damage a winning formula.

Speaking of a winning formula, here’s the changes I’ve made to the 4-4-2 I wrote about previously. As you can see, it’s become more of a 4-4-1-1 with the DLF-S dropped back to AMC as a Trequartista, a role in which Zach Clough has absolutely thrived. I made the change because I wanted to get my ‘creative striker’ on the ball earlier in moves, much like Griezmann does for Atleti (if you remember, elements of the 4-4-2 are based on Simeone’s Atletico side). The change was also inspired by this fantastic thread on the SI Tactics forums by Herne79, covering the development of his own 4-4-2/4-4-1-1. I’d noticed how Herne had improved the performances of his AMC (in his case Carlos Tevez), and applied the same principles to my developing 4-4-2.

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In basic terms, this is what I was looking for. I want Clough (the Trequartista) to drop deeper earlier in moves, providing us with a better link to Perez as the AF. Here you can see Clough has done that, with us ending up in almost a 4-2-3-1 shape, providing us with more attacking layers, and angles, allowing us to build up the play better. It’s a very basic switch, but it’s a switch that has unleashed the creative striker. Previously, I’d see the DLF in and around the red circle, before dropping deep as the ball came towards him. That’s all well and good, but I need that movement to be earlier, and provide better passing options for the central midfielders. As you can see from the league table, this has certainly worked, and Clough has averaged 7.61 in the league, with 4 goals and 6 assists in 15 appearances. Considering that Clough is only 20 and is clearly a developing talent, that’s a ridiculous return of form. At times, it’s been like watching Beardsley V2, and I can’t wait to see his performances when he’s fully developed.

I’m going to see how the tactic continues to perform towards the end of the season, before deciding whether to release it. There’s still 15 games to be played this season, and I want the tactic to go through a full season’s testing before I realise it. It will also be interesting to see whether I need to tweak it next season with the club’s reputation presumably increasing. No matter what though, it’s brought us this far. Hopefully in the end of season update, I’ll be able to release the tactic, having covered a good end to the season, that has us at least in the Champions League places. Until then, thank you very much for reading, and as always should you have any questions, please feel free to ask either in the comments section, or contact me on Twitter (@JLAspey). Thank you.

Gannin’ Down The Toon

688Following the success of the article I did analysing the strengths of the 4-4-2 I’d developed to use in my Newcastle save (as well as the sheer enjoyment I’m getting out of the save right now), I’ve decided to blog about the save itself, and start doing regular (or as regular as I can manage) updates on the save. I apologise to those that were enjoying the TSV München save, but I was really beginning to be annoyed by it. As I said in the 4-4-2 article, things really weren’t working, and it lead me to start the save with Newcastle as a tactical experiment, and it’s turned into a full time save that I’m definitely enjoying so far.

I’ve almost played the first half of the first season, but for this first post I’ll solely cover the pre-season and early transfers I’ve made to rebuild the side. I’m from the North East, and although I don’t identify myself as a Newcastle fan (those of you who know me well know my undying love for Swansea), I’ve always felt an affinity for the club, and understand the pain of many close friends, constantly irritated at the shocking organisation and management of the club, and the sheer lack of stability on Tyneside. Some of my favourite childhood memories involve Newcastle United, with my Uncle regularly allowing me to watch his 1993/94 Season Review VHS, and I always remember watching Andy Cole and Peter Beardsley tearing opposition defences apart. That side was the beginning of some of the best years on Tyneside, when Newcastle very nearly won the Premier League, infamously dropping a 12 point lead at Christmas and finishing 2nd to Manchester United. Of course, much has changed since then, through more glory years under the late, great Sir Bobby Robson, to the turmoil of the past several years.

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Don’t worry purists – the Newcastle Brown Ale logo will return to next season’s kit.

So, how can I do with the side on FM16?

Well, the AI didn’t give me much time to weigh up my options, and in doing so helped me build the side I wanted, and upgrade the side in vital areas. Before that, I sorted out the staff, signing them to longer contracts where required, and bringing in some of my own signings, particularly in the scouting department. Anyway, back to the AI helping me, and it was Chelsea who happily came in and splashed out a combined £30.5M on right back Daryl Janmaat and Tim Krul, offers which I was only too happy to accept, and bit Chelsea’s hand off. The only other meaningful sale was Check Tiote (someone who I feel has become more of a foul merchant in real life than a professional footballer) to Valencia for £4.2M. Tiote also has the dreaded ‘shoots from distance’ PPM, meaning that when he played (which was extremely rarely) he would often go against what I want the CM-D role to do, which is keep things basic, tackle and pass short, by shooting from way out, and ruining any potential moves. His sale also coincided with the unexpected signing of a massive upgrade at the CM-D position, a signing which made the squad considerably stronger. However, I’ll cover that at a later date.

My absolute first priority was to replace the outgoing Krul with a cheaper alternative between the sticks, and to replace Janmaat and upgrade the full back positions in general, with only Haidara a realistic option, and not one that I really consider a first team player.

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The first signing I made was young Swedish left back Ludwig Augustinsson from FC Kobenhavn for a quite frankly ridiculous £2.4M. Looking at his stats you can see why this is such a steal, with an all round skill set, and only one weakness in heading. As you have seen, my system requires the left back to get forward plenty to overlap the WP-A, and Augustinnson does this fantastically. He’s more than an upgrade on Haidara, and is probably a player I can eventually sell for megabucks down the line. Right now however, he will do very nicely and is consistently putting in quality performances.

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I then replaced the outgoing Janmaat, and signed fellow Dutchman Ricardo van Rhijn from Ajax for £3.1M, another coup for someone of his quality. van Rhijn is perhaps not on the same level stat wise as Augustinsson, but still has an all round skill set, which is what I like in full backs – all round quality. Much like Augustinsson, van Rhijn has performed fantastically so far, more than replacing Janmaat and making the position his own.

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The next job was to find a new regular goalkeeper, and after a considerable amount of scouting (I admittedly find goalkeepers the hardest positions to sign on FM) signed young Alisson from Internacional for £7M, far more than I paid for the previous two players. However, if you find a good young goalkeeper who is willing to stick around, you can be sorted for the next decade and avoid problems down the line. Alisson absolutely fits this description and has been outstanding so far, making great saves, and keeping us in games where we’ve not been quite as good. He’s not the sweeper keeper type I usually like, but he’s just a fantastic shot stopper, more in the Cech mould.

At this point I’d addressed the main areas of concern in the squad, filling out the full back positions with quality, and replacing a quality goalkeeper with another quality, but young goalkeeper. From here I decided to spend in order to build the side moving forward.

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I signed the talented young striker/attacking midfielder Zach Clough from Bolton for £7.25M, my biggest outlay of the transfer window. The game values him at only £5.5M at this point, but I have little doubt that the fee I’ve paid for him will go on to be a mere pittance in comparison to his eventual worth. I saw him as the creative fulcrum of our side after a couple of years spent developing near the first team, but a tactical development within the 4-4-2 (one which I’ll cover in the next update) has meant that he’s now playing in the first team, in arguably one of the most important positions. It’s very early, but his performances so far have been absolutely fantastic, including an unbelievable performance against Stoke, where he tore them to shreds with his movement and creativity as we won 4-0. Watching his early games for the club in his new role, I see him as a little bit of a modern Peter Beardsley.

Following those signings, I really was set, or so I believed. I’d massively upgraded the squad in vital areas, made a considerable amount of money, and managed to get rid of some deadwood (although there is still a fair bit remaining that will be removed over the next season or so).

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However, I was then alerted to the transfer listing of Borussia Dortmund’s Sven Bender, and simply couldn’t help myself. Dortmund’s asking price was a ridiculously cut price £4.1M, and this was the point where I decided to sell Tiote, in order to gain the funds (Ashley wouldn’t let me have most of the transfer revenue, like he’d use it well) to sign Bender. So, off went Tiote to Valencia and in came Bender from Dortmund. He’s just the perfect CM-D for my system and is certainly an improvement on Anita. He works hard, will tackle and keep it simple, passing it to the more dynamic or creative players such as Sissoko, Clough or Wijnaldum and help us keep our balance by hanging back when the other players push forward. He started off slowly, averaging below 7, but his first goal for the club seemed to settle his nerves, and since then he’s been the Sven Bender we all remember.

In terms of tactics, I’ll cover the new development in the mid-season update, but for now I’ll say that I’m no longer using a standard 4-4-2, but all the theory and all the ‘movement’ from the original 4-4-2 remains, it’s just slightly more complex now, and I feel I’ve solved the issue I had in central midfield, and now I’m getting the best out of FM favourite Moussa Sissoko in that position. Initial results and performances have been very good post-tweak, and should this continue until the end of the season, I may well consider releasing the tactic for download. However, I won’t curse it as it’s still in its early stages.

So, until the mid-season update, thank you very much for reading, and I hope you enjoy reading this new Newcastle United save. As always if you have any questions you wish to ask me, please feel free to contact me either in the comments section of this blog, or on my Twitter page (@JLAspey), and I will always do my best to get back to you. Once again, thank you for reading.