Finishing The Job

1955Well, the first full season in the Red Star Belgrade save has been completed, so once again it’s time to update you all on how we’ve been doing, and whether we managed to complete the work we’d started in the first half of the season, and win the first Yugoslavian Premier Liga of this save. At the very least, qualification for European football is paramount, in order to bring in the money that European football provides, in order to help improve the club, and continue to be able to sign (and hold onto) the best Yugoslavian players in world football. With the 8 point lead we had at the midpoint of the season, that should have been the very least we achieved, and quite frankly, to not win the league from that position would have been ridiculous.

So, did we finish the job? Was the first season of this save a success?

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 16.34.05Of course we did, and yes it was. I’d have been disgusted had we not won the league from the position we were in. Not only did we win the league, but we increased our lead at the top to a massive 15 points, meaning that we won the league with weeks to spare. The natural order of things in Yugoslavia did recover itself towards the end of the season, and the top 5 includes the historical top 4 of Yugoslavia, Red Star, Partizan, Hadjuk and Dinamo. It must be said that Hadjuk and Dinamo have made fantastic recoveries over the second half of the season, with Hadjuk managing to achieve European qualification, and Dinamo finishing 5th (after having their squad decimated by transfers).

We continued our fantastic scoring prowess from the first half of the season, and ended the season scoring 69 goals in 38 games. However, it was our defensive record that massively improved – as I felt it would when all the games evened themselves out – and we ended the season with the best defensive record in the league, with only 25 goals conceded in those 38 games. I’d worried that we were leaking goals in the first half of the season, but we certainly improved – along with the statistical imbalance righting itself – throughout the second half, with my standard back 4 of Stojkovic, Jovanovic, Kosnic and Ibanez performing fantastically. I still think it can be improved next season though (Kosnic particularly), but I’ll discuss this later in the update.

It hasn’t been an easy second half of the season though. It began with the January transfer window, and I faced a battle to retain my best players, particularly Marko Grujic and Luka Jovic. Grujic remained loyal despite bids of over £3M (I might have sold were there a decent Yugoslav alternative at the moment) and never once wanted to leave, but Jovic’s head was turned by approaches from PSG, Juventus, Napoli, Real Madrid and Barcelona. Again, I would have sold him, however Jovic was owned 70% by his agent, meaning that I was receiving bids of only £90k for our 30% stake. Considering how good Jovic is, and how important he had been for Red Star until this point, there was no way I was going to sell him.

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I then made these transfers, allowing players who weren’t getting game time, and weren’t part of my plans for next season, to leave. None of these transfers are for particularly big fees, but they free up wage room, give us a little bit of transfer budget, and more importantly provide space for the youth prospects I’m going to be bringing into the first team next season. With these funds, I was able to make the massive step of acquiring all of Luka Jovic for £1.4M (although most of that was taken out of the club’s funds, to my surprise). It’s a big outlay for one player at this point in the save, but considering what I could make for Jovic down the line (or how good he could be if I can keep him at Red Star), I see it as more than worth it.

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I also almost lost star midfielder Mihailo Ristic, when our Chairman decided to accept a bid of £2.1M from Dinamo Moscow, a fee far below his value. He dominates our midfield play, and is undoubtedly a £5M pound player. He’s crucial to my plans moving forward, and after protesting the transfer and telling the Chairman that squad morale would decline, and the quality of the team would be massively affected by the loss of Ristic, he fortunately cancelled the transfer, and I managed to hold onto him.

These transfers (I also have a future transfer arranged for Mamadou Mbodj for £875k which doesn’t show up in the above graphic) meant that the squad was a little light towards the end of the season, especially with injuries and suspensions (I was extremely delighted with my decision to sign Filip Stojkovic when the club’s only other right back Marko Petkovic went down with damaged cruciate ligaments, and would be out for several months). However, we managed to battle our way through it, keeping the core 11, whilst rotating in squad players, who all did well within our system.

When I last updated, we were still in the Yugoslavian Liga Cup (although we’d gone of out of the Yugoslav Cup) and I had every intention of winning the competition. So did we manage it?

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Yes, we went all the way and won the Liga Cup. I saw reaching the final as a minimum requirement after we went out of the Yugoslav Cup, and fortunately I didn’t have to rotate the side too much in order to progress in this competition. Our run to the final wasn’t overly difficult, although I was disappointed to draw Hadjuk in the Quarter Finals, we easily dealt with them 3-1. We stumbled through in the Semis, defeating Sutkeska Niksic 2-1 after extra time, before facing our biggest competition so far in Rijeka. I needn’t have worried though as two first half goals from Luka Jovic gave us a 2-0 lead, and although Rijeka pulled one back in the second half, we were never really threatened, winning the final and giving us a double in our first season. Considering we’ll have Europe as the next challenge next season, I’m extremely happy with this as the return for our first season in Yugoslavia.

Around this time, I usually do a top 3 players of the season, and this season will be no different. It must be said that there’s several players that played fantastically all season that haven’t made it into this top 3. So, honourable mentions go to Vukasin Jovanovic, Luis Ibanez, Mihailo Ristic and Srdjan Plavsic.

3. Luka Jovic

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First up is Luka Jovic. At 17, and just turned 18, Jovic was our joint top scorer this season, a fantastic return for someone of his age. He led the line superbly in the Advanced Forward role, and tore the league up in the early stages. He then attracted massive attention from the big clubs in Europe, as I’ve mentioned above. After this, his goalscoring really slowed down, presumably as he became distracted by the attention he was receiving. He recovered towards the end of the season after I’d managed to sign 100% of his contract and found his goalscoring boots again, but he could have scored so much more than the 24 goals he ended up with. He was still undoubtedly an important player for us this season, but halfway through, he would have been Number 1 in this list. Nevertheless, he still ended the season with 24 goals, and a 7.44 match average.

2. Filip Stojkovic

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Our second best player this season was our right back Filip Stojkovic. Signed at the start of the season from Čukarički for £400k, he’s absolutely dominated games from right back, and was a real difference maker. He ended the season with our highest average rating, scoring a 7.91 across the entire season, a fantastic return for a full back. He chipped in with 3 goals, and supplied 14 assists for our strikers from his fantastic crossing. His value currently stands at £750k, showing the 400k I signed him for to be an absolute bargain. Fortunately there’s been no interest as of yet for his services, and he will be a key player as I plan for next season.

1. Slavoljub Srnic

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Very much under the radar, our best player this season has been Slavoljub Srnic. Playing in our important Trequartista role upfront, he proved to be the creative force I wanted him to be. Not only was he our top assister with 18 assists for the season, but he was also our joint top goalscorer with Luka Jovic, scoring 24 for the season. Directly contributing to 42 of our goals show how essential he is for us, and he was indirectly involved in many more than that. Again, he’s managed to go under the radar, and I’ve not had any of Europe’s clubs after him, but I fear that may chance in the Summer, like many of my top players (my entire first team is now ‘wanted’). However, he will be a key part of my plans moving forward, and hopefully I can hold onto him, like the majority of my young stars. He finished the season with a 7.57 average rating.

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These ‘might’ change for next season.

But now, it’s time to look forward to next season, and I have plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Firstly, I made it through this season without having to give away any of my talented young Yugoslavians, and secondly, the board has given me a lovely £2M budget with which to build next season (although I’ll have to pump some of this into wages). I also plan to bring some talented young players through into the first team such as Daniel Avramovski, and sign more young Yugoslavs from around the league.

I also intend to evolve tactically. I’m very happy with the 4-3-1-2, but I think I can be a bit more experimental, especially in the league. At the time of writing, the footballing legend Johan Cruyff has just recently passed away, and I’d love to create something heavily inspired by his footballing vision. Perhaps I should go all out and attempt to recreate his 3-4-3 system that he used with Barca’s fabled ‘Dream Team’? I do think I have the players to attempt this system in some form. Either way, we’ve qualified for the Champions League qualifying phases as a result of our league finish, and I’d love to return Red Star to the competition, but I’m aware it may be a little too soon at this point. The key is to keep building the squad, develop tactically, and retain the key young players that are going to take this team back to the top of Europe, players like Ristic, Grujic, Stojkovic, Srnic and Jovic.

So, that’s all I can update on at his point, so until the update at the beginning of Season 2, thank you very much for reading, and as always should you have any questions about Red Star, Yugoslavia, or anything else in general, please don’t hesitate to contact me in the comments section, or on Twitter (@JLAspey). Again, thank you for reading, and I’ll be back soon!

 

Twenty-Five Years On

1955Well, I’ve reached the transfer window in the first season of my new Red Star Belgrade save, so it’s update time, to cover how things have been going in the Yugoslavian Premier Liga. I’m enjoying this save so much, and it’s so much fun to finally be playing as Red Star on Football Manager. In the last update, I covered the early decisions I’d made, particularly regarding signings (you’ll remember I’m focusing on signing mainly Yugoslavians). I’d only signed two players (wanting to evaluate the squad over the first season, before making any big decisions) in centre back Jevrem Kosnic on a free, and right back Filip Stojkovic for £400k. Kosnic was brought in to provide competition at centre back, and Stojkovic was brought in to be the new first choice right back, after I noticed that the club only had one worthy of being in the first team. Knowing FM’s love for making things difficult for you, I knew I had to make a signing here.

I also covered what I’ll be doing tactically in this first season, and I’d made the choice to return to my favoured narrow football, utilising a 4-3-1-2 formation, making the most of the top class central midfielders at the club, such as Ristic, Grujic, Plavsic, Donald and Katai. Of those, the trio of Ristic, Grujic and Plavsic are the real prospects, and have bossed the midfield throughout the first half of the season. Ristic in particular, has been outstanding. I faced a struggle early on to hold onto Ristic and Grujic, but managed to persuade them to stay at the Marakana.

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I then received two pieces of very pleasing news when Ristic and Grujic both signed massive 5 year contracts. I doubt that I’ll be able to hold onto them for too much longer, but for now, the club would be far weaker if they were sold. On top of that, I also managed to acquire the percentage of young centre back Vukasin Jovanovic that was owned by his agent, and also sign him to a 5 year contract. Again, I may not be able to hold onto these players, but they’re some of the most promising youngsters in world football, and I’ll keep them around as long as I possibly can. Fortunately, despite considerable interest they’ve been happy to stay at Red Star.

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I also received a very interesting news item, declaring that our starting left back Luis Ibanez had declared himself to play for Croatia as you can see on the right! This is as a result of his time spent as a player for Dinamo Zagreb, and therefore he presumably had acquired enough days to claim Croatian nationality. It’s quite interesting to have a squad that is already full of Yugoslavs, but includes one Croat. This is also as a result of the edit I’m using, where the old nationalities do still exist, but all clubs have been converted to be ‘Yugoslavian’.

Prior to discussing the league, I’ll briefly cover the cup competitions. As I mentioned in the last update, we went out of the Europa League in the qualifying rounds, after drawing Italian side Sampdoria. However, this didn’t bother me at all, as it has allowed us to focus on the league and domestic competitions, and ensure a far better position in European competition next season. Irritatingly, we went out of the Yugoslav Cup in only the 3rd Round, going down to fellow Premier Liga side ND Gorica (who are quickly becoming our bogey team) 1-0 after a poor performance. It’s a disappointing result, and I’ll be looking to do far better in this competition next season. We are still however in the Yugoslavian Liga Cup, and have just made it through the 4th Round, defeating Liga 3 side NK Dob. I’ll be looking to at least reach the semis of this competition, and realistically we should be making the final.

So, how are things going in the Yugoslavian Premier Liga? Is it still the status quo of Red Star, Partizan, Hadjuk and Dinamo?

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Well, not really. As you can see we currently sit top of the table, 8 points ahead of Partizan in second, but Hadjuk and Dinamo are both stuck in the middle of the table, and have been for the majority of the season. Dinamo in particular have been shocking, and don’t seem to have recovered from our comfortable 3-1 win over them on the first day. They’ve improved somewhat after sacking their manager, but for a period of time they were just above the relegation zone. You can also see that Croatian side Rijeka have a game in hand on us, so should only be 5 points back, and Maribor in 6th have 4 games in hand on us, and if they win all those games, they’ll only be a point behind us. So although everything looks rosy with our 8 point gap over Partizan (who we battered 0-0 in the first Eternal Derby of this save), the table belies our dominance thus far.

Up until very recently, Rijeka (and Vojvodina believe it or not) had been right behind us, still with a game in hand, but only 3 points behind us. However, we put in a fantastic performance at the Marakana, and comfortably beat them 3-0 thanks in no small part to a double by Luka Jovic. Jovic is another I’m trying to purchase all of, but his agent wants £475k for his cut, about £250k more than I can afford right now. He’s been dominant in the league, scoring 14 goals in 13 games, and scoring a total of 19 goals for the season. At only 17, that’s ridiculous return of form, and you can see why I’m so anxious to sign him. I’ve already had clubs like PSG after him.

In complete contrast to the majority of my sides, our success is built on our prowess going forward, where we lead the league with 43 goals scored in 19 games. We’re only 7th best in the league in terms of goals conceded (a somewhat skewed stat with the differences in games played), having conceded 15 in 19 games, still a very good return. I think this stat will fix itself towards the end of the season, and we’ll end up with one of the best defensive records in the league. Either way, as long as we continue to put the ball in the back of the net as much as we are doing, we will be difficult to stop. Our style of play reminds me so much of the way my Leverkusen side played last season, and it’s glorious to watch.

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 14.51.12So much of this is down to the 4-3-1-2 I’ve been using. It’s remained almost exactly the same as it was in the first update, but I’ve made the decision to reign it in somewhat, moving from an attacking mentality to a control mentality. There’s been very little difference in our potency going forward, but we just play with more control and seem far less cavalier. When you’re playing narrow and are relying almost entirely on your full backs to get forward and provide width (although the strikers do pull out wide), this is pretty important.

I’ve kept things extremely simple in terms of team instructions (as I feel on FM16 that less can certainly be more, especially with the amount of PI’s role selection causes), and I’m still only using work ball into box, play out of defence and prevent short GK distribution. With our mentality, we naturally have a high tempo and press, so I haven’t noticed much need to mess around with that. All I want is to play short from defence to build play, and for us to work the ball towards our opponent’s box using that high tempo. Prevent short GK distribution simply allows us to press more successfully, and it’s a nice ploy to try and get the ball back quickly by forcing the AI to kick long, where we have physically capable midfielders like Grujic.

The only other instructions I use are in opposition instructions, where I ask my team to always close down and always tightly mark any wide players, so DR/L’s, WBR/L’s, MR/L’s and AMR/L’s. This is simply to try and prevent crosses from raining down into our box by closing wide players down immediately and giving them less time on the ball. Of course, I haven’t eliminated crossing as a means of the AI scoring, but I’m not having any particular trouble with it. In addition, it’s natural that with us packing the centre of the pitch, the AI is going to have more success if they use the flanks. It’s a natural trade off, and I’d wager our central threat is greater, as shown by our 43 league goals scored.

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Here is an example of how we deal with wide players, as well as showing our standard shape in defence. As you can see, the depth of the 4-3-1-2 becomes more of a diamond with the DLP-D sitting deeper than the other central midfielders. This is a shot from a recent 3-0 win against Rijeka (who were 2nd placed at the time) and Rijeka have just taken kick off and spread the ball out wide to their right midfielder. Due to the opposition instructions mentioned above we always close down wide players, so Grujic in the CM-S role steps out wide to press him, and the rest of the midfielders follow and shuffle across, preventing any gaps from forming which the AI can play through. Eventually the Rijeka right midfielder runs out of options and tries to make the run in red down the line, but Grujic cuts him off and wins the ball, allowing us to attack. As you can see, we do have a counter attacking presence with two strikers against two central defenders (especially potent when those strikers are Jovic and Srnic), and a box to box midfielder that is in plenty of space to burst forward and make late runs.

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We also have a very fluid shape when we build up play. As you can see, the DLP-D starts alongside the central defenders before stepping higher up the pitch, in a movement that is actually quite Libero-like. In this instance, our shape is very almost a 3-2-3-2 as we build up the play towards the forward players, and you can see how much we rely on our full backs to provide width. Fortunately, we have extremely talented full backs in Filip Stojkovic and Luis Ibanez who dominate games with their fantastic play (Stojkovic in particular massively affects games from the right flank, and has put in so many wonderful crosses this season), but you can see the sheer amount of space we vacate on our wings in the orange rectangles. This is of course a necessary trade off with playing a narrow formation, because your full backs have to do so much of the work. Again, this is why the flanks are naturally going to be a problematic area of the pitch, but as you can see above, I feel that we deal with it pretty well. Perhaps I’ll have to look at this as we progress into continental competition, but right now we’re not suffering any ill effects through playing narrow, and it’s the type of football I love.

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 15.42.32I thought I’d cover a little bit of tactical analysis in this update to show you all what I’ve been doing (I also had the itch to write about it). If you’d like any more analysis of the 4-3-1-2 I’m using, then please let me know. As I’ve said, it reminds me so much of the diamond I used with Leverkusen on FM15, and I absolutely love it. However, for now that’s all I can update on in the Red Star Belgrade save. I should be back at the end of the season unless I have a bunch of big clubs come back in for Ristic, Grujic and Jovic and I’m forced to reinvest and update on the transfers I’ve made. Hopefully that doesn’t happen though and I can retain my best players and make sure that we win the league, and gain a good position in European competition next season to start and improve the club’s finances (we only have £2.1M in the bank as I write this update), and make the steps towards moving Red Star back to where they belong, at the top of European competition, and world football in general. 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 my via Twitter (@JLAspey). Thank you for reading again, and I’ll be back soon!

Yugoslavia Returns

1955Right, let’s kick off this Red Star save properly then, or Crvena Zvezda to give the club it’s proper name. Oh, and happy 71st Birthday Red Star. For those of you that missed the opening post of this save, I’ll fill you in. If you follow me on Twitter (@JLAspey), you’ll know that I’ve been lamenting the lack of a proper full, in depth Yugoslavia database for FM16 for quite some time now, having presumed one would be created by someone after the game’s release.

If you’re familiar with the writing I’ve done for websites such as These Football Times, you’ll know that I’m absolutely fascinated by East European football, and Yugoslavia in particular. I’m particularly interested in football’s role as a force for nationalism and unity in the Balkans, and also the effect that the war and the breakup of Yugoslavia had on football in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia/Hervegovina etc. So, after much moaning and complaining on my part, my good friends over at @fm_central have taken on the project and created an absolutely brilliant Yugoslavia edit, which you can find here. So I’ve loaded it up, and chosen my team from Eastern Europe, a team I’ve loved ever since I first read about them and watched them play, Red Star Belgrade.

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This picture above is Red Star’s greatest moment, winning the European Cup in 1991, defeating Marseille in Bari on penalties. The team is littered with great names of Yugoslavian football (and football in general), names such as Robert Prosinečki, Siniša Mihajlović, Dejan Savićević, Darko Pančev and Miodrag Belodedici. I will openly admit that I love this team (so much so that I wrote an article on them), but they are more than worthy of this praise I give them. However, the last time that Red Star even made the group stages of the Champions League was in the 91-92 season. It’s time to rectify that, and return Red Star, and football in the Balkans, to its rightful place at the top of European competitions.

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The very first thing I did when I joined the club was look at the coaching staff. Red Star are renowned for producing their own players, and I wanted to ensure that we had the best staff possible. I brought in a new assistant manager, and a new Head of Youth Development, amongst others. It’s an often forgotten element of starting a new save, but this is an important step to make in the early days. Any potential weaknesses (for example, I found a physiotherapist with a physiotherapy stat of 9) can be eradicated early on.

I then started looking through the squad, assessing where Red Star’s strengths lie, in order to assess what kind of tactic/formation I’m going to employ. What is evident, is that we have a bunch of talented young Yugoslavs in the squad.

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Mihailo Ristic is the main prospect. At only 19 years old he has a fantastic range of attributes, and has the ‘all round skill set’ I like players to have. He’s also very versatile, and can play on the wings, as well as being capable at wing back. However, I see central midfield as being his best position, and I plan to make him a central part of the tactic that I’ll be employing. I’ve had larger clubs around Europe sniffing around him already, but I’ve managed to put them off, and he hasn’t had his head turned just yet. Progress in Yugoslavia already.

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Probably the most obvious prospect at the club is the well known wonderkid Luka Jovic. I started this save before the recent data update released by SI, and therefore Jovic is still at Red Star, rather than at Benfica. At only 17 years old, his attacking stats are quite frankly ridiculous, and he’s got a lot of room to develop. He’s started off the season fantastically too, and hopefully he can be the Pančev for this side going forward, and lead the line for us throughout the Yugoslav league season.

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Another young starlet is midfielder Marko Grujic, who is now well known for having signed for Liverpool in real life. Again, because I’m playing before the transfer update, he’s still at Red Star. You can see his quality at only 19, with the ability to play almost any role in midfield. I see him as a deep playmaker, controlling our play from deep, before giving the ball to players such as Ristic and Jovic higher up the pitch and allowing them to create. I see the trio of Grujic, Ristic and Jovic as being the cornerstones of the club moving forward.

That isn’t even all the young prospects. There’s Vukasin Jovanovic, Slavoljub Srnic and Srdjan Plavsic in the first team (I haven’t shown them all because I don’t want to overload you with screenshots), and below that there’s a bunch of talented young players in the reserves and under 19’s, although they’ll obviously take more time to develop than players like Ristic and Jovic. We may have less established players than sides like Dinamo Zagreb or Partizan, but in 2 or 3 years time, I’d guess that our squad will be just as good as theirs, if I can hold onto to these young stars, as well as producing Yugoslavs through the youth system.

However, there were a couple of obvious weaknesses in the first team, so I delved into the transfer market with the £420k I was given as a budget. I felt that we needed strengthening (as well as an injection of youth) at centre back. I also needed a replacement for Savo Pavicevic, who joined LA Galaxy in the MLS for £21k.

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Therefore, I signed Yugoslavian Jevrem Kosnic on a free as a rotational option. I don’t think Kosnic is necessarily a long term option at centre back, but he will be a good back up option to the first choice pairing of Jovanovic and Rendulic, and hopefully will give them some competition for first team places. He’s another with an all round skill set, and the only stat that worries me is his ‘9’ for decisions. Other than that, he can head, tackle, mark and pass, really all I need my defenders to do. He’s also a former Red Star youth graduate, beginning his career in Belgrade.

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However, by far the biggest issue was right back, with the club only having one proper recognised right back in the first team. I was looking for a backup option to Marko Petkovic, but failed to find someone actually good enough to be a backup at Red Star, and therefore decided to try and upgrade the position, and signed Filip Stojkovic for £400k from Čukarički. Stojkovic is young and Yugoslavian, and was highly recommended by my scouts, who told me to sign him ‘whatever the price’. He’s hit the ground running in his early games for the club, and like Kosnic, is also a former Red Star player.

This analysis of the squad and the signings I’ve made have shaped the development of the tactic I intend to use this season, and it’s a switch to a style I’ve been wanting to use throughout FM16, but simply haven’t been able to get working. I’m going back to my favoured narrow football.

Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 22.06.30Here’s the tactic to the left, a 4-3-1-2. It’s an FM16 version of the diamond I developed last year with Leverkusen, a tactic that I loved. It also has elements of the asymmetric 4-3-1-2 I used with Leverkusen prior to the diamond thrown in there.

The reason I’m using a 4-3-1-2 rather than a diamond is that I feel that with a standard diamond, the AI can too easily outflank the ‘two’ in central midfield, utilising the wings before either crossing, or moving the ball back into the centre, when the midfield two have attempted to press out wide. With a midfield 3, this is somewhat negated, and the formation has more natural width to allow us to cover the flanks. With a central CM that will drop deep, the formation will still provide a diamond-ish shape, although there might not be as much depth with a DLP-D at CM as there would be at DM. However, the increased width more than makes up for that in a defensive sense.

You can see that the formation is centred around the players I’ve mentioned above. Grujic has the vital deep-lying playmaker role in the centre of the park, Ristic is given the lisence to go forward and support the attack, and Jovic is the goalscorer. We also allow the full backs plenty of license to go forward and support the attack and give us width, in theory  getting the best out of new signing Filip Stojkovic. I also love narrow formations, being a subscriber to the philosophy that you should put your best players in the centre of the park, and allow them to control the game in football’s most important area of the pitch.

The early signs from the 4-3-1-2 are very good. We crashed out of the Europa League in the qualification stages, being very unlucky in drawing Serie A side Sampdoria in the latter qualification rounds. We gave a good account of ourselves, going down 1-0 in the first leg (a game Samp were extremely fortunate to win through a penalty), and then losing 2-0 in Italy. Still I’m not disheartened by that. No Europe this season allows us to focus on the Yugoslavian Premier Liga, and qualifying for Europe properly. Furthermore, it allows us to focus on developing the fantastic prospects we have at the club, without having to worry about over-rotating the side for European competition.

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Not a bad start to the season.

I’ve only played one game of the season proper, but as you can see above, it was an extremely tough fixture against Dinamo, who are expected to finish first this season. Dinamo played a wide 4-3-3, so it was a nice test to see how the 4-3-1-2 would really cope when it came up against a team who wanted to use the flanks. Dinamo also have some fantastic players such as Marko Pjaca, Marko Rog, Arijan Ademi and wonderkid Ante Coric (although he never made it off the bench), so this was a really tough first game.

However, I needn’t have worried, as we swept them away 3-1, with Jovic and Srnic causing havoc upfront, Ristic playing fantastically in midfield, and the defence keeping Dinamo’s fast strikeforce at bay. The 4-3-1-2 worked beautifully, and we never looked threatened when Dinamo moved the ball out to the wings, even when it was Pjaca who got the ball. The 3-1 really was deserved, and it was a fair result. However, I’m not getting carried away just yet. My objectives for the season are to qualify for Europe, develop the young players, and assess where I can improve the squad with Yugoslavians moving forward. The media only predicts us to finish 5th, but I know we can do better than that.

I’ll update again at the mid-season point, but until then, that’s all I can update you on in the Red Star save. I’m absolutely loving it so far, and I’m sure I’ll fly through the first half of the season until the next update. I hope you’re enjoying reading this new save, and as always if you have any questions about Yugoslavian football, the database I’m using, Red Star, tactics, or even just FM16 in general, please do not hesitate to ask in the comments section, or via my Twitter (@JLAspey). Thank you again for reading, and this save will be back soon!

It’s Finally Happening

2000px-Flag-map_of_Yugoslavia_(Neutral).svgThose of you that know me and know my football writing that I’ve done for the fantastic website These Football Times (I plan to get back to that soon) will know of my passionate interest for East European football. I’m a history geek (and teacher in training) and I’ve always been fascinated by the effect of Communism on Eastern Europe throughout the second half of the 20th Century. One of these effects on East European society was undoubtedly the use of sport as a propaganda tool, and a means of proving that Socialist societies provided better opportunities for their population than Capitalist societies. Football was undoubtedly a sport that was important in this ideal, being the world’s most popular team sport, and I’ve written at length about the effect it had on individuals such as Gyula Grosics from the famous ‘Magnificent Magyars’, the 1954 Hungary side.

However, the nation (or nations) that has always fascinated me is Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia became a Socialist republic following World War II, when Communist leader Marshal Tito took over the country, a country that consisted of Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Macedonia and Slovenia. The country stayed together for decades under Tito’s policy (and somewhat repression) of Brotherhood and Unity, but fell apart in the early 1990’s following his death, as nationalism grew and centuries of ethnic tensions and religious differences blew up, leading to the bloodiest war since World War II, with atrocities being committed, and regions being ethnically cleansed. Amazingly, football is also seen as being the scene of the war’s first battles, particularly the riot that occurred at the Maksimir in 1990, when Red Star’s ultras the ‘Delije’ and Dinamo Zagreb’s ultras the ‘Bad Blue Boys’ clashed, leading to a full scale battle with the Police, and the now infamous kick by Zvonimir Boban on a Policeman attacking a Dinamo fan.

article-2297037-18D50C2A000005DC-680_634x385I’m also interested by what’s happened to football in Yugoslavia since the countries split. The quality has largely declined, and whilst the Balkans has remained a footballing factory, producing some of the best players in the world (a quick look at a possible Yugoslav national team will show you), the leagues are simply not strong enough to keep these players around, and they often leave as soon as interest comes from Western Europe, and the sides are left with a financial reward, but little success internationally. It’s easy to forget that in 1991, when the conflict in Yugoslavia was beginning to engulf the country, Red Star Belgrade lit up Europe with their fantastic style of play (and a team consisting of Yugoslavs, except for one Romanian), lifting the European Cup with a team starring players such as Dejan Savićević, Darko Pančev, Siniša Mihajlović and the mercurial Robert Prosinečki. Football in the Balkans has never climbed as high since.

Since the inception of FM16, I’ve wanted to start a Yugoslavian save, but there simply hasn’t been a database available that includes a proper Yugoslav league, and full Yugoslav structure. However, my good friends at @fm_central decided to pick up the project for me, and after much discussion on Facebook and Twitter, it’s finally here and ready to go. The leagues have been combined into one Yugoslavian structure (with 7 levels), and all players from the corresponding nations have been converted to Yugoslavian. Furthermore, a Yugoslav national team has been created. So, it’s now time to start the save I’ve wanted to play for a long time now. I apologise for dropping the Napoli save very quickly (I may come back to it), but I hope you can understand that this is the save I’ve been waiting to play, and hopefully you’ll enjoy reading it.

For those of you who are interested in this Yugoslav database (you really should be), here is a link to it. Once again, massive thanks to @fm_central for creating it. I owe you one, it’s fantastic.

But who am I going to be playing as in this Yugoslavian structure?

zvezda1Well, who else was it going to be? Yes, I’ll be playing as Red Star Belgrade. Those of you who know me well know that Red Star are my team when it comes to Eastern Europe. I’ve loved Red Star since the first moment I saw them and read about them, and the Red Star team of 1991 might be my favourite team of all time, challenged only by the Barcelona side of Pep Guardiola. I’m a Red Star fan through and through (and a proud one, having watched the 2-1 Eternal Derby win on Saturday), and just couldn’t bring myself to play as anyone else within this structure. I’ve also never played as Red Star before on any edition of Football Manager, so this really is a first for me.

I aim to follow the principles of the 1991 Red Star team, and focus almost entirely on producing and signing Yugoslavians, in order to create the ultimate Yugoslavian team. I will still sign foreign players (even then, I’ll focus on Eastern Europe), but if there is a good Yugoslavian option, I’ll always take it. It’s the same formula I used in the Sturm Graz save on FM15, and I ended up with an almost entirely Austrian side. Hopefully, through the creation of a Yugoslavian side, I can return Red Star to the top of European competition, and also help the Yugoslav national team to perform well in World Cups etc.

I’ll leave details on transfers, tactics and decisions I’ve made until the proper first post, which will be coming very soon. Until then, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my ‘setting the scene’ post for this save, and I hope you enjoy reading the save itself. I’ve already played a little bit of it, and I’m enjoying it more than any game I’ve had on FM in such a long time. It’s the save I’ve waited years to play. I’ll be back with that post soon, and until then, thank you very much for reading and if you have any questions about this save, or the utterly brilliant Yugoslav database I’m using, then please feel free to contact me either in the comments section, or via Twitter (@JLAspey).