Well, I’ve reached the end of my first season in charge of Sturm Graz. First off, I’d like to say thank you to @Shrewnaldo for creating this edit. I’ve had a lot of fun this season, and I can tell it’s going to be a challenging save. When I last updated, we were at the end of December, were pushing Red Bull Salzburg as hard as we could in the league, and were 3 points behind, having suffered two horrible losses against them. I was also having issues deciding whether to stick with the 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1 I’d been using at the start of the season, or switch to the Hidden Diamond I’d started using once Stankovic broke his foot.
At the end of my procrastination, I ended up doing neither, but I’ll cover that later in the update. So, most importantly, how did the league go, and did we manage to achieve the Champions League qualification I was so focused on?
Thankfully, yes we did. We comfortably finished 19 points ahead of the 3rd placed team Wolfsberger AC. We didn’t manage to keep pace with Salzburg. At one point we moved back to 1 point behind them, but a series of draws cost us, and that’s how good Salzburg are. If you draw, you can guarantee they will win, and that was the title challenge over.
I’m not down heartened by finishing 2nd though. I knew we weren’t ready to topple RBS, and to finish far above both Wien sides and finish 2nd has to be considered a successful first season. I’ve now got a good idea of which players are going to be key going forward, and which ones I can afford to let go or ship out. We’ve got a style of play which the team are now comfortable with, that I can build upon.
You can see where we’ve slipped up. We’ve actually lost less games than RBS, but we drew 5 more than them. If we don’t draw those games and win 1 of our games we played against them, we’d be champions. 7 points away, but not as far away as I thought we’d be after the first season.
So a trophyless season then? Well no actually. Somehow Salzburg managed to lose a game in the cup, and we managed to make our way all the way through to the final. The majority of the games were fairly comfortable, and we got pretty good draws all the way through. The 0-0 penalty win against Wolfsberger was the match I mentioned in the previous update that caused me to move away from the 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1 for the time being. Things were pretty uncomfortable in the final, as both Offenbacher and Stankovic went off injured, and it took until the 108th minute for us to get the breakthrough, despite us having 23 shots on goal throughout the match. It seems to be an element of this ME, that if you dominate possession and have plenty of shots, your conversion rate isn’t great.
Speaking of dominating possession, I’ll go into tactics (I can’t help it) to outline what I eventually did. As you know, I’d developed the Hidden Diamond, but wasn’t completely happy with it, despite winning games. I felt we didn’t dominate games quite as well as with the 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1, and when I looked at the stats, they supported this. Generally, we dropped to a low of about 60% with the 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1, whereas the Hidden Diamond led to far more even games, getting to around 50%. Stankovic returned just before the end of the mid-season break, and the decision to go back to the 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1 was made. However, I still wasn’t completely happy with it, feeling I wasn’t getting enough from midfield, and we weren’t as solid as I’d have liked. Therefore, I moved the DMCR back into DMC, keeping him central and able to control our midfield from there. I’d experimented with a roaming playmaker/advanced playmaker combination in the 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1, and it confirmed to me that Offenbacher had to play RPM no matter what. When he plays in that role, he’s the best player in the league. I liked having two playmakers, but it was unnecessary, and we needed more vertical movement, so I introduced the Central Winger to the tactic, sitting alongside Offenbacher in the RPM role. Stankovic played the CW role, and improved as the season went on, eventually starting to get himself on the scoresheet, and doing what I wanted from the Central Winger.
This led to what you can see above, a more standard 4-1-4-1, with Djuricin offset to the left. His movement is so fantastic that he often drifts out wide, leaving the striker zone open for runners, leaving the opposition defences largely unsure who to mark and where to go. By the end of the season I’ve found myself very happy with the 4-1-4-1, to the point where I’m now comfortable moving forward fitting players into this setup.
So, who do I feel are the players I can build around? The main one is certainly Sandi Lovric, who went from strength to strength as the season went on. Only 17 now, his attributes are increasing rapidly, and he was averaging over 7.0 a game by the end of the season in the DM-D role. Utterly brilliant. Salzburg came in with a 300k bid for him around February/March and were promptly told to piss off (unfortunately, there’s isn’t that dialogue option).
Daniel Offenbacher is another. He always looked good when I was playing him in the DLP-S role in the 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1, but as soon as I started using him as a Roaming Playmaker in the Hidden Diamond, he became the playmaker of the side, controlling everything, and becoming the best player in the league on average. As we moved to the 4-1-4-1, I eventually kept him in a RPM role, and he continued to be the best player in the league, finishing with a 7.39 average rating.
Simon Piesinger is the third pillar I’m building around, and another who has improved dramatically through the season. A player who I signed at Salzburg last season (ridiculous that I played as those tossers), and he’s been fantastic for me again. He’s scored quite a few goals as well, not all headers from corners, and ended as the 3rd best player in the league. He just never, ever makes a mistake. Brilliant.
Everything’s rosy then? Not really. You might wonder why I didn’t include Marco Djuricin in that list? He scored 16 goals in 28 games this season, so he certainly played well enough and contributed enough to be in the list. However, he wants to leave Sturm. Werder Bremen are sniffing around him, and should they decide to sign him, it will only take them £1.5M due to a release clause in his contract that I can’t do anything about now. As a result of this, I need to get scouting for replacements should he leave, and hopefully I can stick to the Austrian/German ideology that I’ve got behind signings in this save. Hopefully he decides to stay and I can renegotiate his contract, but I’m not overly hopeful.
We need to strengthen as well. The first team squad is good enough, and some of the subs are, but not all of them. There are weak spots in the squad, particularly upfront, left wing and full back (both right and left). Of course, I need the money to be able to do this, and the initial budget for me next season is 0 again. The board have increased the wage budget up to £67k, so hopefully I can work some magic with that and get some depth. I would rather not have to sell my best players in order to buy. As we’ve qualified for the CL, we can hopefully get some cash from that that helps us financially. There’s some very good players that are now interested in joining Sturm (particularly Rapid’s Louis Schaub and Dominik Wydra, who would bolster our midfield) but we just do not have the cash to bring them in. I am tempted to sell Stankovic, which must seem strange as I said in the last update how important he is for us, but as Offenbacher has developed through the season, Stankovic’s impact has lessened, and I’m tempted to sell him (he’s 29 now) in order to replace him with someone younger. I’ll put some feelers out in the Summer, and see what price I can get for him.
The second season of this save is vital. Can we get in some much needed cash to allow us to buy players, develop, and compete with Salzburg? Or is this a one season wonder, and do we slip back next season behind what I’m sure will be a resurgent Austria and Rapid Wien?
I’ll update at the mid-season break again, unless I do manage to make the signings I want to, in which case I’ll update before the season starts. Thank you for reading.