Apologies for the lack of mid-season update in my Sturm Graz save. I’m enjoying playing this save a lot (once again thanks to @Shrewnaldo for developing the edit) and ended up playing past the mid-season break pretty quickly, meaning all the screenshots I’d need would be unavailable. So you’re going to get one long season update, and I apologise if it ends up being too long.
So last time I updated, we’d lost star striker Marco Djuricin to Vitesse for £1.5M, and sold Hadzic for making wage demands I simply couldn’t afford. I then brought in Manu Molina to play at striker, and Deni Alar from Rapid to play the Central Winger role I developed on FM14. This would prove to be a fantastic piece of business. I’d intended to use the close season to get the depth I wanted for the team (particularly considering that we qualified for the Europa League, effectively) but these transfers left me with pretty much the same level of depth as I had before once I’d brought up some younger players. Some good bench players, but not a full squad, with particular weaknesses at striker, full back, and on the wings. I said that this next season would be vital, challenging Salzburg again, and fighting with what I was sure would be a rejuvenated Austria and Rapid Wien.
So how did my two Summer signings get on? I’ll talk about Alar first. He was signed as a striker to play my Central Winger role. For anyone who hasn’t seen my previous articles, I developed the Central Winger on FM14 after seeing Angel Di Maria’s performances in central midfield for Real Madrid. I wanted to use a central midfielder that dribbled and ran directly at opposition defences. In my mind, this became a far more dangerous prospect, with the defence being unable to use the sideline to defend with. Last year I had ridiculous success with the role, and it became a key part of most of the tactics I developed. Alar was simply brilliant in the CW role. I’d initially been unhappy with how the role worked on FM15, and I felt it was less effective than FM14, but it fit what I wanted to do with the 4-1-4-1 so well, that I had to use it. Alar completely changed my mind about the CW, to a point where I now think it might actually be more effective than FM14, and I see more of the actions that I wanted to see when I developed the role last year. Until the end of the season when he had a few injuries and off games, Alar was rated as the 3rd best player in the league, and developed a fantastic relationship with the left winger (usually Akiyoshi) and Klem, our attacking left back.
I’m going to save most of the Central Winger examples for the upcoming article, but here’s an example of Alar doing exactly what I want. He picks up the ball in central midfield and drives directly towards the space, making the run in white. The gravity of Alar in the Central Winger role is so great that 5 defenders cover his run. A simple square pass inside to Schmerbock gets us a shot on goal, and a decent chance.
Molina on the other hand, I’m still a little unsure of. He averaged 7.08 for the season, meaning a good return of 12 goals in 29 appearances, and a return of 11 in 21 in the league. There’s no doubt he scores goals and I was right to spot him as a striker. The striker role has changed between a CF-S and a DLF-S throughout the season, and I’m still not sure which one I prefer. I identified that Molina has the ‘dictates tempo’ PPM, which I felt would be interesting upfront, but I’m starting to feel it hinders us somewhat. There are times when he drops deep, and all I want him to to is spread the play wide and break towards the box, but he holds it too long, and the moment is lost. For example, Kevin Pirker who is far worse than Molina, scored 5 goals in 11 starts playing the same role. He has no PPM’s, and when I want the ball spread wide and for him to break towards the box, that’s exactly what he does. For these reasons, I’m hoping I can get Molina to unlearn his PPM, and just allow him to be a goal scoring machine. He’s also a touch injury prone, meaning he missed quite a few games this season that I needed him in.
Anyway, how did the league go? As you can see on the left (and perhaps by the title), we went undefeated this season, a massive achievement that I haven’t managed to do for a long time on Football Manager. You’d think going undefeated we’d have walked the league, but no, it went all the way down to the last day, with RBS constantly fighting with us. They just wouldn’t go away, and kept winning. We’d get a comfortable 3-1 win, and they’d go and smash someone 6-0. This was worrying.
On the last day, we faced Austria Wien, and they faced Rapid Wien. Rapid did absolutely nothing to help us, and succumbed to a 3-1 loss. Thanks guys. Fortunately, we beat Zinedine Zidane’s Austria Wien 2-1, and became champions of Austria. You read that right through, the French master is managing FAK. I welcomed him to the league with a 4-1 drubbing in his first game.
It shows how ridiculously strong Salzburg are in this game that we went undefeated, and still only won the league by 1 point. The achievement is certainly not lost on me, but I can’t help but notice how good Salzburg were as well. There’s a huge gap after us down to Ried, and once again the Wien sides were largely ineffectual, something that’s strange to me, but something I’m going to take full advantage of this Summer with transfers.
Speaking of transfers, I was allowed a lot more money through the season in terms of wages, and so in January went out into the Bosman market armed with my chequebook. As you know, I’ve got a focus on Austrian and German players in this save, and intended to stick to that. However, when I saw Ruben Ligeon available on a free from Ajax, I jumped at the chance. Our defence was actually fantastic this season (only conceding 21 goals), but Ligeon will be a massive upgrade at right back, and may tempt me to be a bit more attacking with my full backs. He’s a Bosman, so technically I’m going to count this as one of next season’s foreign signings, leaving me only one foreign spot left, should I decide to use it.
Michael Gregoritsch was the next Bosman signing. As I’ve previously mentioned, striker has been a weak spot throughout the save, with only Djuricin, and now Molina decent first choice options. Still being unsure of Molina, I felt I’d go for a young Austrian striker who can provide some competition, and Gregoritsch was available. He still needs some work to properly fit in the striker role in my 4-1-4-1, but I have a feeling he’s going to be very good. He also adds a target man dimension to our play, should I wish to go more direct, or perhaps switch to a 2 striker setup. They were my 2 Bosmans, and I was absolutely ecstatic with them. With two signings, I’d solved the issues upfront and at right back for next season.
So, how did we get on in Europe this season? Last season we finished 2nd, and therefore went into the qualifiers for the Champions League.
Not amazingly, but pretty well for a club of our stature. We absolutely dominated Basel 3-0 in the home leg of the Best Placed Qualifier, before stumbling to a 3-2 loss in the 2nd leg, which I think was largely due to my team talk more than the players themselves. We then drew Spurs in the next round, and proceeded to be destroyed 7-0 on aggregate. Tough losses, but we were outclassed in both games, and deserved to lose.
This put us into the Europa League, where we drew Schalke (later to be managed by Pep Guardiola), FC Twente and Lokomotiv Moscow. We largely struggled throughout the group, but key wins against Twente and Lokomotiv sent us through to the next round, where we were unlucky to go out 1-0 on aggregate to Celtic. All in all, a pretty decent European campaign, but it was certainly tough going, particularly rotating the squad for the important league battle with Salzburg.
Last, but not least, was the Austrian Cup.
Once again, Salzburg somehow managed to lose to someone not named Sturm Graz on their way through the competition. We had a much tougher route through the draw this year, facing Ried, Rapid, Mattersburg and Wolfsberger, all the way through to Zizou and his deep 4-4-2, defensive FAK side. He’s awful to play against at times. We absolutely destroyed them through the match, only allowing them 1 shot on target, and still managed not to score, which became a real issue for us towards the end of the season. In the end, it went to penalties, and the FM gods smiled on us, with Stankovic scoring the winning penalty. A nice moment for a player that’s happily gone from being a regular starter to a reliable bench player, stopping me from selling him.
So, who’s been Sturm’s best players this season?
1. Sandi Lovric – Absolutely fantastic. Averaged 7.18 for the season in the DM-D role at the base of the 4-1-4-1. Only 18 years old, but very probably our best player. Composed in midfield, never loses the ball, and makes key interceptions at important times. Can’t say enough good things about him. He’s becoming such a rounded player that I am really starting to consider moving him up into the RPM role currently taken by Offenbacher. Has the big clubs sniffing around him, but I’ve got him contracted until 2018, and don’t want to let him go.
2. Deni Alar – Brilliant in the Central Winger role. Averaged 7.20 throughout the season and dominated games. Again, I have to give credit to @Shrewnaldo for discovering Alar’s brilliance in central midfield.
3. Lukas Spendlhofer – The perfect defender. I could have named the entire defence for this really, but Spendlhofer was the standout, averaging 7.32 for the season. He’s constantly improving, and is available on a free this Summer (Inter are morons). I’ve tried to sign him throughout the season, but haven’t managed to stretch the wage budget that far. With the new increase I’ve got after winning the league, I should comfortably be able to manage his wages now. If I can sign him, he will continue to dominate the league for years to come.
The club are now in a far better position than they were when I got there. We’re in the Champions League, are competing with Salzburg every year, have won the league and cup double, and most importantly for the development of the club, are now financially solid. The transfer revenue has gone up to a staggering 85% (at least for Sturm), and we’ve got almost £7.5M in the bank thanks to the league positions over the past 2 years, and the European campaign this year. All this has led the club to give me a budget of £6.06M to work with over the Summer, which I’m thrilled with. I don’t intend to use all of it, but a large amount of it will go into finally achieving the depth I wanted last season, and I will focus on signing Austrians and Germans as usual. The next Summer will probably be quite a big one for the club, and I’ll do a pre-season update, as I plan to have signed a decent number of players by that point.
As always, please feel free to ask if you have any questions, and I’ll update at pre-season. The FM15 Central Winger article will also be on it’s way soon.