I’ve put the Bradford City save on the shelf for the time being, but it will return at a later date. I was starting to get frustrated with things as I started the Championship season, and rather than get annoyed at the game and end up getting rid of the save, I’m putting it down and moving on. I will go back to it though.
In the meantime, I’m back in Austria. Well, not really. Those of you that have been reading this blog for a while will remember my very promising (but very short lived) Stuttgart save earlier this year. I was hoping to be able to regain that save through holidaying again. However, things changed this time round. Stuttgart performed badly but didn’t sack their manager, and the job market went crazy.
Before I explain the process, I think it’s important to go through why I’ve chosen Germany again. Throughout the Sturm Graz save, I enviously looked across at Germany, wanting to compete with the top managers that were in the Bundesliga. At one point, Simeone was at Bayern, Pep was at Schalke and Prandelli was at Dortmund.
It’s also quite possibly the most competitive league in my save game. This is in stark contrast to some saves I’ve seen, where Bayern just dominate the league for decades. Sure, they’ve won the Bundesliga 3 times in 6 years here, but they’ve got a world class team, and a world class manager in Diego Simeone. It shows the quality of the rest of the league that Dortmund, Schalke and Leverkusen have won the league in this time period. Bayern also won the Champions League in 2016. So anyway, I was holidaying, attempting to get the Stuttgart job I had managed to get in a previous save. Of course, when the holidaying finished, the Stuttgart job wasn’t on offer, and Jurgen Klopp was their manager. That option was gone. In came the interview offers, from Atletico Madrid, Marseille, Saint Etienne and Schalke. All were unsuccessful, despite liking my footballing vision. Needless to say, they all went for worse options. Idiots.
Then, Leverkusen’s manager Christian Gross retired from management. Leverkusen had finished 6th after winning the title the previous season, for reasons I cannot understand. I immediately declared my interest in the job and applied for it. I was in the running for the job, but ‘El Loco’ Marcelo Bielsa was the odds on favourite. However, from the news pieces, it seemed I was the preferred choice for the job. I went through the less than thrilling interview process, and was stunned to be offered the job over the other candidates. In most of my experience on FM, the odds on favourite always seems to get the job. I’m not complaining though, and I’m now the manager of a very, very talented Bundesliga side. The German footballing landscape has changed somewhat though since the Stuttgart save. Simeone is still at Bayern, and Prandelli is still at Dortmund, but Pep has left Schalke for Chelsea (he left for Holland in the Stuttgart save). Instead, Arruabarrena is the manager of Schalke. Favre is still at Gladbach, Cocu is at Hoffenheim, Ronny Deila is at Mainz, and Klopp is back in Germany with Stuttgart. All said, it’s a who’s who of hipster managers, and I can’t wait to compete with all of them.
There’s also a tactical inspiration behind this save, as there is for every save I have. A few weeks ago, @MerryGuido (from the fantastic Strikerless blog) and I were discussing the ideas I had for my Bradford save, and we ended up talking about the potential of a 4-4-2-0. I’m certainly not as much of a strikerless aficionado as Guido, but I’ve used strikerless formations with success several times now, the biggest successes being the Mjallby 4-1-2-3-0, and the 4-5-1-0 with wonderful Eibar. Guido and I decided that we would both create our own 4-4-2-0’s, and see how they worked. Guido posted his article on his 4-4-2-0 the other day, with it being available here, and this save will cover my development of a 4-4-2-0. Guido’s produces some wonderful football, and hopefully mine can produce some attractive winning football too.
….. well, that was the plan anyway. Trying a 4-4-2-0 was the only reason I started this save, but as happens so often with me, I was tactically distracted. Guido said it best.
‘You have the attention span of a magpie in a room full of shiny things’
He’s not wrong.
The main people I blame for this are @RTHerringbone and @MrEds, both of whom run fantastic FM blogs in whenseagullsfollowthetrawler.wordpress.com and fmcoffeehouse.wordpress.com. As I’ve said before, I love narrow formations. They match my ideology (learned from Pep Guardiola) that you should put your best players in the centre of the pitch, and how better to do that than with a diamond? Or more pertinently, a 4-3-1-2? RTHerringbone wrote a fantastic piece covering his use of a 4-3-1-2 with Arsenal, and I’d been reading MrEds great updates for his Dortmund save again, and looking at his 4-3-1-2. I’d also been watching Stat App’s fantastic Stamford Struggle series, and marvelling at the diamond formation that he uses with great success. I’d also read a fantastic piece on compactness, with Juventus’ wonderful 4-3-1-2 used as an example. Well, this was the ‘room full of shiny things’.
So, I’ve committed to a 4-3-1-2 tactically, but naturally, it isn’t a normal 4-3-1-2, which I’ll cover later on.
Before I cover more of the tactics, I’ll go through the club itself and what I’ve done in terms of transfers, where I’ve carried over my carefree attitude from the Bradford save. Financially, the club is in a good position. Despite only finishing 6th the season before, they won the DFB Pokal, beating Pep’s Schalke in the final. The club aren’t expecting too much from me, but I’ve told them we will challenge for the title, which considering they won the league only the season before last, isn’t much of an ask really. I received a £26M transfer budget with which to weave my magic, and mould the club around the 4-3-1-2, and I’ve done just that.
Before I go into where I’ve spent, I’ll cover the outgoings. A fair few are decisions that had been made before I joined the club, and my decisions start with sending talented young defender Ertugrul Turkmen on loan to St. Pauli. The rest are largely loans of young players, but the main permanent outgoings are Leonardo Bittencourt, who was happily sold for £23M to Zenit, a fee that is miles above what I’d value him as. He’s a decent player, but not £23M. Inter also came sniffing around Sokratis, and considering he’s now 31, and I had my eye on a younger replacement, I was happy to take £3.4M for him. Talented young defensive midfielder Yasim Yildirim left for Real Madrid for £1.4M (plus future fees), a transfer that I may end up regretting, but he was a little too one dimensional for what I want the key defensive role in the 4-3-1-2 to be. Backup full back Robin Tim Becker also wanted out, and was happily moved to Freiburg for £925k.
All said, that brought in £28.92M, and I poured it all back into signings… and more.
The 4-3-1-2 is going to utilise a Central Winger, and I felt that Julian Brandt would be more effective elsewhere (though he is the backup CW), so when I saw Youri Tielemans listed as a ‘backup’ at Juventus, I just had to sign him. He’d asked to leave Juventus, but still took a fair bit of persuading to join a club that isn’t in the Champions League. He’s a player that I’ve never managed on FM15, but by all accounts he’s one of the best players on FM15, and MrEds has previously used him as a CW with great effect. He’s played two games for the club, and I can already see how good he is, and he’s going to absolutely tear up the Bundesliga this season. £26M is a very small amount for a player the quality of Tielemans.
What wasn’t a small amount was the £36M (in installments) that we paid for Frenchman Cyril Bodin from Sochaux. I always like a talented ball player in my defence, and Bodin fits that perfectly. My scouts reckon he’s a future world class centre back, and he’s listed as a ‘wonderkid’. He’s a little small, and can’t jump much, but for what I need him to do, he should be very good. He’ll cover and sweep behind the line, and allow either Jeison Murillo or Omer Toprak to do the dirty work. I very much see him in the Fabio Cannavaro mould. He’s only 19, and has lots of room to develop.
They were the only two transfers I made, but my Head of Youth Development signed Marcin Loboda, who at 14, looks like he could be fantastic. The squad has been severely streamlined, and I’ve got rid of the expensive deadwood, but brought in two properly world class players, who I’m sure will make a massive contribution this season.
Anyway, moving onto the main event, tactics.
Here’s the 4-3-1-2, with what is very probably my first choice team. It’s a fairly standard 4-3-1-2, with the strikers offset to the left, and the AMC pushed slightly to the right. This means that at times it’s 4-3-1-2, and at times it can become 4-3-2-1, with the Trequartista dropping deeper along with the AP-A. It’s full of player instructions, designed to create movement, and pull an opposition defence all over the place.
From the back, I’ve gone for my standard SK-D, which I always like mainly for the advanced positioning rather than any real ‘sweeper keeper’ play. Ahead of him is the Back 4, with two CWB-S’s who will patiently move forward with the ball, and a covering centre back. With us pushing up in defence, I want someone to cover slightly deeper, and avoid the threat of long balls.
Then we’ve got the midfield 3, in a CM-D, a BWM-S and a Central Winger. All 3 are pretty aggressive in their pressing, and early signs are that opposition midfielders struggle to cope with it. The outside midfielders also have instructions in order to encourage them to move wider and give us width, and Bender (or Christoph Kramer) in the CM-D role keeps things simple, being asked to dribble less and pass it shorter.
We’ve then got the attacking trio. Hakan (as I’ll call him from now on) is the AP-A, and is also encouraged to move wider and roam from his normal position. Drmic leads the line as the Advanced Forward, and Brandt creates havoc with his movement as a Trequartista. Together, the 3 tend to cause serious issues for defences with the variety of their movement. Drmic is also very direct, which really adds something to the side. I was planning on selling him even after moving to the 4-3-1-2, but following a second look, he’s now key to this tactical setup.
So, how has pre-season gone? Well, the 1860 and Porto matches are prior to me joining the club, and as a result, they appear to have been pretty poor results for a club of Leverkusen’s stature. The match against Rubin Kazan was the first match with the 4-3-1-2, and despite us dominating, we drew 2-2. However, after that we really found our feet as players became fit again, we beat Fortuna Koln 4-1 and Veroia 4-0 before facing Bayern in the Supercup.
Now, there’s a long story regarding the Supercup vs. Bayern, so stick with me. I played the same lineup as above, but with Toprak in for Bodin, who hadn’t joined the club yet. We played some wonderful football, and comfortably handled Bayern (last year’s Bundesliga champions), beating them 3-0, with only Gnabry causing any danger for us. I was ecstatic, tweeting about it, and then FM crashed. Fortunately, I save the game very regularly now because of these crash dumps I seem to suffer more this year than last year, and was able to go back to play the game again. After watching the 3-0, I was in no mood to play the whole game again, so decided to use ‘instant result’, in order to ensure that the team played with my chosen lineup, with my tactic. Again, we beat Bayern, but only 1-0 this time. However, this illustrates how well the 4-3-1-2 is working, in that it can comfortably beat the defending Bundesliga champions twice in a row.
From this, I don’t think it’s out of our reach to win the league this year. I am extremely happy with the squad I’ve developed. It’s streamlined from when I took over, but we have depth in every position, and some truly world class players like Hakan and Tielemans. I’ll update again in January, hopefully challenging for the Bundesliga title, and doing well in the Europa League. Until then, please feel free to ask any questions via the comments section or on Twitter (@JLAspey). Thank you for reading.