Making The Step Up

901I’ve reached the 1st of January again in the Bayer Leverkusen save, so it’s time to update you all again on where we currently stand in the 2020/21 season (but only the second season with Leverkusen, after I left the Sturm Graz job). This season we have had to withstand far more demanding football than last season. The Bundesliga has been a far different affair to last season due to the improvements I made to the squad over the Summer, but in Europe we’ve faced new challenges and sterner competition that we’ve had to deal with.

First and foremost though, how are we doing in the league, our bread and butter?

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 21.15.03Well. Very well. Better than last season in fact.

Like this point last season, it’s a two horse race between us and Bayern, who spent big in the close season, signing Divock Origi, Mario Lemina and others in a bid to regain the Bundesliga title. Dortmund are far more adrift than they were at this point last season, and for this reason, I can pretty confidently say that it’s down to just us and Bayern. We drew 0-0 with Bayern in the first fixture this season, and again, I’ll take draws against them in the league to maintain our lead. I know it’s only a two point league, but I’m very confident now going into league games with the strength of our squad, and only really Dortmund and Bayern worry me. Dortmund shouldn’t really, as we demolished them 4-0 at home earlier in the season.

We’re still unbeaten up until this point (so are Bayern mind), and once again you can see what our strength is. We do score proficiently, but we’re watertight at the back, with a joint best (with Bayern) defence in the league. It’s nice to see that the defence has remained so strong after I made the decision to ship out Jeison Murillo to Barca, and bring in Ivan Ribeiro to replace him as the ‘destroyer’ centre back ahead of the cultured Cyril Bodin. Ribeiro’s been fantastic so far, averaging 7.45 for the season in all competitions, and more than complimenting Bodin, who himself has continued to improve into a properly world class centre back. With Eros Medaglio and Jose Luis Gaya defending the flanks, we’re ridiculously good defensively. If we can keep up the performances of the first half of the season, I’m more than confident that we can achieve consecutive titles.

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There really isn’t much to discuss with the DFB Pokal, other than we’re still in it. We’ve come through some fairly easy matches in the early rounds (Union are a Bundesliga team mind) and have drawn Koln in the Quarters. The board expect me to reach the final of the Pokal, and this is my aim this time. This year with the improved squad and step up in quality, this is a trophy I’d quite like to win.

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Where you can really see our progress is in the Champions League, where we’ve strolled through our group unbeaten. We were given a fairly easy group, drawing Juventus, Celtic and Olympiacos. We dealt with every match in the group very easily, and even the 4-3 against Juventus is misleading, as we were in control for the entirety of the match. It shows our progress, because the Juventus side is very good. Olympiacos really provided our only trouble of the group, holding us to a 0-0 draw in Greece. We finished top of the group with relative ease, something that’s quite frankly fantastic for our first season back in the Champions League whilst I’ve been in charge. We’ve been drawn against Porto in the 1st knockout round, a very good team, but I’m hoping we can have a good run through the CL now and reap the financial rewards.

Tactically, I’m still using the wonderful asymmetric 4-3-1-2 that I’ve been using since the start of this save, but it’s now been changed ever so slightly. I’d started to notice that the AP-A (usually Hakan) drifted far too close to the BWM-S in possession, so decided to change his role to a SS-A to push him further up the pitch and improve our spacing with the ball. Hakan has still played well in the new role, but I’m starting to look for someone a bit more suitable. Even before the switch in role, it was noticeable that Hakan wasn’t playing quite as well as last season (a major reason why he was named in the World XI).

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 09.21.53

Hakan’s still clearly a fantastic player, but he’s not quite the kind of player I want in the SS role. I very much want an all rounder in that role, a creator and a goalscorer. I’d like someone faster, with better dribbling and finishing on top of his fantastic creative ability. On top of that, Hakan’s also 26, and approaching the time where he’s going to be at his peak of sell on value. If I can get around £20M for him, I’ll sell him. Even if I don’t, I will be looking for his replacement over the January window and at the end of the season. It just depends whether the right player pops up.

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Alessio Nazio is one I’m considering. At only 5’5″ he’s a little short, but he’s got good attributes in all the right areas, and at only 20, he’s got plenty of room to improve. He can dribble, pick out a pass, and has good pace. I’m not sure he’s exactly what I need though, so this transfer will probably have to wait until the end of the season. Plus, my scout report says that Roma are unlikely to want to sell Nazio, so it’s probably going to take quite a bid to prize him from Roma’s grasp. He does want to play for Leverkusen though.

Anyway, it’s time to cover the actual transfers I’ve made. I discussed our fantastic defence above, and one of the reasons for that was goalkeeper Timo Horn. His performances through the season attracted the interest of PSG, and when they made a formal bid, I managed to negotiate them up to £33M, a fee I was more than happy to accept. With that, I needed a new first choice goalkeeper, and so started to scout around.

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 09.38.57

Eventually, I found Alberto Zapata at River Plate. My scouts absolutely love him, and so do I. Signed for £8.5M, he’s a fantastic piece of business. I’ve got younger for cheaper, and made a hefty profit. At only 22, I hope he’ll be our first choice keeper for the next decade, and I’ll never have to bother about goalkeepers again. I’m not fantastic at scouting for goalkeepers, and I’ll go on record as saying it’s the toughest position to sign on Football Manager.

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 09.42.21

What’s more, clubs (particularly Barca) are starting to sniff around Eros Medalgia, my world class right back, so I decided to reinvest the money gained from Horn into an early replacement for Medaglia. I couldn’t find a right back that fit exactly what I wanted, so instead searched for attributes and found Pere Busquets at Real Madrid. It took a fee that will eventually rise to £30M to sign him (Madrid considered him a wonderkid), and my scouts initially didn’t want me to sign him (they now think he’s world class). Once he’s retrained, I think he’ll be absolutely dominant in both attack and defence. Hopefully we can hold onto Medaglia until the end of the season, allowing Busquets time to become comfortable in his new position, whilst rotating the two. I know I’ve spent a lot of money here, but I’m very happy with this signing.

They’re the only two signings I’ve made so far, but with the January window now open, there’s a chance that some bids may come in for some of my players and I may be forced to reinvest. Clubs are interested in Julian Brandt again, Toprak, Castro and Medaglia, so it could be another busy transfer window at Leverkusen.

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It’s also worth talking about Thiago, now undoubtedly the club’s best player. In the last update, I was humming and ha-ing about how to fit Thiago and Isa into the same side, and in the end decided to play Thiago at Trequartista and Isa at Advanced Forward. Well, that lasted for about 3 matches until I threw Brandt into the mix, playing him at Treq and Thiago at Advanced Forward, and Thiago has never looked back from there, dominating every single match he’s played in this season, scoring 28 goals in 21 appearances for an overall rating of 8.00. He’s just unbelievably good. In the battle of Thiago vs. Isa, Thiago won by a country mile, and Isa has struggled to make an impact, and will probably be sold on by at least the end of the season, as I’m not willing to pay his wages just to have him sit on the bench. Thiago however, I’m willing to pay whatever he wants. I’d also like him to stay at the club throughout the save, and probably won’t sell him, unless I get a ridiculous offer. In a classic FM love affair, I’ve become quite attached to Thiago.

So that’s how things stand right now, and I’ll update again at the end of the season, hopefully champions of Germany again, and having had a good run in the Champions League. Until then, thank you as always for reading, and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask on Twitter (@JLAspey) or in the comments section.

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Alexandra Aspey

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