So, we’ve reached the end of the second season of the Bayer Leverkusen save, so it’s time to update, and there’s lots to talk about this time. Lots and lots. In the January update, we were sat 2 points clear of Bayern at the top of the Bundesliga with an unbeaten record. We were also still in the DFB Pokal, and had qualified for the First Knockout Round of the Champions League against Porto after easily making our way through as leaders of a group that featured Juventus (who have been kind enough to give away Youri Tielemans and Jose Luis Gaya over the past two years).
However, that was only the beginning, in what has become probably my best ever season on any edition of Football Manager. This Leverkusen save is also quickly becoming my favourite FM save ever. But anyway, first things first, how did we finish in the Bundesliga?
Bundesliga champions again for the second year in succession. 5 points clear of second placed Bayern, who never really threatened us at all after January. 2 points quickly became 4 points, and from there we simply maintained our lead, constantly winning games.
Speaking of winning games, you’ll also notice the big ‘0’ in the losses column. Yes, we went undefeated all season, something that I haven’t managed many times on Football Manager. I managed it earlier on FM15 with Sturm Graz, but this is at a very different level. Particularly considering the strength of the Bundesliga and Bayern especially, I’m very proud of this achievement.
As always with every team I build, it was build on a foundation of watertight defence. We only conceded 20 goals in 34 games, a concession rate of 0.58 goals per game. Again, when you consider the attacking prowess of the teams in the Bundesliga, this is a fantastic feat. I’m looking to make the defence even better next season, and hopefully drop below 20 in goals conceded. Our total of 96 points is also a Bundesliga record.
Our fixtures show our sheer dominance. We were only held to one draw after the Winter break, by Furth at a point where I simply wanted to remain undefeated and win the Bundesliga. There’s some fantastic results in there, particularly the 6-1 victory away at Dortmund, with Thiago taking over the game with a hattrick. We also beat Bayern at the Allianz, to effectively seal the title, but it was the 6-0 victory against Paderborn that won us the league. Going into the game, we knew a win would give us the title, and to win in that style, with Dutchman Ulrich Isa (who has rediscovered his scoring form) scoring a hattrick to help us on our way. Isa really settled in in the second half of the season, and I’m ecstatic I decided not to sell him in January. I really can’t say enough about our Bundesliga form, but we were brilliant all the way through. A thoroughly deserved Bundesliga title, and our second in a row.
If you remember, we were fighting on more than one front, so how did we do in the DFB Pokal, after crashing out last season?
Yes, we won that too. This was a trophy I really wanted to win this season, but as the unbeaten season progressed, I had to rest players in the cup, making things a little bit more nervy than they perhaps would have been. To show how good the squad has become, the semi final against Schalke was played with a second string lineup, and we still comfortably came through 3-0 winners. I played the full strength lineup in the final against Frankfurt (who had a poor season in the Bundesliga), and we just dominated the game, thrashing them 7-0 with Isa bagging 4 goals, and lifting the Pokal trophy!
So that’s three trophies wrapped up for the year (Supercup, Bundesliga, and DFB Pokal). We had also made our way through the Champions League, drawing Porto in the Knockout Rounds. How far could we go, in our first season back in the Champions League?
We only went and won the thing. I thought we were done for after we lost 2-1 to a very good Porto side in the first leg of the 1st Knockout Round, clinging onto the fact that we had an away goal and the home leg to come next. I needn’t have worried, because we demolished them 4-0 at home, with Thiago setting us on our way with a 13th minute opener. Further goals from Kohr, Brandt and Ribeiro finished the rout, and we went through to face AC Milan, who have recovered financially, and seem to be after Tielemans. We went through 5-3 on aggregate, but both games were very close, and I was happy to even make it through. In the semis we could have drawn Atletico, Liverpool or Arsenal, and drew Atletico, the toughest opponent. A nervy 0-0 draw (and rare Isa missed penalty) at home put us in a position of just needing any result in the second leg, and a 2-1 win with two goals from Isa (more than making up for his miss in the first leg) put us through to the Champions League final!
We faced Carlo Ancelotti’s Liverpool in the final, with Raheem Sterling *cough*, Emre Can and Jordan Henderson. We just flattened them. It took us until the second half to really get going, but then it was no contest, and the stats from the match clearly show our dominance (24 shots to their 11). Very fittingly, Thiago was Man of The Match scoring the last two goals, in a season where he swept up all the player awards. I’ll move onto Thiago later, but for now it’s amazing to say that for the first time in their history, Bayer Leverkusen are European Champions. It really sums up how fantastic our season has been. Supercup, Bundesliga, DFB Pokal and Champions League. Four trophies, and the best season in Leverkusen’s history.
So, who has contributed most to this success? I’m going to do the usual end of season top 3, but this season is even more difficult than last year. I could pick the majority of the squad, because some do jobs that really do go unseen.
I’m not including him in the top 3 (no knock on his performances this season, the top 3 have just been that good), but the most honourable of honourable mentions goes to our CM-D Daniel Vener. If you remember, I signed this guy on a free transfer from Lanus through the Winter break of last season, and he’s now worth £26.5M. In terms of value, it’s probably the best signing I’ve ever made. He constantly reminds me of Sergio Busquets. He reads the game like a veteran, and despite his lack of strength (which is increasing) he bosses games. He’s a master at doing all the little things that you don’t notice. He’s become such a well rounded player that I’m considering moving him to BWM-S to upgrade on Kohr, and signing a new CM-D. I’ve used him at BWM-S a few times, and every single time he’s dominated the game, scored goals and won man of the matches. He’s a better all round player than Kohr too.
3. Ivan Ribeiro
In his first season at the club, Ribeiro just dominated in defence. Signed as the destroyer tank to play next to the smaller, more cultured Bodin, he’s more than proved to be an equally good, if different defender. He averaged 7.57 for the season, and chipped in with 5 goals too, a nice return from a defender. Unfortunately he was unavailable for the Champions League final due to international responsibilities, but helped us get there, and hopefully we can give him his CL moment another year. However, he is attracting interest from the big boys.
2. Ulrich Isa
Signed from PSG for a measly £2.9M at the start of the season, Ulrich Isa was a bit of a gamble. I had planned to play Thiago at Advanced Forward with Julian Brandt (someone who just missed out on this list) at Trequartista, but stumbled upon Isa, and had my head turned by those wonderful attributes. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why PSG would let him go for so little, and was happy to take the gamble for £2.5M. Thiago moved to Treq, and Isa was plugged in at AF. However, he started really slowly, and Thiago played so well that he had to play at AF. Post Winter break though, he rediscovered his goalscoring touch, and proved to me why I felt he was such a good player, and an absolute bargain at £2.9M. Considering his lack of goals at the start of the season, he ended the season with 30 goals in 27 appearances for an average rating of 7.75. He also chipped in with a bunch of important goals, like his double salvo in the CL semi final 2nd leg to put us through to the final. At 26, I’m aware I can’t keep him for too long, but his value just keeps increasing, and I’m sure I can sell him for around £25M if I keep him around a couple more years.
1. Thiago ❤
The reason I’m happy to keep Isa is the development of Thiago into a properly world class player. Now able to play either position across the front line, his brilliance allows me a ton of rotational freedom. I can play him at AF and use him as the primary goalscorer, flanked by Brandt at Treq, or bring in Isa at AF and play Thiago at Treq. He’s fantastic at either. It’s noticeable that his goalscoring dropped once Isa’s form returned and I started playing him at Treq, but his assisting increased, and he ended the season with 16 assists, only two less than Brandt, who played more games at Treq. With a couple more seasons, he’ll become an even more cultured player, and will develop the higher ‘vision’ that I’m looking for from my Trequartista. He’s starting to attract the attention of Brendan Rodgers’ Real Madrid (yes you read that), but it will take a bid of up to £70M to tempt him away. He’s my star player, and possibly the best signing I’ve ever made on FM. He won almost every player award worth winning this season, and now he can look for the really top awards, like the Ballon D’or. He finished the season with 44 goals in 40 appearances, for an average rating of 7.77. It was so fitting that he scored the two final goals in the CL final, in a season that was ‘his’ in every sense of the word.
A large amount of the success is also down to the asymmetric 4-3-1-2 I created at the very beginning of the save. It’s only been tweaked very slightly since the beginning, with the main alteration being the switch of the AMCR from an AP-A to a SS-A. I’d noticed that whilst it worked, the AP-A was too close to the BWM-S when in possession, and it effectively neutered the BWM-S in an attacking sense. Moving to a SS-A moved the AMCR (usually Hakan) further up the pitch, creating a pseudo-4-3-3 at times, or 4-3-2-1 when the Treq drops deeper. At times, it is extremely Messi/Neymar/Suarez like.
The lineup on the left is the lineup from the Champions League final, and apart from Ribeiro instead of Toprak, this is my first choice lineup.
Now that I’m 100% happy with the tactic, I’m going to put it up for download for others to use. Here is a link to download the 4-3-1-2, at mega file upload. If you need another hosting site, please feel free to ask and I’ll upload it somewhere else.
This tactic is 100% plug and play. I didn’t make one change throughout the season, and I wouldn’t encourage any tactical tinkering mid match. Feel free to if you believe you will improve it, but I’ve never needed to change a thing.
So, where do we go from here? Is that it for the save, now we’ve conquered Germany and Europe within two seasons?
Not even close. This save will carry on, and we’re going to dominate Europe, and create a real super team. I haven’t played at the top level on Football Manager for a few versions, always playing in lower leagues, and this is quite a breath of fresh air for me, having a team full of world class players. However, there’s still areas we can improve on.
Firstly, we’ve got some areas where we’re ‘ageing’. I don’t mean ageing in the normal sense of the word in football, but we’ve got certain players that are approaching the time where I’m going to have to sell them, or risk losing value on them down the road. Particular examples of this are Hakan and Kohr, who are both 27 years old now. Hakan is valued at £29.5M, and I’m looking to move him on this Summer. He still played well this season, averaging 7.48 and achieving a Bundesliga record 15 assists, but now is the time to move him on. He’s a club icon, and the fans will hate me for it, but it has to be done.
This has meant I’ve been scouting for10’s all season long, and I’ve narrowed the search down to two options, both of whom will not come cheap. At all.
Ideally, I’ll sign Alexander Walter. The problem is that he’s a Bayern Munich player, and they really do not want to lose him. I’ve tried to sign him earlier in the season, and to put things in perspective, Bayern opened negotiations at £309M. However, I’ve managed to unsettle Walter, and now he wants to leave Bayern. Hopefully I can manage to sign him, but I still think it’s unlikely. At just 20, he’s still got plenty of time to develop, and he’s already good enough to start for us. He’s like a young Ozil, and I really want to sign him.
The other option is Francis Mbiyavanga (Francis from now on if I sign him) from Arsenal. He’s a cheaper option than Walter, but still will probably cost me around £35M to sign. Again, he’s not cheap, but he’s a fantastic player and is brilliant at all the things I need the SS role for. We’re in a good position financially with the success we’ve had over the past two years, with £30M in the bank, and the game now classing us as ‘rich’.
However, the board have now put that newfound financial stability in jeopardy with a rather odd decision to build a new stadium following our success this season. ‘Leverkusen Stadium’ (possibly the most boring stadium name since Juventus Stadium) will hold 48,639 and will require a massive £98.71M loan to fund. Hopefully we don’t feel the effects of this loan too much, but it’s now very likely that we need to keep winning trophies in order to keep the financial situation in check. I’ve only just managed to get us into the black again!
I also have a feeling that the big clubs are really going to go for our top players this Summer. I’ve already had Man City come in with a £27M bid for Ribeiro, and Liverpool want Toprak, with a deal that will eventually rise to around £5M. I may well accept the the Toprak bid, since £5M for a 31 year old is pretty good value. Ribeiro however, isn’t leaving for anywhere near £27M, but I would be tempted if I could move it up towards £40M. However, I’ll only accept such a bid if I have already scouted a ready made replacement. On top of that, AC Milan want Vener, and United and Liverpool want Brandt. I don’t want either of those to leave though, and it would take large bids to make me sell.
Tactically, I’m also looking for something new. I’ve been tempted to move to something with wide players like a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-1-1 of some sort, but I simply haven’t found players good enough to warrant the switch, and I’m not going to risk the success that we’re having. Next season I will be sticking with the 4-3-1-2, but I’m definitely looking for a new project now, feeling like there’s nothing more I can do with the 4-3-1-2. I’m tempted to move to something with a classic Number 10 rather than the SS ‘runner’ type 10 in the 4-3-1-2, but that entirely depends on the signings I make this Summer. Walter would be dominant as a classic Advanced Playmaker Number 10 though.
So, after that very long post, that’s all for the second season, probably the best season I’ve ever had on any version of Football Manager. I’ll update again after the pre-season, and you can see if any tactical inspiration has come to me, or whether I’ve stuck with the 4-3-1-2 for now. I hope everyone that downloads the tactic finds it to work as well as it has for me, and I will welcome any feedback that you can give me. So, as always thank you very much for reading, and if you have any comments/questions, please feel free to ask via Twitter (@JLAspey), or in the comments section.