So, pre-season is over at Bayer Leverkusen as we move into the third season of this save, and it’s definitely going to be an interesting one. In the last update we finished the second season, winning our second straight Bundesliga (remaining unbeaten), our first DFB Pokal and the Champions League, in our first season back in the competition. To go with the Supercup at the beginning of the season, this gave us a 4 trophy haul. It was quite probably the best season I’ve ever had on Football Manager, but there’s no time for us to rest on our laurels, and it’s time to move on, and keep things going.
There’s also some changes afoot. I discussed some changes that I wanted to make in the last update (particularly relating to Hakan and Kohr). These haven’t worked out yet (despite my best efforts with Kohr but he rejected a move to Liverpool), but there’s still been plenty of activity at Leverkusen over the summer. One of these days, I’m going to get a quiet summer transfer window, and retain everyone I want to. One day… Probably not. Unfortunately I’m probably going to lose out value wise with both, but I’m not going to sell Hakan for a pittance simply because he’s reached a certain age, and then bring in someone much worse because people won’t pay over £20M for him. I know his worth, and he’s been epic for me so far. I’ll move onto my plans with the10 later, but for now, I’ll cover the transfers I’ve made, because they’re somewhat related.
If you remember in the last update, I said that Man City had come in with a £27M bid for Ivan Ribeiro, the player who I rated as the third best player last season, behind Isa and Thiago ❤ (quite a compliment really). I said that I would only consider accepting if I could move it up towards £40M. Well, I eventually negotiated City up to a fee that will amount to £45M in future fees, so it was time to scout the market to find a replacement before accepting City’s offer.
I eventually found Dutchman Dirk Bruinsma at PSV, available for a fraction of what I was making with Ribeiro’s sale. As you can see with the above comparison, he’s skilled in all the right areas for a centre back, and is actually better than Ribeiro in some very important areas. He’s also a better player on the ball, and is able to pick out a pass better than Ribeiro. As a result, he will also be more than able to cover for Bodin should he get injured/suspended. Comparing the two, and considering the £45M offer, I more than considered this to be an upgrade. As a result, Bruinsma was signed for a £14M, meaning it’s a decent outlay for one player, but still a massive profit.
If you also remember, Liverpool were fishing around Omer Toprak, my perennial backup at the centre back position. At 31 years old, I was more than happy to move Toprak on, and managed to sell him for an initial £5.75M that will work it’s way up to £7M with instalments. I think that’s fantastic value for an ageing 31 year old, and I expected to have to keep Toprak at the club. The fans aren’t happy with me, but it’s certainly the right decision. This left me needing another centre back, so I jumped back into the transfer market.
I signed Brazilian defender Oliveira from Palmeiras for a ridiculously low fee of £9.5M. As you can see, the game values him at £21M, so to get him for £9.5M is an absolutely fantastic deal. I’ve now got three properly world class centre backs to rotate. To go from Bodin/Ribeiro/Toprak to Bodin/Bruinsma/Oliveira is nothing other than a brilliant upgrade. I’m still figuring out my preferred two though. Oliveira does look like a slightly better player than Bruinsma, but about 15 minutes before I started writing this update he rather oddly passed the ball straight to a Monchengladbach player to allow them to score, making it 4-1 rather than 4-0. Bruinsma on the other hand, has been solid thus far, and he may well be the one I prefer of the two. Oliveira is still a fantastic centre back though, and I’m sure his mistake is part of him settling in. Apart from that, he’s been solid.
Believe it or not, thanks to my extremely generous board, this still left me with around £45M to spend. To be honest, I was scouting around looking for that elusive
#10, trying to find a cheaper and better option than Alexander Walter or Francis Mbiyavanga.
Then I found this German youngster at Kaiserslauten by accident. At 17, his attributes are absolutely ridiculous. A skilled (if uncreative) passer, with strength in the tackle, height, and ability in the air. He’s also ridiculously hardworking, a born leader, with composure that way exceeds his age. I just had to sign him, and shelled out £41M, and he’s gone straight into the first team. He’s like a German Makelele with better passing. I don’t even see £41M as being too much for him, and this is mirrored by the Leverkusen supporters who feel we’ve got him for less than his true value. He’s going to be the best defensive midfielder in the world by the time he’s 22.
But hang on, we don’t use defensive midfielders at Leverkusen?
Well, we do now. I said in the last update that I was searching for a new project, and having felt like I’d ‘done everything’ I could with the 4-3-1-2, it’s now time to make a switch, and I’ve gone for a diamond. My thinking for this is that not only will it accommodate Towa’s ability better than the 4-3-1-2 and allow him to play defensive midfield, but it will exploit the growing talent of Daniel Vener, who really is becoming an all rounder, with the attacking side of his game developing. As a result, I want him to get forward more often, and he’ll have to as one of the CM’s, playing box to box. He should be marvellous at this once he gets used to actually being able to go forward.
It’s also allowed me to be a bit braver down the flanks. With no natural width, we need our full backs to provide it, and Medaglia and Gaya have always been up and down in the 4-3-1-2, they’ll just need to do it faster and more aggressively in the diamond as CWB-A’s. Early signs are very promising here.
It’s also part of the plan to set up for the (eventual) arrival of the
#10 I’ve been looking for. I’m a huge fan of classic Number 10’s, and whilst I’ve got the AMC set as an AM-A, he will play as a classic playmaker, he just won’t be set as one in game, making the system a little more natural and less forced. For this season, Hakan and Hajji can share the duty of playing at AMC. I’ve never really given Hajji a proper run in the side due to injuries and the form of Hakan, and I feel it’s worth giving him plenty of playing time this season before deciding whether or not I definitely need a new AMC.
The diamond is also designed to try and get more out of Youri Tielemans. Signed for £26M back at the very beginning of my time at Bayer Leverkusen, he’s been played in the Central Winger role in the 4-3-1-2 the past two seasons. He started off fantastically in the CW role and looked like he would be a world beater there, but as time went on, he was just ‘there’, and didn’t really affect games. I found this very strange, especially considering @MrEds had used him at CW in the earlier years of his Dortmund save, and had raved about how good Tielemans had been there. I don’t know whether it’s because of the two years he spent at Juventus not playing week in week out, but Tielemans has not been the world class player I expected him to be. The switch to the diamond allows me to play him in the AP-S role, and see if that will let him control and dominate games like I want him to. It’s not as if he’s been bad, but for the value I think I can get for him (Manchester United are interested) if an offer comes in, I expect a bit more. Especially when you consider I’m paying him £115k a week in wages.
To put things into perspective, I’ve just played a Bundesliga game against Monchengladbach, and played Pere Busquets (with only 8 for first touch) in the AP-S role due to Tielemans being too low on fitness to start. Busquets absolutely dominated the game from AP-S, and controlled everything like I’ve been wanting Tielemans to. As soon as I get an offer in for him that I can negotiate up to around £40M, he’s gone. I’ve already scouted his replacement, and while he won’t come cheap, I really want to sign Antonio Sarnataro from Torino. I’ve declared interest several times and Torino are still ‘unwilling to sell’, so it’s going to take a large bid to sign him, but at 19, he just looks fantastic. It all depends on Tielemans though. I’m not going to give him away for nothing, but I am very much looking to sell him now. I’d love him to change my mind.
I didn’t really hold a ‘pre-season’ this year due to the majority of the players coming back from the summer break shattered as a result of international commitments etc. As a result we dived straight into things after a 1-1 draw against 1860 in a friendly with a second string lineup. We then had yet another close match with Bayern in the Supercup, going all the way to penalties after a 2-2 draw, where we managed to win 4-3 on pens, to pick up our first bit of silverware this year. We then demolished Lippstadt 12-0 in the Pokal, as the diamond started to take shape (I am still tweaking it though).
The Bundesliga began following that match, with a 3-0 win over Towa’s old club Kaiserslauten, with Towa opening the scoring and coming off with a 7.8 match rating. I was pleased to say the least. We then beat Schalke (German European dominance?) comfortably 2-0 in the European Super Cup with goals from Tielemans and Isa, and demolished Furth 5-1 in the Bundesliga. Then Dortmund brought us back to Earth at their place, beating us 2-1 with an 85th minute goal in a match that we never really looked like winning, with everyone except for Oliveira having a stinker. It was just one of those matches where you know after 30 minutes you aren’t winning. Their 3-5-2 (they’re managed by Walter Mazzarri now) bypassed our midfield press relatively easily in the first half (showing the diamond still needs work) and by the time we got our act together in the second half it was too late and we could only get one goal back. So, no undefeated season this year, but with the change in tactics and yet more changes coming to the first team lineup, I expected the standard to drop a little bit this year.
However, following some tweaks to the diamond, we then got right back on track with dominant wins against Union Berlin and Gladbach. This has left us 3rd in the Bundesliga as I type, 3 points behind Bayern. I’m not worried at this point though, we still have to play Bayern and can make up those 3 points easily. The team is still getting used to the new tactic (as am I), and I’ve made a few changes this season to keep things fresh. We’ve also had some inconveniences, with Ulrich Isa going down injured after a good start to the season. He’ll be back in 3 to 4 weeks, but for now we’re more than capable of scoring plenty with the tried and trusted partnership of Thiago and Brandt upfront. It’s a lovely luxury to have, that if any of our 3 world class strikers go down, we’ve still got partnerships of Thiago & Isa/Isa & Brandt/Thiago & Brandt to rely on for goals.
The Number 10 conundrum continues to annoy me. I can’t find a 10 as good as Francis Mbiyavanga at Arsenal, and I just know I’m going to have to pay megabucks (at least £40M) for him. This is irritating, because right now I feel as if the AP-S role in midfield is more of a problem area than AMC, where I can get by on a combo of Hakan and Hajji for a couple of seasons. As a result, I’m probably going to have to prioritise and focus on the signing of Sarnataro, and wait to sign the Number 10 I really feel will take us to another level.
Either way, it’s going to be a time of change at Leverkusen with the change in tactics, and a change of some of the personnel, including some key figures from the first Bundesliga triumph. I’ll update again in January, hopefully with the diamond all settled in, and Tielemans rediscovering his form like Isa did last season. It’s going to be a weird season, and it feels like one of those transition seasons that Manchester United would go through every now and then. We might not win the league this year, but certain changes are definitely required. It’s strange to say after a season as dominant as last season, but I can see where we need to change to remain at the top.
Until then, thank you for reading, and as always, feel free to ask any questions on Twitter (@JLAspey) or in the comments section.