Following the success of the article I did analysing the strengths of the 4-4-2 I’d developed to use in my Newcastle save (as well as the sheer enjoyment I’m getting out of the save right now), I’ve decided to blog about the save itself, and start doing regular (or as regular as I can manage) updates on the save. I apologise to those that were enjoying the TSV München save, but I was really beginning to be annoyed by it. As I said in the 4-4-2 article, things really weren’t working, and it lead me to start the save with Newcastle as a tactical experiment, and it’s turned into a full time save that I’m definitely enjoying so far.
I’ve almost played the first half of the first season, but for this first post I’ll solely cover the pre-season and early transfers I’ve made to rebuild the side. I’m from the North East, and although I don’t identify myself as a Newcastle fan (those of you who know me well know my undying love for Swansea), I’ve always felt an affinity for the club, and understand the pain of many close friends, constantly irritated at the shocking organisation and management of the club, and the sheer lack of stability on Tyneside. Some of my favourite childhood memories involve Newcastle United, with my Uncle regularly allowing me to watch his 1993/94 Season Review VHS, and I always remember watching Andy Cole and Peter Beardsley tearing opposition defences apart. That side was the beginning of some of the best years on Tyneside, when Newcastle very nearly won the Premier League, infamously dropping a 12 point lead at Christmas and finishing 2nd to Manchester United. Of course, much has changed since then, through more glory years under the late, great Sir Bobby Robson, to the turmoil of the past several years.
Don’t worry purists – the Newcastle Brown Ale logo will return to next season’s kit.
So, how can I do with the side on FM16?
Well, the AI didn’t give me much time to weigh up my options, and in doing so helped me build the side I wanted, and upgrade the side in vital areas. Before that, I sorted out the staff, signing them to longer contracts where required, and bringing in some of my own signings, particularly in the scouting department. Anyway, back to the AI helping me, and it was Chelsea who happily came in and splashed out a combined £30.5M on right back Daryl Janmaat and Tim Krul, offers which I was only too happy to accept, and bit Chelsea’s hand off. The only other meaningful sale was Check Tiote (someone who I feel has become more of a foul merchant in real life than a professional footballer) to Valencia for £4.2M. Tiote also has the dreaded ‘shoots from distance’ PPM, meaning that when he played (which was extremely rarely) he would often go against what I want the CM-D role to do, which is keep things basic, tackle and pass short, by shooting from way out, and ruining any potential moves. His sale also coincided with the unexpected signing of a massive upgrade at the CM-D position, a signing which made the squad considerably stronger. However, I’ll cover that at a later date.
My absolute first priority was to replace the outgoing Krul with a cheaper alternative between the sticks, and to replace Janmaat and upgrade the full back positions in general, with only Haidara a realistic option, and not one that I really consider a first team player.
The first signing I made was young Swedish left back Ludwig Augustinsson from FC Kobenhavn for a quite frankly ridiculous £2.4M. Looking at his stats you can see why this is such a steal, with an all round skill set, and only one weakness in heading. As you have seen, my system requires the left back to get forward plenty to overlap the WP-A, and Augustinnson does this fantastically. He’s more than an upgrade on Haidara, and is probably a player I can eventually sell for megabucks down the line. Right now however, he will do very nicely and is consistently putting in quality performances.
I then replaced the outgoing Janmaat, and signed fellow Dutchman Ricardo van Rhijn from Ajax for £3.1M, another coup for someone of his quality. van Rhijn is perhaps not on the same level stat wise as Augustinsson, but still has an all round skill set, which is what I like in full backs – all round quality. Much like Augustinsson, van Rhijn has performed fantastically so far, more than replacing Janmaat and making the position his own.
The next job was to find a new regular goalkeeper, and after a considerable amount of scouting (I admittedly find goalkeepers the hardest positions to sign on FM) signed young Alisson from Internacional for £7M, far more than I paid for the previous two players. However, if you find a good young goalkeeper who is willing to stick around, you can be sorted for the next decade and avoid problems down the line. Alisson absolutely fits this description and has been outstanding so far, making great saves, and keeping us in games where we’ve not been quite as good. He’s not the sweeper keeper type I usually like, but he’s just a fantastic shot stopper, more in the Cech mould.
At this point I’d addressed the main areas of concern in the squad, filling out the full back positions with quality, and replacing a quality goalkeeper with another quality, but young goalkeeper. From here I decided to spend in order to build the side moving forward.
I signed the talented young striker/attacking midfielder Zach Clough from Bolton for £7.25M, my biggest outlay of the transfer window. The game values him at only £5.5M at this point, but I have little doubt that the fee I’ve paid for him will go on to be a mere pittance in comparison to his eventual worth. I saw him as the creative fulcrum of our side after a couple of years spent developing near the first team, but a tactical development within the 4-4-2 (one which I’ll cover in the next update) has meant that he’s now playing in the first team, in arguably one of the most important positions. It’s very early, but his performances so far have been absolutely fantastic, including an unbelievable performance against Stoke, where he tore them to shreds with his movement and creativity as we won 4-0. Watching his early games for the club in his new role, I see him as a little bit of a modern Peter Beardsley.
Following those signings, I really was set, or so I believed. I’d massively upgraded the squad in vital areas, made a considerable amount of money, and managed to get rid of some deadwood (although there is still a fair bit remaining that will be removed over the next season or so).
However, I was then alerted to the transfer listing of Borussia Dortmund’s Sven Bender, and simply couldn’t help myself. Dortmund’s asking price was a ridiculously cut price £4.1M, and this was the point where I decided to sell Tiote, in order to gain the funds (Ashley wouldn’t let me have most of the transfer revenue, like he’d use it well) to sign Bender. So, off went Tiote to Valencia and in came Bender from Dortmund. He’s just the perfect CM-D for my system and is certainly an improvement on Anita. He works hard, will tackle and keep it simple, passing it to the more dynamic or creative players such as Sissoko, Clough or Wijnaldum and help us keep our balance by hanging back when the other players push forward. He started off slowly, averaging below 7, but his first goal for the club seemed to settle his nerves, and since then he’s been the Sven Bender we all remember.
In terms of tactics, I’ll cover the new development in the mid-season update, but for now I’ll say that I’m no longer using a standard 4-4-2, but all the theory and all the ‘movement’ from the original 4-4-2 remains, it’s just slightly more complex now, and I feel I’ve solved the issue I had in central midfield, and now I’m getting the best out of FM favourite Moussa Sissoko in that position. Initial results and performances have been very good post-tweak, and should this continue until the end of the season, I may well consider releasing the tactic for download. However, I won’t curse it as it’s still in its early stages.
So, until the mid-season update, thank you very much for reading, and I hope you enjoy reading this new Newcastle United save. As always if you have any questions you wish to ask me, please feel free to contact me either in the comments section of this blog, or on my Twitter page (@JLAspey), and I will always do my best to get back to you. Once again, thank you for reading.