Well, I’ve reached the end of the January transfer window with Newcastle United, so it’s time to update you all on how the save is going so far. I hope you all enjoyed the first post for the save, and I’d like to thank everyone for the support that this save has gotten so far. I usually find playing in England relatively boring, but things seem different this time. Whether it’s because of the close geographical links I have to Newcastle, or the fact that I’ve been watching a lot more English football lately (particularly the late 1980’s Liverpool sides of Barnes and Beardsley), I’m actually looking forward to playing this game, and not just for purely tactical reasons. Hopefully that continues as we move forward, and the centre of English football can shift from the North West and London to the North East, an area where football is possibly loved more than any other part of the country. It’s a shame we’re deprived of decent or attractive football for the most part.
In the last update, I covered the early transfers I’d made. For quick reference, I’d sold Cheick Tiote, Daryl Janmaat and Tim Krul (Janmaat and Krul both to Chelsea) and brought in Ludwig Augustinsson, Ricardo van Rhijn, Alisson, Zach Clough, and Sven Bender. I’d massively upgraded the squad, whilst giving the club a nice little injection of cash, and this made me confident we could do far better than Newcastle are (and should be) doing in real life, and push towards the top half of the table.
I promise they’ll be gone soon.
So, how have we actually been doing in the league then?
Yep, I can’t quite believe it either. With 23 games played in the first season, we find ourselves top of the table, 3 points clear of Manchester United in 2nd and 5 points clear of Arsenal in 3rd.
It hasn’t been quite as simple as that table might suggest mind. We’re only 3 points clear because we’ve just beaten United 3-1 at St. James’ in the last match before the update. For the majority of the season, it’s been neck and neck at the top between ourselves, United, City and Liverpool, with only a few point separating us. Only recently with the Christmas/New Year fixtures has a gap started to develop between us, and Arsenal are latecomers to the party, having spent the majority of the season in 5th/6th. Chelsea were also in the title race until just recently, and have sacked Jose Mourinho (FM imitating life?) and dropped back to 6th.
As always with my teams, this success has been built first and foremost on a solid defence. We have the second best defensive record in the league, conceding only 15 goals in 23 games, with only Man City having a better record with 13 conceded. However, we’ve also been extremely prolific in attack, and are the top scorers in the league with 46 goals scored, an average of 2 goals per game. The next closest scorers are Liverpool in 5th with 39 goals. A large amount of that goalscoring is due to the outstanding performances of Ayoze Perez, who is the top scorer in the league with 25 goals.
We haven’t spend the whole of the season at the top though. It’s been a steady rise from the first day of the season, moving in an around the Champions League places for a few weeks, before ending up top, and apart from a couple of weeks where we dropped points, remaining there.
I have little doubt that we will eventually lose steam and drop away from the very top of the table, but right now I’m looking at our position with 15 games to go, and thinking that Champions League qualification is very much a possibility. I now know how Leicester feel, and although I’d love to win the league in our first season, I know it’s highly improbable. Our next game is against Arsenal, and that will really be a big game. If we can get a good result at the Emirates, and hope that United slip up, we’ll be in a really fantastic position. I can’t count the side out though, because the performance they’ve just produced to defeat United was absolutely outstanding. We dominated them for the entire game, and Ayoze scored an outstanding hat-trick as we sent them packing.
A simply amazing performance.
Our performances in the cups however, have been less than stellar. We were unfortunate to draw City in the 3rd round of the FA Cup, and were knocked out by Chelsea in the 3rd round of the Capital One Cup. Disappointing for sure, and I’d have liked to go further in the FA Cup particularly, but it has allowed me to focus entirely on the league, with the other top clubs having other distractions. Much like Liverpool’s run in the 13/14 season, I hope our ability to solely focus on the league helps keep us at the top of the table.
In terms of the transfer window, I had a far quieter window than I expected. I expected the top clubs to come in for my players, particularly Ayoze Perez and Moussa Sissoko. I wouldn’t have let Ayoze leave for anything less than a ridiculous fee, but I would have considered Sissoko, who has been good, but not amazing. Despite that, no bids came in, and I have the fortune of being able to continue with the players that brought us to this point. In terms of outgoings, I offloaded Gabriel Obertan to Birmingham City for £475k, and club captain Fabricio Coloccini to Norwich for £700k. Obertan had no future at the club, and Coloccini was no longer at the standard required, and hadn’t played all season. I also let Sylvain Marveaux leave on a free transfer, paying a considerable fee to get him out of the club. He’d complained at not getting any game time (game time that was unlikely considering Georginio Wijnaldum has been the best player in the league this year with an average of 8.23) and had started to try and cause trouble within the dressing room. I therefore needed to replace him and sign a wide player with some creativity to provide cover for Wijnaldum.
I signed 24 year old Kasper Kusk from FC Kobenhavn (the same side I bought Augustinsson from) for £1.8M. Considering the fact that the game values Kusk at £7M, it’s an absolute steal, especially when you consider that Kusk agreed to signing a contract as a rotational option. He’s a fantastic creative option on the left wing, and performed well when Wijnaldum was briefly out injured, and he’s averaging above 8 so far in the few games he’s played. He would have played more, but he then went down with a twisted ankle for a few weeks. His good performances are tempting me to tweak the system to incorporate two wide playmakers so I can play both Wijnaldum and Kusk, but for now I don’t want to damage a winning formula.
Speaking of a winning formula, here’s the changes I’ve made to the 4-4-2 I wrote about previously. As you can see, it’s become more of a 4-4-1-1 with the DLF-S dropped back to AMC as a Trequartista, a role in which Zach Clough has absolutely thrived. I made the change because I wanted to get my ‘creative striker’ on the ball earlier in moves, much like Griezmann does for Atleti (if you remember, elements of the 4-4-2 are based on Simeone’s Atletico side). The change was also inspired by this fantastic thread on the SI Tactics forums by Herne79, covering the development of his own 4-4-2/4-4-1-1. I’d noticed how Herne had improved the performances of his AMC (in his case Carlos Tevez), and applied the same principles to my developing 4-4-2.
In basic terms, this is what I was looking for. I want Clough (the Trequartista) to drop deeper earlier in moves, providing us with a better link to Perez as the AF. Here you can see Clough has done that, with us ending up in almost a 4-2-3-1 shape, providing us with more attacking layers, and angles, allowing us to build up the play better. It’s a very basic switch, but it’s a switch that has unleashed the creative striker. Previously, I’d see the DLF in and around the red circle, before dropping deep as the ball came towards him. That’s all well and good, but I need that movement to be earlier, and provide better passing options for the central midfielders. As you can see from the league table, this has certainly worked, and Clough has averaged 7.61 in the league, with 4 goals and 6 assists in 15 appearances. Considering that Clough is only 20 and is clearly a developing talent, that’s a ridiculous return of form. At times, it’s been like watching Beardsley V2, and I can’t wait to see his performances when he’s fully developed.
I’m going to see how the tactic continues to perform towards the end of the season, before deciding whether to release it. There’s still 15 games to be played this season, and I want the tactic to go through a full season’s testing before I realise it. It will also be interesting to see whether I need to tweak it next season with the club’s reputation presumably increasing. No matter what though, it’s brought us this far. Hopefully in the end of season update, I’ll be able to release the tactic, having covered a good end to the season, that has us at least in the Champions League places. Until then, thank you very much for reading, and as always should you have any questions, please feel free to ask either in the comments section, or contact me on Twitter (@JLAspey). Thank you.