So, I’ve come to the end of the Summer transfer window in the Newcastle United save (a save that I am absolutely loving), so it’s time to update you all on how things are going, what I’ve done to change things and keep things fresh for Season 2, and how I’ve improved the squad. Although we did very well last season, the squad as a whole wasn’t strong enough, and I relied heavily on the first team players. Whilst I always have a First XI in mind when creating sides, I heavily invest in rotational players, who can come in and help us through cup games, or lesser matches in the league. This was perfectly shown in my Leverkusen save last year, where players such as Ulrich Isa and Julian Brandt came in and out of the side depending on form, and kept the whole side fresh. It’s an approach I’ll be bringing into this Newcastle save.
In case you missed the last update, here’s a brief recap. We won the Premier League title in thrilling fashion on the final day, defeating Leicester (to send them down, sorry Leicester) 2-1, and through the grace of God, Man United beat Chelsea, meaning that we won the league on our ridiculous goal difference, with Arsenal also winning on the final day against Norwich. It was by the skin of our geordie teeth, but who cares? We’re the champions of England, and now it’s time to push on in Season 2.
Firstly, we got a couple of pieces of good news. Due to the advancements made around the world, the ratings of our youth and training facilities had dropped, so after a short (but fairly persuasive) chat with Chairman Mike Ashley – hated by Newcastle fans in real life, but is actually a decent Chairman in FM – improvements were on their way. Lovely. I then had to hire a new Chief Scout as the legendary (among Newcastle fans) scout Graham Carr retired, so in came Malcolm Elias to replace him.
Then came time to upgrade the squad. I knew there were areas of the first team that could be upgraded, but through the selling of expensive assets, I hoped to be able to strengthen the entire squad. Firstly came the sale of Papiss Cissé to Stoke for £1.3M. He was rarely getting a game, being behind Ayoze in the pecking order and had started to complain about it, so I was happy to let him leave for a small fee. Next came the sale of Rémy Cabella to Marseille for £5.75M, a sale I probably wouldn’t have made, but it was arranged before the save began. Next came a bunch of free transfers leaving the club, mostly young players who I could see were never going to reach the first team, and who were simply taking up wage budget. Then I sold Vernon Anita to Lazio for £6M. Again, Anita had found himself out of the first team, and realistically was only played when Sven Bender was injured or suspended. Plus, I had a very particular signing I wanted to make in central midfield (I mentioned it in the last update), so Anita was very much surplus to requirements. Paul Dummett was also sold to Wigan for £325k, that will eventually rise to £400k.
However, the main sale of the transfer window was the sale of first team player Moussa Sissoko to (yes, you guessed it) PSG for £30.5M. This added a bunch of money into my already considerate transfer budget of around £25M. Sissoko was an important player last season averaging around 7.30 for the entire season, but I always had the feeling that another player could come in and do just as well – if not better – in his role. Furthermore, his sale was made necessary by a signing I’d made in central midfield, a signing that I felt was a definite upgrade on Sissoko.
I found youngster Leon Goretzka somehow on the transfer list at Schalke (German football really is helping me in this save) for £16.25M, and quickly snapped him up to come in and play the Box to Box role. This meant that the Sissoko sale was necessary, and I see Goretzka as a younger, better player than Sissoko anyway. Sissoko plays very physically in game, but Goretzka is more of a technical player, with graft and guile to go with physical ability, and he should combine well with Wijnaldum, Clough and Ayoze on his side of the pitch. His early performances for the club have been nothing short of fantastic, so this looks like a fine piece of business.
On the same day as Goretzka, I brought in the aforementioned Julian Weigl, who again was transfer listed at Dortmund (the transfer market is always something to keep an eye on, particularly this year) for a ridiculously low £10M. Anyone who has seen Weigl’s performances for Dortmund this season in real life will know how good he is, and how good a transfer this is. Weigl is listed as a wonderkid in game, and will only progress in the coming years. I had signed him to be the backup to Bender, but he’s played well starting the first few games, and therefore I’m going to give him the opportunity to keep the place in the First XI. His mentals are unbelievable for a player of his age (they aren’t overrated either), and his technicals should continue to develop, making him a perfect sitting midfielder. I see Goretzka and Weigl as my midfield pair for the next several years. They can also both play DM, which gives me some tactical flexibility, should I look to move away from the 4-4-1-1 in the future.
I’d also felt that centre back was a position of weakness as we came to the end of last season. Charles Mbemba had been fantastic throughout the season, but I felt that Jamaal Lascelles was a good squad player, but just wasn’t good enough to be in the first team of a Champions League side. Therefore, I went out into the market looking for a couple of good, young centre backs. I initially tried Jesús Vallejo from Real Madrid, meeting his release clause, but he decided to resign with Real anyway. Poor decision.
Firstly, I signed Enzo Roco from Espanyol for £6M. I had actually tried to sign Roco at the start of last season, but he didn’t want to come to us. Oh, how times have changed. One look at his new value shows how much of a bargain this transfer is. He’s a physical machine at 6’3″, and is almost a complete defender, being pretty decent when on the ball with his 11 passing and 12 vision. He’s a massive upgrade on Lascelles, and has been fantastic so far.
Secondly, I signed Emanuel Mammana from River Plate for £4.4M, another amazingly low figure for a player of his ability and potential. I had to appeal in order to get his work permit pushed through, but the extra time spent waiting was well worth it (now that I’ve got him at least). Those of you that have played FM16 several years into the future will know that Mammana develops extremely well, becoming one of the best players in his position, and this signing has the next 5/10 years in mind. He’ll probably be better than Roco in the long term, but for now he’s in a backup role, but will still get game time. However, he certainly has the ability to push for a First XI place this year, and I’ll be keeping an eye on Mbemba’s performances in particular. Last year, we had Mbemba, Lascelles, Taylor and Williamson as our centre backs. This year, we have Mbemba, Roco, Mammana and Lascelles. That’s a massive upgrade however you look at it.
I then realised that a new right back was essential. Last year, I’d somehow (luckily) made it through the entire season with Ricardo Van Rhijn as our only proper right back. I know what FM is like, and decided to avoid any issues by signing a backup right back for Van Rhijn. The only problem was that there weren’t any players of the ability, or age I was looking for. Therefore, I decided to ditch the ‘backup’ idea, and simply upgrade on Van Rhijn, with his contract classing him as a rotation player anyway.
Therefore, in came Silvan Widmer from Udinese for £16.25M as our new first choice right back. The outlay was certainly costly and sapped almost all of my remaining budget, but you can see from his value of £20.5M, that this is still good value for money. He has an all round skill set, which I like my full backs to have, and he’s another physical machine. In my system, both full backs have to get up and down the pitch an awful lot, and therefore his pace, stamina and ability will be vital. He’s also just as good defending as he is going forward, and so far has performed very well for us, averging 7.63 in the league. As long as I rotate him properly with Van Rhijn, this transfer should work out very well. This leaves our first choice back 4 as:
Widmer – Roco – Mbemba – Augustinsson
That’s so much better than last season. Hopefully there won’t be any of the late season collapses we saw from last year either.
This year’s kits. Ah, Newcastle Brown Ale. No more Wonga.
We’ve also got a new set of kits this year. I’d decided that I would move away from Wonga before the save even began, and with a couple of messages dropping into my news feed that we’d signed new sponsorship and manufacturing deals, it also seemed fitting to make wholesale changes to the kits. I’ve gone with Nike as the new manufacturer (who have never made Newcastle’s kits before), and returned to fairly classic designs with the home and away, based on old Newcastle designs. The home kit is designed to be reminiscent of the 1993-1995 kits worn by Andy Cole and Peter Beardsley, and the away kit is designed to be very similar to the 1995/96 away kit, the season where Newcastle came so close, but so far. We’ve also returned to Newcastle’s classic sponsor Newcastle Brown Ale, and somehow it just looks so right having the blue star back on the Newcastle kit. These lovely kits were created by the fantastic rmb87 over at soritoutsi.
Tactically, I’m sticking with the trusty 4-4-1-1 this season (if you wish to download the tactic, there is a link in the previous update). It worked beautifully for me last season, and with a new set of challenges to put it against (one being the Champions League) I see no reason why I should move away from it. However, I can feel that I am starting to get the tactical itch, and so my mind has started to wander regarding Season 3 of the save, and a possible tactical switch influenced by another team that wear black and white. Then again, I can guarantee I’ll have a new idea by the time I reach Season 3.
Speaking of the Champions League, here is the group that we’ve been drawn into. Atletico Madrid will undoubtedly be a tough fixture, but with the upgrades and improvements we’ve made, I really fancy us against Roma and Dynamo. It may be me being overly optimistic, but I think there’s a possibility we could actually qualify from this group. Even if we don’t, it’s good experience, and will only stand us in good stead for the coming seasons.
Here are our results for the season so far, and it’s fair to say that things are going pretty well. We had a very good pre-season with a tour of Holland (Schteeve would have been proud), defeating N.E.C. Nijmegen and AZ Alkmaar, before coming back and beating Hartlepool, Bradford and Notts County. We then beat Chelsea on penalties in a fairly poor match in the Community Shield, with several first choice players unavailable, and our third choice keeper in goal with Rulli and Alisson both away on international duty. However, after that we’ve effortlessly marched through a fairly difficult first few fixtures. We comfortably beat newly promoted Reading 2-0 at their place, before facing a massively upgraded Manchester United (with Stones, Shaqiri and Barzagli) at St. James’. I needn’t have worried, as we swept them away with our attacking football, with Ayoze scoring 2 and Clough and Thauvin scoring the others. We then faced Chelsea again a week later, and again easily beat them, with our front two Ayoze and Clough scoring the goals in a 2-0 win. We were so good we only allowed Chelsea one shot on target in the whole 90 minutes. These results leave us top of the table, with only Arsenal really competing so far (having themselves spent considerable money on Kranevitter, Clasie, and Alcacer). All the new signings appear to have bedded in well, and we’re going from strength to strength. I can’t wait to kick off the Champions League campaign. The only negative to the start of the season is that Augustinsson has told me that he wants to leave if we don’t reach the latter stages of the Champions League. No pressure in our first season back in the competition then.
So for now, that’s as much as I can update on the Newcastle save. I’ll update again after the January transfer window, hopefully still top of the Premier League, and doing well in the Champions League. Until then, thank you very much for reading and for your continued support of this save. As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments section of this blog, or contact me on Twitter (@JLAspey). Thank you again.