By and large, the saves you read about on FM blogs and watch on YouTube and Twitch all tend to go well. The managers make the correct decisions, buy the correct players, and things click tactically, allowing for a successful first season. The perfect example of this is my Newcastle save. I identified the weakest points in the team, being both full back positions, central midfield and Number 10, and bought accordingly to fit into my 4-4-1-1. The 4-4-1-1 itself worked fantastically, and took me to the title in my first season, giving me instant success and gratification. However, this isn’t always a good thing. As many FM players will tell you, half of the fun of a save is the challenge and the struggle. As good as it was winning the title in the first season, I’d basically achieved in 1 game year what I felt it would have taken 3 or 4. Of course I then had the Champions League, but the challenge itself severely diminished, and therefore, so did my motivation to play the save itself.
All this pushed me back towards an older save on FM16, a save I never chose to write about on this blog. It was a tester save for FM16, a save for me to ease into the new game and figure things out tactically. However, it’s become my biggest challenge thus far, and it’s for this reason that I’m going to start writing about it. It will show you that I don’t just simply effortlessly win in all my saves. This save has really become a struggle, and has provided me with a challenge that the Newcastle save never really did. So first off, who is the save actually with?
In case you don’t recognise it, this is the Stadio San Paolo. For those of you that haven’t guessed, I’m managing Napoli in Serie A. Anyone that has watched Napoli this season (and annoyingly seeing them lose to Juve the other night) will verify that they’ve become a fantastic team to watch under new coach Maurizio Sarri, and are far more interesting tactically than they were under Rafa Benitez. For this reason (and after reading @FMAnalysis’ excellent tactical analysis of Napoli this season for These Football Times), I decided this would be a good test save to get me going. What’s more, I’ve loved Serie A since I was a child (I often say I’ve watched more Serie A than any other league growing up, spending my weekends watching Gazzetta on Channel 4), and I always love playing in Italy on FM.
Because it was a test save, I perhaps haven’t thought through the decisions I’ve made quite as much, and have wavered from my usual ‘formula’ regarding transfers. As a result, I’ve made mistakes which have made this save fascinating for me, and well worth writing about. So, let’s cover those mistakes, and what I’ve done so far (I’m about 2/3 through the first season, so I’ll update until this point, and then cover the end of the season in the next update). Let’s look at transfers first.
Firstly, I sold Dries Mertens to Man United for £14.75M. I didn’t see him as part of my plans, and there’s a fair amount of future transfer fee added onto the end of the nearly £15M. I don’t consider this transfer a mistake. I then sold centre back Kalidou Koulibaly to Liverpool for £11.5M, and this I do consider somewhat of a mistake. We’ve been weak at centre back all season long, with poor performances from all my centre backs holding the team back. Koulibaly hasn’t exactly set the Premier League on fire with only 3 appearances for Liverpool, but I still feel he could have done a good job for us. The sales of Henrique and David Lopez were simply sales of players who like Mertens, were not going to feature much in my plans, and were squad players taking up wage budget, and were sold for more than I felt they were worth.
Then I sold Higuain to Arsenal for £25M. This has certainly proved to be a mistake. We’ve struggled to score goals all season, particularly from the striker position. Everyone that’s played there just hasn’t scored, through a combination of tactical issues and bad form. Higuain has since gone on to be shortlisted for the Ballon D’Or. Whoops. Although I sold him with good intentions (to fund a signing you’ll see soon), this has really affected our season. These sales also left us weak in particular areas (when we suffered a horrific injury crisis), meaning the January window was spend rectifying these mistakes, and re-bolstering the squad with quality (quality that has taken time to settle).
So, here are the signings I’ve made, and again, there are some mistakes here. I replaced Koulibaly with Eder Alvarez Balanta, someone who I never signed on FM15, and I decided to see what he was like on FM16. He’s been decent, if not spectacular, and the best of our central defenders, but the recent form of all my defenders has been poor. I then signed Carlos Vela as the replacement for Higuain, wanting to use him as a creative lone striker, dropping deep and creating for midfield runners. This hasn’t really worked for most of the season, and Vela has been in and out of form, causing me to move him away from the striker position. Only in recent games has he started to play well there. Maleh was bought by my Director of Football.
With an injury crisis in the winger/striker position (Vela was still in and out of form, and Gabbiadini has the dreaded ‘Shoots from Distance’ PPM), I then signed wonderkid and FM star Gabriel Barbosa (who I only briefly managed on FM15) from Santos in January. A foolproof plan right? No. Barbosa has struggled to settle in (I was initially playing him upfront), and he’s only now starting to show form from the right wing, scoring his first goal for the club in February. Fortunately it looks as if his settling in period is over, but a lack of goals from our star January signing was not what was needed, and only further compounded my problems upfront. I also signed another centre back in Ezequiel Munoz from Genoa, and he’s averaging below 7 so far, not the return I wanted. Duelund was another DoF signing.
I’ve also really struggled with this save from a tactical standpoint, and I have very little doubt that it has contributed to our (at best) spotty form. I’ve played 4-3-3, 4-1-4-1, 4-2-3-1, a narrow 4-2-1-2-1 and a diamond and none of it has really clicked. Something’s been missing all season, and it has really hindered our performances. There’s been little cutting edge to our forward play, and when you combine that with the poor form of our forward players, that’s a bad recipe. We’re actually second in the league in terms of goals scored, but we’re a long way behind Juventus, and the main source of goals has been Gabbiadini with 11, but he regularly hijacks our play with his love of shooting from distance. We’ve had a lot of 1-0’s.
However, things appear to have finally clicked over the last few games, and this on the left is what I’m currently using. The switch of Gabigol to the right and Vela back upfront appears to have worked wonders, unleashing Barbosa, allowing him to cut inside from the right wing, and the combination of the front 3 has started to really work well with Vela actually using his creative instincts, as I always hoped he would. Insigne has been quiet all season in the vital IF-A role, but has finally found his goalscoring boots over the last few games, and my faith in him is returning.
It’s a 4-3-3 very much in the Pep Guardiola mould of how to play football, a philosophy I’ve subscribed to for a long time now. We aim to keep the ball, draw the opposition out of their defensive shape (most teams in Serie A do try to sit back and counter us the majority of the time), rotate the ball around before finding the gaps and exploiting them. It’s a mix of Pep’s Barca and Luis Enrique’s Barca in terms of the roles selected, and it plays a similar brand of football, although with a lower tempo than both of those great sides.
It’s still developing of course, but this is the closest to being happy with it I’ve been. I finally appear to be getting penetration from the wide players through the False 9 dropping deep, and the midfield works like a dream. The tactic itself has always played lovely possession football between the boxes, but when we get there we’ve just been impotent at best. With the move of the striker to a False 9 rather than a DLF-S, this appears to have changed.
In terms of how we’re doing in Serie A, this is where we stand after 24 games. Juve are miles out in front with an unbeaten record, and went through the first 14 or 15 games without even drawing. When we played them the gulf in quality at that point was evident, as Allegri’s side tore us to shreds defensively, leaving with a 4-1 win. We’re currently in the run up to the return fixture at the San Paolo, and I hope we can give a better account of ourselves this time. However, anyone that has played against Juve on this year’s version will verify how good they are, particularly Dybala. You can see that the league is almost over, and barring a really poor run of form, it looks like we’re going to finish as runners up this season, but a long way behind Juve. Still, considering the catalogue of mistakes I’ve made this season, I’m extremely happy to be in the position we’re in. Had things clicked sooner, I’m sure we’d be a lot closer to Juve than we are.
We’re only also fighting on one front, having been beaten 2-1 by Juve in the Quarter Finals of the Coppa Italia, and failing to even qualify from our Europa League group, after a series of quite honestly shocking performances against sides we should have beaten like Saint-Etienne and AZ Alkmaar. Still, it’s allowed us to focus on Serie A, and alleviated the pressure that the injury crisis (de Guzman went out with damaged cruciate ligaments, Callejon was out for several months and Maggio is currently out for over a month) caused.
At this point, all I want is a strong end to the season, giving me some optimism for the coming second year, and to get to the transfer window, to allow me to further rectify the mistakes I’ve made. We still need to strengthen at centre back, we could do with a better full back on either side, we need more support out wide, and I’m sorely tempted to cash in on Gabbiadini in order to bring in a cheaper backup False 9, and improve the squad players here and there. There aren’t any good Bosman options out there, so I’ll see what’s available when the window opens and the transfer list market develops.
However, until the end of the season (which shouldn’t be long), thank very much for reading, and I hope you enjoy reading this save, as I recover from the mistakes I’ve made early on. It just goes to show that us bloggers or YouTubers aren’t all perfect with how we play the game, and you’ll see over the coming few posts the challenges I’ll face. What I’m loving about this save is how I actually have a challenge, and it’s a huge one called Juventus. Thank you for reading again, and as always if you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section, or contact me via Twitter (@JLAspey).