Twenty-Five Years On

1955Well, I’ve reached the transfer window in the first season of my new Red Star Belgrade save, so it’s update time, to cover how things have been going in the Yugoslavian Premier Liga. I’m enjoying this save so much, and it’s so much fun to finally be playing as Red Star on Football Manager. In the last update, I covered the early decisions I’d made, particularly regarding signings (you’ll remember I’m focusing on signing mainly Yugoslavians). I’d only signed two players (wanting to evaluate the squad over the first season, before making any big decisions) in centre back Jevrem Kosnic on a free, and right back Filip Stojkovic for £400k. Kosnic was brought in to provide competition at centre back, and Stojkovic was brought in to be the new first choice right back, after I noticed that the club only had one worthy of being in the first team. Knowing FM’s love for making things difficult for you, I knew I had to make a signing here.

I also covered what I’ll be doing tactically in this first season, and I’d made the choice to return to my favoured narrow football, utilising a 4-3-1-2 formation, making the most of the top class central midfielders at the club, such as Ristic, Grujic, Plavsic, Donald and Katai. Of those, the trio of Ristic, Grujic and Plavsic are the real prospects, and have bossed the midfield throughout the first half of the season. Ristic in particular, has been outstanding. I faced a struggle early on to hold onto Ristic and Grujic, but managed to persuade them to stay at the Marakana.

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I then received two pieces of very pleasing news when Ristic and Grujic both signed massive 5 year contracts. I doubt that I’ll be able to hold onto them for too much longer, but for now, the club would be far weaker if they were sold. On top of that, I also managed to acquire the percentage of young centre back Vukasin Jovanovic that was owned by his agent, and also sign him to a 5 year contract. Again, I may not be able to hold onto these players, but they’re some of the most promising youngsters in world football, and I’ll keep them around as long as I possibly can. Fortunately, despite considerable interest they’ve been happy to stay at Red Star.

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I also received a very interesting news item, declaring that our starting left back Luis Ibanez had declared himself to play for Croatia as you can see on the right! This is as a result of his time spent as a player for Dinamo Zagreb, and therefore he presumably had acquired enough days to claim Croatian nationality. It’s quite interesting to have a squad that is already full of Yugoslavs, but includes one Croat. This is also as a result of the edit I’m using, where the old nationalities do still exist, but all clubs have been converted to be ‘Yugoslavian’.

Prior to discussing the league, I’ll briefly cover the cup competitions. As I mentioned in the last update, we went out of the Europa League in the qualifying rounds, after drawing Italian side Sampdoria. However, this didn’t bother me at all, as it has allowed us to focus on the league and domestic competitions, and ensure a far better position in European competition next season. Irritatingly, we went out of the Yugoslav Cup in only the 3rd Round, going down to fellow Premier Liga side ND Gorica (who are quickly becoming our bogey team) 1-0 after a poor performance. It’s a disappointing result, and I’ll be looking to do far better in this competition next season. We are still however in the Yugoslavian Liga Cup, and have just made it through the 4th Round, defeating Liga 3 side NK Dob. I’ll be looking to at least reach the semis of this competition, and realistically we should be making the final.

So, how are things going in the Yugoslavian Premier Liga? Is it still the status quo of Red Star, Partizan, Hadjuk and Dinamo?

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Well, not really. As you can see we currently sit top of the table, 8 points ahead of Partizan in second, but Hadjuk and Dinamo are both stuck in the middle of the table, and have been for the majority of the season. Dinamo in particular have been shocking, and don’t seem to have recovered from our comfortable 3-1 win over them on the first day. They’ve improved somewhat after sacking their manager, but for a period of time they were just above the relegation zone. You can also see that Croatian side Rijeka have a game in hand on us, so should only be 5 points back, and Maribor in 6th have 4 games in hand on us, and if they win all those games, they’ll only be a point behind us. So although everything looks rosy with our 8 point gap over Partizan (who we battered 0-0 in the first Eternal Derby of this save), the table belies our dominance thus far.

Up until very recently, Rijeka (and Vojvodina believe it or not) had been right behind us, still with a game in hand, but only 3 points behind us. However, we put in a fantastic performance at the Marakana, and comfortably beat them 3-0 thanks in no small part to a double by Luka Jovic. Jovic is another I’m trying to purchase all of, but his agent wants £475k for his cut, about £250k more than I can afford right now. He’s been dominant in the league, scoring 14 goals in 13 games, and scoring a total of 19 goals for the season. At only 17, that’s ridiculous return of form, and you can see why I’m so anxious to sign him. I’ve already had clubs like PSG after him.

In complete contrast to the majority of my sides, our success is built on our prowess going forward, where we lead the league with 43 goals scored in 19 games. We’re only 7th best in the league in terms of goals conceded (a somewhat skewed stat with the differences in games played), having conceded 15 in 19 games, still a very good return. I think this stat will fix itself towards the end of the season, and we’ll end up with one of the best defensive records in the league. Either way, as long as we continue to put the ball in the back of the net as much as we are doing, we will be difficult to stop. Our style of play reminds me so much of the way my Leverkusen side played last season, and it’s glorious to watch.

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 14.51.12So much of this is down to the 4-3-1-2 I’ve been using. It’s remained almost exactly the same as it was in the first update, but I’ve made the decision to reign it in somewhat, moving from an attacking mentality to a control mentality. There’s been very little difference in our potency going forward, but we just play with more control and seem far less cavalier. When you’re playing narrow and are relying almost entirely on your full backs to get forward and provide width (although the strikers do pull out wide), this is pretty important.

I’ve kept things extremely simple in terms of team instructions (as I feel on FM16 that less can certainly be more, especially with the amount of PI’s role selection causes), and I’m still only using work ball into box, play out of defence and prevent short GK distribution. With our mentality, we naturally have a high tempo and press, so I haven’t noticed much need to mess around with that. All I want is to play short from defence to build play, and for us to work the ball towards our opponent’s box using that high tempo. Prevent short GK distribution simply allows us to press more successfully, and it’s a nice ploy to try and get the ball back quickly by forcing the AI to kick long, where we have physically capable midfielders like Grujic.

The only other instructions I use are in opposition instructions, where I ask my team to always close down and always tightly mark any wide players, so DR/L’s, WBR/L’s, MR/L’s and AMR/L’s. This is simply to try and prevent crosses from raining down into our box by closing wide players down immediately and giving them less time on the ball. Of course, I haven’t eliminated crossing as a means of the AI scoring, but I’m not having any particular trouble with it. In addition, it’s natural that with us packing the centre of the pitch, the AI is going to have more success if they use the flanks. It’s a natural trade off, and I’d wager our central threat is greater, as shown by our 43 league goals scored.

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Here is an example of how we deal with wide players, as well as showing our standard shape in defence. As you can see, the depth of the 4-3-1-2 becomes more of a diamond with the DLP-D sitting deeper than the other central midfielders. This is a shot from a recent 3-0 win against Rijeka (who were 2nd placed at the time) and Rijeka have just taken kick off and spread the ball out wide to their right midfielder. Due to the opposition instructions mentioned above we always close down wide players, so Grujic in the CM-S role steps out wide to press him, and the rest of the midfielders follow and shuffle across, preventing any gaps from forming which the AI can play through. Eventually the Rijeka right midfielder runs out of options and tries to make the run in red down the line, but Grujic cuts him off and wins the ball, allowing us to attack. As you can see, we do have a counter attacking presence with two strikers against two central defenders (especially potent when those strikers are Jovic and Srnic), and a box to box midfielder that is in plenty of space to burst forward and make late runs.

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We also have a very fluid shape when we build up play. As you can see, the DLP-D starts alongside the central defenders before stepping higher up the pitch, in a movement that is actually quite Libero-like. In this instance, our shape is very almost a 3-2-3-2 as we build up the play towards the forward players, and you can see how much we rely on our full backs to provide width. Fortunately, we have extremely talented full backs in Filip Stojkovic and Luis Ibanez who dominate games with their fantastic play (Stojkovic in particular massively affects games from the right flank, and has put in so many wonderful crosses this season), but you can see the sheer amount of space we vacate on our wings in the orange rectangles. This is of course a necessary trade off with playing a narrow formation, because your full backs have to do so much of the work. Again, this is why the flanks are naturally going to be a problematic area of the pitch, but as you can see above, I feel that we deal with it pretty well. Perhaps I’ll have to look at this as we progress into continental competition, but right now we’re not suffering any ill effects through playing narrow, and it’s the type of football I love.

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 15.42.32I thought I’d cover a little bit of tactical analysis in this update to show you all what I’ve been doing (I also had the itch to write about it). If you’d like any more analysis of the 4-3-1-2 I’m using, then please let me know. As I’ve said, it reminds me so much of the diamond I used with Leverkusen on FM15, and I absolutely love it. However, for now that’s all I can update on in the Red Star Belgrade save. I should be back at the end of the season unless I have a bunch of big clubs come back in for Ristic, Grujic and Jovic and I’m forced to reinvest and update on the transfers I’ve made. Hopefully that doesn’t happen though and I can retain my best players and make sure that we win the league, and gain a good position in European competition next season to start and improve the club’s finances (we only have £2.1M in the bank as I write this update), and make the steps towards moving Red Star back to where they belong, at the top of European competition, and world football in general. So, until then thank you very much for reading, and as always if you have any questions please feel free to ask in the comments section of this blog, or contact my via Twitter (@JLAspey). Thank you for reading again, and I’ll be back soon!

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