Well, it’s time to kick off the second season of this Napoli save. Firstly, I would like to apologise in advance for the inconsistency of my saves lately, I know I’ve moved from save to save recently, but for the foreseeable future, I’ll be sticking with Napoli, and trying to defeat the behemoth that is Juventus, coming off their unbeaten season. If you remember the first season, I’d begun this save as a test save for some tactical experiments, and as a result had made mistakes – such as selling Gonzalo Higuain – that have made the save even more challenging. I’d also really struggled with my tactical setup, taking most of the season to get the 4-3-3 how I wanted it, and even then I wasn’t entirely sure. Furthermore, my strikers were having difficulty scoring, particularly my star signing Carlos Vela. All in all, it wasn’t great. However, we finished the season in 2nd place in the Scudetto, earning us a Champions League place, so at least there was clear progression in that respect. We just have to claw back 19 points of difference to Juve. This was going to be an important transfer window.
I’d identified our most important weaknesses as:
- Centre Back – Éder Álvarez Balanta was solid, but Munoz took his time settling in, and Albiol was poor, averaging below 7.00.
- A forward player. I was hoping this would be to replace Vela, but I couldn’t be certain.
I felt the midfield was perfect as it is, with Jorginho, Allan and Hamsik performing fantastically last season, and Valfidiori, El Kaddouri, de Guzman and Dezi more than capable as backups. Of course, I could improve here, but I want to keep recruitment logical and planned and give this save some longevity, and right now the midfield is our strongest area.
As you’ll know, the key for me was whether teams would be interested in the players I wanted to ship out (ideally), Vela and Gabbiadini. Well, it’s been a busy transfer window, and here’s our transfers out:
As you can see, it’s been a biggie, and this doesn’t even include the amount of players I allowed to leave on free transfers after they came back from loans. Albiol, Gabbiadini, Vela, Ghoulam and Insigne – all first team players from last season – all gone. I did intend to retain some element of consistency into the second season of this save, but as so usual with Football Manager, the game just didn’t allow this.
The big European clubs have helped me a lot, and although this ‘out’ list would probably look like a horrific transfer window for many, I think it’s been a massive positive for Napoli, as it’s allowed me to mould the club into one that I really feel can challenge for the Scudetto this season. Spaniard Raul Albiol was happily shipped out to AC Milan after performing poorly throughout the first season – averaging below 7.00 – for £3.4M, and after that the offers and the money started to simply roll in. I then offered out Gabbiadini and received bids from PSG, Barcelona and Real Madrid. Madrid offered the most at £25.5M and off went Gabbiadini and his love of long shots. Then in came Barca for Carlos Vela – the player I had most wanted to sell – with an offer of around £27M. I negotiated up to £35M, making profit of £6.5M. Next came the sale of left back Faouzi Ghoulam to Manchester United for £11.75M. Ghoulam had been first choice left back throughout the first half of the season, but lost his place to the Croatian Strinic through the latter half. As a result I was more than happy to take this money, with Zuniga a more than capable backup for Serie A games. A few more sales and loans followed before Barca again came in for one of our players in Lorenzo Insigne just before the first game of the season. I negotiated a £21M initial fee that will eventually add up to £38M over the next several years through instalments. Armed with my initial budget and an added £107M amassed through these sales, I went out into the market, with the money burning a hole in my chequebook.
So far less have come in than have gone out, but these are – with the exception of Saia who was signed by my DoF – all first team players, and all make our team much, much better. Berardi was my priority signing for the Summer, and although he didn’t come cheap at £35.5M, I feel he immediately makes our team better slotting into an attacking role. Berardi fits the second bullet point at the top of this update, in a forward player for our tactic. The second signing was Jose Gimenez from Atletico for £31M, another pricey signing, but an absolutely essential one. We sorely needed a top centre back – fitting the first bullet point – and I have every faith that Gimenez will go on to be one of the best centre backs in world football in a few years time. After Vela and Gabbiadini’s departures had been confirmed, I looked for another replacement in a forward position. I spotted the Brazilian Luan available at Chelsea for a fairly cut price £17-25M and jumped at the chance to sign him once an £18M fee had been negotiated. After Insigne was surprisingly signed by Barca, I decided yet another attacking player was needed, and after much deliberation, signed Thomas Lemar on deadline day from Monaco for £19.5M, a fee I already feel is an absolutely bargain.
You may have noticed that so far I’ve referred to ‘attackers’ rather than stating actual positions that the players will play in, and well, that’s because I’ve finally moved away from the 4-3-3.
This was our pre-season, and I used the 4-3-3 extensively throughout. We started off well against Austria Wien and Ludogorets from Bulgaria, but it all ground to a halt when we played Dinamo Bucharest and Dinamo Zagreb. Performances were drab, and watching the games, it felt like the players were restricted by the tactic, and there simply wasn’t enough movement. It was far too easy to defend. At this point I decided it was time to switch to a new tactic, and created a 4-3-1-2 that I started the season with.
However, I’ve since moved to a 4-4-1-1, that is effectively a 4-2-3-1 when we have the ball. It’s a tweak on a tactic I’d started to develop with Newcastle, with a CM-D in central midfield now replaced by a DLP-D to allow for the creative talents of Jorginho. Hamsik usually sits next to him at CM-S, but he’s injured at the moment, so Allan is deputising for him.
The tactic is based on ball retention, but there is far more movement and speed than there was with the 4-3-3. Sometimes the 4-3-3 would play incredible football up until the opposition box, but would seem to be neutered once it got there. This is completely the opposite.
It is designed to get the best out of our attacking players, particularly the front 4 of Gabigol, Lemar, Luan and Berardi, a front 4 I think would rival any in Europe. Although Berardi and Luan play MR/L – and the game doesn’t rate them as comfortable there – they are in effect AMR/L’s, they just position themselves deeper when we’re defending, giving us the defensive strength I don’t believe the 4-2-3-1 formation has in game.
The real star of this formation and tactic is Thomas Lemar, who has been absolutely outstanding since joining from Monaco. In 4 games, he currently has 4 goals and 4 assists, a simply amazing return. I’m hoping that the AM-A from AMC can be developed to replicate the way that Antoine Griezmann plays the Number 10 role, moving into the hole, but then running beyond the striker. With wide movement from Berardi and Luan, with Gabigol upfront, this should in theory be almost unplayable for opposition defences.
So far, it’s proved to be that way. I’m currently writing this update towards the end of September, and we’ve played six league games, along with one game in the Champions League, with this tactic being used from the second half. It’s early doors, but we finally seem to have made the progress that I’ve been waiting for, it just required the change around of a few players, and to finally admit that the 4-3-3 wasn’t working. We’re now ahead of Juventus – who themselves lost Dybala, but have signed Depay, Widmer and Jese – and hopefully I can really challenge Juve this season, if not defeat them.
This article is also going to be the first of a new updating format that I’m trying. I’m hoping to move towards shorter more regular updates in order to produce content that you will all hopefully like. I don’t know if the updates will be monthly or bi-monthly at this point, but I hope that it will allow you to engage with the narrative and story of the save more if you see the progression from month to month, rather than simply reading an update twice a season, when I’ve solved any issues or problems. This change is highly influenced by @ilmedianofm, who runs a fantastic blog that you really should check out. This move to shorter updates appears to be something that is moving across blogs in the FM scene, and it’s a move I support, and I’m extremely excited by the possibilities it creates. I welcome any feedback when the new format gets going.
So until then – likely not long – thank you very much for reading, and as always with The Tactical Annals, if you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments section of this blog, or contact me via Twitter (@JLAspey). Thank you again, and FORZA NAPOLI!