R24Shirt1So, I’m making rapid progress through the months in this Aston Villa save. It’s now the end of December and the year 2015, so it’s time to update you all again on how things are going, and whether I’ve managed to stabilise the – admittedly wonky – claret and blue vessel. In the last update, we stumbled inconsistently through November, getting absolutely hammered 6-1 by Tottenham, beating West Brom 3-0 in the West Midlands Derby before ending the month with an extremely fortunate 2-2 draw with Everton. I’d also started to mess around tactically as a result of the 6-1 – perhaps the wrong thing to do, but I’m stuck with it now – in order to find a better alternative. The 4-1-4-1 works in certain circumstances, but I’m finding it very hot and hold. Like our form then.

December would see us go through 6 games against Sunderland, Swansea, West Ham, Watford, Southampton and Watford again. Several of those are big matches, particularly the ones with Sunderland – rooted to the bottom of the table – and Watford, themselves struggling in the relegation zone.

I’d also seen that the much awaited takeover appeared to be on its way, receiving messages that a bid was rumoured to be about to be tabled. Through the month of December, I then received this:

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It’s here.

Yep, it’s here. The much needed takeover has arrived in the form of Steve Tomlinson(?). As a result, a transfer embargo has been placed on us. Fantastic. Great timing Steve. Cheers. This has meant the month of December – and therefore the important January transfer window – has ended with my hands tied and unable to do anything. Hopefully the embargo clears soon enough, and I’ll actually be able to make moves in January. We need it, as well as important Bosman signings for next season.

Anyway, back to December, an important month. How have things gone? Have we ended up in 12th again?

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Well, quite positively actually, although it’s been more difficult that those results would have you believe. I opened up the month switching formations – again – this time going to a counter attacking diamond with Ayew being partnered upfront by Falcinelli (who’s been largely useless so far), and it got us the win against Sunderland in a big match that eventually led to the sacking of Big Sam. The goal that won us the game wasn’t from open play mind, with Falcinelli scoring his first goal for the club from the penalty spot. However, I believed that the diamond had showed me enough to encourage me to keep going with it in the next game, particularly the performance of Grealish from Number 10, getting a 7.8 rating and the Man of the Match.

We then went to the Liberty to face Swansea and came away with a pleasing 1-1 draw. We took the lead through Ayew (of course), running onto a through ball from wing back Jordan (we have a lot of players called Jordan don’t we?) Amavi and tucking it away. We were later pulled back with a goal from Sigurdsson following some pretty shoddy pressing that left him wide open in the box. In the end, a 1-1 draw was a very fair result, and considering the difference in quality between us and the Welsh side, I’m more than happy with a point.

Feeling confident, I then continued with the diamond against West Ham, and promptly lost 1-0, having more shots than West Ham, but largely from long range. On top of that, Grealish got himself injured yet again, going down with another twisted knee – which seems to be a very common injury on FM16 – meaning that we were running out of potential options for Number 10. Furthermore, I also hadn’t been that convinced by the diamond, so decided to make a switch for the next match. It was clear that elements of the 4-1-4-1 were working, but that at times Ayew as the CF-S was far too isolated. Although I wanted us to retain our shape in defence, I didn’t want Ayew just left by himself upfront.

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 13.58.34

Therefore, I switched to this for the match against Watford. It’s largely the same idea as the 4-1-4-1 – support roles on the wide players will cause them to track back more – and many of the roles are the same, but the intention is to get help to the lone forward quicker. It also utilises Adama Traore in the winger role, the role he’s best suited to. Traore’s wide positioning should also create space for Jordan Veretout to exploit breaking forward. With Ayew creating space upfront, and an IF-S on the left side cutting in, and a playmaker in central midfield, there should be plenty of movement to create chances.

However, it started slowly against Watford in its first game, only gaining us a 0-0 draw against a relegation zone side. However, I believe this was largely due to my selections. Grealish was unavailable, so I played Falcinelli on the left, Ayew upfront, and Carles Gil as a CM-A, and it just didn’t seem to work at all. Falcinelli didn’t provide anything going forward, and Gil ended the match with a 6.2 rating. Still, it was a point, and I’ll take points where I can get them.

However, we then faced Southampton, at that point ahead of us in the table. I played the lineup to the left, and we played far better – especially when I brought on Gil to replace the useless Sinclair at IF-S – having the better of the game, with Traore scoring in the 74th minute. Unfortunately, we’re Villa and we can’t defend, and gave up a 90th minute goal to Juanmi, but we had 60% of the ball, and actually dominated the game against Southampton. I’m not necessarily looking to dominate the ball, but I’m not going to turn it down if we can control possession.

Next up was Watford again, and we comfortably defeated them 1-0. We can’t score lots of goals because again, we’re Villa, but we played extremely well, having 61% of the ball – again, I’m not going to turn down the ball – and went 1-0 up through Carles Gil after an extremely well worked move between Gil, Cissokho and Sanchez (playing the DLP role), and never relinquished the lead. We looked very good, and thoroughly deserved our win in one of our best performances of the season thus far.

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Carles Gil finishes off a lovely move to give us the 1-0 win over Watford to end 2015.

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So, we end 2015 in 12th place – yes, again – surrounded by teams like City, Liverpool, Newcastle (who sacked McClaren and hired Tim Sherwood, and have drastically improved), West Ham and Southampton. We’re 6 points away from the drop zone, but only 4 points off Everton in 6th. Considering what was expected at the start of the season, I will absolutely take that at the halfway point. Now it’s important that we get that bloody embargo cleared, and add a couple of signings – that’s if I’m allowed any cash! – to ensure that we’re strong enough to stay in the league, and good enough to progress next season. At this point, the absolute priority is centre back. I’ll be very disappointed if I come out of the window having not been able to sign one. After that, the priorities are right back and left wing (I don’t really feel Gil or Grealish are the long term options there, and I actually see Grealish becoming the CM-A). I’ve also had word that Dinamo Moscow are interested in Agbonlahor. Please Dinamo, come take him and his £55k per week off my hands. Still, the whole window seems to depend on whether this takeover goes through. Come on Steve, get on with it.

So until the end of January, that’s all I can update on in the Villa save. I hope you are enjoying reading this, and I welcome any feedback, whether it be on my writing, or the way I’m playing the game itself, tactics or signings. As always, should you have any questions or queries, please feel free to comment on this blog, or contact me via Twitter (@JLAspey). Thank you again.

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