One Man’s Journey Through France: X

Screen Shot 2017-07-04 at 10.04.05It’s update time once again, we’re up to the tenth update of Julien Girard’s managerial career (also, Julien’s 30 now). This makes this the equal longest save I’ve ever done on this blog, along with Bayer Leverkusen on FM15. So I just want to say thank you to everyone that has supported this save so far, it means a lot to me and long may this save continue. In the last update, I covered the first half of the 4th season of the save, and the first with Football Club Lorient in Ligue 1. I covered the signings I’d made towards the end of the transfer window, the tactics I was using (a 4-1-3-2,) and covered the results of the first half of the season. As we went into January 1st, the club was surprisingly sat 3rd in Ligue 1, only one point behind Lyon in 1st place, and two points ahead of Leonardo Jardim’s Monaco in 4th. I ended the last update by saying:

Julien is now settled in well at Lorient, and most importantly is well on course to achieve more than the top half finish he promised the board when he took over in early August. The challenge now is simply to see how high Lorient can finish.

So, how did the season finish?

Well, this basically meant that the Europa League qualification spots were the absolute minimum I wanted. I wanted to see if we could manage to reach the Champions League spots. In reality however, I did think Europa League was most likely, and for those reasons I altered the board expectations. PSG, Monaco and Lyon are just outright better than we are. I also tried to add to the squad in the transfer window, sniffing around Ben Woodburn (but ultimately getting nowhere). However, I did manage to make a signing, bringing in Tom Cairney from Fulham for £7.25M (transfer listed), after months of debating. As you can see, he’s a superior player to Lee Chung-Yong, and I fully expected him to star in the AP-A role in the 4-1-3-2. My next signing was Ibrahim Koné (for a measly £3.8M) to act as a backup for Sensi in the DLP-D role. I also made a Bosman signing, snapping up Adam Armstrong from Newcastle for next season. He’s a fast and agile striker, who can basically do anything. Hopefully he’ll be a pest upfront for us next season. He’s only on a ‘backup’ contract, so if doesn’t work out, there’s no risk on our behalf.

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New signing Tom Cairney’s first game in a Lorient shirt, and his first goal. £7.25M well spent?

However, we then went on an absolutely horrific run of form. We stopped being able to score, and we stopped being able to defend. We were comfortably beaten by PSG, Bordeaux, Saint-Etienne and Montpellier. On top of that, Tom Cairney then went down injured with knee tendonitis, and would be out for the rest of the season (5-6 months). To say I was annoyed would be an understatement. Club captain Cafú also went out injured, as did several others such as Doucoure, Vainqueur, Koné and Hunou. It was in the 4-0 loss to Saint-Etienne, that I realised something had to change. This is the fourth goal scored by Les Verts, and it’s something I was seeing a lot. My full backs simply weren’t coping by themselves anymore against the 4-3-3’s and 4-2-3-1’s of Ligue 1. Time after time crosses were being put in from the byline, and we just couldn’t cope. I ended the Saint-Etienne match in a 4-1-4-1, simply to cover the flanks and stop the left winger Tabanou from tearing Dickmann to shreds (not his fault).

I decided enough was enough, and switched to a 4-1-4-1 with aggressive pressing for the next game against an in form Montpellier. I decided this was a logical move for Julien to make, as he’s used 4-3-3 shapes plenty of times before with defensive midfielders. We lost 2-0 to Montpellier, but were much, much better.

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Back to normal…

In the next game, we drew 1-1 with relegation threatened Metz, but were clearly playing better. I was determined to stick with it, feeling that there was nothing wrong with the tactic, it just needed to come together. We then faced another in form team in Rennes, but finally got the bit of luck we needed in an own goal. Once I had realised that we needed the striker to drop even deeper and turned him into a False 9, we then scored a second through the CM-A Onomah. From then on, things stabilised, and we were good, if not great towards the end of the season. The Nantes result was a classic example of the players being on the beach already, and we lost through a deflected goal.

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We actually went into the final day potentially being able to qualify for the Champions League if we bettered Lyon’s result. Those of you who are in my Slack channel #thetacticalannals will have seen my live updates of this game day. As you have seen above, we just couldn’t do it, despite the fact that Lyon couldn’t defeat already relegated Lille.

In the end, we had to be happy with 4th place (the highest Lorient have ever finished) and the Europa League, which in the end is a very fair result considering our positioning through the season. We weren’t anywhere near as good as PSG, Monaco and Lyon, and didn’t deserve the CL really. The only team that finished around us that could really threaten us consistently was Marseille, who finished down in 6th. Just from looking at the table, you can see what has been our problem – we just haven’t been able to score. We’ve ended with a goal difference of 1 – not helped by our horrendous run of form – something that I’m going to have to rectify next season.

In the end, PSG won the league comfortably by 6 points from a very inconsistent Monaco, and are going to be tough to catch over the next several years – that’s if Julien ends up managing someone other than PSG. Lyon must have absolutely fallen off a cliff around the same time as we did, because they were challenging PSG for quite some time this season, and I’d argue they deserve 2nd more than Monaco, who were amazing in brief spells.

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Julien also ended the season in the running for the Ligue 1 manager of the year award, as you can see to the right, with the Nantes manager and Monaco’s Leonardo Jardim and PSG’s Unai Emery. The award actually went to Nantes’ Bernard Baquart, annoyingy, since I don’t feel he did anything that Julien didn’t, taking a lower club up to the top of the table. However, there’s more to this season. We were knocked out of the Coupe de la Ligue fairly early on, being defeated by Rennes in the quarter final. However, the opposite was true in the Coupe de France, as we ran all the way through to the final. Who would we face? PSG? Monaco? Lyon?

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Errrrr…. not so much.

No, we actually faced Ligue 2 side – being promoted to Ligue 1 next season via the playoffs vs. Metz – Le Harve. PSG and Monaco had both been knocked out in the Quarter Finals, without me even realising. Close to the French version of Leeds United vs. Sunderland 1973. Still, we put out our best lineup of:

Delecroix; Dickmann, Juanpe, Diagne, Hermes; Sensi; Chung-Yong, Onomah, Cafú, Stocker; Khalifa

…. and then nothing happened. Really. We had one chance in the 90 minutes, and another in the 30 minutes of extra time. I’m sure I could have managed the game better, but I don’t feel that I know my 4-1-4-1 very well, and therefore I’m extremely cautious regarding reactive tactics and what to change. Needless to say, we had over 20 shots throughout the game, and Le Harve didn’t manage a shot on target. Still, it went to penalties. Khalifa missed our first penalty, but from there Delecroix saved two and Onomah, Diagne and Stocker all scored theirs, meaning Cafú had the opportunity to win the Coupe de France for Lorient, and he tucked it away, bringing the cup to North East France. I’ve never been so happy to see dots move towards each other. It’s safe to say the fans were chuffed with Julien.

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Club captain Cafú tucks away the final penalty to win the Coupe de France for Lorient.

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Now it’s time to plan towards next season. On the left you can see our undoubted best performers this season. Diagne was a rock at the back, Onomah was consistently good wherever he played in midfield, and Cafú simply didn’t lose the ball, and again was good wherever he played in midfield.

I have always done a player of the season throughout this save, and this year for me it would have to be Joshua Onomah, with an average rating of 7.20, and a habit of coming up big for the club and scoring when we really needed it. I hope he can continue to develop in the CM-A role moving forward. Honourable mentions also go to Marcelo Hermes and Stefano Sensi for hitting the ground running for the club and being really important role players this season (especially Sensi, who I believe will be extremely important next season).

Speaking of next season, there is much to do. I’m debating whether to let Khalifa go when his contract ends at the end of June (he’s noticeably declining) and signing a top striker to compete with Armstrong for the striker role. I also really need to upgrade out wide. In committing to narrow football, I’d got rid of pretty much everyone (there wasn’t many to begin with) that can play on the wings. Therefore if I’m going to continue in this vein, I need to make some moves to bring in wide players. In terms of defence and central midfield, we’re absolutely solid (save a backup right back), and I don’t have to worry about that next season. The club hasn’t endowed me with a massive war chest at £10.48M (but there is wiggle room wage wise) so it looks like I’m going to have to scour the released and transfer list market. I might have already found a backup young keeper for the future though.

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Career wise, there hasn’t been any interest in Julien’s services, and there hasn’t been any jobs that would have even made sense for Julien to apply for. At the moment I think Emery is settled at PSG, and Jardim seems to have recovered things from the previous update. Ronald Koeman stands a chance of being sacked from Marseille, and that would be a possibility I’d have to consider, as Marseille are still historically a ‘big club’ in France. Claude Puel also isn’t untouchable at Saint-Etienne, the club Julien grew up supporting. For now though, Julien is more than happy at Lorient, and I see no need for him to begin to make plans to leave.

So, until the next update, thank you very much for reading. As always, should you have any questions regarding this save, FM17, or Julien, then please do feel free to leave comments on this blog, or contact me via Twitter (@JLAspey). A great place to talk about this save, and chat, is in my Slack channel #thetacticalannals, where you can find out additional information, and minor details before these major written updates. Again, thank you for reading.

2 comments

  1. I like the tactical flexibility and the explanation behind the choices you’ve made. Dogmatic managers generally don’t last long, so I like the flexibility there, Jon. Well done, mate. You exceeded expectations and laid the foundations for a stellar next season.

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