Right, it’s time to get serious. It’s the Knockout Stages for die mannschaft at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. In case you’ve missed any of my updates on this save so far, here are my first and second updates, leading up to this update, our Last 16 tie against the 2010 World Champions, Spain. Yikes. In the last update, we covered the group stages, and our – in the end – fairly easy progression through to the Knockout Rounds of the 2018 World Cup. I outlined how I have progressed from using the 4-1-2-3-0 system in the first game against Japan, to eventually deciding that our 5-2-3 system was the way to go, and coming to the conclusion that win, lose or draw, that’s going to be our system for the rest of this world cup.
As I said above, we – unfortunately – drew Spain in the Last 16. I was hoping to get a smaller nation that would have been slightly easier such as Colombia, Iran or Australia. However, we’ve got Julen Lopetegui’s Spanish side, and we’ve just got to get on with it.
I’m still in love with these…
Throughout the tournament, Spain have been using their classic 4-3-3 system – not much surprise there – with their only real firepower coming from Diego Costa with 2 goals – the game appeared to agree. Spain really haven’t been that good so far, beating Honduras 4-0, drawing 0-0 with Brazil and only beating Senegal 1-0. As a result, I decided to stick to my guns and go with the 5-2-3 system. If you remember from the previous update, one of my main concerns was whether Leon Goretzka would be fit enough for this game. At 91% entering the game, I decided that he was fit enough, because as much as I like Julian Weigl, I don’t think he totally fits this system or is ready enough yet. However, the player that definitely wasn’t fit was Jonathan Tah, who despite being young had played fantastically in the group stages, averaging 7.18. Now remember, I haven’t taken Mustafi or Höwedes so that I can prioritise youth and give them experience, so in came Willi Orban at the right side of the Back 3.
I also decided to keep faith in Mario Götze as the right sided playwinger™, but knew that if he didn’t have a good game, it may have been his last start of the World Cup. This left our starting XI for die mannschaft as:
Neuer; Orban, Hummels, Boateng; Can, Hector, Goretzka, Havertz; Götze, Werner, Brandt
This was the lineup Lopetegui sent out to face us, and it really didn’t scare me. It clearly has some of the key players present, but this is hardly the 2010 side of Xavi & Iniesta, and I wasn’t exactly quaking in my boots looking at the front 3 of Morata, Costa and Aspas. Were Morata upfront, I’d have been far more concerned, having faced him before on FM18 and been torn to shreds on several occasions. I also didn’t believe there was going to be a great deal of forward movement in that midfield 3, and as a result, I felt pretty confident that our midfield 2 would be able to cope, especially with our high pressing approach. I may have been using an extra spare man in my back 3 when I shouldn’t (conventional wisdom and Marcelo Bielsa states you only need one spare man), but that’s our system and I’m sticking with it until it stops working. So, how did the game go?
Confident…and still fantastic at left wing back.
Well, we started off a little shaky, giving up a fair amount of the ball to Spain in the early going. However, the majority of that possession was in the central third of the pitch, so they weren’t really threatening us that much. However, in the 20th minute we allowed a counter attack by Spain, with Diego Costa and Iago Aspas combining – perhaps I underestimated them? – to get Aspas through on goal one on one with Neuer and…
Thank you Manuel, thank you.
Our captain supreme Manuel Neuer saved us, palming the shot away and ruining Spain’s first CCC of the game – this one was a proper CCC unlike many that FM rates as such. After that, I gave the players a bit of a talking to from the sideline, and things calmed down, with us moving closer to Spain in terms of possession, although we weren’t having many shots. However, those that we were having were good quality and in Spain’s box, and largely from open play. Spain were having more shots than us, but on the whole these were from distance, and weren’t threatening – supporting my theory that they weren’t going to cause us much damage with Lopetegui’s choice for his midfield 3. However, in the 39th minute, they came forward again.
Koke, controlling the ball outside of the box – as Spain did quite a lot – tried to move the ball out wide, but our brilliant left wing back Kai Havertz jumped in front of the pass, and immediately played the ball in purple up the pitch to a waiting Julian Brandt – just out of picture. This was the situation Brandt was faced with as he received the ball with his back to goal.
Brandt then received the ball and turned, and as you can see we’re making our counter attack, with player after player making runs forward to support the attack. However, Brandt didn’t wait for any of them, and instead played the long through ball to Mario Götze (closest to the top left of the image), stretching the defensive line and exploiting the acres of space left by Spain’s left back Alba. This left Götze one on one with De Gea and….
TOR! 1-0 to die mannschaft!
Götze easily stroked the ball into the bottom corner, more than repaying my faith in him and deciding to keep him in the starting lineup. Half time came pretty quickly after that, and I simply told the players not to get complacent, and was largely met with a wall of greens. Lovely. I decided there was no need to change anything yet and kept things as they were. Our system was working well, and we had moved to having 51% of the ball. Spain also weren’t threatening despite having a larger number of shots than us. Still the clock kept on ticking…
We then started to struggle with fitness. Emre Can was dead on his feet, and Kai Havertz picked up an injury that meant I’d have to take him off – fortunately he’s not kept the injury after the match. I then moved Jonas Hector out to LWB, and brought on Nadiem Amiri at RWB for Can, and replaced Havertz with Toni Kroos – quite a nice sub to be able to bring on to control and kill the game. This left our XI as:
Neuer; Tah, Boateng, Orban; Amiri, Goretzka, Kroos, Hector; Götze, Werner, Brandt
Our star striker Timo Werner – who was actually having a poor game, but we’ll ignore that – went down in the 87th minute, and will be out for 5-10 days with a gashed head. Sigh…. that means he’ll potentially be out of the semi final should we make it. Anyway, we had 3 minutes left to kill the game, so I switched to ‘standard’ mentality with a ‘fluid’ shape to lower our mentalities and bring the team together to see the game out. The final minutes ticked by and….
YES! World Cup Quarter Finals!
We’ve done it, and as a result come through our first real test of this tournament so far. It was hardly a fluid and dynamic performance, but we did what we needed to do, and picking up wins however we can is what matters at this point. In the end, the stats look in Spain’s favour, but the vast majority of those shots were either from distance or set pieces. Especially in the second half, I never once felt like we were threatened, and I was more than happy for Spain to mess around with it in the centre of the park, and fail to really threaten our back line like they did for Aspas’ chance in the 20th minute. Spain’s average positions for the game appear to back up what I felt would happen, in that Spain’s central midfield trio of Busquets, Koke and Thiago wouldn’t threaten our back line, and Costa looks fairly isolated upfront.
Mario Götze repaid my faith in him, and Willi Orban showed he’s more than ready for this level with a 7.0 rating – although he will probably make way for my preferred option Tah in the Quarter Final. Manuel Neuer ended the match as Player of the Game with a 7.6 rating, by virtue of making 9 saves – the majority again from outside the box. All in all, it was a solid, if unspectacular team performance, and a professional job from die mannschaft. So, who’s next?
Sigh. It doesn’t get much easier does it?
Awwww, we’ve drawn Belgium. Of the teams I could potentially have drawn, this is certainly one of the most challenging. Still, to win the tournament you have to beat the best teams anyway, so we may as well do it now rather than later. God, that was optimistic wasn’t it? Belgium beat perennial FM favourites England in the Last 16, so they’re clearly playing well, and we’ll have to be at the top of our game to beat them. That game is in 4 days, and we’re without our best striker. Still, if we play as I know we can, it’s a more than winnable game. That game will form the next update of this series so until then, thank you very much for reading, and as always, should you have any questions about this save, my plans for die mannschaft moving forward, or just FM18 in general, then please don’t hesitate to contact me via Twitter (@JLAspey) or via the comments section of this blog. Thank you again.