Right, things are über serious now, and I’m going into the game a little concerned – but more about that later. It’s the Semi-Finals of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. In reality, I’ve done far, far better than Jogi Löw’s side did in real life, but in game, I’m expected to reach the final at the very least. No pressure then. When I said in the last update that a quarter final exit would be an unadulterated failure, I was right. This would be less so, but still undoubtedly a failure in the eyes of the DFB. So yeah, again, no pressure. Anyway, this update will cover the Semi-Final against Croatia, a nation that I have a strong affinity to – along with all Balkan nations – in real life, but in this FM world, Croatia can go stuff itself. If you’re just joining this save now – where have you been?! – here are the first, second, third and fourth updates respectively. In the last update, we played the Quarter-Final against perennial nearly men Belgium, and they proved to be that yet again, as we came through 3-2 with a 119th minute goal in extra time from Mario Götze.
We’ve drawn Croatia for this round, when we could have had an easier match in Wales, but compared to Brazil, I’m more than happy to have Croatia as our opponents. Brazil can face Wales – who have been using a basic 4-4-2 – and really should be going through to the final.
Much like Belgium, Croatia have been using a 4-2-3-1 throughout this tournament, with the creative hubs being either Luka Modric or Ivan Rakitic. Their results have been solid if unspectacular, going unbeaten through the tournament, despite drawing with Morocco and Colombia. Nevertheless, we’re going to have to be good to beat them. My scout report told me that they would continue playing in the 4-2-3-1, and with a counter mentality, meaning low risk, but plenty of threat. Now, onto my concerns. My greatest dilemma was whether to go with the 5-2-3 system again, considering last game it wasn’t exactly fantastic against Belgium’s own 4-2-3-1. I also faced serious issues with fitness, and I was really concerned that any extreme rotation would lead to us being knocked out. Note: I do think this is an area that needs to be looked at with regard to international management for future editions of Football Manager. Gareth Southgate did not have to rotate his team that much this summer.
I would also be going into the Semi-Final without the above players. I knew I would be without Joshua Kimmich for the rest of the world cup, after his injury in the group stage, but I had banked on the return of Timo Werner to help me out with our fitness problems, and I was extremely disappointed to see that both Jérôme Boateng and Emre Can would be out for the rest of the world cup. Now, you’ll remember that the 5-2-3 did not serve us that well in the last game. We came through 3-2, but it took us 119 minutes to do so, and I was unsure whether our turnaround in form was due to the 5-2-3, or our increasingly shocking fitness. Well, in the end, the Semi-Final lineup for die mannschaft was:
Neuer; Tah, Hummels, Orban; Amiri, Goretzka, Weigl, Hector; Sané, Müller, Brandt
As you can see, not only is that lineup much weaker than my starting XI at the beginning of the world cup, but it’s also still in the 5-2-3. I decided – or hoped – that our poor performance last round was really just about tiredness, and that this – slightly – rejuvenated side would see our return to form. I also wanted to give Leroy Sané an opportunity, after he helped create the winning goal last round. That was absolutely the plan. This was the XI that Croatia put out against us. On the whole, it’s probably a stronger lineup than ours due to our rotation, but it lacks one major player – Luka Modric. Modric found himself on the bench for his country’s biggest game since 1998. Right, enough talk. How did the game go? Well, in the most anti-climactic 1st half ever – nothing. Well, nothing for us anyway. After 3 minutes, Vrsajlko took a throw in on the right flank to Rakitic, who played it to Krovinovic who lofted the ball inside the box to Kalinic who fired the ball towards the bottom corner..
However, captain Manuel Neuer saved our bacon again by parrying the ball out, and it was cleared for a throw in. This was largely the story of the first half, with Croatia creating chances, and us being unable to do anything whatsoever. Every single highlight was Croatia on the ball, and every shot was saved or missed by Croatia’s attackers. To give you an example, here are Croatia’s shots from the first half, and here are ours. How we managed to get to half time at 0-0, I have absolutely no idea, because we didn’t deserve it. We were horrendous, and it was the opposite of the kind of performances I’ve come to expect as Bundestrainer. At half time, I told the players in no uncertain terms that I expected a much better performance after half time. However, that’s not all I could do. Something had to change. Otherwise, we were going to lose, and lose big.
The main issue that I’d noticed is evident above. As you can see, we have the ball and Croatia are in their defensive shape. We have absolutely no opportunity to build up through the middle, and are totally reliant on the flanks. What’s more, I was seeing this even more in the defensive phase, with Croatia being able to control the centre of the pitch, whilst retaining the attacking width through their wide players. Our 5-2-3 was offering us absolutely nothing, and I had to switch to something else. I’d been dreaming up a new system, and I decided that this was as good a time as any – half time in the world cup Semi-Final – to try it out. This was the general idea, a lopsided 4-3-1-2 with one of the strikers offset to the right flank as an Inside Forward. I felt this system would be absolutely perfect for Leroy Sané, who I knew I’d wasted until this point. This was how the system looked in game. I knew I’d have to make changes in order to fit this system, so this was how we came back out for the second half, the biggest 45 minutes of our tournament:
Neuer; Amiri, Orban, Hummels, Hector; Weigl, Goretzka, Meyer, Özil; Sané, Müller
Now that is a massive change from what I’ve done throughout this tournament. Max Meyer was a player I trusted in qualification and he played several games throughout 2017 and early 2018, but these are his first minutes in the world cup, and are entirely due to injuries and fitness problems. Mesut Özil was a key player throughout qualification in the 4-1-2-3-0, and I saw him as an important player going into the world cup, but because of his performances in the pre-tournament friendlies, I decided to drop him for Mario Götze. In real life I adore Özil, but in this world cup I haven’t really given him a chance. As our best remaining Number 10, I couldn’t really pick anyone else. If you’re reading and thinking this is a desperation move, you’re 100% correct. But still, that’s how we came out for the 2nd half. Almost immediately, I could see that our attacking shape was much, much better. Then, a highlight. From a free kick, Goretzka played the ball towards the back post, and the ball was flicked on by Sané towards Weigl..
TOR! Eine Null nach Deutschland! Tor für die mannschaft!
..who slotted the ball home at the near post to make it 1-0 in the 48th minute. The tactical switch may have been a move of desperation, but hey, it’s worked out immediately. The next in-game highlight was a yellow card, and then we returned to the action in the 59th minute with..
Oh, come on!
…an injury to Leroy Sané – yes, another injury – who was a large reason why I’d even thought up the 4-3-1-2 system. Even better, Sané would have to go off. With no other option realistically able to play his role, I brought on Julian Draxler, who wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I devised the IF role in the 4-3-1-2 – I was actually thinking of Mo Salah. Still, on we went, and the next few highlights were only to show yellow cards being given, unfortunately to Amiri and Özil – who was starting to play very well – on our side. Next highlight, 75th minute. We’re getting closer. Croatia had the ball on our right flank, and Nadiem Amiri made a challenge…
Red. OH COME ON!
… and stupidly brought Croatia’s left back Pivaric down, and is sent off. We’re now down to ten men, with only 15 minutes left to go. If you’ve been keeping track, you’ll also realise I was out of substitutes, having brought on Meyer, Özil and Draxler. Knowing I needed to fill the now massive gap at full back, I was left with no other option but to move Draxler back, and just hope. Now, I was worried. a few minutes later, a highlight…
..however, we were on the ball! A nice, patient passing move around the park – which we just weren’t doing with the 5-2-3 – eventually found Jonas Hector, who moved the ball inside to the Deep-Lying Playmaker, Julian Weigl. Weigl then played the ball forwards to Özil, who could see the run of Thomas Müller. Müller then picked the ball up just outside the box and…
TOR! 2-0 to die mannschaft!
…smashed the ball into the top corner to make it 2-0 to Germany! I was a tad excited at this point, having been convinced that the sending off was the beginning of Croatia’s gradual comeback. At 2-0, I was now very happy, and very content in our position, and simply decided to leave things as they were, because Croatia just weren’t threatening us at all. With around 5 minutes left in game, the time quickly ticked away with little highlight. The final highlight was in the 94th minute and…
YES! World. Cup. Final. Yes, I know I’ve just done as the DFB expects. Let me have this moment. I’m English. We never get this far.
Yes, we are world cup finalists! Rather than the last post where I said I had achieved the minimum that I expected for this squad, now I’ve achieved what realistically I should have achieved. Looking at the stats for the game, it appears as if we’ve been destroyed by Croatia, and we’ve basically stolen this game. However, what the stats don’t tell us is that so many of the shots and good chances were created before our system change at half time, and that we were immeasurably better after that, and really were the team in control of the ball. Moving forward, I don’t think I can play the 5-2-3 in the final. It worked throughout qualification, but against 4-2-3-1 systems in the last two rounds, it really has been found out, and we’ve looked extremely poor. I’ll address this before the match coverage for the final, but I’m also unsure of whether I should use this specific 4-3-1-2 as well, knowing now that Leroy Sané will be out for the final. With the possibility of Timo Werner being back, I’m very tempted to play a traditional 4-3-1-2 with Werner accompanying Thomas Müller – who has really grown into this world cup – upfront. Still, those thoughts are for the next update of this series. Anyway, who are we playing in the world cup final, Brazil or Wales?
Yep, they beat Brazil.
Yes, believe it or not, Wales are our opponents in the final. This is not a glitch, this is not a joke. This is real. I’ll cover Wales’ route to the final in the next update, and how they’ve managed to make it there, but clearly in Football Manager, Ryan Giggs is a world class manager. We will undoubtedly be favourites going into this game, and if we play as well as I know we can – which we haven’t shown in the past two rounds – we should pick up Germany’s 5th world cup, and draw level with Brazil in terms of world cups won. On a side note, I’m very, very tempted to play the next game in a suit, something I’ve never done in all my years of playing Football Manager. So, the 2018 World Cup Final will form the next update of this series so until then, thank you very much for reading and the support I’ve had throughout this series, and as always, should you have any questions about this save, my plans for the final, 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 yet again.