FC Groningen: Trots van het Noorden

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After the end of my one season save in the Belarusian Premier League with Torpedo Zhodino – where we won the title – the beginning of my Twitch save as manager of the Italian National Team (catch my Twitch account here and follow), the continuation of the irritating network save that I am part of with my good friends @turntostone_ and @watadam20 over at Turn to Stone’s twitch channel, I wanted a save that I could focus on progressing through at my own pace, and something that could get me back into writing. As a result I very quickly decided on going to Holland, having seen several people in the FM Community – Ed Wilson’s AZ Alkmaar series, Shrewnaldo’s ADO Den Haag series, Friday Night FM’s PSV save, and Curty and Herb’s network save with AZ and Feyenoord – having enjoyable saves in Holland, and having never played there since maybe FM13. After some discussion with @MerryGuido about which team to go for, I decided to go with FC Groningen, and this is the halfway point of the first season update.

Groningen itself is a very forward thinking city, something which helped it appeal to me. One in five people who live there are students, and the city itself is known for cycling, with a city centre that doesn’t allow cars. Plus, the bars stay open all night, so there’s that too. Lucky bastards students. The club itself hasn’t had much success in terms of trophies, winning the KNVB Beker in 14-15 and winning the Eerste Divisie twice – not that they really count. Aside from that, the club did push the top teams at the beginning of the 90’s, before financial problems led them to be relegated and have to build their way back up. Their best performance since has been a 5th placed finish in 2014. They play in the Euroborg stadium and have featured players such as Arjen Robben, Luis Suarez, Virgil van Dijk, Daley Blind and Ronald Koemann.

kits2

So back to Football Manager then. How have we been getting on thus far? At the time of update the winter transfer window has just closed. In a weird way, I’ve only just started to take this save seriously, for a decent amount of time I’ve just tested tactical ideas, changed a lot and generally messed around, before beginning to take it more seriously in the last in game month and half or so. I’d gone from 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2 to a strikerless system and then to the system I’m using now which I’ll discuss later.

table

Here is the table itself, and so far I’m decently happy with how things are going as we sit 4th at the beginning of February. As you can see though, there is a considerable battle for ‘best of the rest’ – Ajax are LONG, LONG gone – from Willem II in 2nd down to Feyenoord in 8th. I’m certainly not expecting to maintain this 4th place – I don’t think we’re good enough to be quite frank – but to be there at just over the halfway point is quite nice to say the least. Plus, we still have to play Ajax again, and they’re currently going for an unbeaten season. When we played them the first time I was using a hyper-aggressive strikerless system, and we went down to 10 men in the first half, and I changed very little and Ajax put seven past us. Yep. Stupid.

However, that will also put into perspective how good we have been defensively, especially lately. We are currently the 4th best defense in the Eredivisie with 18 goals conceded. If I had been more sensible against Ajax, we’d arguably be even higher than that. Really, that appears to be the ethos of this team – one that I quite like – we may not score loads of goals – 22 goals in 22 games – but we’re clearly incredibly difficult to score past, and that’s largely a result of the tactical style I’ve implemented, especially in the last two months in game. That’s what I want my Groningen to be. At least for now, I’m not looking to play ultra sexy Dutch football, but I do want to be efficient and strong defensively – a little more Van Gaal than Cruyff.

On top of that tactical philosophy, I also want to build an ethos around Groningen as a club. I want to both produce and sign young players that will make their way through the youth setup and be part of the first team. Promoting players to the first team was one of my first steps on joining the club, promoting youngsters Kian Slor and Romano Postema to the first team. Slor has featured throughout the season, and Postema has recently started a few games upfront. They’re both going to be important parts of what we build in Groningen. Tomas Suslov – who you can see below – is also one I’m really keeping an eye on, and he’ll make his way to the first team as soon as those mentals increase.

TomasSuslov

Things haven’t been plain sailing in any way though. We had really poor depth at centre back to begin, leading me to sign Xandro Schenk for £475k from Twente. My rubbish scouts at the beginning weren’t keen, but they’ve since been replaced. We’ve had a couple of quite bad injury crises to deal with, as well as probably the best player at the club (by attributes) Deyovaisio Zeefuik went down with a cruciate ligament injury not long after the season began, meaning we’ve played the majority of our games so far without a proper right back. As a result, when we got to the 1st of January, I went out shopping.

signings

These were the two signings I made. Firstly we had really lacked in attack, with none of my attacking players averaging over 7.00 and clear improvements were needed. My scouts recommended former Ajax player Robert Muric to me – and with his dribbling ability, vision and pace he’s a huge upgrade on Slor, who had been playing in the role that Muric now occupies. He’s averaging a 7.00 currently and scored on his debut, has also assisted a goal and has really given a new impetus in attack. With Zeefuik still out with his cruciate ligament injury, I decided that we had to improve at Right Back with most of our conceded assists coming from the right flank, and there have also been instances where Matusiwa or another replacement directly cost us goals. As a result, I spotted Marco Meyerhöfer unhappy at Greuther Fürth and swooped in, signing him for only £140k. Most importantly, my scouts highlighted to me that midfielder Dirk Proper was approaching the end of his contract, so we moved quickly and picked him up on a Bosman and he’ll join next season. Proper should be a cornerstone of our midfield for years to come.

11

Tactically, this is what I’m currently using. It’s only been our full time setup for the last six games, only losing once 2-0 to Feyenoord. It began as an attempt at a 4-2-3-1 with a Regista at DM and an AM-S in the Number 10 spot, but within 45 minutes of playing the system I noticed that the AM-S was just becoming entirely lost in our play, rarely getting involved, and moved him back to CM-A to get him on the ball. Now he tends to drive into the Number 10 spot before moving the ball wide or forward, so the role isn’t doing quite as I wanted – I’d still like to convert it to utilise a proper 10 – but it has been effective.

You can see that the roles and instructions I’ve selected are very conservative – fitting with our efficient playing style – with only one attacking full back in Meyerhöfer at right back. I’d like to make the left back a little more attacking, but my first choice left back Bart Van Hintum simply doesn’t have the pace required to get up and down the left flank, so I’d rather be much more cautious with him, with the DLP-S and the CM-A able to support the IW-S on the left flank. It helps us keep balance, and with my preferred approach to FM historically being more defensive anyway, it’s working pretty well.

club

In terms of how we play, we tend to move the ball forward through the double pivot – that I absolutely love – before moving the ball out wide to allow the wingers to unlock the defence. I need to get more out of the striker but right now he’s functional and works within the system. We need to bring in some more talent and continue to develop the talent we already have at the club. I’m absolutely loving this save, and from a very standard test save where I was messing around, it’s become the save that I’ve spent time daydreaming about and planning for moving forward. I don’t expect at all to finish in the top 4 – Ajax have the league won, and AZ, Feyenoord and PSV are better than us – but I want to finish as high in the top 8 bracket as I can.

I want to keep this slightly more defensive ethos about the club moving forward too, and really use it to build FC Groningen as a football club within FM20 – we’ve already established a link with Inter Milan and started improving the youth facilities. I’ve always been defense first as a manager, but I feel like I’m taking it even further now (possibly because since my return to FM20, I haven’t found the game half as easy) and the value of clean sheets (around 2.35 points) have been discussed before and it’s really our strength. When we come back for the next update at the end of the season, we’ll look at the tactic and any tweaks I may have made, but I think at least for the next couple of seasons (when I may need to go 4-3-3 and push more people forward) this will be our setup. So, until next time, thank you for reading and as always should you have any questions about my plans for FC Groningen, my tactic, or Football Manager in general, then please don’t hesitate to contact me either in the comments section, or via Twitter (probably best, @JLAspey). Thank you very much for reading again, and I’ll be back soon.

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