The Old Lady and Ronaldo #2: Three Kings and a dodgy Greek pizza

“To me, being the best means proving it in different countries and championships”  – Cristiano Ronaldo

“First I went left, he did too. Then I went right, and he did too. Then I went left again, and he went to buy a hot dog.” – Zlatan Ibrahimovic

“I have no idea when I’ll be fit.” – Arjen Robben 

napoli-graphic

Hello and if you’ve read my first blog in this series The Old Lady and Ronaldo #1: il Partenopei chiama (The Parthenope calls) then you’ll know already the scale of this challenge and if not here is a recap in one sentence – to win Serie A with Napoli ahead of a Ronaldo (and Dybala, but more of that later) inspired Juventus.

Sure, it is ambitious and as I mentioned in that first blog this Partenopei challenge is made even harder by having an aging squad, no strength beyond the first team and piss all in the transfer pot. To add to that, my key player contracts were all due for renewal, (together with the subsequent signing bonuses and wage rises) and the directors took a 28mil dividend a week after I signed. But enough of that, excuses over and let’s see how I started to deal with it.  Firstly, those contract renewals ..

Catalan taxi for Mertens?

With no money to buy in it was crucial that I tied in my key players that had took us to within 4pts of Juve last year under Maurizio Sarri.  Dries Mertens, Marek Hamsik and Jose Callejon were the first priority as they had just two years left on their contracts. Despite having a combined age of 1,163 years they are top drawer and worth upwards of 30+mil each so there was no way I could let them go as the likes of Barca, Real Madrid and Man City started to shark around us. Mertens in particular (with his 20 goals and 6 assists last year) was practically on the plane to Catalonia when I met him at the airport with 5 mil in used Euros and begged him to stay and thankfully it did the job.  Another couple followed in the shape of youngsters (both 28) Lorenzo Insigne and Kalidou Koulibaly, meaning early doors I was feeling much more settled with the squad. This of course meant our already limited funds were depleted further so with that in mind we delved into the market to see if we could get any (cheap) bites to give us the much needed rotation options that the challenge of overtaking Juve required – and that Sarri was criticised for in his last year at the Stadio San Paolo, using a core of around 15  players for most of the 17-18 campaign.  This criticism came from Napoli President Aurelio de Laurentiis while Sarri was still there, when he said that it was ‘inevitable’ that Napoli’s players would run out of steam at the end of the season ‘if we always use the same players’.

But undeterred we went into the market, predictably unable to get any young elite players with 20 Euros, a bit of string and half a packet of ‘Babol’ (Italian sweets) in our pockets. That said, I had no choice but to turn to elder statesmen again and picked up a pair of beauties in Robben and Zlatan. Both came on low fees albeit with a few mil signing bonuses to pretty much clear us out, but what buys they were and I urge any of you to do the same if you are struggling for funds as they are just outrageously good for their ages.

So, with a little bit of rotation in the bag I also went looking for a keeper as Pepe Reina had gone to AC Milan and left us with nothing more than Orestis Karnezis who was bought just before I arrived, a Greek 2* rotation keeper who, with respect to him IRL must have surely been a panic buy from the Napoli board.  Interesting to note that, as I write this on 7th August 2018 he is still Napoli’s only first team purchase in real life this summer.  However my efforts were futile and as it stands on January 20th I still don’t have a new keeper, though I have my fingers crossed that the Galatasaray keeper Fernando Muslera will be in the van at close of business in this window.  The problem is, and has been all along, that as I started with my wage budget already in overspend when I took over the reins, trying to balance fees plus a wage from such a meagre finance slider is nigh on impossible – to give you an example, this is what the 20 mil January budget has been reduced too when I slid the wage deficit down from it’s previous 2.5 mil p/w. In other words it’s going to have to be ‘sell to buy’ methinks.

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So how we doin’?

We doin’ good.  Not VERY good, but good given the scale of the challenge.  As it stands we are 10 pts behind the old Lady despite an invincible league run until our first defeat to them away in our first meeting of the save when they absolutely destroyed us across all the stats.  It was a killer because although I managed to mark Dybala and Ronny out of the game they got two bloody penalties, with Ronaldo scoring his to win one nil.Capture 2.PNG

We also bloody bottled it and failed to win on two night games when Juve had lost their afternoon games, which was so goddamn annoying.

On a more positive note, our rotation has worked perfectly in keeping us in contention AND qualifying us from our Champions league group, even though Juve were knocked out in their group (yay woohoo 🙂 ).  This was even more important because we had some serious injuries early doors to Hamsik (3 months); Mertens (2 months) and now Insigne (2 months).  This meant that the Robben/Zlatan party could get in full swing with great results and here are their stats for the first half of the season, firstly Zlatan, who is on a goal per game plus 7 assists ..

Capture.PNG

.. and Robben, who is almost identical with one more goal but 6 assists (interestingly, while he is a beast as an IFa he is devastating as a DLF with a FBa or WBa behind him, giving me another attacking option) ..

Capture.PNG

As for the other players, tbh they’re all a bit bland in comparison due mainly to those injuries, so still a lot of work to do on rebuilding and renewal going forward.

Plans moving forward

  1. Buy a goddamn decent keeper as I’ve lost count of the number of times our resident Greek has stood there with his finger up his arse when one-on-one (fnarr fnarr)
  2. Do a little bit of sell-to-buying to raise funds moving forward
  3. (possibly) sell Hamsik – sorry Napoli fans but he’s worth 32 mil at 32 years old with declining attribs so if an offer comes he has to go
  4. Continue to perform well in the Champions League (Arsenal next at home 🙂 )
  5. Keep plodding on and hope the Old Lady slips down the stairs come the end of the season (though it’s not going to happen really, is it?)

So there you have it, not much to report so far so keep your eyes open for the next update at the end of this first season.  Enjoy the pizza and see you soon.

D

 

The Old Lady and Ronaldo #1: il Partenopei chiama (The Parthenope calls)

“Napoli get their nickname ‘Il Partenopei’ from the siren Parthenope, who tried to enchant Odysseus from his ship to Capri. In the story, Odysseus had his men tie him to the ship’s mast so he was able to resist the song of the siren. Consequently, Parthenope, unable to live with the rejection of her love, drowned herself and her body was washed up upon the shore of Naples.” – Wiki

napoli-graphic

For those of you who know me from my Newton Heath 1878 save, you’ll know that I goddamn love my football history, which for me is (occasionally) more important than tactics and winning trophies.  That said, this latest save diverts a little from this in that it deals with the more recent history of the long-standing rivalry between Juventus and Napoli.  Juve, ‘the old lady’ vs ‘Il Partenopei’, the very much young lady siren who was so much in despair at failing to lure Odysseus that she killed herself.

As it stands here in August 2018, for 7 years on the trot the old lady has danced at the top of Serie A, sweeping everyone before her away with a swish of her grizzled paw.  Napoli have been runners-up twice in the last three years and three times if you take it back to 2012-13, when Edison Cavani was the inspiration for their first serious title challenge since 1989-90. In that momentous year, the Golden Boy Diego Maradona powered them to the title with 16 out of their 57 goals, leading them to the highest points score in their history, just a year after a 2-leg 5-4 UEFA cup win against Stuttgart.

As a sometime fan of Napoli (we go to Sorrento for our hols) I have kept one eye on their progress over recent years and their pursuit of Juve and have watched them fall each time despite occasionally leading and looking at times like champion material.  Most recently, as many students of the game are aware, Maurizio Sarri’s high-pressing attractive football took Napoli to within 4pts (compared to 5 and 9 points on those previous two runner-up occasions).  I am no tactical expert at all but if you are interested here is an excellent Tifo explanation of it which will make much more sense than my attempts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWJkzjouJgk

So it was all looking pretty, pretty good for this year, with Napoli chasing and on the up until this batch of lovely occurrences just happened:

  1. Maurizio Sarri left to go to Chelsea
  2. Jorghino, (their crucial midfield pivot) went with him
  3. Juve bought Ronaldo
  4. .. did I say, Juve bought Ronaldo?
  5. .. oh and Juve bought R .. (you get the idea)

On top of that, several of Napoli’s key players are now over 30 (including their talismans Mertens, Hamsik, Albiol and Callejon); their ex-Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina has left on a Bosman to Milan and there is bugger all in the transfer pot because the directors have taken a heftier than usual profit share this year (allegedly).

So as you can see the scene is set for a rather difficult FM18 save that has not one but several challenges that I hope I can make a reasonable fist of.  In the true spirit of ‘il Partenopei’ therefore, my main aim is to lure Oydsseus (aka Ronaldo) and his ship (Juve) onto the rocks without the bit where I end up killing myself if I fail.  To do this I have started the save using the sortitoutsi current date and transfer patches, meaning we start on 31st May 2018 with Ronaldo at Juve and Reina gone etc. Now that is established. here are the main aims with difficulty out of 10 + notes in red):

  1. To beat Juve in a competitive game (5/10 as they’ve done it already last season)
  2. To win the league ahead of them (hmmmmm .. 11/10)
  3. To bring strength and depth to the squad to cope with all competitions and fixtures (this has been a problem for the last few years, with Sarri relying on a bulk of around 15 players for all comps. I’m going to say 8/10 difficulty as I only have a 15mil budget and all my wages are maxed out)
  4. Renew an aging squad (8/10 linked with above – this may conflict as the only decent frees are aging elite players so this may have to go down as a work in progress)

I’m going to give myself a few seasons so I hope you pop by and follow updates.  I’ve already done some transfer business with a couple of cheeky elite free or peppercorn signings so that will be my first proper post, coming soon.  Thanks for stopping by and I hope to see you there.

Daz (aka @FMheathen on twitter or FMtotality on here)

PS Yes, they are fountains coming out of her nipples, it’s like, a thing in Italy (to do with nature feeding the world) 🙂

 

Heathens resurrected 18: Bye bye Bank Street (for now)

We have come a long, long way together, Heathen fans.  From a cobbled street and a filthy council croft in the shade of Clayton Gasworks to this, our stunning ‘New Bank Street’ stadium unveiled just days after our greatest triumph, lifting the FA Cup against one of our bitter rivals from down the East Lancs, Liverpool 🙂 fa cup winWhat a game and what a day, especially because I got this dreaded email as we were getting on the coach, with the board pissed at me for our 7th-place league finish despite me getting the club into both their first ever Europa and FA cup finals!Capture.PNGNow given that I had already said I would be leaving after the game anyway, you might think that wouldn’t bother me, but pride meant that whatever happened I WOULD make sure I won the bugger. I have not put over a thousand hours in for nothing, I thought. The (alternate) history of this save deserves a fitting end such as beating the scousers.  I also noticed this little news item: Capture.PNGSo there you go – the end game was all setup, with a Wembley final deciding the fate of either me or the Liverpool gaffer, Diego Simeone, the diving bastard who cost us the World Cup in 1998 after being accidentally tickled by Beckham – what could be more perfect? (Apart from it being Manchester City instead) 🙂

On the day we arrived at Wembley full of hope and grit but absolutely knackered after a massive run of games. Deciding to prioritise trophies over the league, as previously mentioned we had incredibly also managed to get into the Europa League final as well just two days before.  However, from scouting reports and watching our opponents, RB Leipzig’s last game, it was clear that it would be nigh on impossible to beat them at the final venue of Ibrox.  On the day I was right, and we went down to a very easy 2-1 loss when they barely broke a sweat yet totally dominated almost every stat, despite me preparing for hours and researching every aspect of their game.  I even went to a wider formation to counter their ridiculous goals-from-crosses rate and all they did was take it through the middle instead in a possession game that destroyed our fitness in 30 minutes (we had played our last league game 2 days before).  So onwards and upwards the Heathens went to Wembley and tried to put it behind us.

For Wembley I reverted back to starting with our narrow 4222 tactic which was a revelation in the second half of the season, when I finally realised after years that wingers were not working.  I had been lulled into a wide formation over a period when I had some nice IFs and fast Ws which was reasonably successful (we beat Spurs with it to lift the Carabao three years ago) and I had fallen into becoming one of the worst things in FM, a creature of habit, predictable and easy for the AI to unpick.  As such we were battered early doors for the first half of this season and by Christmas had no consistency and were placed 11th in the league.  Finally I realised that I had about a hundred MCs and DMs and also strikers so came up with this:Capture.PNGTo be honest, it’s not far from the default 4222 but I kept working it and adding instructions to turn it into a high-pressing, possession tactic that soon started to have great effect.  At first it was so narrow we were getting battered on the flanks, especially because I was loathe to mark up their fullbacks because it would drag those narrow 6 players into wide positions and lose our central short passing options. There was also something else I added that others on twitter (@Cleon81 and quickly pointed out shouldn’t work, and that was changing the fullbacks to inverted wingbacks.

Not reading the description properly (my bad), I was thinking very simply that it would compress play even more and overload the attackers and to be honest it did that perfectly  According to the FM description however the role needs wingers and a single DM in front of it otherwise he will basically be a regular WB.  The odd thing was that when I tried them as regular WBs or FBs it never worked half as well.  All I can think of is that that they were operating in the half space at the back perhaps more than a regular WB, maybe when my DMs were out of position and higher up the pitch, so in other words giving us cover in the DM strata.  Capture.PNGThat said, who cares?  It worked, so fuck it 🙂 and by mid-February our Franken-tactic had give us a 16-game unbeaten run from mid-December.

So into Wembley we strode confidently with this formation, knowing that, despite them thrashing us 4 nil earlier in the season (with a Martin Odegaard hat-trick) we had pegged them back to a 0-0 draw last time out.  At this point you are welcome to skip to the Youtube video I made if you like, which is here:

 

Early doors, you couldn’t get a rizla between us and marking Odegaard to death ensured his threat was negated.  We were keeping possession well and were restricting them to a ridiculous array of long shots which was almost like a ‘who can hit the corner flag’ competition.  The second half was the same, as was ET and finally it came to penalties, with both me and Simeone shitting our pants on the sideline thanking Christ we didn’t have any players called Southgate and praying our boys could save at least one of our jobs (in fact at one point I though he was going to come and put his arm round me, so united were we in our dread).Image result for simeone head bowedIn the end, after an absolute worldie from my keeper Matty Ball, the pens went to sudden death and it was left to my want-away-to-Real-Madrid RB, Fabrizio Fava, to do the business in possibly his last kick for the Heathens.  I couldn’t look as he stepped up nervously .. Capture.. to hammer it right into the top corner to send Simeone weeping to his knees and the green and gold half of Wembley into absolute rapture. Capture.PNG And that my friends was the end of this FM18 Heathen adventure, oh yeah 🙂

And there is where I am going to leave it for now as I want to do another post to tie up the whole project, which will be more in depth and befitting of the project as a whole.  So keep your eyes out for it on twitter and I hope to see you there soon.

Bye for now,

Daz

 

Edited leagues part 2: a busman’s holiday with the real Corinthians

Like pretty much everyone I have always used gaming as an escape and when it comes to FM, for many years for me it has even been an escape from the English leagues as well.  I have always been of the opinion that you play the game as you want and in the past I have liked nothing more than starting with an obscure team in a different country to see where I can take it.  This might seem odd to some of the community who prefer the Premier League or similar but each to their own and this is how I get my kicks (I also like sticking needles in my eye for a laugh and kneel on broken glass everytime I have dirty thoughts 🙂 ).

It’s not always obscure though, sometimes it is just non Premier League, such as after I had been on holiday to Italy with a Napoli save way back in the day, then went on to the Pumas in Mexico and also to the horrible experience that was Dreams FC in Hong Kong that nearly made me pack the game in (I know, I don’t know why either) among many others in different countries.  There has been the odd English save along the way, such as Morecambe in 2013 and a 13 club journeyman when I finally won the UCL with Everton, but mostly it is across the waters.

I also love edited leagues and often have one on the go as a respite for those times in my main save when it all becomes a bit of a chore and this is what this blog is about, this year’s completely daft (but very well planned) edited league save, with the Corinthian Casuals in a UK league as featured in the first part of this blog Edited leagues: your final FM18 fantasy?  It was very much a labour of love that I had been planning all through FM17 if only the right club come along ..

Ladies and gentlemen, the Corinthian Casuals

Back in October last year, in perfect timing for the release of FM18, I read this excellent BBC article entitled How the English influenced AC Milan, Juve, Corinthians, Real Madrid & Barcelona. here is a screenshot:

coritnhians.PNG

In it the author, Andrew Aloia, as per the title explained how certain English teams had seeded the growth of the game around the world and the part about Corinthian Casuals really caught my eye.  To summarise, after resisting all attempts to force them to go professional they decided to take their game global with many foreign tours to countries such as South Africa, Canada, the United States, South America, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Spain, Denmark and Germany.  It was on one of these tours to Brazil in 1910 where they inspired a group of locals to form the Corinthians, whom now of course are one of the most successful clubs in South America. They also gave birth to the word ‘soccer’ (their Captain used it as a shortening of ‘Association’ when talking to someone about why rugby was called ‘rugger’) and, so they claim, inflicted Man Utd’s biggest ever defeat of 11-3 in 1904 (though the Utd wiki is strangely silent on this 🙂 ).

So you can see why they drew my eye – they are obscure, have an incredible history and would certainly be a challenge for an FM save. But that wasn’t enough – time to get to the editing.

The ultimate league? (aka how many f***ing cups do you need?)

As I said, gaming of course is an escape, and I wanted this Corinthian Casuals save to be a respite from my Newton Heath 1878 adventure, which is honestly the best (but hardest) challenge I have had in all the years of playing the game.  That said, I needed something completely different to anything I had ever played before.  I don’t want this blog to be about the editing so won’t bore you with the 3-week long edit but basically I wanted it to look like this:

  • A wide selection of UK teams in 5 graded divisions, to give as level a starting point as possible within that division (though not always due to team rep and finances).
  • A ‘Minnows’ (non)league with teams posing either a difficult or historical challenge, either because they are amateur/low finances, fan-owned or with another interesting history.
  • A wide variety of money-earning comps, each with a different challenge (from domestic to continental, even at the Minnows level, and with varied subs etc)

All that said, this is how it came out (click to enlarge):

uk league structure

Also, to give you a quick idea on the teams included, here is a snapshot from the leagues in focus (though it shows only half the teams and just one of the tri-leagues):

leagues.PNG

So after all the screaming and shouting at the editor and about 15 ten-year holiday tests, what does the league play like and where are we now?

A Corinthian assault on the UK league

I have to say we are doing very well indeed and the database has been an absolute blast to play.  In terms of the team, it took us two years to escape from the minnows league and we have now reached the dizzy heights of League Two after 4 years.  There have been some brilliant highs on the way which have mostly come from winning prize money via the comps and we have won the Golden Goal comp outright twice.  To give you an idea of how this can affect finances here is a prize money summary for last season:

UK prize money

Now you might think this means you can waltz your way up the leagues and leather everyone by splashing the cash (I did) but unfortunately that is not the case as every other team is earning the same.  There is also the problem of your reputation and the fact that the REAL Premier League in England and every other top league in the world still exists, and given the DB is based on the template from Lichtenstein (though I upped it’s world rep a bit), attracting players is not always easy.

I will probably turn this into a proper blog post following the team as per a regular save so I will end it here, but just want to leave you with this teaser so you know the sort of interesting schedule and variety of challenges that this database gives you – as you can see, this is for last season when I used 3 up front for 6 games because fuck it, I thought, it’s not cheating if it’s a completely mental league anyway 🙂

UK schedule.PNG

So there you go – if you fancy a crack yourself the steam link is below and I hope to see you soon for the second part which will be a proper save update.  Until then ..

Steam workshop file

 

 

Heathens resurrected 17: City vs (f***ing) Liverpool??

1: The view from Eddie Colman court, by Daz (age 8)

“”The Heathens are going places, we might be bigger and only a mile away at Maine Road but you’ve got a million times our passion.” Denis Law, September 1961

As I sit here on this March morning pondering in my office at Bank Street I glance over at the framed banner that welcomed Denis Law back to Manchester in 65′-66′.final-Law-imageWhat a day that was for the fans as, after a torrid time at Torino, the man who was to become the ‘King of the Clayton Rd End’ joined us to help us win the league and have a lovely dig at our fiercest rivals Manchester City, who had let him go to Italy a year earlier on extremely bad terms.

This image resonates with me after recent events (more of that later), with my window barred with scaffold not dissimilar to the prison bars of Strangeways just two miles away (our capacity will soon be 25,359 after this third expansion in as many years).  It reminds me of how this journey has really always been about that rivalry with our noisy blue neighbours, from our humble beginnings in Heathens Resurrected: an FM18 labour of love (prologue) to what I hope will be it’s glorious end.  So with that in mind, please indulge me in this brief blog post as I step outside of this office and character for a few minutes, to a world where Newton Heath did indeed become Manchester United in 1902 and went on to become the great club which (some of) you may love, called Manchester United.

Image result for eddie colman court 1970In that universe I am Daz, an eight year old Salfordian who likes bikes, penny arrow bars and spud guns.  I can see the top of Old Trafford from my council flat near Salford Precinct in Eddie Colman court, named after one of the Busby babes who died at Munich (John Lester and Walter Greenwood courts are on either side, also named after Munich victims).  It is 1974 and tbh I’m not that into football apart from playing it with my mates in the street, but I am well aware of my dad’s love for United, which consumes most of his life and dominates most of the conversations with his mates.  He only goes to the odd game at the time due to being on yet another strike as a railwayman, which always seemed to be the case when I was growing up in the 1970s.

My introduction to live football was therefore not from Dad but by accident and the total opposite to what you might expect.  I called for a City-fan mate to play out with me and him and his dad were off to the game and asked me to go, so I went, simple as that – because you did those sorts of things back then.  It was so matter of fact that I probably didn’t even tell my mum where I was going. City were playing Liverpool at Maine Road.

Image result for manchester city vs liverpool 1974 rdoney marsh tommy smith
City vs Liverpool, 1974 – my first game (with Rodney Marsh and Tommy Smith)

My first experience of live footy therefore was against the two teams that my dad detested the most, which serves him right I suppose for not taking me himself to Old Trafford (later he will become a rugby man for ten years and he will take me to Salford games every week, so he was still a top dad 🙂 )

The first thing I remember was entering what felt like a cage, rammed in between about a million people without being able to see a thing except the backs of big shouty blokes wearing city scarves without a single replica shirt in sight.  Above us was what I can only describe as a suspended mesh wire curtain covered with small silhouetted metal discs and the odd beer can even before the game started. As more started to rain down upon us as the game started I realised that they were 2p pieces kindly donated by the Liverpool fans in their own cage next door, with many of them sharpened no doubt.  All I remember is thinking that I would be rich and could buy everyone in the street an arrow bar if I could get hold of a handful 🙂 .

Other than that, I don’t remember a lot about the game apart from the shouting and the to and fro of the crowd.  Oddly I don’t even remember if we were in a seated section but if we were we ignored it and were all standing anyway.  I got glimpses of the game through the mass of working class arses and remember two massive moments when City scored (Denis Tueart and Rodney Marsh) which was exciting only because we all got threw forward and everyone went mental.

2: Fancy coming to Utd tonight?

So there you go, confession over, my first game was indeed City vs Liverpool, but not really, not in my heart, because it felt nothing and I was just a passenger.  For various personal family-related reasons my first proper game wasn’t to come until I was 17 years old and in the best possible way; when I went with my mates to watch Utd try to overcome a 2 nil deficit in the European cup 2nd leg quarter final against Barcelona and the incredible Diego Maradona.  Now of course I realise how lucky I was for this to be my debut game as it is now widely regarded as one of Utd’s greatest European nights. What a game to choose.

Since then, I have been to many European nights at Old Trafford with my own son, most of which have been highly memorable, but I can tell you for certain now that I’ve never witnessed an atmosphere like that night, when Bryan Robson grabbed Barca by the throat and shook the life out of them, scoring two out of three (Arthur Albiston got the third) and driving the team forward.  What a night …When United famously saw off Diego and BarcelonaSo let’s go back to City and Liverpool, where they sit in my own footballing universe and what the fuck this has to do with FM and my Newton Heath story.

Predictably, as you can imagine as a Utd fan I can’t stand the pair of them, but for me it has always been City whom I have absolutely detested the most. When we play Liverpool I join in with all the other fans in our combined rivalry and feel just as destroyed if we lose and just as ecstatic if we win, but there’s something different about City, because every time I see their fucking badge and pale blue colours, it triggers something inside that I just can’t explain.  Nothing personal against their fans (or blue FMers), I just hate the club.  Really fucking hate them.

I know exactly where it comes from.  I have worked daily alternating between Liverpool and Manchester for years now, so much so that weirdly I don’t even notice a scouse accent these days.   I’m also fortunate in that the people I work with are mature professionals with whom you can have a decent grown up conversation about footie – we still take the piss when we beat each other big style but it’s mostly with a mutual respect.  There’s also one thing I can say for certain about Liverpool (and Everton) fans – they know their fucking facts about football, whether you disagree with their colours or not.

3: Who’s that t**t from Argentiiiiiina? Who’s that money-grabbing whore ..

The big difference of course is that I live amongst the Man City fans and just like any other twin-team city, we are deeply divided.  I have had the displeasure of being shouted at by a pissed up blue cousin at my Dad’s funeral (I gave it him back of course); being verbally abused across the road by a neighbour when returning from a match with my son while wearing our scarves (we had lost 3 nil to Liverpool, by pure concidence); had an old boss who literally ignored me for a month because I cracked a joke about Mancini and much, much more.

And who can forget Tevez’s back-stab move across the City and the classless manner in which it was executed?  All I’ll say is that when I was stood in the Stretford End watching him walk out for the league cup semi second leg he broke my deep red heart, the lousy bastard. All 70+ thousand of us had supported him right through his contract negotiations and I don’t mind telling you that I cried a few times that night – both in sadness and then in joy as we knocked the fuckers out against the odds with a 3-1 win to negate their 2 nil lead from the 1st leg.

Image result for tevez manchester city vs man utd league cup
Tevez  n. [ˈtɛvɛz] a lousy bastard, alt. one who sells one’s body for outrageous profit to the highest bidder
So there you go, hatred breeds hate, which is why I feel the way I do towards everything pale (fucking) blue, even in a bloody computer game.

So that takes us back to FM, and to my not so little Newton Heath 1878 universe here in my Bank Street office – I can see the lads are starting to arrive for training, lining up in front of  Gavin the brew boy who is rubbing all of their thighs with linament (bit odd) so I’m going to leave you with this screenshot of this season’s final league table, which is the point of this whole blog post, in the hope that you might now better understand and perhaps share a little in my deep contentment at how it finished, even thought some people tell me it’s just a game.  I hope you enjoy it as much as me (except if you’re a blue). 🙂

city final league position

 

Heathens resurrected 16: a European (mis)adventure

I can remember clearly that hazy August morning at 6am when when we all met at Bank Street, climbing on the Charabanc to go to play Grasshoppers in Switzerland in our first ever Europa qualifying round. Xherdan Shaqiri had bagsied the front seat, ready to speak stuff, Gabby Barbosa was doing pull ups in the aisle with everyone munching on one of Betty’s Breakfast baps. All the lads were singing along and waving the green and gold, it was bloody fantastic. Little did we know the cost come the end of the season, when ultimately our great European adventure would almost cost us everything we had achieved so far, leaving us clinging to the premier league humming the ‘self preservation society’.

To recap, we ended up in the Europa because the previous season we had incredibly won the Carabao cup against Spurs in possibly my best tactical victory of the save, winning 1 nil after weeks of prep in game time (2 hours IRL) and a sending off on their part just 30 minutes in – if you didn’t witness it, you can read the whole thing here: Heathens resurrected 15: Carabao cup pre-match preparation and analysis).

It was all the more special because we have been punching above our weight since we arrived in the Premier League and apart from beating City several times (wahey) we had never won against another top four team and our best placed finish was 12th.

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So onwards to this year, with me knowing that I had to increase the squad depth and quality to cope with European competition alongside the regular schedule. My youth programme was only just starting to bear fruit with a cracker of a striker called Fabian Ischia and a couple of others, but the rest of the team was still packed with improved championship players, poor youngsters and cast offs from other prem clubs. I was also facing the loss of my magnificent 4* keeper Kamil Gabrara due to an 11mil release clause – I had loaned him back for a year but he was due to go.

That said, I made a new keeper my main priority. I also wanted to delve into the released players after missing out on some fading stars a couple of seasons on the run and thought this was a good way to spread my meagre 25 mil budget. At the end of the transfer window I had achieved these aims with the highlights being a new 4* goalie, Evan Horvath, the previously mentioned Shaquiri on a free (33), James Rodriguez (34) and the ex-Real Madrid stone wall of a DM/DC, Casimero (33):

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My reasoning was, yes they’re aging but they give me the experience and depth to cope with the extra games.

Initially it was a great success, with wins home and away in that Grasshopper debut and an easy qualification into the second qualifying round. We then met Arsenal as our first league game just three days later and with those guys rested for the next European fixture just a week later in came my second string and we lost 3-1. This wasn’t a surprise but sadly it was a pattern that would continue after every European result, with us being totally unable to recover.

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The blame is all mine of course, as caught up in the romance of this Heathen adventure I was completely biased towards us doing well in Europe, thinking I could pick up the league form later on. Sadly, it wasn’t to be and by the time we got to Christmas we had only won 4 / drawn 2 in the league, despite winning our Europa league group with two games in hand and amazingly defeating Celtic both home and away:

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So all well and good, with qualification in the bag we moved onwards and I started to prioritise the league, winning a couple and getting a couple of draws, but soon Europe started again and my biased management kicked in once more, overcoming Celta Vigo to set up a dream tie with Benfica, linked so much as I’m sure you know with the real life romance of Manchester United’s 1968 cup final. We lost, of course, but more importantly our league form suffered yet again as Europe kicked in:

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I have to say at this point that there was also quite an extreme issue that I had to deal with in my personal life (if you follow me on twitter you know the story) but instead of putting the save to one side I tried to use it as a coping mechanism and carried on, but this time hammer continue much more than before and preparing little for games.

This was my fault entirely and predictably the wheels came off our campaign big style and we started to lose in dramatic fashion on the league run-in, finally surviving by the two points we managed to scrape in these last two draws:

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Looking at the final table, all I’ll say is thank God it was the lowest points scoring season I’d ever seen, as any other year we’d have gone down:

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So in summary, this is how our season finished:

  • LEAGUE: 17th
  • EUROPA: won group, knocked out in 2nd rd by SLB (Benfica)
  • CARABAO: knocked out in 4th round by Brighton
  • FA CUP: knocked out in 5th round by Spurs

Saying that, here’s the summary with the board expectation above, showing that despite the board only being half happy on the slider we actually managed to achieve their expectations:

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Of course the same can’t be said for the league as they wanted mid-table but hell, we’ll always have the alps, eh boys?

Onwards and upwards, barring any more family disasters the Heathens will return next year. Thanks for reading and if you liked it please give it a share and watch out for those bends in your charabanc.

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Altogether now ..

Heathens resurrected 15: Carabao cup pre-match preparation and analysis

Prelude: primadonnas and the prep myth

So we did it, for the time since 1956 the Heathens are in a cup final, to be precise, the Carabao against Spurs.  I am so chuffed but here on this warm May morning with the sun streaming into my Bank Street office and glinting off Will Stafford’s framed 56′ medal, I am reminded of the occasion’s importance to everyone connected with the club.  With that in mind, I am putting aside all celebratory thoughts of our already great achievement in reaching the final to prepare to beat the buggers.

Firstly, may I say that I think there’s a myth in the FM community about the amount of preparation people do for games, whether it be any game or specifically big games.  From speaking to others it seems that yes, we step up with the pre-match preparation when we have to but it’s a case of when you hit upon a sweet tactic with well matched players you really can (most of the time) just wing it through games with little prep or attention paid to the opposition reports until the moment the AI cottons on.  I had a save .. ahem I mean a previous managerial position a few years back in Mexico and after I’d won everything in the first season I basically fucked off on holiday for the next, only to find we won everything again and my assistant manager had got manager of the year, which really pissed me off.

But that was then and this was now, for my mixed bag squad of misfiring primadonnas, bumfluff kids and underwhelming ex-Championship players are on a seriously bad run of form going into this final ..

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This has been typical of our season with odd unbeaten/loss runs as follows (from the first 18 games) even though I’ve made barely any changes to the base tactic:

  • 5 games unbeaten
  • 3 losses
  • 2 wins
  • 2 losses
  • 3 unbeaten
  • 3 losses

That said, I’m not too despondent as we are 14th on 37pts with another 11 games to play (we only got 43 points and 15th in both the last 2 years) and we’re in the Carabao final.  Goddamnit though it would be seriously good to win a trophy!

Preparation 1: heads and bodies

For this read ‘where is the squad now?’ both physically and mentally and the answer to this is in a bad place.  Those losses have sent our heads seriously down so the first thing is to get them back up.  I duly hold a team meeting, tell them to get their heads up then follow up with praising training and conduct to get their morale up to here:morale.PNGOn a side note, see what I mean about the mix of players? the odd shining lights like O’Riley, Barco and Barbosa but otherwise it’s still a work in progress, with decent starting prospects such as Grealish and Nketiah coming to me too a bit too late in the save I feel.

The next thing is to give them a few days rest – condition is ok (they’ve already had two days off) but it’s a two week break till the final so why not?  That done, I also go into training and deal with any unhappy players to the point where they’re all either content, pleased or happy with training (I’m sure many know how to do this but if you don’t you just sort by ‘training happiness’ then address their concerns, so e.g. if it is a too heavy workload then stop any additional focus for the time being and lighten the intensity level, which seems to work) ..training.PNG

Preparation 2: the early scouting report

As it’s THE big game of the save so far I’ve pre-empted the usual opposition report with a separate early scouting report and these are the results.  With Spurs playing three times in the next 8 days this line-up could all change for the final (they have Deli Alli and others) but I just wanted an early heads up on their tactics:tottenham scouting report.PNGThe first thing I notice is the formation with only 1 striker and Kane playing deeper, presumably because of his slight loss of pace at 31.  Interesting to note also that he’s only on 8 goals from 22 this season while last year he got 23 overall. Saying that though his assists are seriously worrying as they have risen from just 5s for the last three seasons to 7 in this half-year alone, so as always he will be a threat if he starts there.

Moura on the right wing of course is also a threat though again he is 33 and has not got one assist yet in his 3 games since he came in the January window.  This also applies to N’golo Kante at DM, who at 33 has just applied for his bus pass and could be a weak link on just a 6.82 avg this season.

Saying that, if we’re looking for weak links then their right newgen WB James Carson could be the one.  He’s their second choice as they also have the decent prem level Argentinian Wilmar Barrios (ex-Boca) however they are both central midfielders so it highlights a real weakness in the squad. With any hope with their fixture congestion he might play on the day.carson.PNGI also noticed a few more things but I’m holding fire until the proper opposition report closer to the game.

So far it looks like their busy schedule could be my best advantage, meaning they shouldn’t be in top condition and there may even be some rotation.  now that I know that, on to the next part ..

Preparation 3: watching QPR vs Spurs

The next step was to watch Spurs’ final game against QPR, whom they had just drawn 0-0 with in the FA cup.  I made sure I ctrl-clicked all the players to see their names:QPR v Tottenham_ Match Pitch.pngThese were the points I noticed and the possible implications in red:

  • They played a full strength side incl. Alli, Son and the RWB Barrios (they might rotate for final)
  • QPR played a 4141, matching Spurs (I will of course be playing a DM) and only conceded 1 goal across the two games (so think I will play it as well)
  • The RB Barrios and the other LB Grimaldo were overlapping WBs as expected (both left gaps behind that the DM tried to cover)
  • Kane was restricted to long shots but hit the bar with his 4th before he moved to CF in the last 10 minutes (be good if I could make him do the same if he plays)
  • QPR’s few deep counters were met by the DCs playing high and pressing (need to be more successful with my fastest striker and other outlets up the wings)

Preparation 4: final prep and tactics

So as I go into the game I see the first good news is that Tottenham are in fact rotating big style, with a bunch of youth and other newgens alongside 4 or 5 experienced internationals.  With regards to my pre-match scouting, Carson the dodgy RB isn’t playing (shame) and neither is Kane, which is a massive boost.   Another interesting thing is that as I expected they are also pretty knackered, with the highest starting fitness on 93%.

They’re still no mugs though and the big problem in attack comes from what I can see are three players, namely Lucas Moura on the right wing, Andrew Robertson at LB and their lone newgen striker Stephen Tetteh, who has a bad avg overall but was good when he came on in the last half of the QPR game.  In defence, they’ve also got Lloris in goal and the towering DC Srdjan Babic, ex of Red Star, who will tighten things up at the back.

So here we have it – my starting tactic, based on that QPR closed door formation, counter and pressing with short passing from the back building to long passes for Nketiah and others:

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This is not too different from my regular formation apart from using wingers instead of IFs, as I want to stay just a little deeper on the wings to help to counter Moura and Robertson.

This is a more in-depth reasoning behind it:

  • A strong midfield with good tackling and creativity
  • Trauco on the left to man-mark Moura
  • Verlinden on the right to man-mark Robertson from his deep runs
  • Barco as a BBM to hopefully run rings around their aging DM N’Golo Kante (he’s an SS really but can’t risk him high)
  • Anderson to mark their striker Tetteh

The match: WATCH THIS BEFORE SCROLLING DOWN!

I’m just going to park this here for you to watch before you read the next bit (If you can’t wait scroll down but I warn you you’re only ruining it for yourself):

The result – so did the anyalysis work?

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You’re goddamn right it did – we won 1 nil to lift the trophy and beat them for the first time in the save against all the odds :).

Despite screwing up most of my prep by changing almost the complete team, we managed to match them shot for shot and were leading 1 nil until the sending off, which only compounded their problems, meaning they had to take off Moura.  We also hit the woodwork three times and I didn’t need to make a single sub throughout the game for the first time this season, meaning my starting choices were spot on.   In fact, the only weak point was Eddie Nketiah on a 6.8 (everyone else was on 7s or above).  We also reduced Andrew Robertson to a 6.5, which I was really pleased with as he dominated the other games against us this year.

You could say I guess that it was the sending off that did it but the vid speaks for itself, you can see we were easily matching them before that happened and here is a screenshot to prove it at the exact moment he had been sent off (literally the only thing they were beating us on were fouls and tackles):

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A great what if would be if you could start the game again at that point and see if we would have scored more as personally I think I would have subbed Nketiah for Abraham, which would have been interesting.

Conclusion

So, this proves that you should watch every opponent before a game and study their … (hang on, we all know that’s bollocks so I’ll stop there).

It proves that yes, YOU SHOULD do that, but who honestly has the time?  It’s only because I’m off work today that I could do it.  That said, I’ve definitely learned that it doesn’t hurt to spend just a little longer on match prep and scouting (with maybe the odd visit to an opposition game).

So that’s it for now fellas, thanks for reading/watching and thank the Gods it worked or otherwise I’d have looked a right dick and wasted my day off 🙂

See you soon.