Since my last update at the end of the 2013/14 season, we’ve completed our squad overhaul. In the end it ended up as less of an overhaul and more of a sale of the deadwood and the arrival of three central midfielders. Ah well.
The first two guys were planned for a while. I knew we needed a dominating presence at DM, a player who could dictate play but also act as the primary playmaker from deep. With Maher and Hiljemark at CM and both being incredibly dynamic players who push on, the DM is likely to be left to deal with opposition counter-attacks. As he was available on a free transfer, Ekdal was a no-brainer. In the previous update I said the transfer budget was largely flexible, but when you can get the same quality of player on a free transfer then you go for it. I had planned for Ekdal to be my DLP-D at the base of a ‘1-2’ shape in central midfield, but that changed later in the window due to this man..
When Ekdal joined, I was sure he’d be the regular starter at the base of midfield. However, I became aware Fernando wasn’t enjoying life at Liverpool and I just couldn’t turn him down. With Ekdal filling the Scandanavian quota, there was space for a classy Brazillian. Having played the first couple of games of the season, it’s already clear that Fernando is just a bit too good for this league. We’ll need to make the top two to keep hold of him as he’ll surely want to play Champions League football, but for the mean time he’s outstanding to have at the club. At £31k p/w and £27k p/w respectively, he and Ekdal are by far our top earners. But as a destroying duo in the centre of the pitch they’ll be massively helpful and allow our young attacking unit to just forget about defensive contribution.
In comparison to Ekdal and Fernando, Adrien Trebel is a relative unknown. Having been released by Nantes half way through last season I’d been tracking him for half a year and after impressing me during his pre-season trial, we took him on full-time. He’s got a lot of developing to do, and at the age of 23, I’m not sure he’ll ever reach his full potential, but on a free transfer and £4k p/w it’s not a massive risk if things don’t work out.
Outward transfers didn’t see anything significant. At various points of the transfer window, a number of players were unsettled by bigger clubs. As predicted, Luciano Narsingh was the main target for poachers, and it took the signing of Fernando to convince him we meant business. Good stuff. Jetro Willems, Jeroen Zoet, Georginio Wijnaldum and Zakaria Bakkali were also tough to keep but after some careful conversations we were able to keep the squad together. Managing to get rid of the deadwood was incredibly useful though, and we made a £10.1m net profit for the Summer. The club’s finances moved from ‘insecure’ to ‘okay’ to where they are now: ‘secure’. A job well done, off the pitch.
But will that translate to performances on the pitch? As you’ll have noticed from my last update, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the striker stocks at the club. And as you’ll have noticed from this update, we haven’t signed a striker this year. But that wasn’t through a lack of trying. Alan Kardec, Johan Elmader, Michy Batshuayi, Uros Djurdjevic were all options but for one reason or another none of them worked out. So, we’re stuck with Jurgen Locadia as our only real striking option. Yep, that’s the guy with 1 goal for the season last year. Great.
As a result of this, I’ve had to alter my Plan B tactics slightly. Memphis Depay and Zakaria Bakkali will, on occasion, have to be deployed as auxiliary strikers in my 4-3-3. Primarily wingers, these two are both capable of acting as playmakers from up front and acting in the much-acclaimed false nine role. I know there’s lots of people in the FM community who are big fans of the strikerless formations, but they’re not for me. I’d much prefer my striker to start up front and drop in deep to playmake, dragging an opposition central defender with him.
When Locadia is on the pitch, the left winger will act as more of a supporting playmaker (as AP-S or IF-S). However, when Locadia is unavailable or needs to be rotated, I’ll ask the left winger to take on a more attacking role as the striker drops in and looks to play the wingers in over the top or through the holes in the opposition defense. Which means our Plans A and B look like this (Plan C is a standard 4-4-2);
Defensive Shape (A & B very similar in this regard):
Attacking Shape [A]:
Attacking Shape [B]:
I’m particularly proud of the way the shape has formed already and despite wanting to achieve top five this year, if the team can keep this sort of level of tactical performance up then I’d be expecting top three behind Ajax and Chelsea ‘B’ Vitesse. Maybe it’s a credit to the FM14 engine, or maybe it’s a credit to my players, I don’t know, but those shapes are exactly how I’d imagine they’d be when the tactic was created.
The defensive shape is particularly strong, with very little space vertically or horizontally. As the ball is passed out to the opposition’s right winger, my left-back drifts across, as do the rest of the defense with him. The only real difference between the defensive shapes of A & B are that the striker works slightly harder within B, as you’d expect.
There are slightly more differences between the attacking shapes though. In my primary system, Jetro Willems at LB is given slightly more free-reign, as the LAM is given the IF-S role. This means they’ll often hold onto the ball and wait for Willems to bomb on around them. I wanted the defensive line in attacking phases to replicate Guardiola’s Barcelona, except a mirror image. Barcelona lined up with Abidal – Pique – Puyol – Alves. Alves would be the one to push up (like Willems), whereas Abidal was able to operate almost as a half CB half LB hybrid and gave Guardiola’s team a rough 3-4-3 shape with Iniesta often drifting towards the touchline to give width on the left.
Moving on into the midfield, and there’s only a slight difference between the two. Image A shows you the BBM Hiljemark about to receive the ball from Bakkali. These off-the-ball runs are the reason I’ve fallen in love with the box to box midfielder and the reason I now have two of them in my backup shape. Unlike other roles, having two of these in central midfield doesn’t make either any less valuable. Because by their very definition they’re incredibly dynamic roles, they tend to make intelligent runs to avoid each other’s space. In a 4-3-3 such as mine, there’s plenty of space for them to run into and when I play with a False Nine they often bomb on past him, becoming a valid goalscoring threat.
If you’d like any more info then let me know. On to the season.