Apologies for the slightly underwhelming nature of my previous article. My heart wasn’t really in the save at that point and I was playing largely on key highlights, flicking through the games and weeks as quickly as possible in a bid to move on from PSV. Having to go through the whole season before finding a job was particularly frustrating, given Laurent Blanc was sitting at either Insecure or Very Insecure in the PSG hotseat for the vast majority of the season. But eventually the offer came and here I am.
The Summer began with a nice little note from the board. I noted on Twitter that it’s a bit of a piss-take that clubs like PSG are able to operate like this, but while I’m comfortable in Paris, I shan’t complain too much.
Having agreed to a three-year contract upon accepting the job offer, it seemed reasonable to decide on my long-term plans. I don’t suppose staying at moneybags PSG for too long would be particularly fun whilst they continue to cook the books and give me such a large wad of cash each season. So I intend to see out my contract and perhaps have a fourth year if I’m particularly enjoying myself. My aims for each season are as follows:
• Year One: French League top two, Europa League semi-final.
• Year Two: French League title, Champions League semi-final.
• Year Three: French League title, Champions League title.
I’m sure some of you will look at my season one aims and scoff. But unfortunately, PSG’s project has taken a bit of a hit during Blanc’s turbulent reign. The former French national team manager guided PSG to the title in 2013/14, but it’s been downhill ever since. Monaco pipped the Parisiens to the post in 2014/15 and it got worse last year with a 4th place finish, the club’s worst since 2010/11.
The poor Champions League showing last year was highlighted by poor losses to Fenerbahce (twice: 1-2, 0-4), CSKA Moscow (0-2) and Bayern Munich (0-3). This led to a 4th place finish in the group – not enough to even gain late qualification to the Europa League.
Having browsed through Blanc’s transfer dealings in his last season in charge, it was particularly frustrating as he’d sold a number of players I’d love to have involved now. Sami Khedira (£35m – Man Utd), Gregory van der Wiel (£2m – Hoffenheim), Joel Matip (£12m – Man Utd), and the most infuriating of all, Marco Verratti (£10.5m – Real Madrid). Verratti and Khedira would have formed the basis of my central midfield for almost all of my time at the club. As it is, we’re left with the slightly inferior options of Lucas Leiva, Miralem Pjanic, Axel Witsel and Yohan Cabaye. all good options, but I’m sure you’ll agree they’re not quite in that world class bracket that Khedira sits in and Verratti has joined, by 2016.
The main reason Khedira & Verratti are such major losses, as well as their undoubted quality, is their respective work rate levels. At 19 and 17 respectively, they both would have fit into the midfield philosophy I’m trying to create extremely well. Over the past few seasons, PSG have been plagued by forwards who do very little work for the team. Upon coming in I was shocked to see the work rate average for the entire squad at 8th in the league, despite the majority of other stats being in the upper echelons. Those of you who follow the blog regularly will know I’m a massive fan of the work rate & teamwork attributes, in order to create my pressing systems.
The disastrous latter stages of Blanc’s reign were symbolised by the location of the captain’s armband, placed firmly in the corner of a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic. With a work rate of 9 and a weekly wage of £180k per week, his sale was inevitable and I ended up gifting him to Ajax on a free transfer. My only regret is that he’ll dominate the Eredvisie and make it difficult for PSV. Ah well.
Adopting a pressing system with such lacklustre forwards in the squad is always going to be tricky. But given we’re not in the Champions League, the only real tests we’ll face this year will be Monaco, Marseille and Lyon, as well as some tricky Europa League ties. I can therefore begin to create the foundations for the system and gradually bring the personnel in over the course of this season. After only a few games the signs are already fairly promising. Although there’s certainly a couple of things I can already see that we need to improve on.
There’s lots to work with there. There’s only really two problems that I can see;
1. The opposition DM is a free pass. And he’s got a fair bit of space, at that. In Ligue 1, we’re unlikely to come up against a regista or deep-lying playmaker who will rip us apart from deep. But when we do qualify for the Champions League, this could be an issue. The reason the man has that space currently is due to the shape of the 4-3-3 (1DM-2CM) I’m employing. But if I were coming up against Pirlo, Gundogan, Xavi, or someone of that ilk, I’d consider using a CAM to give them less time on the ball.
2. If the man on the ball, Eyserric, makes a clever turn down the line, he’s got the option to thread the ball through to his striker or RCM. If they’ve got more pace than Lucas or Silva, which in truth shouldn’t be overly difficult, then there’s the potential for a counter-attack. And given our particularly high line, there’s plenty of space to run into. In this case, it’s more of a personnel thing than a tactical choice. Ensuring my LB is as defensively strong as possible, and I’ve got a reasonable amount of pace at CB, would essentially nullify the threat there.
The opposition players with red circles around them are those unavailable to the guy on the ball at the point of taking the screenshot, whereas the green circle represents an available pass. One thing I’d like to note here is the difference between an effective press and an ineffective press. Perhaps one of the most common misconceptions of the pressing game is that you can essentially achieve it by simply working really hard. Whilst that’s a fairly vital part of it, there’s far more to it than that. The key is to close the passing lanes and limit the options the man on the ball has. Once these options are limited, if he’s not a particularly composed player, there’s a high chance of regaining possession. In the above situation, my team’s closed the passing lanes really quite well. Pjanic and Suarez are particularly key in this instance. Suarez is covering both central defenders and will also attempt to pressure the CDM if he receives the ball. Pjanic is closing the passing lane to the LCM, as well as being positioned well enough to shuttle across to press the DM or to man-mark the LCM.
The only real issue in terms of positioning is Lucas Moura, who I’d much prefer dropped inside, as the arrow indicates. Although, as I mentioned, the squad is far from perfect and given his work rate of 10, a lacklustre performance in the press was to be expected. This means he’d be able to shuttle across to the LB quickly enough if the play was switched by the DM, but is also close enough into the centre of the pitch to phase the DM and LCM if they were to receive possession.
Eventually, Pjanic steps across and therefore closes the passing lane to the DM, whilst also maintaining a good position to stop any pass towards the LCM. This closes the final passing option for the man on the ball, who attempts some fancy footwork to get a pass off to Lucas Leiva’s man. But Lucas is already on top of him and we regain the ball. A class press.
For the reasons I’ve illustrated above, in terms of recruiting appropriate players for the system, there’s a fairly strict set of rules. The priorities change based on position but here’s a rough outline of what I’m looking for from a player (defensively) in order to sustain the press:
• Work Tate
Whilst on the ball, we’ll be looking to stretch the pitch and retain possession. Much like Liverpool in real-life, we’ll look to retain possession as a first option but if all goes to plan the front three will be packed with quick, talented forwards meaning fast transitions are an option. As with the defensive attributes, the profile I’m looking for will obviously vary based on position, but as a basis I’m looking for:
• Dribbling: this is probably the main thing I’m looking for from my central midfielders, mainly because it’s not overly common for those guys. The idea here is to ensure my central midfielders are able to beat their man in a 1v1 and create overloads.
• First Touch: important for a possession-based system, mainly due to the fact that we’ll be playing one- or two-touch football the majority of the time (I hope).
• Passing: see: First Touch.
• Composure: this is probably one of the most important attributes in the game, and perhaps one of the most underrated. This is exaggerated when defenders are asked to play out for the back, often under extreme pressure from the opposition press. The combination of dribbling and composure is often a sight to behold, particularly if the player’s got a bit of agility, pace and balance.
• Creativity: standard. Vital in a ball-retention system to create those much needed chances.
With this in mind, I went on with my Summer transfer dealings. Unlike when I arrived at PSV, the club’s balances aren’t really an issue. So in the end the outgoing transfers were more guys that just wouldn’t be used rather than revenue generators. Zlatan Ibrahmovic (Free – Ajax), Christian Benteke (£13m – Fiorentina), Gerard Deulofeu (Loan – Man Utd) and Jeremy Menez (£1.9m – Sampdoria) were the only major outgoings. However, there was slightly more incoming action. And a few of those guys were straight back on out the door on loan.
My Head of Youth Development was pretty handy over the Summer, which certainly isn’t something I’m used to. He brought in Mariano Roskos, Osvaldo Acosta Cabrera, and Jack Parsons. Parsons looks like too much of an out-and-out poacher to make an impact in my fluid system but Roskos and Cabrera could easily make an impact before my contract is up. Cabrera in particular needs lots of work on his mental attributes, though.
The first place I went to when let lose with a £175m transfer budget was Eindhoven. Adam Maher and Zakaria Bakkali were the two of the three main guys I wanted, with Memphis Depay remaining a possibility in another window. Bakkali is a long way from being ready for the first team so returns to PSV on a season-long loan, but Maher will push Miralem Pjanic for the spot at AP-A in my 4-3-3 (further details on that tactic can be found here).
After that came easily the biggest signing of the transfer window, for any club. Having cursed the previous management and their decision to give Ibrahimovic the captain’s armband, I went on a search for the antithesis of Zlatan. What I needed was a guy who could act as a finisher, or a playmaker, or a ‘I’m just going to dribble around you and score and there’s nothing you can do’-er. Only one man for the job: Luis Suarez. At 29, he’s getting on, and the £40m + Alex Song fee was a hefty one, but he’s hit his peak and I shouldn’t see the signs of decline during my management reign.
Next in was German goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen who I found was oddly plying his trade in downtown Kharkiv, with Metalist. He’d signed for them after his contract with Gladbach expired. Strange. Luckily for me, he had an £11.5m release clause. Salvatore Sirigu will be good for this season whilst I qualify for the Champions League, but I’ll cash in next year and give ter Stegen the #1 shirt when he returns from his loan spell, back at Metalist.
The last signing I made wasn’t really planned at all. I’d done plenty of filter searches for the attributes I mentioned previously and this guy hadn’t featured. However, a scout sent me a report on a certain Tomas Martinez, of River Plate. His 14 composure meant he wasn’t coming up on my searches but I’m glad I did find him because this guy is even superior to Maher for the system I’m building. A potentially frightening pairing in the centre of midfield, for years to come.
The first few games have been very promising, as illustrated by the pressing screenshot earlier in the piece. Defensively, in particular, we’ve been very good in the first three league games and have unsurprisingly qualified for the Europa League group stages, where we’ll face; PAOK, Werder Bremen and FC Vaslui.
Wish me luck.
If you’d like any more info on the save let me know. I’m also keen to know if any of you are actually interested in following the save as there’s been a fairly reasonable number of articles lately, at perhaps a lower quality than I’d usually expect from myself. Hopefully there was a bit more substance to this one. Hit me up @MrEdsFM on Twitter and I’d love to answer any questions you may have.