Having somehow finished the first year in 15th, I was hoping to push on and solidify our position as a top half team in 2015/16. Gabriel Barbosa and Eder Alvarez Balanta were to be key players, having spent the latter half of the season settling into life in England. They were also aptly supported by some big signings in the Summer window.
I went into the Summer with a philosophy in mind and a slightly different scouting process in order to follow through with it. In my last post, I focussed on the search for a right midfielder. The conclusion was that Joel Campbell was the man, with Adel Taarabt as the backup. We signed neither. Campbell chose Fiorentina. As for Taarabt, we agreed a deal with QPR, and then a contract with the player. As I went to confirm the transfer, the option was not there as he’d torn his cruciate ligaments only the day before — out for 8-9 months, failed medical. I wasn’t sure whether to be happy or sad that we’d missed out on his signing, at that point.
Long story short, we eventually settled on another Arsenal midfielder, Kevin Kampl. I was surprised they were happy to sell him, given he only signed in January. But they made a handy profit on the £3.6m they signed him for as we gave them £10m. But as our emergency option, his attributes and stats profile were perfect for what we wanted.
The other key signings were all in the back five. Given my tactic of choice for the season was to be a 4-4-2 with wingers and full-backs pushing high, it was vital the defense was extremely solid. We were likely to cede the midfield battle unless the CF-S dropped very deep, and therefore needed to be happy to have spells without the ball.
My personal preference is also to have very little rotation in my back four. So the players brought in (RCB and LB) would need to be very competent and able to play almost every game. We eventually settled on Rhodolfo and Alex Telles respectively. As well as these two, Jeroen Zoet was brought in to reinforce the goalkeeping stocks, allowing Boruc to leave on a free and Fraser Forster to play in the cups. This meant we had a back seven of:
Wanyama / / / Schneiderlin
Telles / / / Balanta / / / Rhodolfo / / / Clyne
The plan was for this base to stay largely unchanged in league games, home or away. And until Clyne broke his ankle in December, that was how it stayed.
The thing that threw a spanner into the works was the signing of Roberto Pereyra at the end of August. It was purely by chance that I found him, trawling through the best free agents, and for some reason he was still unsigned. Despite the rather hefty wages, it was too good to resist and got me thinking about a concept I had previously blown over: big game strategy.
With the 4-4-2 as our go-to formation, we needed something a bit different against the big teams if we were to get a result. Eventually we settled on a counter-attacking 4-1-4-1 (Counter, Flexible):
Wanyama and Schneiderlin as the base of my team was something I considered to be the key. Balanta and Rhodolfo forming a solid partnership behind them was also very important as we formed a defensive box; difficult for even the most creative of teams to break down. But when Pereyra came along, he was the missing jigsaw piece of the Wanyama/Schneiderlin midfield. All had clearly defined roles that they fulfilled wonderfully, as shows in their radars (during the season I created the DM/CM radars to go with the AM/FW radars we already had from last year):
Victor Wanyama: The Destroyer
Morgan Schneiderlin: The Facilitator
Roberto Pereyra: The Creator
This meant that in the big games, we had those three in midfield, flanked by creative forces Kampl and Tadic drifting inside in Wide Playmaker – Attack roles, and full-backs overlapping. The only time we got truly humbled was at runaway champions Man United, who beat us 5-2 at Old Trafford. Aside from that game where we were truly hammered, we picked up some outstanding results in big games; 5-0 v Liverpool (A), 4-1 v Arsenal (H), 2-1 v Man City (A), 2-0 v Man City (H), 3-0 v Arsenal in the FA Cup Final.
This led to an incredibly successful season in which we finished 4th and bagged my first trophy: the FA Cup. We managed to more than double our points tally of 14/15, as we went from 37 to 75, also going one better than the FA Cup final we achieved that year. Delighted.
Performances of some of our other forward players. If you think you can get the roles each player played, then do let me know in the comments or on Twitter.
Where to now?
4th and a trophy is a great season. I’m not sure if we’ll improve rapidly straight away, given we’ve just jumped 11 places in the table. It’s for this reason I’m not yet sure whether I’ll play the next year, or try a save abroad. Perhaps I’ll play pre-season and see how we’re looking. As it stands, I’m not sure where we can improve without spending big money. We’ll see.
What I will do, regardless of this, is more work on the radars. When I was managing Wolves on FM13, I would’ve loved any sort of tool that gave me the ability to compare between generations. How did Lacina Traore in 2017/18 compare to my star Belgian striker Hamza Nouri at his peak? Having reached nearly 2040, I had the privilege of bringing through many different teams in an Alex Ferguson-esque capacity. I always had a number of wonderful players in each team, but found it difficult to compare them easily. Having player radars for regens that I’ve already developed an emotional attachment to would be great for comparisons.
As it stands, I don’t believe I’ve got enough data for the radars. We had a great season, but we still came 4th. Yet the majority of our best forwards are 95%+ in a number of categories, which is suspiciously good. Increasing the data set will increase the max value and decrease the min value, meaning it’ll take a truly great season to reach the highest level of each category — something that is handy when you’re playing a save for decades.
If you’d like to create these radars for yourself, and for your players, contact me on Twitter and I’ll let you know how — it’s actually pretty easy.