Toulouse – the first month

Toulouse away kit

First few games down and things have started well. I’ve only played 5 games thus far and I wouldn’t usually post an update at this early stage but there have been a few items of note that have occurred in the meantime, not least the closing of the transfer window.

If you haven’t read the first update which covers squad analysis, setting up the tactic and early transfers then you can find it here.

The very first thing to note is that my chosen first choice ‘keeper is inexplicably “unavailable” despite being registered and free from injury. I think this has something to do with the pulmonary embolism he suffered in real life, his enforced retirement at the end of the season and SI’s way of incorporating such an unfortunate injury into the game. It would have been nice to be notified of this in some way, though. As it is, I’m forced into going with Ahamanda and Riou a little earlier than I would have liked.

What quickly became apparent is that, despite using 3 DMC’s, we were over-stocked in central midfield. With Akpa-Akpro and Bangré coming through the youth system I would much rather give them game time than the more experienced squad players who aren’t going to develop any further. We have plenty of cover with Sissoko, Capoue, Machado and Didot being the first team options with the aforementioned Akpa-Akpro and Siriex providing adequate back-up.

Sold for £2.1m

Therefore, when Marseille declared an interest in Antoine Devaux,  I decided to offer him out for £2.1m. When OM matched that request, I was more than happy to offload a player that I don’t consider to be first team material. This brought our transfer income to £9.5m whilst also freeing up another £12k per week in wages which I saw as good business all round.

I was a little loathe to invest in any more permanent signings as I couldn’t find clear quality at prices I was comfortable with, however Congré suffered a medium term injury in the first game and whilst Fofana is a fine replacement, the latter is

Willy Boly

refusing to sign a new contract and I don’t have any first team options left was he to get injured.  I asked my assistant to find me viable loan options and one name he kicked up did interest me. Auxerre’s Willy Boly was available for £600k for the season and relatively cheap wages at just £6k per week. I insisted on a future fee option and was quite happy to agree to pay £2m should he live up to the potential I think he has. For the meantime, he provides welcome insurance against an injury crisis and a chance to gauge his ability first hand for a year.

Antonio Floro Flores

The last piece of business I made became a necessity after a couple of games. Umut Bulut actually had a good start to the season but, and more on this later, he clearly has his limitations. Again there just wasn’t the quality of player available at prices I could pay so I once again dipped into the loan market. For £550k and half of his £26kpw wages, I brought in Antonio Floro Flores from Udinese. The Italian is a more natural finisher than Bulut with similar pace and although he’s not the team player that Bulut is, a little selfishness can be a good thing in a striker. Again, there’s a future fee in place with £1.5m the agreed price should I want to make the move permanent.

An excellent start to the season

We started superbly, albeit against poor opposition in Ajaccio and Dijon. 3 clean sheets in a row are not to be sniffed at and although we needed a set piece goal to beat Nice, it was a well-deserved victory against a side that had beaten Lyon 3-1 in their opening fixture.

Things came unstuck against PSG despite a remarkably even game. In the end, their additional class told as we had the same number of shots, created more CCC’s and hit the target more often than our super-rich opponents. Of more concern were the 2 goals we conceded against St Etienne in the cup but these came from just 6 shots including a 30 yard screamer that I could do little about.

All told, that’s a solid start for my new tactic and I’m delighted with 4 wins from the opening 5 games but I do have some concerns and tweaks to make.

My first issue concerns the pass completion rates of my centre halves – they are shocking. Abdennour is averaging 66% which is simply not good enough and it’s one of the primary reasons for our possession being much lower than I had anticipated – in no game have we dominated possession although we’ve also been no lower than 46%. However, having looked through the match analysis, the overwhelming majority of these misplaced “passes” are in fact headed clearances which are falling to opposition players. Due to the deep midfield and Bulut staying hard up against the opposition defensive line we are allowing them free reign of the pitch just short of the halfway line when defending. It’s an inherent weakness in my chosen formation and is making me lean towards the use of a strikerless formation, dropping the striker into an AMC role to allow a presence in a “reverse curtain”.

This leads me on to the striker’s performances. Early indications were very good as Bulut scored 3 in the first 2 games, claiming man of the match with both performances. However, as someone who I can’t recall mentioned to me on twitter, he is basically Emile Heskey and, true to form, he’s proven rather ineffectual since. For example, against PSG he failed to make a single shot and only made 7 passes. And yet, over the 5 games he has averaged 4.6 shots per game with 65% on target and an 85% pass completion rate.

Bulut shots map against Ajaccio and St Etienne

And this is where my biggest dilemma comes. As you can see from the shots maps above, he is getting into good positions and taking shots from dangerous areas. At the end of the day, you can’t score if you don’t shoot and keeping a striker in the tactic is obviously going to yield goals over the season, whether that be through Bulut or if Floro Flores proves to be a shrewd signing. And yet the striker disappeared in the game against PSG where I was effectively playing with 10 men and giving away possession from defensive clearances that Bulut was too far away to collect.

Amended tactic

Therefore, my current line of thinking is to drop the striker to the AMC position against bigger sides in an effort to retain possession more effectively. In the game against PSG, we still managed 12 shots, 2 CCC’s and 5 efforts on target without any of that coming from the striker so there is still potential in the rest of the team for realising attempts at goal. A trequarista type player who sits in the pocket, as highlighted in my article here, should find space to hold the ball up and play the inside forwards in. However, with the window shut and no such attacking midfielder at the club, I don’t quite have this luxury at the moment. I could utilise the French “joker window” where I can sign one player from another French team but prices are inflated and a loan move for Clement Grenier would be the only viable option.

My chosen alternative, for now, is to still use a striker but I’m going to ask him to drop much deeper towards the space that an AMC would traditionally fill. Bulut doesn’t have the creative attributes to play this role and so Floro Flores will get his opportunity here to show me what he can do.

I’ve also changed the instructions for the wider DM’s. I felt we were giving the ball away too much with three players in the centre of the park with through balls set to “often” and also felt we were lacking forward runners when we were holding possession in the final third. Therefore, a “defensive midfielder support” role seemed more suited and has been working well so far.

I have tweaked quite a few of the instructions so far as well. Whilst I find the TC to be a decent starting point, I also like to put my own stamp on it. As an example, I’ve increased the fullbacks mentality to get them going forward more often given the defensive cover that we have whilst I’ve also changed their wide play to “hug touchline” to encourage them to overlap the inside forwards playing in the wing positions.

Over the international break, I’ve arranged a friendly against the academy side INF Clairefontaine in an effort to increase morale following the defeat to PSG. After that we’ve got some interesting fixtures:

  • Caen (A) – predicted 15th
  • Bordeaux (H) – predicted 5th
  • St Etienne (A) – predicted 6th

That should give me a good opportunity to test the new striker instructions and experiment with the high defensive line and offside trap I want to implement.

I’ll leave you on a positive note – the wingers. Braaten and, in particular, Cardozo have been superb. The latter has dribbled past an opponent on average 5.09 times per game including the performance below against PSG:

Cardozo average position and successful dribbles v PSG

If it hadn’t been for the profligacy of others then the result might have been very different. Both inside forwards are playing exactly how I want them to and are proving to be very effective attacking weapons. In Cardozo’s first 5 games for the club he has scored once and assisted 5 times. Let’s hope he continues to prove such fantastic value for money.

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