Toulouse – Post Xmas Update – Procrastination Mastered!

My Toulouse save has now reached the run-in period with the January transfer window just closing and the squad finalised for what will be a challenge for the third Champions League qualification place. The biggest news, however, is that I have finally mastered my procrastination over the striker role and what I want him to do.

In an effort to maintain the level of extra detail that I’ve been providing in these updates, I’ll therefore go into some tactical explanation of my choice for the lone striker and what that means for the rest of the team, for expected in-game reactive tactics and for transfers. As well as this, I’ll update on the transfer activity that I completed during this window and some plans I have for building the squad going forward.

I guess the first thing to do, though, is give a brief update on results since the pre-xmas post. To keep it simple, we’ve continued in a similar fashion – beating the small teams and those around us whilst falling short when we face one of the truly big clubs.

Fixtures over festive period

The big disappointments there are the cup loss to Caen on penalties and then the league loss to PSG where we within 5 minutes of a creditable draw before Ahamada dropped a simple cross at the feet of Kevin Gameiro – couldn’t miss from half a yard. Nevertheless, our defence has continued in fine form and, as I’ve said above, I’ve finally settled on my chosen role for the striker which has definitely helped our offensive movement and chance creation.

All of that means that we are still in 3rd, 2 points behind Marseille and, more crucially, 9 ahead of PSG in 4th although they do have a game in hand. Tricky fixtures left include Marseille and Lille away plus Lyon at home. Plenty of drama left, I’m sure, but I’m quietly confident of maintaining our 3rd position and sealing that Champions League qualification spot.

The finalised tactic… for now

So… on to the interesting stuff – the tactic. The screenie to the right shows the general shape that I’ve settled on as my starting tactic. This is the now-familiar shape that I’ve been using all season with the only change being the selection of a “supporting targetman” role for the lone striker. To be honest, it’s something that I should have thought about a long time ago but I’ve had fun messing around with the tactic and eventually finding my way here.

The role perfectly suits Umut Bulut’s attributes and his superb physicality and work rate comes to the fore whilst his shortcomings as a natural finisher are alleviated somewhat as the burden for goalscoring is shared around the team.

Whilst this is my regular starting tactic, I’m not stupid enough to think that it will suit every game and every opposition. There have been a couple of games where we’ve faced an extremely deep defensive line and a conservative midfield that starves the space Bulut would usually drop into. This is just one of the situations where I would alter the striker’s instructions and I really see this position as being the key to our reactive tactics until drastic changes are needed late in the game.

So why have I settled on this role? With the 3 DMC’s providing a deep midfield, the onus is on Sissoko and Capoue in the wide DMC positions to burst forward and provide the vertical impetus through the middle. As their starting position is naturally deeper, they need a little more time to get forward than a traditional box-to-box midfielder and I was finding that they were only involved offensively when we’d already broken into the final third. This was fine but meant that they were often faced with a well-positioned back line and potentially one or two opposition midfielders too. By asking the striker to drop deeper and hold it up, we’re helping make the most of the mobility in the central midfielders and involve them in our offence more often. Example…

In the above, you can see Capoue (DMCR) on the ball with forward runs being made by both wingers and Sissoko (DMCL). Bulut, the lone striker, is about to drop deep into the centre circle. Note that we still have Didot, ringed in purple, sitting deep to offer security should Capoue lose the ball and/or provide an easier angle of pass should he wish to simply recycle possession. Previously, a more advanced striker role would see Bulut looking for the ball in behind the defence, most likely down the channel outside the left centre half. Whilst this is a viable tactic, it then makes us very one-dimensional. Everyone’s running in the same direction and the defence would be able to maintain their (reasonably) solid defensive line of four whilst out-numbering our attacking players. Instead,  Bulut drops deep and offers himself for a pass into feet…

Didot, ringed in red, is still sitting deep in a traditional defensive midfield role. As he has a playmaker role, were the ball fed back to him by Bulut then he has the passing range to play the through ball into the space left by the striker. And it’s this space which is key. Bulut’s movement into the centre circle has pulled the centre half out of the defensive line (solid black line). Meanwhile we have 4 midfielder runners all troubling the defence – both wingers and both wide DM’s as Capoue has fed the ball to Bulut and then sprinted into space. This spells massive trouble for the defence. The areas highlighted to either side of the remaining centre half are “high potential” areas, i.e. any attacker with possession in this zone is going to cause some issues.

The “curtain”

And it’s not just the DMC’s it suits. With the fullbacks providing the danger down the flanks, the inside forwards are looking to break inside and it’s much easier for them to find space if there is the striker who can pull a defender out of position. It just makes sense all round and, frankly, it doesn’t do my reputation much good that it took me 5 months to finally realise it.

So I’ve said the tactic is “finalised” but that is, of course, not strictly true. Whilst I’m more or less settled on a general shape there are always improvements to be made not to mention the reactive in-game changes. One particular weakness that is troubling me is what I’m going to call the “reverse curtain”. The curtain is something which I’ve written a lot about over the years and is something that was first brought to my attention some years ago watching Everton. Essentially, the idea is that, whilst attacking, you retain some deeper players 25-30 yards from goal so that when the ball is cleared there is a fair chance that it will fall to one of our players and we will be able to maintain offensive pressure. We do this when attacking using the central DM and our fullbacks however we do nothing to counter any opposition efforts to do the same when defending.

A strength and a weakness

So we’ve got the best joint best defence with just 14 goals conceded in 22 league games and we still haven’t conceded from a single cross. The screenshot above shows a prime reason for this – strength in numbers. The 3 DMC’s have effectively tracked their runners whilst three of the back four are also defending the cross which gives little scope for an attacker to get on the end of a hopeful cross. This is a key strength in the tactic.

However, the screenshot also shows a weakness. The highlighted green area is completely devoid of Toulouse players. Any headed clearance will almost certainly be picked up by the opposition DM or a centre half and we’ve conceded possession again. The wingers are in good positions in a “reverse curtain” out wide but there’s nothing centrally which is the zone with highest potential for conceding.

I’m really not sure what I can do about that just now. Moving one of the DM’s to a traditional MC position would ruin the effectiveness that employing 3 DMC’s brings whilst I don’t want to amend the front 3. Any suggestions to rectify this are welcome as I’m stumped.

There are other things I want to improve upon but I’ll drip feed them into future updates rather than dump it all on you just now. Moving on…

Transfers

Traditionally, I don’t do a lot of business in January and this was true again this year although the little business that I did proved to be quite significant.

£17.25m recouped

First of all, I decided to sell Daniel Braaten. Whilst this may seem strange given that the CM4 legend was the main reason I chose to manage Toulouse, he’s really not the player he was and ended up not suiting my tactic at all with his profligate finishing and inconsistent performances. When I noticed Everton sniffing around him I decided to offer him around for £7.5m. Whilst the Merseysiders declined to make an offer, Porto stumped up £5.5m and I thought this was a fair price for a 29 year-old who would soon lose his only redeeming attribute – pace. Back-up keeper Rémy Riou also left, rather bizarrely joining Real Madrid. All of which brought my season income to £17.25m – all without weakening my squad which I have to be delighted with.

With Braaten leaving and my lack of faith in either Riviere or Regattin as replacements, I was on the hunt for a replacement inside forward. In truth, I’d identified him long before I sanctioned the Braaten move as I didn’t want to be left short. And so Darko Lazovic signed for just £1.5m meaning that I’ve replaced Braaten with a younger, better player whilst making £4m direct profit and saving a wad on wages.

Darko Lazovic

The most important thing for me is that Lazovic is a better finisher than Braaten, although there’s clear room for improvement. He still has a lot of scope for progression (1.5 stars according to my coaches) and finishing is the key area I’m looking to increase.

With the first team now sorted for the rest of the season, I turned my attention to building the squad and moulding it to suit the tactic. I’m more than happy with Ahamada in goal for the moment and he has masses of potential to improve so I’m going to give him the chance to progress into a first team stalwart for years to come. Similarly, the defence is well covered. I can absolutely recommend Abdennour to anyone looking for a centre half – he’s absolutely fantastic. Aurier is coming through well at right back, Tabanou is performing well on the other side, Congré and Fofana are more than good enough. We’ve also got plenty of cover for various players capable of covering multiple positions.

Joining at the end of the season

In midfield, we’re going to need some cover. Sissoko – Didot – Capoue is my current first choice three and they’re all good enough. Akpa-Akpro is a good prospect for one of the wider roles but I need a second option and another player for the deeper playmaking role. Therefore, I’ve arranged the £1m transfer of Morgan Schniederlin for the end of the season. He’s French, he’s young with potential, has good passing ability and also has the “gets forward at all times” PPM which is key for the wider DM role. To top it all off, he’s best mates with Moussa Sissoko with each having the other on their favoured personnel list. Perfect.

Why didn’t I bring him in now? Well I don’t need him now. Siriex’s contract expires at the end of the season so I can’t make any money off him but I don’t want to keep him. Firmin will also be leaving when his contract expires whilst I’ll look to sell Machado in June. By signing Schniederlin up now, I’ve guaranteed a good price and preferential wages but saved myself 6 months of expense and pre-arranged the 1-in-1-out. Good business.

I’ve also identified targets for some of the other positions I want to strengthen. For the deeper play-making role I have my eye on Steven N’Zonzi. Again, he’s French and young with potential. He’s also got the physical presence I’m looking for as the central DMC sees a lot of aerial balls defensively and provides another threat at set pieces, a key area for us. Finally, he has two good PPM’s – plays short simple passes and doesn’t dive into tackles. Both suit the role I want him to play.

Secondly, I’ve identified a striker that I’m keen on moving for. It may be a surprise to some but I’m hoping that Everton don’t take up their £6m option on Denis Stracqualursi. No, he’s not the greatest player in the world but I think he’ll suit the role absolutely perfectly whilst being a more natural finisher than Bulut. He’ll also be quite a reasonably priced purchase which will be important as I don’t anticipate having enormous funds at our disposal.

Anyway, this is the sort of forward thinking that leads to me being such a slow FM player and such a massive procrastinator in the first place. Over the next 2-3 months, I’ll be doing some serious newgen scouting to provide my youth squad with the players to start the conveyor belt of talent.

I think my next update should come at the end of the season where I’m hoping to confirm qualification for the Champions League, or at the very least the Europa. We’re also still in the Coupe de France and a good run in that would be a welcome bonus. At least I can stop procrastinating over the tactic now and just waste my time pondering over transfers!!

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