Those following me on Twitter may be expecting a tactical post just now but that is currently “under construction” and in the meantime we’ve reached the halfway point of our third season at Toulouse, hence it’s update time.
The news in brief is that we were utterly magnificent mid-November when we suffered a slight dip in form that’s seen us drop some unnecessary points. Nevertheless, in any normal season we would be comfortably top. Any normal season doesn’t contain Marseille doing a passable imitation of Brazil ’70 as they continued their near unbeatable form of last season.
Despite this, I’m absolutely delighted with the start of the campaign, mostly thanks to our form in the Champions League…
Usual start then, the league:
You see what I mean about Marseille now. That single loss, at Lyon, came in their last game before heading off for a disastrous World Club Cup campaign although their form has suffered a little since being forced into replacing Didier Deschamps who left to take the national job. His replacement, Lens’ Jean-Louis Garcia, isn’t of the same calibre but still has a ludicrously good squad to choose from and will remain favourites for the title.
I had hoped that we’d be able to get some distance between us earlier in the season when we played l’OM at their place but we were ludicrously denied the services of four important players. Abdennour was away on international duty with Tunisia whilst Capoue, Tabanou and N’Zonzi were all suspeneded. I’d spotted these suspensions coming and ensured they received the bookings two games before the top two clash. However, for reasons surpassing logic, the suspensions did not activate for the Caen game as I thought they would but somehow waited an extra day and then miraculously stopped them playing in the most important game of the season. We ended up losing both games by the way.
Almost forgot by we’ve actually won the first piece of silverware during my tenure, the largely meaningless Trophée de Champions, beating arch-nemesis Marseille on penalties.
What’s been most pleasing so far, as alluded to above, has been our Champions League form. Largely out-classed last season, I was a little apprehensive when given a group including Barcelona, CSKA Moscow and Panathanaikos this time around.
I needn’t have worried, though, as we were absolutely fantastic. We won the first 5 games including a more than deserved 2-1 victory over Barcelona and the absolute destruction of Panathanaikos in Greece. Having guaranteed top spot before the trip to Camp Nou, I decided to rest our first-teamers and gave the youth players some first team experience against the unexpectedly full-strength Catalans.
Our reward for finishing top of the group? The most difficult possible draw – Man City. I’ve taken the right bloody hump with that although I’d have accepted just getting out of the groups at the start of the season.
Sad to say that Bulut has been requesting a move away but the silver-lining in that is clear – he’s no longer playing because I’ve finally found a viable alternative. Or two alternatives, more accurately. Both Fletcher, with 9 goals, and Bezus, with 11, have settled in well and justifying their transfer fees. I tend to use Fletcher in the big games and let Bezus bully the smaller sides which seems to be working well as the Scot has come up with some important goals – the opener against Barca being an obvious example.
I’m more than happy with both of their performances, however Bezus did try throwing his weight around off the pitch. After I rejected an approach from managerless Marseille for the Ukranian, his agent got all uppity and started demanding a new contract. Just 4 months after signing he was looking to double his wages. I refused and he requested a transfer. Again, I refused and dropped him for a game or two but he came round after a bit and is now all-smiles again.
The deep 4-3-3 is still the tactic of choice but I now often use an amended version where the playmaker, the most central of the three DMC’s, is pushed up into the orthodox MC line and set as a DLP(D) so that he maintains his deep position.
Having given it a good 15 games or so, I like the amendment and tend to find that it corrects some of the weaknesses in using 3 DMC’s – i.e. a more advanced presence when defending which becomes most relevant when the opposition has developed a move slowly down a flank. Previously, the 3 DMC’s would all retreat into the box, either following runners or simply positioning themselves to clear a cross. I saw this as a strength but also highlighted the weakness in it – the lack of cover on the edge of the box. It’s still not perfect but it’s better.
It also gives me slightly more offensive passing from the playmaker. Examples from two random European games – using the DMC playmaker from last season against Twente on the left, this season against Panathanaikos on the right using MC:
Having looked through a few games this is fairly typical. More advanced centrally where he can be more dangerous, it’s made me wonder whether N’Zonzi is still the right player for this role. When sitting deep and simply moving the ball laterally to the creative players then the former Blackburn player was ideal but I might be better off using Capoue in there these days. Something to consider as we progress into the second half of the season.
I still feel that the 3 DMC’s has it’s place. Alongside my feeling that the squad is more suited to the old tactic, I still feel like the DMC’s get forward better when the playmaker is withdrawn. I’ve italicised “feel” because I can’t really find any empirical evidence to support that assertion which makes me think that I may be wrong. It’s a hard thing to judge though but it seems to me that the DMC’s now wait until the ball is further forward before joining the attack. I’ll keep an eye on it in the second half of the season and see if I can provide back-up to my thoughts.
First thing to note is that the Stracq got a loan move to Novara on deadline day. I don’t have the Italian leagues loaded but the AI has simulated 11 goals in 14 games for the Argentinian… moving on.
There are a couple of areas where there could be movement. Firstly centre half. Abdennour is an absolute beast and there’s no way I would voluntarily sell him but Congré is replaceable. His greatest attribute in real-life, his pace, isn’t accurately captured in FM but his positioning, marking and anticipation are excellent. He’s also 28 and will need replaced in a few years. I’m not sure Amiot, my chosen successor, will make it to the required standard and the rest of the youth are still uncertainties. If a good French option between 22 and 26 becomes available then I’ll certainly consider it.
The other area is the possible sale of Lazovic. The Serbian has done ok but my long term plan is to have as close to a fully French side as possible and Lazovic clearly doesn’t fit into that. Unlike Cardozo on the other flank, he’s not be impressing consistently and I already have a potential replacement in the promising shape of Lenny Nangis.
The young winger has devastating pace and is quickly improving his end product.
Other than that, I like the feel of the squad and think our team is fairly well balanced so only a once-in-a-lifetime will tempt me to part with the £8m left in the transfer budget.
I can’t think of anything else that merits coverage but if you have any questions you can leave a comment below as usual or contact me on Twitter.
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