Toulouse – 2014/15 Preview – Defending our titles

After last season’s domestic treble, I’m expecting major changes from the game this season. Although “second season syndrome” is more often associated with teams who have successfully survived their first season after promotion, for me it applies equally to teams defending their first major title. Certainly in FM, the resulting reputation boost sees the opposition treat you with more respect which can equate to deeper defences, more conservative opposition and fewer scoring opportunities.

This can lead to frustration for many FMers as they become bemused that previously successful tactics are suddenly ineffective. Contrary to popular, outraged opinion this is not because your tactic “has been cracked” or that the AI is tipping the scales in it’s own favour because you’ve become too successful. Ask Man City fans if their opposition play differently against them now than they did 5 years ago. This is FM’s version of the same effect and, to me, it’s simply a new challenge and one I expect to face this season.

So this post will include some of the amendments I think I’ll have to make to counter our opponents’ increased defensiveness; as well as the usual transfers, etc that have taken place over the summer.

Transfers out

First of all, let’s look at the players who have left Toulouse over the summer and let’s all rejoice at one name on there… that of the damn Argentinian.

We were forced to take a £2m loss on Stracqualursi but, frankly, I’m glad just to be rid of him. He actually did very well during his loan spell in Italy which I think helped us find a buyer and the same goes for Emanuel Riviere who is another salary-drain I finally got rid of.

Ninkov and Akpa-Akpro are two players from the original squad, both capable of covering right back and both deemed insufficient for our purposes.

The last three deals are all loans out for promising players with the very last one being the one that gave me most thought. Stefanik is very, very good and has been on the verge of the first team. With a potential change in formation (more on that later) he was in line for some more game time but it was only a maybe and I wanted to ensure that he gets at least 25 games to give him enough game experience to develop. Therefore I decided to accept Zaragoza’s offer and bring in my own loan for striking cover.

Alongside the £7m I brought in, the board were very generous and I was left with a massive war chest valuing around £40m, much of which I transferred into the wage budget. My transfer deals were based on my tactical plans for the season. Conscious of the potential for “second season syndrome”, I’ve asked the team to learn my 4-2-3-1 alongside my regular deep 4-3-3. This can be seen to the right and has many of the hallmarks of the old formation but employing a more advanced forward and a more advanced playmaker in the trequarista role. This is the tactic that I’ve used very successfully with Rapid Wien and that which inspired my “Exploiting the Pocket” article.

After a quick check, I felt that it was fairly well suited to my Toulouse side but that we may need a couple of additions. With my assertion in the last post that Aurier made a more effective defensive fullback than the overlapping role which Tabanou performs on the opposite flank, the defence was already sorted. Defensive midfield was never going to be a problem whilst Bezus should make an excellent trequarista. Fletcher is good enough for the striker role but my wingers are more suited to the inside forward roles of the 4-3-3 so this is the one area I felt needed improved.

Hence my biggest outlay of the summer. I had almost confirmed a headline grabbing deal for Eden Hazard but his agent had other deals, holding out for a mammoth £4.4m fee that I was completely unwilling to part with even if we could afford it. With the experimental nature of the tactical change, I decided I should try to find a player that could cover both the winger role and inside forward when called upon – I looked primarily for pace, dribbling and flair. With my bias for domestic players I then decided to take a punt. A £7.5m punt at that.

Gabriel Obertan probably isn’t a name that many people would have considered but his raw pace is exceptional whilst he also has good technical skills for a winger with his first touch, flair and technique. His crossing is acceptable whilst not outstanding whilst I have slight worries on his creativity and anticipation. Nevertheless, I decided that our new-found wealth entitled me to a gamble and, with the deal made on deadline day, I was running out of options.

I also brought in some back-up for both fullback positions with Benjamin Mendy joining on a free transfer to provide competition for Franz to back-up Tabanou and I took a second, much cheaper, gamble on the man to the right for the opposite flank.

I was trying to sign Corchia but, similar to Hazard, extortionate asking prices scared me off. I want to keep the 4-3-3 as an option and indeed wanted to keep it at the start of the season to find out how effective it was against packed defences so an attacking fullback was a must. Faussurier has made 34 assists in the last two seasons at Ligue 2 Troyes, a fantastic return which convinced me to take a £1.3m gamble on him. He’s the polar opposite to Aurier – average defensively but very effective going forward so should provide me with adequate options.

I wasn’t particularly looking for another midfielder given our strength in this area and the fact that I might well be using just 2 players here this season but when I found van Schoonhoven I decided that £2.2m was just too much of an opportunity to pass up. The transfer also fits well with the tactical switch as he can comfortably fulfil the trequarista role to cover injuries with just his lack of finishing ability holding him back.

The last signing was the loan striker to cover the departing Stefanik. Taking a look at the options available in Bezus, Fletcher and young South African Makhanya I felt that I had most bases covered in terms of “types” of striker. Therefore I took my final punt on Brazilian Santiago. 6’9” with huge aerial prowess and natural finishing ability, he’s a battering ram and will give me the chance to test out the old “cross and header” technique without spending any money. When I signed him, I figured I may as well have kept a hold of Stracq but at least Santiago will cost me £18k per week less!!

Despite my fears of the second season syndrome, I wanted to give the deep 4-3-3 a chance before switching up. I will definitely still use it for big games and Champions League fixtures (my group of Man Utd, Benfica and Anderlecht is horrible by the way) and I did have a feeling that it would still cause the defensive teams problems. With the media still predicting us to finish just 4th, I also considered that perhaps the reputation boost wouldn’t be as drastic as I had anticipated.

Pre-season could barely have gone better with the youth team letting me down against Roda but, as is so often the case in FM, a good pre-season can mean a difficult campaign. Goals have been a struggle thus far and it’s looking like I could be right about the reputation increase necessitating a change in tack.

I’ve played 4-3-3 in all the games to date and, whilst the defensive performance have been excellent in the main, we’ve either failed to create enough chances or failed to convert those we have created. The latter is an on-going problem from last season and this was certainly the case against Nantes and Havre but the latest game against Nice was much more troublesome. We still created 3 clear cut chances but they were amongst only 8 shots in total and we only mustered 40% of possession.

This has definitely convinced me that the 4-2-3-1 needs a run-out and I’ll be using it in the next relatively easy game we face.

So just a brief update today although I should point out to those that are anticipating some tactical posts that these will be put on hold until FM13. The reasons for this are two-fold: first, with under a month of FM12 to go then I should probably wait until the new match is available before posting anything which could become obsolete; secondly, I’m loving this Toulouse save just now and I don’t particularly want to take the time out that is required to do the tactics posts justice. Therefore, you’ll be subjected to just the game updates until early November when I get my hands on the new game. My apologies for that but, until then…

… Allez le Téfécé!!!

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