Following on from the post setting the scene at Rapid Wien, it’s time to look at the early days with the national side. We’ve played all of our 2012 fixtures including 4 competitive games in qualification for World Cup 2014 with very promising signs and some issues which I’ve still to work out.
In line with my general ethos, I’ve already started introducing the promising young Austrians into international football and have spent a great deal of time scouting for those players who have been improved in FM13 and that I should keep a close eye on.
There are certainly similarities with the options available to me in FM12, which isn’t surprising, but I’m pleased to see a few players have been improved, some drastically, and things are really looking quite good for Austria. We’re far from seeing a Belgian-style golden generation but there’s certainly a platform there to work on and I’d say we are probably a year or two ahead from where I’ve started in previous C&C games.
Anyway, this post will look at the early fixtures with Austria, the tactics that I’ve employed, the players that I’m currently using and those that I’ve identified as ones for the future…
I guess the first thing we should look at is the national pool available to me. Usually, the very first thing I do on C&C saves is to clear the national pool completely and start from scratch. However, this year the starting pool seems to be much more sensible rather than the 200 players of previous games. So I’ve decided to leave it and simply add those additional players that I come across.
It will come as no surprise to anyone with even a passing knowledge of European football that the star of my team is David Alaba. The Bayern youngster has moved to Arsenal in my game for £17.5m and although he is listed as a natural left-back, it’s likely that I will use him in central midfield until I produce options in that area. For me, he’s best used on the flank but right now I need to use his talent where the national side most need him – and that’s in centre mid.
I’ll skim over the other existing key players because they are fairly well known with Marko Arnautovic his usual frustrating self up front or from right wing; Christian Fuchs an excellent option anywhere on the left flank; Martin Harnik, who has improved greatly since FM12, an incredibly rapid and capable striker / inside forward; and the likes of Julian Baumgartlinger, Andreas Ivanschitz and Marc Janko contributing to a solid 23.
There are two weak areas – as per usual we don’t have a top-class ‘keeper and the defence could do with improving.
My very own club goalkeeper, Lukas Konigshofer, has been hugely improved since FM12 and gives me great hope that I won’t have to wait for a newgen. Heinz Lindner is still a solid-looking option but he’s moved to Everton and is destined to be a bench-warmer which is not conducive to aiding his development. Dejan Stojanovic, the Austrian / Macedonian ‘keeper at Bologna, is my second great hope and I’ve already capped him in an effort to ensure that Macedonia don’t steal him from me.
As an aside, I’m finding the dual nationalities thing a giant pain so far. Players switch allegiance far too readily, in my opinion, and the AI squads are announced before the human player’s so by the time I come to name my own squad I’ve lost the likes of Muhammed Ildiz to Turkey’s under-21s and David Domej to Croatia’s. In Ildiz’s case, he only dropped out of my full national squad because of injury and I find it odd that he would choose to accept an under-21 slot when two weeks earlier he came to me with concerns over his international future, being told that he’d be considered for the next squad.
Moving on, though, we’re back to weaknesses in our own squad. Our defence. Although it is a relative weakness, there are some handy players. Sebastian Prodl and the highly promising, as ever, Aleksandar Dragovic are my first choice pairing and probably will be for a few years.
There are also some promising centre halves such as Martin Hinteregger and Kevin Wimmer whilst Rapid’s Mario Sonnleitner has been putting in some eye catching performances this season, forcing me to consider his international credentials despite some uninspiring attributes.
At left-back, I’ve moved quickly to nail down Marin Leovac and prevent us losing him to Croatia. However, I see him merely as a stop-gap with either Alaba or Fuchs likely to fulfil the left-back role in the short term and Red Bull Salzburg’s Christoph Martschinko the most-promising current youth option.
On the opposite flank, Gyorgy Garics is the current incumbent and is a fine fit for the attacking wingback role that I wish to use there. As is his potential replacement, SV Mattersburg’s Patrick Farkas.
Whilst we have some clear talent in more advanced areas, I’d classify the defensive players as workmanlike for the moment. Dragovic will be very good, I’m confident, and there are certainly options with potential but I’m not entirely convinced that I’ll be able to field an international class back four in 5-6 years without some serious luck or a few newgens.
In the club update, I introduced you to the Danubian Whirl that I was planning to use with Rapid. As I’ll detail in my next club update, I’ve been forced to move to new, more orthodox tactics with the club side but the Whirl has been doing very well indeed for Austria.
As shown to the right, it’s a lop-sided 4-5-1 / 4-3-3 based on attacking interplay and over-loading, particularly aimed at utilising the flanks.
There have been defensive issues, as evidenced by the fact that we’ve only kept one clean sheet and that was against the Faroe Islands but we’ve been scoring regularly and with greater ease than the club side found with the Whirl. I put this down to two factors: firstly, teams are more offensive against the national side as they fancy their chances, leaving defensive gaps for our quick attack to exploit; and secondly we have more creative, technically proficient attackers which allows for more accurate, and therefore dangerous, attacking passes.
Either way, results have been pleasing as we’ve won 3 of the 4 competitive games. The loss in Germany was hardly catastrophic either and was partly caused by my failed experimentation with a counter attacking 4-1-4-1 that back-fired spectacularly with Klose scoring early.
Pleasing stuff with the home win over Sweden crucial if we are to have any chance of finishing second.
With the table currently as shown, it’s clear that the head-to-heads against Ireland will be crucial. The Irish have already lost in Sweden and need to travel to Germany. If I can beat them home and away then they should effectively be out of the equation and it will come down to our trip to Gothenburg on the 10th September 2013 as to who qualifies for the playoffs.
Whether we stick with the Whirl for the rest of qualification is something I’ve still to decide. I used the 4-5-1 variants in the game against the Faroes, expecting a packed defence, and as an experiment in the Tunisia friendly. Neither were overly successful although we did win the former and use fringe players in the latter so experimentation is still required.
Looking further into the future, things have not been going so well for the under-21 side with defeats in two of the three Euro qualifying games confirming their lack of progression. Friendlies have been more successful and Deni Alar, who has been performing superbly for my Rapid side, has started to make a claim for inclusion in the seniors.
Further down the ladder still, the under-19s have been playing superbly, topping their own qualifying group of Sweden, Cyprus and Belarus whilst remaining unbeaten in friendlies too. It’s too early to be picking out future internationals from this crop but the results do at least give me a certain level of hope.
For now, I’m concentrating on developing a consistent working tactic for the national side. The Whirl has made a promising start and I’ll be looking to build on that whilst keeping the 4-5-1 variants as a back-up. The second focus will be on slowly bringing through the existing youth talent such as Alar, Drazan, Holzhauser and, if I can ever get him back in my national squad, Ildiz.
The first batch of newgens should arrive in March and I’m a little anxious about it. During the holiday test that I ran to verify the stability of my edit, the standard of newgens produced was very poor. I’m more than a little concerned that the low reputation of the Austrian league is going to lead to poor newgens. Having said that, there were a few crackers produced at the start of the game to fill out the under-manned squads. I just have to hope that we get more of the same come March.
For anyone reading this who has come across some (real) Austrian players that have developed well then please let me know. I’m always on the lookout for talent and have my scouts scouring the lower leagues for a hidden gem but I’m not adverse to a little outside assistance.
Other than that, thanks for reading and hopefully the next time I write about the national team we’ll be well on our way to Brazil!