The 3-4-1-2 has really done a job and we’ve been playing some fantastic football, banging in the goals left, right and centre. We may not have performed to quite such a high standard in Europe but the experience will be invaluable for our young players and hopefully we will be able to build on a promising Champions League debut.
Rather than concentrate on results, I’ll provide the usual brief overview before looking at the players who contributed to our success in more detail, including the newgen intake and a couple of interesting transfers. I’ll also take a look at the longer term planning that I’m putting in place and the dilemmas that this bring me over the summer…
… of course there’s also the small matter of World Cup 2014 to come in the close season and I’ll also take a quick look at preparations for the tournament.
A lot to cover so I best get on with it.
2013 / 14 Season Results
Simplest things first, the league table:
Quite a few pleasing things there and not just in our own performances but that seems like a good place to start.
First of all, we’ve scored 94 goals and only lost 3 games with 2 of these coming after we’d secured the title. The defensive record still isn’t great and I’d like to get it under 30 next season. Having said that, we were destroying teams for a time and getting anywhere close to 100 goals has to be considered a success.
The other pleasing thing for me is that the league is more “realistic” than last season with the traditional big teams back at the top – indicating that the over-powered defensive tactics of the last patch are no longer as effective. FAK, in particular, provided some stern opposition and were really pushing me for a while. The top 5 is more or less as I would have expected and it should benefit us that stronger sides will be competing in Europe next year.
Similar performances came in the domestic cups although there were a few occasions where our youth players took their time in disposing of the supposedly weaker opposition. What’s really pleasing there is that we put 9 goals past arch-rivals Austria Wien in two games which added insult to the league-winning injury.
Taking all 3 trophies means that I’ve already entered the Austrian Hall of Fame and made it on to the favoured personnel list at Rapid, that despite a less than ideal Champions League group stage…
We were slightly fortunate with our qualification draws, certainly very fortunate to get Sheriff in the playoff but IFK are a decent side and we put in a great couple of performances to progress. The fantastic 2-0 win over PSG gave me some hope of springing a real surprise in the tournament but it proved to be the exception rather than a trend with some profligate finishing really costing us in the other games.
The only performance which really disappointed me was that in Turkey and we put up a good fight during the other games, being 1-0 up at home to Bayern and matching PSG in Paris in every discipline except finishing.
Nevertheless, we made a huge profit from the tournament – contributing not only to the vast majority of the £9.25m prize money we took in over the year but also some bumper gates to swell the coffers. I was expecting the latter to be more profitable but we played the home games at the Gerhard-Hanappi, our regular stadium, rather than the national stadium (Ernst Happel Stadion) which I was expecting. Either way, £17m in the bank is a nice way to end the season, £8m up from last year.
In keeping with my now familiar policy, I’ve used our increasing wealth to invest in the club’s infrastructure and my board have once again come up trumps. This time they’ve agreed to invest over £5m in improving both the training and youth facilities which should further improve the standard of newgens that we produce.
Speaking of which, we had a fairly good contingent arrive this year and I decided to grant 6 of them permanent contracts:
The best is definitely left-back Oliver Bernkopf and this leaves me with my first dilemma.
I, quite obviously, don’t currently use fullbacks although there is no telling what formation I’ll be using by the time Bernkopf is part of the first team. However, I do want to be prepared and I need to decide whether I’ll retrain him into a left midfielder or a centre half. His low height is putting me off the latter whilst his poor offensive attributes the former. Both are likely to increase over time so it’s just a case of me making my mind up… never something which happens quickly.
I need to pick one, though, because the 3-4-1-2 has been so successful, and so enjoyable to watch, that it could be a tactic I stick with for some time. The front 3 have been particularly effective although much of this could be down to the exceptional players I have in these roles just now with Alar, Gregoritsch and Hoeneß just fantastic.
At 18, 20 and 24 then they could well be my front 3 for years but I still hope that a big club will come in for Alar to aid his development in a bigger league.
Hoeneß just continues to get better and better. He hit the target with an impressive 50% of his shots, scoring with 16%, whilst he maintained a 73% pass completion over the campaign which is very pleasing in such an advanced creative role.
As a brief aside, it’s worth noting that all 3 are over 6′ which is actually fairly important in the way we play. With goalkeeper distribution flawed in the current match engine, I’ve simply set Konigshofer to get it forward long and early. With these 3 challenging for the long ball and winning an average of 61% of their headers we can start our attacks in a more advanced position than short passing from the back. This has been a very effective tactic thus far and one to consider if you are similarly frustrated with the goalkeeper distribution bug.
Back to the squad’s performance, I previously stated that I wasn’t happy with our defensive record. We conceded 63 goals in 61 games this season which, when you consider the relatively low reputation of some of our opponents, is really not good enough. A rate of 1 in 3 clean sheets isn’t all that bad but we had a lot of sloppy games where we conceded 2 or more which obviously hurt us in Europe.
These are the key statistics for the 6 centre halves that I used over the season and, looking at that, you can see why I have been so pleased with the signing of Lukas Rath. He’s adapted to his new position excellently putting in a series of consistent performances. My main concern with Rath is his poor header success rate – 68% – so I’ve put him on a personalised training schedule to improve his jumping (13).
Sonnleitner was again excellent with a relatively low mistake ratio and a high number of key headers and interceptions. He and Rath will certainly form two of my back three next season but it’s the third centre half, that which plays on the right, which I need to do something about.
Marquinhos will return to Brazil after his loan spell, with Corinthians asking for a fee I simply don’t want to pay, whilst I’m unconvinced by Spendlhofer and wasn’t willing to pay the £3kpw he wants to join on a Bosman. Habith is the other option and he’s a player I like, particularly for his pace. But he’s very young, small and vulnerable in the air with a jumping attribute of just 4.
David Domej and Marvin Trost will return from loan spells next season with the former having developed particularly well during his time at Gladbach. However, he stills insists on playing in the Croatian under-21 team and it’s looking less and less likely that I’ll be able to cap him for Austria.
All of this is a VERY long way of saying that I need to sign another centre half to fill the DRC role, preferably an Austrian one. I almost managed to bring in Martin Hinteregger on a Bosman from Red Bull Salzburg but he chose to sign for Leverkusen instead. He’s a real prospect so I’m not entirely unhappy with this – he’ll develop better in Germany than he will staying in Austria.
The other positions that I need to strengthen will depend on the players that I lose over the summer. Lukas Grozurek, a reasonably promising striker, will definitely be leaving as his contract expires. He’s not a bad player and has scored 7 times, assisting 4, in 13 games this season but I have better prospects so he’ll be allowed to seek first team game time elsewhere.
Teams are also sniffing around Muhammed Ildiz and Christopher Drazan – two players that I’d be willing to let leave.
I really like Drazan and he’s in and about the national team but he hasn’t been as effective as last year, the main victim of the move to 3-4-1-2 which was prompted by his anticipated exit last summer. He’s done ok but has been outshone by Thomas Schrammel, something which has surprised me massively – and probably my coaches too who don’t rate Schrammel at all.
With Augsburg, Hoffenheim and Wolves all interested I’ve lowered my asking price to £4m whilst £3.5m will be enough for either Espanyol or Novara to sign the frustrating Muhammed Ildiz – another very good player but who, as I’ve previously noted, is now tied into the Turkish national team.
The squad could actually be going through a serious cull this summer with the vast majority of the 28 players that I have out on loan not doing enough to convince me that they’re worth keeping. I’d hope / expect that at least 20 of them will be moving on as well as our own loan deals ending which will Marquinhos, Spendlhofer and Holzhauser returning to their parent clubs.
The last of those will be a major miss as he has made the deep-lying playmaker position his own. I did try to sign him permanently and Stuttgart were willing to let him go for just £2m. Raphael, however, obviously fancies his shot at a bigger league as he refused to discuss terms. His 2 year loan spell really seems to have done the job it was intended to though. He is a much better player than he was when I brought him in and I’m hoping his improvement, along with the reputation boost he’ll get from international caps will see him either nail down a first team berth in Germany or get a good move elsewhere.
With it being such a key position, I’ve actually already signed Holzhauser’s replacement and this time I’ve opted for a foreigner. Centre mid is a position that the national side seems to be developing particular strength in and although I have a number of prospects to develop at the club, I had an opportunity to sign Simão om a free transfer – an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.
The former Panathanaikos anchorman left Chinese football in the summer and will provide me with a level of “bite” that I felt we were lacking in the Champions League this year. My plan is to change the tactic in Europe to utilise two tacklers in the MC positions and use the AMC as my main playmaker. Simão will form an important part of that whilst also providing me with an opportunity for profit in a couple of years. It was a boost getting him in early due to his unattached status – more time to learn German.
Other than that, I’m reasonably happy with the first team squad and signings will more be about reacting to further losses and preparing the succession strategy in the amateurs and under-18 squads. With the original squad all having been given two seasons to prove their worth, it’s a fine time to clear out the chaff and now that we’re reasonably settled on the 3-4–1-2 I can bring in targeted signings to slowly bleed into the first team.
The big dilemma will come in deciding when these players are ready to step up, allowing me to move the first teamers on. Taking my current front two, Hoeneß and Gregoritsch, as examples – they are currently 18 and 20 respectively. Consistent first team games are going to be of benefit now but to develop them fully for international football they will probably need to play in a higher reputation league… but when? Too soon and they’ll rot in the reserves, too late and they won’t develop fully.
Which brings me round to the most important event of the summer – World Cup 2014 in Brazil. It’s only just occurred to me that when I last updated on the blog, we were facing a playoff against Wales to qualify…
…well I kind of ruined the suspense there. Apologies. In the end there wasn’t much suspense which was down to two key factors: Gareth Bale being injured for both games and Wales deciding to “mark” Martin Harnik with the painfully slow Ben Turner in the first leg.
Bale’s absence was an unexpected and hugely welcome boost. It simply meant I could concentrate on attacking their weak back line without the paralyzing fear of Bale running at my exposed back line. As it was, they still hit me on the break twice but by that time we’d fed the ball beyond the aforementioned Turner four times and let Martin Harnik use his primary attribute, raw pace, to get beyond him and do his thing…
All too easy in the end.
The draw hasn’t actually been that unkind to us for a change with a group of Uruguay, Cameroon and Honduras certainly at the weaker end of the scale. As such, I’ve scheduled warm-up fixtures as follows before the tournament starts for us on the 17th June in a must-not-lose game.
Please ignore the first game. Seriously, please. I used a bunch of fringe players and paid the price, needing to bring on Harnik late in the game to rescue a still-embarrassing draw.
We’ll shortly leave for Costa Rica hoping for better results in our warm-up friendlies to build up some morale whilst the games against Grêmio and Vasco will help acclimatise us to the Brazilian weather with a brief trip up to New York to face USA, a “similar” side to Honduras… apparently.
The first game is absolutely crucial. I expect to lose to Uruguay and beat Honduras but Cameroon, with the excellent spine of Nkoulou – Song – Eto’o are going to be our main challengers for second spot. I expect a really, really tough game.
And it will be made all the more difficult by a now expected series of injuries to key players. On my FM12 game, I had an horrific run-up to this World Cup with 6 or 7 first teamers all out of action. It hasn’t been quite so bad this time but Garics, Ulmer, Holzhauser, Junuzovic and Arnautovic all have short term injuries which are hampering their preparation; whilst Beichler, Royer and Fuchs will all miss the tournament completely.
Christian Fuchs is a massive, massive miss. He is, as the Redknapp muppets would say, a “top, top player” and was a crucial piece of the puzzle in convincing me that 3-4-1-2 was viable for the national side, being absolutely perfect for the defensive winger role on the left.
To make things worse, he’s broken his leg and could well be completely ruined as a player – a fate which has befallen Julian Baumgartlinger, my first choice combative midfielder.
All of which has left me with this as my 30 man squad.
The first thing to note is that I’ve covered myself a little in the event of needing to change from the 3-4-1-2 but it will be my primary tactic… for now.
Drazan misses out which may come as a surprise to some but he hasn’t performed well enough in the 3-4-1-2 for the club side so I’ve taken a chance. Speaking of chances, there are a couple of “Walcott moments” in there with both Jens Hoeneß and FAK’s Sascha Horvath potentially in line for debuts.
Horvath is a player I looked at previously but half-expected to rot in FAK’s reserves. Recently, though, he’s been given his chance and really looks like a prospect. I fully expect him to be one of the unlucky ones that miss out during the cull down to 23 but at least I can get a look at him early on.
He’s one of a number of promising AMC’s which may well force a later change in tactic, perhaps dropping one of the strikers to make a 3-4-2-1 or perhaps a more drastic amendment as there are also some interesting wingers including a newgen called Niko Glass who has moved to Leverkusen at the ripe old age of 16.
Anyway, for now Hoeneß is the only newgen in the national squad and we’re travelling to Brazil with little expectation of doing anything spectacular. Should we actually manage to finish 2nd in the group then it’s more than likely that we’ll face Spain in the Second Round which would be the end of the road for sure.
Getting out of the group would constitute a major success for us, though, and the FA simply wish us to “be competitive” which I think is an accurate reflection of our current status in world football.
The next update will bring you the detail of just what happened at the World Cup so hopefully it won’t be too depressing a read. Until then, thanks again for reading and if you have any questions, feel free to use the comment box below or contact me on twitter.