It’s been a while since I’ve updated, particularly on the national side, which is indicative of the lack of time I’ve had recently but also a growing stagnation in the save. I’m finding the club game more than a little dull just now as we’re head and shoulders above the rest of the league, meaning I don’t really need to even try and win games. I could, quite conceivably, just hit continue and the team will win with no tweaks or reactive moves on my part.
Having said that, the national game is still relatively interesting – largely because it is much more competitive and there’s still a lot for me to work out when it comes to our strongest sides and tactics against various levels of opponent.
This has been evident in the qualifying campaign for Euro 2016 where we faced a mixed bag of Italy, Serbia, Israel and Lichtenstein. With two teams automatically qualifying then I was fairly confident of progression.
Therefore, I’ve decided that I’ll continue managing Rapid and Austria for the rest of this season and then, after the tournament, resign Sindelar from both jobs and go on the lookout for a new club. I’ll keep a save from just before my resignation so that I can come back to the save in future but I fancy a new challenge and, preferring the randomness of the game a few years in, it makes sense to use this file. I just have to decide which level I’m looking to manage at…
For now, this update will look at the qualifying campaign for Euro 2016 and the key players in the national set-up. Although it won’t be as detailed as the last club update, I’ll try to flesh out some of the players somewhat.
Well that all looks rather lovely doesn’t it?
For me, though, that doesn’t tell the whole story as the two losses both came against Italy, a far superior team who were simply much, much better than us and defeated us far too easily.
We won the remaining 6 games quite easily in truth with only the opening game in Israel giving us any real trouble. For me, this quite clearly insinuates that we are a strong “second tier” team. Combined with our troubles at World Cup 2014, there’s simply no way you could consider us to be a top side as we get consistently thumped by any team you would consider a big side – I really wouldn’t give us any hope against a top 10 side.
In fact, I’d say our current world rating of 11th is massively misleading. The ratings do look rather odd though with the Swiss at 4th, Nigeria 7th and Côte d’Ivoire 9th whilst teams I would consider to be far, far stronger such as Brazil, France and Holland are way down in 17th, 21st and 30th respectively.
Nevertheless, here are the fixtures that got us on the plane, or perhaps train, to France:
As you should be able to see from that, the key player in the national side continues to be leading scorer Martin Harnik who continues to bang in the goals despite his lack of finishing and composure.
If Harnik tells you anything then it’s quite simply that players with blistering pace can still be devastating in this match engine. Other than his pace, there’s very little else to indicate that Harnik would score 22 goals in 36 international games during my tenure.
I typically use him as the advanced forward in a front pair but he’s equally effective as an inside forward from the right although it should be noted that I often set the team up in such a way as to take advantage of such pace – using a lot of passers in midfield with high through balls and the capability to find the gaps in a high defence. With Harnik being such a potent weapon for the side then why not?
Hoeneß and Alar, who you should know from the club update, are two of the key creative players behind Harnik but I’ve been getting unexpectedly good performances out of Yasin Pehlivan, a former Rapid player who moved to Turkey before I took over and one that I originally thought would be nothing more than a bit part player for Austria.
Playing in the box-to-box role, he’s popped up with 7 international assists in the last 2 seasons and has made up for a general lack of physical Austrian midfielders. Other than Pehlivan and Baumgartlinger, who generally plays at DMC, our midfield tend to be creative passers and I’ve been on the look-out for more physical players to develop with the club side. They’ll be needed in 4-5 years.
In the wide areas, there are really only 3 options. Schimpelsberger, Fuchs and Alaba. Schimpelsberger has done well since I sold him to Köln and is currently our only real option at right back, right wingback or even right midfield. He’s a crucial player and we’ll struggle immensely if he’s injured for the Euros.
On the other side, Fuchs seems to be recovering well from his broken leg whilst Alaba is head-and-shoulders above everyone else available to me. He’s quite simply world class and the attacking fullback / wingback role suits him perfectly.
With pace, power, workrate, stamina and an end product to add to all that effort, he’s the perfect wingback. I occasionally bring him inside to utilise his passing ability and defensive stability but I feel we’ll get more out of him out wide and so Fuchs is relegated to the bench when we play the narrow diamond in midfield.
The last really important player to mention is Aleksandar Dragovic who is, quite simply, a fantastic centre back. He originally moved from Basel to QPR for £7.25m but last season Sociedad spent £11.5m to take him to Spain, an indication of his obvious talents.
What I particularly like about Dragovic, aside from his defensive ability, is his outstanding composure and good passing attributes. With my other defenders being less technically adept, having a centre back who is comfortable on the ball is crucial – particularly when we go to 3 at the back. He can also cover the DM position when required although there’s simply no way that I’d move him from centre half given the poorer alternatives at my disposal.
Problem areas for the national side are currently in goal, where I rotate between the uninspiring Königshofer, Lindner and Stojanovic; right back / right wingback where an alternative for Schimpelsberger is needed soon; and a physical presence in midfield as mentioned above.
In most other areas, I feel that we have some real talent coming through with many of these having been covered in the club update – Hoeneß, Otto, Glass and Lazaro prime amongst those.
Probably the most promising non-Rapid youngster is Sascha Horvath, a former FAK midfielder whom I tried to sign in the summer but moved to Leverkusen instead. He’s struggled a little in Germany with just a handful of sub appearances to his name but still has clear talent and is a fixture in my senior squads.
My main problems with Horvath are two-fold – firstly, he is very similar to another of the promising midfielders Valentino Lazaro. They are both great dribblers and accomplished creative passers from midfield, more comfortable at AMC than MC, and possessing little defensive aptitude to speak of. Whilst it’s nice to have options, this is an area where we’re well stocked and finding room for two flair players in midfield might be difficult, particularly against the bigger sides which is where we need to improve.
Secondly, there appears to be something of a consistency issue with Horvath which leads to him sometimes disappearing from games completely, hence why I’ve tended to use him from the bench only. I’m not sure whether the problem is his consistency or a combination of his relatively low teamwork and work rate attributes but it’s something that I’m keeping an eye on. It should improve with age and game time but as he’s not getting many starts at Leverkusen then a loan move could be in the offing.
Looking forward to the summer, this is the group we’ve been drawn in:
Another nice draw for us with Northern Ireland and Wales probably being the two that I’d have liked to have drawn from pots 3 and 4. England are, as always, massively over-rated in FM and I expect to get royally thumped in the second game but equally I expect to beat the other “home nation” sides to see us progress.
The FA expect us to “be competitive” which is a nice relaxing situation to be in as I wouldn’t expect to be sacked even were we to fail miserably and crash out of the groups. For me, I’d like to see a quarter final place as I feel that’s a true reflection of our current place in international football. We’re a good side and there’s definitely goals in us but the defence is poor, the final game against Serbia being the only “real” clean sheet we kept in qualifying. (Lichtenstein doesn’t count)
The biggest challenge for me, and something I’m looking forward to, is to finally try and get consistent good performances against good sides. The Spain win at the last World Cup aside, we’ve been rank rotten against any big side we’ve faced. Italy utterly out-classed us in the two qualifying games, England were comfortable in Brazil, Uruguay destroyed us in a catastrophic first half and, although we played well in Berlin, Germany were just too good for us in World Cup qualifying.
I’m testing a counter attacking 4-5-1 with the club side which I plan to use in a couple of friendlies and against England. I know we can thump the poor sides and can usually overcome teams of comparable ability, the last step is utilising our strengths to overcome superior teams.
Either way, it should be an interesting tournament and then, after that, the start of a new chapter in this save as I find a new club to manage… as I mentioned, I’m still undecided on what sort of club I want to manage – a journeyman game, bringing a minnow to the top or maybe looking for a big team that’s slipped down the leagues during my 4 years at Rapid? Plenty of time to decide whilst I finish this season though.
As always, thanks for reading and I look forward to any comments / questions you have.
And Merry Christmas!!