There’s no doubt it was another good season for Feralpi as we exceeded our performance from the last campaign and secured our first foray into continental football – however, it could have been so much more if it hadn’t been for an untimely and incredibly frustrating slump in February and March.
This sort of slump used to happen to me all the time in FM so I shouldn’t really have been surprised and I’m a little peeved that it took me so long to rectify the situation. But rectify it we did and we went on a superb run in the closing stages that culminated in a hugely entertaining final day. You’ll have to read it to understand, it’s up there in “Agueroooooooooooooooo” territory.
This update, then, will go into a bit more detail on our results before I provide some detail on the tactical tweaks that eventually got us out of our slump in such spectacular style. As it turns out, 2021 / 22 became an historic season for little Feralpi Salò…
This time I won’t start with a screenshot of the league table, we’re going to build up to that because it was a truly exciting final day and I don’t want to spoil the surprise… I know, it’s probably not that exciting for you but bear with me.
The season started in fantastic fashion. We thumped promoted Genoa in the opening game which lay the foundation for a splendid first half of the season. The 3 2-0 defeats were slightly worrying given how poorly we played in each game but we can’t really be disappointed with the results overall – including a fantastic 2-0 win away to Juventus.
Those results left us top at the winter break but in quite a fight with Inter leading a group of four teams close behind. Following on from my dilemmas in the summer, I’d decided that the trequarista remains the best fit for the AMC position in my counter attacking tactic. I did, however, manually tweak his forward runs instruction to allow him to get forward more often as I felt that he was becoming a little static when we maintained possession in the final third.
However, I did develop a second tactic using the same basic shape (4-1-2-3-0) that utilises an “inside forward” AMC. Having added this tactic to my “back-up tactics” list, my team would now learn the new methods and be familiar with it should I need to change at any point.
In keeping with the flexibility of the two tactical systems, I invested a little money in ensuring I had personnel available to play both methods. We had plenty of options within the squad in nearly all areas but with Luis Martins leaving the club in the summer (and bang average to boot) left-back was going to be a little short. I prefer to bring in replacements as early as possible, particularly foreign replacements who need time to learn languages, and so invested £5m in bringing the excellent Jan Lukac to Salò from Atletico Madrid.
Lukac gives me the traditional over-lapping left wingback to Gallo’s inverse version meaning I could happily accommodate either of my two tactics.
Of course, if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it, right? And we were top so it clearly wasn’t broke… yet. Our first game back from the break gave us an early warning of things to come as we welcomed Udinese to Salò and suffered a 3-2 defeat – doubly hard to take as the Biaconeri’s win was almost solely down to a dominant performance from lone striker Michael Gregoritsch, a player that I had developed during my time with Rapid Wien.
That seemed like a one-off blip though as we completed January in dominant style.
The 2-0 victory over Juventus, although completing our double over the Turin giants, came at quite a cost as Filippo Adriano Gramaccia was forced off with fractured ribs. I thought we had enough cover with the likes of Cosentino or even Jovetic but by the time Gramaccia returned in April, this had happened:
Gramaccia’s absence was obviously a factor but I get the feeling that it had to be more than that. The opposition was tricky, to be fair, with Inter, Roma, Napoli and Milan all giants of the Italian game whilst tycoon-funded Cittadella are a dangerous prospect. But I still felt there was something else wrong. We were giving up chances far easier than we had been in the first half of the season and whilst we were retaining more possession, it was sterile possession with few chances created.
Therefore, I decided to switch it up. If the opposition wanted to sit back and allow me more of the ball instead of trying to push us back at all times then I need to react to that and try to force my game on them more. My new set-up, although maintaining the basic 4-1-2-3-0 formation, is intended to stretch the game a bit more by keeping the AML/AMR wide.
It’s also designed to retain possession more than the counter attacking version. Rather than sitting back with a deep-line, closing down only when the opposition venture into our half and then breaking forward quickly with high-risk offensive passes, we are looking to press up the pitch with a high defensive line and closing down early from the front then playing a more patient game to find the breakthrough.
Switching from a trequarista to an inside forward at AMC is key to this. No longer does the AMC become the main playmaker of our attacks and we no longer look to get the ball to him as early as possible. Instead, our primary playmaker is the DLP at DM.
What I was trying to ensure was that we rotated the ball deeper when we retained possession in the opposition’s half whilst keeping two central runners ahead of him – the inside forward AMC and the box-to-box MC – with an additional ball-player attempting to float in the gaps between the playmaker and the runners. Meanwhile the defensive wingers at AML/AMR stay wider than they would as inside forwards, helping to keep the defence stretched so that my central runners have more space. (it should be noted that I start with these guys as defensive wingers but they are the most reactive players. Often they become inside forwards or wingers depending on how the game is progressing and space available)
Finally, I have the wingbacks coming forward with the central defenders and DLP staying deep to cover. We currently have the left wingback set up as an “inverse wingback”. If you’re not sure what this is then I’d recommend reading this thread at Supports Interactive which will explain it thoroughly.
So… does it work? Try it if you want by downloading the file here.
The ridiculously attentive of you may have noticed that my screenshots thus far have only included 37 league games. What about the last one?
Well our February / March slump had destroyed any hope we had of securing an unlikely title. Going into that final game of the season we were 13 points off champions Inter. However, we still had plenty to play for as we were level on points (67) with 5th placed Roma. By virtue of two 1-0 home wins in the head-to-heads failing to separate us, we went into the final games in 4th place due to a goal difference that was one better than the side from the capital.
That 4th place brings with it the final Champions League spot – a prize worth coveting.
To secure 4th place and the potential riches that come with it, we had to equal Roma’s result (and goal difference) at home to Atalanta when we travelled to Genoa to face Sampdoria. No problem, right?
Well you’d certainly think so after half an hour by which time we’d taken a two goal lead and the giallorossi were still goalless at the Olimpico. Then things started to go a little wrong. Almost simultaneous goals on the half-hour mark for Sampdoria and Roma made me nervous with one goal in either game knocking us out.
That goal came for Sampdoria before half-time and then got even worse shortly after the break with a Pietro Iemmello’s second. When Roma then knocked in a second of their own we looked doomed. We now needed a 3 goal turnaround as even a one-goal victory would only bring us level on goal difference but falling behind on goals scored.
Cue 30 minutes of “kitchen sink” football as we threw everything forward.
It paid almost immediate dividends as Jan van Duren grabbed a deserved equaliser in the 65th minute, volleying in a superb cross from substitute right back Konig. But one wasn’t enough… we needed two more… we couldn’t even get one as we dominated but just couldn’t find our way to the net and Samp looked like punishing our gung-ho efforts on the break.
Then Atalanta, beautiful Atalanta, came up with the goods as they got one back in the 78th minute at the Olimpico. It may only have been a consolation goal for a side that had narrowly avoided relegation but it could make all the difference for us if we could just get another goal… a goal that never looked like coming… 85 minutes, nothing… 90 minutes, nothing… 91 minutes…
As I was home alone with my son when this goal went in, I didn’t feel quite so embarrassed by my disproportionate and rather extensive celebrations. Fan-fooking-tastic.
So 4th place was secured by the tightest of margins and, despite our best efforts during a horrendous late winter, we had something to celebrate on the banks of Lake Garda… ah but we’re not finished yet. The more observant of you may have noticed that our winter slump was occasionally interrupted by some excellent results in the Coppa Italia.
A routine win over Cagliari was followed up by superb victories over Napoli and Milan, the latter in particular was massively pleasing given that the two legged affair came in the middle of a massive slump and we still did our best to throw it away. After a 2-0 victory at the San Siro, things should have been comfortable for us at Leonarduzzi. They got slightly less comfortable after a 23rd minute Milan penalty but when their 16 year old right back got sent off just after half time it seemed we were destined for the final.
Much like Michael Gregoritsch, however, Valentino Lazaro is player I developed at Rapid and who keeps coming back to haunt me (he’s well worth looking at for your own game, by the way, cracking player) and he scored the equaliser in the 65th minute.
With our forward play as stale as it I would become used to during the slump, Milan were the better side even with 10 men, only for Japanese midfielder Shô Haryû to pop up in the second half of extra time to rifle in the winner.
On to the final and, after our final day exploits in Genoa, I really felt we had the momentum on our side – particularly as we faced the Atalanta side who, despite doing us such a massive favour with their consolation goal, had lost to Roma in the last game of the season – the 9th game of a winless run that included 7 losses. It wasn’t going to be a contest:
They may have scored twice but, let’s be honest, we absolutely battered them. With 7 clear cut chances created, we were 3 up inside 12 minutes and then went into cruise control. Essentially, Gramaccia just decided that he fancied a medal and no-one was going to stop him. In 75 minutes of football, he scored a hat-trick and assisted two of the other three goals:
What pleased me most about the cup final was the fantastic football that we played, just have a look at these two goals as examples – the movement off the ball and number of players committed to the attack was superb.
So quite a season, all told. Yes, it could have been so much better if we hadn’t decided to, you know, “go all FM” for a couple of months but our first ever senior piece of silverware and the potential to qualify for the Champions League (we need to win a playoff). How can we build from here? What will take us that last step?
Well before I get that far, I’ve made a conscious decision to impose some transfer limitations on myself. My squad was becoming worrying cosmopolitan. I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to FM and I like to see a domestic core to my teams. This comes naturally with the game when playing Club and Country saves but I’ve transferred this to “regular” games like this.
Therefore I will now be operating a strict one-in-one-out policy on non-Italian players up to a maximum of two per season. This will not include tutors and/or player-staff but solely relate to the first team squad. It means that I really have to consider my foreign signings carefully… as if I didn’t already procrastinate enough!
I’ve decided that the excellent Ricardo González, who you may remember was the subject of my signing debacle last summer, doesn’t count towards this year’s quota (hey it’s my game I can do what I want!) as his move was actually arranged last year. Thankfully, an extra year back in Chile hasn’t done the young winger any harm and he will only add to the versatility in my squad – capable of covering AMR, AMC and MC in a creative capacity.
My other signings (so far) are slightly more creative…
The beauty of the Ariaudo deal is that he is a hell of a lot cheaper than the younger back-up options were and yet all he is missing in comparison is pace – something I don’t particularly require in a centre half. Meanwhile, I knocked him down from his original £12k per week demands by giving him £5.75k a week and a £7k appearance fee. As I plan to give him much less than a game a week, I’m on to a winner.
My attacking right-back slot has been something of an issue for a few seasons. Initially I signed Andrea Bandini but I decided that he wasn’t good enough for the step up to Serie A and so allowed his contract to expire when we got promoted. In came Cosmin Codreanu who has consistently performed well, both going forwards and defensively. However, back-up has been an issue and I’ve loaned in squad-fillers for the last 3 seasons. Well no more.
I know, he’s not a right back but Hans Negro soon will be and I’ll also be concentrating on improving his defensive attributes but I couldn’t resist a free transfer that brings me so much offensively.
Physically he is superb (jumping aside) and can bomb up and down the wing swinging in crosses. Crosses I anticipate being aimed to the back post for another free transfer…
… a 6’5” winger with decent pace who can finish, not to mention his off the ball, anticipation and composure. I like. A lot. I can’t remember if I mentioned this in a post on the blog or on twitter but swinging the ball to the back post for a tall striker who has peeled off onto a shorter fullback is all a bit Sam Allardyce / Martin O’Neill but hey, it works!
Marco De Angelis won’t be a first choice starter this season but he’ll get plenty of sub appearances and a few games against weaker sides whilst I try to increase his dribbling and teamwork plus perhaps bump his pace a little. Plus, he’s Italian and just adds to my long term succession plans for a side dominated by domestic players.
With Portuguese left-back Luis Martins leaving the club on a free, I had room to bring in one foreigner and I didn’t waste much time in signing the quite supremely promising Orlando:
I haven’t quite abandoned my inverse wingback experiment but I couldn’t turn down a player of Orlando’s obvious talent being available for just £3.2m and minuscule wages. He’s also happy to accept a rotation role for just now which means that I can keep both him and current left back Lukac happy with 20-25 games each.
Lastly, he is proficient in a number of positions. This allows me to use him as a defensive left midfielder when needed and also gives me an indication that he is a versatile player capable of learning a new position – perhaps right back or left wing depending on my needs.
I still have plans for more signings. I’m having some real trouble at the moment getting players to sign new contracts. One such player was Giulio Magliano, the hero of Luigi Ferraris with that 92nd minute goal. He was on a £5.75k a week deal that expired at the end of next season.
On trying to negotiate a new deal, he asked for £22k a week plus various clauses.
I started negotiations with a £9.5k a week offer.
He asked for £22k a week plus various clauses.
I offered £11.5k a week.
He asked for £22k a week plus various clauses.
I offered £14k a week.
He asked for £22k a week plus various clauses.
I think you might be starting to see my issue here. Unless his agent mistook me for Peter Risdale then we have a problem.
Instead of negotiating further, I sold him. £7.5m from Inter represents a good profit on a player I picked up for nothing 5 seasons and 172 games ago. I would much rather have kept him, don’t get me wrong, but I was running out of options.
The move may leave me a little short in the middle of the park, though, with just 3 natural MC’s and a couple of stand-ins such as Gramaccia and González covering two positions. Then there’s the possibility of a new trequarista. Gramaccia showed me how crucial that position is during his absence last season but I still don’t feel he is performing like he should. Perhaps this gentleman would…
Frankly, he’s an absolute beast. My only concerns, if I was being really harsh, are that his acceleration is a little low and I don’t know how adaptable he would be to becoming an AMC, although his competence at AMR gives me some hope.
Unfortunately, his agent has other ideas. I can force Ajax into selling by activating his £25.5m minimum fee release clause for foreign clubs but his agent just keeps putting his demands up. Initially, he wanted £45k a week which I couldn’t afford. Then the new season came around and I had the cash… only for his agent to decide the player now wants £115k a week. Hmmm….
Incidentally, there is an identically named Argentinian striker who is also an absolute beast but isn’t willing to move to me. At one point they played together up front at River. I’m just glad I never had to face that team.
Anyway, I still have plans to make moves in the transfer market but will experiment in a few friendlies before making my final choice. We still have £15m transfer budget available, whilst I’m spending just £222k of our £660k per week wage budget and the bank balance looks lovely with the projected end of season balance at £35m and the loan debt for the stadium now down to just £5.25m.
The board have also agreed to further expand the stadium and improve the youth facilities, although they bizarrely decided to cancel training ground improvements immediately after announcing the former due to a lack of funding.
With the club’s infrastructure now improving year-on-year and continental competition on its way to Salò things are looking good for our little club. This season could be crucial though. Not only do I expect to make a sustained title challenge but I’d like to see a proper Champions League campaign. We face what is likely to be a very difficult Best Placed Playoff before we even make the groups and, assuming our success, will be seeded 4th in an undoubtedly difficult group. The board expect group stages and so do I.
Well, thanks once again for reading! I hope you are continuing to enjoy these game updates and I look forward to any comments or questions you may have.
If you enjoy these updates then please read my Recommended Reading page which contains links to some fantastic blogs and FM related sites that can never get enough publicity. If you like my stuff then you’ll love theirs.