When I updated last, we were embroiled in a 4-way title challenge going into the winter break and the team was performing very well – giving me great hope that we’d be able to sustain our form this season and give ourselves a real chance of a first Serie A trophy.
Going into the last day, we’d done just that and faced a bona fide “helicopter Sunday” as any one of ourselves, Napoli or Inter could claim glory in a final day showdown.
Could we do it? Could we simply nudge ourselves over the line and claim glory? Read on to find out….
(NB – this update will purely look at our results and the players that I’ve brought in)
Two seasons ago we suffered a massive slump of form in February / March which prevented any real title challenge. Last season, the slump came earlier with my unnecessary experimentation costing us dear in November and December.
This season, we were, for the most part, consistently excellent throughout. We lost games, of course we did. Every team loses games. But we never went on a 4 or 5 match spell where we struggled to pick up points. This is the kind of consistency that is required to win titles and, for the first time in 3 seasons, we’d managed to do just that.
With just 3 games to go (4 for Inter), this was the state of play. Sampdoria had beat us on the final day last season but that was a dead rubber when my players were already on holiday and I had no doubt we’d beat them comfortably whilst Paganese are a team I beat regularly these days – surely they’d be no problem in what would be a meaningless end-of-season affair for them?
True enough, the Genoan side proved to be little trouble as we thumped them 3-0 with goals from Lupi, an own goal and a stonking “inverse wingback” effort from Orlando:
And then things started to get a bit sticky. Inter had thumped Empoli before drawing at Catania whilst Napoli had disposed of Milan. We would travel to Milan ourselves in the next game knowing that a victory at the Giuseppe Meazza would put Inter out of contention for the title and mean we required just a draw in the final game to ensure we stayed ahead of Napoli.
That didn’t quite happen.
We really should have won and quite comfortably too. The 3 clear cut chances that we missed were all absolute sitters but we still managed to come from behind twice. After the second equaliser, I decided that I didn’t want to take any chances and so tried to see the game out. It worked very well until that late, late winner.
I really wasn’t best pleased. It was a disgustingly stupid goal to concede with my defence failing to mark tightly on the edge of the box.
Not to worry, the table still looked good for us going into the final day:
All I had to do was beat Paganese. No problem. We’d beaten them 3-0 at their place with a Prest hat-trick and they had nothing to play for – comfortably in mid-table with no hope of a European place.
We had a nearly full squad to choose from, only Japanese midfielder Shô Haryû would miss the game with suspension. I wasn’t worried as I had plenty of cover, he may not have started anyway.
A goalless first half came and went. We created 2 good chances and hit the bar once. They hadn’t had a shot, in fact I can’t remember a highlight with them in my box. It was only a matter of time. With Napoli losing at Atlanta and Inter 1-1 in Udine, things were still looking good.
We sparked into life in the second half, creating 3 clear chances, hitting the woodwork another FOUR times. We had a stonewall penalty turned down as Prest was mutilated by their right back. Inter had also burst into life, taking a 4-1 lead in Udinese… they were now top as we struggled to score.
It was going to be one of those “FM” days wasn’t it?
No! No, it wasn’t. Filippo Adriano Gramaccia – the local lad who came through our academy. The youngest player ever to play for Feralpi Salò when he scored with his first touch on his debut as a 15 year old. A player that I had developed through more than 200 league games for the club since Serie C. The player who had just scored an absolutely vital goal – the goal that would bring us the Serie A title!!
Fairytale stuff indeed. Take that “Agueroooooooooooooooo!”
It was no less than we deserved. We were battering them. They still hadn’t had a single shot. Surely we could put this to bed… Prest rounds the ‘keeper… he has an open goal… he’s already scored 19 this season… surely…. surely… no. He’s missed. From 4 yards…
Not to worry, the ref has signalled one minute of injury time and we’ve already played 1:30… 2:00… 2:30… 3 MINUTES… FOUR MINUTES!!!!… Paganese have a throw-in. Hang on, something weird is going on here. They have 6 players at the back post and only my right fullback seems to be anywhere near them. SIX PLAYERS. The rest of my defence are marking fresh air. ARRRGGGHHH!!!
Surely when the ball is thrown, my players will move. Ah yes, so they do. TOWARDS THE THROWER!! A simple one-two with a player coming short and the ball is swung over into the 6v1 at the back post…
Goal for Paganese. In the 95th minute. Of a game that was supposed to have one minute of injury time. With their first shot of the game. When they had a 6 on 1 at the back post. When we’d missed five clear cut chances, had a stonewall penalty turned down, missed an open goal… this is the sort of thing that occurred at Casa del Naldo.
So you’re probably wondering why there aren’t any screenshots of this… Well I did a silly thing. I rage quit. I was so mad, more mad than I’ve been in a long time. At a computer game. What a tool.
Anyway, I immediately regretted it and I knew I couldn’t let myself replay the game to win so I’ve holidayed the game many, MANY times until we lost the title again. Embarrassingly, my assistant kept winning the bloody thing. 4-0, 5-0, 7-1 at one point. When we did eventually draw 2-2 to give the title back to Inter, my DMC broke his ankle and would miss the cup final – karma.
Which rather gives away our progress in the Coppa Italia. The one redemption in the end of season disappointment, we comfortably regained the cup we had won back in 2022. These days, we don’t need to play many rounds in the cup and the only true test came against Milan in the semis. Or rather, it should have been a test but a stunning performance from my reserves to win 4-0 in the home leg really made things easier than I’d anticipated.
The final, against our parent club Brescia, was a simple affair. Unfortunately, I cannot cancel the affiliation with our neighbours from the ‘big city’ despite the fact that they have (and will again next season) played in the tier below us. Nevertheless, when Prest decides to score goals like this, we all know who the biggest team in Eastern Lombardy is.
The second big disappointment of the season was the manner of our exit from the Champions League. After an excellent group stage performance, we’d been drawn against Man City in the first knockout round – a tie that I could not foresee us winning.
Hosting the gas-funded English giants in the first leg, we stormed into a 2-0 lead thanks to that man Prest again and a Giulio Schembari tap-in. City’s giant Bulgarian striker Bulgakov got one back and although they missed a second half penalty, a 2-1 victory was nothing less than our performance merited.
The away goal may have given the Mancs an advantage but it’s not one that they ended up needing as FM intervened. In the space of 5 minutes either side of half time, Man City were awarded (and scored) a dodgy penalty then scored two more – one from a dodgy backpass and the third straight from second half restart without a single challenge from my side – before my DMC was sent off.
A second penalty, this one saved, followed before another dodgy backpass gave them a fourth and finally, to add insult to injury, my ‘keeper remembered the old near post blindspot from two patches ago and Lamela tapped one in from 8 yards.
But really, a decent season. A second cup win, second in the league and second in the Champions League group stage. From our “thirds” of last season, we’ve progressed into “seconds” this year. Surely a campaign of “firsts” will follow?
Positives? Well our defence was the best in the league and we’re scoring more goals now. Plenty of goals in fact.
I’m absolutely delighted with how Prest has worked out. After arriving as an AMC, I’ve retrained him to perform the left winger role and he has been nothing short of superb, directly contributing to 34 goals over the season.
With a couple of pre-arranged deals, my options going forward are excellent and I can’t foresee any other transfers unless we lose someone… and that’s a possibility with the big clubs taking a great deal of notice in our better players. Schembari, González, Haryûm Flórez and Dolk have all been the subject of on-going media speculation.
Priority number 1 for the summer is holding on to them all – except maybe Dolk. With Brasoveanu not developing or performing as hoped, then I think I may well need to invest in a new deep-lying playmaker. Which is a little ironic given the case study that was nominated for me in this scouting guide. I’d like to keep Brasoveanu as the back-up, though, as I still think he can make it so Dolk would be the victim of any squad shuffling.
My other major concern is the number of defensive mistakes that we are making.
Every single one of those players has averaged over a mistake a game whilst just the three highlighted have directly cost me 8 goals.
This may be something I have to look into for next season. The two biggest defeats of the season – the Man City (CL) and Inter (Serie A) away games – were instigated by defensive mistakes on our part. Is it a concentration issue? Is it a composure issue? Is it a big games issue? Some questions to consider.
In more promising news, our youth academy managed to deliver two players that my coaches reckon could be first team material in future.
Tacchini seems like he could be a decent squad member. Interestingly, my coaches reckon he’s a “big game player” although he obviously has a looong way to go before I get to test that out. With decent physical attributes, he could turn out ok.
Two-footed and spawned with the “dictates tempo” PPM, I would be a lot more excited by Occhiuzzi if his physical attributes were better. As it is, improving his pace, agility and strength will drain a lot of the CA he produces. Having said that, he’s already got some good mental attributes along with excellent technique, first touch and passing. He really could be very good.
I’ve already got him learning from Emiliano Prest with initial results promising – Prest’s “resolute” personality and “level-headed” media handling style having been assumed by the younger man.
Hopefully, the promise of developing these young players will be enough to keep me interested in continuing this save. I have to admit that watching Rapid games recently and enjoying Austria’s performance last night has really made me miss my club and country save… I might have to go back to it at some point.
Until then, it’s time to have another go with Feralpi. I REALLY want that title now. With the way this season ended, I’m desperate to make up for it next year and I’ll be prioritising Serie A over the Champions League until we’ve finally won that domestic title.
Once again, thanks for reading. I hope you are all still enjoying the updates.