I was tempted to call it a day at the end of this season but we got so close this year that one more effort is called for in our attempts to complete that final challenge – winning the Champions League.
It’s clear that we’re now the best team in Italy, comfortably so I would say but there is still a small group of European elite sides that are just that little bit better than us. It’s no longer the class above that it has been as evidenced by our fantastic performances in Europe this season but neither would I class Feralpi as equals to PSG, Real Madrid and Man City – the real powerhouses of Europe at the moment, although I’ve got a wary eye on Man Utd after appointing Montella and Bayern who are managed by my old protegé Christian Chivu.
So a fairly simple update this one – how we did, who was good, who wasn’t that good and a few transfers to make us better. And we’ll check in on the progress of young Eric Little – the development case study… he’s getting good.
First of all, the simple stuff – a domestic treble as we won the league, the Supercoppa and the TIM Cup.
It really was as easy as it looked. After 7 games we were 7 points clear and the gap just kept getting bigger until we were left with the 20 point chasm you see on the final day.
In fact, it should have been more and we certainly should have surpassed Inter’s record haul 0f 97 points from 2007, if not the 100 points barrier, except I played the youth players in the final 4 games and ended the season with a 3-1 loss away to Catania, 4-1 win at home over Nocerina, a 1-0 loss in Udine and a 0-0 home draw with Juve. It’s only a record, I guess, and the game time will prove valuable for the kids but I’m a bit peeved at missing out.
The TIM Cup was similarly straight-forward with the reserves / fringe players proving too good for even the likes of Milan and Napoli.
The 2-1 scoreline in the final was a travesty and doesn’t come close to reflecting our utter domination. In what was a common occurrence throughout the season, we didn’t capitalise on the bagful of chances we created whilst our opponents were unerringly clinical.
But at least we got the result that we deserved, if not the scoreline – something which we almost threw away in the Supercoppa final against the same opponents as a poor halftime teamtalk from yours truly almost cost us the glorified friendly. We eventually won on penalties.
Penalties were a recurring theme to this season as, whilst we’ve scored all 9 that we’ve been awarded, we conceded from 5 of them and saved at least 5 more although I can’t find a stat which shows me the exact number.
2 of those 5 penalties would cost me a place in the Champions League final as we conceded one in each leg of the semi against PSG.
The groups were a dream as we won 6 from 6 against some dangerous opponents. Málaga have replaced Barcelona as the second force in Spain whilst Dortmund have shared the Bundesliga title with Bayern for the last 12 years.
We were simply too strong, though, and even our reserves and youths managed to beat Málaga in a the final-game dead rubber in Spain. We’d already secured top spot which was my number 1 priority to ensure that we got an easier draw than in our last two forays beyond the groups.
What followed were some incredible performances, with both the 1st knockouts and the quarters producing a solid first leg followed by an exemplary home leg to secure qualification. Against Chelsea, for example, we shut the game down at the Zola Arena then looked to use our strong home form in the return.
Gramaccia’s red card for two yellows within 30 seconds of each other wasn’t part of the plan and I figured we were out when Lukaku scored the away goal shortly after. Instead, our 10 men had other ideas. Or at least one of them did – Marco De Angelis with all four goals in a blistering performance.
Perhaps the fact that we had the home game first in the semi-final went against us but failing to score in the first leg killed us. Although we lost out to two incredibly dodgy penalties, in truth we really weren’t good enough. PSG’s defence were too good in the game in Salò and, with their money, they have some ludicrously good players going forward that did just enough.
So yet again, I don’t think we’re that far off. We’ve made the jump from just getting out of the groups to making a serious challenge. Now it’s just tipping it into that final “world class” bracket.
There are a few players in our squad that I would class as being effectively world class just now – our ‘keeper, certainly, with his ratio on a clean sheet every second game; my defence is almost a world-class unit; my attacking left-back is superb; and Marco De Angelis has proven himself to be a superb “deep striker” from AMC this season:
Rated at only 3 stars by my assistant and not exactly world class at first glance, De Angelis is a fine example of a player who is effectively world class for me – 35 goals in 41(2) games is superb. He just suits my system so well with his aerial prowess and finishing ability.
He contests 7.35 headers per game and wins 88% of them, not just getting on the end of crosses but also knocking the ball down from goal kicks and punts up the park – helping us to maintain possession in advanced areas. His passing and anticipation are also good enough to make him the highest “key pass” maker in the team with 52 this season.
With Igor Tretyak and Lukas Holub ably assisting the Italian from the flanks, we really should have enough firepower to win most games. I still, though, think we have an issue with centre mid.
Yildiz is a good example of the “problem”. Quite clearly an outstanding player but not quite producing the goods like I think he should. Gramaccia is now my first choice playmaker at MC and Graziosi, when fit, has nailed down the deep-lying playmaker position at DMC. I usually play one of Yildiz or Flórez in the box-to-box role at MRC but they’ve only got 9 goals and 4 assists between them. Therefore, it’s the instructions that I’m giving the two MC’s which will have much of the focus during pre-season.
Right-back may be another focus over the summer as one of my biggest signings, Turkish defender Temel Zorlu, has been hit by a series of injuries that have not only limited him to 13 games this season but also nerfed his attributes. He looks like being a £15m mistake.
Codreanu meanwhile, a club stalwart who was first choice for 6 years, ended up spitting the dummy about lack of first team action after being usurped by youngster Sauro Gori deputising for Zorlu. The Romanian will join Hull for £6.5m, more than tripling his initial transfer fee.
Aztori will join an ever-increasing legion of promising youth players with left-back the only position that I feel isn’t covered by an under-19 player. One of the most promising continues to be Scottish attacking midfielder Eric Little, our development case study:
For comparison, the original screenshot is here.
With 8 starts and 5 sub appearances, Little has got a reasonable amount of game time to aid his development but has still produced the goods in the meantime – including a fantastic hat-trick against Nocerina.
As I said in the last update, he’s now destined for the inside forward role from AMC and I worked on his finishing (+1), passing (+1) and technique (+2) primarily this year whilst we’ve also seen improvements in his anticipation, creativity, composure and decisions.
Now, though, I’m faced with a dilemma. Do I loan him out and try to get him 30+ games this season? Or do I keep him and use him from the bench, maybe starting 10 games at Feralpi?
I think his attributes are now well-balanced enough that I don’t need to hold onto him specifically for tailored training and I’m not planning on teaching him any PPM’s urgently so a loan spell is definitely in my thoughts. It really just depends what clubs come in for him and how good their facilities are – as ours are “top” then I’m not keen on sacrificing the benefit of these facilities for 15 extra games. I’ll make a judgement call.
Little is just one of a number of players with which I’ll face this dilemma but the good news is that the conveyor belt has started as the first group of youngsters have started to knock on the door to the first team and my Head of Youth Development has been busy bringing in the next batch after that.
For me, though, the first team is key just now. I want that Champions League before I get bored!! I want it this season!
As always, thanks for reading – just a short update this time. I look forward to any comments or questions you may have.