Finally! The patch arrived and I have been able to play Football Manager 2014 for real! In fact, I was so excited about being able to play FM14 in anger that I’ve sped through the first season before I even had a change to set the scene.
Therefore, this post is going to have to cover a lot of ground – setting the scene in how the game has been set up, my general approach to the game and a look back at a successful first season.
As many of you will be aware, I have an FM-induced affiliation with both Rapid Wien and Austria – built up over years of playing them within the game and then graduating into watching the teams week-in-week-out. This year’s version returns to an edit that has proven to be the most interesting and long-lasting in the past – an Anschluss merger of the Austrian and German football systems.
However, as opposed to previous years, this version’s updates will place much more focus on the national team. Although I will update on the fortunes of Rapid, this will hopefully just provide a background of tactical experimentation and player development with fuller, more detailed analysis provided on the Austrian national team’s progress.
This will take the form of the odd piece on individual players whom I hope will develop into the national team and thorough reports on specific matches – why I used certain tactics, why I made certain in-match changes, etc.
Hopefully, that sounds like something of interest to you. If so, read on…
So first of all, some scene setting. Austria, currently ranked 46th in the world, were once a very good side. As anyone who has an interest in the origins of football will know, there was once an Austrian national side known as the Wunderteam.
The Austrian national side of the 1930’s was apparently (I say apparently as I wasn’t there and have never seen a full game of the team) inspired by the management of Hugo Meisl and the artistry of ‘Der Papierene’ Matthias Sindelar.
In homage to Sindelar, a player whose story I admire as much as his reported talent, I have named my in-game manager after him. This is likely to be the only deliberate direct similarity between my game and Meisl’s team. Al though I want my teams to eventually play fluid, attacking football (let’s face it, who the hell doesn’t?!), I have no real desire to recreate historical tactics.
Instead, I will likely end up playing versions of my two favourite shapes: 4-1-2-3-0 and 3-x-4-x-2.
Another coincidental similarity, or maybe it’s one of the reasons I like Sindelar so much, is my preference for using a creative AMC / number 10 / trequartista or whatever you want to call it. I just love the idea of an Austrian Riquelme, Litmanen or Rui Costa playing between midfield and attack controlling the game.
Of course, as with any club and country game, I will be somewhat restricted by the newgens who become available to me over the course of the save. If the intakes continue in the vein of my first, though, we could be on to a winner.
There are some fantastic looking prospects in there, Kurt Grünwald being the clear standout. Adding to that a few gems coming through at other clubs (left-back Pröll at Sturm Graz, right winger Krenn at Admira Wacker and striker Bertram at Red Bull Salzburg) and the real-life prospects such as Holzhauser, Lazaro and Horvath we should have a decent basis with which to work in the coming years.
One traditional struggle for me in Austrian C&C games is goalkeeper. However this year, it appears that Austria Wien stopper Heinz Lindner has received a bump (quite rightly) and, in even better news, there is a new goalkeeping prospect in the Rapid Wien youth teams.
Paul Gartler seems like a real prospect and is a good example of the way a C&C game has influenced my approach to the game. At the start of the game, Rapid have Königshofer and Novota, as well as on-loan Samuel Radlinger, as goalkeeping options. All 3 are due to leave the club at the end of 2013 as their contracts expire. I chose to play Königshofer throughout the season as he was the most effective sweeper-keeper but I declined to renew his contract despite impressive performances. Why?
Whilst Königshofer is a decent ‘keeper, he will never be good enough for the national side. Gartler, on the other hand, might. So the latter must be my focus. With Königshofer unsuited to tutoring he was allowed to leave and I brought in 39-year-old Jussi Jääskeläinen on loan from West Ham instead. Jussi has a ‘professional’ personality and ‘unflappable’ media-handling style which, as we know from this superb personalities guide, indicates a Professionalism attribute of 18 or 19 as well as high Pressure and Temperament attributes. Perfect for tutoring Gartler and allowing the youth to play in cup games.
There should be quite a few cup games, too, as the edit I have created allows the Austrian clubs now playing in Germany to compete in the Austrian domestic cup as well as German Pokal, although we can only qualify for Europe through the German system.
4 of us – Rapid Wien, Austria Wien, Red Bull Salzburg and Sturm Graz – were entered into the 2.Bundesliga whilst Ried, Admira Wacker (both promoted), Wacker Innsbruck, Wolfsberger, Wiener Neustadt and Grödig went into 3.Liga.
The remaining Austrian sides have been re-arranged to fill the spaces left – creating a tipp-3 Bundesliga of former Erste teams, an Erste league of former Regionalliga teams and a 3.Liga of the amateur / reserve teams of the 10 teams who now play in Germany.
Despite being predicted to finish in mid-table and a start to the season which seemed to match those aspersions, we ended up going on a run at the end of the season which sees us promoted to the big time. The most important factor, for me, in our improvement was the return from injury of 3 key players – marauding right-back Michael Schimpelsberger, central midfielder Dominik Wydra and, my personal favourite, Deni Alar.
Deni can play up front, when required, but more regularly plays as the trequartista at AMC or fills in on the left flank. After the introduction of all 3 from around November onwards, we really pushed on and ended the season with a 6-game winning streak to just squeeze into automatic promotion.
Whilst all this was going on, the national side was plodding through the unsuccessful remains of the World Cup 2014 Qualifying campaign. I would have thought that I’d have the ‘real’ remaining fixtures to play but for some reason it worked out slightly different and probably gave me a better chance of doing what Austria had just failed to do – sneak into the playoffs.
However, I decided that qualification was so unlikely I would be better off experimenting with tactics and players, preparing for what would be a more realistic punt at qualification for Euro 2016.
With the rather simple prospect of Kazakhstan at home followed by a trip to the Faroes, our experimentation was almost guaranteed a promising start. That came to a crashing end with a lucky home draw against Ireland and a terrible performance in Sweden seeing us go down 3-0.
At this point, I was a little worried. Some of the fringe players I had hoped would step up, like Hosiner and Kavlak, don’t seem to be good enough to contribute and the unexpected results against Jamaica and Montenegro meant that squad morale was low. Luckily, we had the chance to boost morale with 2 friendlies in the new year before we would embark on Euro qualification; and, having been picked in a difficult group, we were going to need every advantage we could get.
Russia are clear favourites whilst Ukraine are clearly an excellent side and Montenegro had just beaten us heavily in a friendly. Nevertheless, I have some confidence that we can challenge for second spot and I’m aiming for 16 points to do so – win in the home games against Malta, Ukraine and Montenegro, away wins in Malta and Montenegro with a draw either in Kiev or the home game against Russia.
With routine friendly wins over Latvia and the Philippines, we were in good morale to make a good start – a start that would be absolutely necessary given the order of fixtures. We’d face Ukraine at home first before travelling to Malta and returning to Vienna (or Graz) for the Montenegro match. We needed 3 wins on the bounce if we were to have any realistic hope of second. Could we manage it?
Ukraine lined up in a flattish 3-5-2 using a sweeper or libero behind a solid centre-half pairing and I decided to go with my usual 4-1-2-3-0 with Alaba, our star player, in the key trequartista role at AMC.
Having taken a good look at the Ukraine side, I decided to go with a much higher defensive line due to their lack of pack in the striking positions. Yarmolenko, at left mid, was their clear main threat so I decided to make my right-back, Garics, more conservative than his colleague at left-back; instead trying to focus our attack down the left where I saw the offensive strength of Fuchs overlapping Weimann as being key.
I also asked Alaba to specifically man-mark their central MC, Garmash, who I foresaw being Ukraine’s main playmaker in the middle. Finally, I added the ‘clear ball to flanks’ shout – the idea here being that Yarmolenko and Gusev should be pushing forward when Ukraine attack and a quick transition into the wings when we turn the ball over should allow us to utilise the space before the two can recover.
In a truly bizarre turn of events, my plans came to instant fruition with two early goals created from our left flank:
Unfortunately, we also conceded when Yarmolenko got clear of Garics and found Seleznyov in acres of space to nod home easily.
At half-time, I took a look through the analysis tab to see where we having trouble and it was clear that Garics simply wasn’t able to cope with the excellent Yarmolenko on his own. With Arnautovic having a poor game, I brought Prödl on for the Stoke attacker; putting the former in at right back and moving Garics to right-midfield with the sole responsibility of sitting on Yarmolenko, safe in the knowledge that Prödl was also available to cover behind him. To replace the lack of offensive thrust from right-mid, the right-sided central midfielder, Junuzovic, was allowed more licence to get forward.
Clearly at least part of the plan worked but I have to admit that the changes really killed our offensive capability in the second half. Garics and Prödl did a fine job of nullifying Yarmolenko but Junuzovic failed to replace the attacking intent.
However, killing the game worked out rather well given we already had a one-goal lead and we could move onto the trip to Malta with 3 points in the bag.
With Malta a, shall we say, less formidable opponent than Ukraine or indeed Montenegro, I decided to take the opportunity for experimentation with an attacking tactic. The idea is fairly simple – the back 3 cover the width of the pitch when defending, Holzhauser controls the game from deep, Fuchs and Garics run the flanks whilst the rest of the team harry the opposition and have some fun going forward.
There wasn’t much to this game in all honesty. Malta are a poor side and yet managed to create 3 half-chances (from set-pieces) and scored through a Schaub own-goal but we scored four of our own whilst dominating possession and chances.
6 points from 6 was a handy start though and with Ukraine and Russia drawing 2-2 in Kiev, we were off to the best possible start.
And so we went back to the standard 4-1-2-3-0, trying to dominate a Montengrin side that I suspected would play the same 4-4-2 that had knocked four past us 11 months before. Of course, this time there was no Vucinic, no Jovetic, no Boskovic… and we were more or less full strength.
A quick look at their earlier games this year revealed a heavy reliance on Blackburn midfielder Simon Vuckevic who had assisted 3 and scored 2 in their first 5 games of 2014. Montenegro played him on the left, which suited my team massively as it allowed me to focus our attack down the left again whilst keeping Garics (right-back) conservative, getting tight to Vuckevic who isn’t quick enough to get away from a marker.
Things started well as a cross from our overloading left-flank found Arnautovic alone at the back post with a simple finish. Then this happened:
Two of the most ‘what the fuck?!’ goals I’ve conceded in a while – the first one particularly.
After that, I was mightily pissed off. Winning this game was an absolute necessity so I changed approach completely – employing a version of the 3-1-4-1-1 that I used against Malta but dropping one of the centre backs and employing an additional striker to play 2-1-4-1-2.
It worked. Spectacularly.
We played some excellent football and we scored some fantastic goals, going 4-2 up before Montenegro had a man sent off in the 74th minute and both teams saw the game out as is. Sometimes just going on the offensive is the best policy, I guess.
One interesting thing to note is Montenegro’s passing map – shown to the right. The effect of my specific instructions can clearly be seen. Vuckevic, the subject of tight marking from Garics, only had one pass in the final third and Montenegro’s left side was completely ineffectual. We may have allowed more danger down our right but this is a trade-off for the attacking we focus down this flank and from where 3 of our 4 goals came.
Barring two remarkably lucky / farcical goals conceded, this would have been a very comfortable victory. As it is, the 3 points may have proven more difficult to obtain but obtained they were and we’ve achieved our goal of 9 points from the opening games to leave the table looking rather nice ahead of a trip to Moscow.
Positives – the results, the goals have been shared around a few players, Alaba has been superb.
Problems – the defence has looked dodgy, not helped by a cruciate ligament injury to Aleksandar Dragovic.
And that’s where we currently are. Progress, definite progress. Our ranking is bound to drop back down once we face Russia and Ukraine away, not to mention the rounds where we don’t play (group of 5) but it’s a huge improvement on the horrific friendly results that we had in 2013… a friendly curse which has returned with defeats to Finland (0-2) and Denmark (2-5).
Second is definitely possible. Ukraine are the team I need to keep an eye on and an 8-point gap at this stage would seem ideal. But there are a couple of problems with that – first the game in hand and secondly that Ukraine have already played Russia. Although the 2-2 draw between the teams would help if I’m aiming for top spot, to take second it might have been handier if Russia simply thumped the rest. As it is, the draw means I need a similar result against the top seeds.
Ah well, that’s for another day. For now, that’s the end of what should be the first of many Rapid / Austria C&C updates. As always, if you have any questions or comments then I’d love to hear them in the comments boxes below.
Thanks for reading!