When I updated last, I was having some tactical trouble and bored you all to death with some statistics in an effort to found out where the problems were and how I could go about fixing them.
The good news, then, is that now I’ve settled on the tactic, I’m going to bore you all to death with some statistics in an effort to go about improving the players I use within that system. That though, will come in the next update as here I’ll update on how we finished the first season with Rapid, our first signings and, more importantly, how our qualifying campaign for Euro 2016 is going.
After my deliberation in the last post, the system I eventually settled on is as follows:
Much of my consternation in the last post revolved around the striker position and why I wasn’t scoring the level of goals that I expected. I came up with a few subtle changes to the system and, first game back, it looked like I was on to a winner.
I really didn’t expect that kind of immediate reaction and, as it turns out, I shouldn’t have as the LASK game proved to be a one-off against a side that would be relegated in 15th place. Much of the rest of the season followed the same trend as before the winter break – comfortable home wins and poor away performances.
That was until an absolutely disastrous performance in the ÖFB Cup semi-final away at Ried. We were soundly thrashed 4-0 (four) and my patience finally expired. Deni Alar was dropped and Dominik Starkl replaced him up front for the final five games.
Now I like to think that I know a lot about Football Manager, even that I’m pretty good at the game; but I cannot, in any way, shape or form, fathom why Dominik Starkl would end up being a better deep-lying forward than Deni Alar.
If anyone wants to offer any theories then please feel free but there is nothing in the attributes to suggest anything other than Alar is the better player. Not PPM’s either where Alar has “tries first time shots” and Starkl has “curls ball” and “cuts inside”.
Starkl, however, ended the season with three goals in four wins, missing the last game as we took 13 points from the final 5 matches to seal second spot.
Whilst Red Bull Salzburg ended up walking the league, losing 4 games after sealing the title in April, it was vital that we finish second to take the second Champions League qualification spot.
That’s a fairly unsurprising table with Salzburg clearly the best team in the league and the other “big names” competitive in the top half.
Red Bull also won the cup comfortably and look set to provide us with stiff competition for a few years, which is great news for the longevity of the save.
Talking of which, as we look to the long term future the end of the season provided me with my first opportunity to bring some of my own players into the squad, having removed the transfer budgets from the first window.
With Robert Beric heading to Braunschweig for €325k and Thanos Petsos to West Brom for €1.3m plus clauses in January, as well as the upcoming Champions League money, I was expecting a little more than the €425k the board gave me for new signings. That small budget meant two things – I needed to prioritise a couple of positions and I would probably need to sell to buy.
One of the earliest priorities for me was to invest in a new goalkeeper. Jan Novota is pretty decent for this level and kept 11 clean sheets last season but he’s a sellable asset, and a foreign one at that. Couple this with the lack of a senior ‘keeper for the Austrian side and I wanted to bring in one of a swathe of promising young Austrian ‘keepers for development purposes.
There are a number who could have done a job but, after selling Novota to Groningen for €475k, I settled on Andreas Leitner from Admira Wacker.
I’d experimented with a few of the young goalies last year with Cican Stankovic, Heinz Lindner and Dejan Stojanovic all being capped but Leitner was the one I settled on so he was the obvious first choice target.
I’m a big fan of ‘keepers with the simple attributes first – get positioning right, make the right decision and react quickly. Leitner is strong in all these areas for a 21-year old although I have slight concerns with his aerial ability and concentration. Now that he’s joined the club side, I can try to influence his development to cover these shortcomings.
He was relatively expensive at €650k plus a few clauses but the biggest drawback of his signature was being forced to accept a €1.2m minimum fee release clause. I’m hoping to negotiate that out in his next contract but felt it was worth the gamble to develop what could be the first choice national ‘keeper for the next 10 years.
That left me free to assess the outfield squad and start developing the conveyor belt of talent that will slot into the 4-1-4-1 over time. The first act of this was to allow 19 reserve and youth players to leave, having judged that they would never “make it”. This list included Lukas Grozurek, a handy squad player but, as I stated in the rules in the opening post, any Austrian over 20 who doesn’t get 10 starts in a season should be sold.
Wiener Neustadt picked Grozurek up on a free which should help strengthen their team and thereby the overall quality of the league – the intent of the rule.
Whilst Grozurek left on a free and Behrendt left for straight cash, when it came to the sales of Gartler, a promising ‘keeper, and Schaub, one of the most promising Austrian midfielders, I made full use of the additional clauses on offer.
Although I wasn’t massively keen on selling Schaub, I figured it was best in the long run for both club and country. Burnley, still in the Premier League, will help Schaub progress much quicker than he will in Austria whilst if he does well then a bigger club will eventually come calling and that 20% future fee clause could net me something like £3m, maybe more.
If I had been playing a regular game style then I think I’d have fought harder to keep Schaub in particular, given his obvious talent, but that’s the beauty of the club and country save for me. That and the choices you make in finding the replacements.
I could have taken the money from Schaub and invested in an expensive foreigner but, instead, I want to help develop as many promising youngsters as possible and Nikola Dovedan, pictured above, certainly fits that bill.
Joining from Red Bull Salzburg’s feeder team FC Liefering, Dovedan is capable of playing on either flank but I see him as more suited to the left wing rather than Schaub’s right mid position which now means that all four of my first team options for the wide roles – Kainz, Schobesberger, Dovedan and Kuen – can play on both flanks, giving me great flexibility.
Dovedan also only cost me €200k and meant I could sign two other first team players that I had my eye on. Having sold Petsos in January I felt we could do with an additional option in the middle and it proved to be prescient as Grahovac, our first choice roaming playmaker, would suffer a torn hamstring in early September.
Again, I had a number of options to look at. Ideally I’d have liked to sign Sandi Lovric from Sturm but he isn’t interested and our fans wouldn’t be chuffed with a move for Peter Michori from arch-rivals FAK. In the end it came down to a choice between Grödig pair Stefan Nutz and Sandro Djuric or, my eventual preferred choice, Peter Tschernegg of Wolfsberger.
At €575k, Tschernegg was relatively pricey but ticks an awful lot of boxes for me. Positionally, he can play both defensive midfield and central midfield, or even centre back in an emergency; whilst his attributes are well suited to our system.
Another of the “rules” I set in the opening post was to create a squad with certain “communal attribues”: first tier being Decisions, Teamwork, Work Rate, First Touch and Stamina; second tier of Anticipation, Composure, Concentration, Passing and Technique.
Tschernegg is in double figures for all these attributes which, for our level, puts him in a rather select group. Furthermore, his other attributes make him well-suited to either a physical tackling role or, combined with his Dictates Tempo PPM, the play-making role he has assumed in Grahovac’s absence.
It is exactly this kind of targeted signing that I love most about the game and I now hope to be able to produce attribute and PPM templates for each position in the team. However, I’m aware that this post is getting long so I’ll go into more detail on that in a separate post.
Adhering to my “no more than 3 over-22 signings per season”, these are the other four deals I made. Haas and Muller are very much long term options, whilst Grillitsch joins on loan from Werder Bremen for first team football and looks like he could be excellent. More on Pellegrini in the subsequent post.
With the transfer business done, I’ve now played up to the start of October and it’s fair to say that things have been going well:
We haven’t conceded in the league since August whilst the performances against PSV in the first Champions League qualifier were outstanding. Unfortunately, we came up against Atlético in the next round and they proved too strong, beating us 3-1 in each leg.
I’d originally thought the Europa League draw of Dnipro, APOEL and PSV (again) was going to be difficult but a very even game in Ukraine gave us a very uneven 3-0 win whilst APOEL at home was a much simpler and more deserved 3-1 victory. Bearing in mind that we’ve already beaten PSV home and away in the Champions League, I’m now very confident we can make the latter stages.
And the good form hasn’t been limited to the club side, as a thus far successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign has seen us shoot up the rankings.
Unfortunately, our meteoric rise seems to have come too late for the World Cup 2018 qualification seedings although I do feel that we’ve lucked out despite remaining as third seeds.
I’ve had some trouble with Wales in the past but I’m confident we’ll be able to take a playoff spot behind the English.
In this campaign, though, it is highly unlikely we’ll have to settle for playoffs, in fact I’m looking to top the group.
With our final two fixtures being Lichtenstein (H) and Moldova (A), that table looks even lovelier. And I reckon we deserve it too.
We dispatched with Moldova 3-0 at home rather easily and then hosted Sweden in what I assumed would be a match to decide second place. We were desperately unlucky in that match as we failed to take a number of excellent chances and conceded an own goal but, thanks to a Marco Djuricin double on debut, settled for a 2-2 draw ahead of the trips to Russia and Montenegro.
We used the same 4-1-4-1 as the club for the majority of the games but, in contrast to the switch with Rapid, I decided to stick with the Defensive Forward up front in Moscow. This is partly down to Djuricin being out injured for these games and the role suiting his replacement, Andreas Weimann, perfectly; but also because of our underdog status and a decision to prioritise the draw.
Weimann, though, was magnificent – scoring one and setting up another. Together with Marko Arnautovic, who terrorised first Igor Smolnikov and then Roman Shishkin from the left wing (completing 12 dribbles!), and the usual outstanding performance from David Alaba in the middle, we ran out 3-1 winners.
An unexpected and hugely welcome victory that puts top spot firmly in our grasp. The trip to Podgorica was much more difficult than it should have been. We dominated the first half, going ahead early and then benefitting from a harsh red card to Stefan Savic. However, Alaba then missed the resulting penalty and we failed to take any further chances.
Julian Baumgartlinger then decided to get himself sent off, committing GBH against Vucinic 6 seconds into the second half. The Montenegrin didn’t even have the chance to make it out the centre circle before the Baumgartlinger presented him with a 12 stud present.
Jovetic inevitably equalised from a corner but Alaba had the final word, atoning for his earlier penalty miss with a neat finish from close range.
If we don’t finish top now, we only have ourselves to blame.
In terms of the squad, we’ve managed to cap a few of the most promising youngsters such as Valentino Lazaro and Sascha Horvath although we appear to have lost out on a couple of Austrian / Bosnian dual nationality players. These are the main protagonists.
As you can see from that screenshot, there aren’t any players in the regular squad over 30, with a real focus on those under 25.
There are, however, two problem positions appearing on the horizon. First, right back may be an issue with current first choice Florian Klein turning 29 in November. Rapid youngster Pavelic is possibility but I can’t see him becoming international class; whilst George Tiegl has recently moved to Hertha Berlin but, again, I have my doubts.
Of even greater worry is the striker position. So far in this campaign, I’ve used Andi Weimann, Ashley Barnes, Rubin Okotie, Erwin Hoffer, Philipp Hosiner, Marco Djuricin and Marcel Sabitzer in various roles as the lone striker.
There have been a few excellent performances like Djuricin against Sweden and Weimann against Russia but, for the most part, there just isn’t the right fit. I had hoped that Deni Alar would have stepped up but we can’t even get him scoring for Rapid, nevermind at international level.
Djuricin remains my biggest hope for the moment, with Weimann likely to come in against big teams when I use the Defensive Forward. Beyond that, I have hopes that “Super” Kevin Friesenbichler will develop well or that we get some tasty newgens through.
Talking of which, this year’s intake was comprehensively disappointing.
Whilst it was nice to see quite so many newgens coming through our academy, the standard was poor. Even the best prospect, Sven Hartmann, is never going to get anywhere near an international side.
A striker with a Vision attribute of “1” is going to struggle, I feel.
There seems to be a few better prospects at the other Austrian clubs, particularly a striker at Admira’s academy and a central defender at Wiener Neustadt that I’ll be keeping an eye on.
And that wraps up the update on the game so far. Hopefully my next game update will be post-Euro 2016 with a relatively successful campaign on which to report. I’m hoping to get out of the group but I’m hoping that the FA will accept “being competitive” just in case.
In between times, I hope to have a slightly different post written with a detailed look at scouting for each of the positions in my 4-1-4-1 – how I decide which attributes to prioritise, how I decide which training to assign and PPM’s to teach.
For now, I’ve been writing for far too long. Well done if you made it through all of that. Thanks for reading and please leave any comments you have in the boxes below. My last blog received the most comments of any article I’ve posted and it’s fantastic to receive the feedback.