It’s been a while since my last update as I’ve been distracted by the usual family commitments as well as NBA 2K15 and a spot of Minecraft, which I’ve discovered is actually great.
In the meantime, though, we’ve progressed into season 3 of the club and country save, meaning I owe you an update on how Rapid Wien got on in season 2 and, more importantly, how Austria fared at Euro 2016.
Before we get there, I’d just like to say a huge thanks to all the readers, commenters, retweeters, linkers and pluggers who have helped publicise and contribute to the blog recently. It’s fantastic to see how many views we’ve been getting recently and, even better, the number of comments being made. I do try to respond to everyone so keep them coming!
For now, on to the business at hand.
My last game update left you at the end of October, as we were undefeated in domestic football and putting in some strong Europa League performances after being knocked out of the Champions League qualifiers.
Our early domestic form was a sign of things to come and, although we sadly couldn’t complete an undefeated season, we did end up taking the title – sealing it with 3 games to go as Salzburg lost 1-0 away at Sturm Graz.
That single loss came at home to Wolfsberger in a classic FM “continental hangover” game immediately following a 2-1 loss to Dnipro in our Europa group. I’m not too concerned about failing to achieve the Invincible season though – at least it gives us a target for future games!
We lost one other domestic game – the OFB-Cup quarter final at home to SV Horn, another game sandwiched in-between continental matches as we gambled with a weakened team.
Undoubtedly, it was a gamble worth taking.
After losing out to Atlético in the Champions League qualifier, I expected a tough draw. APOEL were a generous opponent but I’d already defeated PSV in the first Champions League qualifier while Dnipro were an unknown quantity.
We didn’t deserve the 3-0 win in Ukraine but neither did we deserve the 3-1 loss in Eindhoven so these things even themselves out over time. 12 points was enough to see us progress in second place. We were then drawn against Spanish giants, at least relatively, Valencia.
I expected that to be the end of the run and after a very harsh 1-0 home defeat, it seemed a sure thing. The team had other ideas as Dovedan scored early to even us up on away goals. Valencia equalised twice but goals from Florian Kainz and Deni Alar, rejuvenated by his switch to central midfield, were enough to see us through.
I was really disappointed to draw Dnipro again. Having played PSV four times (2 x Champions League qualifiers and 2 x Europa League groups), it was just very dull to face a second side for the third and fourth occasion in one campaign.
The obvious upside is that we can take lessons from the previous games and we’d progress 5-2 on aggregate to eventually meet our match with defeats home and away against CSKA Moscow. We can only be happy with making the quarter finals, particularly given the additional income it brought.
With the title secured and an easier Champions League playoff draw ensured, that income stream should only increase further, leaving us looking very comfortable financially. Unfortunately, other Austrian clubs haven’t kept up their end of the bargain in Europe and to maintain any hope of continued Champions League football, and the revenue it brings, we’ll need to win the league for the foreseeable future.
For the moment, we’ll continue to rake in the cash. Even now (as of August 2016), we have a €25m bank balance, with the board making €10m available for transfers and allowing me to spend €154k a week on wages.
Our wage total has in fact come down since last season, despite increasing the size of the squad and improving the contracts of a number of key players such as Alar and Kainz. This is because Steffen Hofmann, our former captain, has decided to retire at 35. While Hofmann is undoubtedly a fantastic player, he was on an Australian A-League style “marquee player” contract at €20k a week, almost 20% of my entire budget last year!
With that money now freed up and Hofmann brought onto the coaching staff at a fraction of the cost, we’ve been free to invest in players at the other end of their careers.
As you can see, we’ve made a number of changes although our biggest sale doesn’t appear on that list as it was completed on deadline day last January with Dominik Wydra joining Palermo for around €1.9m.
Wydra is an excellent player for this level with the potential to kick-on into a decent international squad player and it was this potential which convinced me to let him go relatively cheaply:
I’ve added a section from his training report to the bottom-left of that screenshot which was the final straw – my coaches reckoning he could not develop any further without exposure to higher level football. For the sake of the national side, he had to go.
Peter Tschernegg was sold to Cesena for €750k for exactly the same reason whilst Stefan Stangl moved to Scotland with Caley Thistle paying €500k for what was now our third choice left-back; whilst foreigners Marko Maric, a hugely promising goalkeeper, and Srdjan Grahovac, a very handy but injury prone playmaker, were moved on for small money with future clauses.
Meanwhile another ten players left on free transfers including first teamers Michael Schimpelsberger (too injury prone), Philipp Prosenik (too inconsistent) and Thomas Schrammel (too old).
Much more interesting, though, are the players coming into the club.
While my youth intake was once again very disappointing, I concentrated on bringing in players in line with my development strategy. Two key bargain signings were Christian Gartner, €350k from Düsseldorf, and Ylli Sallahi, €675k from Bayern Munich. Both have real international potential, with Sallahi already in the first team, but were struggling with lack of game time in Germany. Signing them was an absolute no-brainer – direct replacements for the afore-mentioned Schrammel / Stangl and Grahovac.
I’ve taken a punt on Peric as a development centre back, somewhere I’m really short of cover, while Rasner is a back-up DM for low key games. The big two transfers are much more interesting though.
First up, Simon Pirkl who I signed for €1.2m from Wacker Innsbruck.
I’d had my eye on Pirkl for quite some time, indeed he was on the Austrian Prospects shortlist that I posted before the full game was released. But I’d always looked at him as a leftback. Having also signed Sallahi, I didn’t envisage needing two expensive fullbacks but was still very keen on a player as promising as Pirkl.
As we’d sold two defensive midfielders in Wydra and Tschernegg, there was an obvious gap to be filled and so I compared Pirkl’s attributes (NOTE: *attributes* not *stats* #pedant) to the DM filter that I had created in the Now What update.
He fell short a little in terms of aerial ability and his Flair is a little higher than I’d like but, other than that, he could really do a job – and his performances have proven him more than capable, with plenty of room to improve.
The second big money transfer was for Austria Wien’s Dominik Prokop and was somewhat more complicated.
Prokop was another that I’d identified as an early target but who’d never really impressed me when I checked up on him through the save. Combined with the fact Prokop played for our arch rivals FAK and our fans wouldn’t be best pleased with an unsuccessful transfer from such obvious ne’er-do-wells, I’d more or less forgotten about him.
However, a brief discussion with @JilNik on twitter re-ignited my interest as he’d achieved some success using Prokop in Bundesliga.
This coincided with my reassessing the needs of the striker. My crude assessment from last season was that Starkl had been a much more effective striker than Pellegrini in the 4-1-4-1, a reasonable deduction from this right?
Starkl averaged more than double the frequency of goals scored per 90 minutes. But Starkl had only played 17 games due to injury, yet we’d comfortably won the league and did well in Europe so we were clearly doing fine despite using what appears to be a less effective striker.
This left me wondering how the team had compared when the two were playing and so I created what I called an “Effectiveness View”.
So what I’ve highlighted there is as follows:
- Yellow squares – player’s goals per 90 minutes compared to team goals per 90 minutes for our first and second choice strikers.
- Orange circles – Assists per 90 minutes and team goals per 90 minutes for our first and second choice runners from midfield
- Red circles – notable goals per 90 minutes from midfield
The midfielder stats are really just a nice aside but it’s really interesting to see how much more effective the team is with Alar, rather than Schwab.
More pertinent to our striker problems are the yellow squares. Summed up:
- Starkl – personally scores 0.75 goals per game, the team scores 1.98 goals per game
- Pellegrini – personally scores 0.32 goals per game, the team scores 1.99 goals per game
Honestly, I swear the more I try to understand the striker, the more confused I get.
Pellegrini’s assist ratio isn’t significantly better than Starkl’s to mitigate for his poorer scoring ratio. And yet the team scores a near-identical number of goals regardless of which striker I play.
So what’s the point of this? Well I’m not sure what conclusion you would reach from that but it’s convinced me that the goalscoring prowess of the striker is not really all that important. We’re getting plenty of goals from midfield with Kainz (23), Alar (17) and Dovedan (11) all making it into double figures, where no-one had managed it in the first season.
So instead, I decided to focus on creative attributes for the striker.
I’ve highlighted the attributes for False 9 in the screenshot above, clearly creativity is a strong point – remember he’s only 19. His finishing attributes are decent but not as strong as my other striking options – Friesenbichler and Gregoritsch.
So yet another experiment up front, I’m sure none of you are bored with my striker issues at all. No siree.
Despite our striker problems, we’ve had a pleasing season – and not just with the club side as we also made a good showing of ourselves at Euro 2016, reaching a very creditable quarter final spot.
This is the squad that I ended up taking to France with a mixture of the youth – Sallahi, Lazaro, Schaub – and the experience – Klein, Fuchs, Harnik.
I probably would have taken Sturm Graz “starlet” Sandi Lovric but for injury, whilst I’ve discovered that we have a lot of similar level central midfielders meaning that Wydra, Buchel and particularly Horvath were unlucky to miss out.
With the national side favouring the same 4-1-4-1 as Rapid, I had a good idea of where each player would fit in before we started – and carried over the same striker problems, although I took a different approach with Austria.
We played Serbia first up and I decided to go without a striker, using Schaub at AMC to help flood midfield. It worked fantastically as goals from Arnautovic and Harnik put us two up before Schaub tired. Rather than replace Schaub at AMC, I brought on Weimann as a defensive forward to harry the defence – a role to which is more suited than the creative deep-lying forward I use with Rapid.
This worked great and we put the game to bed soon after from a Klein penalty. A 3-0 win was a fantastic, and entirely unexpected start.
Our excellent start continued as we managed to draw 1-1 with hosts France, even taking the lead when Rapid winger Kainz scored halfway through the first half. France were much the better side, though, and we were lucky to only concede one to head into the Scotland game with a creditable 4 points.
Unexpectedly, the Scots were also heading into the game with 4 points having drawn 2-2 with Serbia and defeated France 1-0 in the opening game. With the home nations once again over-rated in FM, this was likely to be a tough ask and so it proved as Scotland ran out 3-1 winners in a game that was much tighter than the scoreline suggests.
Hosts France crashed out, along with Serbia, as Scotland topped the group and we went through in second, pulling probably the toughest draw I could have foreseen – arch-rivals Germany.
I went back to the line-up we’d used against Serbia – dropping the striker and bringing in Schaub at AMC. Although this meant that we gave away the majority of possession, we wanted to sit deep and compact to protect the centre of the pitch then looked to hit Germany on the counter using the pace of Harnik, Arnautovic, Schaub and Alaba.
Our goal ended up coming from a set-piece and Alaba putting away the rebound from his own shot. Although the stats look heavily in Germany’s favour, I think we did a really good job of keeping them at arm’s length with just the one clear cut chance and the majority of their efforts coming from distance.
Sadly the same could not be said of the quarter-final against another over-rated home nation – England.
As England played without a DM, I went with Weimann as a defensive forward rather than using an AMC again. This didn’t work particularly well as the Villa man had a terrible game and we ceded the majority of possession yet managed to keep it goalless.
With Sturm Graz’s Djuricin replacing Weimann after the hour, we perked up a bit – much needed after Wayne Rooney had put England ahead from a Sterling through ball.
The second half was much more even, however, and we deserved our equaliser from Christian Fuchs’ free-kick – FM actually replicating Joe Hart’s terrible footwork rather well.
Into extra-time, though, and we were knackered. Rooney beat an exhausted Prödl to a near-post cross to make it 2-1 and Gary Cahill then scored from a corner.
A disappointing defeat but delighted to make it as far as the quarters in the first European Championships Austria have ever qualified for. Even more delighted when I discovered that the increased reputation and ranking hadn’t impacted too much on the FA’s expectations for World Cup qualifying – they expect us to be competitive in a group of England, Ukraine, Wales, Estonia and Lichtenstein.
Breaking into the top 20 in the world is very pleasing and will hopefully give us some easier seedings for future qualification campaigns. With the team finishing top going through automatically and only one playoff place in the World Cup qualification groups, I don’t think we’ll be making it to 2018 but could perhaps be more competitive for Euro 2020.
Of course much of that will depend on the development of the youth and I’m beginning to get worried about the standard of newgens that are coming through. At Rapid, there’s been 3 absolute stinkers of intakes whilst most of the other clubs haven’t produced much better.
Some of the promising “real” players have moved abroad – Hinteregger and Schaub being prime examples – but there have only been two newgens worth mentioning. Sven Schneider (MC/AMCRL) has moved to Southampton whilst Marco Schulte (DMC/MC/AMC/MR) moved to Man Utd before I brought him in on loan to ensure game time.
Both were spawned at Austria Wien who seem to be the only club producing any youngsters of note. This makes it particularly difficult for us as making signings from arch-rivals can be difficult.
For the majority of positions, we should be well covered for a number of years with the “real” players but there are two clear areas that need newgens pronto – right-back and up front.
Klein, now 30, is my current option whilst Georg Tiegl (26) is the back-up. There are two decent youth options with our own Bernhard Fila and, more promisingly, Sturm Graz’s Philipp Seidl but neither are sure-fire winners for me.
Up front is equally difficult. If I continue to use the 4-1-4-1 then Marco Djuricin is the only realistic current option but he has been terrible since a move to Bordeaux. Weimann and Pusic are decent defensive forwards but aren’t creative enough whilst Friesenbichler, Gregoritsch or even Sabitzer are more aggressive lone strikers. With the ridiculous coding of the targetman in this game, there’s no way I could use any of them as deep lying options.
So a striker and a right-back would do me nicely. And to that end I’ll continue to invest as much as I can in Rapid’s youth system.
With upgrades on the training and youth facilities both due to be completed in October 2017, we’re looking great on the club front. Now I just need the raw talent to work with!
As always, thanks for reading and I look forward to any comments you may have.