Given my terrible knowledge of real football these days, particularly Italian football, the first season was always going to be more of a fact-finding mission than a quest for success.
In addition to my uncertainty with the personnel, I decided to add some tactical experimentation by pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Intuitively, I gravitate towards shapes with a back 4 and a DM, or at least a holding midfielder, and it’s been a few years since I’ve deviated from that base setup.
But I always find it fun to work out tactical issues, if perhaps less fun than it used to be, and so I forced myself to start with a system that used 3 at the back – possibly for the first time since my ADO save on FM13.
With board expectations relatively modest (top-half finish), there was little pressure on me to get instant results and I could happily take a season to work out the squad and a workable tactic. Which was just as well as we struggled for consistency throughout the season, briefly threatening to slip into the Europa League slots but eventually settling for a pleasing 9th placed finish.
Offensively we were pretty decent, scoring 61, but conceded 45 despite keeping a respectable 14 clean sheets. Goals, when conceded, tended to come in groups including some incredibly frustrating performances against Sassuolo, conceding five, and Atalanta, conceding 4.
The problem mostly came, as you’d probably expect with 3 at the back, from wide areas. We were particularly susceptible to quick switches on the counter and all my pet peeves with the back three in FM were getting to me. Most of this was my own fault, however, as I stubbornly wanted to use a back three with no wingbacks – only Defensive Wingers.
The match engine doesn’t particularly like this setup and basic defensive concepts like staying goalside of your man seem to go out the window with the DW. I still think the 3-x-4-x-x shapes are viable but only against weaker teams that sit back against you.
Any form of advanced winger or inside forward is going to be troublesome and teams which augment that with an attacking fullback are incredibly difficult to deal with.
Offensively, however, the 3-4-1-2 was great with Jankto and Bereszynski excelling in the wide positions going forward. But I tend to build from the back first and a 4-2 home loss to Atalanta proved the final straw.
Pulling the wide players back also helped another of my pet peeves in FM when a tip from @vodautd on twitter persuaded me to try the flat back 5 rather than the more traditional advanced wingback positions.
Ordinarily, the use of a back three (or indeed a halfback from DM) sees your wide centre backs split to the touchlines when you have possession. I never quite understood why SI would have them play quite so wide, particularly when also utilising a libero who will naturally push forward ahead of the defensive line.
With the wide CBs 30+ yards away, it just leaves a gaping hole right through the middle of the defence. Playing the wingbacks in the traditional fullback slot somehow stops the wide centre backs from splitting quite so far with no discernible loss to the former’s attacking intent. So a flat 5 was a no-brainer.
With the AMC position proving consistently unproductive and wanting to push the MCs a little wider in the defensive phase, I also switched to a flat 3 in centre mid to leave myself with an incredibly dull looking shape on the tactics screen.
Working that out took some time which gave every player in the squad ample opportunity to impress, with varying levels of success. It was obvious from early on that defenders were going to be a priority for the following season but, thanks to a raft of loan signings with optional future fees, both incoming and outgoing, I couldn’t be certain what personnel I’d be left with come June.
As it was, not a single outgoing loan player was bought by their loaning club, and I was forced to sell before I could buy – mandatory future fees for Jankto (who I was perfectly happy to sign) and Ferrari (who I was ambivalent about) robbing me of a decent wedge of transfer funding.
Audero had proven himself to be an excellent ‘keeper and, even at £9m, I couldn’t turn down the option of securing the services of a player who could well fill the #1 spot for the rest of the save.
Other than that, the two interesting transfers were Santi Mina and Dario Maresic. The former, a striker I brought in on loan from Valencia with a measly £2m optional future fee, flattered to deceive somewhat last term – scoring just 5 in 14 starts. But I want to use a player that plays on the last defender, looking to get on the end of through balls in behind the defence and Mina is perfectly suited to that.
He was consistently getting chances last season and I’m hoping that a bit more settling-in time and learning the language fully will see his performances improve. If nothing else, at just £2m, he should represent a great opportunity for significant profit.
The other interesting signing is Maresic, more for the manner of the transfer than anything else. He’s a very decent player and one I know well from my Rapid / Austria save. When I realised that I needed an improvement at libero, he was one of the first players to come to mind.
With outstanding potential, it’s little wonder that Sturm Graz wanted nothing less than £20m for his signature – a fee that was well beyond my budget.
These days, however, FM offers you all sorts of tools with which to upset an opposition player and gently encourage him to force a move to your club. This is not something I have ever done but, in another effort to make this save a bit differet, I figured why not. So I declared my interest in signing him, sent scouts to watch Sturm every week, even ‘watched’ a few of their games myself (leaving nanoseconds after kick-off) and then, after seeing Teach and Doop doing this in their streams, had one of my senior players recommend a move to him in the press. In case you didn’t know this was a feature – and I certainly didn’t until a few weeks ago – you can do it by following the instructions in this no-expense-spared, incredibly high production video I worked hard on.
That we managed to sign Maresic for just £6m, less than a third of their original asking price, and in the face of interest from the likes of Arsenal, is a great endorsement of this sort of shit-housing technique to unsettle transfer targets and force their clubs into selling low. Try it out!
With the squad building underway, our next priority will be to replace the aging players like Barreto and, particularly, Quagliarella. Aims for this season are to secure a European place, preferably through the cup for which I’ve increased squad bonuses. Securing consistent defensive stability will go a long way to doing that.
Until next time, Forza Samp!