Il Doria – Sampthing Old, Sampthing New

Having reached the end of season two, we’re now in a good place with the squad feeling more like “mine” than that I inherited. Various personnel changes, a massive staff overhaul and a meandering tactical experiment have left us in a solid position to push on next season.

Contrary to my last posts, I’ve now abandoned the 3-5-2 / 5-3-2 experiment (I’ll explain why), so this update will be a pretty straightforward one covering what’s happened in season 2019/20.

First of all, the simple stuff – results.

In a very entertaining and close-run season, the Scudetto actually went down to the final day with Milan rivals AC and Inter facing off at the San Siro (AC were at home) equal on points. Milan would thump their bitter rivals 5-0 to seal the title in thrilling style.

Meanwhile, Juventus may struggle financially after failing to qualify for the Champions League. With Cristiano Ronaldo still on an eye-watering £1million a week basic wage, it will be interesting to see if the Old Lady satisfy financial fairplay regs next season.

At the other end of the table, Parma were abject in the way only a club playing Shane Long as their main striker could be. They will be joined in Serie B by our own bitter rivals Genoa and Lecce.

For our own part, we started poorly – prompting the tactical investigations of the last post – and struggled to get out of the bottom half until, 15 games in, my patience snapped and the 5-3-2 was consigned to history.

Up to that point, we’d won just 7 of our 15 matches, losing the same amount. Scoring at a rate of 1.27 goals a game and conceding 1.8 is not a recipe for success.

Since the switch, our win percentage shot up, we’re scoring 1.6 goals per game and, crucially, have transformed the defence into one that concedes just 0.8 goals per 90 minutes. Lovely.

We did so by reverting to a familiar tactical style for me – a pretty bog-standard 4-3-3 / 4-5-1. I’m just far more comfortable with the shape, understand what changes need to be made mid-game and what is required of each role.

Sadly the one blemish on the new tactic’s report card was a 2-1 Coppa Italia quarter-final loss to Pescara. In one of the most boring games I’ve seen on FM, there were a grand total of 10 shots in the entire match. I can only assume that our ‘keeper fell asleep for the final ten minutes in which Pescara scored with two speculative long-range efforts.

Speaking of our ‘keeper, Emil Audero will be making his way to the Etihad next season after Pep Guardiola was suitably impressed to give me £19m for his services. Irritatingly, Man City’s bid came in late January whilst the English transfer window was still open, but the Italian one had closed – meaning I was potentially facing half a season without a senior goalkeeper. Thankfully, I managed to negotiate the transfer date to the end of the Italian season, giving me ample time to find a replacement.

Another player requiring a long-term replacement will be the Sampthing Old – Fabio Quagliarella.

I did ask him to reconsider but, at 37, Quagliarella will be retiring despite starting 32 games for us this season and finishing as our top scorer with 12. With his fantastic leadership and superb professional attitude, he will be difficult to replace. Sadly, his staff attributes are abysmal so I won’t be bringing him in as a coach.

His potential replacement, the Sampthing New, will be Cosimo Marco Da Graca – a £9m signing from Palermo.

I’d spotted him in my Rapid game and recognised the name immediately when he popped up in a scout report. With those physical attributes at 18, solid base technicals and mentals, plus the Professional personality… he has the potential to fill Quagliarella’s boots and then some.

I like to do my transfer business early and spend much of my time between January and May planning the summer’s transfer business. So, along with Da Graca, I’ve already locked in an experienced back-up ‘keeper in Mariano Andújar – a free transfer from Estudiantes – and, more excitingly, a new AMR.

I’d brought Marco Gabbiadini in on loan from Southampton and he’s been excellent, scoring 9 in 18 starts. However, his £20m optional future fee and astronomical wage are well beyond our means – and probably his actual worth – so I went looking for options.

I tend to actively avoid ‘wonderkid lists’ and am immediately put off signing the same players that everyone else does, so I’m hoping Eyibil is as unknown to you as he was to me. He’s not natural in the AMR position but, once he completes his £5.25m move, I’ll be training him there to fulfil either an inside forward role or, more likely, an advanced playmaker.

I have had little luck in FM19 using the AMC position and neither a striker nor a central midfielder has quite been able to exploit the pocket between the opposition’s defence and midfield as much as I’d like. I was reminded, however, of a blog I’d written on The Dugout – a site I shared with Lee Scott / FM Analysis for a short time – and thought it would be worth trying again.

The article, Tactical Case Study, was one of my favourite to write and reminded me of the potential to use a playmaker who starts on the wing but comes inside to exploit the space. I’ll be trying it in pre-season with Eyibil both in the standard 4-3-3 shape and also something experimental like this:

It’s not all that different from the standard 4-3-3 but I think will give me a better balance of forward runners through the middle. The personnel and positions are so similar to the standard tactic, though, that it doesn’t require any great commitment to give it a go.

Indeed, the squad is pretty well set now with various options that I trust for each position. I’d say that, with the new acquisitions locked down, the only area we are in desperate need of strengthening is in goal. Or replacements for any sales we’re forced into.

And that may be a bigger problem than I’d anticipated. With strong performances from several key players, the suitors are flooding in like 18 year old lads round the dancefloor at five minutes to closing.

Andersen, Bereszynski, Maresic, Sala, Murru, Linetty, Bahlouli, Praet, Jankto, Caprari and Stijepovic are all attracting interest – with Marseille and PSG already submitting non-negotiable bids worth peanuts for the excellent Maresic and Jankto respectively. At the very best I can expect a severely unsettled squad for next season, at worst a decimation.

It could be a busy old summer. I may have to resort to finding Sampthing Borrowed to become Sampthing Blue.

Forza Samp!

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