It’s been an up and down half season trip to the point of the winter break. It’s much needed for my team to regroup and really focus ourselves on the challenges ahead. Much of the season has been spent tweaking and refining the Cruyffiest system of them all.
Tactics Tactics Tactics
While Chris’s Dnipro system relies on his wide midfielders to get back and become wingbacks my set up offers no such comforts instead depending on the outer centrebacks to push wide and the deep lying midfielder to slot in as an auxiliary defender. While this is all theoretically sound it creates two unique problems in the world of Football Manager 16: Firstly defensive midfielders are programmed to cover the wide areas if there’s no fullback in the area so getting him to stick to his position is especially tough, the second problem is that the game seems to have made defenders especially useless at picking up and reacting to runners in the box meaning that any ball in behind my defenders is especially deadly. Combining this with the already dangerous nature of crosses in FM, and an inability to effectively set up zonal mark and there’s often trouble in the defence.
The set up on the left is how the team initially set up and created plenty of chances but was especially susceptible to structural collapse defensive and crosses were almost always scored as the BWM especially got in the way whenever the defensive four actually got into the right positions, often letting his man run clear for a tap in. On the right is the eventual formation at this point. While still not perfect the defence is much more stable and the DLP regularly drops in alongside the cover BPD whenever either of the stoppers moves out to engage a winger. A sacrifice of controlled possession has been made using two roaming playmakers, in exchange the team receives two players who attempt to create chances constantly and off the ball hassle opponents while rarely getting dragged into their own box. While many managers – both in FM and real life – favour getting as many men back as possible, this set up allows the zonal defence to work as best it can. The players filling these two positions have to be my most consistent players, they’re the only real link between defence and attack and given the amount of interplay between the two if either has a bad day it can ruin the entire game plan.
The Season Itself
After crushing ADO Den Haag just before the window slammed shut we refocused on September with our Euro Cup group drawn containing a tough bunch in Fiorentina, Girondins de Bordeaux and SK Rapid Wein. The board had wanted to reach the group stage of the Champions Cup, but were understanding about our defeat to Lazio. They set a target of reaching the group stages of the Euro Cup, which is where we’d gone straight into. So that was hit at least. I harbour bigger ambitions though, European success has evaded me previously with Ajax and while my squad is far too thin to win the whole thing outright qualification from the group is a must. Back in the Eredivisie we beat FC Twente 1-0 in a tight game, then onto a 2-2 home draw with Fiorentina. A winning start would’ve been nice but points on the board against the toughest team is a start, especially after coming from 2-0 down in the second half.
Seventeen goals in the next three games follow with a 4-3 win over Excelsior followed by a 7-0 mauling of Feyenoord AV – not that Feyenoord – by my second string team in the Dutch Cup. Arkaduisz Milik continues to show why he’s the perfect player to fill my complete forward role as he nets four goals out of six in the third game against Groningen, his second four goal haul in the season already. It’s only September 27th. I’m definitely starting to feel like I’m a role here. My tactic is producing chances galore and while yes, we have conceded five in the last two league games it’s surely worth it if we’re scoring ten. So what comes next should be absolutely no surprise to anyone.
I mean what can you say. Just when you think you’re making progress FM turns up to crush your dreams and show just how naive you were. Oswald is distraught and takes a sabbatical. We were outclassed, out played and went in at half time 3-0 down without a single shot to our name. In many games to this point there’d been a struggle with the system but the pure quality of the players had gotten the team through. But against the league favourites PSV all of weaknesses were brutally exposed, and truthfully they could’ve had another four goals. I’m unashamed to say that at this point I took a long break. I took a plane back to Dortmund and knocked out half a season of break neck, crazy attacking play. Enjoying the emergence of Christian Pulisic especially. I also took the time to download Championship Manager 01/02 and take on the Stoke challenge set by a friend Premier League Before Pulis which I may post at some point. However after a bout of test games and intense reading I returned with a new set up – roughly the one shown at the top of the page- I was ready. Total football would not be defeated.
An away draw against Heracles showed signs of defensive improvement as we controlled possession more and were unlucky to concede late on. Improvement continued with wins over Rapid Wien, Vitesse and FC Oss. But then everything collapsed again. Losses against Roda JC, Feyenoord and Fiorentina showed our inconsistency in midfield as they bookended wins against Rapid Wien again (5-2) and SC Cambuur. In the next league game against PEC Zwolle the metamorphosis was completed. Despite taking an early lead the team were down 3-1 after 21 minutes. The team was dominating possession but being torn apart on the break. The double RPM was introduced and the players battled back to a 3-3 draw. This terrible form had seen the team slip to 5th in the table.
As we entered December PSV Eindhoven were pulling away at the top of the table. Four home games in a row gave a good chance to recover something at least. A 1-0 win over sc Heerenveen is a good start and a welcome clean sheet. A comfortable 2-0 win over Bordeaux comes next as the team really starts to find their stride and Arkaduisz Milik nets another brilliant brace. The defence hold Bordeaux to just seven shots in the game, not one of them on target as well as dominating the ball with 60% possession. Sometimes the opportunity for vengeance comes sooner than expected. Our victory over FC Oss put us through into the 4th round of the KNVB Cup and a draw against PSV gives us a chance to pay back the faith of the loyal fans. Hatfelt tells the players just that. We need to play for the team. Play for that beautiful beautiful shirt. And play they do. We dominate the first half, Milik opening the scoring before Marco Van Ginkel levels it going into half time. A simple message to the players in the break. “You’ve got this lads, do it for the fans”. Six minutes in Davy Klaassen has got it. He adds another goal in the 65th minute and Milik rounds it off to end the game 4-1. We are restored.
League wins against De Graafschap and Utrecht round out the year and we enter the Winterstop in 2nd place, just two points behind PSV. I was planning at this point to do a mid-season awards, but one man just had to spoil it.
The plan was to do an award for the top goalscorer, goal maker and top rated player. It just turns out that Milik is all three, with a stunning 28 goals in all competitions. However he’s still in second place in the league with 17 goals. 3 behind Luuk De Jong of PSV. We’ll have to see what we can do about that in the remaining time.
Despite going into the break in second place we enter a tough winter window with interest swirling around most of the first team. Keeping Milik in particular will be vital to our success going forwards. Anwar El Ghazi has kicked up a fuss after the PSV game and we’ve agreed a €6.5m transfer with Sevilla clauses taking the value up to €10.75m in total. There’s also major interest in Davy Klaassen who was a key figure in turning my form around. In the good news, we already have a ready made replacement for Klaassen should he leave, Adam Maher has been tempted away from title rivals PSV after falling out with Phillip Cocu. A bargain at €2.8m as well, his mental stats need some work to reach his potential but at 22 there’s plenty of time for that. We kick off the season again on the 17th of January against ADO Den Haag.