Bielsista Backlash! A Trip to Marseille

A little bit of a back-story here. I’m a confirmed Bielsista. It’s just who I am. If you’ve read my previous work with AFC Ajax on this site then you’ll know all about my obsessions with 3 at the back – and my struggles to implement it without any wide defenders – but this has been taken to new levels by Stoke’s use of the classic Bielsa 3-3-1-3 in a number of games this season as well as a deep love for Giannelli Imbula.
So we reach my next FM project. I want to take a look at what would happen if Marcelo Bielsa had stay at Marseille instead of acrimoniously quitting at the beginning of the 2015/16 season. I don’t expect this to be a long project, three seasons is probably my limit but I want to see just how far I can take Marseille with the tactic to beat all tactics. The team’s talented group of players has been ravaged in the summer transfer window with Giannelli Imbula, Florian Thauvin, Dimitri Payet, André Ayew and André-Pierre Gignac all amongst key players leaving the club as well Mario Lemina moving on loan to Juventus with a clause to buy in the deal. Although this doesn’t appear to have been factored into FM16.

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When it comes to players brought in there’s a slightly more depressing look to the team. Javier Manquillo, Mauricio Isla and Paolo De Ceglie are all wingbacks that have been brought in to the club on loan while Rémy Cabellla and Lucas Silva round out my five allowed loans before I’ve even started. Karim Rekick and Lucas Ocampos have been signed on permanent deals this summer as well as Bouna Sarr, Rolando and Abou Diaby – yes that Diaby – all for roughly £10m. It’s not hard to see why Bielsa left…
With the personnel at my disposal I boldly tell the board that I’m going to win the league. Then I look at my squad and get a little worried. My first order of business is to tie Nicolas Nkoulou to a long term contract as his expires in the summer. Steve Mandanda is in a similar position but to be honest his €70,000 wages are a little high – by a long way my highest earner – and I’m fairly sure that I can replace him without too much trouble.

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Playing three centrebacks I need depth at the position so I bring in Johan Martial who has just this summer joined Troyes on a free. They’re happy with €2m and I’m happy to have another centreback. I then go on a search for a shadow striker to fit my formation. My first attempt is to sign Angel Correa on loan from Atletico Madrid before discovering that I’m already at my loan limit. So I stretch a fairly meagre budget to the limits and bring in Inaki Williams from Athletic Bilbao for €18m over 4 years.
It’s a few weeks into preseason that I realise that Doria, who I was waiting to return from international duty, is actually on loan at Granada for the season. Ron Vlaar is available on the free contract market but he’s out injured for another 4 months and I don’t even have any wage budget. We’ll just have to hope and pray on that front.

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It’s time to get started with the games. Preseason is a bit of a mess, I have some experience with a back 3 so I begin playing around. It’s clear from the first moment against my reserves that a wingback system isn’t going to work so I push the wingbacks up into wide midfield spots. Two draws and wins against the first three teams sees me quite concerned with how my formation is progressing and an early goal for Dijon sees me push my more creative player in the midfield two into a supporting attacking midfield role which wins us the game.
Thus far the team has created a number of opportunities without making good chances to score and the players are wildly inaccurate. A 3-0 win gives me some hope, but then I find myself 2-0 down within 10 minutes against Anderlecht who cause agony for my defence with a front 2. A great test of something that I was concerned about going into the game, some tactical changes see the wide centrebacks become aggressive and attacking while Nkoulou covers the middle area. Swapping roles from the usual setup. It works perfectly and we fight our way back into the game. After taking a 3-2 Anderlecht equalise brutally in the last minutes with a cross -surprise surprise.
I’m happy with the formation so the last two games are all about personnel options and testing out different players. A 2-1 loss against AC Ajaccio to two awful goals is disappointing but a 3-0 win in the last fixture sees us in good stead for the start of the season, even Michy finally gets on the score sheet despite his striking troubles so far.

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