Season 3 at Barnsley went well, perhaps a little too well? That was my fear anyway. We’d overachieved to high heaven, reaching a European Final (granted, we were beaten…well), and a top half Premier League finish. Yet expectations at the club, amongst the players, and the fans, were not overblown, thank god. Despite the media prediction of 17th, I was confident that we could avoid the relegation battle, and achieve a midtabled finish. Once again, a policy of radically shaking up the team was employed, although being careful enough as to retain our character.
The Ins and Outs
With the likes of Darren Fletcher and Lee Grant retiring, there were two main positions I wanted filling instantly. Jordan Pickford would come in from relegated Sunderland (along with old Barnsley boy James Bree), and Martin de Roon from AC Milan respectively, instantly replacing the retiring pros. Dead weight had to go, and Marc Roberts, Aidan White, et al players who had helped support our promotion push were shown the door. Harsh, but they were clogging up the wages and not good enough for our level. Replacing them would be a new breed of youngsters, farmed from lower leagues with great potential, and a few key signings to boost the first team.
Siyabonga Mashego gets a special shout, as he was one player who came in and made an impact, even forcing me to drop de Roon and Besic in order to play him in his natural defensive DLP role. A star on the rise, a new contract for him later in the season sought off City and a like buying him on the cheap (and not playing him!)
Jamaal Lascelles would be another player coming into the first team, bought from rivals Newcastle for £12.5m, his partnership with Mawson during the first half of the season would lead us to have one of the leagues tightest defences, and when Mawson departed for Liverpool in the winter, he would continue to hold steady with new boy Lukas Klostermann, from RB Leipzig.
The biggest (price wise) signing of the season would be Johannes Eggestein from Werder Bremen. A centre forward with clinical finishing, he would go on to have a good season, leaving me in the position now (as I write) where I am reluctantly letting him go to a Champions League Club. Finally (of the players of note), winter saw us go in for German wonderkeeper Timo Horn. Despite Pickford and Johnstone being my keepers, when Horn becomes available, you don’t say no…it is the right decision of this I have no doubt.
The league and cup campaigns suffered from tactical unbalance. My own fault entirely, but I found it very difficult to settle on a team structure that I was happy with. Eggestein was impressive, but would often be isolated in games, leaving him to receive poor ratings which I felt were unfair. We’d go through preseason and the first few games unbeaten, losing finally to the likes of Chelsea and Spurs. Fair enough I felt. We were playing well, but would suddenly experience a game where we were nothing short of shit. As in previous seasons, it was the winter months, and the Christmas period where this all came to a head. A quarter finals exit in the league cup to City was not unexpected, but the manner in which we played in the game’s leading up to and around it were an indication that something had to change. I played and tinkered, but nothing seemed to give. I’d find something I’d like in our original shape, only for it to be blown away in the next game. There was no consistency. As you do in these dark times, I consulted the FM Gods…namely the FM Slack (cheap plug for Samo), as to my dilemma. The solution was what I had identified…get players closer together, but the method was unexpected.
In this season, Manchester City had been running rampant in the league, playing a concrete 4312, with Aguero and Dybala up front, with a roaming AP behind them. Now…I didn’t have an Aguero or Dybala, but Eggestein and Lozano would fit into the front roles of DLF and AF respectively. It would come into effect in a home game against Frank Lampard’s Swansea, which saw us walk out 3-0 winners. A rotated West Ham (who had had a Europa League fixture like the day before…well done FM), were next to feel the ruthlessness of our new tactic, in a 6-0 demolition at the London Stadium (although it was lessened by the fact we played their kids). In fact, we would only lose one game from Swansea until the end of the season, and would score an impressive 25 goals in 10 games! The form of Bojan, our only proper AM was crucial, and it seemed the 29 year old Spaniard had found a new lease of life (not sure it will last).
After the dust settled, we found ourselves again in 8th, a huge achievement after one topsy turvy season. A season which saw Stoke in the top 6, and West Ham lift the Europa League and finish 2nd!
Thanks for taking the time to read this brief update. I update the Barnsley save regularly on twitter, @VRFussball, so please follow and enjoy the stupidity that is Barnsley!