This post comes from LPB, the FM maestro that previously posted about tactical development on PTW. Hope you enjoy it, and thanks to him for contributing such a great post.
So I decided to return to my save with Valencia, and eat my nerves for a while again, trying to play catch-up with the 2 giants that I’m stuck with in the domestic league. My first season was a nightmare, I don’t remember being pissed off so many times with this game than in that year. The reason for it is also the reason for Valencia being an exciting team to manage for a good couple of years now in this game. This team is in heavy transition. This means lack of cohesion and established players, but it also gives you an unparalelled freedom in ideas about the way you want them to play. Nobody is irreplaceble, but it still has a decent core of players on whom you can build on. You need to decide which one to keep and carry on to form a spine for the team in the long run. Of course the financial problems don’t make things easy, but they are not so crippling as one would think. I haven’t won a single thing in the first 2 seasons, still at the and of the second one we were out of the deep, without making any profit on the transfer market, just keeping the team behind the two Leviathan in the league, and having decent runs in the cups. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
In the transfer policy I relied heavily on free transfers and bargains. Of course there were a couple of flops like Olic for example, but at least I haven’t invested too much in them. After the 1st season I had to clear out a couple of players – I regret a few (Jonas), but there are simply too many players for the same positions and of the same quality to carry them all. There is a fantastic young striker in the team in Alcácer; both Barca and Real are in for him and they are pretty relentless in their pursuit.
In the second season there was a heavy makeover already. Albelda made only a few appearances, but his last contribution was to drag the injury and suspension ridden team through a CL semi-final against PSG, before retiring at the end of the season. In the league Barca won the first 15 or so fixtures, so there was no chance of catching them. Clashes with the Real and Barca are always neurotic chess-matches for me. The best result is still a draw against them, as there is always at least one individual who torments my side. With Barca it’s not Messi as you would think, but Sanchez. He basically does whatever he wants, so far my defence was unable to cope with him. At Real Alonso’s long shots and free-kicks are the ones which unlock my usually stacked defense. So it didn’t take long to realize, we are unable to take them head-on at least for a while. So I had to look for some other characteristics, something easy but reliable to arm my team with, and also make it our trademark. At first it was speed: I didn’t sign anyone without decent quickness and reaction. Easy, simple, direct, but efficient. Explosive players can always spring a surprise in any fixtures. But as you know there is no shortage of fast players in the La Liga, so what is rare over there? That’s right: strength. From the half of the second season I was actively searching for big, powerful players on the bargain, but still kept the original need for speed.
The results started coming. In the 3rd season I knocked out Barca from the domestic cup, but in the final I was powerless against Real again. In the CL though I beaten José’s side on both ocasions, to march to the final against OM. In all of the season there was a big team to beat in the knock-out stages, after which it was relatively easy to reach the finals. In the second one it was Liverpool. My scouts reports were not accurate enough for the first leg, they didn’t field the expected line up or formation and I was beaten at Anfield. In the return leg I figured I didn’t have too much to lose, so went with an attacking, tactic, but to counter their individuals I put something new in: man-marking. The result was a 6-1, the biggest win I ever managed against a big team.
I tried the man-marking maybe once or twice more after this, but the results were terrifying so I abandoned it. Still in this season there was the semi against PSG, where the second, away leg was interesting. Went to extra time, and a lucky own-goal made us reach the final against Barca. We lost there 2-0. I know it’s not fashionable to moan about the sequences of the game but I find it quite strange that every time there is an important match coming up, the team manages a fluke defeat in the match before to bombard the morale, or my key-players pick up an injury or suspension. Injuries and suspensions made my job impossible in a couple of ocasions. Before this CL final Piatti and Feghouli got injured. The Frenchman was instrumental in the matches against PSG, and Piatti is the brain and heart of the attacking play.
For the 3rd season I didn’t planned too big changes, but I’m a sucker for bargains, and as a good player becomes available for a reasonable fee, and I can see him fit right in the team, I can’t resist. Khedira was a steal, Zabaleta seemed to be the resolution for my right-back problems (turned out he wasn’t) and Weiss was too good to resist. Man City is letting a lot of their quality players go for a bargain after the first 1-2 seasons, the only problem with them is their sallary, but if you can pump up the money, you are in for a treat. I took a brake from the save in mid-season, so I forgot that a certain Fernando was signed to join at the end of the season from Porto as a DMF, so the midfield became very crowded. I offloaded Topal on a loan, Altintop and Medel were used in the defence mainly. Hamit is an enthusiastic player, a real treat for the tactically adventurous managers because of his versatility and consistency. Zabaleta got 60,000 a week to be error-prone and lethargic for the main part of the season, Altintop was often chosen ahead of him for righ-back.
It turned out that in Khedira and Fernando I have fantastic partnership behind Piatti. Fernando is your tipical destroyer and spoiler in the midfield, too bad that just as their partnership started to click, I lost the Brazilian to injury for 4-5 months. Khedira is strong, technical and tireless, the perfect replacement for Albelda, and for a Vieira-role. He’s a bit unreliable in the holding position as he is reluctant to track back, but he’s at least effective in more advanced positions, so I use him in the box-to-box role. He was also tried in the hole in Piatti’s absence, with little success, but wasn’t all that bad. His place is in the middle though, that’s for sure.
At the back I had serious problems with consistency. True, there was rarely the same back-5 fielded twice in the row, but I just couldn’t allow the mistakes to be made week-in, week-out. On paper Zabaleta and Rami are top quality defenders, but they made horendous mistakes too often. Rami regularly forgot to turn up at key-fixtures and produced a bad performance. Zabaleta’s decision-making was something extraordinary bad. For a full-back he tries to fancy up thing too much. Altintop was a no-bullshit player, while the Argentinian gave the ball away regularly with risky passes and dribbles deep inside our area. Can’t even count the goals I received from these two. Rami was my captain, so it was hard to drop him but I had to. General advice: whenever there is a professional backs-to-the-wall job ahead, or morale is low, the team is in a dip: reach for experience. I dropped both center-backs, for Ricardo Costa and Nelson Rivas, the 2 oldest players in the squad, and they brought stability to the back, specially with the defensive, counter-tactic. That is until Diego Alves started the same loop as Rami. At the end of the season Guaita was installed as first choice keeper. Too late to salvage the league, but not too late to win the CL against OM. He does nothing fancy, and that’s the best in him. Of course 2-3 days before the final I lost Khedira to injury, gave him an injection, but he wasn’t much of use in the game.
In the 3rd season the counter-tactic was modified as well, to be more defensive. The trequartista was dropped for a DLP (Costa by default), and it is much more solid at the back, but of course there is a problem with scoring goals (it works wonderfully though with Hungary). Olic was supposed to remedy this, but he was terrible. Dembélé was decent towards the end of the season (injury kept him out for a while), but he wasn’t good enough alone either, Alcacér is still too young. Soldado is of course my main striker, and he is the spearhead of our attack, but he’s not the individual attacker I need either. He’s perfect for finishing up team-moves, and he desperately needs Piatti. So I signed Bendtner on a free to have a strong-man up front as well. But when Balotelli became available for a mere 4 million at the end of the season I jumped again. He could be the difference in this 4th season, the one to make the counter-tactic really effective against the big two, and the chaotic individual up front to provide the flashes of brilliance (and ocasional idiocity) the team was missing.
At the end of the 3rd season there were some difficult decisions to make regarding the overpayed, underperformers. Rami, Zabaleta, Banega, Dembélé were offloaded. Danny Wilson was signed during the season, I wanted him to replace Rami. Ricardo Costa had an expiring contract, and wanted to let him go to make room for the Scottsman, but he’s reliability convinced me to sell Rami instead. Then came the surprise warchest of 65 million for transfers from the board, and when I saw Phil Jones attributes I couldn’t resist. Splashed out the cash for him, and offloaded Rivas. Ruiz and Jones are my first choice defenders now, Soldado was made captain. To the right-back position I promoted a youngster who wanted to leave, but he was too promising, and brought in Kopplin from VFB, as first choice. He’s nothing fancy, and only played in friendlies yet, but it seems my systems work better with low-profile players. The keeper is still a question. There are quality GK-s available on the market and it’s still August, Guaita is my first choice now, haven’t taken any final decision about Alves’ situation, and Rakovsky is the decent young pretender every team needs.
Banega may sound as a surprise sell too, but I barely used him. Alberto Costa was a lot more consistent then his compatriot, so I chose him with Parejo as backup. To the left there is José Angel, probably the best buy of this save, and brought the young Inigo Rubio to cover for him, as I plan to use Alba only up front from now on. He is quite the goalscorer in low-key, tactical clashes.
Feghouli was a forced sale, as he did great service, but had to make room for Weiss and I have no regrets at all. Also the Turkish duo is up for sale, as I plan to make a clear squad, with definite roles for the players. Kranjcar came in, but only as a cover for Piatti. When the little Argentinian is injured (and he is a lot), the attacking side of the team becomes too random and pretty impotent. Neither Banega, Costa or Khedira could make the same contribution in the hole, so a proper AM was needed.
So again, stars and ratings don’t matter that much. Feghouli was a great contributor, and Altintop’s ability to come into the side without playing ragularly and in a any definite position was crucial at some points, to finish the 3rd season as runner up in the league, not to mention the CL triumph. Also experienced players are vastly underrated, but I learned a lot about how to use them, and how reliable they can be. Kopplin is a gamble at right-back, but if there is one lesson to accentuate about this save is about the defense. More then any other part of the team a clear and simple plan is needed and chemistry. Be prepared that sometimes the players you least expect are the ones to fit the system the most. To be able to decide this, is still a challenge for me.