Why AC Milan haven’t convinced anyone yet

Why AC Milan haven’t convinced anyone yet

AC Milan had a solid transfer window with a wealth of key signings including; Bonucci, André Silva, Conti, Çalhanoglu, Rodriguez, Musacchio, Biglia, Kessié, and Kalinic. But manager Vincenzo Montella seems unsure of his new talent so far this campaign. After a 6th placed finish the previous season, marking Milan’s first return to Europe since 2014, you may have expected the club to make minor changes instead of massive overhauls. But with 11 new signings before the start of this 17/18 league campaign there seems to be a case of revolution and not evolution at the Italian giants.

Crotone

A.C Milan opened their league campaign at Crotone, a club who spent £2.3m in the summer transfer window (pennies compared to the whopping £175m spent by Milan).

Vincenzo played his team in a 4-3-3 formation. An entirely new back four sat in front of keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. Locatelli made up a centre trio with two more new signings Hakan Çalhanoglu and Franck Kessié; and new signing Fabio Borini made up a front three with Suso and youngster Cutrone.

vs crotone

7 of Milan’s team were new signings and only 3 had made first team starts for Montella the previous season; Locatelli (17), Suso (33) and Donnarumma (38). That leaves Cutrone, who only made 5 substitute appearances the previous season, but nobody could have predicted Cutrone’s fine form in the pre-season friendlies scoring twice for Milan against Bayern Munich and definitely put his name in the hat to play in front of new star André Silva.

Milan beat Crotone 3-0 following a 6th minute penalty, scored by Kessié. A headed goal by Cutrone after a cross by Suso into the 6 yard box. And a goal by Suso after Cutrone held the ball up and passed it back into the 18 yard box for Suso to finish low to the keeper’s left.

It was the start to the season Montella would have hoped for. Milan dominated possession with 80% of the ball. Crotone managed only 2 shots on target compared to Milan’s 10 and the team seemed to have great cohesion with a 90% pass success rate.

Cagliari 

Milan went into their second game against Cagliari with relatively little changed. Playing the same 4-3-3 with Montolivo replacing Locatelli who dropped to the bench.

vs Cagliari

The game finished 2-1 to Milan. Cutrone again found the net in the 6 yard box, striking low in the 10th minute into the left corner of the net with his right foot following a far post cross by Suso. Cagliari equalised in the 56th minute of the second half with a strike in the 18 yard box by João Pedro. Suso put Milan ahead once again with a free kick from outside the box with his left foot, beating the keeper on his near side.

Whilst the game finished 2-1 some signs of cracks were beginning to show for Milan. Conceding 51% of the possession to Cagliari and allowing 14 shots at goal. Kessié’s performance was poor and a dispossession high up the pitch lead to the Cagliari goal after he failed to control the ball. However it was the performance of Hakan Çalhanoglu which was most concerning for Milan during the game. He made the second lowest number of passes on the pitch, with only Cutrone managing less; and had very little impact in comparison to the previous week against Crotone as his heatmaps showed.

heatmap vs Cutrone Çalhanoglu vs Crotone

heatmpa vs cagliair Çalhanoglu vs Cagliari

With Çalhanoglu playing the majority of his football centrally for his former club Leverkusen, Montella must surely look at playing him further up the pitch and more central behind the main striker to get the best out of him, or risk him becoming a major flop at the San Siro.

Despite Milan coming out on top, it’s arguable that Cagliari were the better team and deserved far more by the end of the game after a very average display by a disappointing Milan side.

Lazio

Then came the game against Lazio, a team who would be at the top of the table challenging Milan for one of the top four Champions League spots come the end of the season. Montella once again played a 4-3-3, dropping Çalhanoglu to the bench following his poor display against Cagliari for the more defensive minded Biglia against his former team. The only other change was a like for like swap of Calabria for Conti.

vs LAzio

Milan started well early, with Borini having several attempts in the first 20 minutes. But a quick fire double either side of each half from Lazio spelt the end for Milan. On the 38th minute Immobile buried a penalty kick to Donnarumma’s left after Kessié fouled Luis Alberto inside the box, his second mistake leading to a goal in two weeks. Immobile doubled his tally only 4 minutes later after Lulic spotted him on the other side of the box, crossing high before Immobile volleyed it into the bottom right corner of the net. Immobile completed his hattrick in the 48th minute after Lulic picked Parolo in the box, who back passed it into the path of Immobile striking it home into the left corner of the net just outside the 6 yard box. Only one minute later Immobile received a long ball and ran high up the pitch in a devastating counter attack, before picking out Luis Alberto who struck low just over the keeper in the 49th minute to make it 4-0 to Lazio.

Milan made two much needed changes in the 55th minute with Crutone and Borini coming off and Çalhanoglu and Kalinic coming on. Çalhanoglu made an impact almost immediately, blasting a shot from outside the box after hitting the Lazio wall during a free kick. The shot found Montolivo who rifled it home to the keeper’s right but, it only ended up being a consolation goal as Lazio won 4-1.

Çalhanoglu played much better making more passes in the 21 minutes he was on in this game than he did starting in his previous game. His heat map showed that he occupied a much higher space on the pitch and had a much bigger influence on the game.

vs Lazio heatmap Çalhanoglu vs Lazio

The two Milan full backs played extremely high up the pitch, and when they were back there was a real lack of communication with their fellow centre backs. Calabria pressed Radu, who passed the ball to Alberto who had the room to dribble into the space Calabria had left behind, leading to Kessié conceding the penalty. Immobile was not man marked inside the box on Calabria’s right hand side, Calabria followed the run of Alberto in front of him into the box, leaving Immobile free just behind, allowing Lulic to pick him out and volley it home for the second goal. For the third goal Lulic dribbled around Calabria who lost his feet, allowing Lulic to beat his man and pass it to Parolo in the box who set up Immobile’s and Lazio’s third goal. Calabria also played very narrow when Milan conceded their fourth goal. He offered to defensive support for the extremely deep Musacchio, who had to deal with Immobile alone when we broke into a Lazio Counter attack, he attempted to cover for Musacchio and block the Alberto shot but was not able to make it in time. Every goal could be linked back to Calabria, and you have to question Montella’s judgement when the more experienced Abate is sitting on the bench.

Udinese 

Montella offered a change from the previous week, with Milan sporting a whole new tactic against Udinese. Montella played a 3-1-4-2, with Musacchio, Bonucci and Romagnoli making up a back three in front of Donnarumma. Biglia played just behind a midfield four featuring two defensive wingers in Rodriguez and Calabria with Bonaventura and Kessié in the centre. Suso was given license to roam up to with a central target man in Kalinic.

vs Udinese

 

Overall it was a much better performance defensively by Milan. Discounting the Udinese goal as a mistake, there wasn’t a lot wrong with Milan’s defense, but they certainly had problems going forward. There was such a lack of creativity as nobody was making any real chances. Milan seemed happy to pass the ball around and shoot at first sight instead of taking their time and make the extra pass to create better chances. You have to ask questions of Montella when he has Çalhanoglu, Montolivo, Borini and Silva on the bench. The defensive wingers had much more free reign to attack however, as the back three meant their defensive mistakes weren’t as costly in this game. Tactially Montella got it spot on defensively, but going forward Milan seem to be lacking clinical finishers and the key pass to create goals.

Montella going forward? 

You can’t help but feel like Milan are always a mistake or two away from capitulation. Conceding 6 times in their opening 4 games, and 4 to Lazio. They have a habit of letting teams pressure them on the ball, and teams seem to force mistakes out of them. Milan should have kept a clean sheet to Cagliari and Udinese but it was little mistakes that allowed the opposition to snatch goals back. Whether it was Kessié getting caught out on the ball or a pass gone wrong you must consider whether or not playing from the back is the right way to go for Milan or whether Montella needs to tell his players to just get rid of the ball if they’re under pressure. In Kalinic you have an outlet you can pass the pall to from deep, he’s able to hold the ball up and provide an element of relief if a defence is under pressure. But in Çalhanoglu you have a player who can play in space who can play off Kalinic and allow the team to run ahead of him for him to spread the ball wide or dangerously to a striker ahead when an opposition defence is stretched.

Montella needs to find a way of playing and quick. You have André Silva who has already scored 5 goals for Milan in the Europa League, who is a Portuguese first team striker, and who has a wealth of experience from Porto but who can’t get a game in Serie A under Montella. He can’t keep overlooking him for long. Bonaventura played in central midfield against Udinese, but is primarily a left sided attacking playmaker but you have a central attacking midfielder in Çalhanoglu who was touted to move to a lot of top teams sitting on the bench. It all feels like a case of too many top players, but two few spaces in the first team.

In the end I think I can see Montella finding a 3-4-1-2 formation.

end result

The back three worked well against Udinese and allowed the full backs to have a real influence on  the game going forward without giving them too much responsibility at the back. Bonucci will feel familiar with a 3 from his times at Juventus and will know how to organise the more inexperienced Romagnoli to his left and Musacchio will have the speed to cover for Calabria on the right. Biglia alongside Kessié in midfield gives the team a defensive minded playmaker in Biglia, protecting the back three and dictating the tempo as he links the defence and the attack. Kessié can do the running beside Biglia, helping to pull players around provide Biglia and Çalhanoglu space while also helping to win the ball himself. Çalhanoglu up top will have space thanks to Kessie and Silva, but will also be helped by the two full backs providing width. He’ll be able to pick out Silva making runs, or even Kalinic when Silva helps to provide Kalinic with space by pulling away central defenders.

It’s not been a poor start to the season by Milan, but you can’t help but feel they have the players now to kick it up a gear. If not you may see them departing ways with Montella sooner than you think. With everything not quite okay with Ancellotti at Bayern, a return to the Rossoneri as soon as next summer might be what pushes Montella towards the door marked “exit” if he doesn’t start getting his team to produce the results the new Chinese owners had spent £175m to get. And that’s why Milan haven’t convinced anyone yet.

Davie Magill

Advertisements

Opinion: Gay Premier League Footballers #TeamPride

In 2015 the Office for National Statistics stated that 1.7% of the UK population identified as Lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) (“Sexual identity, UK- Office for National Statistics“, 2015).  To put that into perspective; there are 65.1 million people living in the UK (Hayter, 2015), 1.1 million of which identify as LGB. The Premier League website lists 836 players who currently play in the Premier League (“Premier League Players – Overview and Stats“, 2017)… None of whom are openly gay. 

AW_PL_Social_Media_Rainbow_Laces_-_Wide

Why is that?

According to Stonewall (“LGBT facts and figures“, n.d.), “Seven in 10 football fans who’ve attended a match have heard or witnessed homophobia on the terraces”. This is not only directed towards players, but also opposition supporters. On the 2nd of April 2013, the Gay Football Supporters’ Network (GSFN) and Brighton and Hove Supporters Club (BHASC) submitted a report to the FA (“Brighton fans report homophobic abuse to FA“, 2013), stating that the supporters of Brighton and Hove Albion had suffered homophobic chants in 57% of their matches, including “does your boyfriend know you’re here” and “you’re just a town full of faggots”.  While this kind of abuse is often hidden under the thin veil of ‘banter’, both the BHASC and the GSFN stated that “it wouldn’t be described as ‘banter’ if the taunts and chants were about skin colour and something would have been done by now to stop it.”

This kind of abuse is hard for some fans to stomach, let alone to an openly gay football player who has to deal with the pressure of the spotlight already. During an interview with FourFourTwo in 2011, then Fulham striker Bobby Zamora stated, “Football is a confidence game; when you’re scoring, you can do no wrong. When it’s the other way round, everything goes wrong.” (“Inside the mind of a striker“, 2011). We’ve heard managers speaking about player’s confidence before, and how badly their game can be affected without it. So what happens to confidence when a player is subject to homophobic abuse? 

In 1990, Justin Fashanu came out openly to the press. He was the first black player to command a £1m transfer fee, when he joined Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest side in 1981. Fashanu’s sexuality however wasn’t a secret to everyone during his career. After rumours emerged involving Fashanu visiting gay nightclubs and bars, Brian Clough banned him from training with the side and revealed in his biography he gave Fashanu a dressing down for the rumours (Clough, 1995), quote

“‘Where do you go if you want a loaf of bread?’ I asked him. ‘A baker’s, I suppose.’ ‘Where do you go if you want a leg of lamb?’ ‘A butcher’s.’ ‘So why do you keep going to that bloody poofs’ club?”

While Fashanu continued playing football until 1997, the forward admitted to Gay Times Magazine in July 1991, that although fully fit no club had offered him a full-time contract since his story first appeared. He admitted that he wasn’t prepared for the backlash which followed and admitted his career had suffered “heavy damage” (Marshall, 1991). In 1998, Fashanu took his own life, aged 37.

If homophobia can have such a damaging effect on a player’s career and has been shown to come from both the fans and the player’s own dressing room, how can a player expect to receive support when coming out? Stonewall states,

17 per cent of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people have experienced and 49 per cent have witnessed homophobia or transphobia in sport.

An alarming statistic which you would have to be a part of, if you were to be open about your sexuality in the Premier League.

Since taking over as chairman of the FA in August last year, Greg Clarke says he’s been working to tackle homophobia in the sport since taking up the role. In January 2017 Greg Clarke spoke to 15 different LGBT Sportspeople in an effort to listen to their concerns and come up with proposals to support players who feel ready to be open about their sexual orientation (“The world of sport needs to support and respect LGBT players“, 2017). More recently Clarke spoke at Rainbow Laces Summit (“Greg Clarke: FA chairman says gay footballers ‘reticent to engage with me’“, 2017), stating 

Despite nine months of going round and seeing people from athletics, from cricket, from rugby and many other sports, I’ve yet to meet one professional footballer who felt comfortable enough to have a private meeting at a venue and time of their choosing,”

But is enough being done? According to Stonewall figures from 2009, half of all football fans do not feel the Football Association, Premier League and Football League are doing enough to tackle anti-gay abuse (Dick, 2009). Has much changed in the last 8 years? 

After the Rainbow Lace summit, Clarke went into further detail when asked (“Greg Clarke says men’s football must do more for LGBT inclusivity”, 2017), stating 

We need to make sure we penalise bad behaviour and reward good behaviour, train people, work with people behind the scenes, make sure inclusion happens, make sure people who want to come out feel safe.

But is bad behaviour being penalised?  In the 14-15 Premier League season, 20 reports of homophobia were reported to the FA, one complaint more than the previous season which had 19. However after efforts by the GSFN and BHASC, the Football Association (2015) stated

“Unlike in previous seasons, there were no reports of mass chanting by opposing supporters at Brighton & Hove Albion matches. In 2014-15, The FA again worked with Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Brighton & Hove Albion Supporters’ Club (BHASC) and all clubs hosting a match against Brighton & Hove Albion to encourage liaison between the two football clubs in advance of the game, liaison between the home club and representatives of BHASC on the match day and the home club to do what it can to deal with any offensive chanting at the match. The BHASC compiles a report after each away match and the reports this last season have largely indicated an absence of any abusive chanting”

So should the clubs be doing more to support gay players? In November 2016 all 20 Premier League clubs showed support for Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign and used “#TeamPride” on social media (“Premier League supports Rainbow Laces”, 2016). Whilst this kind of support is great for inclusion, does it do enough by way of support to help gay Premier League players feel safe to come out? Greg Clarke told a Commons Select Committee in October 2016 that if a player in the Premier League were to come out, he may suffer “significant abuse”, before later stating that full inclusion was still “a couple of decades away”. 

Why would it be important for a player to come out?

According to former Republic of Ireland International dressing rooms would not be mature enough to handle a gay player (Cascarino, 2017), stating

“Would a player mind if he found out a team-mate was gay? Probably. Players wouldn’t want to be left alone with him, they wouldn’t want to shower with him. Before you rush to criticise, would you find it acceptable for a man to walk around a women’s dressing-room? More importantly, team-mates would be self-conscious around the player. The sexual banter would develop an uncomfortable edge if it continued. It is an undesirable scenario for a manager, since an uneasy and divided squad is not a recipe for success. A gay player himself would probably feel equally ill-at-ease. Dressing-rooms are like perverted nudist camps. Immature, wild places, little self-contained states where the normal rules of common decency and acceptable behaviour do not apply. Sexual activity and bodily functions are props players use for pranks and banter.” 

This kind of attitude and environment can make it hard for a player to come out, but only in having a player come out of the closet could a dressing room be given the opportunity to adapt and become inclusive of gay premier league footballers. Coming out is something difficult which the LGBT community do, not just the once, but every time they meet someone new. Society often presumes the “norm”, but through providing role models, often things outside the “norm” can become more widely accepted. Without a gay role model in the Premier League, young players who are in the closet may be deterred from coming out until it is more widely accepted. If Clarke is right in saying that that stage is “a couple of decades away” then a young gay player may have to wait over 20 years to retire before they can be themselves. As former Manchester United goalkeeper, Anders Lindegaard stated, “homosexuals are in need of a [footballing] hero” (Ogden, 2012). 

But could football have already committed the biggest crime of all? Perhaps there are no openly gay Premier League footballers because there are no gay Premier League footballers. Stonewall have stated that “66 per cent of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people felt that there were problems with homophobia and transphobia in sport and that this acted as a barrier to LGBT people taking part.” If this is true, are we all guilty of putting young players off the sport for fear of the ridicule they may receive? Potentially, but if this is the case it shows why the sport must work harder for the inclusion of people of all sexual orientations. Like Clarke says, it may take decades, but we can all play our part to help with inclusion now by starting a dialogue and joining in with the conversation.

Davie Magill

For Further Information, please visit:

http://www.stonewall.org.uk/
http://www.gfsn.co.uk/
http://www.thefa.com/
https://www.premierleague.com/

References

Brighton fans report homophobic abuse to FA. (2013). BBC Sport. Retrieved 17 May 2017, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/21988433

Cascarino, T. (2017). Boys being boys in the dressing room helps to keep homosexuality in football’s closet. Thetimes.co.uk. Retrieved 17 May 2017, from https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/boys-being-boys-in-the-dressing-room-helps-to-keep-homosexuality-in-footballs-closet-nkrm9k62vwv

Clough, B. (1995). Clough: The Autobiography (1st ed., p. 319). Corgi Adult.

Dick, S. (2009). Leagues Behind (p.2). Stonewall. Retrieved from http://www.stonewall.org.uk/sites/default/files/Leagues_Behind__2009_.pdf

Greg Clarke says men’s football must do more for LGBT inclusivity. (2017). Sky Sports. Retrieved 17 May 2017, from http://www.skysports.com/football/news/11095/10879200/greg-clarke-says-mens-football-must-do-more-for-lgbt-inclusivity

Greg Clarke: FA chairman says gay footballers ‘reticent to engage with me’. (2017). BBC Sport. Retrieved 17 May 2017, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/39929690

Hayter, C. (2015). Overview of the UK population- Office for National Statistics. Ons.gov.uk. Retrieved 17 May 2017, from https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates/articles/overviewoftheukpopulation/mar2017

Inside the mind of a striker. (2011). FourFourTwo. Retrieved 17 May 2017, from https://www.fourfourtwo.com/performance/training/inside-mind-striker

LGBT facts and figures. Stonewall. Retrieved 17 May 2017, from http://www.stonewall.org.uk/media/lgbt-facts-and-figures

Marshall, J. (1991). Justin Fashanu: Soccer’s enigmatic gay star. Gay Times, (154).

Ogden, M. (2012). Manchester United goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard says homosexual footballers ‘need a hero’ in the game. Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 17 May 2017, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/teams/manchester-united/9707164/Manchester-United-goalkeeper-Anders-Lindegaard-says-homosexual-footballers-need-a-hero-in-the-game.html

Premier League Players – Overview and Stats. (2017). Premierleague.com. Retrieved 17 May 2017, from https://www.premierleague.com/players

Premier League supports Rainbow Laces. (2016). Premierleague.com. Retrieved 17 May 2017, from https://www.premierleague.com/news/144134

Sexual identity, UK- Office for National Statistics. (2015). Ons.gov.uk. Retrieved 17 May 2017, from https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/culturalidentity/sexuality/bulletins/sexualidentityuk/2015

The Football Association. (2015). Tackling Discrimination (p. 26). The Football Association. Retrieved from http://www.thefa.com/~/media/files/pdf/respect/the-fa-reporting-statistics.ashx

The world of sport needs to support and respect LGBT players. (2017). Stonewall. Retrieved 17 May 2017, from http://www.stonewall.org.uk/about-us/media-centre/media-statement/statement/world-sport-needs-support-and-respect-lgbt-players

Managing West Ham 3- Tactics Part 1

I’m looking at the Europa League qualification matches and opening games of the season without a real tactic so at the moment. I’ve a few ideas in my head about the style of football I’d love to play and how I would like to shape West Ham’s future. My personal favourite tactic is the 4-1-4-1. It’s always worked great for me in Football Manager in the past, creating a really solid defence and a really strong, free-flowing attack. I would love to stick with it, but I feel like it’s just a little bit boring. With Payet gone, Lanzini is the main man and a 4-1-4-1 does not look to take advantage of some of his qualities. So what do we do? And what else am I thinking?

Tactics

I would love to go an entirely different route from my instincts and play a back 3. Ogbonna, Fonte and Reid would make a really solid trio. Ogbonna and Fonte are natural ball-playing defenders who would sit comfortably either side of Reid in the middle, as both players favour opposite feet. The left footed Ogbonna should thrive on the left of Ried, while the right footed Fonte should thrive on the right. Ried is a natural Defensive Centre Back in the cover role, and in my opinion, this would work perfectly in the middle of a trio; allowing him to drop a little deeper and sweep any incoming balls which haven’t been picked up by Fonte or Ogbonna. This could work really well when Fonte or Ogbonna move a little higher up the pitch to play the ball, and very different to the back fours I’m used to using

Screenshot (117)

In front of the back 3 I want to decide if I’m playing with wing backs or not. My initial reaction is that it frees up two players to use elsewhere, which could be really beneficial to the team in attack. But realistically, we need wing backs to provide some protection against wingers and or any attacking full backs that the opposition may have, which is a likelihood in the Premier League. With Arbeloa and Byram, we have 2 decent right backs which is likewise on the left hand side as we’ve got Cresswell and the newly transferred Taylor. Playing wing backs on either side in the complete wing back support role, gives the team a good balance in both attack and defence and might provide the team with some width, which we wouldn’t have otherwise.

Between the wing backs, I want to play a defensive midfielder. This is a position we’re not gifted in. Both Kouyaté and Nordveit are average players who do not gift us with much on the pitch. However playing them as ball winning midfielders will allow us to win the ball further up the pitch in certain games, and may provide extra defensive cover if the wing backs are caught out high up the pitch. What must also be remembered is that with Lanzini being our main man we won’t have as much steel in the middle of the park as he’ll be operating in the more attacking areas of the pitch. Without sounding like a José Mourinho clone, I’d be tempted to cash in on Lanzini to get someone in who is potentially more adept to their defensive duties, but don’t worry I’ll find another way… A ball winning midfielder will help us retain possession, launch a counter attack and aid the rest of the team.

Screenshot (118)

The middle of the park is where we have our best talent. Lanzini and Obiang are 2 great passing and creative midfielders. Lanzini is our primary attacking playmaker and that’s exactly where he’s going to be played to get the best out of him. With that we’re lacking bodies in the middle of the park. So to cover for this I’m going to play Obiang as a deep lying playmaker in the role of defend. If we need a bit more creativity I may later change this to support, but at the moment as I make this tactic, the Mourinho in me doesn’t want to take that risk.

Screenshot (119)

The next issue we have is mainly created by longer term injuries. Our only natural left winger, Ayew, is currently out injured for the next 2-3 months. As well as that we only have one recognised striker in Calleri as Carroll is out for 3 to 4 months, and Sakho is out for 2-3. I would love to play Andy Carroll when he is fit, if we can keep him fit. 2 up top I could see working really well, but for the time being, I’m going to play Calleri up top as an advanced forward. This lets him play on the shoulder, chase the ball down and lay it off to teammates and give Lanzini the space to do what he’s best at just behind. That leaves me with one player left to fit in the team. We have a wealth of right sided players, Feghouli is a natural winger, Antonio is a natural wide target man, and Snodgrass is a natural inside forward. I would love to play Antonio is a wide target man. Mainly so that when we play against some of the bigger teams he can mark attacking full backs and use his power against them to win long balls, providing us with an extra counter attacking outlet. If we clear the ball to Antonio, he can hold up the ball before laying it off to oncoming playmakers, before getting inside himself and providing us with a kind of wide second striker/Target Man. Mario Mandzukic vs Barcelona anyone?

Screenshot (120)

Playing Antonio wide would mean we don’t necessarily need as much width on the right hand side. And to give us that extra steel I crave in the centre, playing the right back as an inverted full back, would give us a bit more defensive support in the middle of the park. Obiang could then be used in the role of support as there’s an extra body inside helping Kouyaté. This could be something I experiment with, but at the moment, I think it may be interesting to see where this goes. I’m also give the left back more of an attacking role to get up and down the pitch, and really make use of the space on the left hand side. We can also make the shape a little more asymmetric to help to balance the team a little bit more.

Screenshot (121)

Going into the opening fixtures I want to play quite attacking. I want to exploit Antonio’s role down the right, and really use him to hold up play and get others into the game before drifting inside himself. I want to win the ball back quite quickly to launch those counter attacks and really use Taylor down the left hand side to stretch the opposition and give Lanzini, Calleri and Antonio some space to play in. Will it work? Who knows!

Team Instructions:

Screenshot (122)

Player Instructions:

screenshot-123.png

Screenshot (124)

screenshot-125.png

screenshot-126.png

Screenshot (127)

screenshot-128.png

screenshot-129.png

Screenshot (130)

Screenshot (131)

Screenshot (132)

screenshot-133.png

This concludes part one of the tactics post. In another post I’ll be updating the tactic by looking at some opposition instructions, set piece instructions, and with any tweaks I decide to make between now and after a few of the opening premier league fixtures. I’ve really tried to implement something different which I think could work, and only time will tell if it does. If you have any suggestions, let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading,

Davie

 

Should Sunderland Consider David Moyes’ Future?

Should Sunderland Consider David Moyes’ Future?

As I began writing this article, I pondered over calling it “Why David Moyes should be sacked“. Yeah, people would probably click it and people would probably read it, but I could not in good conscience write an article in which I call for the sacking of anyone in their chosen career. There are many reasons why I could write an article with a headline calling for David Moyes sacking; the FA charge for telling a female reporter she “might get a slap”, the fact that Sunderland have been relegated this season under his reign after 10 years in the top flight, or the fact that Moyes himself has a lack of experience in a Championship which has moved on in great strides since his time at Preston. This article will look at some alternatives who I’ve simulated in Football Manager 2017, who could be considered David Moyes alternatives going into the 17/18 season of the Championship.

Michael O’Neill

The first manager under the spotlight is Michael O’Neill. Still relatively inexperienced in the game, he’s been linked with last year’s Premier League winners Leicester City, and more recently with Watford and Scotland. The current Northern Ireland manager has guided his nation to some credible results, including a 1-1 draw against Portugal and a 1-0 win over Russia during the 2014 World Cup Qualifying campaign. Northern Ireland also qualified for the 2016 Euros with a 3-1 victory over Greece making it the first time in 30 years that they had qualified for a major tournament. Whilst his lack of experience in the English game might not make him a great candidate, he’s shown himself to be a good man manager, something which could go a long way in the Championship. He would also have the backing and the advice of his brother, former Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill, who managed Sunderland for just under two seasons. Could Michael learn from his brother’s mistakes and succeed as manager of Sunderland? Let’s ask Football Manager:

The first thing to look at is Michael O’Neill’s transfers. He brought in  two players, Alan Judge (3.3m) and Tyrone Mings (Loan), and allowed two players to leave the club, Lynden Gooch (Loan) and Joel Asoro (6.25m).

Screenshot (64)

He played a 4-5-1 formation which included Defoe up top, in what you have to say is a very strong Championship team.

Screenshot (65)

Now for the results, Sunderland came 8th in the table with 70 points, scoring 53 goals and conceding 42.

Screenshot (66)

Their top goal scorer was Defoe with 17 goals, while Cattermole got the most assists with 10.

Screenshot (67)Screenshot (68)

Elsewhere the club made it to the Fourth Round of the FA Cup, losing to Hull 1-0, and the Fourth Round of the League Cup, losing to Brighton 1-0.

Screenshot (69)

Screenshot (70)

Was Michael O’Neill a success? I can’t help but feel a resounding “no”. However the club has not yet sacked him and he is still manager going into the 17/18 season of the Championship. I would expect a Sunderland fan would have expected promotion from what is a very strong team, and I’m sure many would be calling for the sacking of Michael O’Neill if this were to happen in real life.

Michael O’Neill? Failure!

Ryan Giggs 

Moving from one inexperienced manager to the next we have Ryan Giggs. The most inexperienced manager we’re going to simulate with today, Ryan Giggs has only ever managed 4 matches when he stepped in as interim-player/manager of Manchester United following the sacking of David Moyes at the end of the 13/14 season. In those 4 matches in charge Giggs recorded 2 wins, 1 loss and 1 draw; and following his brief stint as manager, Giggs was handed the role of assistant manager of the club by incoming head coach Louis Van Gaal. Whilst his time in football management has been short, we have had glimpses into the type of manager Ryan Giggs could be after handing debuts to youngsters James Wilson and Tom Lawrence. He also encouraged Manchester United to play an attacking brand of football during his short spell, something which was seen as quite anti-Moyes. Could this combination be what Sunderland needs to help win promotion back to the Premier League? Let’s ask Football Manager and find out:

The first thing to note is that Ryan Giggs is no longer the Sunderland boss. He lasted for 169 days, and made no transfers at all, during his time at Sunderland.

screenshot-71.png

screenshot-72.png

The most interesting thing to me, is that his results were not as poor as I had anticipated after realising he had been sacked, with a win percentage of 40%, picking up 11 wins, 8 draws and 8 losses in 27 games, he quite possibly could have survived at a mid table Championship club. Looking at Sunderland’s fixture list, it can be seen that he had a great start, picking up 24 points from a possible 30 in the first 10 games of the season.

screenshot-73.png

Following Giggs’ sacking Fernando Hierro took over as manager of the club, guiding them to 5th place to make the playoffs, along with Norwich, Wolves and Middlesbrough. In the playoffs semi-final, they beat Wolves 4-2 on aggregate, before losing 2-1 to Norwich in the final. Not a bad few months work for Fernando Hierro.

screenshot-74.png

Screenshot (75)Screenshot (76)

Was Ryan Giggs a success at Sunderland? Defintely not. He started the season really well, with a great run of results, but eventually proved it may have been beginner’s luck before the board at Sunderland pulled the trigger and brought in a new man.

Ryan Giggs? Failure!

Fernando Hierro? …

Alan Pardew 

Perhaps the most controversial name in this article, Alan Pardew is the former manager of Newcastle United. He’s had requisite Championship experience with West Ham, guiding them to the playoff final in 03/04, and again in 04/05 final when they succeeded in promotion to the Premier League. He has had notable periods with Reading, Charlton, Southampton, Newcastle and Crystal Palace in which he hasn’t always had a good relationship with the fans. During his time at Newcastle he received a lot of criticism from the stands and the local media, but could this be used to his advantage if he was appointed manager of bitter rivals Sunderland? Let’s ask Football Manager and find out:

The first thing to look at is transfers. It’s interesting to see that Pardew made no summer signings in terms of incoming or outgoing transfers. Before mindbogglingly signing Mbappé on loan in January… Don’t you love when Football Manager throws in a gem like that! Seb Larsson (575k) also left the club in January, someone who I would consider one of their better players in the past few seasons and a maestro on free-kicks.

Screenshot (77)

He played a 4-2-3-1 formation with two ball winning midfielders in Ndong and Cattermole in the middle of the park. A front 4 of Khazri, Anichebe, Januzaj and Defoe is a formidable front 4 for any team in the bottom half of the Premier League, never-mind a team challenging for the Championship.

Screenshot (78)

As for the results… Sunderland won the Championship. Gathering 86 points after scoring 75 goals and conceding 47.

Screenshot (79)

The top scorer was predictably Jermaine Defoe with 22 goals, and the most number of assists came from Khazri with 11.

screenshot-81.pngscreenshot-80.png

This success in the Championship may have come at the cost of  some poor cup runs. In the League cup, Sunderland exited the competition in the second round following an extremely disappointing 2-1 loss to League 2 side Coventry. In the FA cup, Sunderland left the competition in the third round, following a 3-1 loss to Cardiff City.

Screenshot (83)

screenshot-82.png

Was Alan Pardew a success? Definitely. He guided the team to first place in the Championship, replicating their bitter rivals Newcastle. The fans and the board will be pleased to be back in the top flight, and hopefully under Pardew’s guidance they can avoid relegation in their return season.

Alan Pardew? Success!

Alex Neil 

Alex Neil is the youngest manager on this list at the age of 35. Despite his age he has had great success in Scotland and in England. During his time at Scotland he took charge of Hamilton Academical and during his first full season in charge he lead the club back to the top flight of Scottish Football. During the 14/15 Scottish Premiership season Hamilton started strongly, even beating Celtic at Celtic Park for the first time in 76 years. He caught the eye of Norwich City, who approached him as manager in January of the same season. Norwich finished the season 3rd in the Championship entering the playoff semi-finals in which they beat Ipswich 4-2 on aggregate. In the playoff finals Alex Neil lead his side to a 2-0 victory against Middlesbrough, and was promoted to the Premier League for the following season. Whilst Alex Neil is young, has he got the right tools and experience in place to guide Sunderland to a return to the top flight? Let’s ask Football Manager:

The first thing to look at is transfers, and it was two deadline day signings for Alex Neil in the summer, with both Demarai Gray and Louis Schaub joining his side on loan. Duncun Watmore also left the club on loan, whilst Joel Asoro (6m) left the club for Liverpool.

Screenshot (84)

He played quite an attacking 4-3-2-1, with Januzaj, Schaub and Gray supporting Defoe up top. Screenshot (86)

Moving onto the Championship, Sunderland finished second in the league with 90 points, 4 points more than Sunderland’s simulated title winning season under Pardew.

screenshot-85.png

The club managed to score 81 goals and conceded 50, with Defoe the leading scorer with 19 goals, and Manquillo recording the most assists with 11.

Screenshot (89)screenshot-88.png

Sunderland played Arsenal twice in cup competitions. Meeting them first in the third round of the League Cup, picking up a 4-1 loss, before meeting them again in the FA cup quarter finals, exiting on penalties after a 2-2 draw.

screenshot-91.png

Screenshot (90)

Was Alex Neil a success? Absolutely, perhaps even more so than Pardew. He didn’t win the league, but accumulated more points and got further in both cup runs. He is a definite alternative to David Moyes in the 17/18 Championship season who the board at Sunderland would be naive not to consider.

Alex Neil? Success!

Nigel Pearson 

Nigel Pearson is one of the more experienced names in this article, having managed at Carlisle, West Brom, Newcastle, Southampton, Leicester, Hull, Derby as well as the England under 21 squad. His most notable period was at Leicester City, in which he guided them from League 1 to the championship in the 08/09 season, finishing as champions. Leicester finished fifth during their first season back in the Championship in 09/10, before being beating on penalties by Cardiff in the playoff semi-final. He joined Hull City at the end of the 09/10 campaign, and guided Hull to an 11th placed finish during the 10/11 season. Despite starting the 11/12 season promisingly with Hull, he left them to join former club Leicester City, and guided them to 9th place during the same season. The following year saw the club finish in 6th placed position, earning a playoff spot on goal difference. The club won the first leg of the semi-finals against Watford, but later lost the second leg 3-1 after Anthony Knockaert missed a penalty. The 13/14 season was the best of Pearson’s reign, during which he guided them back to the Premier League as the holders of the Championship title. Could he do the same with Sunderland? Let’s ask Football Manager:

So the first thing to note is that Pearson has suffered the same fate as Ryan Giggs, having been sacked after 211 days in charge. Looking at Sunderland’s fixtures during his time in charge between 1/7/16 and 31/12/16, we can see some remarkably bad results, which are worse then Ryan Giggs’ on comparison. This perhaps goes to show that experience isn’t everything!

screenshot-92.png

Screenshot (93)

Following Pearson’s sacking, the club was taken over by Roberto Di Matteo. He guided the club to 11th place in the Championship in what would be an extremely disappointing season to Sunderland fans.

Screenshot (94)

So was Pearson a success? Most definitely not. Picking up the worst record so far, it goes to show that championship experience isn’t everything. Roberto Di Matteo didn’t fare much better, and an 11th placed finish will surely have fans calling for the Board to do something to change the club’s fortunes before they suffer the same fate as Wigan, with relegation to League 1.

Nigel Pearson? Failure! 

Jürgen Klinsmann 

Perhaps the least realistic name on this list, Jürgen Klinsmann is potentially still a possibility should Sunderland part ways with David Moyes. Following Sam Allardyce’s exit from the club to take over as England boss, Klinsmann had his name linked to Sunderland in the summer of 2016. He has no English football experience, but has plenty of coaching “know-how” which could benefit Sunderland in the Championship. Klinsmann lead Germany to the World Cup semi-final in 2006, before losing 2-0 to eventual winners Italy. They went on to become 3rd placed in the tournament, being Portugal 3-1 for the honour. As head coach of the US National Team, Klinsmann lead them to the round of 16 finish following survival in the “group of death” which featured Germany, Portugal and Ghana. Can Klinsmann use his coaching talents to help Sunderland win promotion back to the Premier League? Let’s ask Football Manager:

The first place to look is at his transfers, and nothing of note stands out. Picking up Cristian Pavón and Jeff Reine-Adelaide on loan, and loaning out Duncon Watmore and Jan Kirchhoff.

screenshot-95.png

His favoured team is similar to Alan Pardew’s and Alex Neil’s with a 4-3-2-1 featuring Cattermole and Ndong in midfield and Khazri behind Defoe.

Screenshot (100)

As for results, Klinsmann’s side finished 2nd placed in the Championship with 80 points, scoring 79 goals and conceding 47. While not as good as Alan Pardew or Alex Neil, it’s still a very respectable position and a result, you would imagine, that Sunderland fans would be pleased with.

screenshot-97.png

The top scorer with 20 goals was Jermaine Defoe, while Cattermole made the most assists with 10.

screenshot-98.pngscreenshot-99.png

Elsewhere Sunderland made it to the Quarter Final of the League cup, before losing 3-1 to Chelsea. They also made it to the fourth round of the FA cup, before being knocked out by Reading following a 2-1 loss.

screenshot-101.png

screenshot-102.png

Was Jürgen Klinsmann a success? So far. He guided the team back to the Premier League, something which would be the key aim for Sunderland in the 17/18 season. Is he the right man to take them forward? This is something which is yet to be seen, he didn’t win the league and only came 1 point ahead of 3rd placed Hull City and 2 points ahead of 4th placed Norwich City. It was a skin of your teeth promotion, and he may not be the right man to lead them during their first season back in the top flight.

Jürgen Klinsmann? Success! 

David Moyes 

This article wouldn’t be fair without giving Moyes the chance to defend himself and guide his relegated Sunderland side back to the top flight himself. He lead his Preston side the the playoff final in 2001 losing 3-0 to Bolton Wanderers. He later joined Everton in 2002. During his period at the club, Everton were never relegated and at times flirted with Champions League football, something Moyes managed only once after finishing in 4th place during the 04/05 season. Moyes left to take over at Manchester United for the 13/14 season following Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. Moyes was sacked 4 games before the end of the season after his side missed out on fourth place, sitting 7th placed in the league. In November 2014 he took over Spanish side Real Sociedad, leading them to 12th in the table with some impressive results including a 1-0 win over Barcelona. Moyes was sacked a year after his appointment, in November 2015, following a poor run of form at the start of the season. Following the 15/16 season, Moyes took over at Sunderland after Sam Allardyce left to become Head Coach of the England National Team. During his first and only season in charge so far Moyes lead Sunderland to relegation from the Premier League. Moyes has stated he is planning for the Championship in the 17/18 season, and has reportedly been told by club owner Ellis Short, that he would remain as manager even if Sunderland were relegated in the 16/17 season. Would Moyes do any better in the Championship than the Premiership? Let’s ask FM:

The most transfers we’ve seen so far, Moyes has brought in Fraser (Loan), Iriome (2m), Wasilewski (98k), Kasumu (650k) and Fuentes (775k) while shipping out Watmore (loan) and O’Shea (Free). Screenshot (103)

His favoured squad was almost identical to that of Alan Pardew, only preferring Koné over Djilobodji.

Screenshot (107)

As for results, Moyes disappointingly finished in 8th placed, the same as Michael O’Neill. His team gathered 69 points, scoring 67 goals and conceding 48.

screenshot-106.png

His top scorer with 19 goals was, you guessed it, Jermaine Defoe. Januzaj made the most assists for the first time with 9.

Screenshot (104)screenshot-105.png

Elsewhere Sunderland were knocked out of the League cup following a 3-2 loss to Hull City, and out of the FA Cup after losing 3-0 to bitter rivals Newcastle United.

screenshot-109.png

Screenshot (108)

Sunderland fans and Moyes himself will be very disappointed by his performance in the Championship. The board interestingly have chosen to stick with him for the 17/18 Championship season, in which Moyes will be hoping for some improvements. Was Moyes a success? Definitely not, but if the club stuck by him in relegation, they should stick by him after an 8th placed finish in the Championship.

David Moyes? Failure! 

Bonus! Fernando Hierro 

Fernando Hierro is the former assistant to Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid and current manager of Real Oviedo in the Segunda Divisíon, who sit 8th in the table. Following the sacking of Ryan Giggs, Football Manager appointed Fernando Hierro new manager of the club. He guided the club to a fifth placed finish and made it to the playoff final before being knocked out by Norwich. What could he do with a full season in charge of Sunderland? Let’s ask Football Manager:

First things first, Hierro made 2 transfers, bringing in Nacho (1.4m) and Jeff-Reine-Adelaide and shipped out Duncan Watmore on loan to Derby.

screenshot-110.png

His favoured team was the same as David Moyes’, playing a 4-2-3-1 Koné at the back.

Screenshot (112)

His side, unexpectedly, won the Championship on goal difference, accumulating 87 points, scoring 77 goals and conceding 47 in the process.

screenshot-111.png

His top scorer was Defoe with 21 and once again Lee Cattermole chipped in the most assists with 11.

screenshot-114.pngscreenshot-113.png

Sunderland exited the League cup in the third round after a 3-1 defeat against Manchester City. They also exited the FA Cup in the fifth round following a 1-0 defeat against eventual winners Chelsea.

screenshot-116.png

screenshot-115.png

Was Hierro a sucess? Hierro exceeded expectations and then some. If only for the possible chant of “I can be Hierro baby, I can kiss away your pain, I will stand by you forever, your football takes my breath away“, to the tune of Hero by Enrique Iglesias, by the Sunderland supporters, Football Manager has shown that the relatively inexperienced Hierro could be a genuine fit for the Sunderland team in the Championship. Do I think this kind of appointment would happen in real life? Probably not, but it’ll be interesting to see where Hierro’s managerial career goes in the future.

Hierro? Success!

Conclusion 

Football Manager has shown that Sunderland may be making a mistake if the keep David Moyes as manager going into next season. Alan Pardew or Alex Neil could be great fits for the club, and if Moyes falls on hard times at Sunderland during the Championship season, expect to see these two names linked to the club. Sunderland have sacked some good managers the season after keeping them up like Dick Advocaat and Gus Poyet. What’s the point in keeping a manger who has got them relegated? Perhaps longevity, perhaps because of Moyes’ track record at Everton, but if there are younger options with fresher ideas, would it be better long term to have them take over? Only time will tell, and we’ll find out next season in the Championship.

Thanks for reading,

Davie Magill

Marcelo Bielsa – Lille Revival?

Marcelo Bielsa – Lille Revival?

Lille OSC

Lille Olympique Sporting Club is a football club in the top flight of French football. Competing with the likes of Paris Saint Germain, AS Monaco, Lyon, Marseille and OGC Nice; they have found themselves falling down the pecking order in recent years. This could soon change however with the managerial appointment of Marcelo Bielsa. The club had become a French Champions League regular in the mid-2000s, and earned themselves some remarkable results that decade beating Manchester United 1-0 in 2005, A.C. Milan 2-0 in 2006 and Liverpool 1-0 in 2010.

Between 2002 and 2008 the club was led by current Southampton manager, Claude Puel. The first season of the Puel era garnered mixed results, with the club finishing in 14th place in Ligue 1 but as a finalist of the summer run competition, UEFA Intertoto Cup 2002. The second season in charge saw Puel better his first, slowly improving results, finishing 10th in Ligue 1. The 04/05 season saw Puel lead his men to a second placed finish in Ligue 1, and a champion of the UEFA Intertoto Cup 2004. The following 2005-06 season saw Lille enter the UEFA Champions League. Having drawn a tough group with Benfica, Manchester United and Villareal, the club finished 3rd placed in Group D; despite drawing with all 3 teams once and going undefeated in the competition against Manchester United, beating them 1-0 at home. Due to their 3rd placed Champions League group stage finish, the club entered the UEFA cup round of 32 beating Shakhtar Donetsk 3-2 on aggregate before exiting in the round of 16 following a 2-1 aggregate defeat to Sevilla, who would go on to win the competition. The club would then go on to finish 3rd placed in Ligue in the same season.

The 06/07 season saw difficult times for the club who had done so well the season before. A good European run saw the club beat A.C. Milan, who would go on to win the competition, 2-0 and finish 2nd placed in Group H of the 06/07 UEFA Champions League. The club was drawn against Manchester United, who they had beaten and drawn to the season before. However, despite best efforts the team lost 1-0 at home and away, and exited the competition in the first knockout round. Ligue 1 proved a difficult competition for Lille this year, and the club ultimately finished in 10th place.

The 07/08 season saw Lille start to climb again, finishing 7th in Ligue 1 and missing out on European football the following season. This season marked the end of the Puel era, with the Frenchman leaving the club for Lyon, taking over the 07/08 Ligue 1 champions on June 18th. Rudi Garcia revived Lille in the following 08/09 season and lead them to a 5th place finish in Ligue 1 before continuing their progression with a 4th placed Ligue 1 finish the year after. The 2010/2011 season saw Lille continue their rise, and the emergence of the 10/11 player of the year Eden Hazard, pushed Lille to a 1st placed Ligue 1 finish. The club won a second competition that same year, beating Paris Saint-Germain in the Coupe de France final for the second piece of silverware of the season; the only two pieces of Silverware won by Rudi Garcia to date.

The 11/12 season saw Eden Hazard continue his meteoric rise in French football, scoring 20 goals and earning 15 assists under Rudi Garcia. He was only the second player in the history of the Union Nationale des Footballeurs Professionals (UNFP) Player of the Year awards to win the award in back to back seasons. The club earned a 3rd place finish in Ligue 1 that year but were incredibly underwhelming in the UEFA Champions League, exiting the competition after coming 4th in Group B.

Following the underwhelming Champions League run the previous year, the 2012-13 season continued to disappoint. The sale of Eden Hazard to Chelsea for $40m left a gap in the squad which could not be filled by the arrivals of Marvin Martin and Salomon Kalou; subsequently the club went further into decline, finishing 6th in the league, exiting the Champions League in the group stage and only reaching the Coupe de France round of 16. Rudi Garcia left at the end of the 12/13 season for A.S. Roma, and the club appointed René Girard as manager, who had led Montpellier to the title just two seasons before. His first season in charge saw the club finish 3rd in Ligue 1 and reach the quarter final of the Coupe de France. The following 14/15 season saw Lille finish 8th and fail to get past the round of 64 in the Coupe de France. There was even failure in Europe that season, as the club failed to get past Porto in the Champions League Play-off round before leaving the UEFA Europa League during the group stage, not picking up a single win against Everton, Krasnodar or Wolfsburg.

The following season Frédéric Antonetti took over Girard in November after a poor run of form. They stuttered throughout, but a strong run at the end of the season saw the struggling club finish 5th in Ligue 1. During the current 16/17 season Lille have struggled, following the loss of several players in the summer transfer window, most notably Djibril Sidibé to AS Monaco and Sofiane Boufal, the club’s top scorer the previous year with 12 goals, to Southampton. The club currently sit 14th in the league after 10 wins, 7 draws and 16 losses, 5 positions higher than when Antonetti was sacked. Long term coach Patrick Collot took over the struggling club for several months, before being relieved of his duties in February. The club has since been taken over by the former assistant manager of Bielsa until the end of the current season, Franck Passi, until El Loco takes the reigns.

Who is “El Loco”?

Marcelo Bielsa is an Argentinean manager who in the last 10 years has set the footballing world alight, although you might not have realised it yet. Born in Rosario yet supporting neighbouring team Newell’s Old Boys, Bielsa challenged opinion at an early age opting not to support the team his father had followed passionately for many years, Rosario Central. The trend continued as he grew older, deciding not to continue the family’s tradition of going into politics and law, instead choosing to devote his life to football. He became a defender playing for his boyhood club but later retired at the age of 25 after moving around the lower leagues in order to concentrate solely on coaching. After qualifying as a physical education teacher, he became first-team coach at Newell’s and went on to win the 90/91 Argentine Primera División and the 91/92 Argentine Primera División Torneo Clausura.

He later had brief stints as a coach at Mexican clubs Club Atlas and Club América, as well as Argentine club Vélez Sársfield. In 1998 he was offered the manager’s position at Spanish side Espanyol, but left shortly after, having been given the chance to coach Argentina’s national team. Under Bielsa Argentina qualified for the 2002 World Cup but were knocked out disappointingly in the first round. Despite this setback Bielsa remained in charge and led Argentina to runners up in the 2004 Copa América (losing 4-2 to Brazil on penalties) as well as winning of Gold at the 2004 Olympic Games. Bielsa resigned from the national team at the end of 2004 blaming fatigue. In 2007 Bielsa became the national coach of Chile, leading them to the success of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup after missing out on the previous two successive tournaments. This success caused a great deal of popularity in Chile for Bielsa, with fans campaigning for him to remain as coach. Bielsa was rewarded for this popularity as Harold Mayne-Nicholls, the president of Chile’s Asociacíon Nacional de Fútbol Profesional, announced that Bielsa would remain as coach of Chile until 2015. However, Bielsa resigned in February 2011 after threatening to quit if Jorge Segovia was elected President of the Football Federation of Chile.

In 2011 Bielsa returned to club football by taking up the manager’s post at Athletic Club in Spain. They enjoyed a relatively successful first season under El Loco, disappointingly finishing 10th in La Liga, they qualified for the Europa League after finishing as runners up to Barcelona in the final of the Copa Del Rey. The club also enjoying a good run in Europe, finishing as runners up in the Europa League to Atlético Madrid. After Javi Martinez was sold to Bayern Munich and Fernando Llorente was used sparingly due to contractual disagreements, the following 2012-13 season ended disappointingly for Bielsa. His side finished in 12th place in La Liga, were knocked out of the Copa Del Ray in the round of 32 to Segunda B (Spanish 3rd division) side Eibar, while also failing to get out of the Europa League group stage. This season’s disappointment was reflected when president of Athletic Josu Urrutia announced that Bielsa’s contract would not be renewed at the end of the season. Bielsa subsequently left the club on June 30th 2013.

The following year Bielsa was hired by Marseille and would start his 2 year contract after the 2014 FIFA World cup. His first season again had mixed results. Marseille were knocked out of the Coupe de la Ligue round of 32 to Rennes and were knocked out in the French Cup round of 64 by French fourth tier side Grenoble. Despite poor cup form Marseille finished the season 4th placed in Ligue 1 achieving automatic qualification to the Europa league group stage for the 2015-16 season. After losing the opening game of the 15/16 season to Caen, Bielsa resigned from management of the club, stating he “completed [his] work [there].” The media later revealed this was after the club attempted to change details within Bielsa’s contract which he would not accept, and previously signing players Bielsa did not want.

In 2016 Bielsa as appointed manager of Serie A side Lazio for the 16/17 season. His appointment was short lived however, and Bielsa resigned as manager just two days after his appointment. Bielsa later claimed that the club had previously agreed to make signings, however having failed to transfer any of Bielsa’s shortlisted players, it was clear to Bielsa that his time at Lazio would not work out.

Failure?

So what has Bielsa achieved? With minimal success at both national and club level, what is so special about El Loco? Why have managers, such as Mauricio Pochettino described Bielsa as “one of the best managers in the world.” Whilst Pep Guardiola said in 2012 that Bielsa “is the best coach there is in the world at the moment.”

It’s simple. The man is obsessive. Having become famous for collecting video tapes of football, he has spent hundreds of thousands of hours watching and analysing the beautiful game. When he took over as coach of Newell’s in 1990 he immediately made changes, not only in terms of training but also tactically. He implemented a 4-3-3 system which was capable of changing to a 3-4-3 when required, similar tactics to which we have seen Guardiola use during his spells at Barcelona and Bayern Munich today.

He reduces his philosophy to 4 terms: “concentración permanente, movilidad, rotación y repenitización.” Translated to concentration, movement, rotation and spontaneity. He believes in winning the ball back as close to the opponent’s goal as possible and translating this defence into attack, using movement to create space, allowing for players to express themselves fully and act with imagination and spontaneity. What is this style of football? It’s loco.

Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino are only two people on a long list of managers to have been influenced by Marcelo Bielsa. Bielsa often seeks to overload his defence with a spare man and play an enganche behind 3 forwards when in attack. The transition time taken between these two tactics is constantly looking to be shorted by Bielsa so that his defence is stronger and so that attacks are more threatening. This is something we have seen Pep Guardiola implement both at Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

Bielsa often seeks to have his team transition between a 3-3-1-3 formation when in attack and a 5-3-2 formation in defence.

1

Whilst in attack the two central defenders spread apart allowing the libero to step forward to make a back three. The two full backs move into central midfield alongside the midfielder to create a three-man midfield. The other midfielder moves forward behind the striker and the two wingers seek to cut in with the ball. Creating his famous 3-3-1-3 formation.

When transitioning into defence the libero steps back into the role of a sweeper whilst the two centre backs come closer together to narrow any space which the opposition can attack. The two full backs move out wider whilst remaining close to the centre backs, and the wingers move in centrally to help the lone defensive midfielder. The enganche keeps his role as playmaker behind the attacker and serves as the main outlet when defence is transitioning to attack.

18

This is very similar to how Pep Guardiola has implemented tactics in the past with Barcelona and Bayern Munich. At times, he opted to play two full backs Lahm/Rafinha or Alaba/Bernat. This tactic not only allowed faster transition, but also a much stronger defence. By doing it this way Guardiola seeks to exploit either the left or the right when attacking, depending on which full backs he deploys. Giving his team a greater level of fluidity than Bielsa’s while keeping the core thoughts and ideas of the coach he deemed the best in the world in 2012.

2

3

Mauricio Pochettino’s adaption of the Bielsa’s tactics can also be seen during both his spells at Southampton and Tottenham. When attacking he likes to use a similar 1-3 formation in the attacking third. However only opts for two at the back, perhaps due to the defensive capabilities of Dier in midfield or the sweeper keeping prowess of Lloris in goal. In defence Pochettino also adapts a similar tactic by getting his wingers close to the two central midfielders whilst getting the full backs to drop back, creating a solid block which can quickly turn defence into attack through Eriksen when they win back the ball.

4

5

These are just two managers Bielsa have influenced, but perhaps his greatest successes. Guardiola has had undoubted success with both Barcelona and Bayern Munich, while Pochettino in recent times has been touted as the best manager in the English Premier League by several journalists and fans alike. However the list of other managers who have been influenced by him boasts the likes of former Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino and current Atlético Madrid manager Diego Simeone.

After influencing a few of the best managers in the world to become who they are today it could be argued his influence has brought the most success in football over the past 10 years. So whilst his trophy cabinet may not be impressive, the world class list of managers who all admire Bielsa and use his ideas is unquestionable. El Loco a failure? Think again.

Bielsa at Lille

Coming into a Lille club who have stagnated since peaking and winning the league in 2011, Bielsa will perhaps be the man to spark a revival of the club currently sitting 14th in Ligue 1. Though he will undoubtedly make changes, Bielsa will be glad to have his assistant manager already at the club to give them a taste of what’s to come. The ambition of the club has been displayed across Europe in hiring Bielsa and the transfer rumours in January saw the club linked with a few talented players, including recent Chelsea signing Michy Batshuayi (Daily Mirror). Bielsa likes his board to back him during the transfer window and I’m certain we’ll see some interesting signings before the 17/18 season starts.

Football Manager 2017 Tactics

I am going to try and replicate Bielsa’s tactics at Lille. The main focus on general training I will set to “fitness” due to the high levels of stamina needed in a Bielsa tactic, due to his high pressing game. I’m also going to set the match preparation to defensive positioning. This is due to the awareness his players must possess as well as Bielsa’s need to fit players into his tactic. There are no stars in a Bielsa team, when one player is injured he is replaced and the tactic always stays the same.

The team will play attacking and structured with 7 team instructions. These instructions will reflect Bielsa’s previous squads who worked hard using both order and discipline during attacking and defensive phases. Pressing high, playing narrow in attack and attacking with pace whilst retaining possession is the main focus of El Loco’s squads. While the player roles work to create the formations which Bielsa uses.

Team Instructions; Attacking; Team Shape: Structured; Tempo: Higher; Width: Fairly Narrow; Defensive Line: Higher; Closing Down: Much More; Passing: Exploit the middle, Play out of defence; Passing Directness: Retain Possession

6

The team is highly attacking but the structured ordered also it to maintain its shape when needing to defend. By closing down much more with a high defensive line, the team presses to win the ball back from opponents as quickly as possible. They retain possession as they seek to attack, but are not looking to work the ball into the box, instead waiting patiently, creating space until they are ready to strike.

Target Man (support)

7

The target man will move into channels, drifting wide to give inside forwards more space to roam inside, or to allow the enganche to get further forward and attack.

Left Inside Forward (support)/ Right Inside Forward (support)

84.png

The inside forwards on both side will look to play alongside the striker as a bank of 3 in front of the enganche.

Engnache (attack)

9

More direct passes focus the enganche on attacking and setting up chances, the majority of goals should come through his assists and the three men in front of him should be getting the majority of the goals. He operates between the two banks of 3, and uses the space to drift and run in empty areas of the pitch.

Regista (Support)

103.png

The regista will sit behind the enganche, pulling the strings and passing the ball forward. He will look to receive the ball when it is won back and play quite creatively in midfield whilst the attackers in front of him move into better goalscoring positions.

Left Inverted Full Back (support)/ Right Inverted Full Back (support)

11

The two inverted full backs will look to play alongside the regista in a bank of 3 when in possession. They will be responsible for winning the ball in midfield and providing the regista with the chance to create play. If they need to they will also be capable of dribbling the ball out of danger or playing more risky passes ahead to the attacking players. Whenever defending, these two players will drift back to more natural full back positions either side of the centre backs. The team then plays with a back 5 to provide a more robust challenge to the opposition.

Left Defensive Centre Back (Stopper)

123.png

The left defensive centre back will be focused on simply defending, taking a no-nonsense approach to defending and clearing the ball when required. This is so that the team do not always attempt to play out from the back, and instead clear their lines whenever they are in danger.

Right Ball Playing Centre Back (Stopper)

132.png

The ball playing centre back will look to play the ball to the regista whenever the ball is won back. This allows the team to quickly attack and make best use of their possession and the chance to counter attack.

Libero (Support)

142.png

Perhaps the most important role on the pitch, the libero offers both defensive and attacking qualities. Playing behind the centre backs when out of possession and offering a last chance solution, he is often the last line of defence. When in possession however he will look to attack and sit further up the pitch, offering the team another outlet for chance creation and recycle the ball when in possession.

Summary/In Game Match Engine

The Target man in this tactic will hold up the ball for the inside forwards and the enganche who will be looking to push forward when in attack. The enganche will sit in behind, looking for the perfect pass when in possession, and looking to get further forward and into space whenever a team mate has the ball. The inside forwards will look to sit narrowly, cutting in and effectively making a front 3 in front of the enganche. Behind the enganche the regista will be looking to pull the strings, and will form a midfield alongside the two inside forwards. The back three will see the two centre backs spread and the libero step forward creating a defensive back 3 whenever in possession of the ball. Creating Bielsa’s famous 3-3-1-3 formation when the team is in possession and attack.

17

15

When out of possession the team will look to revert to the 5-3-2 which Bielsa plays. The inverted wing backs will step back alongside the centre backs. The libero will drop slightly deeper and look to provide the defensive cover in that “spare man” role which Bielsa loves. The two wingers will drop into midfield alongside the regista to create a centre midfield 3 whilst the enganche and target man will remain up front to provide a counter attacking option whenever the ball is won back.

16

Conclusion

Bielsa’s attack and defence transitioning side has been successfully replicated using the Football Manager match engine. This was the main aim which I set out with at the start of creating this tactic. Like any of my tactics this tactic is not for results, simply to emulate the style and positioning of a football manager in Football Manager. We have seen managers across Europe such as Pep Guardiola, Pochettino and Diego Simone, influenced by Bielsa and create their own unique brand of football. Can Bielsa finally make an impact at Lille and get his hands on his first piece of silverware in Europe? We’ll find out in the 17/18 season.

I hope you enjoyed reading about Marcelo Bielsa’s tactics and enjoyed my interpretation of them. You can download the tactic by clicking on the download link below. Unzip the file to Documents\Sports Interactive\Football Manager 2015\tactics

Download

This article is also available at fmscout.com (http://www.fmscout.com/a-marcelo-bielsa-3313-tactics-lille-fm17.html)

Thanks,

Davie

Marco Silva

Marco Silva

The current Hull City Association Football Club manager Marco Silva has been impressing during his brief time in the premier league so far. Taking over on January 5th 2017 he quickly turned the club who sat 20th in the table, and relegation favourites, into world beaters. Having won 5 times in 12 league games since he took the position at Hull City, including a victory over Liverpool and a draw against Manchester United, Marco Silva has made a massive impact on the English Premier League table. He has accumulated 17 points out of a possible 36 and whilst this might not sound all that impressive, it’s a huge turnaround for the squad who accumulated 13 points in the first 20 games before he took over.

Where did he come from?

Marco Silva previously managed Estoril between September 2011 and May 2014 following 6 years of playing for the club and a brief stint as their director of football. He took the team who sat 10th in the second division of Portuguese football and lead them to the title, losing only 3 times in 24 games in the process. A league title and a Manager of the Year award was not enough for Silva and he drove the team on to a 5th place finish in his debut Primeira Liga season. During this season, Estoril not only beat Sporting Clube de Portugal 3-1 at home, they also drew with them 2-2 away and drew 1-1 away at Benfica. In the following 13/14 Primeira Liga season Silva lead Estoril to 4th position, a club best, beating FC Porto at the Estádio do Dragão 1-0 for their first home defeat since 2008.

In the 14/15 season of the Primeira Liga Silva took up the manager’s position at Sporting after Leonardo Jardim left for AS Monaco FC. His first and only season at Sporting was mixed finishing 3rd in the league, but winning the Taҫa de Portugal following a 3-1 penalty shootout against S.C. Braga. 4 days after winning the competition Silva was dismissed by the club for having not worn the club’s official suit during a cup match.

In July 2015 Silva took up the manager’s position at Olympiacos F.C. and subsequently guided them to top position in the Superleague Greece. They won their first 17 games in the league, a European 21st century record; and finished the league having only lost and drawn once, 30 points ahead of second placed Panathinaikos. After this great success, Silva stepped down from his position citing personal reasons, leaving many of the Olympiacos players in shock.

Style of Play

Silva is a counter attacking coach who sets his team up with a great deal of organisation so that they deliver his highly coveted clean sheet. He favours a 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-4-1 approach depending on the ability of the players he has at his disposal, and likes his team to transition quickly from defence into attack. During his time at Hull Silva has played a 4-1-4-1 five times and it is his most favoured approach.

While in defence Silva likes his wingers drop back and give extra protection to the wing backs. The full backs tuck in alongside the centre backs depending on which side of the pitch an attack is coming from, and the defensive midfielder and midfield 4 seek to cut out passing options that the opposition team have. Primarily the defensive midfielder sits in front of the back four, and whilst he presses the opposition team, he does not often stray in front of the 4 midfielders in front of him, acting as the last backup in midfield if the opposition attack. A ball winning midfielder plays in the middle of the park alongside another midfielder, typically an attacking playmaker. The ball winning player defends alongside the defensive midfielder when in defence and joins in whenever the team attacks. This gives the team an extra passing outlet, and the ability to win the ball back high up the pitch and break down any counter attacks which the opposition might try to spring. The two wingers operate with the attacking playmaker in midfield. Attacking very quickly whenever the ball is win back. They often see to find gaps in the opposition’s defence, and seek to create passing options for each other to advance the play as high into the opposition’s half as possible during a counter attack. The wing backs look to overlap the wingers when attacking, stretching the opposition defence to allow the midfielders to play more creatively in any gaps which may appear, and to provide a further passing or crossing outlet. The lone striker presses the opposition’s central defenders trying to force any mistakes which may lead to them clearing the ball, clearing the ball gives Hull City the chance to win the ball back and quickly spring another counter attack. During the counter attack the striker also likes to get involved in the quick build-up of play, dropping back and making passes before going on runs. This pulls different opposition players out of position and gives other players the chance to attack spaces created.

1

During Hull City’s 2-1 win against Swansea City A.F.C, we can see the back 4 playing very narrowly with the defensive midfielder in front. The ball is being quickly closed down for a counter attack by a midfielder further up the pitch and the Hull City right winger is tracking back with the Swansea’s attacking left wing back.

23.png

During a counter attack, the Hull City striker comes deep and receives a pass. He has two options alongside him and a winger overlapping him behind. He passes the ball to an attacking midfielder before making a run and receiving the ball further up the pitch, leading to Hull City’s first goal.

33.png

Translation to Football Manager

3.5

To best represent Marco Silva’s brand of a pressing counter attack. I have used the instructions sit deeper, to allow the opposition to control the ball high up the pitch, giving the Hull City players more space to run into whenever they win back the ball. Whilst Silva was managing in Greece, it was often joked that Silva’s Olympiacos team would rather the opposition have the ball so that they would be able to counter attack and that the team would even rather give the ball away so that they can play in this style, and allowing this Hull City team to sit back is the perfect way to enable this style of play to take place. more for closing down was selected so that players press the opposition rather than sit back. Even though his teams are deep, Marco does like the modern pressing approach so that a counter can be sprung, as well as closing down any passing options that the opposition players have not only does the close down more instruction help this but the use tighter marking will also give opposition players less space to play the ball. To enable this counter, I have set the tempo to higher so that the ball is sent up the pitch as quickly as possible, as well as more direct passes to ensure that the focus of passes is to attack. Exploiting the flanks and run at defence gives the counter attack a direction, and allows the most creative players to find passes and create chances. To give his full backs enough opportunity to attack I have asked them to look for overlap, and have set the width to fairly wide to try and enable them to stretch the opposition. This all set with the creative freedom option be more disciplined is the perfect set up to a Marco Silva team.

Individual instructions have been applied to give players more freedom outside of the team instructions.

4

The lone striker is played as an advanced forward. This allows him to move into channels and link play whenever a counter attack is played as seen in the photos above. He will them make runs or even dribbles towards the opposition goal looking for any opportunity to score. Whenever defending he will look to close down more and mark the opposition defenders more tightly so that the opposition cannot play out of defence, giving the team as much opportunity to counter attack as possible.

5

Both wingers are set up in the same way in the role of attack. Roam from position allows them to cut inside more when attacking, allowing fullbacks to overlap. Mark tighter and close down more, allow them to press opposition full backs seeking to attack as seen in the real-life photos above.

63.png

N’Diaye as the ball winner is set as a ball winning midfielder in the role of Support, with dribble less and get further forward as the two player enabled instructions. This allows him to win the ball higher up the field, and instead of dribbling with the ball he will immediately look to pass it, minimising the chances of him losing the ball high up the field so the opposition can counter.

7

Clucas plays alongside N’Diaye in the middle of the park as an advanced playermaker in the role of attack. There are several player enabled instructions; close down more, mark tighter and roam from Position. Roam from position enables him to have the flexibility to be more creative in the counter attack, being able to invade spaces in the pitch to receive the ball from wide or from his fellow central midfielders so he can play the ball on and set up a goal.

8

Tom Huddlestone is set as a defensive midfielder in the role of defend with shoot less often and ease off tackles his only two instructions. Shoot less often stops him from having a shot on goal deep in the opposition’s half; if he was having these shots there would be a much greater chance of losing the ball and the opposition launching a counter attack. With ease off tackles on, Huddlestone doesn’t chase the ball and step out of position, an extremely important instruction to keep the team shape and remain as defensive as possible.

92.png

The two centre backs are set the exact same way as defensive centre backs in the role of defend. Their single player enabled instruction is close down much less. This stops them from stepping out of their back line to chase the ball, an action which could lead to the opposition getting in behind and potentially score. The role makes them no nonsense defenders, and they will clear the ball rather than trying to play it out of the back, an extremely important job to carry out when quickly counter attacking.

102.png

Once again, we find the same role for both full backs. They are both set to full backs on support with shoot less often, close down less, sit narrower and run wide with ball being their player enabled instructions. Shoot less often prevents them from having shots and potentially losing the ball high up the pitch. Close down Less stops them from pushing too far up the pitch in an effort to win the ball, instead they try to get back into position alongside the two centre backs from one straight back four. Sit narrower keeps the back four compact, while run wide with ball allows them to get wider when the team attacks, offering width and enabling the wingers to get inside if needed.

113.png

The goalkeeper is simply set as a goalkeeper in defend with the two instructions, distribute quickly and distribute to flanks. This allows him to launch counter attacks quickly to the men on the pitch who are most likely to influence the teams play.

The Squad

12

In Game

The first game of the season is against Arsenal and this is the perfect chance to test the tactic.

13

Whenever the team is out of possession we can see that it plays in two banks of 4, one across the defence and one across the midfield.

141.png

On the left wing, we can see the Hull City right winger tracking back the Arsenal left back in attack, and below shows he tracked him all the way to the corner flag.

15

On the counter attack, Huddlestone passes the ball to Niasse up top, who holds up the ball before passing it on to Markovic.

16

17

Who makes a run further up the pitch, leading to a Clucas goal.

18

Conclusion

At the end of a few games, it’s clear that this football manager tactic provides a match engine replication of the team shape as well as player instructions. This was the main aim I had when setting out to make this tactic. This tactic was not made for results, just for a true to life replication of Marco Silva’s tactics based on my own interpretation. As always football tactics need tweaking based on the team you are managing, so do not use it expecting immediate results.

You can download this tactic for Football Manager 2017 here (http://www.fmscout.com/datas/users/marco_silva_247ac65a-d5e7-417c-8093-c3de3bd9b261_73942.fmf)

And this article is also available on fmscout.com (http://www.fmscout.com/a-marco-silva-hull-fm17-tactic.html)

Davie Magill

Managing West Ham 2- Transfers

Managing West Ham 2

Squad Depth

Looking at the West Ham United squad there’s not a lot of depth in a number of key positions.

15.png

We have two average goalkeepers in the squad, Darren Randolph and Adrian. They are both 29 years old and reasonably experienced goalkeepers. When comparing them to other teams in the division we do not have a keeper of the sufficient quality for what we are aiming. The likes of Cech (Arsenal), Courtois/Begovic (Chelsea), Bravo (Manchester City), De Gea (Manchester United), Forster (Southampton) and Lloris (Tottenham) are all better keepers at clubs we are hoping to compete with. When comparing the two keepers we have, it seems that Adrian is the slightly better option.

22.png

He has better Aerial abilities, a better distribution of the ball and better communication than Randolph, but lacks speed when compared to his fellow keeper. In my opinion Adrian is a good goalkeeper to keep as a backup, and whilst Randolph and he are extremely similar I would prefer to sell Randolph and bring in a new first team option.

At centre-back we have a lot of quality in the squad. Fonte, Reid, Collins and Ogbonna are all good defenders of an experienced age and whilst I expect Fonte and Reid to be obvious number one choices, I wouldn’t be all that worried about dropping them if Collins or Ogbonna were in better form. My only concern is depth, as I am tempted to play 3 at the back; two backups would provide the squad with extra depth in the case of any injuries or problems with fitness. This however is not a pressing matter, and I’m happy with the central defenders at my disposal.

At full back, we are lacking depth either side. In the first team squad, we only have Arbeloa on the right and Cresswell on the left. Cresswell is currently injured for 2 to 3 months with strained knee ligaments, and with no cover on the left-hand side, a left back is urgently needed. Arbeloa is a reliable player to have in the squad, however at 33 years old I see him as more of a capable backup rather than a first team player. Looking into our Under 23 squad, Sam Byram is fit and I will immediately promote him to the first team squad as my first choice right back as I believe him to be a better option than Arbeloa.

Defensive midfield and central midfield contain some very talented players. Kouyaté and Nordtveit are both defensive midfielders who could both fit into the first team. My only concern is that Nordtveit is not a strong passer of the ball, and seeing as he is a ball winning midfielder I would prefer he had the passing range to get the ball to more attacking players further up the pitch upon winning the ball. Kouyaté is only slightly better in terms of passing but is more of an all-round player who I would expect to start in the first team ahead of Nordtveit.

32.png

Ahead of the two defensive midfielders we have 3 central midfielders; Noble, Obiang and Fernandes. The immediate star to me is Obiang as he has some great stats which make him a wonderful passer and tackler. Not to be scoffed at though are his mental stats, he is an extremely hard worker and team player in a similar mould to Chelsea’s N’Golo Kanté, only significantly lacking pace when compared to the Frenchman.

43.png

When compared to his teammate Mark Noble, Obiang is the better all-round player, only lacking in vision. Whilst it’s very close between them I think it’s fair to say that Obiang is a first team player ahead of Noble, and a more creative player might be required to play alongside either player to spark an attack or be the catalyst for an attack on the counter.

52.png

In comes Fernandes. At 20 years old the swiss wonderkid is not a guaranteed first team star, but certainly has the potential to start if he plays well or begins to live up to his promise. With more of an eye for attack when compared to his two fellow central midfielders, he might be the ideal playmaker to play alongside either of them in the middle of the park.

Manuel Lanzini. The clubs one and only first team central attacking midfielder. Having lost French megastar Dimitri Payer in the January transfer window in real life (and in the Football Manager 2017 winter update), West Ham are lacking a star with a driving force for goals, in set pieces and for chance creation. Lanzini is the perfect candidate to fill his boots. He is faster than the Frenchman, perhaps due to his youth (he is 6 years younger than Payet) but he has the similar abilities to Payet and must be included in the squad as a worthy replacement.

62.png

72.png

Moving to the right of Lanzini, we are overcome by players on the right flank. Snodgrass, Antonio, Feghouli and Töre are all very similar players battling for a place on the right-hand side. Feghouli and Töre are both wingers who can play on the right of midfield or slightly higher on the right of attacking midfield. Whilst we want to be a team with attacking intent, it is important for players to be able to track back and defend, especially against bigger teams. Feghouli is significantly better at this than Töre, and with Snodgrass and Antonio, it might be best to terminate Töre’s loan to free up the 27.5k he takes from the wage bill.

82.png

Snodgrass and Antonio are both possible first team players, however there is a clear difference in how they play. Snodgrass is a natural inside forward, and is a lot more technical in comparison to Antonio. Antonio has great physical stats in comparison to Snodgrass and is naturally a wide Target Man. Both are great players but both could be used in very different ways. Immediately what springs to mind is the recent Champions League Juventus v Barcelona game in which Juventus won 3-0. Mandzukic was all over the pitch that night using his strength to win the ball against the physically inferior Barcelona players; winning the ball wide before linking up play to create chances. In games in which we are forced to defend Antonio could be the ideal man to play this role, and man mark specific players before linking up play. I expect Snodgrass to be the ideal first team player, but I expect Antonio to be playing when away to some of the bigger teams.

91.png

Antonio can also do this on the left-hand side of the pitch, meaning he’s a great option to play this role if I want to keep Snodgrass on the pitch as the same time. This is an ideal solution to another glaring problem in this squad. We only have one left sided attacking midfielder in Ayew, and he is currently out for 3 to 4 months with a thigh strain. Without Antonio, this would be a very difficult situation as we would have no one who is able to naturally cover this side. I could spend the money to bring in a new left sided player, which I still might do, but it’s not as much of a pressing matter with the flexibility of Antonio.
Another problem area is up top. 3 strikers with the ability they all possess is not to be dismissed. However, with Sakho out for 3 to 4 months with a damaged spine and Carroll out for 3 to 5 months with a damaged kneecap, we are relying on the 22 year old Calleri to bang in the goals himself. An experienced striker might be the ideal short term solution to provide some competition for Calleri and to cover if we are short on goals.

Transfers

Transfers Out

None.

After offering out Darren Randolph, no offers were made for the goalkeeper and he teeters on the edge of the senior squad as a backup to the backup Adrian. A £12m offer plus bonuses was made by PSG for the services of Winston Reid, but following intense discussions involving the fee raising to £25m plus bonuses they quickly took their money and ran, to spend another day. I did consider the termination of Töre’s loan, but he offers a dangerous option in the team and only takes up 2.5% of the total wage bill. I may still consider terminating it in the future, but for now I’ll keep him in the squad.

Transfers In

We have two players in so far in the transfer window, totalling £12.5m. Coming in for £8m, a very decent goalkeeper in the form of Tomas Vaclik from FC Basel. There were a number of keepers I wanted to bring in, including Begovic, Butland and Pickford. However, in the end their transfer fees proved too much and I settled on the lesser known Vaclik. He was technically and mentally a better keeper than Adrian with better handling abilities, who was also more adept to rushing out. His composure and concentration are also better than that of the Spaniard, and with the same strength and stamina attributes I would rank him as the slightly better keeper and the new first choice we need.

101.png

My second signing saw Charlie Taylor join the squad from Leeds United. At £4.5m, he was a great price to play as backup to Cresswell, and even had the potential to overtake his fellow Englishman as the first team starter. Again, there were a number of options, but after scouting I settled on either Taylor or the German left back Marcel Halstenberg. Whilst I could have gone for much better options, such as Kolasinac or Toljan, I only had around £5m to spend and a backup left back was a priority in terms of transfers. When first considering the two left backs, Halstenberg appeared to be slightly better upon comparison.

121.png

He had much better stats all around, but for myself I believed he suited the role of a winger more than left back.

112.png

The radar graphs helped me make up my mind, confirming to me Charlie was the much more defensive option, skills which I believe suit the West Ham United team much better given their current situation.

Looking Ahead

I’m happy with the window so far, but I would be more than willing to accept bids for players should they come in, provided I can get similar players in at cheaper prices for replacement. In the next part of the series I will provide some tactical ideas for the squad and play our first couple of Europa League games as we look to find the right tactics for our first game against Burnley in the Premier League. I hope you’ll join me then, and look forward to hearing any advice you might have.

Davie Magill