Reliving 1999 – Manchester United #4

thechallenge

Things wouldn’t be complete when trying to recreate the 1999 team without forming some sort of ‘Class of 92’. Now the official Class of 92 had been in the first team for around 5 seasons before they won the treble. I want to create a ‘Class of 2016’ using players already at United. I have had a look and there isn’t a great deal to chose from, which is frustrating.

Currently in the Under 18’s there are a few with excellent potential, but I am not sure they will fulfil that potential from what i have seen from an offline save I have been doing. That doesn’t mean to say it wont happen this time round. I am also not sure where a few of them will fit into my 4-4-2 line up so game time in the future might be limited. I will certainly hold onto the below lads and see what happens but i don’t hold much hope.under18s

So i really need to be looking at players slightly older than the above. Young players who could / need to be ready for the first team within a year or 2. I have identified 6 players who could reach those levels, but again, i am not convinced.As you can see half of them are out on loan so not a lot i can really do with them.classof2016

Fosu-Mensah is an interesting one because as you can see below he can play a few positions. However, i don’t see him fulfilling a central midfield role and I don’t think I will be using a CDM. I am really tempted to see if I can retrain him as a right back. There are a lot of attributes already there. I really think he could become a Gary Neville type full back. I also think he is more likely to get game time that way. I will make the relevant training adjustments and get a good tutor on him. fosumensahfosumensah2

Marcus Rashford is hopefully going to become my Andy Cole type player. I am training him as a ‘complete forward’ simply because it covers more attributes. He is also being tutored by Zlatan. Maybe not ideal given Zlatans style of play, but I am sure Rashford will learn a thing or 2. This guy has a lot of time to develop. rashford

With Axel Tuanzebe he will be trained as a bog standard centre back. I don’t think he’ll quite have the attributes of a Stam type so he’ll be more of a Johnson type. I still have reservations as to whether he’ll get anywhere near the top.

My other 3 players are all out on loan so i cant do anything with them. I have high hopes for Januzji to become my next Ryan Giggs. The only attribute he currently lacks is ‘Pace’. The rest are spot on. I am not sure if Borthwick-Jackson and Pereira will amount to much. But i will give them a decent go. I am also not ruling out any new gens i get in the first year or 2. They could easily break into this group if they’re good enough.

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Transfers

I have now finished all my transfer business. I wasn’t overly happy with how it went, but i guess i got most of my targets and shipped out a few of the ones i didn’t require. There were ALOT of signing i never really intended on making, but they were all youngsters for the future. nothing that will trouble the first team for a few years. A lot don’t even fit the 1999 mould, but maybe with a lot of training they might. I also decided to loan out a few of my better younger players

transfersinseason1The main ones coming in are above. I never really mentioned Carcela very much in my analysis of Giggs, but i found my targets difficult to sign so i ended up with Carcela. He’s actually decent so i wasn’t too disappointed.

transfersoutseason1Ideally i would have liked to have sold a lot more than just 3, but so be it. I get decent cash for all 3 so i was happy. Young, Mkhitaryan, Valencia and Lingard i couldn’t seem to shift for anything like the value i was after. It might seem crazy selling Mata, but it was decent value given his age and the fact he doesn’t fit into a 4-4-2

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Tactics

In this years FM most people, me included, feel its harder, tactically. I have found that when starting a save to just keep the tactics down to an absolute minimum to begin with and adjust slowly or per game depending on the opponents so that’s what i intend to do. I am also noticing that PPM’s seem to work better and have a bigger influence on how a player plays than in previous versions of the game. This is also something i will be looking at closely. I am going to start with the below and throw in all my new signings. Hopefully after a proper pre-season they will have settled in nicely. I’m not going to go into a big tactical rant at this stage and explain exactly of United played back in 1999. Below is a basic set up. I cant see too much changing from that. My striker and central midfield roles are likely to see changes as I trial the best combos to get what i want to achieve. I have left nearly all TI’s and PI’s blank for now. Again, these will be adjusted when I see something not working how it needs to.

442tactics

Defensively we need to be solid with all 4 midfielders working hard and helping out.

In the middle we need to somehow dominate in an age where most teams play 3 central midfielders. I need good dribbling from the left and more, quality crossing from the right.

Up front I want to see good combination play, lots of goals, movement and one two’s…

All sounds too easy. I may well play through the whole first season before writing again, but thanks again for reading!!

 

Reliving 1999 – Manchester United #3

thechallenge

Squad review part 2

The Defence – United’s back 4 in 1999 was pretty formidable. I’m not sure it was the best back 4 we have ever had as Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra and Brown with Van Der Saar behind them would probably win that award. But the defence of Stam, Johnson, Neville and Irwin with Schmeichael in net was probably the best around at the time, especially in England. 4 of those 5 players captained United at various times showing they were all good leaders. You didn’t really mess with players like Stam and Schmeichael. Even Neville was partial to an overheated moment or 2.

In the real world today United’s defensive options are not great, but I also feel that a few of them are still overacted in FM, which for this save is a good thing for me.defence2016There are 8 good options above with an additional 2 younger players to bring through over the next few seasons.

I always think if you’re using a back 4 and you have 8 first team defenders it might be tricky keeping all 8 happy. I think 7 first team defenders is good and hopefully 1 or 2 are fairly versatile. That is definitely the case here. In the short term i have to think about my transfer budget. With most of it being spent on midfielders I’m not so sure i will have any left to improve the defence.

gnevilleRight back – When I look at my options for a Gary Neville type player I actually think that Matteo Darmian fits the bill in terms of his FM abilities. Long term, given the fact he is comfortable at both right and left back he may be more of a Phil Neville type for my squad but for now I’m happy enough with what Darmian has to offer. Valencia is the other option, but he does not match Gary Neville one bit, not surprising as he’s been converted from a right winger. Valencia might be someone that is sold if a decent fee can be recouped. I will still need a back up for Darmian though.

irwinLeft Back – Unfortunately i am going to have to go against the grain on this one. Denis Irwin was great at what he did. Mr reliable, steady eddy, dead ball specialist. I have no intention of using anyone else at left back other than Luke Shaw. Shaw is very good on FM and still young. Although with Irwin being a right footed left back there is a certain Matteo Darmian who could also fill the Denis Irwin role. Would i dare sell Luke Shaw? maybe, but not in the first season.

stamCentre Backs – When you look at Jaap Stam apart from getting a bit scared you know he was one of the best centre backs in Europe at the time. Big, Strong, quick, dominant in the air, excellent marker, aggressive. There is one player in the United ranks that does fit this bill perfectly, mainly because he is overacted in FM and that is Phil Jones. Along with my other 2 centre back options both Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling are capable of filling in the role of Ronny Johnson. Most people would forget about Johnson, but he rjohnsonwas the perfect foil for Stam. Ronny was quick, good in the air, kept things simple and covered round for Stam quite well. Despite my real world views on Marcos Rojo he too has a part to play here as his stats do mirror those of Stam, but just not to the level of Jones. Rojo’ left back versatility also appeals to me at this stage.

So the 6 defenders given the defensive job in the first season are Jones, Smalling, Bailly, Rojo, Darmian and Shaw. It means I will be looking to off load 1 of Valencia or Blind. Its a shame for Blind as he is a good player on FM. He’s more of a cultured player and simply doesn’t fit in any of the holes from the United side of 1999. The good thing is that i know i can get a good fee for Blind, which might turn out to be invaluable.

Strikers

yorkecoleThis is where my excitement for this save really kicks in. I think if i was picking a dream Untied 11 my 2 strikers would be Yorke and Cole. You can forget your Cantona’s, Rooney’s and Van Nistelrooy’s because Yorke and Cole were the best ‘partnership’ I have ever seen. Something about them just clicked from day one. Their one two’s, vision, reading of each others game etc was superb. I really want to try and recreate this partnership. When i look at the 4 strikers at United right now I see 2 young guys with great potential and similar attributes to Yorke and Cole. Can I get Martial and Rashford to become the next Yorke and Cole? Maybe, but initially i think they might be a bit too similar. It might transpire that they are both more of an Andy Cole type player. Dwight Yorke was a bit more of an all round type striker. Yorke definitely got more assists. Short term Rooney and Ibrahimovic can easily fulfil the Yorke role, but both are the wrong side of 30, especially Ibra.

However, with the above 4 strikers i am pretty happy with this area for now so not much movement in the transfer market required. Certainly not straight away anyway.

sheringhamsolskjaer

There were a certain other 2 strikers that played a massive part in the treble winning season. They were the goal scorers in the Champions League final. Solskjaer and Sheringham. I do plan to find a modern day Solskjaer and Sheringham. They were very different from Yorke and Cole which really added variety to the United attack. Sheringham tended to drop a bit deeper and what he lacked physically he made up for with this mental and technical assets. Solskjaer was a born goal scorer. Lacked in a lot of areas, but his positioning and finishing were second to none. He was often deployed wide right at times as well.

So to wrap up the strikers I plan to try and partner Marital and Rashford and train their PPM’s to match Yorke and Cole. I have Ibra and Rooney to help out and tutor. Once Ibra and Rooney are of no use anymore i will look to off load them and bring in some strikers to match Sheringham and Solskjaer.strikers

Thanks again for reading. In the next part i will look at the young players who will start to make up my ‘Class of 2016’, I will look at some player development tweaks and finalise all the transfer activity.

Reliving 1999 – Manchester United #2

thechallenge

The Squad

When analysing todays United squad against the 1999 squad I believe the biggest revamp is needed in the midfield so that’s where we’ll begin. You could argue that currently Man Utd have no players at all that match the famous 4 from 1999. This is a worry. I believe i may have to delve into the transfer market for at least 3 new midfielders. This will mean most of the below will eventually be sold, but not all at once. Although a lot will need moving on quickly to generate the funds to spend on other players.midfieldstart.JPGI actually believe the 2 loanee’s Januzji and Pereira actually do have a place in my squad, but that will have to wait until season 2. Although Carrick and Schweinsteiger don’t fit the 1999 mould either I am going to keep hold of them as back ups and tutees. They’re also not worth anything on the market.

So, lets find ourselves a Roy Keane

roykeaneThere really aren’t too many Keane type players around these days. He was the ultimate central midfielder. A tough tackling, strong leader who worked his ass off, took no prisoners, but kept his attacking game very simple. I guess you will have to decide whether you think he was a Box to Box, Ball Winning, or straight forward Central Midfielder in FM terms. He kind of covered all 3 such was his ability and importance to United.

One thing that United do lack in the real world these days is a true leader. Rooney might have experience, but he’s no Roy Keane as a captain. This is also highlighted in FM17 when you weaknessestake charge of United. Its pointed out below that the squad lacks leadership and aggression. 2 things Keane had in abundance. My only concern is if I am looking to bring in a captain like player it could well limit my choices dramatically, but I guess that is the whole point of this save.

So, what to look for in a Roy Keane type player. Most of the attributes are going to be on the mental side. Keane was never technically excellent, but a decent passing stat and an excellent tackling stat is all that is necessary from the technical side. keanesearchI kept most attributes fairly low in general so it gave my a bigger range of players to review myself. This identified a good 15 players. I managed to cut that 15 down to just 5 to review closer and weigh up the pros and cons.keaneshortlistThere is a decent range amongst these 5 options. Price, age and ability overall are all varied, but they all carry most of the Keane characteristics. However there is 1 player on that list who isn’t actually interested in me and I am gutted. Fede has just joined Sevilla in real life. He is still only on a youth contract as well. I cannot believe this guy. His Keane stats are unreal and even his PPM’s match perfectly. I will be buying this guy as soon as the possibility comes up so the future Roy Keane is sorted.fedeSo, from the other 4 options and having reviewed them in detail its either Adrien Silva or Sergio Alvarez for me. In all fairness Silva wins hands down, but this age and more importantly his price tag are giving me second thoughts. Silva is unlikely to improve much at 27. However, with Sergio only 24 there is more chance of slight improvement and with that improvement he’ll be a lot closer to Silva. For a 5th of the price I’m finding it hard not to chose Sergio Alvarez.

There is actually one player I haven’t discussed yet who is already at United. Morgan Schneiderlin. He definitely has plenty of attributes to match Keane. He only really lacks the leadership quality. Its the reason why I definitely only need to buy 1 Keane type player for now. Schneiderlin is actually better than Sergio Alvarez when you compare the 2.scheiderlinsergioalvarezadriensilvaVERDICT: I am going to sign Sergio Alvarez. He isn’t the greatest, but United need leaders and he is certainly that. Along with Schneiderlin I have 2 players who can fit the Keane mould for now. Adrien Silva might just be too expensive plus a further 20% fee is due to his agent. None of these 3 have the PPM’s I am looking for though. As soon as Fede becomes interested in Man United I will be signing him for the future at whatever the price.

So next on the list…

Lets find ourselves a David Beckham

davidbeckham

So the golden boy of a generation. If he was playing at his peak today he would probably be playing as a central midfielder. I believe the main reason he became a right sided midfielder was mainly because of his unbelievable ability to cross the ball. We all lost count the amount of assists he got from that right hand side. He was never quick and relied on hard work and getting good crosses into the box. His passing was also exceptional. He could also run all day. The issue I have is that I may need to buy 2 players like Becks as there is simply know one in the current United squad who matches his abilities. beckhamsearchAfter going through the list i have narrowed it down to these guys. In a crazy world where crossing seems to be a thing of the past I wasn’t really blessed with a great turn out. Just the 4 players to chose from.beckhamshortlistKoke stands out, but this £50 million release clause means I have to look elsewhere. dos Santos is interesting as he is available at a cheap price, but he is a more of a central player. He might be a good back up and I could get him on loan, which would be ideal. The jewel in the crown from this lot is James Ward-Prowse. His stats match Becks perfectly. He even has the free kick and corner skills of Beckham. He might need a bit of training to become a natural on the right, but hopefully that wont take long. He’s not the finished article, but at only 21 he has plenty of time to improve. wardprowse

VERDICT: I will try to sign James Ward-Prowse who should walk into the starting 11. I will also make a loan bid for dos Santos. Although he is available to buy for around £7 million he will only be a back up. The closest thing I already have a the club for David Beckham would have to be Jesse Lingard. This might just save Lingard from being sold straight away. With Ward-Prowse being only 21 it will be tough to find a young Becks. I would realistically be looking at a 19 year old or younger. I will leave that for another time.

Onto the next one…

Time to find us a Ryan Giggs.

giggs

At his peak Giggs was one of the best flying wingers around. His pace, dribbling and skills often bamboozled defenders across Europe. A glittering career laden with silverware. He may have finished his career in a more central role, but I wont be taking that into account.

He was an out and out left footed left winger. The left footed thing might hamper me slightly, but finding a skilful winger shouldn’t be too difficult. I need to figure out if our Giggs hopeful will play as a left sided midfielder or a left sided attacking midfielder. Hopefully most wingers on FM17 are capable of doing a job at both roles. Unfortunately I found that most of the best players with the below stats were not interested in joining Untied at this stage. That left me with a big problem.giggssearchBelow are the guys I am looking at. There isn’t a stand out candidate, but a fair bit to work with. Some might need a positional change which worries me.giggsshortlistShaqiri stands out as the big name signing, but also the costliest and oldest so less likely to improve a lot.  I’m being drawn to Gonzalo Martinez who is ironically the cheapest so much less of a risk. His mental attributes are just a bit low though. Thomas Lemar is also a favourite of mine, but he is naturally a number 10 and I would probably have to break the bank to get him in.

I have to think about what I ready have at the club. Memphis Depay is still overacted on this game and he’s just as good as the players above, but he is right footed. I could try training his weaker foot so he becomes either footed. He might also need re-training as a left sided midfielder. I also have Adnan Januzji returning to the club after season 1. His stats are ideal with just the Pace stat slightly low. I probably wont sell either of these 2 players as i think they have a future on this save. So do I really need to spend big on a left winger?depaylemarshaqirimartinez

VERDICT: I don’t know is the answer. I might have to review the finances before committing to anything on this one. There are a lot of players I need to sell. Should the funds become available then Lemar might be my first choice, but Shaqiri does not require any positional training.

The last one…

Let us find a Paul Scholes or not as the case may be.

scholes

One of the best central midfield players ever and that’s coming from some of the other best midfield players ever Zidane and Xavi. Untied have massively missed Paul Scholes since he retired.

He ran the show with his passing and composure in the middle. He never gave the ball away and in his early years he also scored plenty of goals.

He was more of an advanced playmaker early on and became more of a deep laying playmaker when he started aging.

When i look at the United team on FM17 i actually think there are a few players in the Scholes mould, but maybe not quite as good. There is a certain Paul Pogba who needs to find a space in my team. Pogba is sort of half way between a Keane and Scholes, but I shall be using Pogba in the Scholes role on this save. He even has the PPM’s that you’d expect Scholes to have. As a back up I also have Ander Herrera. And for an up and coming youngster Andreas Pereira also fits the mould. At a push I even think Wayne Rooney could do the job for a season or 2. So, buying a Paul Scholes doesn’t seem the right choice and funds should be spent elsewhere. pogba.JPG

So, with all that accessed it just leaves to show the midfielders that we do not need and will be sold as soon as possible if we can get a decent price. In this business you have to get tough and I need to generate funds so these 4 players from the midfield are for the chop.midstosell

Some might think selling Mata and Mkhitaryan is crazy, but they wont be first choices in my set up, they have a high value on the market and they’re in their late 20’s

I think that will do on organising my midfield for the beginning of the first season. Now it’s time for the wheeling and dealing to get the deals in and out done!

In the next episode I will review the defence and strikers as I don’t envisage them taking quite so long.

Thanks for reading

Reliving 1999 – Man United #1

manutdbadgeSo, who remembers the picture below? I get goose bumps just thinking about this fateful night in Barcelona. Never have I felt so exhausted after a game of football that I had sat and watched. It was a day that history was made and one that no Man Utd fan will ever forget. The 1999 Man Utd side completed the treble by winning the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League in a 10 spell that wrote these players into the history books. And we’re going to recreate these glory years on FM17

celebration99

It was a side built on young players hitting their peaks. A hard working ‘never say die’ attitude and a style that put fear in their opponents before they even crossed the white line.

I’m not going to bore you with anymore history, you know the story and you know where we’re going with this, especially if you read any of my Ajax of 1995 save.

3trophiesWhen I look at the players who played in that team there are so many who had clear identities as individuals and together as a team. Beckham was a crosser, Giggs was a dribbler, Scholes was a passing, Keane was a nutter. You get the idea. Tactically they all had clear jobs and it all blended together perfectly. Even the shape of the side, 4-4-2! It doesn’t get more basic than that, or does it? But Man Utd played it brilliantly

A few reasons for choosing Man Utd

  • I am a United fan and I never did a Man Utd save in FM16
  • I have never really done a save using a flat 4-4-2 so it will be something new for me. Some say a 4-4-2 doesn’t work in the modern game. Leicester City showed last season that’s not true, but that was in real life. Can it work in FM17?
  • There is history, lots of challenges and targets for me to emulate and achieve in this save

Overall Targets

  • To win the treble.
  • Have a crop of young players in the squad much like the class of 1992
  • Play a 4-4-2 formation.
  • Use / bring in / develop players to mimic those of the 1999 team.
  • Play a style of football matching the 1999 team

Mini Challenges

  • Of their era, Keane and Scholes were arguably the best midfield partnership in Europe. Finding the right balance in midfield in my team is crucial. Some might argue that Keane was a Box to Box midfielder. Some would say a Ball Winning Midfielder. Scholes probably finished his career as a Deep Lying Playmaker, but was he more of an Advanced Playmaker in 1999? Its going to be a challenge to get this area of the team correct, especially using the updated FM17 match engine.yorkecole
  • Strike partnerships are a thing of the past these days, but for me, Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke were the best strike ‘partnership’ I have ever seen. They hit it off straight away. They tore apart defences with their one-two’s and telepathic reading of each others game. Creating this sort of partnership on FM17 will be difficult. Getting the right player roles etc is going to be a big challenge.
  • You have to say that Man Utd of 1999 mainly attacked through their wide players Giggs and Beckham. This is something i shall have to think about using all the time if i am to re-create that style of attacking play.
  • Shipping out really good players from the present day squad is going to be a must no matter how hard it might be. It will certainly generate much needed cash to then be spent on players needed to match the 1999 side. When you look at the current squad there are certainly a fair few players who simply do not fit into a 4-4-2 formation.
  • I don’t want to be using a massive squad. United largely used a squad of about 17/18 players with the odd youth prospect making a sub appearance if there were injuries. I would like to stick to a similar mould, but im not sure that will work on FM, especially if I’m chasing 3 trophies

Initial Tactics

442tacticsIts not too difficult this one. United were 4-4-2 through and through. However, selecting the correct Player Roles within FM17 is where things get a little more tricky. There is also the individual instructions to sort out for how each player played.

Centre backs – There was nothing unusual about Jaap Stam or Ronnie Johnsen. They were both very good at the defending arts, especially Stam. Both were very quick, strong and dominant in the air. Jaap was much more aggressive and a brilliant marker. They kept their distribution game simple so there will be no need to use a ‘Ball Playing Defender’. I think its safe to say 2 ‘Central defenders – Defend’ will be how the CB’s are set up.

Full Backs – I wouldn’t really say that Denis Irwin and Gary Neville were ‘modern day’ wing backs. Yes, they got forward now and then, but they would basically stick to the touchline and put in the odd cross when the occasion suited. But defensively they were both very solid and did the absolute best with the abilities they had. I think setting them as ‘Full Backs’ is a no brainer, but its whether to set them as Defend, Support or Attack which might need a bit of experimenting.

Centre Midfield – Im open on this as i think i will need a bit of trial and error to correctly establish the roles needed for Keane and Scholes to play how they played in 1999. Keane was almost a box to box engine, but it was only on rare occasions he popped up in the oppositions box. He was maybe more of an all round ‘Centre Midfielder’ set as either Defend or Support. He kept the came very simple. It was Paul Scholes who had all the creativity. Scholes certainly popped up in the opposing penalty box, a lot. Does that make him a box to box midfielder? or a Central Midfielder set to Attack? But would those roles lose his creative passing talents? Would setting him to an Advanced Playmaker leave too much of a hole in our midfield? I think this is where the individual roles will come into play.

Wingers – I think this should be relatively easy. Ryan Giggs was an out and out Winger – Attack and that’s what we’ll go with. Although he was all left foot and United don’t have that sort of winger currently in their squad. On the other side David Beckham was the crossing king. He was never quick, didn’t need to be. His crosses were so good he didn’t need to go passed his man. I would also say he might need setting as a ‘Wide Midfielder’ rather than a winger. It will be trial and error again as a ‘Winger – Support’ might actually be the right option for Becks.

Strikers – This is where i really want things to work out. A big part of me doing this save is to see if i can get a strike partnership like Yorke and Cole. I have a few ideas already, but i haven’t got a clue how to set up their roles on FM, not yet anyway. You might say Yorke would drop slightly deeper and Cole would play on the shoulder. This is true, but using a ‘Poacher’ and a ‘Deep lying Forward’ might not be the answer.

I don’t just want to completely focus on the starting 11 of the 1999 side. There was important back up players like Phil Neville who could play either Full Back role. Nicky Butt who was definitely a ‘Ball Winning Midfielder’ and the front 2 of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham. Both very different from Yorke and Cole, but all 4 were great at partnering each other.

So the scene has been set for where I’m going with this save and what I want to achieve. I now need to go and analyse the current United squad. Ideally i am pretty sure there would be a lot of changes, but i have to be careful not to make too many all at once with regard to ‘Team Cohesion’

In the next post I will give a squad run down of who i want to keep and who i don’t and what players i have targeted to bring in.

Thanks for reading

#17 The Golden Boys of 1995 – Ajax

challengepic

The Conclusion

So, I did it. I won the Champions League with Ajax within 6 seasons. Do-able for most avid FM16 players, but its not quite so easy when trying to follow the challenges I had set myself (above)

champleaguewin1

After season 4 seasons I simply never saw me getting close to completing this challenge. I felt like I was way off, but then things seemed to click into place and victories in Europe followed.

I’m still trying to decide whether tactical tweaking finally found the right combination or was it down to the superior players I was using by season 6. Plus those good young Ajax players at the start were now in their mid 20’s and much better.

riederwald6vandebeek6klaassen6nunnely6zivkovic6

Ajax begin the game with some excellent young players. Having really got involved in watching Ajax in real life recently I can say that a lot of these young players are well over rated on FM16 and I would be surprised if any of them went on to win the Champions League with a big European club. I think FM still remembers the Ajax glory days of 1995. Its actually been many years since Ajax produced a ‘world class’ talent.

There was one other element that crept in during the Champions League winning season. I had 5 excellent newgens, 4 of which played a big part in season 6. They were added to my club in the first couple of season through the youth intake. They were steadily coached and brought through playing this risky 3-4-3 formation. Maybe that had something to do with it. I’m also not ignoring the slices of luck I had in the knockout stages of my Champions League win.

haaren6-1oderlend6dekker6-1houwaart6veerboer6

At the end of the day, who cares how it was won. Bottom line is that it was won. I genuinely thought it was going to take me more like 10 seasons to get there so I tend to think 6 seasons is pretty good going.

Tactics

For 4 and a half seasons I was constantly tweaking my tactical set up whilst sticking to a 3-4-3 set up. Constantly changing team and player instructions to match what I thought matched the 1995 Ajax side.

formation6But in the end I basically reverted back to my very first tactical approach with a few role differences and a massive change in the player and team instructions. I stripped them back going from around 10 or 11 team instructions down to 3 or 4. Rather than going through every team instruction and clicking on what matched the 1995 Ajax team the most I simply chose the 3 or 4 that identified with the 1995 team the most and left the rest open. It seemed to click.

 

I guess it opened my eyes a bit that team instructions should possibly be used sparingly. Why restrict your team to so my specifics when sometimes it’s better to let the players decide what to do. Maybe that also confuses your opponents. If you’re constantly doing the same thing i am pretty sure the IA picks up on it and realises how to stop it.

teaminstrucions6

I think I can safely say I can put a big fat tick against the ‘use a 3 at the back system like 1995.’ I’m pretty sure nearly every game I played I used only 3 defenders and 1 striker. The shape of the midfield did change many times though. Other set ups i tried…

It made me think about this: ‘within reason, do ALL formations work in FM16, if the club is given time to adjust?’ Is it possible to achieve success using any formation if you’re given time. I almost felt like the club just got used to playing with only 3 defenders. Maybe its evidence that a ‘philosophy’ approach can work, again, over time. Mistakes that were happening in the early seasons just didn’t seem to occur so much in the latter years.

Being able to adjust to a risky formation in an ‘easier’ league does help. Your morale stays high which helps with success and improving players overall. I doubt very much a set up like this would work with say Southampton in the Premier League.

Squad

With the challenge of winning being the priority I still had to revamp the squad to contain young players brought through the academy who were predominantly Dutch. This wasn’t something that could be done all at once, it took time. However, I was genuinely pleased how I reshaped the squad, selling some good players in the process and bring through newgens as well as buying cheaper, younger Dutch players. And we still managed progress each season.

I was lucky in the first few seasons with newgens, we recruited some crackers. However in the latter seasons that didn’t really happen. There was 1 or 2 seasons of complete write off’s which was disappointing. When you have the club structure and all the top facilities and staff in place you’d expect to always have at least 1 or 2 players with real promise whatever club you’re managing on this game. They might not always kick on but to have a few years of nothing more than a few 3* potential newgen wasn’t great.

My final squad contained 15 players brought through the Ajax academy, 5 were newgens. 21 players were Dutch with only 5 foreigners. And at the last count 8 of the squad were aged 21 or under. Squad renovation complete.

squad6

Champions League

Not too much to comment on except the obvious. We didn’t even qualify in season 2 and didn’t get out the groups until season 5. So to win it in season 6 was a surprise. Many of the reasons were mentioned above in the conclusion. I feel like I did an FC Porto and won the Champions League from know where. I didn’t have the best team and probably never deserved it, but it happened. A measure of where the team is would be more accurate when seeing how we fair in the Champions League over the next few seasons. This might have just been a 1 off. Much like the 1995 team. Although they were also beaten finalists in 1996.

champleaguefinal

League

This was never a priority. However, when i didn’t even win the league in season 1 I was worried. After that there was 5 straight league title wins. If you studied the leagues I won you’d see that i didn’t really pull up any trees. There was plenty of draws and defeats along the way. Although, I always finished seasons badly due to having wrapped the title up early and resting all the best players for the more important European games. Im certain having 10 players who were not match fit took its toll on my league performances. I felt the lack of competition for the title always made things easier.

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There is one challenge which was far from being complete. I never went a whole season unbeaten. I never even came close. The 1995 team did exactly that. A whole league season unbeaten as well as winning the cup and Champions League. Probably a bit too much to ask on this game.

Finances

This wasn’t really an area i needed to focus on. It wasn’t about making big money signing for even selling players for big money (although a few were just too big to turn down) I was more about making sure I had enough cash to invest in the backroom staff and making sure the already excellent facilities at Ajax were kept to the highest of standards.

finances

One main reason for such a healthy bank balance was our activity in the transfer market. Every season our income through transfers significantly out weighted our expenditure. Relucantly selling El Ghazia and Bazoer for a combined fee of about £110 million helped hugely. We only make 1 big money signing and that was Kristoffer Ajer who was £25 million.

Moving Forward

For obvious reasons I really enjoyed the final few seasons of this save. It was a struggle at times, but I felt like I achieved what I wanted to. With FM17 just round the corner there is no point starting a new save so I have decided I am going to keep this save going. There is still that niggling challenge of going unbeaten for a whole league campaign to achieve, but that’s probably not going to be my main focus.

In my hours of research I did for this save my time did wander occasionally to where Louis Van Gaal actually got his inspiration from for his tactical set up in 1995. Well, the answer is simple, Johan Cruyff, it was a Dutch thing, ‘Total Football,’ apparently.

Cruyff had been using a very similar set up at Barcelona long before Van Gaal’s Ajax. I have looked at starting a save where I recreate the Barcelona under Cruyff 1988 – 1996, but given its similarity to Ajax of 1995 i didn’t see the point in starting something new. So, instead, I am going to turn my Ajax side into the Barcelona side of the late 80’s / early 90’s under Johan Cruyff. This side contained players like: Ronald Koemen, Michael Laudrup, Hristo Stoichkov and an 18 year old Pep Guardiola. Watch this space…

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And thanks again for reading.

#16 The Golden Boys of 1995 – Ajax

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The last post was left just as we were heading into the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final with a 3-1 lead over Benfica from the first leg.

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It’s clear to see that we dominated the first leg and deserved our lead. Everyone chipped in with good performances, but Lincoln stole the show. Even with our 3 at the back system we held Benfica to only 5 shots and 2 on target. That was pretty impressive and pleasing.

The second leg didn’t quite go our way as you can see below, but we went through 4-3 on aggregate. Away legs are always a lot tougher in the Champions League and in some ways I think this reflects good realism. Statistically we battered Benfica. 30 shots away from home and it was the Benfica goalkeeper who picked up Man of the Match.

benfica2

With the progression to the semi-finals it marked positive progress within the save. It really did get me thinking about the tactics and the reasons for our Champions League improvement. Were the players just better? Was it that stripping back the instructions had a big impact? Or had we just got a few lucky draws out the hat?

The other 3 teams in the semis were Arsenal, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. I wasn’t confident of beating any of them teams. I thought reaching the semi’s was a step in the right direction. As it was I drew Arsenal. When looking at the 3 other semi finalists i just wanted to avoid Real Madrid who had an awesome team.

I was quite lucky towards the end of the season that i didn’t have any injuries. However, I do put this down to squad rotation. I risked know one for the pointless league games. My league form took a dramatic nose dive towards the end of the season due to always using 11 players that were not match fit. It was a good job the league was already wrapped up.

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I had no idea how the first leg of the Champions League semi would go. It was at home so I knew I had to get a positive result. Just something to carry forward into the second leg would have been enough. Well, realistically I couldn’t really have ask for much more than a 3-0 win, against Arsenal. I was shocked. Was it a bit lucky? Yes, I think it might have been. The first goal was a penalty, our second goal was from a corner. Arsenal were then reduced to 10 men with about 12 minutes left. For me though, the key goal came in stoppage time as Lincoln made it 3-0. I decided not to defend the last few minutes. Arsenal sacrificed an attacking player in favour of sticking with 4 defenders. Strangely they chose a young, Romanian, attacking centre midfielder to fill in for Bellerin at right back who had been sent off. Arsenal had already used all 3 subs. It cost Arsenal as Lincoln snuck in behind him to fire in the 3rd goal.

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It was a fairly even game overall so to come out 3-0 winners was excellent. We got the rub of the green, but I could now be a little more confident heading into the away leg.

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So, although I had a 3-0 lead behind me I still wasn’t sure whether to keep things exactly the same or go a bit more defensive. I decided to keep the formation the same, but I did switch 2 of my middle midfielders to ‘defensive’. We got another bit of luck as Arsenal had another man sent off after just 8 minutes. This could only hinder their target of having to score 3 times without conceding. The red card didn’t stop them taking the lead though. It stayed 1-0 for a while until well into the second half where they made it 2-0 with 17 minutes left. I was bricking it now. I still had faith though and we saw the game through. We lost 2-0. Arsenal battered us with 10 men, but it was my Ajax team that progressed through to the final with a 3-2 aggregate win. I already felt like a winner no matter what happened in the final.

I fully expected to be playing Real Madrid, their side was quality. But to my shock they were knocked out with Bayern Munich progressing.

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One thing that really bugged me was the gap I had between the second leg and the Champions League final. League games were finished. 12th May was the second leg and the final was on 5th June. I couldn’t go 3 and a half weeks without a game so I organised a friendly against the Ajax B team 1 week before the final. I’m not sure what the reason for the big gap was. Bayern Munich’s last game prior to the final was 22nd May.

Anyway on the plus side my whole squad was fit. I reviewed Bayern Munich and I was please to see them setting up with NO wingers. With my narrow defence I am still vulnerable to wide wingers, but Bayern didn’t have any so I didn’t need to worry about them. I also decided to try and focus my attacks against their number 22 who is a young player and not that good.

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We took the lead in the 18th minute with a cracking goal from the edge of the box from Houwaart. It was a direct ball over the top. A pass that probably would not have occurred if I still had ‘shorter passing’ switched on. Luck went our way again just before half time as we made it 2-0 from the penalty spot. Now I was starting to get excited. Did I go defensive in the second half though? 1 more goal and the game was over so I kept things the same. Muller pulled a goal back with 30 minutes remaining, it was squeaky bum time. Bayern were reduced to 10 men towards the end when our old player Kenny Tete saw red. We held on for a 2-1 win and we’d won the Champions League. I was delighted to lift the trophy.

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I couldn’t believe the turn around as I did not see it coming 2 seasons ago. To complete this task in 6 seasons was a lot quicker than I thought. I do feel I was extremely lucky though. Our opponents saw red in both quarter finals, 1 semi final and the final. We also had a few penalties in their as well.

Where this saves goes from here I’m not sure. I feel like I still want to continue. I will end this post, but I will be back with another post concluding this save and where to go from here.

Thanks for reading.

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#15 The Golden Boys of 1995 – Ajax

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So, we’ve skipped on well over a season and a half from my last post. I didn’t want to keep posting the same stuff just from a different season (I’ve also been away for 2 weeks)

Season 5 went like this, we won the league, with a points tally again in the 70’s no surprise. We were knocked out of the Champions League in the quarter finals, it was progress, i guess. We also won the KNVB Beker cup. It was more silverware to an ever extending trophy cabinet, but the Champions League still remained a long way off.

On the Squad side of things there have been big changes over the last 3 transfer windows. At the start of season 5 I had to make a big decision on Richardley Bazoer. A big favourite, but he was entering the final year of his contract and wouldn’t sign another one. I could risk losing him for nothing or cash in. Given that making money isn’t really a concern on this save i wasn’t sure. However, given the huge fee i was able to prise out of AC Milan i had to accept. I finally sold Milik, my top scorer. Don’t know why i just got bored of him. I wanted to bring through my young dutch, home grown strikers so Milik made way. I also reluctantly let Cerny go. His guy develops really well, but he wasn’t first choice left winger and he wasn’t Dutch either. It was a low fee i got for him, but he hasn’t been missed.

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Players that came in were interesting. 5 centre backs and a young Goal Keeper. Initially it was only 4 centre backs. 3 were also Dutch. Then in the January Marlon became available for cheap and i thought it was a good investment. I could easily move him on for more than £1.5 Million and make a profit. Klein-Holte was Dutch and young and had been on my ‘watch-list’ for a few years. He’s now 24 though. Similar story with Struijk. Pics below show how they’ve come along since being at the club for well over a season. They’re also still in and out of the side. I also felt i had the 2 best young Dutch centre backs going in my squad.

When pre-season of Season 6 began my squad was overloaded and i felt i needed a clear out. Some of the newgens i gained in the early years of this save were now becoming good enough to be in the senior squad and even play games. In line with the ‘rules’ of this save it was time to move on some players who i didn’t really want to sell, but did anyway.

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2 seasons ago i jizzed all over the signings of Wilshere and Strootman. Well, both have now departed. Strootman kept getting injured, no surprise and his Physical Attributes plummeted. Wilshere had been excellent for 2 season, but i couldn’t resist £21 million for a 28 year old non Dutch player.

A few failed youngsters also left as you can see from the list. I also wanted to mention that all these players have clauses in their transfer deals so the money i have received for them could still increase.

My 2 excellent right wingers in recent seasons had been El Ghazi and Cristiano. You’ll notice both have left. I decided to sell Cristiano solely because i wanted to bring through Nunnley a bit more who was getting frustrated. Nunnley is Dutch and had come through the Ajax academy. So, in line with the ‘rules’ that’s what i did. After that bids were coming in for El Ghazi who i had no intention of selling. Then i realised i could rake in a stupid amount of money. The above pic says £54 million which is huge. You also need to be aware of the below pic. There is still another £11 million due to come in very soon on this deal taking it to £65 million. On top of that i get 50% of his next transfer. This could take the deal up to around £75 million. No way do his stats warrant that sort of fee. It’s possibly the most i have ever sold a player for on FM. This is why i couldn’t resist this deal.

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Nunnley had now gone from 3rd / 4th choice to first choice right winger. I had to also go into the transfer market to buy another right winger. I kept it young and kept it Dutch. Van Bergen came in. he was probably the next best young dutch right winger after Nunnley. Both have done a good job so far in Season 6.

Moving onto Antonucci. This guy develops well. In the game time he had been given he’s also performed well. Davy Klaassen had the CAM role nailed down, but back up was usually either Antonucci or Nouri. Coming onto the scene was a newgen who i decided to promote. So one of Antonucci or Nouri would have to go. Stats wise it was real close, but Antonucci was Italian so he went. Something that really annoyed me was soon after this Nouri decided to play for Morocco meaning he is technically no longer Dutch. His day are now numbered.

I did spend a fair bit of cash for the first time at the start of season 6. I couldn’t resist Bruno Martins Indi. Dutch, good and cheap, plus he was left footed. With the sales of Bazoer in the previous year, Wilshere and Strootman in this year we were light in central midfield. We still had Van Der Beek, Cook and Riedewald, but that wasn’t enough. A newgen called Van Haaren was promoted. I signed a more than adequate back up in Van Den Boomen and i spent a lot of money on the well known Kristoffer Ajer. Even now he is still only 22. I know it doesn’t fit the philosophy, but when he becomes available to don’t turn it down, especially as i had a lot of money in the transfer kitty.

 

squad6Season 6 Squad would look like this. A squad size of 25 with 19 Dutch players. I might also be looking to sell Marlon due to poor performances in season 6 and possibly Nouri. That would reduce the non dutch players down to just 3. Also, 12 of them have come through the Ajax academy. 13 if you included Ciliessen, but he was actually brought by Ajax at a very young age in real life. There is also another 2/3 players sat in the ‘B’ team who could be ready for promotion. I am pretty happy with how his is progressing.

 

 

Tactically a strange things has happened in Season 6. I have almost gone back to the very first tactical set up i had in season 1. I have completely stripped back the team and player instructions.

Season 1 tactics                                                Season 6 tactics

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I’ve literally been all round the houses with different versions of this ‘3 at the back’ tactic and come back round full circle. I had closer looks again at certain players from 1995. I decided to push the ‘sweeper’ up again into a line of 3 centre backs. Danny Blind was basically nothing fancy. He didn’t really dictate play. He kept things very simple in possession. His job – Cover round for your other centre backs and win the ball if they don’t. Give a simple pass to the midfielders. That promoted a change to a ‘Limited defender’ and the ‘Cover’ role. I wont run through all the positions, but the other note worthy change is at left wing. Marc Overmars came inside his full back just as much as he went on the outside so I went back to an ‘Inside Forward’ on the left. Both wingers have been told to stay wide.

Regarding Team Instructions i usually had about 10 or 11 things going on. I took them all off, went back to basics and I now just have 2 team instructions. ‘Play Wider’ and ‘Retain Possession’ – That is it. I just wanted my players to go out and make their own decisions.

I’m currently now at the business end of Season 6 which is what has prompted me to do this update. The League Title is in the bag again with 4 games still to go. I have even lost 7 league games which is a lot. Most have occurred when i have played my ‘back up 11’ and none of the players had been match fit. Nonetheless the real interesting part lies with…

The Champions League – season 6

We are just about to play the second leg of the Quarter finals and take a 3-1 lead into the second leg against Benfica. Qualification here would see us progress into the semi’s, further than i had taken Ajax in this save. With the league done and dusted i can concentrate solely on progressing in Europe, the main aim of this save.

The group was tricky, but one i had to be happy with and confident of qualifying

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However, i got very lucky in the knockout stage is drawing Lyon. A win in both legs was comfortable progression.

Another lucky draw as i got the easiest team left in Benfica. All the other 6 teams are your Madrids, Barca’s and Munich’s. We cant look too far ahead. Despite a 3-1 lead that can easily be over turned in the away second leg. I keep thinking ‘should i play safe?’ change up tactically just to see use through. I don’t think so. I’m going to stick to the tactics that have got us here. Maybe just change the odd role here or there.

More to follow soon, thanks for reading.