Matt is back with his next update on how preseason at Almeria has gone. This is his 4th post already on the save with lots more to come. If you need to catch up the previous posts are here
As we all know, the first preseason of a new save can often take as long to complete as a whole season. This is definitely the case for me with UD Almeria. Preseason number 1 can make or break your save. In this article we’ll look at:
- Building a backroom
- My approach to preseason training
- Setting up preseason friendlies
- Analysing the stats
- Into the season
BUILDING A BACKROOM
My first, and favourite, task when taking over a team in Football Manager is ensuring the staff are in order. When Turki Al-Sheikh took over the club he wanted to create a team with an identity. Therefore, it’s important to me that everyone in the staff buys into the tactical style and philosophy. The main person to start with is the Director of Football. We already had someone in the role but they lacked the qualities I’m looking for so the contract was swiftly terminated. The man I’ve bought in not only has the 5-2-1-2 as his preferred formation but also knows the Spanish leagues well. He possesses the skills to identify talented players and the tactical knowledge to ensure they fit our system. He also has good negotiating skills which will be needed, as he’ll be the one getting deals done. Previously a talented player and coach at Malaga, it’s his first time as a Director of Football. Plus, he once grabbed Messi by the throat and threw him to the ground…
Welcome to Almeria, Welington. At Chief Scout I’ve picked up Scott McLachlan who held the same role at Chelsea from 2011 until this year. I also think it’s important to have coaches who know the main formation inside out. Hence, I’ve chosen coaches who have the 3-4-1-2, or slight variant as their preferred formation and have good tactical awareness.
I have three aims for this preseason:
1 – Get the tactical familiarity as high as possible.
2 – Try to ensure the first team squad is match fit.
3 – Form relationships between players.
At the end of week 1 bootcamp, where we mainly worked on overall fitness level, the tactical familiarity looked like this:
I then tailored the training schedules to help increase each area of the familiarity.
Week 2 – Fitness and Defence (Marking)
Week 3 – Defence and Wide Play (Width)
Week 4 – Attack and Pressing (Passing Style and Trigger Press)
Week 5 – Pressing and Tactical (Tempo and Mentality)
Week 6 – Standard training schedule.
At the end of this preseason schedule the tactical familiarity looks like this:
Whilst there’s still some work to do, I’m happy with the overall results. It shouldn’t take us long to get everything to maximum. I’m concerned at how low Position/Role/Duty is, given we’ve mostly played the exact same roles throughout preseason. The only tweaks being playing around with switching Wing Backs from attacking to support and a Defensive Midfielder to Ball Winning Midfielder.
When planning my preseason games I made the decision to play strong opposition. Obviously, I know a potential downside of this is running the risk of morale not being as high entering the season without some minnows to give a 9-0 drubbing to. However, I chose this route to achieve two objectives:
- To allow me to consistently analyse my tactics. Something which doesn’t bear much weight when playing weaker teams.
- To enable me to dive into the data with an aim of picking by best starting 11 when the season starts.
One of the main problems I’m facing is that I don’t really know my strongest line up. This was amplified when the “first team” lost to the back-ups 1-3 in the intrasquad friendly. Having numerous games against opponents deemed to be at a similar level to ourselves would give a true reflection of who’s delivering the goods and who might not be cut out for the level or the style of football I want us to play. All I need to do is try to split the game time as equally as possible between the two main options for each position. With this in mind I arranged 7 friendlies and split the squad into two “almost” equally matched teams. I was careful to try to put potential “partners” in the same team in order to start building their relationship. Afterall, we all like to see those green lines! We started with a convincing 3-0 victory over Greek side Panathinaikos before suffering two defeats to Ligue 1 teams. Lille beat us 1-2 and Rennes then really put us to the sword 1-4. Being unable to cope with the pace of Doku (who scored a hattrick) and Sulemana. Defeats aren’t great but they both regularly play in European competition so I’m not overly concerned. Winning ways returned with a very laboured 1-0 victory over Las Palmas (who looked really strong) and then drew 1-1 with Alaves. We gave new Director of Football, Wellington, a return to his former team Malaga, who were soundly beaten 3-1 before finishing our preseason by hosting another Greek team, Olympiacos. Despite it being an even contest we found ourselves 1-3 down before launching a late comeback to lead 4-3 until a 90th minute equaliser from the Champions of Greece.
As with every preseason we had ups and downs. I tinkered with the passing range and we looked much better playing short passes, but obviously in doing so we lost the threat of being direct and getting defences on their heels. I also switched between Balanced and Positive mentalities. This is something I’ll obviously have to do throughout the season as I plan on being aggressive against lower-half teams.
DIVING INTO THE STATS
LEFT WING BACKS
We had a really interesting battle in this position between Akieme and Centelles. Alex Centelles had the better overall average rating and had the best crossing stats, which is really important for this tactic. However, he was in the same team as Dyego Sousa who is by far our most aerially dominant striker. Centelles also has a higher ratio of tackles and headers won, although he competed for less of each per game. Akieme generated the higher xG and xA and was more aggressive in his defending duties, as well as when pressing. An area of concern is the number of crosses completed per 90, so I need to ensure that’s something to be more aggressive with when the season starts.
RIGHT WING BACKS
The injury to Nieto allowed me to call up Diamant Ramazani from the B-Team. The brother of Largie, he’s pretty good and if you’re playing in the Spanish lower leagues he’d make a damn good winger. There wasn’t much competition though, and Pozo will clearly take the starting slot.
What immediately stands out here is that when compared to his teammates, Kaiky isn’t yet ready for this level of football. So, he’ll be developing off the bench and will be made available for the U19s. Babic is clearly the defensive destroyer, winning possession the most and also proving to be able to keep possession of the ball, completing 89% of his passes. Mendes performed well in the Wide Centre Back role so will be the natural starter. This leaves the left-sided centre back slot to be decided between the youth of Chumi and experience of Ely. The former is better on the ball, which might be beneficial on the wide role, whilst Ely is more physical. Chumi is slightly more mobile, which again is good when covering in wider areas. I think this will have to be decided depending on the opponent.
Swapping from using a Defensive Midfielder to a Ball Winning Midfield, I chose to give playing time to two B-Team players who have potential to contribute to squad depth in that role if needed. However, as they aren’t in contention for a starting position I’ve left them out. Melero played exclusively in the Segundo Volante role and as you can see from his goal output, he did well. Due to the nature of the role, his passing stats aren’t as high but it will be hard to justify not giving him that same role when the season starts. De la Hoz and Samu will split the Ball Winning Midfielder slot, alongside Melero. The younger of the two, Samu is a more creative player and looks to progress the ball, whereas De la Hoz plays a simpler game, holds position more and is our club captain whose presence could be vital. Both are good at winning possession. My long-term vision for Samu is in the Segundo Volante role so I’ll also look to utilise him there when possible.
The two main rivals for the starting position are clearly Robertone and Embarba. As you can see, they’ve given me a nice selection headache. Three of Robertone’s four assists were from open play, and were nice through balls into the area. Just as a classic #10 should do. Embarba, naturally a winger, gives a different dynamic. He looks after the ball well, makes a decent amount of progressive passes and works hard to win back possession. He also runs at defences more. Robertone will get the start but I know I’ve got a good replacement should he struggle in any games.
All the strikers had a good preseason and all bring something different to the side, which is great. The only issue is who will be the starting duo? The main pairing was Baptistao and Toure with Ramazani and Sousa making up the classic “big man – little man” combination. As with Kaiky, it seems that Ramazani isn’t quite ready for this level of football just yet, but his pace off the bench will be great. Which leaves us with three. Baptistao is a scoring and creative threat, although his work rate means he doesn’t join in the pressing game as much as he should. Toure bagged 5 goals and got himself into good positions, based on his xG per shot. Sousa is aerially dominant and gets on the ball the most out of all the strikers. He also won possession most per game. I think I’m going to roll with Toure and Sousa to start the season. With Baptistao and Ramazani on the bench I’ve got good options to change things up.
We now know how the players performed, but what about the team as a whole? Looking at how we scored there’s both good and bad points:
Six of our 12 assists came from outside the area, with 5 being through balls. This is pleasing as it shows we’re looking to get in behind defences as much as possible. As I said earlier, keep them on their heels. It’s also pleasing that 5 goals were scored in the final 15 minutes of games. Hopefully this is a sign of fitness and determination as a squad. Only one goal was a header though. As our main attacking strength is our aerial ability, a much more concerted effort is needed here. This involves the midfielders getting the ball into dangerous areas for our wingbacks, who then need to deliver good crosses. Sousa, Toure and Baptistao then need to take advantage. This is backed up by the assist chart which shows only 1 assist came from a cross. One pleasing stat, though, is that two assists came from opposition mistakes which were as a result of our counter pressing.
INTO THE SEASON
After a tough, but informative, preseason we’re ready to head into the La Liga season. It won’t be easy though. Our first three games are Sevilla (A), Barcelona (H) and Valencia (A). I’d be delighted with 4 points, although that might be optimistic. After that we have a nice run against Girona, Osasuna, Getafe and Elche before a very tough game against Athletic Bilbao. The starting lineup for the visit to Sevilla will be based off preseason performances. Ely’s experience gets him the nod over Chumi whilst I’m rewarding Centelles with a start. Hopefully his crossing stats continue as I’ve put Sousa into the attack instead of Baptistao. In midfield I’ve selected the experience and leadership of De la Hoz in the ball winning midfielder role.
With the line up picked Matt heads into the season, we will see how he gets on next time. give him a follow on Twitter, or join our discord for updates.