After introducing the first team squad and completing the preseason fixtures it’s finally time to start the La Liga season. In this article we’ll cover:
- The task ahead
- The first two months
- Data deep dive
- The battle for Zone 5
- Tactic tweaks
THE TASK AHEAD
When looking at the upcoming season, I was surprised to see we were predicted to finish in 10th place. Especially as we’ve only just come up to La Liga and the other newly promoted teams are expected to finish in and around the relegation spots. I also know that this squad has nowhere near the quality of the likes of Osasuna, Getafe, and Celta Vigo (because they were on my short list for this save so, naturally, I checked them out). But I’m not one to shirk a challenge, in fact, I’m quite excited by the pressure this 10th-placed finish brings.
I was surprised for a second time when I saw the Wage Expenditure Table for La Liga which shows we’re in dead last and have EIGHTY THOUSAND POUNDS A WEEK less than Osasuna who are in 19th. Imagine the kind of player I could get for £80k a week! For context, my highest earner, goalkeeper Fernando Pacheco, is on £16,750 per week. The season might be a little harder than I anticipated.
Luckily, I’ve got a bit of wage budget spare so I can at least try to get good players tied down to longer contracts and look to re-sign the players on expiring contracts if they deserve it. Of the latter, we have club captain De la Hoz, backup goalkeeper Fernando, and attacking midfielder Portillo. None are in my long-term plans but all bring valuable experience to a young squad. I’ll monitor their performances and playing time through the first few months.
ONTO THE SEASON
We start off our La Liga season with three tough games. Up first was a trip to Sevilla, who dominated much of the game and finally took the lead through Rafa Mir on 70 minutes. We hit the post in injury time, but really we didn’t deserve anything from the game. Our first home game of the season was against Barcelona, who as expected dominated possession and took an early lead through Dembele. Their lead was doubled when a defensive error by Babic let Lewandowski through 1v1. Our promising striker El Bilal Toure left the game with an injury and was replaced by young Brazilian Lazaro who wasted no time dispossessing Alonso and laying the ball to right wingback Pozo who squared the ball to Embarba who clawed one back.
It was 1-2 and we were back in the game! We were even more “back in the game” when Kessie was sent off for a second yellow card on 78 minutes. Spurred on by the home crowd, left wingback Akieme dispossessed Kounde and switched it to Pozo on the right. For the second time in the game, Pozo delivered a pinpoint cross to the feet of Lazara who hammered it past Ter Stegen.
We’d rescued a 2-2 draw against the mighty Barcelona. However, spirits were dampened when we found out Toure would miss 5-6 weeks with a torn groin muscle. Up next was Valencia. Wanting to reward good performances, I gave starts to Lazaro, Embarba and De la Hoz. All three came on as subs against Barcelona and played really well.
It was to be another game where we struggled for possession, but when we got the ball we played some nice football. We even took the lead on 52 minutes when some nice inter-play between De la Hoz and Embarba set up Samu who scored from a tight angle. The lead lasted just 4 minutes when Valencia equalised through Diakhaby. Things then went badly. De la Hoz picked up a knock so I bought a B-Team youngster, Svidersky, for his debut. Within 3 minutes he was sent off for a horror challenge. I thought we’d managed to hang on, thanks to some dogged defending, but in the 94th minute a Cavani free kick hit the bar and cruelly fell to the feet of Iliax to give the home side a very late victory. With just 1 point from a tough open trio of fixtures, I felt optimistic with the upcoming mid-week game versus Cadiz.
Tactical change #1 – Embarba was switched from an Attacking Midfielder on Support to a Shadow Striker and Baptistao was given his first start of the season upfront. I feel we’ve been too passive going forward with no one breaking past the strikers.
After a glut of bizarre, unforced errors early on we settled down and began to dominate the game. Against the run of play, Cadiz took the lead on 25 minutes. Within 7 minutes they were 3-0 up. And I still don’t know how. At halftime, with us three goals down thanks to a complete collapse, it’s fair to say things got a little bit heated in the dressing room. We’d dominated possession and had the same amount of shots for a similar xG.
I thought the second half might go our way when Pacheco saved a penalty but it wasn’t to be. We lost 0-5. Five nil to Cadiz. Possibly my worst result in recent FM years. No disrespect to Cadiz. Looking at their shots, though, it’s not a surprise they scored 5.
To make an awful situation worse, Embarba who was our ONLY bright spark of the game (with a match rating of 7.4) picked up an injury and would miss 4-5 weeks.
Tactical change #2 – I switched the Shadow Striker to an Advanced Playmaker. I kept the attack duty as I like how Embarba was breaking between the strikers when they moved into the channels and left space. However, I feel the Shadow Striker was too aggressive, leaving our midfield vulnerable. Hopefully, the AP(A) will be the right balance. With 10 goals conceded in 4 games, I wanted to steady the ship defensively.
Obviously, I also benched ‘keeper Pacheco who’d just conceded 5 against Cadiz. We picked up our first 3 points of the season in a 2-1 win against 12th-placed Girona, thanks to two goals by Largie Ramazani on his first start. Despite going 0-1 down early the team showed really good character and fought their way back into the game. It also allowed me to bring “the other” Ramanazi, Diamant, on at right wingback to allow the brothers to see out the game.
Sometimes, accidents happen and you stumble into a good thing. That’s what happened in the Girona game. Samu was playing in the Ball Winning Midfielder role but picked up an early yellow card, so I swapped him and midfield partner Melero over. It just so happened that Melero thrived in the role of the Midfield Aggressor. He ended up with 6 tackles, 6 headers and 3 interceptions.
Melero (BWM) vs Girona. 15 combined tackles, interceptions and headers.
This move also fits in with my plans of Samu being our long-term Segundo Volante, provided he comes up with the goods. That win was followed up with another. This time a 3-0 victory over Osasuna where Robertone was clearly settling into his new, more aggressive role as the attacking Advanced Playmaker. After scoring the first goal, he then set up Ramanazi, before finishing off the game with another goal, thanks to a nice Baptistao cut-back.
A performance that picked him up the La Liga Player of the Week award:
On a high, we went to Getafe and suffered the same fate as many La Liga teams. You don’t play Getafe and get anything without a fight. Well, we didn’t fight hard enough and came away with a 0-1 defeat. Fair play to the hosts, they capitalised on a 51st-minute error by Chumi and saw out the game in fine style, barely giving us a sniff at goal from that moment on. We end September in the 14th position, which is the only one I’d probably be happy with at the end of the season. However, I’d much prefer to be nearer the 10th place which the fans are pushing for.
DATA AND TROUBLESHOOTING
Now I’ve got 7 games worth of data to look at, I wanted to see how the tactic is doing. In attack, I feel we’ve been disjointed – mainly due to injury and still trying to find the right partnership. In defence we’ve been way too porous and teams are carving us open too easily. Let’s look at how the team ranks for key Attacking and Defensive metrics:
For the lowest-budget team, sitting in 14th place, I’m happy with the attacking stats and ranking in the league. The ratio of headers won is worrying – mainly because we play with three central defenders and utilise a big man up front – so I’ll look to see if any players are letting the side down. Despite getting a decent amount of shots each game (9th) our conversion rate is pretty poor and we rank 15th. We’ve not yet been able to play a settled front line and Toure is injured so I’ll put some extra finishing training sessions in and hope to see an upturn.
These stats confirm that we concede way too many goals (16th), shots (18th) and allow too many shots on target. We also don’t win possession enough (14th). Looking at how, and why, we concede it immediately jumps out to me that 9 goals have been conceded by a placed shot. To me, this suggests we’re giving the opposition way too much time in and around the area.
Another alarming stat is we allow the most assists from inside the opposition’s half! This would suggest the issue could be one (or more) of three things:
- We’re giving too much space to the opposition defence who have time to play accurate long balls.
- Our “Standard” defensive line is too high for the pace of my defenders.
- My defenders lack the positioning ability to be able to cut these long balls out.
The Battle for Zone 5
Football games are often won and lost in Zone 14. Control the area just outside your opponent 18-yard box and the chances are you’ll be racking up quality chances as well as claiming all 3 points. When defending, the zones get flipped, and the opponent’s Zone 14 becomes our Zone 5. From watching our games on comprehensive highlights (because I’m not weird) and from the 3 goals we’ve conceded from outside the area, we are most definitely NOT controlling our Zone 5!
Looking back at the shots conceded in the 7 games this season, a massive 30% have come from zone 5 which is pretty horrible. Despite playing two defensive midfielders – who should be in that area – we’re still struggling.
What can I do to win the battle for Zone 5?
I’m currently playing a standard defensive line and operating a high press. It’s possible this is stretching the team too far vertically for our current quality of players to handle. Therefore, we’re leaving Zones 5 and 8 (the central area between 5 and the halfway line) too easy for opponents to play through. I’ll try to tackle this, initially, in two phases: Top down and bottom-up. The top-down method is to try and compact those two zones by dropping back to a mid block.
We’ll still counter-press but it’ll kick in a little deeper instead. The added bonus of this is it’ll leave more space behind for Ramazani to exploit. From the bottom-up perspective, I’m swapping the middle central defender for a Stopper duty. This will encourage him to step up and be more combative, giving us an extra body when we need it. There’s also a third change I plan on making: Due to the nature of the Ball Winning Midfielder (on support), he could be moving out of possession in his attempts to win the ball.
Rather than swapping this to a defensive duty, I’m changing to a Defensive Midfielder on Defend. By adding the instruction to “tackle harder” I’m still getting some of the aggression of the BWM, but hopefully the role will be more disciplined. Naturally, this might take an extra body from the deep attacking phase but I’m happy with our attack and very unhappy with the defence. It’s all about balance.
What about the defensive line?
Earlier in this article, I mentioned that we’d allowed 4 assists from inside the opponent’s half, possibly due to allowing their defensive players too much time to pick out a pass. I’ve made the decision to leave the defensive line where it is, rather than drop it deeper.
Here’s the heading success ratio of my central defenders:
Rodrigo Ely – 59%
Srdan Babic – 75%
Chumi – 79%
Mendes – 70%
Spot the weak link.
Ely has been playing in the middle of the three and is doing a terrible job of winning his aerial battles. He’s also the slowest of the bunch. By taking him out of the lineup, it’s possible that we can cut out the amount of successful long balls for the opponents. If that doesn’t work, I might have to consider a lower defensive line until I can increase the ability of the players in the squad.
Who’s doing well?
It’s not all doom and gloom, despite the very average start to the season and a thrashing by Cadiz. Alejandro Pozo, who is the starting Right Wingback due to the long-term injury to Neito has racked up 4 assists and covers the most ground in the entire squad. Largie Ramazani is our top scorer with three goals. Two of them have been tap-ins from a yard out, but they all count. As mentioned earlier, I’ve been unable to decide on a settled strike partnership but the young Belgian took his chance when it came.
The surprise package, for me at least, is Adrian Embarba. The veteran winger has been brilliant in the AMC when given an opportunity and his injury really hampered us. With a goal and an assist in 3 games, along with an average rating of 7.25 he could make a real difference this season and provide tough competition for Robertone.
It’s been a tough start but I now have a plan to make the team more defensively secure, which in turn could create more space behind the opposition’s defence. With 7 games to play and the World Cup, before the transfer window opens it’ll be a crucial time for the players to cement themselves in my future plans. I also need to formulate a recruitment plan. Naturally, we’ll cover it all in the next update and hopefully, there’s at least one more arrival to tell you all about.