Welcome back to my FM23 save with UD Almeria. This article will be presented in two sections:
- Part one was written after the final league game before breaking up for the Qatar World Cup.
- Part two was written after the World Cup and will include the January Transfer Window and beyond.
In the last update, I made tactical changes (LINK) in an attempt to make ourselves more compact and harder to play through. With news that both Robertone (AM) and Mendes (CB) would miss a week or two through injury, we welcomed 15th-placed Elche to the Andalusian coast. Embarba and Kaiky both stepped into the starting lineup. It was a dull game in which we picked up a 1-0 victory thanks to a Chumi header at the back post after a corner from Pozo. A rare clean sheet was a nice bonus, as was being able to give El Bilal Toure his first minutes after his return from injury. Having moved up to 10th place, we travelled to face Athletic Bilbao (4th). Despite Bilbao dominating possession, we looked dangerous on the counterattack. Deep into the second half, substitute Dyego Sousa picked up a long ball and played a nice through ball for the electrifying Largie Ramazani to latch into and score his 4th goal of the season. Our lead doubled with Bilbao committing men forward in the push for a well-deserved equaliser; Sousa, again, won a long ball, knocked the ball to Melero who played in Embarba who smashed the ball into the bottom corner. A pleasant surprise 2-0 win and our tactical tweaks were promising..
Up next were Rayo Vallecano, however, with Real Betis in 3 days time I rotated the line up a little. We were camped in their half for most of the game but went behind to a Santi Comesana goal on 55 minutes. In less than 10 minutes, though, we were 2-1 up: Embarba pulled us level just 3 minutes later as he robbed a defender of the ball and coolly beat the ‘keeper before Melero presented a goal on a plate for Baptistao to claim his first of the season. We seemed to be coasting to a win until Falcao equalised from close range in the 89th minute. Luckily, we didn’t give in and our determination was rewarded when a throw-in was headed out to the edge of the box for Melero to curl into the top corner to give us a 92nd-minute winner and third win in a row!
With 4 wins from the last 5 games and up to 7th in La Liga we headed to Real Betis, who were 3rd and in fine form. Despite having only 33% of the ball for the first half we’d restricted them to no shots on goal at halftime. We were defending ferociously and they were struggling to make any breakthrough. Unfortunately, the veteran Mexican Guardado scored a screamer from 25 yards. The game finished in a 0-1 defeat but we put up a good performance. We then lost 1-2 to Espanyol in a game we absolutely dominated. We had a goal and a penalty appeal turned down by VAR and had to wait until the 90th minute for Lazaro to get us on the score sheet. Our final game before the World Cup break was against 6th-placed Villareal. We were the better team for the first half but went behind to a Lo Celso goal on 35 minutes. We pulled level when Ramazani converted a Pozo cross at the back post but the visitors moved up a couple of gears and finished strongly, scoring twice more. A game which really highlighted the gulf in class.
After a good start to October, with an impressive win over Bilbao, we faltered and picked up three straight defeats which dropped us back down to 14th. One of the reasons I like La Liga is you can never afford to get complacent or over-confident. You can easily lose to anyone. That doesn’t make it any easier when it happens though.
PART 1 REVIEW
If you’d offered me 14th place at the World Cup break at the start of the season I would’ve snatched your hand off. I’ve successfully made tactical tweaks to reduce the number of shots we allowed in Zone 5 and since making the changes, that figure has dropped from 30% of shots to 26%. However, I’m still not convinced I have the quality available to make the 3-4-1-2 work as well as I need to make consistent progress. Especially with the way Villareal was able to carve us open in the last game. Whilst I’m pleased with our league position, I can’t help but feel frustrated.
We’re very inconsistent – which might be expected from a newly promoted team – and we look disjointed in the attack. Whilst Robertone is a solid option in the AMC slot, he’s not good enough to constantly find space and be the driving force of the team. But… I can’t afford anyone better. Players who played in the AMC slot averaged only 22 touches per game and combined for 5 goals and 2 assists (Robertone: 2G 1A and Embarba: 3G 1A). Moving away from tactical contemplations, despite having very good Tactical Familiarity, two things are bothering me:
- There are way too many poor passes and the decision-making throughout the team seems to be lacking as if the players don’t know the tactic and playing style at all. However the above tells us otherwise.
- Despite having some pretty settled partnerships, there are NO relationships or green lines starting to form.
Whilst clicking through various screens, I clicked on one which I don’t tend to visit very often: Team Dynamics. What I saw immediately gave me quite a shock.
After 20 games played (7 friendlies and 13 La Liga) how can a team who have around 90% tactical familiarity have poor cohesion? How can a team with BY FAR the lowest wage budget, but are sitting in 14th have poor cohesion? Whilst this isn’t an area I’ve looked into previously, it’s obviously something I want to get sorted out as soon as possible. Immediately, I went into the transfers screen and realised that 13 players in the squad joined this off-season. I’d assumed the Team Bonding sessions I ran in the pre-season would’ve had a larger effect than they seemingly have. Looking at my training schedules, there are a lot of sessions which slightly increase team cohesion but more clearly need to be done. Luckily, when the players return from their break, we have three weeks of training to boost their “togetherness” as much as possible.
For reference, here are the training sessions which give cohesion a good boost, rather than just a slight increase.
- Match Practice (Greatly increased)
- Teamwork (Greatly increased)
- Defensive Shape (Increased)
- Attacking Movement (Increased)
- Team Bonding (Increased)
- Match Review (Increased)
When the team returns, they’ll get this schedule which gives maximum priority to cohesion.
PART 1 CONCLUSION
So where does this leave us? We have performed ok in the league, in a very hit-and-miss fashion. Our team has good depth but lacks quality. We have a squad of “average-to-good” players but no one better than that, which is really holding us back. We really need a superstar.
Before the players return from the World Cup break I’ve got some serious thinking to do to decide how to best take this team forward:
1 – Do I stick with the 3-4-1-2 and hope for the best or invert the pyramid once again and switch to a 5-3-2?
2 – What position(s) to upgrade in the Transfer Window
3 – Who to allow to leave in the Transfer Window
Coming off the back of three straight defeats at the end of Part 1, with 6 goals conceded and only 2 scored, I was certainly concerned. Whilst we do ok against the weaker teams, those in the top half generally carve us apart way too easily. I made the decision to switch to a 5-3-2. I was going to stick with the 3-4-1-2 but then had a sudden change of heart. And it was all due to one man. (Well, maybe two men. You’ll see what I mean):
When looking at his attributes I realised that not only is he an extremely versatile midfielder, but he’s also got good height (6’0”), strength (12) and ball-winning ability, both in the air (14) and on the ground (12). This instantly reminded me of how Simone Inzaghi used Sergej Milinkovic-Savic in his time at Lazio. By getting Melero to push up high when we’re in possession it not only gives an extra long ball target if we’re forced to play more direct, but it also creates space for a creative striker (Baptistao, Lazaro, Sousa) to drop into and (hopefully) make some magic happen.
Granted, he’s not the giant Milinkovic-Savic is, nor is he as skilled, but he has the same profile. And it’s working well. Here are a couple of examples, both from a game versus Real Sociedad, showing how utilising the attacking Mezzala role with a physical player can work. This first image shows how Melero (in yellow) is positioned when we have the ball in defence. He’s in the forward line and slightly more advanced than Toure (Attacking Forward) whilst Baptistao (Deep Lying Forward) has dropped into the hole which is exactly how our front three were lined up in our 3-4-1-2.
In this second image, Toure has the ball on the left flank and is about to launch an in-swinging cross into the penalty area. Again, you’ll see Melero is the furthest forward player. Due to his size and physicality he’s an ideal person to be in that position when we’re putting crosses in. We didn’t need him in this instance as the cross was perfect and right into the feet of Baptistao who knocked it past the keeper. However, you can see how this works and the benefits it can bring.
When Melero has been rested, and suspended(!) I’ve used Samu in the role. He’s also 6’0” and whilst lacking the aerial ability, is still a strong, physical player. Between them they’ve scored 4 goals in the 11 league games played in this system. Considering three of those games were against Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, I’m really pleased. The rest of the midfield is made up of an Advanced Playmaker (support) and a Defensive Midfielder (Support) who has the instructions to tackle harder and dribble more. In attack I switched to a pairing of an Advanced Forward and a Deep Lying Forward on Support. Now you know about the “SMS/Inzaghi” inspired tactical change, here’s how November to March panned out:
DECEMBER & JANUARY 2023
Finally back to La Liga action after the World Cup, our first game with the new 5-3-2 saw a relatively simple victory over Mallorca. Goals from Melero and substitute Arnau gave us a 2-0 win and we ended with 67% of possession. A huge contrast to the 3-4-1-2. We looked assured and in control. Unfortunately, the game was marred by another injury to right wingback Nieto, who would miss a month with a damaged kneecap. This was particularly frustrating as he’d just started to regain fitness after missing 8 months with cruciate ligament damage. We followed up that win with a 0-1 loss to Atletico Madrid.
We didn’t create much but we kept them under 1.0 xG and they only scored due to a defensive howler by Babic. What came next was the start of what I’m hoping is something very special. I’d been very excited by the potential of striker El Bilal Toure, but his start to the season was disrupted with niggling injuries which saw him struggle for any match fitness. As a result he was in and out of the team as he struggled to find any consistency. However, when he finally got off the mark he didn’t stop.
Once he grabbed his first in a 2-0 win over Real Valladolid he went on to notch up another 5 goals and 3 assists in the next 8 games. Consecutive 2-1 wins over Celta Vigo and Real Sociedad saw us move up to 7th place before top of the league Real Madrid slammed us back to earth with a 0-3 defeat. Despite a couple of losses against top teams, the 5-3-2 was looking good!
In the Copa del Rey our reserves crashed out against Racing Santander. Looks like we’re concentrating on the league!
THE TRANSFER WINDOW
When you disable the first transfer window it’s always nervy heading into the January transfer window. This is because until the window is about to open, your transfer budget shows as zero. Waiting for the alert to drop into your inbox always carries some trepidation.
I’m happy. Whilst it’s not enough to get the game changer I need, it should get a starter who can step into the starting 11 and still have some space to develop. But where to focus our recruitment attention? The goalkeepers have been largely solid and perform well in the Data Hub metrics. Whilst our defence has some issues, I’m still keen on developing Chumi, Kaiky and Mendes as much as possible and therefore reluctant to take away any game time. Our strikers are still up in the air, but Toure has been in great form and I have Lazaro and Ramazani to keep developing so, again, I don’t want to hamper them in any way.
Which leaves the midfield. I’m happy with the “Melero as a SMS-esque attacking Mezzala” experiment and Robertone is a good option in the Advanced Playmaker role. What I DO need though is a proper ball winner. The Midfield Aggressor role isn’t filled by anyone which I’m happy with. De La Hoz does a good job but he’s getting on and there’s no natural successor in the squad. Plus, I think it’s the most exciting role to recruit. Who doesn’t love a borderline psychopath in their midfield? I quickly set my sights on three options. The main target was Napoli’s transfer listed Diego Demme.
Whilst standing at just 5’7” he’s an absolute rottweiler-esque ball-winning midfielder and the prospect of him playing in my team made me way more excited than it probably should’ve. He’s also a perfectionist. Imagine the mentoring! Unfortunately, he chose Brighton instead. I was also more upset than I should’ve been.
Onto the next target.
If I was going for just a pure “destroyer” type, I would’ve gone for Florian Flick. A 6’3” German who is a strong, determined, tough tackler from Schalke. However, instead I opted to bring a little more South American fire and flair to Andalusia.
Welcome to Almeria, Tomas Belmonte.
Whilst at 5’10”, he’s not the powerhouse Florian Flick is, he’s more well-rounded and versatile. As you can see from the above, he’ll aggressively seek out the ball and should do well in the ball-winning role. He can also be used as a playmaker or in a more advanced role.
Here’s a few excerpts from a scouting report on targetscouting.com:
- Tomás Belmonte is a central midfielder with a tough personality. He is aggressive on the mark and generally commits a lot of fouls. His sacrifice and commitment to the team are always present.
- Positionally he is very good: he launches pressure, hedges, and supports his teammates permanently. Generally, he is very alert and focused throughout the game. His intelligence for reading the game is a virtue, and makes him a player with many possibilities for improvement.
- One issue to improve is his self-control, as he sometimes gets into unnecessary fights against rivals and tends to get yellow cards.
Who doesn’t want him in their team?
He was the only incoming player.
To make room for Belmonte in the 25-man squad, I accepted a bid for central defender Rodrigo Ely. The Brazilian made 11(3) appearances with an average rating of 6.72. He’ll head back to his homeland after Palmeiras made a £1.3m bid. First-team squad players Ivan Martos (Gent), Martin Svidersky (Amorebieta), David Cuenca (Real Murcia) and Marko Milovanovic (Huesca) all went out on loan to get some valuable minutes elsewhere.
We got off to a great start against Sevilla when after 10 minutes Embarba, starting as the Deep Lying Forward, dropped into space and threaded a through ball to Toure to bungle past the ‘keeper. Sevilla equalised just before half-time through Telles, only for Melero to give us the lead from 25 yards on 53 minutes. We looked to be hanging on to the 3 points until a late goal from Lamela levelled things up, beating Kaiky to a Telles cross. Toure put us ahead again, early on, against Valencia, but we went into the half-time break 1-3 down after a tremendous performance from the home team. Toure got his second on 63 minutes but we couldn’t get the equaliser, despite coming close on a few occasions. Up next came my favourite game of the season. I always have memorable games versus Barcelona and this would be no different. With a couple of injuries in defence, De la Hoz slotted in at centre back. Belmonte produced the main highlight, for me, when he came up against two Barca players: Kounde and Raphina:
Yep, he’ll do!
We started the second half with the score at 0-0, having had only 34% possession. Lewandowski was judged to have been pushed from a corner on 47 minutes and scored the resulting penalty. We equalised on 59 minutes when Pozo stole the ball on a press and passed to Lazaro (DLF) who smashed a shot against the post which rebounded to Toure who tucked it away. We clawed and bravely pressed and on 87 minutes won a penalty after Pozo was fouled by Garcia. Toure scored and with just minutes remaining we were 2-1 up. It wasn’t to be, though, and In the 96th minute(!) Gavi danced his way into the box and played it into Fati who turned Mendes and fired into the bottom corner.
Late heartbreak. It was then our turn to take advantage of injury time thanks to a Kaiky header from a free kick in the 94th minute versus Girona. The final game of this update is our revenge game against Cadiz, where I was determined to get the 3 points after they thrashed us 0-5 earlier in the season. Thankfully we strolled to a 2-1 win. Despite the close scoreline we absolutely dominated the game and their late goal was a mere consolation.
The improved run since the switch to the 5-3-2 has seen us climb up into European contention, just 4 points outside 6th place. With 14 games left and momentum on our side I’m hoping we can continue to make a push and keep the pressure on Villareal And Bilbao.
You can see from the table below what an impact the 5-3-2 has had. We’ve improved in every metric: creating and scoring more, whilst being more solid defensively. A good combination!
PLAYER OF THE UPDATE
There can be only one player who gets the Player of the Update award. He finally came into his own and cemented his place in the starting lineup after finally getting himself match fit. With a run of 6 goals and 3 assists in 9 games, it can only be El Bilal Toure.
I’m really looking forward to seeing how the rest of the season pans out. If all goes well, the next update will cover the remaining season, the youth intake, our transfer activity and hopefully some more tactical insights from the 5-3-2.
Can we keep up the pace?