FM23: UD Almeria: Season 1, Episode 3
Has the update killed my save?
Whenever we hear of a new update there’s always a sense of nervousness. Especially when things have been going well. Before the update my Almeria team had climbed up to an impressive 8th position, having won 4 of the last 8 games in what was a difficult schedule including sides such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla. You’ll also recall that young striker El Bilal Toure was in a rich vein of form and had bagged 5 goals in those 8 games. If you’ve missed that article, you can catch up on it here. The update flipped the save upside down.
As you can see, we didn’t even score for the first four games. Whilst we were having good possession and were dominating the highlights of most of the games, we lacked any cutting edge in the final third. All of a sudden the team appeared clueless. A complete change from the games before the update landed. As the games were close I was hesitant to make any big changes, convinced only small tweaks could get us firing on all cylinders once again. Even adding work ball into box didn’t help our chance creation. Going into April I changed the passing from shorter to slightly shorter in the hopes of getting the ball upfield more quickly and catching the defence off guard and changed the width from fairly wide, to wide. The thinking behind this was to stretch the opposition’s defence and create more space to allow our strikers to get into better positions. These small amends got us scoring again but we remained winless. Having seen our season go from chasing the European places to 8 games without a win it was time to do some analysis and try to get to the route of the problem.
The first course of action was to compare team stats before and after the update:
The main issue(s) become apparent. Whilst our defence has improved, we’ve severely declined in the number of clear cut chances created per game. We aren’t getting as many shots and we’re getting less on target.
When your team suffers a decline in shots and shot quality it’s a good idea to look at the supply. Whose role is it to get the ball and create goal-scoring opportunities? In my 5-3-2 there are four players responsible for creating chances for the strikers; the two Central Midfielders and the two Wingbacks.
Note – as mentioned above, it’s worth remembering that the 8 games before the update were against tougher opposition than the 8 since the update which might affect the stats slightly.
First, let’s look at the Advanced Playmaker who plays on a support duty. You can see from the before and after comparison below that since the update they’re getting on the ball more. As a result of this they’re making more progressive passes per game and creating more clear-cut chances (although it’s only 1 in 8 games so not a huge difference). However, the passing accuracy has suffered and the number of open-play key passes per game has declined.
Immediately, this has me thinking that a major element of the update is improving the defence’s positioning and awareness. This will enable them to cut out passes and mark strikers better. Moving onto the attacking Mezzala, again, the passing stats have increased, and like the Advanced Playmaker, the number of chances created has seen a slight increase. Unlike before though, the passing percentage has increased alongside the open-play key passes per game. As the Mezzala is also used to create a goal threat, I’ve added their shooting stats.
Just like the overall team stats, the number of shots they’re getting has decreased as well as the quality of shots. In an attempt to create better shooting opportunities, I’m going to change the role to a Central Midfielder on an attacking duty, as they should get the ball more centrally.
Onto the Wingbacks, they’re expected to get up and down the flanks and provide width throughout each phase. Starting with the left-sided Wingback which is used on attacking duty. You can see improvements across the board, apart from pass percentage which has seen a 3% decline. The cross-success percentage has also seen a good improvement, although this could coincide with increased minutes for Target Forward Dyego Sousa.
On the right flank things haven’t been quite as good. Whilst the passing and crossing stats have increased, their goal creation threat has diminished quite a lot.
As both Wingback positions have shown improvements it’s hard to justify changing things up. One change I will make is to add an underlap right instruction. As this is the side with the deep striker it should encourage the Mezzala to burst past the striker and into positions for the Wingback to make a dangerous pass.
I’ve mainly been using a Positive mentality, but it’s clearly not working anymore. One thing I’ve noticed is the amount of seemingly pointless long balls from the defenders and also a lack of space behind the opposition. With Ramazani and Toure both being quick players I want to maximise the opportunity to play them through with killer balls. Therefore, after reading the excellent Team Mentality article by Cleon, I’m dropping back to Balanced. I’m also aware that the main quality of the team is in the middle three of Belmonte, Robertone and Melero. Therefore I’m narrowing our team width so they’re closer together with the aim of encouraging more interplay between the trio. As a result, the wingbacks will be asked to stay wide so they still hug the touchlines. As the Wide Central Defender role isn’t working as it did in FM22, I’ve changed both the Right and Left sided CBs to Ball Playing Defenders.
Summary of changes:
- Mezzala (A) to Central Midfielder (A)
- Underlap right instruction to encourage CM(A) to burst into space
- LCB and RCB to Ball Playing Defenders.
- Team width from Wide to Fairly Narrow
- Both Wingbacks asked to Stay Wide, on a support duty.
The Final 6 Games:
An away game versus a team battling for a Champions League place isn’t the best to judge a host of new tactical changes against. To make matters worse, our first-choice keeper, Pacheco, was injured. However, we gave a good showing against Villareal in what ended as a 2-2 draw thanks to two goals from Largie Ramazani who was reinstated back into the starting lineup. The switch from Positive to Balanced definitely seemed to be working as both goals came from through balls which found him space in the left channel to exploit. One of which was this 89th-minute equaliser.
As if Villareal wasn’t a tough enough test, up next came 4th placed Atletico Madrid. We took the lead on 26 minutes when a freekick was cleared to Robertone on the edge of the box who smashed it into the bottom corner. Simeone’s men were gifted an equaliser when Mendes (RCB) missed a longball and allowed Morata to slot past the keeper. Atletico made it 1-2 just after halftime when Morata again scored, this time with a beautiful volley. We had chances to scrape a draw, with Ramazani twice hitting the woodwork but we couldn’t do enough.
We haven’t won for TEN GAMES since the update!!
Luckily, we brushed Celta Vigo aside with ease, with a brace from Ramazani and a header from Chumi (CB). This 3-1 win came with its problems though as both Melero (4 weeks) and Belmonte (2 weeks) picked up injuries. We’d have to finish the season without 2 of the 3 starting midfielders. Despite being the better team we lost 0-1 to Real Sociedad and failed to turn dominance into points in a 0-0 draw with bottom-of-the-league, Real Valladolid. The season ended with a 0-3 defeat to La Liga Champions, Real Madrid. Despite the scoreline, we were very unlucky. Benzema was twice the beneficiary of woeful defending from Babic and then Chumi. We should’ve gone into halftime at 0-0 and our heads held high, but instead, we were 0-2 down. Camavinga added their third with a beautiful effort which must be the goal of the season contender. Both Ramazani and Lazaro came very close with both hitting the woodwork and the latter having a shot cleared off the line.
Going by the match engine, it’s hard to say if the changes we made earlier worked well or not. We played much better football, producing some lovely passages of play at times, and scored 6 goals in the first 3 games. Believe it or not, my rage had actually turned to optimism for a short while. After that, we went three games without scoring despite generating 2.82 xG. My mood worsened once again. Ramazani was a shining light and seemed to finally find some consistency and seemed a threat each time he got the ball, and I have to remember I finished with the backup‘ keeper and two starting midfielders missing. Pulling all stats together we can see how we performed according to the stats in “the three phases” which shows before the update after the update and the 6 games post tactical tweaks.
The positives are we’re getting more points per game and having better efforts on goal; scoring more and generating more xG. The downside is that we’re giving up more xG to opponents. Although this could be due to the tough finish we had, with 3 of the final 6 opponents qualifying for Europe and the other being in 9th place.
Congratulations to Real Madrid for winning La Liga at a canter, and to Real Betis for claiming 2nd place. Sevilla missed out on the European places which shows just how competitive this league is. Down the bottom end, I’m sad to see Girona get relegated as I have an affiliation with them from my FM22 days. We finished in 11th which, despite my ranting, is a very good finish for a team of our size and wage budget. Our sense of overachieving is amplified when looking at the xG table for the season, which shows that 13th would’ve been a more realistic position. Speaking of overachieving, take a look at Betis…
You’ll recall that I was shocked by how poor the team cohesion was as the players hadn’t developed an understanding of each other. To counteract this I amended the weekly training schedules to include sessions which give cohesion a boost. A few months later things are looking much better:
There have been a few issues although they’re ones I was expecting due to the makeup of the squad. Veteran midfielder Inigo Egueras demanded first-team football but luckily 5 players were against him, including the Captain and Vice-Captain so I was able to fend him off without causing too much squad disruption. Another veteran also came knocking requesting more first-team football; this time winger Adrian Embarda. This was more difficult as when he plays he generally does well, however, he’s had a lot of injuries and when he was finally fit for the run-in he found himself behind Ramazani and Baptistao who were both playing well. These kinds of problems are bound to arise when you have so many players at the same level and no standouts.
I’ll go into more detail about player performances and who fits in with future plans in the next update, however here’s a high-level overview of the heroes of Season 1. Ramazani’s late season burst saw him top the goal-scoring chart with 9 goals, 2 more than Toure. Pozo’s 6 assists were the most on the team, which is way below what I’m looking for and an area of concern. Young left Wingback Alex Centelles was the hardest-working player, covering 14.2 kM per 90 minutes. Another youngster, Kaiky, showed his potential and managed the most interceptions per game, a glimpse into his intelligence and anticipation. The player with the best average rating, however, was a veteran who’s had an impressive season. Gonzalo Melero, our Wish version of Sergej Milinković-Savić, put up 6 goals and 3 assists on his way to a 6.99 rating across the season.
Amidst my world falling apart, we had a youth intake. It was a pretty decent one too. The pick of the bunch is striker Hector Femenias who is said to be an Elite Prospect and Michael Attah who looks like a blank canvas ready to be moulded into whatever I need him to be.
Despite what is actually a good season I’m left very frustrated. From 8th and seemingly on an upwards trajectory at the end of February, we suffered an update-induced rough ending to the season, which culminated in just 1 win in 14 games. The way the 5-3-2 formation was completely flipped on its head has annoyed me more than it should and I’m stuck on how to progress. My heart tells me it’s no longer working and that I should change things up, but my head tells me that an update shouldn’t force a manager to have to change formation. There should be a few tweaks here and there. Not a game-changing overhaul. Yes, I know, I sound like a spoiled kid and that others haven’t been affected at all but I’ve gone from someone who usually knows what changes and improvements need making for the new season into someone who genuinely hasn’t got a clue how to proceed. The positives are we’ve got a young squad who all have a La Liga season under their belts, as well as some more promising youngsters out on loan who could make an impact next season. The board have backed me well and increased the weekly wage budget from £360k to £575k and a transfer budget of £14.3 million. Deciding how to spend the transfer budget will be very interesting. To ensure Team Cohesion doesn’t take a big hit when it’s finally going in the right direction, I’m reluctant to bring in too many players so I might look to make 1 or 2 statement signings.
I’m off to sulk for a while but in the next update, we’ll look more in-depth at the players and outline any transfer activity.
See you there!