At the end of the previous update, we were sitting pretty at the top of La Liga after 18 games. Not only was striker Largie Ramazani on fire with 14 goals but we were also extremely solid at the back, thanks to new signings Lyanco and Alderete and the heroics of ‘keeper Fernado Pacheco. There’s only one team we hadn’t played as we moved out the brief winter break and that team was just two points behind us: FC Barcelona. What’s more, we’d go into that game without striker Satriano who was proving instrumental in making the team click. Could we carry on the charge or would it all get a little too much…?
In this article we’ll cover:
- January to May
- Team stats
- Player stats
- The front three
- The tactic
- The Future
It’s never ideal to give a penalty away against Barcelona. Let alone after just 36 seconds have passed. Luckily, our backup ‘keeper, also called Fernando, saved Lewandowski’s penalty. After that let off we pulled up our socks and took a well deserved lead after 29 minutes through Ramazani. We looked quite comfortable until Ansu Fati scored the easiest tap in he’ll ever get in his entire career on 71 mins. Thankfully, young Brazilian substitute Lazaro, managed to capitalise on a defensive mix up between Alonso and Garcia before squaring the ball to Ramazani to tap into an open goal. With Barcelona pushing on for an equaliser, we struck twice in injury-time with that man, Ramazani, bagging a four goal haul! A tremendous 4-1 victory! The stats look good too!
The issue with a striker scoring four against Barcelona in a televised game is that it attracts attention. And the sharks were soon circling. Bayern Munich made a bid of £25m which I declined, holding out for his £40m release clause fee. He wasn’t happy but, hey, unlucky. Naturally, after embarrassing Barcelona, we then lumbered to a 2-2 draw against Las Palmas, before getting back on track with comfortable wins over Real Sporting and Osasuna.
Bayern Munich (£32m) and Borussia Dortmund (£30m) both submitted bids for Ramazani, but again, both were declined and the January Transfer Window slammed shut with my starting 11 intact. I did let Lazaro go out on loan to Granada in La Liga 2, to get some much needed first team football. Where he ended up scoring 1 goal and getting 4 assists in 13 games, used mainly as a deep striker.
The month of February commenced with us having a 4 point cushion over 2nd placed Real Madrid as we headed there to play their city-rivals Atletico. They were on a good run so my main aim was to nullify their main threat, which appeared to be Koke in the DM slot with everything running through him. Asking deep striker Satriano to mark Koke completely shut him down and we managed a pretty comfortable 0-0 draw which I was pleased with. However, it allowed Real to close the gap to just 2 points. The rest of the month was pretty straight forward. We played Real Betis twice in three days, with the Copa del Rey semi final first leg and then a league fixture. We dropped points again, this time to a late goal by Orbelin for Celta Vigo, which honestly, they deserved.
Barcelona were having a tough time and were now 10 points off the top, whilst their old manager Xavi had just taken over the top job at relegation-threatened Mallorca. The Catalan giants weren’t out of it just yet though… and they’d have a LARGE part to play in the final days of the season.
MARCH & APRIL 2024
A draw in the second leg of the semi final saw us go through to the final after beating Betis 3-2 on aggregate and the players were in a jubilant mood. Elche were smashed 6-1 in a weekend where in Madrid, Atletico beat Real 1-0 to give us more breathing room at the top. The remainder of March went well, picking up 6 more points to keep the gap between us and Real Madrid at 5 points. It was when April started that the pressure started to increase. It was all becoming a little too real. I was two months away from winning La Liga in season 2 with Almeria! Hell, we even had a cup final to play, we could win the double! Not bad for a team with only the 13th largest wage budget in the division. Unfortunately, the players seemed to start feeling the pressure too as we were absolutely dominated by Valencia in a 1-2 loss. Our first defeat in 24 games. Real Madrid were back to 2 points behind and we played them next. And next again after that in the cup final. I was nervous. In this Almeria career we’ve played them 3 times and lost 3-0 in each game. Now they were breathing down our neck for the La Liga title. So, with best defender Alderete suspended we made the trip to Madrid and managed to scrape a 1-0 win thanks to this goal by left wingback, Akieme.
So, onto the Copa del Rey Final. Against who else.
I was fuming from the very start when Ramazani was clearly hacked down in the penalty area and it didn’t even go to VAR. I knew then it wasn’t going to be easy. And it wasn’t. Valderde scored a tap in after 16 minutes after a shot hit the post and fell at his feet. Benzema doubled their lead from the penalty spot just before halftime. The cause of the penalty wasn’t even shown as a highlight, so who knows what happened. We started brightly in the second half and Satriano missed a sitter when he smashed a 1v1 against the post, which would’ve been a vital life line. Just three minutes later we had another penalty appeal turned down, which definitely looked like a foul to me. We lost the final 2-0 and in fairness they were the better team. They definitely bribed the ref though.
Back to what matters. The League.
Winning ways returned thanks to a 95th minute winner against Athletic Bilbao and we then scraped a 1-0 win against Sevilla, who were down to 10 men from early in the second half. Two poor performances. We were flustered and we were struggling. The signs weren’t good.
So here we have it. Five games left. Five points ahead. Goalkeeper, Fernando Pacheco, was injured in training for 2 weeks and would miss three games. Marvellous.
Mallorca, galvanised by the arrival of Xavi, had pulled themselves out of the relegation zone and were playing well. They put up a real good fight too, equalising in the 84th minute and forcing us to claw our way to victory the hard way, with an 88th minute winner from substitute El Blial Toure. Up next were Villareal who should really have won comfortably, if not for some heroic defending to protect backup ‘keeper Fernando. We were lucky to escape with a 1-1 draw. Real Madrid, of course, won their game and with three games left our lead was cut to 3 points. However, they had a much superior goal difference. The thought of having to get a result away at Barcelona on the final day wasn’t a pleasant one. Espanyol looked like it was going to be one of those games. We were let off with an early scare when Braithwaite scored inside the first minute, but it was fractionally offside and disallowed. Their goalkeeper then saved EVERYTHING we fired at him and we went into halftime with a very frustrating 0-0 scoreline. Thankfully, the floodgates finally opened and we scored four second half goals to give us a nice win. Getafe kept us pinned at 2-2 for a while after taking the lead twice, but two late goals from Ramazani, giving him ANOTHER four goal haul, gave us a 4-2 win and we headed into the final game of the 2023-24 La Liga season.
ONE GAME TO GO
With Real Madrid playing lowly Levante, it was crucial I get at least one point against Barcelona. Anything less would see Real Madrid claim the title on goal difference. After beating us in the Copa del Rey final, surely they weren’t going to snatch the La Liga title out of our grasp too? Could they?
I went against my usual game plan and set up with a cautious mentality, upped the time wasting and headed into the game with the players showing signs of nerves in the pre-game team talk. The Camp Nou was full and the crowd was loud…
WE DID IT!!
LA LIGA CHAMPIONS!
We took an early lead through Satriano and never looked back, adding two more in the first half. Barcelona turned up the heat in the second half, clawing one back through Abde but we never looked like letting the game slip away. Real Madrid beat Levante 5-1 but still came up short.
As you can see from the xG table below, we should potentially consider ourselves lucky to have won, with 3rd being a more realistic position, according to the data. We finished a huge 16 goals over the xG – thanks to the magic of Largie Ramazani (who STILL won’t renegotiate a new contract with a higher release clause).
But, the expected stats don’t matter at the end of a season. And the actual table shows us sitting pretty. We scored the 3rd most goals and had the second best defence. Spending a mere £525k p/w on wages compared to Real Madrid’s £6m and Barcelona’s £4.1m per week, we won the most games and lost the least amount.
In terms of the team’s general performance, we excelled everywhere apart from tackles won ratio and the pass completion percentage. The first annoys me slightly as I like my teams to be physical, but the passing stats doesn’t bother me at all. I’m not one for keeping possession needlessly, preferring to get it up field into dangerous areas quickly, with the defence on their heels.
Here’s the warriors who bought a La Liga title in Almeria in our trust 5-3-2. Only Mendes (who prefers playing as a central defender) and Belmonte (who plays in a non-glamour role) averaged under a 7.00 for the season. Both wingbacks, Akieme and Mendes got double digits assists, along with Advanced Playmaker Lucas Robertone.
The unsung hero is goalkeeper Fernando Pacheco, with a massive 21 clean sheets over the course of the season and a save percentage of 86%. The advanced goalkeeping stats shows he prevented a total of 8.9 expected goals over the season – the most in La Liga. Omar Alderete was the pick of the central defenders, winning 79% of his impressive 16 header attempts per game and won possession a massive 18 times a game. In Midfield, Ball Winning Midfielder, Belmonte won 78.9% of his 3.9 tackle attempts per game, whilst in a more creative role, Robertone found himself in the illustrious company of Raphina, Dembele and Modric with 0.2 open play assists per game and 5.9 progressive passes. It was the “front three” through, who were the reason for our success. Starting with the Attacking Mezzala, Eljif Elmas, who signed this season for £12m from Napoli. I bought him in for his all-round abilities and his height and physicality, giving us an extra aerial threat for crosses. He more than proved value for money with 11 goals and 7 assists in 32 games. Another new signing up front was Martin Satriano who joined from Inter for £9m. He absolutely thrived in the Complete Forward role on Support and scored 16 goals with 9 assists. Everything good we did went through him, using his off the ball awareness to find gaps and get on the ball over 32 times per 90 minutes. Which leaves only one man, Largie Ramazani. The 23-year-old Belgian scored a massive 38 goals and was unstoppable at times. Scoring goals in a variety of ways, not just reliant on his electric pace. I’ll struggle to keep hold of him. He was annoyed that I wouldn’t let him go to Bayern or Dortmund but accepted my reasons. I need to keep working on him to get a new contract negotiated if there’s any chance of him being at the team next season. Despite his gargantuan effort, he still finished 2nd in the top scorer list behind the 43 goals of Lewandowski.
Before this save I knew the 5-3-2 was an amazingly under-appreciated formation in Football Manager. After this season I’m CONVINCED it’s the best formation and flat out refuse to be told otherwise. I’m more than happy to discuss it with anyone so if anyone has any questions, please get in touch. In the meantime, here it is… the La Liga winning 5-3-2:
I’m now at a crossroads with this save. Obviously, winning La Liga with Almeria in season 2 is amazing but it also proved to be a little too easy and I’ve got other save ideas to give me more of a challenge. I wanted to prove a ‘Three-at-the-back’ system can win and be attractive and produce exciting football. And I’ve done that. The Board wants us to play attacking and high pressing football next season which is different to how we currently play, so there’s a nice challenge. Obviously, we also have Champions League Football to play and I think there’s more left in the tank of this save…
For now though… it’s onto pastures new.