AMIENS SC – THE TWO TENS Season 2, Episode 2
In the last update, I’d reached the end of December with Amiens sitting in a very healthy 10th place in Ligue 1. With no money to spend in the transfer window, it looks like we had to play the rest of the season with the current squad.
At the start of the off-season, I recalled wonderkid striker George Ilenikhena from his loan at Ligue 2 side EA Guingamp. The 17-year-old has scored 9 goals in 14 games and is clearly ready for Ligue 1 action. He’ll be the first option off the bench behind Amadou Ciss who’d scored 5 goals so far.
JANUARY & FEBRUARY 2024
After ending 2023 with a win over RC Lens to break a run of five games without a win, we entered 2024 with a cup defeat before a 2-3 thrashing to Rennes, not helped by 5 players being on international duty.
Marseilles then beat us 1-2 before we finally got back to winning ways with a 2-1 win over Monaco, a little bit of revenge on the 1-5 thrashing they gave us earlier in the season.
The transfer window closed with some late drama as winger Antoine Leautey, who struggles to claim a spot in the starting line up informed me he wants to leave for a bigger team. Not one to stand in a delusional player’s way, I arranged a loan deal to Serie A side Spezia who have a mandatory £1.9m fee should they avoid relegation. As they’re in the relegation zone, I’m not expecting anything but hopefully, he manages to impress.
Note I said “loan” deal…. No one wanted him on a transfer. Poor Antoine.
To replace Leautey (because I have no other wingers who can stay fit), I signed a 21-year-old attacking midfielder on loan from Mallorca in Spain. Javi Llabres has lots of potentials and has a £2.5m optional fee, should he impress. He’d made 13 La Liga appearances this season with one goal and an assist.
The day after the window closed, Gael Kakuta sprained knee ligaments and would miss 6 weeks. Tremendous.
The good news didn’t stop there though, as in a 1-2 defeat to Troyes, both Sebastian Ring and Jeremy Gelin left the game with injuries and would both miss the next month.
Two goals in the final 10 minutes gave us a 2-0 win over SM Caen before a heartbreaking loss to Strasbourg in which we came back from 0-2 down to then have striker Ciss leave the game with a broken ankle in the 85th minute and then loanee Del Moral was sent off on 89 minutes. Of course, I’d used all subs so we finished the game with only 9 men and Diallo completed his hat trick for the home side to give us a cruel loss.
The injury would be the end of Ciss’s season, which is a shame as he’s been doing well. In 11 starts and 5 sub appearances, he’s knocked in 7 goals and 1 assist.
Things got worse when a message I didn’t want to receive landed in my inbox. You may recall I signed midfielder Alberto Del Moral on loan from Villareal with a £2.5m optional fee. Well, he was also on an expiring contract and I was hoping to avoid the transfer fee by signing him to a pre-contract agreement. He’d been putting in some really good performances and was developing nicely so I was gutted when our severe lack of money meant I was unable to match offers from elsewhere and he ended up committing to Getafe, back in La Liga.
A TACTICAL CHANGE NEEDED?
After picking up a 1-1 draw with Montpellier, thanks to new boy Labres grabbing a 64th-minute equaliser I saw and took stock of the first 8 games of 2024.
In that 8 games, we’d won only twice and lost SIX. Clearly, the injuries aren’t helping when the squad is already lacking in talent compared to all but a small handful of teams in Ligue 1.
Something needs to change as we found ourselves sliding down the table towards the relegation spots.
Let’s look at reasons to make changes:
Firstly, we’re struggling to play the way I want. I believe this is due to the quality of players I have available in this squad. With the very limited funds available it’s not as if I’ve been able to go out and bring in players who can make the difference in this 4-2-3-1.
Secondly, our second brightest talent (behind Ilenikhena) defender Formose Mendy is currently a “tweener”. By that I mean I don’t consider him a central defender who I’d play in a CB pairing in a back four, and he’s not a technical, skilful enough player to be a top-level full-back.
However, having him on the right of a back three could be the perfect position for him as he fits the Wide Centre Back role well.
Similarly, Mattheo Xantippe, fits the same profile. He’s not quick enough to be a full-back and not physical enough for a CB pairing… However on the left of a back three… he could be ok. He’s currently out on loan in Ligue 2 with SC Bastia so hopefully can develop some more and be an option for next season if the formation change is a success.
The main board requirement is to Play defensively solid football – as you can see they’re disappointed. One way to (hopefully) make us better defensively is to switch to a back three. Having two holding midfielders in front of them should help too.
I’m sure it’s no coincidence that some of the best teams in club football have adopted the midfield box – Man City under Pep, Arsenal under Arteta, Barcelona under Xavi, Chelsea under Tuchel and now Klopp’s Liverpool.
This system is nothing new though, even Pablo Machin – a manager whose system I’m a fan of and whose 3-5-2 I’ve emulated previously in Football Manager – regularly used two 10s to form a box in his Girona.
If Pablo did it, and that other rag-tag bunch currently do it, I’m all for giving it a go.
What fascinates me is that each of the managers listed above forms their midfield box in different ways. Through quick and seamless off-the-ball movements, they morph their starting formation into “the box” in order to gain superiority in both numbers of players in the middle of the park and positioning between the lines. This not only ensures plenty of passing options but also makes the middle of the park compact.
In the end, these changes in position all seem to culminate in pretty much the same formation when in possession: A 3-2-5, as you can see above with Man City.
Whilst Pep, Arteta, Xavi and Klopp choose to start in a 4-3-3 formation, Tuchel and Machin started with a three at the back… so obviously I know which group I’m going to join…
Why spend all that time faffing around with smoke and mirrors? Having to rely on players having the awareness and intelligence to move into the positions at exactly the right moments, with my current squad, seems like a dangerous undertaking. So, I’ll skip the nonsense and they can just start in those positions in the first place!
Putting a new system in place for the upcoming game against Lille gives me 10 games to see how it fairs and if it’s something to use, and recruit for next season.
As I’m yet to finalise the formation, I won’t go into too much detail but here’s the initial plan. We’ll still play the same way, I’ve just swapped roles around.
Could this formation be the difference-maker?
MARCH, APRIL AND MAY 2024
The first game with the new 3-4-2-1 formation was certainly one for the neutrals, as we beat Lille 3-2 thanks to an Ilenikhena hat trick, with the last 2 coming in the 90th and 94th minute. We then put in a dominant performance against Brest but were only able to come away with a 1-1 draw.
Naturally, when you change formation to suit a player, he then gets injured! Formose Mendy picked a groin strain and would miss 6 weeks,
After a very fortunate 3-2 win over 17th-placed Ajaccio, we went into a VERY tough set of games in April. I was happy to come away with two draws, especially the 3-3 with OGC Nice, as early in the season they demolished us.
What wasn’t pleasing was the loss to FC Nantes and the 1-1 with Lyon, as all three goals against us were from set pieces.
We finished the season with a 2-0 win over Angers before two defeats against RC Lens and local rivals Reims.
So, our first season back in Ligue 1 finished with us in 12th place. I’m very happy with this, despite being as high as 9th on a few occasions. Unfortunately, the two losses to end the season knocked us down a few places.
PSG went the whole season unbeaten, including two 2-0 wins over us. They also won a treble, which I’m sure was helped by the signing of Martin Odegaard.
4-2-3-1 vs 3-4-2-1
So, with 10 games played under the new system, how did it do?
Let’s compare it against the previous last 10 league games in the 4-2-3-1.
Well, as you can see, the 3-4-2-1 performed better in every metric. The number one goal was to tighten up the defence and it’s certainly done that. We concede fewer goals, face less shots per game (JUST), have a lower xGA and allow fewer clear-cut chances.
I think it’s certainly worth consideration going into the next season.
We also had another good youth intake. It was clearly a good year for attacking players and with the right nurturing, we should have a formidable, homegrown attack for years to come.
It’s great to see young George Ilenikhena leading the scoring charts. He’s got a great future… I just hope I can keep hold of him. Gael Kakuta continues to show his value with 8 assists to add to his 6 goals as well as 1.72 open-play key passes per game.
Loanee winger Javi Llabres made the most of his short time with us and led the team with an xA of 0.29 per game in his 12 appearances, half of which came off the bench.
Defensively, Sebastian Ring and recent signing Saad Agouzoul led the way with tackles and interceptions per game.
It’s going to be a vital off-season for this Amiens team. If I choose to go with the 3-4-2-1 it’ll require a different level of recruitment to ensure I have the right players for the midfield box.
I’ll also need to decide if the optional £3.3 fee for Angel Gomes is good value when compared to the rest of the available market. In 31 appearances he picked up 3 man of the match awards as he scored 5 and assisted 7 on his way to a 6.93 overall rating. It’s going to be really interesting to see what else is out there who can replicate his output for less.
I also need to make a decision on the goalkeeper situation. Haug’s performance didn’t improve. In fact, his save ratio declined from 80% to 79% so I don’t think he’s going to be the ‘keeper for us if we want to improve and push for the European places.
However, as always, it depends on what money is available, as there are more pressing areas of required recruitment. At Right Back, for instance, where since the formational change I’ve used two youngsters in Assogba and Tutuana – neither of which are at the required standard.
We’re seriously low on funds and I need to REALLY get the wages under control and trim the squad down to around 20 players. This will also be a good opportunity to start introducing some of the talented youngsters into the first-team squad.
Speaking of which, the U19s have had another good season, finishing 3rd behind PSG and RC Lens. The main reason for this was the outstanding goal-scoring output of Said Zniber, who scored 32 goals in 32 games.
See you soon, as we prepare for season 3 and a push for the European places.