January is done and we’re unbeaten in the league although have failed to keep a clean sheet…
After four games and a general understanding of the players, I think it’s important I look at our standing in terms of the division and see where we, realistically, can aim for. I’ve realised the first mistake in this game was to not add full detail to the Turkish third tier whilst I holidayed through, meaning that the statistics collected now – both team and player – are slightly unrealistic and have occurred on the quick match engine (for example, nobody in the league had recorded an open play key pass). However, a quick filter on the Team Stats screen shows that we are largely able to play the way I want and with minimal input from me over the four games in charge:
I like to create a playing style that scores lots of goals but also stops the opposition scoring (as if it was that easy!) and that relies on progressing the ball quickly, either through direct passing or dribbling and relying on interceptions to win the ball back as opposed to tackles – which would indicate that, probably, we haven’t cut off the initial danger. We’re scoring well and creating well, although that has clearly been offset by what is a shocking defence, with lots of goals conceded from the second least number of shots against in the entire league. Going forward, we need to be intercepting more and progressing the ball forward much more. It’s a work in progress but I hope that we can build on it…
Which leaves the shape, going into two mid-season friendlies, looking like this:
The premise is quite clear – we are much more stable at the back and have quite a fluid front three, four or five, depending on the situation. The statistics from the two friendlies are pretty much irrelevant but the shapes and styles are key to me. When we build up, I want to create that 3-2-5 shape (different from my Matryoshka 2-3-5) which includes attacking players in each vertical zone of the pitch – with an emphasis on a build up down the right hand side due to a numerical advantage. I may decide to tactically force an overload on this side if it doesn’t come naturally. In terms of player instructions, I’ll be asking the right sided DM to sit a little more to cover the hole left by the wing back. Defensively, our shape should now be a big stronger, with the right centre back having the ‘Stay Wider’ instruction added to hopefully pull him over and make a solid bank of three with two players ahead of them – meaning that, when we do lose the ball moving it forward quickly, we have two banks to break down before the opponents have a clear shot at goal. However, both games were riddled with errors – including this, which literally any keeper worth his salt needs to be dealing with.
Time will tell as to whether I’ve got the right man between the sticks as, in just four games, I’ve managed to have significant impact on the attacking side of our game, but not the defensive – with a lot of that down to some really sub-standard goalkeeping:
24Erzincanspor 1-1 Menemenspor
10 points from 15 and five ‘xG wins’ but probably the first time I’ve felt we should have taken more as we travelled to the team second from bottom. We lined up in usual fashion but I intended to put a bit of pressure on their left hand side trio of WB-RGA-IW. We did that, and did it quite well – with a lot of our passes angled from left to right. However, we conceded another soft goal, this time a header from a position where we should really never be challenged from. The cross found the man on the penalty spot who put it low to the keepers left – another recurring pattern of poor shot stopping for shots low to the ground. Much praise goes to Altunbas, who continues to work really hard down the right hand side and I hope to see him add to his two assists, from 0.49 xA, as the season progresses.
The overall thoughts from the game remain:
This is data from the last three matches. We need to be more resilient in front of our own goal. In transition and, largely, in front of goal, we’re producing near enough what I’d want as this point in my tenure, but we’re a million miles off solidifying at the back.
Menemenspor 1-1 Bursaspor
New signing Mert Torlak was given a debut but trialist-cum-signing Huseiyn Dogan was left out of the squad. I did not initiate either deal, instead, relied on my DoF and Chief Scout to find and deliver them to me. As time progresses, I will delve deep into the statistical analysis of my signings but, right now, it’s trial performances and whatever can be scrounged together – with Mert joining on loan and Dogan costing just £70 a week.
This was a lowscoring, low excitement affair against the once Super Lig side Bursaspor but one where, once again, I have to question the performance of my keeper. A shot came in from the edge of the area and, as you can see by the image above, I don’t feel that an attempt was really made to save it! Whether this is animation and he’s tried his best or whether it’s just a half-cooked attempt, I do not know but, yet again, we were left to chase the game. To our credit, we came back and scored a nicely taken headed goal, thanks to Alkurt. We’re not scared of getting men into the box and that is evident from the screenshot but what does worry me is that, as of right now, I don’t really have a Plan B – the players are one dimension and we lack depth up front as it is.
Sivas Bld. 1-5 Menemenspor
The patterns of offensive play are just getting better and better.
I won’t ask why we needed to concede from here but our response was great, creating a nice 3-3-4 in the transition phase with a direct ball from Omer into the channel allowing Ekrim to square for Ali’s first of the day. His second came from a nice knock down, however, to help win these balls, I’d like to him to be ten to twenty yards either side, doubling up on either full back rather than put his 6’1″ frame up against the bigger defenders. It’s something that – as an Aston Villa fan – have read that Unai Emery utilises to get either Danjuma or Moreno involved in the build up and it’s something that I need Ali to do as well, although I cannot then let him be removed from the end ball through. Our third came down the left and was a prime example of how the play is different on either side – with the full back sitting back creating almost a 2-4-4 shape. Two more goals late on from set pieces sealed the emphatic win as we move ahead of Sivas in the table.
I’m not getting ahead of myself but we are, literally, a win away from the playoff places here. Next month sees us play both of the top two, Tarsus away ad Inegolspor at home as well as two teams – Arnavutkoy and Amed – who occupy the relegation zone.
With not a lot to do outside of manage each match, I’m able to push on through the early months in this save. I’ve lost just once in my first eleven games as Menemenspor manager which, to be fair, is probably close to what was expected of me, given the sheer underperformance of the squad when I took over. This is not a long term project for me but, naturally, I’m now starting to think about recruiting and reshaping the squad over the summer but this needs to be in line with my recruitment team and okayed by a board overseeing a club in quite a lot of financial distress at this point.
Tarsus Idman Yurdu 2-3 Menemenspor
What a performance!
Heading away to the top of the league, I made a couple of tweaks to our usual shape – moving the block back to a low block, whilst funnelling their inverted wingers to the touchlines and doubling up on them so that they couldn’t get the crosses in. I won’t dwell on the fact that both conceded goals did come from crosses – but that was largely down to some shocking marking and then allowing them a free header from a corner. We allowed them to have so much more of the ball – 63% in total – and almost doubled up on our PPDA, letting them have 4.56 passes per action, compared to our 2.77 recorded in the last game. Still, we are shaky at the back but we did an amazing job of restricting them getting close enough to the goal to do anything with our compact shape. Our first, scored by Ziya Alkurt, came from a nice bit of positional play, where the right wing is overloaded thanks to the overlapping full back and then the left side is allowed to create a numerical advantage for when the ball is switched to it. My Plan B in this game was the winner – moving the AM(s) forward to a F9(s) allowed substitute Dogan to flourish – scoring once and creating an assist despite completing on five passes in his twelve minute cameo.
This beautifully weighted through ball from Dogan was exactly what I’d asked him to do – occupying the space that the AM had taken and then, just six minutes later, being the furthest man forward to net my winner.
Menemenspor 1-1 Inegolspor
Another point against stronger opposition than ourselves.
Whilst things are moving along nicely, I think that there are two points to consider here:
- Our xG story and shot map above shows that, despite the lovely interplay that we’re starting to create on a regular basis, our shooting and, to be fair, the final ball, is still not where it should be. Lots of little increments on the xG story show that the quality of these shots was not good as we’ve lacked the vision, creativity and off the ball movement to play one more pass. Or, we have been so dependent on playing high tempo football that have just got the shot away rather than looked to play a through ball. These are the kind of things that I tend to miss the first time around – instead reflecting on the quality of the shot as opposed to the quality of the build up. I’m hoping that a deeper dive into xA as well as my routine of intently watching highlights will allow me to dig deeper.
- We have gone behind, conceding first, in five out of the nine games we’ve conceded in. This is an appalling statistic and one that we really need to iron out. Looking, briefly, at the team talk feedback, I can see that my position over them is now starting to motivate them, as we are all pulling the same way in a dressing room that is positive. However, our team cohesion, below, could be the defining factor here. I envisage that the squad will be, funds and recruitment pending, torn apart during the summer and this process will need to restart but we must do better at becoming a more cohesion outfit. I have made sure that I have both Team Bonding and Community Outreach in each week and I’m trying to ensure that my conversations are positive and we are collectively happy, but it’ll take time…
Menemenspor 3-1 Arnavutkoy
The search for that elusive clean sheet continues.
I like to take matches at face value and not believe in match engine faults but I’ve read that this is something that people are having issues with, too. Whether it means that we’ll stop scoring so many will be part and parcel of it but I genuinely don’t see us scoring the same type of goals that we are conceding. However, we take three points in a game that we largely dominated and took our chances on. But, again, it’s that dilemma between the team talk and/or the player praise then leading, almost immediately, to the goal conceded. We took our second and third goals well with both coming from nice work from left back Kadir. For the first time though, I felt that our reputation preceded us and we were faced with a much lower block than usual, leading to a significant amount (161) of passes completed in our own half. Getting a proper creator in my system might help unlock this as I move forward.
Amed 1-1 Menemenspor
At one point, we’d reached the highs of second in the league. But another wonder goal with dodgy keeping brought us back down to earth.
We really need to be beating the teams below us from now on if we harbour any intentions of making a late push into the playoffs over the last ten games but we failed to do so, also looking a little toothless against Amed. Never the less, a point is a point but I do feel like we’re probably missing a marginal gain here or there as I continue to get my head around the match engine and ways to exploit spaces and players in the opponents team. This, however, is not made any easier by not being able to scout and analyse the next opposition in any kind of detail – meaning that my first proper look at them comes from the ten minutes I watch on Full at the start of each game. I feel that I’m getting better at it but still can’t really pick out the roles of the players aside from the very obvious.
We are still within touching distance of the playoffs here with ten games left and have moved nicely away from the drop zone that we were falling towards when I took over. The ship is definitely stable, it’s now about pushing on to reach it’s destination!
I finally know a player! Mehmet is a player that I’m sure I’ve seen or come up against on FM before and, to find him offered to me, personally, by his agent, is great. He’s absolutely lost his legs and has had horrible luck with injuries across his career but I hope that, if he were to sign and play in the hole, he could really become an old fashioned Engache, allowing the fluidity around him as he ambles across the pitch, picking a pass and taking my set pieces. He’s joined on trial by Alper Potuk, another aging player but one who could ease my depth worries going forward. The big problem is that we are quite significantly in debt and, because of this, my DoF is unable to offer a substantial deal. Goes against the long term vision for my recruitment but, at this level, being directly offered out of contract players is probably the best way to initiate deals before watching them play whilst on trial, which is exactly what these lads will do for the next four weeks.
Another unbeaten month as we move forward towards the end of the season. I’m not sure, given our finances, what the future holds here but I’ve certainly enjoyed cutting my teeth at this level.
iSparta 32 1-1 Menemenspor
Four seconds plus injury time from our second clean sheet!
A little infuriating this one! Not only the late goal denying the points but our attacking performance was substandard. Our goal was 0.08xG meaning that fifteen attempts amassed just 0.53xG – some 0.035xG per shot and, as you can see from the graphic, these are coming from very deep areas. Our heat map shows that we just struggled to break down the iSparta defence and it’s one of those games whereby I really feel the lack of a true creator at the club.
As we move forward, I want to spend a bit of time looking at the key areas of my team and how they’ve developed under my stewardship. Whilst this is a little bit of a cop-out, choosing players who are performing well, I should hopefully be able to see some kind of development in their statistical outputs as we move forward. The key battle, now, will be to find ways to get those underperforming players to be performing better but that will come once I feel that I have the right balance on the pitch and I can delve into additional training, traits and personalised instructions.
For each player, their thumbnail links to their profile and their statistics upon my takeover are at the top with up to date statistics underneath.
Ekrem has provided four goals and two assists for me from the right wing, which is a strong output – having a say in 24% of the goals since I took over. What I am pleased with is that he has been moving into positions whereby his shots are of better quality and he’s taking more of them, too. He made two appearances for me as a right back but didn’t not impress there, and has really cemented himself with improvements in his dribbling and chance creation outputs. Whilst there is evidence of his crossing ability increasing – something that his good Off The Ball, Anticipation and Acceleration should indicate – I do want him to work harder to find his target in the box as this puts him way outside the top twenty at this level.
Ali is eighth in the league for xG created but sixteenth in goals scored, even though I’ve managed to increase the number of shots he’s taking. However, my concerns come from the reduction in shot xG – meaning that he’s shooting from lesser quality positions and then the Conversion Rate, which is likely a by-product from that. However, in my system, despite being an Advanced Forward, I require a lot more from him in terms of movement and positional play. At the end of the day, he’s scoring more than he had been when I took over and I really like the way he builds up the play, so it’s now on me to ensure that he has another option with him so that he doesn’t just resort to long distance shots.
The on-loan right back has been a touch out of form of late but has started to form into the player I want – interception more and tackling less as well as being far more aggressive – as you can see from his drop in crosses – although he’s contributing a lot more and also his drop in progressive passes as he’s far further forward than before.
Overall, the squad is developing to my style of player and, as I said, I need to then look to layer in additional things in order to get them to excel in these areas – although, in the Turkish third division, excel isn’t a word that gets thrown around often!
Menemenspor 1-1 Erokspor
I’m conscious that I’ve really not been digging into the opposition and trying to get the better of certain players weaknesses, instead just focusing on a formation that may or may not actually be the one that starts the game. So, for this game, I decided to dig into a little bit more. To start, Erokspor are a team with no wins in six, losing the last three. However, they are fifth in the league for shots taken per game and sixth for xG/90 – 1.22, which is 0.11 per game below us, the league leaders in this metric. It’s likely that they’ll attack quite well but also be very weak defensively.
A look at their players, sorted by appearances, shows me the details you can see above. There are two players that I wanted to focus on:
- Zahit Findit is clearly their strongest player, who is good with two feet and able to score goals, even though he’s currently pretty badly out of form. I noticed that there is a dotted line between him and the right back, Cansu, so I expect that their performances, with each other, may be exploitable, too. To counter that, I’ve set some extra instructions for my left back in an attempt to mark him out of the game. I’ve also set more opposition and team instructions – pushing him inside, even though he’s an Inside Forward, simply because we can double and triple up on him there.
- At the other end, I spotted a potential weak link – Enes Kayar. Statistically, he covers less ground and makes less sprints/90 than all my centre backs, is out of form and is also the weakest rate of the players from the opposition report created by my chief scout. With my own striker Ali in good form, I really want to get as many options to get one vs one with him, so have instructed my attacking midfielder to get into those spaces, either against him or the other defender.
Within minutes, we have doubled up and our goal, on the ten minute mark, shows it, too as Dogan gets in and finishes really well. After that, we managed to keep Findik quiet but, sadly, couldn’t go on and seal all of the points. However, to create more xG than our average, whilst stopping Erokspor create as much as they do on average means that this feels like points dropped even though it feels like a tactical victory.
We keep moving forward though…
Menemenspor 2-0 Bayburt
When the hard work was done for the last game and it didn’t come off, it just feels refreshing to know that we did things well in this game and got some luck, perhaps even should have scored six or seven goals ourselves. Efecan Gulerce was the left wing back that I targeted for this game, pushing the passing moves more down the right than before and he had a poor game. However, it was two pretty horrific mistakes that gifted us our two goals, although I should be writing about a third, late on, which Enes somehow missed:
This, combined with the fact that he’s 421 minutes without a goal and the pass map that pretty much misses him out, does leave me a little concerned at how that IF(a) role is working. But, whilst we’re still unbeaten and playing some, overall, nice football, I’m not going to act too quickly to rip up the playbook.
Batman 0-2 Menemenspor
Another clean sheet and another three points but a game that was polar opposites from our previous encounter. Batman (yes, they are really called that and yes, Batman is a real place in south eastern Turkey), made us fight for everything and it was Atalay Gurel, the holding midfielder, who scored twice – the first of which coming from a direct free kick. It is also the first time I believe I have had anyone be the player of the week and love the little infographic that I get with it! This was one of the first matches that we have lost on xG and it was really interesting to see how a side, fighting to avoid relegation, set up and took the game to us. I still feel that we are weak defensively and, if it hadn’t been for a hatful of missed chances, we would have been overran.
Menemenspor 4-0 Duzcespor
My pre-match investigating told me that I’d be expecting inverted wingers and a couple of playmakers, probably from deep. Knowing that we do struggle with long, hoofed balls over the top that my defenders just love to watch, I set out with a plan involving some opposition instructions, particularly aimed at their centre back – Can Otman. His key pass rate is pretty decent for a defender and the tag of BPD makes me assume that the attributes which I haven’t uncovered lend themselves to that role. Looking at the passes received in the first half, you can really see that I’d made the pitch smaller, pushing them back and centrally to where I have most of my players and, importantly, limited Can to just a couple of his long, raking passes. In the end Can finished with just a 63% pass completion rate and we worked hard to take our chances, possibly building on the fact that he was having such a poor game on the ball, ending with a 6.1 rating. I’m getting to the idea that by stopping a player doing things I will/may/could also make it easier for me to do what I want against them as body language can certainly be a negative by-product of a poor performance.
Between games, my youth intake (click the image to see the full list) arrived and, as expected, it’s nothing special. Unfortunately, due to lack of any money, I’m not going to be signing any of these players aside from Mehmet Sezer, who is a good athlete and has a good mentality, even if his personality is less than positive.
Somaspor 1-3 Menemenspor
I’ve started to see the benefit in the ‘mentality’ system a little more in this edition and am trying to spot noticeable changes. Here, away at a strong Somaspor side, we went to Cautious, from Balanced and I could see that slightly less risk, in this turnover in possession, for example. We managed to control the game for large periods but are still looking shaky at the back. However, three points at a very important time sees us rise to the top of the second half table, with us being unbeaten in the first fourteen reverse fixtures – certainly a strong showing!
We end the month with a little breathing space over the teams below us and ranked as ‘team of the month’ too. Five games left to cement our place in the playoffs and see what happens from there!
This is where we sit right now, down from about £60k in the black in November:
Which indicates to me that I will have the same budgets, or smaller, for next year. Here are my expiring contracts:
Despite all the issues with keeping, I (well, my DoF) will offer Zulfuk Ozer a new deal but the rest will move on or leave at the end of their loans, as I’m not able to subsidise that level of wage commitments any longer.
That leaves me, essentially, with the players I want to build my team around, as seen here:
It’s a little concerning that there are so few players here and that I will be needing some kind of total rebuild but I also have a few players that I want to keep around:
HOWEVER… the problem comes with our current will we go up/won’t we go up predicament. Going up will open the doors to a whole host of new players, particularly as the no non-Turkish player rule is dropped but we have no feelers out there for who could be available. Don’t go up and we then also need a new team because I’ll be wanting to build a side that can steamroll this division in order to line myself up for a job over the course of the next season as a team in the second tier – and one with a much more sound financial backing.
Five cup finals played. Some more to come!
We are playoff bound, which is a great performance – finishing the regular season fifth when, some twenty-two games ago, we sat fourteenth.
Menemenspor 3-2 Corum
More of the same here. We enter April knowing that five wins guarantees us a playoff spot and five wins also puts us in pole position, form wise, to go up. Therefore, I’m going to try and get my scouting and pre-match prep as tight as possible so that I can go into the game with a good idea of a game play. I’ve watched Corum’s (black kits) last game, a home loss, 2-3, to bottom side Amed (white kits). I made some notes as the game progressed:
- Look to sit deep when out of possession, trying to be compact horizontally and vertically, pushing the play wide.
- Keeper looks to be very error prone as he misjudged a cross for Amed’s first.
- DM looks very static in front of back four so AM might not be too productive – I could either offset him or use a F9(s).
- Both fullbacks are quite advanced when in possession, so we could be a threat on the break.
- Pull everyone back at corners so a short routine may help to pull players out and make space in the box.
- I believe full backs are man marking so there is space to be exploited out wide.
- They appear to try and stop crosses but aren’t very good at doing so.
- I think they try to play through the centre forward, getting the ball into him on the floor but he’s often quite isolated as the midfield don’t appear to be taking too many risks to get up to support him.
The analyst also provided some good points:
I’ve made the following changes:
- AM(s) moves to a F9(s) to try and avoid the defensive midfielder but also to pull a centre back out of the way.
- AF(a) moves to P(a) as I look to just get him in the box at all times so he can get his shots away.
- FB(a) moves to WB(a) as, even though we are trying to exploit the centre, there will be a player wide occupying space where their full back may not be.
- DM(s) moves to SV(s) and we focus play through the centre as this is where they are weakest.
- All attacking corners are now short and have a player coming short for them, removed from being in the box.
We made the best possible start going ahead in the third minute thanks to some header pinball in the box. At the break, I looked at the passes received by P(a) Ali and felt that it was a little too direct and straight, so moved IF(a) Ziya to a WTF(a) in the hope of moving the play wider and exploiting spaces from their vacated wing backs. There wasn’t much action in the second half until we went to sleep, allowing Burak to pull it back for their unmarked striker to finish. In the 80th minute, they converted a penalty but we pulled one back immediately, working a short corner nicely to get the ball onto Ali’s head before we got very, very lucky in the last minute of normal time, capitalising on a mistake to play Ali in, for his second. We held on to win 3-2 but a non-Pen xG score of 1.02 to 1.89 shows that it wasn’t a good performance from us at all. We did capitalise twice tactically with the second and third (as we’d have never had a man there to make that tackle to lay Ali in) but, overall, it just felt a little over complicated. Maybe the things I spotted were unable to be exploited due to the players I have at the club?
With the title race coming down to the wire, i feel quietly confident that we’ll second a position between third and fifth but less confident we can overturn a five point deficit, bettering the results of Tarsus and Inegolspor to finish top.
Afjet 2-2 Menemenspor
Once again, opponent game watched. The analysts reckon they’re slightly lucky to be seventh at the moment, outscoring their team xG by nearly eight goals. According to their pitch tilt, they’re not the best at getting the ball into our final third but pretty good at stopping it getting into theirs, so the match will, probably, be won or lost in the middle of the park. It’s also worth noting that they make many more fouls than we do and we’re pretty strong from set pieces, so I may look to add that in. In transition, they seem to create a 4-2-4 kind of shape which plays out, defensively, as a 4-3-3 but they are most dangerous on their left wing, which could be a problem for us and our marauding right back, Altunbas. However, on the same note – their WB/IW combo on the left will leave them open, too. I love this little chart, too:
Basically, we need the first goal. Afjet have won thirteen times when scoring first, as have we, but only once when conceding first. My gameplan will be to try and blow them away early, whilst keeping an eye on loanee forward, Ege.
I went 4-2-4 on Attacking mentality to start, as you can see from the number of players in front of the ball in our build up. After ten minutes, we’d been able to pin them back but a stupid goal conceded on the break, where our full back just watched a long kick sail over his head and to their attacker put us behind. We’d have been level on the half hour mark if Ali hadn’t strayed offside but we did level on fifty-two minutes after a well worked move and immediately went in front after another nice move, scored by Ali. After many rushed clearances in the first half, I added Play out of Defence to try and reduce the hoofing from our defenders, but, ironically, a punt downfield from Omer allowed Ziya to cross for Ali. Whilst it wasn’t my ideal build up, it did show a nice overload on the right wing with my IW(s) and FB(a) creating confusion. But, again, we were pegged back in the sixty-fifth minute because we are just terrible at defending – a little bit of effort to pick up the spare man would have been wonderful here and maybe Olcay wouldn’t have scored!
Two all it ended and a battle of midfield attrition, as I predicted. However, we simply cannot continue to defend the way that we do if we want to push on and do well. My squad are familiar with their roles and my tactic isn’t defensively senseless. The errors we are making are either down to the match engine or down to individual lack of ability and, given my way of trying to see this realistically – every team uses the same ME, I feel that some of my players just aren’t good enough. Plus, we still didn’t win when conceding first.
Menemenspor 5-2 Sanliurfaspor
Two inverted wingers means I will be pushing them as wide as I can, especially with a 6’0″ striker who only wins 30% of his aerial duels and is currently out of form with no goals in his last 282 minutes. Sanluirfaspor are the statistical opposite of Afject and are considered to be underperforming, coming into the game with two wins, a draw and two defeats in their last five – whilst we sit top of the form charts with four wins in our last five.
Academy graduate Kerem Paykoc got his first ever senior goal as we took the lead, from a corner, inside the first fifteen before getting his second just ten minutes later from another corner. I’ve used my AM as an AP(s) in the past couple of games and kept in the Play out of Defence and have noticed that we now take goal kicks like this, which is great when that move led to a ball going down the right wing, into the box and into the net from Ziya, adding our third before a penalty on the stroke of half time saw us go in 4-0 up – as Kerem, on a hatrick, was told to take his penalty despite me trying to change it! Ali added a fifth early in the second half before we gifted them one back, switching off from a crossfield ball. Then, again, we were just exploited by defenders watching the game pass by.
Nit-picking from a 5-2 win means that I am still concerned about the amount of times we do this – a long, aimless ball forward where we lose the first and second balls. To try and alleviate that, and, understanding that I’ve asked for a higher tempo, I’ve dropped passing length from ‘Slightly More Direct’ to ‘Standard’ knowing that we stretch the play and move forward quickly, anyway, so the I still should be seeing plenty of vertically but less of this:
In one game – we lost possession 60 times when looking at our long, progressive passes. Not good enough! Nor is the fact we’ve conceded six in our last three but we’re just bad at defending!
Menemenspor 1-1 Ankaraspor
Research tells me that Ankaraspor aren’t likely to be quite as powerful going forward as my last couple of opponents and have relied on the goalscoring on attacking mid, Sedat Cengiz, rather than their forwards. Centre back Recep Yemisci appears to not only be their form player but also their best so playing around him may be our best option. Similarly to Sanliurfaspor, they’ve got two Inverted Wingers and a Poacher, who is also 6’0″ tall with 26% header completion so I’ll go for the same style of forcing them wide and allowing crosses.
We started terribly, not pushing forward and invited them to score as they passed through the channels between FB and CB to finish easily. In times like this, it’s clear that the player doesn’t have the game intelligence to deliver the team instruction (force wide), and the player instruction (show onto – in this case – left foot) to stop this kind of thing happening time and time again. Ali got one back on the hour, prodding home after good work from Bedirhan down the right. A draw in a game that we controlled is a little annoying but we looked a little more defensively solid and our long passing data, above, was much better. It does feel like we’ve lost a bit of our counter attacking efficiency but have nearly halved the number of times we’ve given their defenders the ball quite cheaply in mid-transition, leaving ourselves open to be countered, too.
It does also mean, as you can see above, that our possession stat has risen. I feel that, looking at the rise in passes from the defenders, this is probably possession for possession sake and is, from watching the game, largely just passing it around – so the Play out of Defence will be being removed for the next game, to see how that changes it. We head into the last game with a playoff spot secured, eighteen games unbeaten but unable to take the title. I do not know if the playoffs are in any way seeded but I want to give myself the best possible opportunity by finishing as high up the table as I can.
Menemenspor 0-0 Nazili
Nazili have big Target Forward Huseiyn Colak up top and play a winger down the left, so I know, quite clearly what my plan will be to do – stop him being able to put the ball into the box. 45% of their goals this season have come from crosses on that left side so I’ll need to mirror my shape, nullifying that threat. That’ll be made a bit harder with the Mezzala they’ll probably play in midfield but, given the fact that they play two of them, our build up should be able to bypass them quite easily – bringing my Advanced Playmaker into play. Both full backs are quite defensive so I’m going to have to require some good interplay and off the ball movement to break down.
A clean sheet?!
We did exactly what I set us out to do. Nazili completed just two of their seventeen crosses, which is great considering their last three games were: 8 from 47, 8 from 38 and 4 from 24. Our game plan was a little off, offensively as the defenders went back to hoofing the ball and, then by bringing back the Play out of Defence, we kept it too much. I think it’s going to be all about measuring the risk vs reward of doing that against the opposition we face. Nazili sat back and made the long ball the easier option but made winning the long ball, and second ball, much harder.
That completes a pretty wonderful turnaround for us from flirting with relegation to the opportunity for an immediate response to the second tier. The four teams in this group face each other whilst the four from the other do, too. From there, there is a semi final, consisting of four teams (unsure if that is still divisional) and then a grand final, although it appears the two group champions plus another two are promoted, so that may just be for bragging rights!
I’m pretty shocked at how I’ve been able to turn this around but have a sneaking feeling we might just do ok here…
Nearly all of May completed and the miracle run continues.
It’s as nail-biting as it is confusing as I’m not really sure what constitutes promotion but I am sure that we are certainly working towards the tactical changes that I need in order for us to be successful.
Menemenspor 2-0 Inegolspor
Probably the biggest overachieving side in the playoffs, Inegolspor have scored four more than expected and picked up thirteen more points than expected. However, with a strong attack and a pretty stable defence, they’ll be pretty hard to break down. However, their play is built around a really high number of blocks and tackles, suggesting that their defending is often last ditch and I think I can get the better of that by playing a swift, counter attacking style. In terms of nullifying potential threats, right winger Batuhan Salman leads their assists charts and has 3.94 dribbles per game – even if his crossing percentage is a pretty poor 12%. Ideally, I’ll push them wide but won’t invite crosses like I have before, as I still think we’re not the best at actually dealing with them and, in this case, their striker is 6’3″ and a bit stronger in the air than those I’ve faced in the past.
I wanted to start brightly and push them back, which we did really well. A set piece goal was our just reward as we racked up 0.95xG to their 0.00xG in the first twenty minutes. At half time, the xG story was great, but I felt that we really needed another to settle my own stomach. In the sixty-fourth minute, Ziya was brought down and Ali tucked away the penalty. It stayed 2-0 as we controlled a lot of the ball – again, creating almost a lite version of our counter attacking but, as you can see from the momentum, stopping them getting anything going.
We’re in a really strong position for the second leg.
Inegolspor 2-1 Menemenspor
We are human, after all.
Defeat but progress on aggregate in an unfortunate mismatch where, due to only having one left back at the club, I was forced to play a DM against their strongest player – a player who we marked out of the last game – Batuhan Salman. I set up in the same way as I did in the home leg, with one alteration – moving to Cautious risk mentality rather than balanced. However, that backfired as we conceded early and, with a defence as shaky as ours has been, continuing that safer style did nothing to calm my nerves. It made us really blunt going forward and, despite it coinciding with a time when they didn’t amass any further xG, it was a torrid, low quality watch, with nervous turnover after nervous turnover. A penalty on the hour mark was converted by Ali for his twentieth of the season but our response was far from ideal. We allowed them one more chance, which was duly finished but did manage to shut up shop to save extra time and progress.
Menemenspor 1-0 Bursaspor
The xG table has this double header down as the best two teams in the league playing off against each other. Truth be told, the squad that they have amassed is quality, including Melih Demir, the highest valued player in the division at just 16, who has made a phenomenal start to his career. There really appears to be no avenues to exploit – they play a deep, compact 4-3-3 shape and rely on DM Kubilay to be creative, so I shall be trying to mark him out of the game, possibly pushing to a slightly higher press or just man marking him with a more defensive-minded AM.
A really nervy game but one that we managed for the large part of. Wanting to get a good start, I opted to change to a Positive mentality, and add some extra risk to our game after the first five minutes or so. Playing with an Engache, mainly in there to stay quite central and static in order to disrupt play through their DM, was a challenge as he completely changed the way we are fluid in our build up play. However, Tuncer – my usual DM – did exactly what I wanted, limiting Kubilay to just thirteen completed passes, down from 60, 42, 53, 61 and and 47 in his last five games. It was Ali Ozgun, again, who tapped in a cross to leave us ahead at the half-way mark of this tie.
Bursaspor 0-0 Menemenspor
DEFEND! DEFEND! DEFEND!
The double pivot of Bursaspor surprised me a little – with them sacrificing a more offensive midfielder from the last leg, despite being at home. Because of this, I just went cautious from the second minute, keeping Play out of Defence on and Work the ball into the box in an attempt to just stifle them of possession. With what was at stake, there was absolutely no way I was going to be giving anything away and we just about did it – keeping the game relatively even, albeit at the expense of good performers really anywhere on the pitch.
The dream run continues and we now advance into a final (?!?!) against Kocaelispor. I think the winner goes up but not sure how they then meet the fourth team to be promoted to replace the four relegated…
(End of) May 2023
Menemenspor 1-0 Kocaelispor
This is probably the greatest turnaround I’ve witnessed on any FM career of mine. We are promoted. You’ll notice that this is past tense as it was one of those games where I didn’t want to take my eyes of it to write up anything, in case I missed a big incident!
It was quite straightforward, too. Kocaelispor play a similar 4-2-3-1 to us and their goals come through their striker – 13 – and their attacking mid – 10 so these were obvious places I wanted to cut off supply to. I’d also watched highlights from a few games prior to this and noted that 34 year old keeper Gokhan Degirmenci was in quite wonderful form, with a 78% save ratio and, probably, this game wouldn’t end in a high scoring affair. I was also concerned with the fact that, on paper, Kocaelispor were the best team in their group but, even so, had still not overperformed their xG.
Straight from kick off, our defensive shape was visible – a slight alteration to the mentality of the IF – now on support, created three banks. I started on a Balanced mentality, which isn’t unusual, but my pragmatic self was slightly concerned, as, in transition our right back was still well ahead of the play, leaving their winger free. The game ebbed and flowed with a number of low-xG long shots from both sides before we hit the post in the nineteenth minute, with a strong header from a set play. Our game plan of tight marking their forward and AM with our four central defensive players was, even in my opinion, a little risky in terms of not offering anything going forward, but their passes received from the first half told me that we were doing the right thing – forward Samed Onur was limited to just fourteen touches, with one in our penalty area, whilst AM Aydogan failed to touch the ball anywhere inside our defensive third apart from the two corners he took.
I made no changes to this for the second half, hoping that, whilst we stayed defensively sound, a moment of magic would unlock something going forward. However, as the second half progressed, I was feeling more and more risk-averse and was almost preparing for the idea of extra time and penalties, holding back a couple of spare changes if needed be. Kocaelispor had their best spell following the eightieth minute and my heart was in my mouth on a couple of occasions but Zulfuk came to our rescue. Then, in the last minute of normal time, this happened:
Mert Yusuf was brought down and Huseiyn Dogan was there to put the penalty away, at the death. We successfully wasted enough time to see out the minutes of injury time although I would have been incensed if we had conceded from a position like this – where left back Kadir is off getting treatment and nobody drops in to fill his role. An absolutely insane turn-around for the club under my tenure and, for me, a shock promotion – although I do remember writing, in either November or December, that we were only a win away from the playoff spots!
Summer will be really tough but I’ll have a think about my squad in the remainder of this post and set up some things I want to do over the summer.
As a team, we haven’t quite got the metrics in the right place for the teams I like to build but I must remember that, firstly, they are skewed from the fourteen games without me in charge and, secondly, that we’re actually performing better playing a lite version of counter attacking, whereby we keep the ball a lot more and build up in different ways, with a hefty number of goals coming from set plays (three penalties, eight from corners, two from direct free kicks and one from an indirect free kick). However, we are creating a league high 1.40 non-Pen xG this season and have completed 201 crosses, 17 more than the next best side – where a lot of our goals have come from. These aren’t floated crosses, either, they are crosses where we break the lines and square the ball for a simple tap in – successfully stretching a defence or pulling a player out of position performed at pace. 527 dribbles made and over 3,500 high intensity sprints shows that we are moving towards that high intensity attacking game but we are still some 350 progressive passes away from topping that metric as I look to really ingrain us as a back-to-front team.
Thirty-nine goals conceded is only good enough for sixth best in the league, although our xGA is second best at 37.80 whilst we have picked up an unwanted stat of a league-high 496 fouls this season. We are fifteenth in OPPDA, which is a testimony to our compact, mid-to-low block but I’m sure that the data is either wrong, or skewed badly due to not running on full detail before I took over as we are all separated by just 0.27 actions, with ours 1.91 a game, much lower than what I’ve been seeing in our matches (last five: 2.79, 3.11, 3.1, 2.53 and 3.15).
I think that this playing style will certainly develop over time as the level of football and players increases.
As time progresses, I will be a bit more specific with these end of season stats and, once I’ve built/rebuilt my analysis tool, that’ll feature heavily, too. But for now, I’ve got some basic Excel calculations to help understanding an area of the pitch where we’ve struggled the most. Paykoc, at just 19, is the standout performer – both Average Rating wise as well as the sheer number of Interceptions he makes. Looking at his Excel data, It’s a little concerning that just 11% of his passes are progressive and that he’s nearly in the bottom percentile for times lost possession, which is worrying in our build up – however, long or short it will be. However, his ability to regain the ball is fantastic in these calcuations, comparing him with all defensive minded players at this level – both groups. The Pressures metric for both Paykoc and Omer Sahbas shows the move towards a compact, un-moving defensive line where the block in front of it does the hard work, leading to more interceptions and progression options, even if they’re not being used too well.
A combination of Sahbas and Cansev are, at this point, the best we have elsewhere but go into next year with just one full back at the club – which is a serious concern for me.
A bit of a mixed bag in this area too, if I’m honest. Veteran Ferhat – who has performed pretty well – will be retiring at the end of the season and, with Atalay’s loan expiration, we’re going to be quite light here, too. I want more from the attacking midfielder as signings Mert Yusuf and Huseiyn Dogan haven’t quite done as well as I wanted, despite them both being to thank for the last minute penalty in the playoff final.
The only area of the team that I’m truly happy with. The trio of Ziya, Ali and Ekrem have contributed to a large chunk of our goal contributions and have looked like they want to play for me and in my style each week. Adding some depth to them will. Compared to all wingers at this level, Ziya creates a chance every 39 passes and Ekrem ever 41 passes, putting them both in the top 5% of players at this level. Ali has stood out, too, but, if I’m nit-picking, I’d like him to be creating higher xG chances, although I don’t want to sacrifice his off the ball movement and the stuff that the stats does not see – like the times he creates space for others or pulls a defender out.
A tiny budget and a small squad await me as I try and build a squad that can stay up next year. I envisage that we may not be favourites for relegation as Somaspor, the winners of our group, have over-achieved to the extent that they would finish mid-table on xPts. Below is the squad I have left as we head into the next season:
I’m trying to use a combination of statistical analysis, agent offers and local player knowledge. I feel that the last one, whilst not hugely realistic, is really the only way that transfers at this kind of level get done. How many Turkish third tier clubs have a dedicated team of analysts working to scout and report back on the talent at their disposal in the nation or surrounding nations? Probably none. But, then again, how many Turkish second tier clubs would be viable options for agents to contact as a way into European football? Probably lots.
It’ll be a combination of the above but any trialists will have to play matches rather than just being signed on the back of a coach rating the day they join! That’s definitely not realism…