July 2029 – Takeover report

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Certainly not messing around! Within a week – I’d interviewed and signed and sealed a contract to see me move to the north of Italy. Bergamo – some forty km from Milan and a similar distance to the Swiss border is home of Atalanta, a team much much better than their previous showing. Three third places in a row rounded off their 2010s but they went one better in 2024/25, although they failed to win in the last five and bottled the league. However, there was a silver lining for Leonardo Jardim as he brought home a Europa League and a Super Cup.

I don’t want to sound hyperbolic but this, my fifth job, could be the one where I build my Empire. Menemenspor, Genclerbirligi, Trabzonspor and Sassuolo have come and passed but there is a really feeling that this could be the job that keeps me entertained long term and stops me from wanting to hop jobs next summer. I’m delighted by both the board and supporter culture, meaning I can and will be pushed to bring through and sign younger players but the contract offer of a €20m WARCHEST and a near-€2m wage packet tells me that I will – hopefully – have the backing I need to build something for the longer term. Furthermore, the non-EU rules allow me a little bit of freedom to begin to instil the world-wide recruitment network sooner rather than later.

I’m also drawn to Atalanta because they are a team in transition.

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Several big players from last year, including top scorer and immortal striker Duvan Zapata, there is a much smaller first team squad. However, the quality is clear to see and, with the right additions and a well-oiled training and tactical approach, I am confident that we can make some strong progress. Full profiles can be accessed by clicking on each individual thumbnail.

Goalkeepers

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Carnesecchi is the clear number one here and a man in his prime. He’s Decisive and really commanding, although I do wish for some more passing ability. That being said – if it means I end up changing his distribution style, moving to a DM or central playing in order to bait a press, then that will be absolutely fine given the fact he’s more more imposing than anyone I’ve managed before. Ferraroli is of the same mold as Marco and will be an able deputy, getting some cup action.

Full Backs

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Melayro is one of the more expensive transfers in to the club, costing nearly €20m from Man Utd. However, the Dutchman – uncapped but seemingly in the squad – brings a physical presence to the defence that I have sorely missed before. His trait of Long Range Passes will help in transition and he’s solid defensively, too. Youngster Speranza, fresh from a loan at Catania, will play backup to him, initially at least. On the left – I have a player for either need: Pellegrini is strong on the ball and can maybe invert, whereas Maehle will be a perfect false-winger if I want to offset my defensive line. The Dane is approaching the twilight of his career and will eventually pass the buck to Luca, who isn’t much younger, but there is good competition. If I was being picky, I’d like another right back but we’ll see…

Centre Backs

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Wow. This area is settled for years to come! Okoli is insane and is the first elite player I’ve had. Not much of a ball player but he’ll excel in anything defensive I have to ask of him. He’s currently requesting a transfer but I am confident that I can hold on to him and build the team around him. He’ll be partnered by academy graduate Fusari, who is – essentially – the opposite of him. He is a fantastic talent and the kind of player who I can really build the squad ideology around. Behind him we have new signing Monea, who looks to be a steal from his native Romania and Ferrigno, who has just completed a loan at Serie A SPAL and looks to be a strong prospect. I am aware of the period of time it’ll take Monea to adapt to his new surroundings and for Ferrigno to find his feet at this level on a regular basis, which does make me consider an experienced head in this role in the short term. It’s not a priority but one I may explore.

Central Midfielders

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A little spoilt for choice here, too. Torreira has been here a while and is a strong player to have around the team, but is likely to be used as a backup for the season ahead, playing behind Renato Sanches, who I want to move deeper. His physicality and elite work rate will see him become a lethal player in our counter attacks as he has some wonderful skills on the ball, too. My only concern is that he does lack a little defensively so I will have to see if his attacking output comes at the detriment of this. However, he has quality behind him. In the central roles, I think Ederson and Moleiro will work well together. I like a tricky, central winger and I think the Spaniard can do that and build on what has been quite a poor start to his time here since moving from Inter. We have three spaces and four positions here, so maybe some developmental prospects could interest me for these roles. I like my central players to be, essentially, 10s, but we are not well stocked with them at youth level.

Wide Midfielders

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I think I’ve got one creator and one traditional wide man here as I think Carvalho is nicely suited to a wide role. He’s fairly quick but it’s his creativity that could be a catalyst for causing problems, much like Portanova did for me at Sassuolo. Sottil was quite an expensive signing from Fiorentina a few years ago and is nicely rounded but I’m not quite sure where he fits into this jigsaw. It’s also an area that is short numbers wise but, given I want such a unique skillset, a hard one to fill. Probably a priority in the short term though.

Forwards

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Maupay is on his way out more than likely and he’ll be joined by Antonio Soares – as Shakhtar pay €24m for a man with the worst coach report I’ve ever seen. There is, however, still enough talent here with Camello – not exactly in form – my first choice and two youngsters as backup. I really like the look of Zenga, who has just returned from a spell in France and seems to have just the right skill set for this role, as does Costa. However, going into a season with two nineteen year old forwards – whatever my intentions for youth development – feels a bit shaky and an area I do need to work on developing.

My next job is working out what to do with the talented youth we have, setting up training schedules, recruitment foci and pre-season stuff as well as a reshuffle of the staffing, to include Fabrizio Coloccini and Sergio Aguero, both of whom left Sassuolo as I did. I am delighted to have got the job here and I am looking forward to a long and fruitful career with La Dea!

Early July 2029

With this being my fifth club, I’ve had to model/re-model the backroom and set everything up before, and, with Sassuolo, in the not too distant past. Therefore, it’s something that I’ve really grown to love and want to development my sharing of.

Below are the key men that I’ll be working with. Now that I’ve changed the view (literally) of backroom staff and don’t feel like I’m gaming it any more, I’m much happier. In Zamagna, we have a DoF who will be able to negotiate me the best deal possible, whilst also being pretty handy at spotting young talent; in Peruzzi and Martusciello, we have two Assistant Managers who offer different things with the latter coming in after leaving Conte’s Juventus as he moved to Real Madrid. Francesco Palmieri will be in charge of bringing through the youth at this wonderful academy and I think his personal ability embodies what we stand for. Fumagalli will have a key role in analysing ours, and other teams’ data and Brazilian Roberto Drummond heads a vast scouting team.

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Within the actual coaching team, I’ve brought in a few new faces to join what we already had in order to create excellence in our systems. At Sassuolo, I brought Coloccini, Aguero and Otamendi with me for the ride but here, it’s all about getting the best members of staff out in order to get the best results. I have brought in a couple of new faces: the aforementioned Martusciello, as well as Cesare Bovo and Darwin Quintero in order to really push on with this area of the club.

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My other early job is to ensure I have set the club on a firm footing and that I am not wasting time searching for talent that is unaffordable.

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Our projections show that we’re going to lose a fair bit of money over the coming seasons, so deals like the one below will be of great benefit to me:

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As I said – Soares had the worst collection of personality traits and abilities and to fetch this kind of money, for a bit that came in minutes after I took over, was brilliant. Furthermore, the below deals are potentially going to be great for us, too – so I will keep an eye out for when I can cash in on them or when there is potential for the first two players to be moving. The best part about the last one is that Affinito does not even play for Leverkusen now, the team that still owe us over €12m.

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In terms of incoming deals within my first week – I decided to quickly swoop for someone I’d be eying all of last season whilst at Sassuolo.

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Amey’s release clause of €6.5m had been activated upon relegation and the centre back/full back signed on the dotted line, becoming both my first transfer and also most expensive transfer, by nearly 100%. Amey’s defensive capabilities, in a team doing a lot of defending. stand out to me and I think that he can go on to become the long term successor for Melayro Bogarde at right back, or, given his 6’2″, 93kg frame, become a strong centre back that can take over from Caleb Okoli. I’m delighted to have got this one done early doors.

My intentions now turn to actually using my recruitment team to identify a wide player. I have my eyes on one, below:

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Exequiel is in Brazil right now but has had a strong few years. I’m just ensuring that all the reports are complete before I consider making a move.

In addition to this, I’ve also managed to complete the following menial tasks, which don’t warrant screenshots!

  • All players at the club have P/R/D training set up
  • All players now have Additional Foci.
  • Senior, U20 and U18 team training is complete:
    • Coaches are assigned correctly.
    • Rest and intensity tweaked
    • Slight tweaks to some training units
  • U20 and U18 tactical variations beginning to be explored – more to write about this.
  • Pre-season set up.

Scout recruitment foci set up.

Mid July 2029

I think I’m going to end up with several posts in this month alone but, to be honest, the majority of this one is just sorting out in my own head how I want us to play this year, learning from all of the things I’ve experienced before and coming in off the back of a campaign at Sassuolo where, despite our successes, we were often quite goal shy.

This is roughly where my thinking lies at the minute…

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The whole ideology is now to create opportunities to draw the opposition out and play through them, knowing that more and more teams will likely sit back against us now and, even more so, when/if we become more successful. With just one striker, we’re always going to struggle at playing through a low block so need to draw them out whilst still playing high risk football. I cannot instruct it but I want to take the De Zerbi-ism of foot on the ball at the back to ensure that a press is triggered before moving directly with or without the ball towards the opposition goal.

The thought is that we then form a 3 (CD,HB,BPD) – 2 (IWB,CAR) -4 (CWB,WM,CM,WM) – (AF) shape in transition, although I am a little concerned about how that will play out in practice although another De Zerbi-ism in split eights (in this case, the WM and CM) and the offset double pivot (CAR and IWB) may provide me with more diagonal lines in which to progress the ball forward. This, to me, builds on the learning from previous jobs and shapes: our double-IWB shape tends to work well against one striker formations but, with one less rest defender, it means that we have often got caught out on the break and we were also super susceptible to long balls coming through the middle due to a highly-aggressive central midfielder pairing. This defensive shape worked well against a two striker formation as it gives us that spare man (Biesla principle) and I wonder how this will work when we essentially have two spare men against a one striker shape: it may allow us more passing options through their press as it brings more opposition forward or it may mean we end up with passive defensive passing across the back three.

I can split the further details into three sections:

Shape:

  • One striker because we have three at the club and two are untested at this level. Plus, they are the most expensive to recruit
  • Compact shape, using mids rather than wingers to achieve a compact defensive shape.

Roles:

  • CWB at left back as both Maehle and Pellegrini are really offensive
  • IWB at right back as both Amey and Bogarde are taller, physical and more defensive minded.
  • WM(a) on the right because we have more defensive cover there but a CAR(s) next to him to help us in turnovers
  • WM(s) on the left with the instruction to sit narrower to create space for the wing back
  • HB(d) to create a back three and give us strong passing players (Renato Sanches) for our own transitions
  • CD(d) and BPD(d) which can be interchangeable in order to bait a press before moving forwards
  • CM(a) to be the second offensive threat on the left

Instructions:

  • Slow Pace Down so that the keeper, when he has the ball at his feet, can trigger an offensive press from the opposition.
  • Counter because we have speed in transition
  • Regroup because we need to stay counter-proof as we are a positive, front-foot side and playing in a low block means we will often need to retreat, ourselves.

Now the big thing for me is that I don’t really know how this will look and how this will play out across the season. But I do know that there are areas that will need some work if they are to be perfect for my shape. I’ve recruited a right back in Wisdom Amey and I think he fits the bill perfectly, but I am then left with the issue around wide midfielders.

If this shape is to work, then I think I need two very different types of player:

Left Mid:

A player who is as adept going forward as defending and a player who can create from deep. My initial thoughts would be to repurpose someone like Douglas Luiz into this wider role. What I really like is that he’s a good passer and will try to progress the ball with those high risk passes but can also fill in when Maelhe or Pellegrini are further upfield. He’s the wrong side of thirty for the long term but, if I can sort something short-term, he could be an asset. Statistically, he didn’t have the best season last time out though:

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Right Mid:

A purely attacking role but, I’d need them to have the ability to both go outside and cut inside – a passer, crosser and finisher. I’m thinking of someone like Thiago Almada. He was pretty productive in a short half-season loan at Roma, on loan from Aston Villa, last season:

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The first few friendlies are imperative for seeing how the style plays out and seeing what type of roles I want. Revert to my old shape? Then there is no need for a Douglas Luiz type player on the left hand side. There are thousands of questions and I don’t think writing it down has really solved any for me…

Late July 2029

Friendly: Atalanta vs Mestre

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I like to run my pre-season fixtures with as many ‘cups’ as I can – this means I can have two games in two days and give as much game time as possible. I tend to just invite a variety of clubs, with some stronger and some weaker. First up for us in the Atalanta Open Cup  was Serie D side Mestre. Therefore, the line up I chose was very much to give the backup (not that I’ve actually decided that, yet) players as well as some youngsters game time.

Mestre lined up in a 5-3-2 shape which both brings me promise and questions: we’ll, probably, deal with their two man attack well because of the back three I create but I do wonder how we’ll be able to draw them out as they’ll likely be pretty defensive from the start and they have a lot of players who’ll be occupying defensive areas. Within minutes, the 3-2-4-1 shape was evident: this and this were seen often. What is really interesting to me is that Maelhe, a left back with really aggressive traits – gets forward whenever possible, knocks ball past opponent, runs with ball often – was more than not forming the second player in the pivot and then joining the attack to create five, or even six, offensive players, moving wider as he moved further forward. This, to me, was sensational transitional play. I then saw the shape that really excited me: a 3-3-3-1 that looks similar, in my mind, to something that Marcelo Biesla might produce. The idea of using Ederson as a Carrilero was to make his positioning less aggressive, allowing him to drop into spaces between the lines, as he has done here. It’s then allowed Carvalho and Gobattoni to double up on their left back and, given the body positioning that Amey is demonstrating, we look to be able to transition quickly and directly.

If you look at our heat map on the top, you’ll see that we channel our play down the left, playing from both centre backs out to him as he occupies plenty of space – but I am aware that he’s only playing against one wide man rather than two here. The positioning of Zenga, our four goal hero – is also great here. He’s isolated, there is no doubt about that and I know we’re playing against weaker opposition, but we were able to play the ball into channels for him and let him run in behind, using his electric pace.

The end analysis backs up that utilisation of the left hand side without having to use any team instructions, which means, should I wish to, I can mirror this shape for an attacking right back (which I do not have yet) and a more defensively solid left back (which I also do not have). My question, once Sanches is in the team, is whether he’s wasted that deep. We’ll see…

Friendly: Atalanta vs LASK

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The second game in two days sees us revert to our stronger line up as we face Austrian side LASK, who themselves came with a 3-4-3 shape – another one that is relatively new to me.

Our defensive shape allowed them to play the ball about between their three centre backs almost unchallenged. Of their 671 passes completed, their defenders completed nearly half of them. This defensive structure is solidified by setting specific marking targets: MR to WBL, ST to DC, MLC to DRC (to try and bring Moleiro as high up the pitch as I could), ML to DMRC (to assist with sitting inside) and DL to WBR (to bring him higher up to so that we didn’t have to worry about him getting up and then down as much. I saw a Tweet about defensive structures earlier and, whilst this is not really ever going to be re-creatable, I think we are on our way to building a solid defensive structure.

In terms of our build up, this video is nearly there. Carnesecchi actually drops the ball to play out, slowing it down and then we’ve broken the lines to receive the ball but, given the straightness of run from Renato Sanches, he’s unable to get that out to the left hand side where I think we could have created an overload. I obviously cannot instruct this run and first time pass but it’s the kind of build up that I want to see us using. We were also nearly there when Sottil recovered the ball high up the pitch but his pass through just wasn’t good enough. This is counter element of our style that I want to work on.

Looking at those key recruitment areas on the wide midfielders – I must say that I’m no closer to actually identifying what I need. I opened the bidding for Douglas Luiz with the clause that Villa would still be paying half of his wages, and it was accepted. I’m obviously able to pull out of this deal at any point but it’s encouraging to see that I may be able to make a deal. The transfer window is rumbling on and we’re in a nice position. I’d like more – obviously – but I’m not going to spend for the sake of it.

The biggest thing here is that what I’ve seen on the pitch in terms of our transitional shape and defensive structure seems good.

August sees five further friendlies, with the winning of the Bra tie – in the Lombardy Invitational – playing, probably, Sassuolo in the final. After that, it’s on to league action.

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August 2029

Friendly: Atalanta vs Luzern.

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Friendly or not. Swiss Super League team or not. This was good.

Their 4-2-3-1 is a shape that I’m more used to facing than our previous opponents but relatively untested to the 3-man-backline. Our line up was slightly altered: I’ve looked to try players out in different role – moving Ederson back to form the three with Renato Sanches moving forwards to replace him. I think having the confidence in the players to perform different roles is essential to me and this kind of thing will give them opportunities to do just that. Marzio Zenga got the nod up front as he outscored Camello in our first cup of the pre-season.

Zenga opened the scoring (although, from my knowledge of xG, you cannot score a 2.20xG goal!) after the keeper fumbled his original shot and he finished from within an inch before Maelhe, the standout for me this pre-season, cut inside and finished from the edge of the area. Playing the CWB has been an interesting gamble but the fact that he’s right footed makes it even more interesting as he has the ability to both go outside and inside. Ederson netted the third, proving that the HB isn’t just a defensive thing before an aggressive countering after a turnover saw us net our fourth and best of the game, in my eyes.

My worries about the left side haven’t amounted to much as Moleiro put in a stellar showing, his progressive passes (and even the incomplete ones in yellow) show that his role is a deeper but still just as aggressive and penetrating. For context, he completed five progressive passes and three of those were classed as key. Superb impact. That role is still yet to be tested against an aggressive full back/winger combo but I know that I am able to reduce the risk of the full back – CWB(s) -> WB(a) -> WB(s) -> FB(a) if needed. Next to Moleiro, Carvalho’s touches show that he’s doing a stellar job in being a second striker when we are in attack. It’s certainly a tough role to fill, needing creativity and finishing ability but he’s started well. I was also impressed with Sottil, on the right, who looked dangerous. It’ll be interesting to see how many opportunities he gets in their defensive third though and whether his more traditional winger style will hold him back at unlocking defences. However, he’s an Italian international, so the pedigree is there.

The impact of Moleiro as well as Ederson and Calarco before him eased the missing of the Douglas Luiz transfer. It’s fine and, I hadn’t gone through with the bid anyway because, in the short term, I don’t think that I really need to convert an all-round midfielder and can get away with someone a little more creative and possibly lightweight.

Friendly: Atalanta vs Lugano.

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Another 4-2-3-1 faced us and I named a tweaked line up, giving some game time to youngsters: including Luca De Zerbi. No relation to Roberto but certainly playing in a system that draws significant influence from his namesake.

I think that things are really starting to click into place already as we record a comprehensive victory over the Swiss side ending our tour to Turin, of all places. Once again, we’re allowing them nearly twice as many passes before we a defensive action and letting them have the ball – but, importantly, in places that don’t cause us danger: between their full backs and centre backs in this case. Watching the difference between Pellegrini, who got to the byline and swung in a delightful cross for Camello’s goal, and Maelhe is really interesting me at the moment and with our hottest prospect – Pacifico – being a two footed full back too, I’m excited to see what patterns I can create. It’s also worth noting the difference between how Camello and Zenga play – with the latter on the shoulder of the defenders and the former able to link play a little more but both from the same starting role. If I can utilise the differences in players across certain roles, I think I’ll be able to develop this tactic even further.

Friendly: Atalanta vs Bra.

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Serie D side Bra lined up in a 4-2-3-1 and I experimented in the 4-1-4-1 with Bogarde playing much further forward (Long range passes – might be useful to switch play out wide left) with Sottil on the left instead of the right – giving me two right footers again down that left hand side but, unlike with Moleiro, one who doesn’t naturally cut inside. Again – the exercise is all about finding who can play across a multitude of different roles within the squad and then also giving some lesser players a bit of game time – Lanzo, in this case, to decide whether they are worthy of remaining in the squad as well as being aware that we’ll play the final the day after should we win this one.

The game was somewhat difference to the previous few as we dominated the ball, given that Bra were so poor with it and kept gifting it back to us. It’s also clearly evident how different Zenga plays to Costa and Camello again, and that’s great to see.

Friendly: Atalanta vs Sassuolo.

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The pre-match report showed me that Sassuolo were planning a slightly different style with players in different roles to those that I’d been using. However, it is the strongest opponent of the pre-season and my own knowledge of the club allows me to consider a few options.

Key topics for exploration:

  • Can the pace of Marzio Zenga work against slower Serie A level defenders in Martinez Quarta and Valenti?
  • Can Sottil/Moleiro work on the left wing against a more offensive wide man, who I believe will be Domenico Berardi?
  • Does the spare man in defence give us more of the ball against a team that is rooted in a 4-2-3-1 kind of shape?

A resounding win over a team that I know dislike playing us! Once again, the two wide men caused problems with Lanzo staking his claim to be part of the first team with a goal coming off the bench.  Zenga was a constant threat off the bench against tired defenders and I am really excited about letting him loose against teams at this level, even if he’s completely untested. Moleiro not only scored but provided some strong cover against Berardi and that really eased my worries about that role. It was, overall, a great performance and great result, continuing this superb pre-season we’re having.

These strong performances are really altering my transfer thoughts, with only Cristian Pavon coming in on trial as I look to find – potentially – just a backup to any one of Sottil, Moleiro, Ederson or Sanches, who have all shown they can play on the wings. The idea that three out of my four midfielders operate within the same style is encouraging in terms of utilising the squad depth and versatility. I’ve also put Zamagna, the DoF, on the duty to find and approach young players: his first move has been for Federico Bisio (scout report here) who will bolster the youth side if he agrees to the contract starting next summer. It’s an interesting observation seeing him, a great judge of talent, to go for a player that my HoYD – also a great judge of talent – say is not good enough!

Friendly: RB Salzburg vs Atalanta.

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This was for @SixPointer.

The pre-match showed a 4-2-3-1 but they actually lined up in a 4-4-2. It was the first time I’d faced that in the pre-season but I felt that the line up and tactical shape was really conducive to doing well against it. Following on from SixPointer’s advice, I did use an RPM in this game in order to try and link the play better between defence and attack. Ederson’s passes as an RPM(s) vs CAR(s) show that he was definitely more involved although played particularly badly in this one, according to the game ratings, although did complete two key passes from his thirty six in total. There was some evidence of the 3-3-3-1 shape forming in transition but it’s too early to really tell. Carvalho scored the pick of the goals in a sweeping counter attack that started with a risky pass from Amey to Fusari, which successfully evaded their high press.

Preseason roundup:

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This has been some pre-season. A variety of teams faced with a variety of formations and we’ve adjusted to them all and thrived, conceding no goals from a total of 2.19xGa (0.31xGA/90). The goals have been spread around and I’ve been able to experiment with a number of players playing in different roles. Of those that have impressed, I can narrow it down to three really pleasant surprises:

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Zenga looks red hot. His acceleration and how he plays on the last man could really help us in the latter stages of open games and that is somewhere that I really want to take this tactical creation t. Sottil originally worried me – he’s more of a traditional winger but he’s shown to be really good on either the right or left hand side and he’ll certainly be featuring in most games this season. Lastly, Maehle, a wrong-footed complete wing back has been incredible in terms of his choice of whether to come inside or go outside, and this comes without the aid of any traits, just purely positional understanding. 

Coppa Italia Fanta: Atalanta vs Piacenza

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Not much to note in the early-season pre-match report, other than the Serie C side were to be playing a 5-3-2 shape, similar to how Mestre lined up in our opening friendly. Their two striker shape would leave us one extra man in transition so I expected a little less of the ball than against some teams. The line up was true to my cup beliefs – a spattering of youngsters, mixed in with some fringe players and a few experienced heads: Lanzo, Ferraroli, Ferrigno and Zenga flying the flag for the academy lads in this one.

The magical VAR was consulted within two minutes but Amey was adjudged to be outside of the box when he was felled in an aggressive attacking run and Lanzo slotted wide from the well worked free-kick that followed. Early on, I liked how we didn’t bite and press higher than I want us to, blocking off most passing lanes and making it hard for them to progress. The deadlock was broken in the fourteenth minute as Fusari nodded in a Moleiro free kick from wide on the left and that lead was doubled just three minutes later as Carvalho got on the end of Ederson’s through ball, finishing well. Zenga nearly put us three up in an almost identical move but my focus was on the positioning of Ederson, whose move to an RPM(s) left me feeling that he was just a little too advanced when we transitioned, so I reverted back to the CAR(s) for now. In the thirty-third minute, Zenga got his goal as Moleiro’s through ball was neatly chipped over the keeper by the young striker as the game got further and further out of the hands of the visitors. An own goal compounded their misery before half time but credit must go to Maelhe, who cut back inside to deliver an inswinging cross with his right foot that was poked in. We did get our penalty just after the hour mark and Ederson tucked it away.

A pretty emphatic victory to see us through to the next round.

I couldn’t resist just one further dip into the market…

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Thiago – full profile in clickable image above – joins us on loan for the season from Aston Villa. I’ve agreed to pay no monthly fee and just half of his wages, so this, to me, feels like a real coup. I’d also had eyes of Reinier, who now plays in the Championship but did demonstrate some strong performances for Blackburn in a side that was often outclassed. However, I opted for the Argentine given his slightly stronging output in terms of assists, although it was from a much smaller sample of time and, ultimately with better teammates. I think the fact that he can play across three of the midfield roles that I use, as seen below, gave him the edge for me:

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Whilst not defensively sound – neither is Moleiro – he’s right footed and creative and that body shape, alone, will allow him to get into creative positions. Likewise, he can then play as an interior, particularly as it becomes almost a second striker, a role he’s familiar with already. Therefore, he’ll also be fine wide on the right in the more attacking winger role, although I am unsure about his ‘Comes Deep for Ball’ trait in this situation, especially when paired with his not-amazing Crossing ability from the right hand side.

He’ll take a bit of time getting up to speed but, given the quality of performances from the players in preseason, he’ll be able to be slowly introduced anyway.

Serie A: Napoli vs Atalanta.

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The opening day of Serie A and a tough match awaited us. The opposition report indicated the 4-2-3-1 shape would be used again and I’m still just in the process of learning how our new shape, with the false back three, as it were, handles it. Our line up had few surprises, with Camello coming back into the team as well as Okoli, Pellegrini, Carnesecchi and Sottil after our cup win. Within forty-nine seconds, Carvalho’s delightful free kick gave us the league and Camello nearly doubled our lead after a swift break, as we quickly navigated our way through the press. A rash tackle from Renato Sanches saw us reduced to ten men. I kept the style of play, altering the shape ever so slightly – a risky move but, with seventy five minutes left to go, I felt necessary to not just invite pressure. We saw the game out until half time with a handful of decent chances for the hosts but nothing too spectacular. In the first move of the second half, Camello, again, have another great chance but blazed over after we beat their press and set him free but his poor day in front of goal continued. As the game went on, Napoli got into their stride before we managed to stifle them and hold on for the win.

There are a lot of very important learning opportunities from this tie and, whilst I’m pleased to have won, will continue to work with the team to make things even smoother. I’m trying to make it a part of my practice to discuss – exactly – what I felt was poor in each performance: Camello’s shots on target ratio was at 40% and he failed to score from a total of 1.25xG – so that was the conversation we had, calmly, in this first instance.

No league table, obviously, but with the excitement of – in my opinion – thirteen points up for grabs for us next month, I’m really excited about what I’m seeing. Plus, the international break will give us even more time to get accustomed to my style and tactical needs.

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September 2029

Serie A: Atalanta vs Brescia.

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A Lombardo derby to start September! The pre-match report hinted at a potential change from their last game, where their average positions left me an immediate idea to overload left side, where they have less men back. We opened the scoring with another Carvalho free kick before two almost identical goals for Camello sealed the victory for us. Pretty comprehensive and a great return to scoring form for the Spaniard, who clearly listened to what I’d told him the game before.

Serie A: Sassuolo vs Atalanta.

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The pre-match report showed a very changed side to the one I put out last year but not too dissimilar from the one we beat comfortably in pre season. Some key highlights and thoughts came from their average position – with and without the ball, their key passes – most importantly Berardi’s positioning and freedom as well as their areas of possession gain – mainly central and deep. All things that I felt our shape could deal with quite well. A knock for Fusari meant that I shifted the backline, starting Bogarde at right back and Amey centrally. Elsewhere, I remained unchanged.

Moleiro opened the scoring on twelve minutes as Carvalho, in red hot form, surged to the byline before his cross was met by a volley from the Spaniard that slipped through Naumov’s hands and into the net. Sassuolo’s reply – and the first time our defence has been breached, in all competitions, since I arrived here – was when a Florenzi cross was turned into his own net by Wisdom Amey, under pressure from Pinamonti. That is how the game ended. A pretty low quality affair.

Once again, I turned to my underperforming players and, not using the fine system, decided to talk to Bogarde about his substandard performance. The key low-lights were just thirty of his forty-seven passes finding their target and, when you then consider that thirteen of those seventeen unsuccessful were progressive (of 22 in total), that my cause for concern is that the likes of Sottil, Ederson, Carvalho and Moleiro are not getting the ball from him.

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However, this reaction is brilliant. I want to watch and see what happens to see if there is an actual impact on his ability (although he’s peaked, given his age) or his game play in future weeks.

Aside from him – I think I’m starting to learn about the inconsistencies of Camello and maybe why he’s never quite been first choice before. I envisage that Almada, although not brought in to play there, will get the nod for the next game as Zenga is out with a small injury. I am also in a slight quandary about the role for Ederson – the CAR(s) gives us better shape but he’s not on the ball as much as he would be in an RPM(s) role. Yet, he amassed seventeen misplaced passes and only twenty three completed ones in the tie, which is very concerning in the short term.

With us being recognised for our player development, I wanted to briefly update on how my recruitment is going and the realisation of the prices I will now have to incur.

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You can see their full profile by clicking the thumbnail but also of interest are Ferreira’s scout report, Zonta’s scout report and Figueroa’s analyst and scout report. South America is definitely my target market, but, even here, I’m looking at €5m+ for a decent prospect, who will come in relatively untested. However, the increase in purchase price will, likely, be reflected in any sell on price as they’re usually valued higher. I like these three players and they all fit in areas where I do need to recruit in the short term: Zonta as a DM to replace the aging (and expiring contract of) Torreira, Ferriera to either player as the Roaming Playmaker or maybe even the left winger and Figueroa to replace the expiring deal of Maehle, who, despite impressing me, is earning a hefty wage for a man of his age and standing.

One thing that I’m doing that I hadn’t done before was to try and build up this scouting database, rather than just leaving them on the Player Search screen. I have several shortlists set up that I will analyse and re-asses from time to time, hoping that it means I always have a player or two who I can turn to if necessary.

Serie A: Genoa vs Atalanta.

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A couple of interesting things from the pre-match report and their previous game in which they salvaged a draw away at Brescia. I was interested in their aggressive positioning with high wing backs and one holding midfielder in the flat four mirrored in Napoli tie – where they won. The key difference is that ML tucked inside without the ball against Napoli to protect the channel. Our line up was selected with little in the way changing. I didn’t think that there was anything that stood out, in particular with, normally, the 4-1-4-1 being quite effective against a 4-4-2 due to the players between the horizontal lines. In terms of line up. our defence was unchanged as Fusari still is injured. Torreira comes in for Sanches, who moves forward to replace Ederson, who misses out with a bruised knee. Almada comes in for his first start, replacing Camello, whilst a somewhat unfit Zenga is back on the bench.

A very disappointing result and my first defeat in charge. The result was somewhat undeserved but I do need to learn from the two goals we conceded. The move for the first goal came down our left and, looking at the positioning – I do feel that Caleb Okoli has been caught on the wrong side here. Amey has not kept the solid line that I believe Okoli would want to use to play Boyé offside and that’s allowed the through ball to get through. Their second goal came from a slightly different type of move. At first, we restricted their ability to progress the ball but, when the final through ball came through, I feel that we’d committed too many people to pressuring the passer but then also lacked the positional sense to be marking the right men, with Pellegrini being caught on the blind side this time. Actually, looking at the overall possession gains for midfielders, I am slightly concerned about our presence in the centre of the park. However, when our defensive midfielder, Torreira, puts in a performance like this, it’s always going to be harder:

  • 0 Interceptions
  • 1 block
  • 1 key tackle
  • 1 foul
  • 8 possession gains.

Now, I’m not sold on Average Rating being the be all and end all of performances, but when I compare it to his 7.3 showing against Lugano during pre season, he’s gained possession five less times – also in far less important areas, six less interceptions and one more foul. I feel that this tactic heavily relies on the DM as the beating heart of the side and he needs to be strong, physical and incredibly intelligent.

Food for thought.

Serie A: Atalanta vs Roma.

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The pre-match report highlighted some areas of strengths for the team that has not conceded a goal all season. I looked at their last match, a game in which they were in control against Brescia. A couple of things caught my eye: how they used the Bergwijn, Zaniolo, Abraham combo to overload Brescia’s defence and their pass completion map showing both centre backs looking for Jakub Kiwior, who then progresses the ball. Our line up had a couple of changes: Maehle in at left back, but as a WB(a) rather than a CWB(a). I hoped the reduction is aggressiveness combined with the fact he’s right footed, would help with a player often sitting inside of him. Bogarde in at DM to man mark Zaniolo. Sanches to the left of the midfield as a BBM(s) rather than a CM(a) in order to assist with the potential overload there, leaving the poorer-marker, Moleiro, to be the extra man to transition with. Carvalho as a CM(s), to protect against Kiwior but also to help us break, with Almada starting on the right wide as a more aggressive option than Sottil. I then asked both CMs to tight mark their DMs as well as using Camello to press Roger Ibanez, the man who, seemingly, completed the most progressive passes for them.

I have no concerns over our attacking play at present, it is just ensuring defensive shapes and actions are aligned with my methodology.

We took the lead mid way through the first half as Renato Sanches fired in from the edge of the box and, overall, we looked strong and able to carry out the game plan. However, in the second half, Roma came back, firstly making the most of more poor defensive positioning and communication to allow Abraham an easy tap in. Then, by the seventieth minute, when we were already flagging, they got 2v2 as Bogarde was drawn in and the ball over the top was put away by Zaniolo. It’s not an excuse but we need to become more familiar with what I’m asking tactically. They say players take at least a year to gel into a Guardiola style, so I – realistically – cannot expect this bunch to be ready to do what I want – 100% of the time (remembering that this is four mistakes as it were across 180 minutes). We’re all learning…

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Two defeats in a row and, whilst Roma are in good form – now ten unbeaten – we’ve got to play better against teams like this, at home. We had a good forty-five followed by a pretty poor one and look quite easy to play through, especially as the game goes on. We need a reaction against Torino.

Serie A: Torino vs Atalanta.

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The easy pre-match observations were linked to their build up structures, looking to go left and then vertical. Our line up reflected that I just wanted to get the victory by going back to our basic shape – although Lanzo came in for Moleiro and Almada for Camello up top. We did…enough. Without ever looking like taking them apart, we completed a solid victory with a first for me – a penalty awarded for a foul on Almada that had sent the ball into the net. Luckily, Sottil did convert otherwise I’d have been raging at the lack of advantage! Zenga netted his first league goal for the club, which was greatly received, as was the individual praise that certain players got at the final whistle.

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Not quite the month I expected after how we’d started. I’m really annoyed at the Genoa result but they’ve started really well, as have Roma. However, there are some really positive things to take – Carvalho looks to be incredible and that is also visible within the player stats and we’re winning games. October should see us pick up two victories in the games sandwiched between the Milan giants.

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October 2029

I had an update ready to post and, at about 2000 words long, it was one of the most in depth ones I’ve ever written. However, the WiFi decided that it’d go down just as I was posting and, given that, I have lost every word of it. Therefore, this will be much reduced and a much more holistic update.

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Five points gained in the league as we dropped against Parma but, in my opinion, gained away at Inter. I was very disappointed with what I’d seen at Milan and that sparked some quite wholesale tactical changes. Here is my lineup for the Inter game that can explain them:

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I felt that we were too high risk and, despite wanting to play fats, direct football, the use if Counter made us quite chaotic and wasteful in our build up. I had screenshotted seven different occasions in the Milan game when we’d won the ball back, either through a duel or an interception and then either booted it long or dribbled down an alley with no way to produce an end product. I decided to take off the Counter instruction and also reduce the approach to Balanced – given that both the Fluid Counter and Vertical Tiki Taka shapes have, at most, that level of risk attached to them. I had then noticed that I wasn’t getting enough support to Camello up top, so changed the WM(a) for an IW(a) in order to try and create three scoring options.

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As for the league, we’re a little below where I wanted to be, in all honesty. Things haven’t quite clicked yet and there is much work to do. I have full belief in this squad and, despite some players who need to be upgraded or moved on, think we can do really well over the coming years. I am to win the Serie A title with Atalanta within the next five years – that is how confident I am that I can turn this around.

Next month is below. I’d like six points, given Lecce’s start…

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Forza La Dea!

 

November 2029

Serie A: Lecce vs Atalanta.

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The pre-match report warned me that I’d be facing a team that are very dangerous, even if they are somewhat overachieving at present. Their forward Milovanovic put my Sassuolo side to the sword last season and has started this one well, too. My line up was relatively normal but I’d added the Be More Expressive team instruction as I battled internally with this balance of chaos and structure.

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I’m really happy with the three points but I still think that there are many tactical tweaks I need to make and things I need to address before we have the base shape in line with the style I want. I didn’t see a noticeable difference with the added freedom to roam but, time and time again, I noticed that we are still going too long and trying to play over the top of the defence – as seen with the incomplete progressive passes from our midfield four. That leaves me with a dilemma about how to set up our in possession style:

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Do I: a) go direct but not into space – hoping that we can move the ball man to man in a vertical fashion as we transition b) go into space but without so much directness, thinking that the combination of the two might be creating the poor choices or c) remove the higher tempo, thinking that the players are being rushed into their passes and, because of that, choosing the most aggressive/easiest option of a long, hopeful ball forward? My job is to really know what each of these does with the players that I have and facing the opposition that I’m facing. This is the depth that I want to constantly delve into in my own inner monologue and my tactical posts!

There are things that I really like – the positioning here – as we move forward is good and it feels that the choice of pass and choice of movement is better than it was a few months ago. We are – as a team and a squad – as well as I am – as a tactical manager adapting to Serie A – a work in progress. As long as I don’t lose sight of the recruitment I need to do and the players I need to ensure are progressing and breaking into the first team, I think I can continue this style of play and train of thought as we progress towards the end goal.

Serie A: Atalanta vs Udinese

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An interesting pre-match report – both teams had gone four games without conceding so it wasn’t likely to be a goal fest but Daniele De Rossi has them playing really well and they are massively overachieving for a side newly promoted to this division. I had played a friendly during the international break using the More Direct/no Pass into Space instruction pairing and it felt a lot more purposeful – we kept our pass completion to nearly 85%, which is significantly above average for us. Therefore, it stayed in for the return to league action as I named my preferred starting XI.

This was much better. Higher pass completion yet still allowing Udinese to keep the ball and do pretty much nothing with it. We progressed the ball successfully more times than Udinese despite having possession for just about one third of the game, which demonstrates a huge improvement compared to previous ties. Camello – up top – had a really poor game, squandering several pretty good chances. Whilst my initial job is to coach and get the best from the players within the squad, I can’t help but feel that looking for a new centre forward for the January window may be the best – albeit most costly – option I have.

Serie A: Atalanta vs Sampdoria.

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I’m really trying to build on the changes we’ve made so I was happy to see a  pre-match report with a similar style that allowed our line up to be relatively strong and not worry about too many tactical nuances.

A really good win, again, as we looked pretty dominant in all areas of the pitch, having slightly more of the ball than we’ve maybe been used to. I decided that, to help cohesiveness within our transition, I would use Almada as a CF(a) instead of an AF(a) and that was vindicated as his freedom in this role was key to our second goal. I think that, by removing the Pass Into Space instruction, that the use of a more rounded and involved striker is necessary here.

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I am very pleased that I screenshotted this as the start of the season as I feel that I need to act soon if I want to make the most of the January transfer window in terms of the non-EU players I bring in. I’m allowed to sign two, but one of those has to be – basically – better and playing international football at some level. Whilst there are some areas of the first team I can’t say I’m totally happy with, I feel that we still need longer to iron out those issues and work on exactly what I need to replace them with. Therefore, I’m happy to spend both my budget – some €27m – and my non-EU slots on younger players who can have time to settle in.

Below are just a few of the players I’ve identified…

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Caught in a bit of a bind here – one of these can come in and play from the off, but I don’t think any of them are quite ready to actually be a part of the first team, aside from maybe Ferreira. The other one will have to spend this season un-registered, which means that they’re not going to play and will have to be weaker. I don’t think that signing someone like Figueroa, an important player at his club, will necessarily go down well when I move him to the reserves. However, signing Oliveri and Gallardo would be pointless as neither are old enough to move to the country during this window.

Plenty to think about!

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An unbeaten month and we handed Lecce their first defeat of the season! Udinese are still hanging on but we’re catching up to the leaders and pulling away from the likes of Inter, Lazio and a Napoli side who are all over the shop at present. December will be tough, as every month is, but I’m really feeling a sense of optimism giving how we’ve reacted to my tactical changes.

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Forza La Dea!

December 2029

Serie A: Bologna vs Atalanta.

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Both the pre-match report and the line up had very little new information to dig into…

Wow! I certainly feel like things are clicking into place and two of my most recent thoughts were evident for our first two goals: Almada turning creator again in his CF(a) role and the patient and solid defensive unit, which then saw us burst into counter with HB(d) Bogarde joining the attack and really demonstrating how powerful we can counter without using counter felt great. Even better is that we survived a really heavy bit of Bologna pressure early in the second half – maybe their manager motivated them better than I did or maybe they had made a tactical change that I didn’t see. Either way, we stood firm, regrouped and then scored again, owing to our even growing confidence.

Certainly the most complete performance for me here at Atalanta. Long may it continue!

Serie A: Lazio vs Atalanta.

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Lazio’s pre-match report is always interesting, given that they tend to opt for a 4-4-2 at the moment and, in particular to me, their last game with high wing backs and stretched striker pairing made me spend a good few minutes looking at their specific styles and passing lanes. However, I named an unchanged line up with the same style and roles that served us so well against Bologna.

It turns out that I didn’t have to worry about their attacking force as the game was all about my own:

Carvalho x Almada

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The Portuguese midfielder now has eleven goal contributions and his dribbling ability and, something that is not measured, progressive dribbling distance and speed, is causing defenders problems. Now, with the addition of gaps to run into, he’s becoming even more deadly.

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Almada has become the perfect creative forward for us and his confidence is growing significantly after a slow start. His intelligence to find gaps between the lines as well as his ability to play perfectly weighted through balls has been fantastic over the past few games.

Serie A: Atalanta vs Juventus.

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Antonio Conte’s 3-4-3 shape was relatively new to me but, given the quality of our performances against Bologna and Lazio, I made no shape changes – only bringing Pellegrini, Sanches and Ferrigno into the line up: the former as a left footed player best suited to playing against the heavily right-dominant Calvert Lewin (how weird to say DCL and Juventus in the same sentence!), Sanches to add extra firepower to the counter style, knowing we’d be under the cosh more and Ferrigno as a marker to Fusari and his repeated poor performances.

This is where I just don’t understand the Average Rating system. We were one Dusan Vlahovic strike away from a perfectly executed game plan – we held them at arm’s length and tried to take the chances we could create on the counter. Juventus has loads of the ball and completed more sideways passes than we did total passes because we stood firm.

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In total, we made six tackles because we didn’t need to. Our wide midfielders Sottil (7), Moleiro (8) and our central midfielders (combined 4) made engaged with them as we kept, at least, four players behind the ball. Yes, we were a bit poor with our passing – particularly Amey, who averages around 81% normally but there is nothing noticeably wrong with what they’ve done.

I think, if there is any blame to lay here, it must lay with me. Again, I think we’ve been too kind to Juve and shown them too much respect, particularly at home. We do have, right now, the best defence in the league, but also only the eight best attack – I think we can probably throw a bit more at teams like this, especially at home, in future now that I am happy that, defensively, we are still relatively sound.

Coppa Italia: Atalanta vs Spezia.

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virtually unrecognisable line up was named in order to give some first team opportunities to the squad players as well as pack the bench with youngsters, in a risky move against Serie A opposition. In the end, I shouldn’t have had any worries as we dominated from start to finish with Lanza adding his second goal this month as I push on with his development. Into the next round we go!

Serie A: Atalanta vs Cagliari.

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I named a pretty expected line up for our last game of the decade and it was a fairly comfortable victory over Cagliari, who let us have a lot more of the ball than we’re normally used to. Very happy with what I saw and, overall, what I’ve seen all month.

I’ve got my feelers out for a first-team player to arrive in the January window. Valentin Carboni, of Inter, is in the process of agreeing an initial loan deal to join us. His contract is up at the end of the season and I feel that this move, with no extra costs, could be a real try before you buy kind of thing, although I am aware that good performances may increase interest in him.

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His full profile is available by clicking on the thumbnail.

He’s agile, can dribble, create and finish and, being left footed, could be a really good option coming in off the right hand side for us. Obviously, the caveat is that he is not entirely comfortable in the MR slot, yet. His scout report indicates that, once his loan deal expires, I may be able to even trim down his base wage from the €61k p/w I’ve offered as part of the loan deal and his statistical analysis shows that he’s decent creating assists – although there is the concern that these are coming from risky passes as opposed to him being a truly functional creator. His brother – Franco (check out his analyst report) – is actually quite a good option for to further explore for the left back slot as I nearly signed him whilst managing Sassuolo and his father – Ezequiel – a man I remember managing when he played for Catania in a much older FM, could also make his way into my backroom team, should I desire to bring the whole family to Bergamo. The emergence of Carboni as a target comes at a great time as Alberto Moleiro has just gone public to wanting a new contract and, following some investigation, that is going to be upwards of €120k p/w – a value that I’m not willing to meet.

With every first team signing I make – the question is always ‘does this deal take me closer to my end goal?’  In this case, I think that the answer is a resounding ‘yes’ because he’s unlike almost every player I have at the club and is such a low risk deal. I’ll look to ensure that he does make the loan move ready for the 1st January.

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We’re really getting there! Outside the European places on head to head results but certainly on a move, backed up by the best defence and a good offence. January will be busy as we have many clubs interested in our players but there will also be some business conducted by myself, almost certainly. We’ve got a couple of ties that could go either way next month: Fiorentina and Napoli, whilst I expect to beat Spezia and would very much like a league and cup double over my old side, Sassuolo.

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Forza La Dea!

 

Author

  • Daniel Gear

    Dan Gear is a vibrant member of the Football Manager (FM) community, renowned for his engaging content and insightful tutorials. He illuminates complex FM concepts on "View From The Touchline" and shares engaging narratives through his unique European Journeyman save reveals. Dan's collaborative spirit shines in partnerships with fellow creators like FM Stag, unraveling new FM features. He's a co-host of the engaging "Grass N Gear" podcast, making the FM experience more enjoyable for many. With a blend of humor, expertise, and a knack for community engagement, Dan Gear's contributions significantly enrich the Football Manager community, making him a cherished figure among enthusiasts.

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