A further review of my youth setup was in order.
I’ve looked at my results two-fold. Firstly, I wanted to ensure that I had the best possible staff available to me at youth level and then I wanted to ensure that what they deliver is quality. I hate the way you recruit staff in FM – an advert is semi-realistic but stops running if you appoint one person and you can’t stipulate any kind of depth to what you want and then the Staff Search is, well, the Staff Search. Fortunately, this was evolution, not revolution – pretty similar to what I’ve done this summer with the playing staff. A few new names have joined the original team – part of which I put together on my arrival and the rest that was already here.
The four key men are below:
Profiles can be accessed by clicking on the thumbnail.
Kaka is the man who I appointed as the U20 manager and has, albeit without being able to take full credit, won two competitions with the youth side. He’s an excellent Motivator and is Determined and his second favourite formation is pretty close to what I use. I like that he’s not really a specialist coach but is also able to muck in with everything. His assistant is Pablo Guinazu, who came as a real coup from Argentina, where he has had experience as a first team manager. He’ll be a real asset to the youngsters and is another one who can work across multiple training domains. In the U18 squad, Atalanta legend Bellini takes the lead whilst new recruit Calderon (I don’t remember him at Brighton) slots in as his assistant. He is another one who I would consider making a step down in terms of job hierarchy to join our project here.
I’m very keen on the development of my own staff – either through their ability in terms of coaching courses (for example: Ciro Immobile will be completing the remainder of his badges here, hopefully) and then job development, with them starting in the youth ranks and moving upwards. Gianluigi Buffon has now been with me at Trabzonspor, Sassuolo and now Atalanta but, sadly, hasn’t really developed as a coach. He’s a man I love to have around given his experience and personality but, if he does not improve his coaching ability, he’ll not be able to move into a role with the senior team.
I’m happier with the overall spread of what I have now and, in Fabio Espinho, I now have a dedicated coach who favours the Technical aspect of training in the U20 squad, something which may have been part of the wider issue last year.
I’ve also had a slight play with the schedules that the youth sides will use:
I split my senior training into two different weeks, but have attempted to do that within one week for the youngsters, splitting them with my favourite schedules: attacking and defensive shadow play. I still intend to keep the players together as a group and, as such, have used ‘Attacking’ rather than ‘Attacking Wings’ as the former trains the entire team together, which, in my opinion, will only be good for cohesion. There is an attacking section to the week and a defensive section that both contain one physical session to ensure that I don’t change too much and we lose the physical development.
Nothing wholesale here but just making things slightly better each time. These changes will be particularly important for a number of players but not the three highlighted below:
I have a number of expiring contracts to think about, including the aforementioned Lassina Cisse and the Spanish duo of Moleiro and Camello – both of whom are already resigned to running down their deals, I have three players at the club who will need to impress in order to win new deals. It makes sense that these three also join the likes of Cisse and Diener out on loan – in mens football – in order to see if they are good enough to succeed in their career. We have links with Serie C sides Feralpi Salo and Carrarese, so I’ll look to make use of those. This will likely decimate the youth squad and leave Kaka an improbable job or retaining the Primavera U20, but the clearout when I first took over was important in order to get the right kind of players coming through. I kept a large number of the intake last year and, should this pattern continue, we’ll again be able to stock up more next March, hopefully in a stronger position with better quality players.
Tour of North America.
A leisurely holiday in New York as my players scored twelve times across three games beating three second tier opponents. I wanted to give an equal amount of opportunities across all the games but opted to try and play the players for the full ninety – or as close as they could get to it – in order to build fitness and not have complacency off the bench against weaker sides. Overall, a very pleasing outing for my forwards as both Camello and Costa bagged a brace. At least a whole game under each player’s belt and some tactical familiarity.
Lombardy Invitational Semi Final: Atalanta vs FC BW Feldkirch.
The second of my friendly cups this summer saw me face off against Austrian part-timers Feldkirch. I named second string XI with Franco Lanzo getting the armband in order to keep the first team fresh for the final. It’s not really one of the friendlies that I learn a lot from but I must say that I was impressed with the duo of Ragatzu and Ferreira in the midfield. There are concerns, in my opinion, about the form of Lucas Torreira, the veteran holding midfielder:
His ability is rapidly declining and, whilst we haven’t had a lot of defending to do, apparently hasn’t done what has been expected of him. A penalty miss against Memphis set him up for a shocking rating but, to be fair, these ratings are somewhat harsh for the role I expect him to play. Granted, he could be winning the ball more – through interceptions – but his passing stats aren’t too bad. There could be more incision and directness in his play but there are at least five more creative players in the team ahead of him so just laying it off isn’t a bad thing. I am aware – maybe now more than ever before – that he won’t last forever. However, my Defensive Midfield shortlist is not exactly stocked with players able to come in now and do a job and, given that the majority are non-EU, I’ll have to wait until Speranza gains his citizenship.
I can’t reach January without a replacement lined up!
Lombardy Invitational Final: Atalanta vs RB Salzburg.
Lombardy Invitational Champions, you’ll never sing that!
We opened the scoring early with a man who has somewhat gone under the radar this summer: Marzio Zenga. Without a new striker (although more on that later), I have kind of accepted that he’s first choice and just prepared him for the season. His delightful movement saw him get on the end of a Luca Pellegrini pass before rounding the keeping and slotting home. It was pretty much all one way traffic from there on in, with RB going nearly an hour without a real chance but we doubled our lead as Sottil nodded in from a Pellegrini cross, as the evergreen wingback stakes his claim for a first team slot despite the arrival of the Uruguayan, Jonny. Okoli’s header from a corner in injury time sealed the deal.
I do however, have an issue with my strikers. Earlier in the summer Sergio Camello announced he’d be leaving and that was fine, except for the fact he’s been in good form this pre-season. I had intended to give some extra game time to Luciano Costa, the young forward from my academy. Over the past twelve months, I’ve barely afforded him any minutes and his overall progress has faltered, as you can see:
But Camello has been in really strong form and this has further stunted the minutes for the youngster, despite his good cameo in the Hartford tie. My shortlist has a couple of youngsters on it, neither of whom fit what I would need if I want to act upon this. If I could source a striker, with experience, who didn’t mind playing second or third fiddle for a year and then, either third fiddle or replaced by Fontana – the lad out at Udinese – then I could loan Costa out for a year with a view on his kickstarting his development and returning to be a natural Serie A finisher.
Food for thought!
Friendly: SPAL vs Atalanta.
SPAL are a feeder of ours and have just been promoted to Serie A, so I felt that this was an ample test of my squad’s ability to cope with quality.
It was that man Camello – the man who is going to walk away on a free and likely to very well elsewhere – that won the game for us as he turned in Sottil’s low cross. I was reading on Twitter this week about the importance of these cutbacks and I was wondering whether I should instruct an aim at the forward rather than a more hopeful ball into the box. I need to see what this looks like in action though. Camello’s second was from a lovely through ball from his Spanish compatriot as he slotted it in at the near post.
Friendly: Vitoria de Setubal vs Atalanta.
The last friendly of the summer against a club that I chose to become our affiliate earlier in the calendar year. Setubal have fallen on hard times and are now in the third tier of Portuguese football but I hope they’ll provide an avenue for us into the youth that is being developed here.
We started brightly at Jonny Rodriguez put us ahead with a screamer from the edge of the area after a Lanzo shot was partly cleared. Costa turned provider as his driven ball was poked in by Lanzo for the second before our blushes were saved by the offside flag as we were at sixes and sevens as Setubal broke. Costa got his goal but it was lovely to watch how the change of role – AF(a) to CF(a) – has changed our build up. He starts deeper, creating a 3-3-4 rather than a 3-3-3-1 in transition and finds himself not on the last man, which means he can still rely on his pace but also act as a decoy for – in this case – Ragatzu’s run – or vice versa. He brought the ball down and deftly lifted it over the keeper to add his second goal contribution of the night. The impressive Daniele Ragatzu, this time starting centrally so he and Gavi can be in the XI, scored our fourth, again showcasing the creative side of the CF(a). Again, we got lucky as Rayone was (wrongly) adjudged to be offside as we tired towards the end but there was still time for Zenga to get himself on the scoresheet to make it five.
Full player form can be accessed by clicking on the thumbnail.
Three players really caught my eye this pre-season and it gives me great pleasure to see that two are academy graduates, too. Costa – scoring five goals from only 234 minutes of pre-season, Lanzo – who took the captain’s armband and led by example: four goals and five assists with seven chances created from the right wing slot and Gavi, who shone – recording more than three dribbles and three open play key passes per 90 as well as 0.73 chances created turned into 0.37 assists/90.
Serie A: Parma vs Atalanta.
Parma have spent relatively wisely over the summer, adding two creative midfielders in Vega and Dorsch as they look to improve on their seventeenth placed finish last year. They’ve already tasked competitive football, beating Venezia in the Coppa Italia with their new double pivot on show. Their overall positioning was aggressive against the Serie B side. Looking at their pre-match report, I’ll be looking to cut the supply off starting at their left back.
Within two minutes, Zenga’s low shot – a 0.62xG chance – was saved at the near post but Fusari headed in from the resulting corner after finding some space at the far post. Our lead was doubled thanks to an unbelievable volley from Sottil, with Gavi equally his assist tally from last season inside fifteen minutes of this one. Both Sottil and Zenga had shots that crashed into the bar before half time as we were relentless, not allowing our opponents to attempt a shot despite having 61% of the ball. The second half started as the first did: an early goal, this time from the penalty spot as Speranza was felled, allowing Sottil to double his tally. I tried to get Zenga on the penalty but had already instructed his substitution before the highlight – bringing a pretty poor opening day to and end and allowing Costa the minutes he deserves. Carvalho got himself on the scoresheet with a powerful shot thanks to some nice build up play from 16-year old sub Pacifico and Gavi – who secured a second assist.
A resounding victory and one that we need to build on a the season goes on. We looked sharp and well drilled; it was clear that the pre-season had done wonders for our fitness and form whilst Parma’s shorter one with mixed results hadn’t been quite so benefecial. A quiet word with Zenga about the chances he squandered went down really well and I envisage that the forward will return to form very shortly.
In other player news, Filippo Fontana had a dream debut, creating a goal for Udinese as they drew with Lecce, and the rest of the loanees kicked off their seasons – which will hopefully be huge in their development and the long term development of players and, (to a secondary degree) the finances of our club.
September brings us a nice array of fixtures and will also see us enter the Europa League, meaning games against Inter – in particular – will be key as we’ll likely have tired legs. Looking at the impact of the new training schedule, my U20 squad seems to have taken well to it and I look forward to seeing the longer term impacts of it.
Forza La Dea!
The start of the month saw my Europa League fixtures announced:
Der BVB – despite having fallen away of late – are obviously the best team in my fixture list and I am excited to pit ourselves against a team of a similar stature and quality. Away trips to Piraeus and Vienna will always be tough as will with visit of Fener, who have recorded a title win and a second place in the two years since I left Turkey. Saint Etienne were promoted in the 2028/29 season and finished ninth last year but secured entry on the back of winning the Coupe de France – so are, surely, not the strongest French team we could face. Olympiakos are under the management of Roberto De Zerbi – a real life (and FM) inspiration but are very much second fiddle in Greece financially to AEK, who are now tycoon owned and throwing money at everything! However, the side from outskirt of Athens have won all but one Greek title since the game started, although haven’t performed as well as they’d have liked in the Champions League.
It’s slightly fortunate that we only have one group stage game this month but could be playing two or three matches a month up until the final, held at the Gary Speed Park in May next year. Looking at the qualifiers, I’d consider ourselves to be in the top five or six favourites, definitely. It’s one of those competitions that I’d love to win now simply because, as we progress, we won’t get the chance again as (hopefully) we’ll be playing Champions League football.
As the transfer window closes, it’s a good time to round up a few deals across the game world:
Serie A spending is quite low but it’s Bayern who are the biggest spenders over the summer, making an absolute mockery of West Ham with this deal for Dennis Seimen. Newgens are now starting to dominate the leading transfers of 2030, topped by West Ham’s monstrous deal for a Chelsea player who didn’t even get any first team football. They’ve been tycoon owned for three years but it’s funny that the Duarte deal – massively inflated in price – preceded the announcement for funding to be scaled down and then the sale of Seimen for (comparative) pennies. Bournemouth, who finished fifteenth in the Premier League spent big on Pedro Neto from Wolves to add to Melayro Bogarde and Lisandro Martinez in a window where Steven Gerrard just threw money at things and Curtis Jones swapped Merseyside for the blue half on Manchester and will slide into a team with Foden, Yeremy Pino, Rodri, Christopher Nkunku and Rabby Mateta Pepa or company.
None of these deals make it into the leading transfer list: topped by Lautaro Martinez who went a whole season without starting a game at Man City – 11G, 1A from 0(22) in his first season – before moving to Arsenal for a staggering €130m loss. Declan Rice is still a Galactico, Patrik Schick is now at Stoke in the Championship and Jarrod Bowen is a bit part player at PSG. To think, I questioned a €9.5m deal in the summer!
Our wage bill suggests that we are around the middle of the financial pack and I now hope that I can push us on by making the most of the players I have on the pitch.
Serie A: Udinese vs Atalanta.
In the run up to the game, I was pleased to see that Marzio Zenga had taken the constructive criticism on board and knuckled down in training – below – with my staff reporting that he was at his best and would therefore, retain his starting spot but receive some personal feedback prior to the game. I made two changes: one enforced as the return to fitness for Wisdom Amey came at a good time as there was an injury to Speranza, which will keep him out for a while and Daniel Ferreira, who replaced Ederson. I knew Daniele De Rossi has a possession hungry side and, apparently, Serie A loans aren’t automatically ineligible to play against parent clubs so it appeared I’d be facing Filippo Fontana: the only time I’m wishing that he has a mare. The hosts were without a win in seven whilst we were unbeaten in eight.
Our hot start continued as Sottil tucked away a Carvalho through ball with just over a minute on the clock and before the hosts had actually touched the ball. We dominated the remainder of the first half, chalking up 1.06xG to their 0.27 but failed to add any more goals. Another harsh word to Zenga – who recorded a 6.5 rating by half time – had him ‘Fired Up’ for the second half. Out of nowhere, Udinese equalised and many of our heads were now anxious. A change to the entire front five did nothing as we limped to a draw, dropping points against a team I’d have expected and wanted to beat.
A twelve gap before our next Serie A fixture and a chance for Zenga, in particular, to find his groove whilst with the Italy U21 side. 0.89 xG/90 is a fantastic return, but now he just needs to find the back of the net. He may be front and centre in these past few posts but, as my leading striker, I need a lot from but fully believe he is capable of that. I also took some time to talk to Fusari about the quality of his heading, and he admitted that it needed improving. I have no idea (or concrete evidence for or against) if these actually have an impact on player performance but I will try and track and find out. He’s never been amazing in the air but should be registering a better return that 16% completion, given that his last game was at 70%: it is also worth noting that Fontana (Udinese) is 6’1″ and Botheim (Parma) is 6’0″ so there wasn’t a huge height disadvantage compared to his 6’0″ frame and both were listed as DLF – so it’s not like they’re being targeted to win headers. Elsewhere, I know we are only two games in but the start that Sottil (whose Dad managers Udinese currently in real life) has had has been insane and his performances have kept Francesco Lanzo, another bright academy prospect, out of the side.
Some really promising news about two loanees at Modena:
Therefore, I decided to attend their tie with Cremonese. Luca played high and wide on the opposite side to other loanee Memaj and both were decent if a little more risk averse than I’d like them to be with the former completing 37 of 43 passes with Memaj completing 40 of his 43 – clearly favouring backwards of square balls instead of incisive through balls. Lassina won 100% of his seven aerial duels, two of which were ‘key’ and completed 48 of 67 passes from his ‘no nonsense CB’ role, which, in my opinion, does mean he’s more likely to clear the ball long rather than looking for a teammate. He also completed five interceptions and was a key part in their clean sheet, finishing with a 7.4 Average Rating.
I also took in two Italy U21 internationals, with a number of my players on duty as well as a few old faces for the Turkey U21 squad.
Ferraroli and Lanzo both had ninety minutes in the win over Turkey, which started with an own goal from Ali Inal, the most promising defender I managed whilst at Trabzonspor but there was no time for Zenga, who was an unused sub. He did, however, start against Finland along side Lanzo – back on the right wing instead of the left – and Valtulina and was rewarded with a goal, tucking away a Lanzo cutback.
Serie A: Atalanta vs Cagliari.
Serie A football is back at the Gewiss Stadium for the 2030/31 season!
Cagliari came into this off the back of a 1-1 draw with Bologna and a 3-1 defeat at home to Lecce. All three of Lecce’s goals came in the second half and all came from inside the area (goal one, goal two and goal three) with a clear weakness coming down their left hand side when looking at passes completed, dribbles and key passes. It’s rare that I look an opponent for weakness, rather than looking at what they’re good at and adjusting my own style. I think that our natural style will help overload on the right, where they appear to be weakest. I made a two changes: Costa in for Zenga and Ederson back in for Ferreira. Stern words were to be had with centre back Fusari before kick off as Cagliari’s forward, Da Graca, stands at 6’1″ and both wide men are natural wingers, indicating that they may look to feed him in the box.
It was a pretty low quality game with only a moment of magic from Carvalho freeing up Gavi, who opened his account for the season. He then was felled and won a penalty early in the second half. My decision to assign the penalty to Costa backfired as his effort was tamed and easily tipped to the side by their keeper. Once again, absolutely rock solid defensively but not quite firing up top – we are creating the chances but are yet to put one away. It was interesting, for me, to watch Marzio Zenga’s body language after he came on – it’s just not worked out for him yet in the opening three matches but surely will!
I did take in an U20 fixture the day after though and was reminded that we both have an amazing talent factory and that the tactic does provide goals! They’ve quickly risen to the top of the U20 division, dispelling worries I had about their squad depth.
UEFA Europa League Group Phase: St-Etienne vs Atalanta.
Interestingly, for me, we’re not used to Thursday fixtures so I’ve had to have a little rethink about how this looks. Unfortunately, we do face Inter in the second game of the week. We have a little bit of time earlier in the week to get into some proper training but, by Sunday – when, hopefully, we play our second game – we’ll definitely have more fatigue. I’ve decided to really play this on the opponent – using the start of the week to work on our attacking areas (Attacking Wings, Attacking Direct, Shadow Play, Transition – Press) or our defensive areas (Defending Disengaged, Defending from the Front, Shadow Play, Transition – Restrict) as well as a bit of Match Prep.
It then also led me to learn a little about the blocks, above. Match Preview (left) with Match Tactics (right) both pretty much do the same thing, with tactics using a little extra in terms of condition with the added advantage that Match Tactics improves two attributes, too – both of which are key to me. Therefore, it makes sense to do a heavier session at the start of the week and the lighter one at the end. I have also considered whether these are absolutely necessary and whether I should just attempt to be really clever and do a full two days of heavy training with one or two Match Prep blocks in but then ensure that I am manually resting those players involved for longer periods during the midweek fixtures. Right now, I am trying to get some match fitness by using the U20 team and arranging friendlies to get them minutes but I am also concerned that there are going to be those backup players who are just doing a lot of Match Prep in this week and not using it. I don’t know (and don’t want to ‘game it’) how long the Match Prep effect ‘lasts for’ but, surely, if a player works on their Attacking Movement on a Wednesday, it’s still going to have some impact come Sunday?
Ederson opened the scoring from the penalty spot after Zenga was fouled (why can’t I claim this as an assist to get his AR up?!) before Carvalho scored a superb freekick from just by the D. A very much rotated team for this one but I’m sure that this will change as we face off against tougher opposition. We’re joined on three points by the likes of Spurs, Villarreal, Dortmund and The New Saints, who have come through eight games to reach this stage – opening with a win at home to Georgian side Dinamo Batumi. They face Maribor, Saint-Etienne, PAOK, Rapid Wien, APOEL, Betis and Olympiakos next so I don’t envisage their tally being added to much more.
Serie A: Atalanta vs Inter.
As a Villa fan, I’ve read a lot over the past two days or so about our overachievement and that our xG stats are lying because we’ve outscored them yet our xGA is considerable higher than our actual goals conceded. I feel that this is very much the same kind of thing – we should have won this one and the stats are lying! Inter’s goals were both contentious in my opinion: an offside from Skriniar that was looked at by VAR but allowed and I assume that this is due to the graphical modelling of the game rather than them allowing an actual offside and a penalty which even the commentary said looked harsh! Granted, they did create 1.76 non-Pen xG – considerably more than our last three league games put together, but we defended resolutely. There is little on either their key passes or shot map that worries me greatly: conceding chances from corners isn’t great but I can’t grow this team in the next month or so and it’s just a case of getting acquainted through Set Piece blocks and then the key passes through the middle are largely down to our playing style – two aggressive centre mids will always leave us short. I did, however, experiment with a 4-2-2-2 shape, one that I’ve used before. It brought us the goal as, in this move, Carvalho finds Zenga with a lovely through ball. Defensively, the double pivot would help protect against those key passes but I was too cautious and switched back to the one up top after each goal, ensuring that we had more bodies back.
We can leave with our heads held very high. Inter didn’t deserve this. This is probably the first time I’ve taken the game to one of the bigger clubs, instead of being somewhat pragmatic. I don’t like conceding goals and our game is built around not doing that but we could be on to something…It does then also awaken my thoughts to more reactive formations – going a goal up, or chasing a goal. I do have other shapes and styles loaded but I’ve pretty much banked on my own formation, with instructional changes, being enough and I am becoming convinced it may not be.
Serie A: Lazio vs Atalanta.
All of a sudden, Zenga’s outputs look top class again!
A game in which we really played quite well and should have scored more. Zenga opened the scoring from a beautifully weight Gavi through ball before laying on Sottil himself to put us ahead before half time. Sottil failed to net from the spot as we continued or woe from twelve yards but the big area of concern, for me, is the amount of xGA – for the second game in a row. Lazio had a couple of high xG chances, with both front point blank range missing the target – however, it is interesting that, in both moves (one and two) we have failed to deal with a ball coming into the box. That is interesting given that the back four has not changed but the man ahead of them, Pilenga, has. I took a look at all of their completed crosses (e.g: one, two, three and four) and the conclusion I came to is that they all stem from a long ball from the back that is allowed to be brought down and, given the space that it creates, find a man in the box. That, to me, points to one man – Cristian Pilenga. As a HB(d), I want him as the extra man, particularly here against a two man strike force, but, looking at where he has gained possession and his touches, there is a big void in the middle.
My staff reckon he’s familiar with the role, so I do wonder what it is. I had an issue with the ratings of Torreira during pre-season and now I have an issue with the in-game positioning of Pilenga (despite it not being considered a weakness for him), so I need to act upon it. I can then, of course, go back to the heading issue (see Okoli’s and Fusari’s recent form – showing that only one of the two is doing well here), which isn’t helping when the crosses are coming in.
Serie A: Verona vs Atalanta.
Sort the one end out at the detriment to the other!
An absolutely turgid affair where we let Verona have the ball – fine – but, when we had it created absolutely nothing. Ragatzu, to his credit, was the most creative – with two key passes but we just failed with the basics – Sottil was the only man to complete a cross, registering just 12% himself as Luciano Costa mustered just one shot at goal, that missed the target. My thoughts about using him as the number two striker over Sergio Camello are now being re-thought but, of course, the Spaniard needs time to regain match fitness. A point is a point and we’re tracking slightly above our points tally from last season but we’ve not really had a complete game since the Parma tie – either attack or defence has been poor.
My band of loanees (and yes, I’ve been asked about it in the media: ‘is it too many?! How’s the loan farm doing?’ etc etc) have reached the end of their first month of professional football elsewhere and it is very much a mixed bag. I’m delighted to see that they’re all getting first team football but their returns, right now, do not give me too much to shout about.
Player profiles can be accessed by clicking on the thumbnail.
Federico Bisio has been a bit of a bright spark though since his move to Serie B and is scoring and developing nicely for Crotone, who sit sixth. Alberto Bollini is a good youth developer and is affording my lad some playing time, which is great. Luca De Zerbi, in what must be considered a key year for him given Moleiro’s announced departure, has started quite brightly. I like how he progresses the ball with dribbles but, as I saw watching him, I want him to do that with his passing, too. His Modena side are down in nineteenth in Serie B and are struggling to convert the chances he’s creating for them. Lastly, Fontana has really struggled in Serie A but has just been awarded the Serie A U19 Player of the Month. An assist on debut has been followed by ratings of 6.4, 6.2, 6.3 and 6.4 although he has racked up nearly 1.00xG from his six shots. Boldly, I decided to criticise his form and he took it well – so I shall look forward to seeing if he’s got it in him to improve next month, considering he was very keen to impress when we spoke upon his departure for this loan.
Hopefully they can pick up in form as the year progresses and I can continue to detail those who are doing well.
A fairly decent start to the campaign and we sit inside the Champions League spaces, in, hopefully, a similar position to what we’ll be in come the end of the season. Roma have started a little slower than they’d have liked and two of the surprises last season – Udinese and Lecce – are way down along with calamity club Napoli. I fully expect SPAL to fall back, although I did with Udinese last year and they didn’t but I must contend with the two Milan clubs and Juve, again. Looking at the top scorers in this league, it’s easy to see what I’m up against but I’m banking of my man Zenga appearing on that list before long. Creatively, Carvalho has been absolutely top draw and Gavi is really starting to find his feet in Italy.
October is nice, if you can say that about a Serie A and European schedule.
Forza La Dea!
The infuriating news to see that a Windows update has left me with none of the one-thousand plus words that I’d written for this month, so this short update will have to make do instead. However, it is somewhat of a blessing in disguise for a busy week where I’ve both been finishing off things for the skin and embroiled in the trials and tribulations of real life, it’s a welcome distraction to get back to the game and write up a month that started really strong and then somewhat fizzled out at the end.
We started with a strong defensive showing as we welcomed Fener to Italy. Sadly, the build up contained absolutely no references to my own time in Turkey and my own hatred that I’ve built up against a club who, literally, robbed the Turkish title from my own Trabzon side! We limited them to chances but also looked somewhat toothless ourselves with a strong side out. Marzio Zenga celebrated his twenty-first birthday with a brace against Genoa in a game that was far more like our normal selves before we hammered Brescia, thanks to a Daniele Ragatzu masterclass saw. I had seen this tweet and felt that it very much reminded me of how Ragatzu plays:
The next steps in this is to ensure that I can find him, draw the opposition in and still ensure out attacking phase is spread out, because he’s top class with the ball at his feet.
From there on in, we’ve been poor! A heavily rotated side cost us against Rapid Wien as I think I may have not take the opponent quite as seriously as I should have: that’ll certainly have to change if we continue our good form and progress into the knockout phases. Lastly, we were, once again, strong in the defensive phase against Napoli but lacked the firepower to break through. A point, on the road, is never a bad thing against a team with the stature of Napoli but I really had hoped for more.
That leaves us nicely positioning as we head into the winter months. We’re one of the top five unbeaten sides but we’ve only played Inter out of the teams above us, in a game that we were unlucky not to have won. SPAL continue their early season good form as it’s clear that the gap between Serie A and Serie B, should you have a tight-knit, cohesive squad, isn’t that much whilst Napoli have quietly pulled themselves back towards the top after a couple of years of strife. It is only really Roma and last year’s overachievers Lecce who have struggled, with a pretty familiar look to the table already appearing.
Marzio Zenga, Fabio Carvalho and Gavi are our representatives atop the player stats and they’re all doing well. Despite his slow start, Marzio is growing into the role atop the formation as a key player and I can’t speak highly enough about the creativity of Carvalho, who has just been rewarded with a call up to the Portugal squad as he looks to add to his three caps.
My band of loanees continue to do a variety of things whilst away from the club! Bisio netted a brace on two occasions, Fontana opened his Serie A account and Luca De Zerbi got his goalscoring underway with a fine hattrick. Elsewhere, the standard of performances has been, overall, pretty poor. I’m talking to these lads constantly but there isn’t quite the option for ‘buck your ideas up or this’ll be your last season at this club! However, I’m open to include you if you’re developing and playing well!’
Five fixtures in November as the Europa League pressure continues, below. We travel to Romania before we welcome der BVB to Italy in two pretty big ties in terms of deciding the outcome of the league phase. Sadly, I can’t sacrifice too much against FCSB with such a tough tie in Turin a matter of days after but I believe that the Pisa line up, to round the month off, will be significantly different to that that starts against the German side.
Forza La Dea!
I’m going to maintain this update style for the next couple of months as I transition back into actually playing the game and reading the boards…
We started off the month with a trip to Romania where a strong side quite comfortably overcame our opposition. I was most impressed with how we’ve already create strong partnerships across the team and that is clearly evident by how we’re playing. Whilst the result was never in doubt, I do have to mention the match momentum – which is, for me, a sign that my decisions were wrong. The game swung, not dangerously, but still sufficiently to cause issue, when I made all five subs at once and then ended with nearly 50% of the playing squad feeling complacent and happier to stay on the bench. Now, I am au fait with one way that substitutes can work – and that is to slow down and disrupt the play but that was not my intention in this game and I need to think how a) I can use the three stoppages more wisely and b) how I can ensure that my player are motivated, no matter the scenario or game. Still, 4-0 is a great return in a season where we haven’t quite been as freely scoring a I’d like.
Back in league action and Endrick missed a great chance within two minutes to really wake me up to the difference in quality of opposition. Fortunately, Fabio Carvalho netted with a 30-yard screamer, showing the league why he’s one of the best dead ball specialists as we took the lead before the half hour mark. It was a tight game, with neither side wanting to give much but in the end it came down to shooting – a 0.33xG chance against a 0.01xG goal was all the difference. This is, really, the first time where I’ve not felt somewhat pragmatic in my selection away to a bigger team and – through both an intended change in course and a reduction in game time used to analyse my opposition – went with the normal set up and approach. This time, it has been vindicated: my first win over Juve and only Atalanta’s third since 2022 keeps us very much in the pack at the top of the table.
The Portuguese phenomenon saved us again against my old team, Sassuolo as he netted well after his original shot hit the post. The game still has a fundamental issue – in my perspective – that they class this as two xG chances – a 0.40xG shot that hit the post and a 0.42xG shot that went in. Now, if he’d missed the initial shot – and, let’s say, it was a 0.91xG chance, the total xG for this goal would be 1.33xG – and you can’t be expected to score more than one goal from one chance! I’m sure someone can come and explain if that impression is incorrect. However, it did seal us the three points.
We clung on against BVB to maintain our unbeaten record and put ourselves in a decent position to qualify directly for the knockout phase. Carnesecchi’s penalty save was the highlight for us as, once again, my defenders are (unfairly) marked down due to our overall lack of possession and playing style which sees them contest very few tackling opportunities. I have serious concerns that these low ratings, along with the low body language that it brings, is going to seriously cost us at times this season.
I certainly feel like we’re moving towards that top four pack that are breaking away from the rest of the league, which is exactly where I want to be. As mentioned in last month’s update, it’s only really Roma who are missing from that picture as Napoli, with ex-boss Andre Villas Boas now at Villa, have stuttered with only two wins in their last five as they looked to bridge the gap to where they used to belong. No league goals this month for Marzio Zenga sees him lose ground in the race for the top scorer as the evergreen Dusan Vlahovic and Luis Suarez (not him) lead the way and Gav’s sudden loss of form and injury in the final game mean he’s no nowhere to be seen on the assist column, although Fabio Carvalho is putting space between himself and the rest of the league as he demonstrates that he is an elite player. The only issue is that he’s now beginning to get unsettled over demands of a €200k+ p/w contract, something that I’m not going to budge on.
I have kept a little comparison between this season and last and I’m really happy with the the start we’ve had. This time last year we hadn’t played Juventus but had lost to Milan and drawn to Inter. Therefore, our four points from six to the one point from six shows a clear bit of progress, season on season. We’re also still unbeaten this season but had lost three from our first thirteen to the end of November last year.
One of the longer term projects for this Atalanta side is to improve the number of players developed by me that go on to have strong careers elsewhere. Currently, with twenty three players over the age of 21 playing in Serie A – some of those with us – we’re not quite where I want us to be. It’s clear that we’ve produced some absolutely elite talent and have had a knack, in the past, for picking up youngsters – Dejan Kulusevski and Frank Kessie are two great examples, with the latter still at Barca now. However, deeper than the likes of Bastoni and Melegoni, who have both made decent careers at this level, there is little else to shout about:
With the transfer window nearing its opening, I always enjoy taking a look at the transfer rumours across countries where I have vested interest in players: Italy, Spain, Portugal and South America. It’s always interesting to see what other teams are up to and that exact move has led me to uncovering Adrian Campagnaro, from the depths of the Argentine fourth tier. We have absolutely no ability to develop a strong scouting system in these local leagues so I need to be clever: either using the springboard to another domestic team as proof they are good or by utilising their scouting knowledge in an unofficial way. It’s – in my eyes – super unrealistic to look through the player search at players who have a ‘Wnt’ symbol next to their name to spot these clubs, so jumping on the back of some utterly random transfer gossip in The Athletic is a more realistic measure for me. However, as you can see with the link below – a €4.1m for an eighteen year old in the second tier of Argentina – some of the reports are way off the mark!
I will need to look at our January transfer window, firstly to fill the gap created by the decline of Torreira but to also ensure my quest for excellence is shared out, and that we have no weak links within the squad. Currently, I feel that we do:
It’s a lot for Jonny – a 21 year old Uruguayan – to swap his domestic league, move to Italy and settle in, whilst performing well, but, to be fair, he’s really struggled. He’s not offered anywhere near what I’d like offensive – particularly compared to Pellegrini (0.17 xA/90, 0.01 nPxG/90, 0.65 shots/90) and has suffered from not being able to offer a specialism like his counterpart, who often takes my corners.
I have a couple of decisions to make – I’m sure he’s good enough but I need to decide whether to persist with him in (even more of a) backup role to Pellegrini whilst he gets comfortable with my style and the country or whether a short term loan would allow him to get up to speed adequately ready to return next season and put pressure on an aging Pellegrini, who won’t be around forever. If I opt for the second option I will, of course, be forced to dip into the transfer market and I’m still not entirely sure where I need to strategise the €20m-ish that is available to me aside from the DM role.
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I have already prized open the owners’ checkbook and spent €1.5m on a young Peruvian, Piero Benedetti, who, as the name may give away, holds an Italian passport. The youngster is at the famed Cantolao academy and has recently broken into the first team. Despite that, he’s very much a player for the future as I’ll bring him in and probably send him out on loan to attempt to avoid issues like the above. Arriving when he turns eighteen in the summer, I see the left sided playmaker as an ideal replacement/rotation for Gavi and Ragatzu and it further cements my want to sign youngsters for the future.
Again, a very mixed bag in terms of the loanees’ form. De Zerbi is really starting to develop now and will hopefully be able to make the step up to the first team next season after demonstrating his Dribbling ability in Serie B; his next job will be to add in some precise passing and chance creation in our system, where he’ll likely play in the CM(a) role. Bisio is now three without a goal so it’ll be interesting to see how the youngster takes a small barren spell as he’s certainly hit the ground running. The older players, in particular Scopece, are struggling and I really feel that the Avellino full back could be on his way out after really not impressing me. Given the left back issues I have within the first team, this isn’t ideal…
A busy December with these five plus SPAL on 21st December, before we break for Christmas. However, we’re in good form and fear nobody. The Olympiakos tie has suddenly become a really important fixture, given their strong start, but I am relaxed in the knowledge that our final two fixtures are against WSG Tirol and APOEL – both at home with the latter sitting bottom of the group phase.
Forza La Dea!
The month started with a list of slight tactical tweaks:
- Positive mentality instead of Balanced as I feel that we’re just not committing enough forward when we build up. I have three players – CWB(a) CM(a) and IW(a) that I want to be behind the striker as we attack quickly and efficiently.
- Overload left so that I can further increase that shift on the left. It brings the mentality of the WM(s) down so that the overloads are more common and useful. So much of my build up play is built around clever off the ball movement, seizing opportunities and gaps within the defensive and transitional areas.
- Change in passing length because positive football and long(er) ball football has been quite problematic in the past. Plus, I think we need more of the ball. It’s becoming too easy for teams to sit back and keep the ball and stop us from doing anything, also, meaning that when they lose it, they’re more likely to be in a strong defensive shape. By going a little less direct, we’ll keep the ball for longer, I hope.
- Attacking width to get the four players mentioned above inside the width of the box and, therefore, just more of an attacking threat.
- Pressing Forward because I don’t feel that the CF(a) is conducive to either Camello, Zenga or Costa and hasn’t quite got the best from them. I’m unsure whether this will or not, but it’s a start in the process.
Cremonesi’s debut goal was the highlight in a pretty dull performance, using the old shape up until my half time brainwave, which I’ve detailed above. I won’t hide the fact that I was hoping to put four or five past a poor Pisa side but the defensive side remains strong as we keep another clean sheet and I need to remember that I am still playing a 21 year old, with a year of Serie A experience under his belt, as my main striker against a host of world class opposition, albeit none of whom were on show in this tie.
Our first defeat of the season followed against Milan as the lack of incision showed again. Defensively, we are absolutely solid and rarely concede but, even with the implementation of the changes – above – we barely caused Milan’s defence a problem. Slightly better against Roma as we deserved a win but not the most clinical of finishing as I very quickly decided that Zenga’s role should return to the AF(a), the one that I used when he made his breakthrough: why change something that wasn’t broken?!
I made some more tweaks against Olympiakos, moving our block from Low to Medium. I feel that we need to, as time goes on, become a little less cautious without the ball and need to get ourselves further away from the goal. I still like the idea of the instruction to Stand Off as it means we’ll likely press less, even from the mid block. Again, I think we need to have more of the ball and that possession needs to be with my most creative players as close to the goal as I can get it, whilst still being able to manipulate defences that are becoming even more cautious in order to create space for good chances. To be perfectly honest, we did almost none of that and relied on scoring with our only shot on target in the last kick of the game to return with three points. I’m thinking that I’m going to have to get a lot more in depth with my tactical thoughts and analysis in order to overcome this issue: I felt that we were only in second gear earlier in the season but now I’m questioning whether this style will allow to get out of that gear.
Within all of the tactical moans, it’s easy to forget that these things take time to embed and different opposition react differently to things – which is something I’ve lost from my write ups as I’ve been re-acquainting myself with the game over the past few days. Fortunately, we started strongly: just sixteen seconds on the clock as Zenga tapped in from close range directly from kick off. I think that, overall, our shooting was poor – too many long shots hurried without thinking, something I tend to attribute with one of two things: a) mentality and b) not working the ball into the box. The latter will slow down our counter attacking play and I don’t really want that so the talk about Balanced/Positive continues. Our pass map was somewhat strange as well, with the pass combinations on the right hand side surely a sign we were trying to keep the ball better by recycling across the defensive area. Alberto Moleiro’s lung busting run doubled our lead and, with ninety-four minutes between goals, we sealed a decent win but, even in that there are concerns that I have. These concerns are arising now I know I want and, to be honest, need, perfection in order to progress. Michael Fusari’s header win rate at sits 51% and overall defensive stats low despite really strong attributes.
I’ve been plagued with low average ratings for my defenders and I’ve always put it down to lack of tackle attempts across games, almost blaming the game system for this. However, I think that his poor header rate is to blame somewhat. Yet, when I look at his header attempts, the picture is so different:
- One header lost on the half way line vs Salernitana from a goal kick
- One defensive header lost on the edge of the area from a long ball vs Olympiakos
- One defensive header lost inside the area from a cross vs Roma
- Six header attempts lost from attacking corners, either on the near or the far post vs Roma.
Yes, 51% is a horrific number for a centre back, but, at six foot tall, he’s not tiny, and the issue is actually coming from our poor attacking corners – where he’s losing out in the opposition. Granted, three games is a small sample size but I know that I need to look in more depth at what data I’m collecting and building a skin to showcase, before I jump to too many conclusions.
SPAL had lost two in a row and we had a great record against them, according to the next opponent report so I knew that starting well would hopefully get us the confidence that I craved in our play. I went with the 4-2-2-2 shape to start, hoping that the two up top could disrupt their two defenders and using a more offensive left sided midfielder (Gavi in a role not entirely suited to him) would put pressure on the aggressive left back. It worked as the Spaniard laid a ball on to Christian Pilenga, who swung in a cross that Sottil converted in the sixth minute. Normal tactical service was resumed and I was treated to one of the clearest views of the 3-3-3-1 shape in transition, despite the difficulty in actually telling the difference between the kits. In typical fashion, Fusari lept like a salmon to meet a deep free kick and his header looped over their keeper and in to the back of the net to double our lead on twelve mins – making me somewhat relieved that I hadn’t had chance to review the set pieces. I think that the mid-block is pretty sensible and the Stand Off means we don’t have to employ a stupidly high defensive line to stay compact but also means we can spring into transition with a turnover, such as this one in which Gavi’s – who later earnt player of the week – through ball was tucked away by Zenga for our third. Gavi then added our fourth as he was left with the simplest of tap ins after Carvalho’s thirty-yard free kick left the bar shaking and the keeper helpless. 2.10xG in the first half and four goals, as well as, importantly, a dressing room that was happy with it. We eased off a little in the second half but not after hitting the post twice through Fusari and Sottil, which leads me to this quite astonishing image:
10% of our shots have hit the woodwork this season – a total of forty-eight shots. I ran some numbers and wanted to compare to real life. I’m in December and we’re in April now and the team in the Premier League with the most woodwork shots is Villa, with 18 and the overall total is just 3% so we’re either really, really unlucky or something is somewhat off here. If we keep making chances, surely this’ll even itself out as we head into the new year!
With January approaching and some data to back up the kind of role I have in the DM slot, I can use this to help identify a target to replace Lucas Torreira, who’ll be leaving us at the end of the season.
Pilenga has, on the whole, been solid since his €9.5m move from Sampdoria so I don’t need a replacement for him, just someone who can rotate with him as necessary and, ideally, someone who can play another role, too. The biggest shock for me though is that I’d always believed I needed an aggressive, ball winner in the HB(d) role, but this lad has just proved me wrong:
- Interceptions – 0.17 per 90
- Clearances – 0.48 per 90
- Blocks – 0/36 per 90
- Tackles won – 1.38 per 90 at 66% success
- Pressures completed – 2.82 per 90
Instead, Pilenga has acted like a very deep playmaker, recycling the ball when we do have it, showing his reliability in possession within the transitional area of the game. What this also tells me is that my tactical style may be slightly off in order to get the best from the players I have. Right now, Pilenga forms one of the back three and that makes the passing actions that he’s clearly pretty good at, much further away from their goal and much safer. He’s not in the team as a conventional ball winner and, in some way, I think that his offensive prowess is somewhat wasted. Therefore, I decided to hastily arrange a friendly against AlbinoLeffe in order to try out a slightly different shape:
There are several changes that I feel will help us in the longer run being more potent offensively and also working out how to get the best of the DM as well as identifying another player to fill that role. Firstly, the plan is to change the players within the back three when I transition – moving the IWB(s) to a FB(s) with two instructions – Sit Narrower and Run Wide with the ball. Amey isn’t the best at Dribbling or Crossing but the latter instruction, in my mind, will help spread us across each vertical area of the pitch and provide support out wide once Lanzo cuts in. Defensively, Amey will sit in and make a three and, to assist that, I’ve moved the CB(d) on the right to a BPD(c) to create better vertical passing options as he’ll sit slightly behind. This means that now, the HB(d) can move to – for now – a DM(d) and I won’t need the CAR(s) in front for extra defensive cover, moving him to a CM(s) initially. The thoughts are that I will have less players in that defensive area, maybe now shifting from a 3-3-3-1 to a 3-4-2-1 in possession and, as such, moving my ball players higher up the pitch. Michael Fusari is also interesting here: as a ball playing CB, he was somewhat underused in a system that often saw the ball move from Pilenga, to him, to the left wing back but now, with the freedom of three more conventional defenders, he can step up knowing that Pilenga is ahead of him to look for now, rather than alongside him.
The match, as you’d expect, was easy as we ran out 6-0 winners thanks to a Costa hattrick, but the morphing between a 3-2-4-, 2-3-2-3 and even a 3-5-2 certainly is interesting. With Amey taking that much talked about Ben White/Tomiyasu role, we’ve got some different options to use. Our overall positions and pass map are interesting to say the least but I need to know that this is against both a weaker side and a team playing a 5-3-2, so it’ll naturally play differently against a one striker formation. However, it’s that one striker formation that interests me the most – we’ll have one less defender when we transition in a 2-3-2-3 shape, meaning that we’re not losing numerical advantage and have more players in a more advanced area. Feels like a win/win for me here.
Putting that all together, I think that a more creative DM can now be utilised in this system as I won’t need the physical side of a faux defender in him should I wish to continue with this system. With interest in Torreira, and a promise that I’d sell him during the transfer window, I do need to move relatively fast to source a replacement. This then links into the bigger picture that I have, creating a squad that is capable of competing at the top of Serie A:
My squad depth is as follows:
Those in red are leaving at the end of the season and, in my mind, to compete across Serie A and the Champions League, I need two top quality players for each area, with a bonus if they can play in secondary roles, too. In Vlad Monea, I have a centre back who has proven nothing at this level and surely will not be part of the long term plans. Then, I must consider the bias I have towards the academy – are Speranza, Ferrigno, Ragatzu, Costa and Ferraroli good enough to play to second fiddle? I already have strong representation of home grown players: Fusari and Zenga are first team players and Lanzo would be if Sottil wasn’t consistently doing very well, so I don’t need to hang on for registration purposes despite the desperate desire to create the academy pathway that leads right to the top.
My collation of data is going to be very important across this year to compare with last years and to, ideally, create some outputs that are within my style and measurable for the players hoping to come into the club.
We end the calendar year in a really strong position, above the expectations of the board and in line with my demands of Champions League football coming back to Bergamo next year. We’re still not quite where I want us, offensively, as we sit behind the top teams in teams of goals scored but that is, to some extent, made better by our fantastic defensive record, which has also seen Carnesecchi voted the best Goalkeeper in the world. I’m still awaiting the resurgence of Napoli and Roma but I feel that we’ve put enough of a gap between us and fifth to secure these aims.
A busy January but one with with many winnable games. We also face APOEL in the last game of the month at home but, by then, I hope to have qualification wrapped up and the ability to play with a very rested team. I do have a couple of things that need to be worked on over January:
- Set pieces with particular focus on the ability to load and reload them against different opponents based on their defensive set ups.
- Implementation of the new system, thoroughly understanding how it can be used against different opposition.
- Acquisition of a new DM and potentially a new CB, if there if sufficient interest in Vlad Monea.
- Identification of a shortlist of players who could potentially fill the voids left with the summer departures of Moleiro and Camello.
Forza La Dea!
When I get to this part of the season, I tend to become tactically-distracted and spend a lot more time thinking about the future of the club. However, I do feel like I’ve done better than usual in that sense this season but the players have really struggled with the tough runs after thirteen games in the two months before this one. We started strongly against Verona despite being starved of possession, controlling much of the play and territory and keeping them quiet for long periods of time. Francesco Lanzo impressed from the right wing. Heading to Germany, my plan was to keep it a little tighter than normal against Stuttgart’s 4-4-2 shape, so I moved the CWB(a) back to a WB(s) and looked to stop the flow of play through their two central playmakers. A big chance for the hosts was all that separated us at half time and I was happily heading for the draw when substitute Kean popped up, rounded the keeper and finishing coolly, giving us the edge half way through the tie. We looked somewhat shakier defensively though and, adding that to the mid-week fatigue, succumbed to a defeat at home to Napoli. Despite a significant proportion of their xG being from the penalty spot, we were poor and lost lots of duels as well as not being able to find Zenga is any kind of dangerous spaces. We bounded back though as I took in the Europa League nights in Bergamo and Marzio Zenga’s ninth minute goal, below, epitomised how I like to play:
Possibly a little risky with the shot and possibly, I like a little more support around him but the verticality within the play is brilliant.
The month ended with a great win away at bottom side Brescia before we were unlucky to not complete a league double over Juve as they held us to a nil nil draw. The draw, as you can see below, has really put Milan back into the driving seat as we head into the final two months: they are four ahead with a game in hand although they do have to visit Bergamo before the end of the season. Inter have – on the back of both us and Juve dropping points – close the gap back to us but my job now is to secure a second placed finish, holding off the charges. I live in hope that the summer sees some changes – Tata Martino has already declared that he’ll likely leave AC Milan with Venezuelan Giovanni Savarese – fresh from a World Cup win with USA – being tipped to take over. Both Conte and Simeone go into the final year of their deals this summer so finishing above them would certainly put pressure on them as their clubs consider renewals.
Elsewhere, that mid-table bottom is still ridiculous as Emery’s Napoli and Jovicevic’s Roma are on hot streaks, applying some pressure to Fiore and SPAL who I hope – somewhat selfishly for my own loan plans next season – do not run out of steam. At the bottom, it’s any three from four and I’ve already got my scouts looking at any players who are good enough to stay at this level.
Another busy month as the reward four own German conquering is a double header against Newcastle. The other ties are Lecce vs Betis, Olympiakos (under De Zerbi) vs Dortmund and Nice vs Villareal but I feel that I’ve done quite well to face off against Thomas Tuchel’s side. Despite a whole host of high paid players – Darwin Nunez, Trincao, Frattesi, Lamptey, Moussa Diaby, Ilaix Moriba, Dani Olmo, Slonina, Julian Alvarez and Tyrell Malacia to name but a few, they are sitting in eleventh in the league – drawing against Forrest and Norwich and losing to Burnley last month as well as losing the Carabao Cup final to Chelsea this month. Elsewhere, we face Sassuolo, Pisa, Milan and (not pictured) Salernitana in the league but that comes after a return from international duty in which we have provided the most players from a single club for the Italian national team: high praise indeed.
I must thank @cmason84 for an amazing couple of blog posts that are right up my street in terms of signing player and squad building and I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from this – creating almost identical charts for my own team in preparation for the summer and beyond. My team has some specialists – Wisdom Amey, for example, cannot really play as both a CWB(a) and a FB(s) on the right, which currently limits me in my job to be able to mirror my shape when needed. This, for me, adds that extra layer of complexity to the squad building process – I need a left back who can both be a conservative full back with defensive ability as well as a flying wing back who can cross and assist. It also highlights areas where, from my match experience, I don’t have that and don’t trust the players. However, elsewhere in the team, I have players who can do multiple roles – Sottil can play on both sides and as a central winger and that allows him flexibility in terms of achieving his desired minutes. However, the positional element really needs to sit alongside the financial and playing time elements that I’ve highlighted above.
In terms of wages, I do have concerns around the wages that we are currently paying Wisdom Amey and that it may lead to some unsettled thoughts. I’m sure that he’ll want to be on a level playing field with the likes of Ederson and Okoli soon but his role will hopefully soon become somewhat changeable, resulting in a reduction of minutes (or, more likely) more competition for minutes as a centre back and therefore, I am loathed to spend too much on it. Likewise, Gavi’s wages are low, although I do have another year left with Barca’s €67k p/w contribution. However, he’ll then be pushing twenty eight and, with the minutes of Ragatzu increasing, he could be prime to sell for a significant profit on the €14m I paid for him. As I was creating this, I made the move to offer a new deal for Marzio Zenga. I generally dislike ‘Important Player’ for a striker given that I often rotate based on scoring form but his record and overall time on the pitch has earned this. I also feel that there is justificant for a new deal for Francesco Lanzo, given that he is almost matching Sottil in terms of minutes but has nowhere near parity in terms of pay.
However, I think there is going to be some movement in the summer based on playing time happiness. Vlad Monea is unhappy with minutes and is earning more than the other backup, a keeper. The other centre back, Ferrigno, is not best pleased but both of those players are aware that two key players and high earners sit in front of them. I like stability but, should this come to a bigger issue, I may end up wheeling and dealing with older centre backs who can also play other roles and allowing these two to move on. Luciano Costa is also unhappy with his playing time but that is largely down to my promise of a Squad Player, which will almost certainly not be fulfilled with the new deal for Zenga and the arrival of Kean. I have a surplus of strikers coming through the youth sides so I must admit to not exactly being at a loss if the Italian does not accept the playing time drop I will give to him at the end of the season. I believe that I have the balance pretty spot on with the wide midfielders, who rotate across those positions, with only some slight over playing of Sottil and Lanzo but that is fine.
Lastly, an old favourite of mine is the age vs minutes comparison:
In the short term, I need to source a replacement for Douglas Luiz – the oldest member of the first team squad and somewhat of a stop-gap signing but, longer term, the likes of Moise Kean, Riccardo Sottil, Luca Pellegrini and Ederson will need replacing. I am quite safe in the knowledge that they’ll save us around €300k p/w in salary commitments but they’re all important to the team so I need to decide whether this is slowly done, hoping that I can squeeze quality out of each of them for as long as possible or done quickly and then hope that the bounce can take us to the next level. There are four players in the squad: Zenga, Pilenga, Amey and Fusari, who are all relatively young but playing a lot for us and I would really like to build the club around them as we grow together. The other four players who are of real interest to me are Monea, Ferrigno, Costa and Speranza, who now cannot really be classed as youngsters but are not contributing a good amount of minutes – leading me to a number of questions: is it lack of quality? The role they play? The quality ahead of them? Are they happy as backups? Can I source better like-for-like players?
I think that this little bit of procrastination gives me quite a clear idea for the summer now:
- Push on with identification of more flexible players – a RB that can play as a CWB(a) and a FB(s) and a CM that can play as a BBM(s), CAR(s) and BWM(s). This is not a role search, more me having the knowledge that their attributes fit the bill in these areas.
- Identify a player who can sign between June 2031 and June 2032 to replace Douglas Luiz, who will, more than likely, leave at the end of his deal, knowing that €42k p/w of his wages will be offset by this departure.
- As I am reluctant to change too much during the season, I want to explore any issues that come with the changing of playing time roles for Costa, Speranzo, Rodriguez and Ferrigno.
- Look at the possibility of selling Monea. I kept him in January, breaking a promise, so I am sure that there is little between us that would make him want to stay!
- Consider improving Amey’s contract, knowing that ~€50k p/w will be freed up from the departure of Moleiro and De Zerbi – the likely replacement – will not be earning anywhere near that much.
I am also aware that any unplanned sales will have to fetch more than their incoming replacements as, overall, we are not a profitable club, with the books suggesting we could make a loss of around €20m this season.
With the way that things are going on the pitch, we look to be all but guaranteed the Champions League bounty next year but that will mean wage increases internally as well as externally, with players seeing us as more of a big player in the transfer market. Part of the reason why my intentions are to take this slowly is so that I can build in the wiggle room needed to manoeuvre around these issues and to also enjoy the ride!
My HoYD Palmieri will be sorely missed when he retires, given what he has done in his time at the club over the last seven years. I would certainly not be looking at a team sheet with the likes of Fusari, Ferrigno, Ferraroli, Ragatzu, Speranza, Costa, Zenga and Lanzo in if it wasn’t for the hard work and relationship building that he was a part of since these players were young. However, I cannot dwell on the past and need to draw up a conclusive shortlist for his replacement. The advert has drawn three men to my attention, so far:
Full profile is accessible by clicking on the thumbnail.
Todd Saldana, current at CF Montreal is of interest to me because of his scouting knowledge and excellent ability at judging the potential of youngsters, however, I am concerned about his formation and styles and that he wouldn’t contribute, in any way, to the coaching ability within my setup – instead I see him as more of a suit and tie coach, calling the shots from afar. Gustavo Grossi is similar in that he holds no coaching badges but is somewhat better on the training pitch but both fits in with my Argentine ethos and comes from a club with an outstanding track record of producing quality youngsters. Sevillano’s strengths do lie within his coaching but, again, I’m not a fan of his preferred formation or style and he’s failed to hold down a job for any kind of period of time of late to justify that quality to me. The advert will continue and I will look to make a decision in the summer, although that’ll go against the grain of using the board to assist because I can’t present them a shortlist like I would do with players.
However, Francesco did provide me one last surprise as he winds down to retirement:
Full intake can be viewed by clicking the image above.
This is pretty sensational, given the size of the club that we are. I’ve had a group of players that include five poached players, four potentially elite level players and two Argentines with a whole host of potentially decent players that can be used to bulk up my youth sides. I’ve picked six of my favourite, below:
Nazareno is incredibly well rounded going forward but will need to develop a little defensively so I feel a WB(s) schedule will find that perfect match as I intend to use him primarily as an offensive weapon but also, hopefully, a player who could come in when I want to mirror my shape. His fellow Argentine Rios also needs to brush up on his defensive skills a little and is also a little slow for my liking right now. However, he’ll surely develop that naturally as he ages. I like Cavalli and will be looking to develop his abilities as an out and out scorer to complement the already well developed creative side that he has as I feel that all of my other forwards do lack that. Pierno could become the conductor if he improves his Dribbling ability although I do feel that his Finishing is slightly wasted from that deep – he’s certainly an interesting prospect. Markic looks to be a shoe-in as an Inverted Winger type player but, as he’s already natural as an AMR, I’ll use the IF(a) schedule there to get the most of his physicality as well as an Attacking Movement focus to develop his game intelligence. Lastly, Guariniello is a more classic advanced forward in his style and will just look to grow in those areas.
Forza La Dea!
I’ve lost myself in the realms of both real life and skinning – as you can see by the player profiles below – so this entire month has been played out over a couple of weeks and I’ve really not been able to retain any knowledge of the games, bar a wonderful second leg turnaround against Newcastle. The draw with Milan, despite them being held by Udinese in their last fixture of the month, still leaves them potentially five ahead if they are to win their game in hand.
Fixtures are coming thick and fast and the three away games – Fiore, Roma and Lecce will not be easy. Milan do have to play ‘away’ at Inter and also face Cagliari, Roma, Lecce, Lazio and Verona so there is a chance. I was able to send four players away on holiday for a week, deeming them unavailable for the Salernitana tie but returning them to a much better position, fitness wise, for the tough run in.
Following the posts above around youth development and deliberate squad building, I also need to be aware of the role that other clubs play in my squad building – something which I very often overlook. All of the below players are wanted by other clubs as I’ve chosen to exclude Monea (agreed move to Valencia) and Moleiro (leaving on a free). Maintaining a positive set of relationships within the squad and ensuring that my players aren’t unhappy is key to what I try to achieve with my squad building and will allow me to maintain a squad that, whilst not necessarily being the most gifted or highest paid, operates really well.
I am able to split the players into two quite distinct groups. All thumbnails can be clicked on to reveal a full profile:
Not for sale:
I have six players who I really want to keep hold of, for different reasons. However, the first two are because they are, on paper, the best players I have at the club. Caleb is currently my top earner and the only player on more than €105k p/w, which puts pressure on any renewals given the financial situation we are currently in. Furthermore, he’s three years into the deal he signed as an extension was used to ensure he still has three years left. The interest comes from Bournemouth and PSG and I am confident that I can fend off interest from the former, but the latter will be more difficult. I need to watch this one closely. Fusari is just a year into his four year deal but, with Real Madrid as his suitors, I could be forced into a new deal to ensure he is not unsettled. Pilenga’s new contract demands are somewhat extreme, considering that he was only signed a year ago but there are two reasons why this may be a sensible move:
- He’s not an established high performer so his sell on value is considerably lower than his performance value, so there’s little sense in allowing West Ham to make a bid, especially if that in anyway disrupts him.
- The Champions League will bring an extra €13m, at least, next season, which, if I’m sensible in the transfer market, I can afford to utilise most of this on contract renewals.
Pilenga has played a lot of football this year and it would make sense to continue to build that midfield around him.
Sottil and Pellegrini are two of my older players and, as such, offer little in terms of sell on value compared with performance and squad dynamic value. Pellegrini’s minutes this season mean that I’m not in the correct position to suddenly replace Luca as it’d leave me with a new full back and an inexperienced one in Jonny Rodriguez. Lastly in this category is Francesco Lanzo, who, like Pilenga, does not offer a good price for me considering that he is not established. Lanzo’s deal demands, however, are quite high and, whilst we have the aforementioned Champions League money, means that it’d put playing-time pressure on Sottil, who, at present, is doing nothing to suggest he should get less minutes.
Sell at the right price:
May be an odd one but Gavi’s shared contract means that next summer he’ll be the top earning player at the club, yet share a considerable amount of minutes in the midfield. With the riches of tycoon-owned-Bournemouth, Newcastle, Real Madrid and Man City interested, now could be a good time to cash in and re-invest the money elsewhere in the squad. I think that a deal worth around €50m could be enough for me to fold here. Also, with the form of Ragatzu, I would feel less concerned about the potential sale.
There is, however, another player that could cause a potential issue:
Given the agent relationship and the high demands within his contract, it is unlikely that he’ll ever renew here. I really don’t want to lose him and Gavi in the same window but also I know that he’s far too valuable to lose on a free in 2034, so, really, I have until the summer of 2033 to sell before his value starts to decrease significantly. I am fortunate, right now, that there is no interest in him and, by 2033, he’ll be 30 and, potentially, less investible for other teams. By then, I may be able to play that card with his agent and agree a much lower wage.
I’m working on two deals for the summer, with one already over the line and one pretty close. I am concerned that the backup players are not good enough to fill in when the time is right, so have brought in two players – both no more than rotational options for their own sides – to progress this. You can see the full profiles of both Bruno and Ciammaglichella by clicking their thumbnail but the former, the Inter wingback, has put up some decent stats from a somewhat limited amount of game time, although that has partially been due to injury and secondly due to being behind Denzel Dumfries in the WBR role. The whole idea here is marginal gains – statistically better than Speranza, positionally able to play in that aggressive RB role if I do look to mirror the shape but, with good aerial ability, tackling ability and positioning, also able to play in the FB(s) role, as an able backup to Wisdom Amey. Furthermore, I should be able to recoup some, if not all, of the €8m fee I’ve agreed with Bruno in the sale of Speranza, which is all profit as the Uruguayan is an academy graduate. Again – feed the team or feed the bank, the ideology of the academy model. Secondly, Aaron is a bit of a project but a step up as a backup for Douglas Luiz. Not playing a a DM for Lazio but statistically doing a decent job of progressing the ball from a more positive position on the pitch, so I think he’ll be able to do so with more targets ahead of him. The scout report released his traits and I think that his ability to Dictate the Tempo from deep will be good, given that he rates highly for pass completion and key passes. I cannot foresee that a sale of Douglas Luiz will go anyway to offset the potential €9m deal so therefore I will look to sell another academy player – Angelo Scopece – to fund this. Essentially free money again, he’s never played for the first team and has failed to live up to my expectations in Serie B after coming through the academy.
Unless any of the above players are sold – most likely to be Gavi – I doubt that there’ll be a lot of action this summer. We’re not hugely financially sustainable so these things need to be well thought out.
Forza La Dea!
(Early) May 2031
I’ve cut the month in half given the outcome of the Betis ties but, so far, it’s been somewhat binary in terms of the scorelines. We’ve looked decent going forward but a lot of my approach this month has been one of rotation, early in the game, and ensuring that we are not dropping points at this key time of the season. Under the lights against Betis, we were thoroughly professional as Marzio Zenga netted late in the first half, triggering a far more cautious approach with a whole lot of man marking and defensive set piece crowding in the second. Taking the lead into the second leg was imperative to me but restricting them to 0.12xG with no shots on target was even better. I knew that they had to take the game to us and do something that they hadn’t done in the first leg. Zenga, again, was on the scoresheet as we overcame SPAL as he tucked in a Lanzo cross as my slightly rotated side saw off the challenge of the newly promoted side, who still haven’t run out of gas. Once again, the key was to allow them the ball in non dangerous areas to retain a bit of freshness but ensure that the three points were picked up and, again, 0.18xGa is a huge success in that area. In Spain with a strong line up, I must say that I was confident and, once again, the game plan worked well – lots of sideways passes in front of our defensive line with little penetration. Once Skhiri was sent off in the sixty-fourth minute, it was essentially game over for the hosts. Marzio Zenga’s rating and overall game was poor as he was caught offside for what felt like five hundred times. However, it’s a team game and our passage into the final was complete where we’ll face Nice, currently fourth in Ligue Une. Out of all of the teams I’ve faced on this run, they’re probably the most in form and have, themselves, overcome Villarreal and Dortmund to get to the final but on paper: with Sofiane Diop, Perr Schuurs, Ryan Sessegnon and James Maddison in their team, feel somewhat weaker than ourselves. More rotation for the Bologna game as Luciano Costa netted his fourth, finishing really nicely from a Ragatzu through ball just after the half time break. During the game, I tried out, for the first time, the mirrored tactic, moving the CWB(a) to the right hand side. However, it was soon very clear that Wisdom Amey is not the man for it and, the purchase of Andrea Bruno, a considerably more rounded wing back, will only be of benefit to me next season. The tie also saw a record broken as Nazareno Diaz become the youngest ever player after impressing at U18 level – surpassing the man, Antonio Pacifico, he could be sharing the left back berth with in years to come.
The thoughts about Marzio Zenga and his love for being offside got me thinking. He has the trait to beat the offside trap and is lightning off the mark with very, very good decision making and off the ball ability but, given the high risk nature of our offensive play, does get caught offside a lot. Therefore, I quickly compared all strikers in the Top 7 leagues with over 1000 minutes and looked at where he lies, leaving the name tags on some of the more ‘famous’ ones. Marko Milovanovic is an incredible player and, at 6’5″ with the trait that Zenga has, is a true all around forward that plays on the last man and bullies defenders, possibly somewhat likened to a quite well known Norwegian forward. Youssoufa Moukoko, now of Liverpool, is also a pacy, as is Frenchman Mbappé, so I can’t help but feel that Marzio’s next steps are to cut down on those bad decisions and work on timing things just a little better. Once he’s in behind though, wow…
Realistically, it’s game over for our title chances – Milan have got this far and have not given a thing away and I just can’t see that changing now. However, second place is a fantastic finish, putting us as the ‘best of the rest’ some three years early. Juve and Inter have faded pretty quickly and have both exited Europe: Porto and Man Utd leaving victorious across two legs. The fact that, on paper, we’re probably on par with Fiore, Roma, Lazio and Napoli, yet are sitting – pretty comfortably – in with the big three, is amazing. Three cup finals – Fiorentina, Lecce and Roma and a literal cup final to come.
This season has been wondrous. My attentions though – realistically – are on Cardiff and not the league. The Europa League is a competition I hope to never participate in again. I want to leave it with a bang. Plus – it gets another Italian side in Europe…
Forza La Dea!
(Late) May 2031
I risked a lot against Fiorentina – a relatively strong squad just three days before the Nice tie. Fortunately, it paid off and the demonstration of the whole ‘switch them off’ approach worked really well. Two up inside the first half, Zenga – again – and Okoli from a corner gave us the buffer we needed before we sat back and, unlike a couple of ties earlier in the month, controlled a bit more of the ball. This was a conscious effort, knowing that Fiorentina are, by default, much more creative and, in their 4-2-3-1, as opposed to the more standard 4-3-3 of Bologna and SPAL, have more men in dangerous areas. A Milan win sealed the title as our record of 1D, 1L against them meant that any head to head record would come out in their favour.
I named a strong XI against Nice, with plenty of internal arguing about who gets the nod between Sottil – the veteran and serial winner – and Lanzo – the impressive youngster with the former getting the nod. Vitaly Mykolenko, their left back led the Nice standings for Red Cards and, at 31, isn’t getting any younger – so I saw the potential of a raw, pacey youngster causing him havoc late on in the game. Nice were without elite winger Sofiane Diop, so opted for full back Sessegnon on the left wing – a one-footed winger with a poacher, Arthur Cabral, ahead of him. With Amey and Okoli occupying those slots for me, I felt confident.
I had intended to update this post live as the game played but, in all honesty, I was lost in the beauty of football. End to end, with a series of brilliant defensive actions stopping a peppering of shots on both goals but, in the end, we did enough. Sottil’s rasping drive opened the scoring and Zenga nodded in a beautifully weighted cross by Gavi to put us two to the good before half time. Once again, it was then all about control – and control in the sense of letting them have the ball in areas that I felt didn’t worry us. Their highest pass combination – seventeen – came between midfielder Berg and defender Guiliano as I purposely stepped off both, knowing that they were only going backwards and forwards to each other. Just after the hour mark, I brought on Lanzo and he tormented the Ukrainian full back, leaving him with a 6.50 Rating and a Runners Up medal. We’re still not doing everything right: Ederson loves to shoot from long range and I’ve just accepted that it’s part of his game and our corners were abysmal, beating the opponent at an atrocious rate but we won.
From the depths of Turkish football to the top of the Europa League. It feels good!
We ended the season with a highly polished performance against Lecce and a point against Roma – my one hundredth game in charge of La Dea – in a game that we dominated, thus bringing the season to a close with us in second place, on ninety points.
As we chase our first ever Scudetto, I feel calmed that this points tally would have won us every Serie A bar the 2028/29 season, where Juve scored 93 points, finishing eight ahead of Roma in second. It also secures our second best finish since 2022, but a record that sees us twenty points better off and also sixteen points better off than last season, scoring twenty five more goals and conceding six. As a team, we were awarded the Serie A Team of The Year, an honour not bestowed to a non-league winner for six years, since third placed Roma won it. The best attack and best defence in the league, with a 20-goal scorer and two players inside the top ten creators, with another one also creating high quality chances. Of our eleven goals conceded, only Inter scored more than one against us all season as Marco Carnesecchi recorded a league high 28 clean sheets, one shy of the record set by Andre Onana – of Inter – back in 2023/24. Once again, Dusan Vlahovic was imperious in front of goal but Marzio Zenga, our very own academy graduate, scored in seventeen ties, smashing all kinds of records with his 25 league goals and beating his own tally by fifteen from last year.
Three pizza charts. Three stories. Gavi – Creator. Fabio Carvalho – Progressor. Marzio Zenga – Finisher. Our triumvirate.
The summer potentially sees a big change in Serie A: Tato Martino is out of contract at AC Milan and both Conte – of Juve – and Simeone – of Inter – are within the final twelve months of their deals. Unai Emery stopped the rot at Napoli but was pipped, on head to head record, to Europe by newbies SPAL, who may struggle net year. Mid-table mediocrity was secured for Sassuolo, now under the reign of Miguel Veloso and Lecce tailed off, leaving star man Marko Milovanovic surely scratching his head about where his future lies. It’s curtains for Pisa, Brescia and Parma as they drop into Serie B with Sampdoria and Chievo the two guaranteed promoted sides. Federico Bisio’s league high 29 goals were in vain for Crotone as they missed the playoffs that feature Catania, Palermo, Empoli and Pescara, whilst the loan trio at Modena now face a relegation playout.
I head into the summer with some work to do – not so much strengthening, but somewhat of a book balancing operation.
I’ve, therefore, already been active and have completed these deals, seeing us bring in just shy of €16m, all profit. This will virtually cover the signings of Bruno and Ciammaglichella but not the wage increases, although Champions League money will see us, hopefully, become more profitable next year. I must say that an interesting summer lies ahead – given that I’ve already planned incomings and outgoings and have plans for the players within my squad who are attracting interest.
Forza La Dea!
Very quiet. But necessary!
Three returning players, leaving me with a headache over their future at the club. All players’ full profile is viewable by clicking the thumbnail below.
Bisio and De Zerbi have both fared relatively well in Serie B but neither have Serie A experience, whilst Fontana, when compared with Luciano Costa, looks decent but hasn’t consistently had the opportunity to perform, meaning that, another year out on loan may benefit and allow me then to further increase the potential sale value of Costa.
July will see a couple of new players enter the club and a return to thinking about the long term futures of the youngsters. The below news message also forces me into a situation whereby any young signings must be EU national or, already established and, due to that, probably very pricy.
Forza La Dea!