Club Atletico Independiente were founded in 1905 in Avellaneda, Buenos Aires. At just 60km from Alex Barreto’s hometown of Berisso, I’ve decided to go home for the last leg of this managerial journey. El Rojo are a team that have tasted a lot of success, historically, and certainly had a penchant for developing and playing the best players in the region from the 1930s through to the 1980s and were considered one of the countries strongest teams – named as The Big Five, alongside the likes of River, Boca, fierce rivals Racing club and San Lorenzo. In game, things aren’t quite the same: San Lorenzo find themselves in the second tier and both Avellaneda clubs have had torrid seasons, with the red side of the community turning to me to fix that.
What I wanted to do was to create an opportunity for a real test of my tactical skills in an unfamiliar environment. I have no ties to Argentina – there are clubs I like through players that I’ve watched and admired, with the first that comes to mind being Velez due to keeper Jose Luiz Chilavert. I also love the idea of the Argentine playmakers and the physicality and I want to experience that in my time here. It really opens the door to finding a new club – adding to Genclerbirligi and Atalanta. I am also looking forward to the change in level; yes, Argentina is home to some of the world’s best players but they are at a very different part of their career to those I managed at Atalanta. Here, I’ll need to develop and sell on to keep the club afloat – which gives me a real directive to get the best out of each and every player coming through the academy, something that I’ve missed at Atalanta with the level we’ve been at.
Upon negotiating the contract, I was able to take over at the end of the season: a season in which they finished a disappointing fifteenth place and, judging by the statistics, below, were lucky to even do that.
It feels like they’re a bit of a club lost in a limbo, right now. Very little to show in terms of current day ability – there is not really a playing style that has evolved here and there really does not feel like much of an impetus on player development. Mirko Gonzalez and Ignacio Bonnaci have recently made the moves to Europe but, thinking about real life, there are few players I can name who have come through the Independiente ranks and made it to Europe, aside from one man:
Sergio ‘Kun’ Aguero rejoins my coaching team, re-igniting what we had at Sassuolo when I wanted to take some countrymen to a new place. Elsewhere, I’ve cobbled together the best kind of team I can within the budget restraints I’ve got here. Many of my ex-coaches wanted to join but I couldn’t convince them to take significant pay cuts to make the trip to South America. Disappointing but probably entirely realistic.
With fifty-one players on my books, you’ll understand my excitement when I’ve seen that twenty-six are rated to have elite potential. Clearly, that is compared to what I already have, but, still, that feels like we can be secure in the knowledge that I can work with some of the best Argentine youngsters over the coming months and years. Below is the full first team breakdown, with each thumbnail clickable to see a full profile. What I want to achieve is that tactical fluidity so I’ve had a look at areas where I feel that each player could play, regardless of any positional understanding at this time.
Martin is the only senior keeper at the club and is pretty good, in my opinion. Not naturally fit but, for a goalkeeper, I don’t worry too much given that he won’t cover too much ground, even if he is able to become the eleventh outfield player when I get my tactics ‘just right.’ He’s not great at Kicking or Throwing but a good Passer, so I envisage a more full time switch to playing out from the back. Also not the strongest at coming out of his area and then facing 1v1 situations, so I shall look to work on that through an individual focus.
I worry about the full back situation. Lautaro has a poor personality and, at least, is defensively solid but I don’t feel would offer me much in a really offensive situation. He’s too old to be mentored so I want to keep his status in the squad pretty peripheral so that he does not rub off on others and will take time to observe how he reacts to team-talks and individual discussions, keeping notes on them. Emmanuel is pretty much the other way – he can attack but cannot defend. I’ll look to keep him training as a defensive minded player – the IWB(a) role but also look to see some gains in his passing ability. This means that, as of right now, I’m more likely to play with an aggressive right hand side with Vives tucking in. Not ideal at present.
Peirano looks to be a decent option at centre back and his partnership with Rossi, who was on my shortlist at Atalanta, could be key for us. The latter is going to be going through some big development gains – I hope – starting with developing a bit more speed and then strength but honing his defensive skill set. Silva is a good more defensively solid option than Rossi but probably will struggle in a more progressive backline, however, I’ll work on that area. Rambert’s traits make him pretty ideal to be the false-left-back to create a three with Peirano and Rossi. At €1.8m, he was one of the most expensive acquisitions to the club and it feels like it’ll be a long while before I can sign players to this value: that is not necessarily a bad thing, though.
Palmezano’s legs are going but he could be a decent option when some more defensive solidarity is needed. I feel that Avila will be a great asset to this club in a holding role – based on removing the trait that makes him get forward whenever possible. He’ll need to develop some better Positioning sense but looks a rounded player at gaining possession and then using it. He’s been used a lot off the bench this season but I hope to transition him into a first team player for next season.
Amilcar is a little raw but has the physicality to get up and down – I now need to work on developing his Passing ability so that he can use the ball better. He’ll battle it out with Valdez, who is more of the stereotypical passer rather than dribbler and Colman, who does feel a little lightweight to be honest.
I think that Jose Garcia could make a nice False Nine as that won’t rely too much on range of passing (albeit will heavily depend on quality of passing) and nor will it matter too much about his Finishing ability, if I can use him as a decoy a bit more. I also believe that Rocha will change position to make the most of his offensive ability and his not bad defensive ability: as the aggressive full back on the left hand side. He can cross, finish and isn’t too bad on the ball – which be may mitigated slightly with adding a trait such as Plays One-Twos and, therefore, could fit nicely in the midfield diamond coming from deeper.
Some real class here. Vega looks to be able to play anywhere across the front line and can do it all. I’m super excited to see what I can get from him and I’m likely to play him at the tip of the midfield diamond to limit his lack of defensive ability, hopefully increasing his value as much as possible before the inevitable move to Europe comes. I’m undecided as to whether to keep Caicedo on the transfer list or whether to try and cash in on him before he moves for a free transfer; he’s a strong player and, as a Team Leader, will be tough to replace. I am also a big fan of Azulay and Otero – who’ll likely be first choice within the team – the former looks to be a great ball carrier with an eye for goal and the latter could become a great #10 or second striker.
Correa has already announced his departure so he’ll likely be used less and less throughout next year. Cavallo is pretty well rounded for an AF(a) but I love Villa and want to make him a little more rounded so that he’s able to play in a variety of striking roles or even off the wing if I use a False Nine. The premise with Villa will be the same as Vega – increase his value as much as possible and then cash in.
In terms of where we go from here – I have loads of odd jobs and things to do that the club such as setting up the rest of the training for the youth players, looking at the long term scheduling to build some training progressions, considering the financial structures within the club, scouting and learning about the league and the managers and then, finally, seeing if there are any potential upgrades that can be brought into the first team.
I’ve taken December to engage with the club and the players, staff and – well – my own manager persona. I don’t have access to the original image any more as it was one of something like twelve thousand that came with the original NewGAN manager so just decided to make an aged version with as much of a similarity as I could; now, at least, forty-six year old Barreto looks something similar to his age.
I have also spent an inordinate amount of time creating notes, which will be the key indicator when tracking development of my players. I’m really happy with something I skinned so that I can look at players, such as Mariano Rocha, and see what I’ve noted down as well as seeing his attributes and growth at the same time. I now have complete development plans in place for every player at the club – all forty-nine that will remain after the 1st January. With such a huge bunch of young, potential players, this will be onerous to start with but I hope pays off as time goes on. I’m yet to dig into the scouting set up and have only gone as far as using my newly recruited team the assignment of creating a report on every single first team player in the top tier; now, I know this would naturally be done week-in, week-out, but I want to go into the season with as much knowledge of the opposition as possible so have set this to run for the coming months with something like six hundred players to report back on.
However, I was able to dig into three players who I was alerted to with expiring contracts and have hastily pre-arranged deals for them, negotiated by my new DoF, Juan Pablo Perucca. Whilst I will absolutely be digging into statistics, I, right now, have nothing comparative given what is likely to be a huge shift in playing style for this club over the next year so can’t go into the market for a creative player with x progressive passes and y successful dribbles because I just don’t know what ‘good’ looks like here. Therefore, the three lads (notice they now have AI generated faces with Independiente coloured jerseys – yeah, I’ve got a little bit addicted to that…) all come in for being statistically decent in areas that I have already identified a need:
Federico Brondi will become the new backup keeper, despite being three years senior to Matias Traverso and a first team regular this season. With two very distinct phases – a league of twenty-seven games and a cup of, at least, fourteen, there is plenty of scope for rotation and I need more than one senior keeper. A quick look at his statistics alert me to a high save ratio, despite a lot of goals conceded: almost guaranteed for a team that finished twenty-fourth. His progressive passes output gives me confidence that he can play out from the back and assist with the build up, too. I like his personality and think he’ll be a decent lad to have around the squad. In Javier Traverso, I feel that I’ve sourced an ample replacement for Dilan, who you can see compared both in his statistics and attributes. I feel that he offers a bit more in terms of his ability to be progressive and is slight upgrade on pure creativity, plus, he’s well rounded and hopefully can develop a bit further. The fact that he’s outspoken does concern me a little but, at this stage, I don’t feel like he’ll be able to be a vocal part of the dressing room. Lastly, Mateo Gallo arrives and I feel he’s a bit of a steal. Even though he’s compared with Azulay, my ‘best’ winger, I like that he’s a competent dribbler and also offers a good amount of expected assists off the bench – something that could be a game changer. In terms of attributes, I like his ball control and acceleration – giving me a good impression that he could play a number of roles. I may have quite the surplus of this type of player at the club but, given the schedule, I think that’s ok.
Looking forward to whatever January brings!
The first few months of the season are taken up by a league cup, where the league is randomly split in half before one round and then some knockout football. Our draw was made and there are three standout fixtures:
- River Plate (H)
- Boca (A)
- Velez (H)
The league winners in Velez and both of the big guns are in our group. However, on that note, both promoted sides – San Lorenzo and Independiente Rivadavia – are also there along with teams predicted 23rd, 18th, 16th and 14th. I am almost certain that this side of the draw is the hardest but that is great! The board just want us to be competitive so I feel that it’s a great opportunity to get some extra fitness into the legs, try out a few new shapes and styles and test ourselves against the best teams, given that the board have now upgraded their demands to want us to finish within the Top 6 this season.
I roughly set out a training plan for the month in order to get some fitness and tactical familiarity, before the cup kicks off. I also scheduled three friendly cup competitions and a (soon to be rearranged) tie against Uruguayans, Nacional.
Full match reviews can be found by clicking on each thumbnail, above.
Second tier, and, annoyingly, managerless Agropecuario Argentino side. They set out with a 5-3-2, a shape that, Juventus aside, I’m largely unfamiliar with facing. I made a slight change to the midfield pair – normally a BBM(s)-CM(s) combo – changing them to a CM(s)-Mez(s) combo, with the aim of getting into the space between the crowded DM and DC zone. Vega, playing as the Mez(s) did that well, causing quite a lot of problems. I feel that this change moves the midfield from a diamond to more of a square and possibly opens up some more attacking options. I delved into those in the second half, once the game was effectively won, using a IF(a)-F9(s)-IW(a) combo instead of the usual advanced forward, with the aim of creating space against three defenders, or, potentially, two defenders and a DM in future, allowing the wide men to aggressively attack the half spaces. I felt that Azulay exploited that brilliantly for his goal. I was even able to change the false-full-back from left to right in the later stages as I continued to experiment. As first friendlies go, it was great.
The ‘final’ of the prestigious Pre-Season Cup (I felt my naming of them got worse as I went on) was against Argentinos Juniors, managed by Emmanuel Villegas – a man who likes to control the possession in a 4-3-3 shape. My Atalanta side didn’t always have it our own way against this shape and style. Their contribution report, as it’s pre-season, doesn’t show anything really but the idea of the double Mezzala and the move to a more square box for me means I think I can go 4v3 in the central areas. Looking at their squad – as the bulk scouting has paid off – shows me where their better players sat, too. Straight off, their aggressive midfield allowed spaces but when they learnt and stepped off, allowed easier ball retention enabled us to recycle the ball from one flank to another. I’ve been really impressed at the little tactical tweak to the midfield two and the Mez(s) and IF(s) overload looked dangerous again. However, it was new signing and PoTM Matteo Gallo who really stole the show from wide left. When he was replaced, I tried youngster Zuchelli as a T(a) in the AML position and quite liked how that provided a lateral link to the box rather than than always having three vertical options. Whilst I want to be vertical, it does give me another opportunity to pull defenders out. Overall, I was very surprised at the lack of offering from our opponents as they rolled over a lot easier than I was expecting.
Two games. Six goals. One Pre-Season Cup lifted. Happy with the start but still need to do some tactical thinking.
Full match reviews can be found by clicking on each thumbnail, above.
Whenever I go full @danielgear and create these cups, I like to have a variety of opposition – ideally bigger/similar in stature, smaller and very small. This gives a nice mixture of games and allows me to decide where to experiment and what areas to give minutes to the kids in. Both of my semi-finals, to date, have been against the ‘smaller’ team so there was some elements of experimentation in this one, mainly with a mirror image to invert on the left. I was also going through some traits before this game and was watching our build up play; deally, I want to use two traits – Stops Play and Tries Long Range Passes – to help our transition. I know that this will, potentially, cause an issue with which player plays in which spot but this image feels like a good example. Here, as we are building down the left, I’d like the RCB (Silva) to stop play in order to bait a press with the LCB (Peirano) looking to play the ball long to either evade it or go through it, once the man in front of him has had enough time to move forward. In this image, the pass went forward to Colman – the CM(s) but, at this point, he’d been hounded by the ST, AM and both DMs and, facing his own goal, didn’t have the ability to evade that press as we settled to recycle the ball. Overall, the game was a little disappointing – far less clinical than we’d been before but also offering far more in terms of pressing ability.
Banfield’s scout report told me one of a team that is well oiled and decent and they are fresh from a 7-1 win against the ‘very small’ team in the semi final. In Traverso, they have a 6’5″ striker and play ‘Wing Play’ with two wingers. Therefore, my tactical adjustment was to double up on their wide men and push them inside, trying to stop any crosses. I like how Villa repeatedly pulls off a defender and finds space, in classical #9 fashion but our best move started like this and then looked like this as we went another goal ahead, evading their press and playing a lovely bit of end to end football. Our first concessions of the pre-season: a 0.04xG strike from twenty yards that squirmed under Brondi – 2.5* Handling may be an issue for me to watch here and the second came from a goal kick that Rossi – Heading: 2.5*,Jumping: 3* and Bravery: 4* at 6’2″ tall – lost out to 5’7″ Céspedes, which may also be something to watch as he, and many others, had already become complacent at 3-0 and then 4-0 up.
Two more games. Another cup. Some more thinking, this time longer term. I’m also getting closer to identifying the shopping list too strengthen us…
A total of twenty-one recruitment foci have been set up for the club, which is pretty hard work for the small team we’ve got. However, I’m trying to use this period of time as a ‘shortlist creator’ before really focusing on the specifics on what I want. The motives are clear – trying to sign as many Argentine nationals as possible – like I did with South Americans at Atalanta and Africans at Trabzonspor and Genclerbirligi. There are players I need right now but will explore different avenues to find them: likely to be asking the DoF for his ideas but this strategy is longer term to allow me to identify players who I can then look at statistically and decide to try and sign, or not. I will be using a @SixPointer recommendation of, at least, a five man shortlist per position and be handing over the transfer and contract negotiations to the DoF by using the Transfer Target button.
Full match reviews can be found by clicking on each thumbnail, above.
For the first time, we got the ‘similar stature team’ as the semi final, so I chose a strong line up with minimal exploration. We seem to have a penchant for playing very well against teams from our league this pre-season and were only troubled once – their goal – when right back Sosa was caught out of position from a switch of play. I even found some time to explore using Villa out wide with Azulay as a marauding Mezzala, interweaving with a False Nine – in this case, Matteo Gallo. It wasn’t quite right but there are things to take from it, certainly.
Against Uruguayan side Boston River, I asked Zuchelli to play as a T(a) not an AF(a) and the outcome was very interesting; there is definitely scope to get more from the wider attackers there – maybe using both as IF(a) or, alternatively using an even more risk-averse forward role like a DLP(s) to create space and then attack it. A missed penalty but over 3.00xG and at a pretty decent xG/shot ratio too if pleasing, even though we didn’t put any more chances away.
Two more games. Another cup. Still feeling pretty good!
A full match review can be found by clicking on the thumbnail, above.
After Nacional cancelled on me, I drafted in Penarol and went for a league match squad, with no rotation and no trying to find fitness – this was all about the performance and seeing how ‘ready’ we were. I think we are not far off and, in seven games, have really taken to the style that I want. I’m still getting to grips with just looking at how we play and, as such, have not really dug into focussing on how other teams play against us and how to best exploit those things. Now we have those foundational aspects – build up with a three, play through the press directly and aggressively, get in behind and cause chaos in their defence, I can now build on the nuances: what if they have a DM? What if we can’t play past their press? What if they play a flat 442 shape?
I’m starting to feel a little pressure from within the club from a few players, as seen here:
I can deal with the ‘wants to move to Europe’ fine because, at the end of the day, we are a league that does provide that opportunity. However, I’m so early into my tenure here that I don’t have a Plan B and even a Plan C for these areas, meaning offers have to be rejected unless they are literally too good to turn down. However, there is a bigger issue with Lautaro Vives, the man I’d earmarked to be the backup left back. As a ‘Temperamental’ character, I wanted to test the water by having a little, polite, word about his training rating, which sat below 6.00. He hated this idea. I then decided that he no longer warranted the ‘Regular Starter’ tag, dropping him down to a squad player based on the minutes he’s had this pre-season: a risky move but one that I needed to do to sort out the long term future of the squad. He hated this idea. What is more, he clubbed together with another two squad members – Valdez being an important member of my team – to complain. I can, within reason, afford to freeze out a couple of players to show that I mean business but I cannot have Team Leader led revolts, which is why I do feel it’s quite fortunate that Alex Caicedo – the club captain – accepted the promise to be sold if an offer comes in or $5m, way above his asking price. This little bit of trust building has kept him on my side for Vives-gate.
I’m working hard, speaking with the players individual to build or rebuild relationships but, for some, such as Mr. Vives, it just isn’t working. A $1.4m deal from a couple of MLS clubs has been accepted. I’ve been quizzed to why I’ve accepted outside the transfer window but he’s a player I’d rather not have to put up with!
It’s been another thoroughly enjoyable month here in Buenos Aires! February brings the time where it all gets real…
Overall – a good pre-season and, with my preferred XI named, we’re not far from building that complete confidence in my tactical style. With the League Cup feeling like it could be a ‘precursor’ to the actual league, I think we’re in a good position here. My focus, now we have this understanding in our way is to try and stop the other team from playing. Sometimes this can be a little pragmatic and it takes away the focus from us doing things, maybe stemming from a lot of Italian football as a youth (me, not my manager alias) but I like it and feel that it helps me on a match by match basis.
First up was a Copa Argentina match – a competition that I really want us to do well in considering that we’re not in continental competition this year. I wanted to be thorough and do my homework so, firstly, looked at manager Eloy Pereira. They’d only played friendly, a 1-0 defeat to Defensor Sporting, in quite a remarkable performance. To have that much of the ball is quite insane given the manager’s playing style so there was an element of taking it with a pinch of salt. However, their vertical tiki-taka style ‘must’ originate from somewhere; in this case it was passes between LCB and RCB (23 combinations) and RCB and DMRC (21 combinations). Neither centre back, despite being on the ball a lot played anything dangerous or expansive but their number six was far more progressive. The intention, therefore, was to allow the centre backs to have the ball as much as they wanted – never pressing them but blocking off their passing options, both of the DMs, to force them to go long and against their nature. I asked Villa – our striker – to pull back and mark the DMRC slot when we’re out of possession, further enforcing the ‘leave the centre backs alone’ instruction! From the off, our line of engagement seemed good and our first goal came from the turnover after our pressing focus left their right centre back no ‘easy’ ball, forcing him to go long. We turned it over, and created that ‘chaos’ that I want, before Villa tapped in from close range. I even went a little further – forcing both full backs onto their ‘inside foot’ hoping that the change in body shape from my players when pressing would force the ball back to their centre backs. We nearly doubled our lead from another turnover after evidence of the actual pressing, limiting space and options for the two ‘creators’ in the DM roles before a late third sealed the deal. A tactical victory for me – Los Andes completed 742 passess, but, of that, 266 were by their two centre backs – totalling 36% of the entire amount – yet only twenty-five were outside of their own half. The pressing on their DMs was also evident, as they lost possession thirty-three times, in really quite dangerous areas for them. The perfect competitive start for me and Independiente.
Same kind of thing against San Lorenzo – their 4-3-3 with Tika-Taka style and more pressing produced a good result for them in their most recent friendly, where they had 80% of the ball but so much of it in their defensive area. I believe that their key man will be number 8 – Walter Galeano – if they continued with the same passing lanes as they used in that friendly. Again, I used the never press option on the centre backs and showing the full backs inside as well as tight marking their central midfielders – pushing the poor-passing defenders to go long to Galeano, who I wanted to force onto his left, where he’d be less creative and then tackle him hard as he’s not brave or particularly quick off the mark. Even from the keeper, we cleverly played through their press and got the ball forward nice and quickly. A penalty and a lovely curling effort from Otero sealed the win for us.
A different dynamic against Rosario: a 4-4-2 shape with balanced pressing and direct, wing play. They drew their opener against Newell’s but there are some things to take from it. My first thoughts were that they build the play down the left and get their right sided players into the box – justified with their highest combination, DL-ML (24 combinations). I also noted that there was a bigger gap between their lines on our left hand side. The game itself was another really good showing – with us allowing the passes between centre back and left back but essentially then shutting off the supply to get the ball to the left wing. Their first goal came from some head tennis that we failed to clear but their second was from a mistake by Peirano where his pass – to Colman, the MC – was underhit (Passing – 3*, Technique – 3.5*, Vision – 2.5*) and cut out. I wonder whether to use him as a CD(d) rather than a BPD(d), in order to mitigate that and ask him to get the ball to the better ball player, Rossi, or, at least, draw their two strikers in to create an easier route to Colman. Four more goals though and still 100% through all games – competitive and friendlies – at Independiente.
A familiar foe, as we’ve already beaten them, albeit in pre-season, meant I was able to build on what I knew of their control possession 4-3-3 style. I feel that the fixtures are possible cyclical as their previous opponent was also Newell’s Old Boys: they lost this one 3-2. They had the bulk of the ball and built up from the back but looked really weak in the half spaces, as all three goals came via those channels – their quite aggressive pressing in the midfield made it easier to overload their wider areas. To combat this, I went somewhat experimental – Mez(s) and Mez(a) in the centre of the park – knowing that the ‘bottom of the box’ would still be sturdy enough to stop this becoming an issue on turnovers, with Guido Otero – after a great start to the season – operating as a T(a) on the left wing, hoping to build those overloads. Once again, the pressing idea (or lack of it) saw our opponents complete 948 passes – 710 of them (74.9%) backwards or sideways with their back four completing 501 of them.
We sit atop our group and on fire at the moment.
But…March sees us play both of the big guns. I’ll do my homework and see where that takes us!
Full game reviews can be seen by clicking the thumbnails, above. Hopefully you are able to see the thumbnails and any further images in this post!
Joaquin Luna, the River (look at the quality of their squad compared to mine!) boss for the past five years with a near 60% win ratio, is a Tika-Taka fan and plays a 4-3-3 with quite a lot of pressing. They beat NoB in their last match, 2-0, and so much of their play involved centre back Maidana and playmaker Guzman. The former had a load of the ball but, like I’ve seen a lot of his, so many of his passes were short – with him misplacing two of the total five long forward passes he attempted. Guzman – their quarterback, however, was far more progressive and his passes often were aimed at their wingers but, being honest, neither really had an impact: Sayogo (AML – 2.17 dribbles/90, 0% cross completion, 1.08 shots/90) and Gonzalez (AMR – 3.40 dribbles/90, 0% cross completion, 2.55 shots/90) are not typical wingers anyway. I’m trying to think of this in logical ways and I know that – away from FM for a minute – when people are tasked with too many cues or given too many instructions, things fall apart much easier. Therefore, I want to create three jobs that we do, per game, maximum, to attempt to nullify the opposition. I’m more likely to be able to track them across the season and also not be completely re-changing tactics from game to game. I decided on two:
- Force Maidana – CB – to play long. Don’t press him but press all of his passing lanes, starting with the DM role and then, through observation, the midfield duo. Use the striker to man mark the DC
- Force both wingers wide and to cross the ball.
Of course – River played none of the players I’d identified, showing how this process can be risky but also how much depth they have and how that compares to our XI, in which 81% of the team have played more than 75% of the minutes available. We reached half time and I feel like I can say we played with confidence moving the ball around at the back and then forward aggressively but also holding our shapes and hitting our pressing traps. A lot of their play was still coming through their full backs, with the centre backs choosing to target them so I made the risky move to get my wingers to mark their full backs and be in charge of the 1v1 press. It meant that we lost the numerical advantage in the middle of the park and relied on the striker to drop back more. That role, itself, changed as Correa was just not involved so I brought Zuchelli, an 18 year old, in to play as a DLF(s). Our press was so evident in River’s build, here you can see no pressure on the DC, who immediately looks to the left back, he’s then forced inside as we apply pressure and it then goes back to the other DC who has no progressive options and is left with a ‘hoof.’ Sometimes I can’t take any credit for tactical things – like Otero’s vision that led to a beautifully lofted ball that Caicedo drilled into the net. Our second was another freak – centre back Ezequiel Rossi stood over a free kick from twenty yards out, obviously because I’d subbed all my others off, and curled it – deftly – into the top corner. I could sense the anger at this and almost felt like not defending against River’s aggressive build up but a few defensive subs and a couple of role changes saw out a remarkable win for us. Our opponents, ‘the’ River Plate, not even registering a shot on target. Their wingers completed just one cross, had one shot and completed just three dribbles of not whilst their centre back – Profeta – the replacement ball player, did not make a pass into our final third.
In Independiente Rivadavia, we faced a team who hadn’t just played Newells – instead, they came off the back of a draw with Boca and a heavy loss to Velez. Dell’ovo plays with a Catenaccio style (which, despite playing in Italy, I don’t feel like I’ve ever faced before) but presses more often in his 4-3-3 shape. The Velez game saw them amass some 78% of the ball so I felt that the Boca game was a more accurate representation of what I’d be up against. Their build up is slightly different to most other teams – playing out directly to the wide men rather than building up through the two centre backs. With our team hopefully stronger, I decided to use just one specific plan:
- Reduce pressing on full backs but cut off their options. Against Boca, lots of their full back passes went backwards and their centre backs lost possession. If I can stop the balls into the midfield, I can force this to happen again, especially as their goalkeeper had >40% pass completion, too.
Whilst it looks like our attacking shape was great, we actually faced more problems than normal against a team with a low block. When you compare the two games this month – 67% of the ball compared to 39% vs River, as well as the individual passing number increases: Peirano (LCB) – 126% of the passes compared to River, Martinez (RB) – 113%, Rambert (LB) – 114%, Traverso (GK) – 241% and Avilla (DM) – 121% compared to Traverso against River, you can see where our extra position came from and, as such, our penetration fell away. Whilst we dealt with their threat – just 28 progressive passes – the lack of pressure on their defenders allowed a lot more successful long passes than I’ve seen before – with a particular pattern of them moving out to the left winger or the striker. I’m happy with the win, obviously, but feel that it’s raised some more questions for me to answer.
With three months under my belt now that means I can have my first checks on the progress of the individual foci. With the ability to label the polygons, I can create an average of the three attributes and track the growth. This is not realistic but does scratch an itch in which I want to know the rate of development for my kids. Above – Morelli and Arrieta – have both increased their average for their chosen focus, GK Technical and Final Third, by 0.66 – the equivalent of two attribute points. 42% of players on these bespoke plans have already shown improvement in at least one of the three areas that their focus works on. I have no idea whether that is a) good or b) repeatable but I can see that there is certainly a skew, as expected, with those who are being asked to do more: learn a new position or add a trait.
The plan will be to reward these players who are training and developing well whilst keeping an eye on those who aren’t, given that they are going to be vital for incoming funds as we progress this project.
I found Gerardo Vitale’s Tucuman side interesting – virtually no care for possession: 37% against Velez (yet a 4-2 win), 29% against Newell’s Old Boys and 34% against Santa Fe. On Santa Fe’s basically square pitch, their line of engagement was so low that I knew I’d have a similar task as I did against Rivadavia. They seemed relatively direct when watching them but the analysis said only twelve of their three hundred-odd completed passes were ‘long’ with but nearly half of their total going forwards. It seemed that their left sided centre mid, Maxi Acosta, was their key man in the build up. My plans were:
- Really high defensive line with a SK(a) behind. If Tucuman won’t engage in the press, I’ll move the play up so that they have to. I went into this one a bit blind with the idea that this would work. An easy test in comparative passing numbers.
- Trigger press Acosta. His Off the Ball is poor so he’s not going to be finding spaces in that midfield area.
From the eye test, our play started much higher up as our defensive line meant that turnovers were made higher up the pitch. However, it didn’t feel quite as comfortable and, overall, the game was completely even – we just took our chances and they didn’t. I felt that Tucuman were forced to play shorter – statistically only 25 of their four hundred passes were ‘long and we did stop them progressing the ball as much, too. Acosta’s impact was limited to less than fifty passes with only nine of those going forwards but it was there wingers – Mendez and Buchel who revelled in the space that they now had. In terms of my own play, I opted for Brondi in goal but his poor choice of distribution – with lots of long passes that were incomplete – will make me reconsider, again.
Gaston Brugman, Boca’s manager, employs a pretty standard 4-4-2 but the giants have now lost four in a row and are either going be down and out or hungry to change that. I looked at their last couple of games and they have a clear aversion to a central build up but do like high wing backs and a split front two. Looking at the pass combination comparisons, Velez did not try and take advantage of Boca’s passing (153 central passes completed to 176 passes completed down either flank) but did record five key passes from central areas, just around zone 14 with the ball going into the box, diagonally. I think that, for me, it’s important to get players between their lines; their interceptions, tackles and fouls were committed much higher up the pitch than Tucuman’s, so I’m hoping that I don’t need to rely on pushing the defence up too far, given the slight wobbles I think it caused. Bryan Sanchez appeared to be their playmaker, out wide on the right, with his outputs quite progressive. Of course – Boca pulled a River and named a very different XI to what I’d analysed. Plans for this one:
- Win the transition battle against Gonzalo Guerra. He doesn’t pass long, so I will press and tight mark his easier targets and force him to do so.
- Double up on Basabe – asking both mids to mark him and push the DM up to mark their other centre mid. Risky but hoping that I can cut off the supply chain whilst I have the extra man there.
- Opt for a CM(a) instead of a Mez(s) to get between the lines and deliver balls to the half spaces, where they were weak against Velez.
The last question of the interview seems like a perfect start here: ‘disappointed but not disheartened.’ I knew that our winning streak wouldn’t last forever and this was a fairly even game. I reacted far too late to their build up – their focus down their left put pressure on Martinez, who isn’t the strongest defensively, if I’m honest. Rocha, the makeshift left back, is untested this season as he begins to develop into that role but we looked far more dangerous and far more defensively solid after that change was made. A soft penalty made the game, and the xG story, feel a lot more one-sided than it probably should have been. Both wingers rated 6.30 and completed one dribble between them – it is clear that we weren’t able to counter as we normally would but, fortunately, both players understood my conversation and implied that they’d do better next time!
Those in red are my perceived strongest XI, purple are backup players and those in Italics are players that can cover/play in more than one area.
I’ve had sixteen games with this squad now and feel that I know enough about them to be able to create a decent depth chart. By doing that, it has also made it abundantly clear that I have some significant gaps within the squad that need to be filled, quickly. I like that I have good, healthy goalkeeper competition but, right now, have a clear number one in Traverso. Using the money from my decision to cash in on a clause for Ignacio Bonacci – even though only 15% of that will make its way into my transfer budget – my job is now to identify players that can fit these roles, firstly bringing in numbers for the defensive areas but secondly, having players on standy, if a big European clubs takes my player.
Still sitting in a very favourable position in this mini-league but, surely, Boca and Velez will look to be filling the remaining two slots with us and River already in there. We’ve got five games next month with a tough test as Velez visit us and then a trip to Newell’s, who’ve done really well so far. For me, finishing top of the group – regardless of our performances in the knockouts against, as I said, arguably the easier side of the league – will fill me with confidence as we head into the league, proper. I fully expect both Boca and River (and, probably, Velez) to be much stronger and focus on playing their strongest teams more often than not but we’ve still gone toe to toe with them for just about 160 minutes of those two ties!
Full game reviews can be seen by clicking the thumbnails, above.
Rodolfo Arruabarrena employs a 4-1-2-1-2 which basically becomes a 4-3-3 when attacking. My research found that Nicolas Acosta is the prime playmaker and the ball gets to him from working the ball down the left, therefore, my plan was as follows:
- Allow the other three defenders to have the ball – never pressing – but use Azulay, the right winger, to tight mark their left back, hopefully cutting the supply line of CB-LB-ML
- Move to an A(d) to ensure that there are still four men playing defensively to mitigate Martinez’s lack of defensive ability.
We had no right to be doing that to the league champions! After removing the ‘Drop off more’ in an attempt to condense the play and bring them on to us a bit more, we ran absolute riot. The pick of the goals came from a flowing move whereby I’d just changed the keeper distribution to the right hand side – the side where they have the most advanced players. We drew the press in, played through it and scored. The use of the A(d) was justified as, even in defensive play, they kept three men up but it was a case of everything we touched, turned to gold – and even a cheeky foot on the ball from Rambert baited a press. If the River result was good, this one was great!
A little scouting venture has taken me to the Potteries, of all places, to look at two midfielders currently at Stoke. Francisco Andrade and Santos are both not particularly interested in negotiating an end-of-contract deal but will happily talk for a transfer: not a financial issue when the total cost of these deals would be around $85k. Both the Brazilian and Chilean seem to be having issues with their work permits but were signed off the back of good seasons in South America. They’ve obviously failed to do anything for a Stoke team who are just mid-table fodder in the Championship, which feels like a very low ceiling for me but I did get to watch the Chilean in a PL2 match vs Tottenham, where he was, quite simply, sublime on the ball. I also really like his Mercenary personality; I wouldn’t normally but now, for a man, who, at 25, is playing catch up, this could be the ideal selfish-drive that pushes him on and gets him back on track. I’m less sold on the back story of the Brazilian, with him making quite a big move but then not even playing PL2 football in his formative years but, on comparison, I couldn’t pick one – so brought them both in on trial.
Both players were present in the first of four games available to them on the trial period and both played really well against Boca’s reserve side. However, an knee ligament injury turned out to the start of the end for the Brazilian. Upon further inspection, I noted that his injury record, with mainly muscular injuries, was very poor and the medical team feared that he would continue in this vein. Maybe this is something that was overlooked at Stoke and has contributed to him being where he is, right now. On the flip side, Andrade’s quality shone through, adding some class from a dead ball, too, which is something that we really lack. I am very aware that the quality of the opposition he played in for the last three games is not up to the quality that I want us to be facing soon, but he still had to deal with what was in front of him.
With a new face, hairstyle, beard and Independiente shirt, he signed his pre-contract deal, which he’d decided to be interested in upon joining, and will join us in July.
Deportivo Moron are a team that has gone a little under my radar, to be honest. They finished fourth last year and are in the Libertadores at present, although will probably not make it out of the group stages. Emilio Romano, favours a fluid counter attacking system build, almost entirely down the flanks. I analysed their previous game and the four top pass completions were between RB and AMR, and vice versa, and LB and AML, and vice versa. My plan only had one thing in mind:
- Bring my wingers back to man mark their full backs, closing them down at all times and forcing the ball to go inside to either the centre backs or DMs, none of whom are great football technicians or playmakers.
- Remove all pressing from the centre backs, forcing them to go either to the congested middle, where we have a numerical advantage when in the box midfield, or to go long to their striker, who isn’t good in the air.
It was all over in the first half as we roll on! Two goals from set pieces, both for Peirano is always pleasing because it’s another thing to work on and develop and, as of right now, I’ve not put a huge amount of effort into creating routines and identifying teams that we can make the most of these situations against. You can see from the pass map in the score image above that they had to work different passing lanes – going from in-to-out with their DMLC to AML and out-to-in from their RB to DMRC and this hugely disjointed their play and isolated their striker. For me, though, the highlight was the performance of Guido Otero, who, at just eighteen years old, hsa taken the league by storm:
Newell’s have been managed by famous luminaries such as Marcelo Bielsa – whom their stadium is named after – and Tata Martino – who I came up against as Atalanta boss and have boasted players on their books such as Maxi Rodriguez, Roberto Sensini, Gabi Heinze and, of course, Mr Lionel Messi. As such, they’re a team with a lot about them and a proud history. Under current boss Juan Pablo Barzola, however, they seem to have opted for dull, safe, catenaccio styled football. In their game against Santa Fe, they barely pushed forward and engaged. Therefore, the plan was simple:
- Pull back, lowering our line of engagement and defensive line in a method to draw them out and make space.
Another plan that worked well! Of the 756 passes they completed, only 205 were in our half, some 27% of their total number. For comparison, 45% of our passes were in their half. Of our nineteen total interceptions, just two of those came in their half as we sat back and attempted to pull them out. What we did was essentially create an impassable wall that they could not exploit but one that gave us enough chances. Whilst our football wasn’t at its scintillating best, largely due to the crowded defensive areas, our second goal raised a smile for me. Otero’s shot cannoned into the bar but, instead of moving to gather it up, their keeper watched as Matteo Gallo just tapped in the rebound for the easiest goal he’ll score all season.
Santa Fe were a club that we should have been beating, regardless of doing anything special in terms of tactical preparation so I decided to give myself a little break from analysing and, whilst doing that, had to re-write most of the above two matches from memory as my laptop died on didn’t auto-recover. Never the less, I wanted to watch how they built in their 4-3-3 shape that wants to control the possession. This is another way that I need to develop my tactical knowledge of, on the fly, so here are my observations from that first ten:
- Set to play from the back from a goal kick but take nearly a minute to do so, clearly employing time wasting tactics already.
- DM is very deep and looks like he’s trying to pick up Cavallo, my striker where possible.
- Wingers press a lot but don’t look too confident when actually initiating ball recovery but both are almost certainly on Attacking duties as not involved in any defensive work.
- Quite narrow defensively – offering a lot of space for the wide men, although they’ve not delivered a good cross, yet.
In the end, it was them who shot themselves in the foot on twelve minutes, trying to play out from the back but gifting the ball straight to Otero, who fed Valdez and he finished. I felt that, the most sensible way to approach their defenders, now low on confidence and average rating, was to leave them and make them play passes that they simply wouldn’t be able to given their current situation. I cut passing lanes to their centre mids and forced the full backs to give the ball to the two centre backs rather than upfield. A solid win for us, again.
This is what I want to call sensible recruitment.
I’ve targeted a specific demographic here – South Americans playing in Europe and, maybe, not quite having the exposure to football that they believed when that dream move opened up for them. I’ve also looked for players who are slightly older and those that have tangible assets that we don’t already have within the squad. Part of the ideology of a conveyor belt means that I will end up with new players and building new teams often, so I need some consistency. I feel that, if these players come in and make an impact, they are still less likely to be identified by the European giants looking for the next Messi, Aimar, Mascherano etc. I’m even looking, financially, at how to get the best deal here; I have offered Radaelli a contract with 50% of his next fee to him in order to cut his weekly wage demands in half. If, by some miracle, he moves for €10m – then, surely, the $5m that we lose from it will be insignificant due to the goals and success he’ll have surely brought to command that type of fee.
Francinaldo is currently at Nice and has not featured since returning from two separate loans in his homeland of Brazil, but they were keen to splash out over $3m on him four years ago. His time in Brazil was good at both Sao Paulo and Botafogo but, as you’d expect, not outstanding. If his metrics were inside the top 10 percentiles, he’d be back at Nice commanding a hefty fee to PSG but, he excels in an area that I am interested in: key passes. As a manager, it’s my job to take something and make it better – be this a youth player or be it a player out of favour. Furthermore, he’s a decent option at Left Back, which is a really weak area for us so, despite being signed to fill a gap in the centre of midfield, the opportunities afforded to him will be greater as he can play in two positions. If I can get Francinaldo (unsure if he may go by Naldo or Franco but I’ve already reduced his name from Francinaldo Carlos) to get into areas that give him opportunities to create key passes, I think he’ll be a bargain at just $130k.
Radaelli has a slightly different profile as he’s never played in South America, but came through at Montpellier. He’s the kind of striker that we just don’t have at the club – tall, big and strong, yet surprisingly good on the ball. All of the big strikers at this level are way out of my price range so thing kind of move makes sense for me, considering that I’m definitely losing one striker at the end of this season and another is considering his options, leaving me with only Fabian Villa, who is a completely different profile. He’s basically been used off the bench for Montpellier in Ligue Une but did have a season, back in 2029/30 on loan at second tier Bordeaux, where he scored seven goals. He’s not glamorous but is happy to come in and rotate, which is exactly what I need with some promising youth strikers at the club and the aforementioned Villa, who is good enough and performing well enough that I just might lose him to Europe, soon.
Full intake information can be seen by clicking on the image above.
My first set of academy players entered my youth side and, I must say, I’m delighted with what I have to work with. Below are the top five players, as rated by the Sergio Aguero, my assistant:
Full profiles can be seen by clicking on the thumbnail.
A plethora of attacking players but the best is definitely Bou: already an established technician and his Passing and Final third areas are already really strong. Not a dribbler or a crosser so I’m thinking that an playmaker, out wide, may be the best option to offset his lack of physical ability. Traverso is a little small for a centre back but could play as the false-full-back. Also not very physical so I’ll need to work on that area, too. Velez is another playmaker type too and will need to work on developing his left foot as well as his footballing intelligence. Pereira feels like a carbon copy of Bou, creative but lacking any kind of physicality; I’ll go for a mirror of Bou and look for a playmaker type out on the right hand side. Silva needs to develop technically if he wants to become a solid sweeper keeper for us but there is a player in there somewhere!
The four teams that I expected to qualify for the knockout rounds are in there, just not quite in the order and the fashion that I expected. We’ve been simply scintillating, scoring at 2.33 goals per game, a competition high but also conceded a league low of 0.5 per game. Our style is quite clearly evident as we rank twenty-fifth out of twenty-nine in terms of OPPDA, as we are often standing off key players in their defensive areas and leaving them to have the ball, knowing that they aren’t the best at creating with it. Obviously, we lead the league in dribbles, recording more than four more per game than the next highest team but only sit mid table on passes into opponents defensive third, yet, with 17.5xG – sit second in that metric. Estudiantes, second in Group A, have recorded 20.8xG and have 21 goals to show for it, so I’d suggest that they are the biggest opposition that we will face, with themselves, Racing and Colon all but guaranteed a spot and the fourth one up for grabs.
Our last two games of the league stage should bring us six points…
Full match reports can be found by clicking on the thumbnails, above.
We rounded off our group phase with another two solid victories against San Lorenzo and Atletico Rafaela, to finish on an impressive thirty-seven points from a possible forty-two. In both of the games, we adopted our usual approach to pressing their defensive areas – but, against San Lorenzo, we actually forced the ball out wide as but blocked off progressive passing routes from those wide men. With all four goals coming in a thirteen minute period, it was a really strong spell both sides of half time that put the game to bed. We weren’t at our best against Rafaela, squandering some good chances but, again, struggling with that breaking down of deeper teams who are on the road: our shot xG sat at just around 0.06xG/shot, which is poor, despite our control of the game. Our pressing traps worked really well, and, as you can see from the pass maps, their most used combinations were sideways or backwards, as they couldn’t – or, in some ways, didn’t want to – commit men forward to break us down. I always struggle with our game plan against ten men too and, given that seventy-nine minutes of the game were played out with uneven numbers, I know I need to work on that area.
We are, right now, in a little bit of an injury crisis. To be expected when I came in, changed the style and ideology of the club and, as such, was left with several players who didn’t fit my needs. However, I think this was compounded by my reluctance to change things too early and then my – so far – pretty unsuccessful attempts to attract ball playing defenders to the Argentine top flight. We currently have one attacking right back – Martinez – and he’s doing great. However, he’s not entirely suited to a truly inverted role and may actually be better at providing width from a CWB(a) role, especially with Otero, ahead of him, not offering natural width himself. However, I’ve been playing him as an IWB(a) and that’s ok but there is, literally, nobody else first team ready, who can do this. Ezequiel Rossi is my starting CB and has been doing pretty well but, obviously, we’ve not done a huge amount of defending this season. The key here is that he can play as a right back and is also pretty good on the ball. Inspired by an Arsenal video on the great Tifo IRL channel, I think this video still with Zinchenko and Partey in the centre and Xhaka and Odegaard ahead of them, inside the opposition block shows where I want to experiment with next. One a numbered pitch zone – zone 14 is the one that we want Vega or even Azulay/Otero to be operating in and something that I paraphrased from that video which rings so true is that big teams build up through the middle because it’s easier to create big chances feels really simple but something I may not have considered. The changes of roles would be relatively simple:
- IWB(a) to IWB(s)
- DM(d) to DM(s)
- Mez(s) to Mez(a) or CM(a)
What this, potentially, would create is a different dynamic in the midfield: 2-2 in zone 8 and 11 rather than 1-3. When I watch us against low blocks and passive defending teams, we often are stuck with five or six men ahead of the ball and I need to find a way to draw the opposition out and create spaces. However, it will then create a 3-2 rest defence instead of 3-1, which will give us more of the ball deeper and, hopefully, more options to create space and progress quickly. Also with a CM(s)/Mez(a), it’ll give us a split 8 and 10 that’ll make us quite hard to mark in the middle. My intentions looked something like the below:
It didn’t work against Racing. To put it simply. We had a bit of an off day that was compounded by a horrific mistake from Peirano that gifted them their goal. Both he and Silva got an average rating of 6.1 and then tried to cause mutiny when I fined them and discussed that they needed to do better – Silva’s header completion ratio was way down and Peirano’s pass completion. One small loss, albeit against our bitter rivals, then brought about media attention about failing to reach our short term goals and some squad unrest about underperformance. Some pretty short sighted stuff!
Everything went to plan against Platense, except for the scoreline. The performance was good and I liked our build up. We’d have won this nine times out of ten but then felt to the lottery of penalties. The board aren’t bothered but that does bring to a close our League Cup campaign which, on paper, we must have been favourites for following our great league stage performances. I can’t lie though that two cup exits in four days is a little tough to take but we’ve now got two months before the league campaign kicks off. I’ll use June to play with a few more tactical things and see what the market is like for some further reinforcements…
Not entirely true – we’ve played a couple of friendlies, put the team through another pre-season, signed a couple of new defensive options – ready to arrive in July – and worked through a few internal things such as data collation and tracking for individual foci and trait development. However, keeping this writing to a minimum has given me more time to progress through the month and get into the big one – July. My main concern is keeping the squad together as I guide the club through the second European transfer window…
over the top, somewhat unnecessary, AI generated images lead to a full profile screenshot.
Franco Andrade ($0 – Stoke City) | Jonathan Radaelli ($0 – Montpellier) | Francinaldo (£130k – Nice) | Victor Rodriguez ($0 – Nottm Forest) | Allan ($120k – Montevideo City Torque)
Five new faces to bring to the club and I’m delighted with how I’ve worked to do so. In Andrade, Radaelli and Francinaldo, I’ve already spoken about the want to bring South Americans to the club who have not been able to settle elsewhere, have had issues or have potentially flown under the radar a little with their unique skill sets. In Victor Rodriguez, I have virtually done the same. An expensive move took him to Nottingham, where he played regularly but, for some reason, was not registered this year. He certainly looks to be a player capable of competing in the second tier of English football and a full season on loan at Stoke in 2031/32, showed that he was more than capable – an 87% pass success rate, 2.14 tackles won per game, three assists and three Player of the Match awards for a total rating of 7.15. The year before, he played a full season in the Premier League and rated quite well, considering Forest finished 16th and narrowly avoided the drop.
There is the element of concern around why he has been frozen out. His short-term plans state that he is willing to fight to regain his place in the first team – I like this but it doesn’t tell me why he’s out of it. His contract was running down but, again, there are no signs that he’d gone public with a desire to leave at the end of his deal or that he wanted to return to Argentina. He’s also taken a pretty substantial pay cut without the absolute guarantees of finding first team football with us. That being said, he doesn’t appear to be a ‘bad egg’ – both his personality and media handling seem good and he’ openly said that he’s struggling to connect with Forest’s mercurial winger Dragoljub Sarka – a fickle man – due to their differences in professionalism so it doesn’t feel like he’ll be against me or other team members. In fact, the scouting report reckoned that he’d fit nicely into the core group of players. I think that it’s very important to ensure that players, especially of this age, are less likely to upset the apple cart and I think Forest, in their (successful) aim to regain Premier League football, went all out with signings and revamping their squad, choosing loanee Gbadamosi over Victor. Their loss is, hopefully, our gain.
In seeking more cover at full back, I came across a scout report for Allan – a dual Uruguayan/Brazilian, who came through the Palmeiras setup. Unlike the majority of previous dealings, this lad is playing and was only available due to a very low release fee and an unhappiness to sign a new deal in the Uruguayan capital. This one is slightly different as I this league is a step up for him but, in comparison with Rambert, my current first choice left back, there’s a lot of similarities in their statistical outputs. Attribute wise, they are also quite well matched. Again, there was a thorough understanding of him as a player and my scouting team believe he’ll fit into a group – the secondary social group – with Valdez, Rambert himself and Mariano Rocha: three quite professional, sporting characters, who have, mostly, been on my side for any crunch decisions. He’s fairly consistent and loves big matches, which is a real bonus for us to have and bringing through solid competition – potentially on either side of the defensive line, was a focus of mine that I feel I have achieved with these past two signings.
Sadly, the outgoing transfers, which, to my mind were downgrades on what I had brought in, came at the disappointment of the fanbase. I must, wholeheartedly, admit that long term squad building in a place like Argentina is tougher than I thought!
Unfortunately, there were more to come, too…
Full profiles can be seen by clicking the thumbnails.
Reluctantly, I negotiated an offer for Otero that feels like a win for us. He had moaned about not being able to make Europe but we get a total that matches the promise I made to him yet keep him until December 2035, which, will only be of use to Villa as we will continue to develop him. A similar deal was made for Sebastian Silva, this time to Roma, although I’ll only have him until July of next year. I think that the loan back phase is something that we are going to have to make use of in order to keep our talents here for long enough. Sadly, David Cavallo also agreed a deal to leave us, but this one included no loan back clause: he goes at the end of the calendar year to Valencia.
To bolster our ranks, I’ve made a cheap – $110k – deal to bring in Tomas Sanchez from AEK. He made a move as a promising youngster – only not joining me at Atalanta due to the fact he lacked an EU passport. Sadly, with their riches and poor youth development program, he’s not done anything and is now quite under developed for a player of his age. However, he’s another relatively short term option that fits a hole that we have, although he’s probably a player that will fail to command that many appearances, unless he significantly ups his game. I like to use a series of venn diagrams and he’s probably the only player that I now have that can play in all three midfield roles. This deal and the lack of available options but, more so, the thought that I’m going to have to repeatedly do this – Villa, Azulay, Vega, Traverso, Rossi etc are all young, hungry and good enough to move to Europe – meant that I wanted to change my thoughts a little on squad building.
I’m going to have to rely on the youth academy as I simply cannot find eight or ten of these undervalued players each year. Granted, I could look to sign players who are already established in Argentina but those are not cheap and I’d be paying even more as a divisional rival to most of these – with players from Boca, River, Racing and Velez actually not wanting to discuss terms simply because of that rivalry. Therefore, I need to dig into my youth squad more.
I need to do everything in my power to get these youngsters up to speed as fast as I can, given that I could well be losing several of my first team talents per year. The easiest way to do that is through game time. There is a clear tactical identity being built here and that is played through with the youth sides, so it makes sense for certain players to step up when needed and, given that the board only want us to finish within the Top Six this year, there is some leeway for quality to be dropped out for potential. I would like that these youngsters, Moreli aside for obvious reasons, reach at least five hundred minutes during the league phase of the season.
Mid-season friendlies bring about a few chances to check things tactically and the first thing I noticed was a very flat front three when using an IF(s) on the left and an IW(a) on the right. Therefore, I altered our base shape, swapping the roles to IF(a) and IW(s) which meant that Otero stepped off, pulling their DM back to worry about our MC and then leaving their left back in two minds about what to do. Just a small change in a pretty meaningless June friendly but one that helps create connections within our transitional play and will be something that I can monitor during the first month of the season.
A trip to the UAE to face Shabab was pretty straightforward as I wanted to test my new players in the heat. A noticeable tactical point was watching Andrade holding his shape even when we build down the left. Against Excursionistas, we played as many of the youth players as possible and I was really impressed by a number of them, giving me hope that they can, indeed, step in when needed.
In my 500th game, the league opener against Rosaria – a match that the fans demanded I won – I named a Zucchelli and Calderon on the bench but otherwise went as full strength as I could, with only Victor Rodriguez of the new signings making the starting XI. Against their 4-4-2, I decided, as I often do, to sit off their defenders – none of whom are great on the ball – and closely mark their outlet, the creative centre mid. Going forward, it was all about finding the spaces between their lines, so I opted for a CM(a) rather than a Mez(a) in order to stay a little more central. Twice inside the first ten minutes, Villa’s pressing on their non-playmaking CM caused poor passes and he could have had a hattrick, adding to the fine goal he netted from an Azulay knock down. He had his second some ten minutes later though as Otero was felled after a surge into the area, bringing up his fiftieth goal for the club. Rosario were reduced to ten men before half time and, to make it even worse, Peirano nodded in an Otero corner to put the game to bed. I never like to concede but can accept why we let Rosario back in the game, albeit temporarily. Their defenders had struggled as we stood off but a long hoof, one of the few that they attempted, was met by their striker, who finished well. We had the last laugh though as sub Andrade laid on Villa for his hattrick and then youngster Calderon laid on Andrade to cap quite a fantastic cameo for the Chilean on debut.
More turbulence came before the Santa Fe tie as hattrick-hero Villa decided to tell me how angry he was that I rejected a move for him to Milan – granted, they are better but it didn’t meet the amount we had agreed on in the promise. Low morale breeds profligacy so he was dropped to the bench, with promising youngster Arrieta given the nod ahead of Radaelli and Cavallo, in a game that I’d earmarked as one I could and should win. Win we did, and involvings the kids, too, but it wasn’t as clear cut as it should have been. Arrieta’s lovely through ball was finished off by Valdez before young substitute Paz, on for his debut, ran – unopposed – into the Santa Fe area and finished well before Vega smashed home from twenty five yards to give us the three points.
However, there is an issue, in goal:
I’m trying to rotate and give minutes to good training performances but, as of right now, there is only one keeper worth playing in my first team – Matias Traverso, on the right. Both of Santa Fe’s goals were soft and shots he should have saved, going in at his near post. When comparing them, there’s a huge difference in quality and the stats suggest that Brondi has actually faced more ‘savable’ shots than his rival but has performed really poorly with them. Moving to the 3-2 rest defence should have given us more defensive stability but it feels like, with him in the nets, we could concede from every shot the opposition have.
We rounded the month off with an infinitely more secure win over Estudiantes to end the month with a 100% record. If this month wasn’t turbulent enough, August has nine league fixtures and the European markets are still in full force!
A lot of football played this month! Full details of each game can be seen by clicking on the thumbnail above.
Instead of posting tactical thoughts about every match, I sat back and watched us play some lovely football, learning more and more about the process and the squad I’ve got here. An absolutely outstanding away win at Boca – testament of how far we’ve come tactically since their 2-0 win earlier in the season – was the biggest highlight. In terms of little things that I noticed, I loved our quick transitional play as seen here, although Otero could not finish and was utterly perplexed as we hit the woodwork eight times in our drawn with Moron. In the last game of the month, Francisco Andrade netted two freekicks – and it transpired that James Ward Prowse actually has a poster of him on his bedroom wall.
The transfer window mid way through the month and shows that we’ve been the busiest team: a statistic that we simply cannot and will not keep up.
For me, adding the loan back is the perfect storm as it gives me money, usually an add on and the player for another 12/18 months, which then becomes really targeted development time for the player I’ve identified to take over. Based on that thought, I accepted a bid for Villa, however he rejected Almeria’s contract and has stayed with us for the time being. The deal, in my eyes, is perfect because he’s certainly outgrown us, but – once back on loan – will rarely moan about club issues, keeping the player with me and performing well, when needed rather than always. However, I know it’s one that’ll not go down too well with the fans here.
We sit nicely atop the league and are, as expected, making our way up the average points table. I thought we’d do well this season but have to admit that I wasn’t quite expecting this level of performance. However, I must maintain that I feel like this league is very difficult to maintain high performance in, simply due to player sales. Great examples of this are Velez’s no-show in their title defence and the struggles that Racing Club are having, again. We still have to play Newell’s (H), River (A), Velez (A) and Tucuman (A) so this is not a foregone conclusion, by any means.
Full match reports can be found by clicking on the thumbnails, above.
I think we might win the league! I’m shocked that we’re still pushing on as we are but I’m finding more and more ways to unlock defences as I learn about my players and just what they can do. I’ve been really impressed with Vega this month – who now has fifteen goal contributions. When he has the freedom to pick up the ball, there are few at this level with the ability to pick a pass like he does. I’ve found him even more dangerous when paired with a more defensive minded central midfielder, such as Avilla, who can allow him to get by with his lack of defensive awareness.
The moment of the month, for me, was when Villa finished a sweeping move to put us two-nil up against Gimnasia. I’m tweaking our build up play so that we both push our defensive line higher up the pitch, thus almost forcing the opponent to press as there is less space and accepting that we will have more of the ball as teams now are sitting off us much more. There is still work to be done – we’re not quite as defensively solid as I want us to be but that’ll come in time, and with practice.
The league table has us in a fine position: top of the league by six points with ten games to go. There are tougher games to come with two of those next month, away at Tucuman and at home to Velez but we are finding a way to get past our opponents pretty efficiently at this time!
I’ve enjoyed taking a step back from the heavy tactical month that August was to dig into some more player development, as you can see with the five players, below:
Unfortunately – I have written several hundreds of words to describe the plans that I’m going through with these five youngsters and how they’re developing into new roles, new areas of their games or how they’ve hit a stumbling block and, perhaps, need a new direction in their development. However, the dreaded laptop battery-death and then, helpfully, the forum loading the post for August in the saved post section, means that I’ve now got nothing more than the screenshots that I gathered. In essentially what is a TLDR; Zucchelli wasn’t developing his Shooting ability as I wanted and I was trying to go with a F9, but now I want a more advanced forward and he’s the most rounded of those; Calderon has been excellent – increasing his average for Att Movement to 9.67 from 7.33 (that is seven points of progress) as well as retraining as a CM; Vera has retrained as a full back but still needs to round his game off, Paz has been great but I have an exciting experiment with a couple of traits for him and Arrieta has struggled to lead the line so is being converted to an IF(a). I have put the hours into this to offset the losses, like the one below:
A big loss as Villa is – arguably – the best domestic Argentinian striker going at the moment. His transfer to Sporting is about $1-2m less than I really wanted but, by selling to a club outside the Big Five leagues, I think he’ll play and develop even more there, bringing the 40% clause into play. Before I took over, we sold a defender to Man Utd and retained 30% of his next sale; sadly, he’s not kicked a ball whilst being there and is unlikely to command much, if any,profit for us in future if this continues. That leaves me exports as follows:
- Guido Otero – $10.5m to Aston Villa
- Daniel Sosa – $2.2m to Benfica
- Sebastian Silva – $2.8m to Roma
- Fabian Villa – £9m to Sporting.
There is a clear ideology here and, whilst it is one of the most unrealistic things in FM, I have demanded that the board increase the training and youth facilities, as well as our youth recruitment network, with this money. They have agreed.
Just one of those periods of time – little to no gameplay so a less detailed update to share. Our unbeaten record was ended against Velez but nine points is strong as we continue to cement our place atop the league table. Lots has gone on behind the scenes with player development when I’ve had a spare five minutes to reset schedules, track progress and praise, or criticise, their performances.
Whilst I am delighted at our performances, the graphic below shows my concerns at this, longer term. Looking at total goals scored, split per player, you can see how heavily we’ve relied on one scorer – Villa – significantly more than any of the other top teams have. With my more recent recruitment – particularly Radaelli and Francinaldo really not working out, I will, surely, need to consider before the end of next season when Villa departs at the end of his loan back.
Three November games – including a hugely important visit to River, which may play a part in the title for us.
Entering November saw the traditional run-in comparison for the four sides that could win the league: us and the traditional Big Three of Argentina. However, the month itself wasn’t good….
Full match reports can be found by clicking on the thumbnails.
For me, this disappointment shows me how far I’ve come. In a period of real-life time that I’m quite busy and with the release of an updated skin, I’ve been clicking through quite haphazardly, without having the time or attention span to really delve deep into what we are doing both on and off the pitch. Player have missed important chats with me, I’ve failed to discuss training with a lot of my players and the tactical approach has become significantly more vanilla than it had been. These are promising signs. We’re as close to an AI side as we can be right now because of this lethargy, which means that we are doing well – certainly better than the lower half position that the majority of this squad achieved last year. However, this lack of depth has come at a cost. The league table, below, (full league table here) shows that we’re getting quite close to actually bottling this.
I don’t think we will. I certainly hope that we won’t. But the fear is real. One win in five isn’t good enough when the juggernauts of River, Velez and Boca are hot on your heels. With the three fixtures we have left, we should have enough. If I can put my all into those and secure six or more points, I think we’ll be fine. I’ll cross my fingers, hope for a break in the weather to get back into playing this and take a run at winning Independiente’s first league title in forty-five years.
Absence certainly does make the heart grow fonder. In what has been a very busy few weeks for me, I’ve been able to sit and reflect on a season that has met my expectations and then completely blown them out of the water. A slip up at Platense, where, as with November, I was on auto-pilot as much as my squad before that laser focused approach returned against San Lorenzo in the big derby that, other results going our way, could’ve seen us crowned as champions. My pressing traps alienated their wide playmaker – a Grealish (at Villa, of course but there is no bias there) styled player and Andrade ran riot after I allowed him to take the penalty he’d won. Away at Instituto, I, again, went full-Bielsa, watching a lot more games in the run up and then watching pretty much the whole match as I ensured we took charge and secured the title.
With a 75% win percentage, we’ve blown teams out away and have created a style of football that will hopefully allow the good times to continue. In the end, we only won the league by two points (see full table) and could’ve put ourselves in real danger of losing it with such a bad November but lessons have been learnt that will carry over into next term.
The best thing for me is to have sat back and watched us: how we play through presses, how those presses change as the game and the season goes on, how we set our own pressing traps and against who. We are still somewhat situation, which is what I want, but that is evolving more and more within the same overarching principles and, eventually, could become so fluid that we are even able to encompass different shapes entirely – such as a back three.
In looking at the now-big three (full team stats can be found here), you’ll see how we don’t necessarily feel like a big team yet: obviously, we’ve built around a strong defence and a strong attack but we don’t win the ball back too much, we’re not actually that good at keeping it and our conversion rates, similarly to those around us, are – quite frankly – poor. We still need to get better in that way but, as one of only two teams to have conceded less than expected (Racing conceded 21 more goals (57 GA to 35.74xGA)) – the foundations are certainly there. We dribble the most though and, somewhat surprisingly, have the best cross completion rate – which, if you can just about relate the art of a cross to a direct ball into the box after a dribble, is a good thing.
Our overall metrics are looking pretty good and these will form part of the ability to track, season by season, our outputs – along with other metrics – before trying to identify the roots of these causes, the players:
However, this has very much been a team effort across the forty-four matches this season, which, in itself, is a precursor for the added games of Libertadores action next year. Of all the new signings – and, maybe the elephant in the room here – only Andrade has really impressed with Alan bedding in somewhat quietly in second place. We were short a second scorer, with Vega just about getting into double figures and nothing – significant anyway – from either wide man, although, per/90, they’ve all done ok. When looking at the full squad stats, you’ll be able to see why we won the league – everyone has chipped in and played well. It was, during those dark November days, when I feared for our title charge, that I turned to players who were training well and those who were reacting well to me and, in turn, they helped to pull us over the line. It’s something I do need to react to next year if I want to maintain, let alone build.
The biggest win for me, in terms of squad management, was the minutes afforded to my youngest stars, as seen below:
Some incredibly performances from the likes of Calderon – six goal contributions at a little more than one every 120 minutes is fantastic for a boy of just seventeen whilst Paz’s languid style on the wing has given me all kinds of ideas for the future. These players will be afforded even more minutes next year – whether at this club or another on loan – and form a big part of the future here.
What a rollercoaster.
I feel that this is a good time to say farewell for Alex and to FM23.
What a journey this has been!
I feel that, as has happened in the past, the save has fizzled out a little as my playing time has waned and as my attentions have turned further afield. However, what I’ve achieved – on and off the pitch – and the players that I have worked with and developed have brought me immense joy and hopefully pleasure for all of the people who have subscribed, liked or even just read my content. I have just as ambitious plans for FM24 but, for now, in a way that has not been consistent through this thread – a short amount of words – I must bid this adventure farewell!
From a lowly start at Menemenspor, to initial player development at Gencler, to the miracle of Trabzon (involving Gencler), to a Turkish title, to a transitional period, to a dynastical period, to a happy ending. I have loved this.