We started with a Pokal tie against third tier Aachen – a side we’d beaten twice last season as we faced opposing outcomes to our seasons. I was taken aback by Aachen’s high line and advanced press but, as intended, we were able to play through this early pressure and over the top to our runners in offense. A first senior goal for Cherkaoui and a dream (second) debut for Goretzka got us up and running. The Kleines Revier derby – against Dortmund – was far from the ideal season opener but I ensured that morale was high, speaking and commenting on performances from the previous games along with my monthly training review time. We took an early lead through Tchetchoua before switching to a double pivot, moving Goretzka back to a DM role and Paqueta up to an AM(s) role. My plan was two-fold: more defensive cover but also get my players to draw in Dortmund’s double pivot of a BWM/SV, neither of whom are particularly renowned for staying put. This extra space would allow my forwards more opportunities to isolate defenders in 1v1 situations. Dortmund drew level through a well worked goal but the bragging rights, and dream start, belonged to us as Lawrence leapt highest to nod in a corner with minutes to go. Our defensive 4141 shape was then employed to see the game out but the learning from this is that I do think a 4231 can work, despite my repeated moves between that and our usual 433. A nice away draw at Wolfsburg followed where another tactical tweak helped us. Their play went through their false back three – created with a HB(d) sitting in with two attacking wing backs. I instructed Goretzka to press Essugo, pulling Sadirov inside to mark the AM, where Goretzka would’ve been. By putting a more defensively sound player to mark higher up and then filling the gap, as well as instructing all defenders onto their left foot to funnel the ball away from the in-balance I’d created on our left-hand side worked really well. Freiburg came to town and I was able to utilise long kicks from David Raya and a pacier, more direct approach to counter their aggressive full backs, with both goals coming from moves down the left after catching them high up the field.


We started with a poor result against Heidenheim, ending our strong start. However, the game was largely in our favour despite going a goal down inside two minutes. I trusted our processes in terms of transitional play and we ended with 1.45xG, some 300% of our opponents, rarely allowing them to threaten. A draw with Augsburg followed where, again, we couldn’t hold our lead before we ended with defeat in Munich, to Bayern. They created just over 2.00 non pen xG and missed a penalty but secured the win in injury time in, arguably, our best spell of the game, catching us on the break as we piled forward for an unlikely equaliser. Our season won’t be made or broken on these results but our form – 0.71xG, 23 passes, 51 passes in the final third, two half chances – will stand us in good stead.


The entirety of October was pretty dull, to be fair! Draws against Stuttgart and Nurnberg could – potentially – go down as points dropped, given our overall play but a win over high flying Bremen was pleasing, as we demonstrated a slightly more potent level of attacking after moving from ‘Balanced’ to ‘Positive’ mentality. Given that we’ve scored among the lowest in the league, albeit underperforming our xG, I felt that a move to increase risk was necessary. That being said, our -4xG differential is overshadowed by our +6xGA differential, where David Raya has worked wonders in the next, with an xSave % of 86% being matched by his actual save percentage, stopping 0.61xG per game. I think that I need to find the balance – obviously, going forward more aggressively should lead to more chance creation but will only leave us wider open at the back, an area we’re already hugely overachieving in. Our work on opposition threats is still paying dividends for us we are quite strong at restricting teams to a few chances, but, right now, they all seem to be from big chances – a failed transition where we’re caught out on the edge of Zone 14 or a quick break where the man we’ve committed isn’t quite sure of what to do! But, when that build up does work, things go pretty well!

I keep going back to that style over substance thought in my head and, especially after I’ve created an infographic of my intended style, feel that I am often revisiting the stats board to see where we lie. Last season, we sat first in many metrics that I care about but, for example, we now sit fourteenth in dribbles completed – although that is actually only two less per game than last year at 12.67. Our possession – as expected with a team who will now be attacked, rather than attack, is down below 50% and that’s leading us to create the second least chances and have the second deepest defensive line, some six metres lower than last year. Furthermore, this luck cannot last forever – an opponent conversion rate of just 6% is what dreams are made of but, when we sit fourteenth in shots allowed, I think that the levee will break at some point!

After all is said and done, we’re now exactly in a bad place…


End the season now and I’m delighted – six places above our predicted finish and above the likes of Bayer, Wolfsburg, Hertha and Stuttgart – all teams predicted to finish inside the top ten. That being said, those teams, with just over a quarter of the season gone, are all far too good to be there and at least one of them will surely overtake us. I’m following Heidenheim’s progress with interest, considering that they were promoted with us but have, seemingly, taken well to life in the top flight. Whether that is a flash in the pan or not, time will tell.


Team-wise, we’re doing pretty well but, of course, there’s a small matter of managing individual player progress through player targets, discussions an general morale management.

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The midfield duo haven’t quite gelled in the way that I’d have wanted, with Paqueta struggling to adapt to life in Germany and the role that I want for him. The left sided midfield role, my number 10, has been an issue for some time now with Fernandez also struggling but an output of just 0.19 key passes per game, totalling to exactly one across his nine appearances is pretty abysmal. His expected outputs are, largely, from set pieces and his ball carrying – especially into that dangerous Zone 14 – is virtually non existent, too. I’ll give him some time to bed in – absolutely – but we’re now on to player number two who has struggled to turn into a creator – this time without the humongous xG/xA underperformance. On the flip side, Goretzka has (re)settled in wonderfully and has been a creative and driving force in either of the roles, covering a near-13km per match and having solid outputs in terms of ball winning and possession metrics. His key passes sit at just 1.07 per game, still down on what I’d want from that role but significantly higher than the ‘actual’ creator in the team. The fact that he’s helped himself to both goals and assists is also a strong sign as is the fact that his advancing age doesn’t seem to be causing him much in the way of concern.


My two academy graduates have been doing really well but only in one area of their game! Molina is yet to get on the scoresheet, despite registering three assists from 2.75 xA this season as well as thirty-three dribbles and forty-three progressive passes, which, at just under four a game, is really strong for a man as advanced as he is. Registering 1.34 key passes per game is a little on the low side and is certainly a decrease on last year but, again, I must recognise the increase in quality. Up top, Tchetchoua has been scoring really well – over a goal every other game but is offering virtually nothing creatively, certainly making me question his CF(a) role within the side. His lack of shots feels a little synonymous of our offensive struggles and, yet again, his actual goal figure isn’t far off his expected figure but his goals are all we’ve had since August so I can’t complain too much!


I was so worried about Raya last year but, this year, he’s stepped up and is – arguably – the form keeper in the league. Despite us not keeping a huge number of clean sheets, his expected save ratio is actually now surpassed by his save ratio – with both numbers in the high eighties. The comfort and class he possesses on the ball is absolutely second to none and, for goalkeepers, his ability to progress the ball – remembering that you cannot be in the defensive third to complete a progressive pass, is wonderful and a true sign that he’s a real sweeper keeper. The ‘problem’ is that he’s going to have to keep up this level of performance all year, which is truly going to be tough!

I’ve just signed a new contract, which runs for five years – a real sign of commitment from the board to this project and we’re heading towards January with the basics of a small recruitment drive to look forward to. That being said, more work needs to be done on the actual pitch to ensure that we’ve got enough to keep our heads above water, survive and then thrive at this level.

Nur de VfL


  • Ben

    Ben has been a long time contributor to the FM community previously on The Dugout and the SI Forums. He is known for his great in-depth tactical analysis and an increasing level of understanding of data led recruitment. His FM saves are always in-depth and he delivers both his knowledge of the game and great storytelling including a talent for squad building, progressing youth players and finding diamonds in the rough. His saves are really popular within the blogging community. He is also the creator of the popular skin “Statman”

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