Within days of starting, I was greeted by a huge bid for Adam Hlozek, meeting the release clause of a man who hasn’t really stood out over the last five or six years. Obviously, Stuttgart – then bottom of the Bundesliga – were desperate to buy themselves out of trouble and, to be honest, I wasn’t that bothered about the bid. The problem with such an out unexpected offer so early into my tenure is that I don’t have a lot of things lined up. I like to watch games and get an eye test for a player as well as looking at their statistical outputs. However, I was able to get to a Rapid Wien match after my scouts indicated some areas of potential: Kuhn, Maier and Lackner added to the DoF shopping list after excelling in a couple of games, with my preference being Lackner given his more rounded attribute make up. Then, whilst I was getting excited about that and how else to use some of the money, he rejected the contract. Great. I then made an attempt to use an intermediary but was only able to attract bids of €15m, which, once I had declined that, led to him becoming unhappy and desperate to leave. So I was left with no Lackner, Kuhn or Maier and an unhappy Hlozek.

The joys of the transfer window!



Ten games into my tenure (plus one under – technically – my stewardship that I left to my staff) feels like a good time to take stock. As always, these are written live and my tactical thoughts often descend into rambling nonsense with little actionable points, but…nevermind!

Hertha played a 343 (523 as the game calls it) so I knew that space would be easier to attain centrally, therefore opted for two inverted full backs and a libero, in order to create this shape in build up where each area of transition is more than the defensive one: 3v2 at the back with a 4v3 created by the box. They then have a back five against our three forwards but will need to sacrifice players to even the numbers up and, hopefully, create opportunities like this one where Ferhat Duran can run into Zone 14 to lay off a pass or utilise his shooting ability. The game itself was very even – we didn’t actually create a ‘big chance’ whilst Hertha made two and our xG totals ended with 0.4 of each other, yet we scored four times more than them to give me a pretty perfect start, albeit not entirely comfortably.

We retained that shape against Dusseldorf and Hamburg with the midfield duo both getting on the scoresheet as we leapfrogged Fortuna before two silly goals saw us lose to struggling HSV. Boniface – a man very much low on confidence at the moment with one goal in his last nine games – squandered 0.94xG in just forty-five minutes after he was hauled off at half time. Two lapses, both coming in at over 0.5xG chances, allowed the hosts the win and to make the match stats look even in a game that we absolutely dominated. Ferhat, again, was ominous and I cannot understand why, during the previous regime, he was used as DLP and, essentially, allowed no freedom to get around the box as – once again – a strike from 20 yards found the bottom corner, giving him four in his last three games. I hope that, as time goes on, our tactical awarenessand understanding of this shape, and shapes following the same ethos, will be fully embedded and I’ll see less of these silly mistakes that are attracting pressure and allowing goals to be scored against us.

We battled hard against table toppers Dortmund, matching them blow for blow but outscoring them on xG, spending much of the game chasing the game after going behind early on. I saw some things that I liked during this time; how a higher defensive line, even with no other changes, can change the way the game is played and how passing length can dictate the starting point for forward movement. In trying to see the game out, I shut up shop a little but was nearly cursing my luck when keeper Fischaber’s goal kick was passed straight to a Dortmund attacker, who, fortunately, couldn’t find the net with what would’ve been heartbreak in the last kick of the game. Overall, it was a good point. The same couldn’t be said for the Wolfsburg game – where they dominated possession and, in terms of momentum, pretty much all of the match. Our lead held out until the eighty-fourth minute before two strikes – one thunderbolt and one being another lapse in concentration, saw them take the points.

A game of two halves as high-flying Freiburg came to town as we shot ourselves in the foot with some lacklustre transitional play and found ourselves two-nil down at the break. The first water bottle of by B04 career was thrown as we came out and dominated in the second half, scoring 91% of our xG and ending with a non-pen (because we gave away the softest possibly penalty, too) expected goals win. Yet, again, it’s the actual goals that get us the points and we came up short, again. In times like this, I like to reduce my tactical demands to really build the tactic around the player, rather than around the team instructions. We have roles that are ball carriers by nature and, furthermore, other roles than can be manipulated to further allow that, so I don’t need to keep ‘dribble more’ on. Likewise, our natural shape emphasises a central overload so I don’t need to force the play centrally when that is probably stifling some potential attacks down the flanks. The only two In Possession instructions that remain are the passing length – slightly longer and the crossing direction – low, as these can’t be manipulated on a player-by-player basis. Simple but hopefully impactful. Slipping to eleventh before kick-off, a reaction was needed against Heidenheim, but it didn’t come as we faded to a 0-0 draw. A clean sheet and a modicum of calmness in our defence, for a change, but a lack of passion, drive and intensity going forward. Finally, a win came our way as we beat form side Augsburg following a Bangura penalty – his first for the club. At the time of the award, he was the most ‘positive’ body language and, despite being a poor penalty taker, stepped up and scored for me when it really matter

We faced the hardest trip of the lot – away to Bayern – but did ourselves relatively proud, even if we accrued under 1xG. Again, our phases of play are getting stronger and more fluid and, on several occasions, we were able to play around Bayern’s press but, as has been the case very often, just lacked one really strong pass in a move of ten to fifteen. Boniface eventually ended his scoring drought, coinciding with the fifth game in a row that Hlozek has been poor – I just can’t seem to catch a break with them! Despite being hugely comfortable for the majority of the game, we only had three shots against Stuttgart, with two of them going on. Yet again, we conceded a huge xG chance – 0.63xG – but Fischaber was able to claw it back before the visitors halved the deficit. Again – a strong shape but pretty poor excitement and attacking ingenuity, something that I do want to explore.

Overall, I’ve stuck with the 325/3box3 build up that I used successfully at Elfsborg, given the fact that neither full back is particularly strong going forward and, in terms of what I see in transition, it allows an easier return to our defensive shape, limiting times we can get caught on the counter, something which I always feared at Bochum with my aggressive wingback and lopsided back three. It has come – slightly – at the cost of offensive overloads but I’m now relying on more creative and, essentially, better players in my offence, all of whom seem to be going through their own barren spell simultaneously. That being said and keen to avoid the cliche of my squad – I really want a pre-season with this bunch to get them fit and really hone my tactical direction. 90% of them are good enough and I don’t need a fire sale and a reshape but I just want to ‘do some’ coaching with them.

My record here at Bayer isn’t amazing:


We’re moving at 1.4PPG at the moment, which, at that pace, sees us just below fifty points for the season, which, whilst disappointing, would be our best total and – likely – our best finish since 2027/28. May is horrible – Gladbach, Koln and Leipzig but we do have to play Bochum, Eintracht, Nurnberg and Bremen next month: four teams that are below us. In that time, I need to see an increase in goal created and goals scored as we’re just not making those big chances. At the other end, we are keeping things relatively tight but are so prone to a massive error leading to a big chance. There’s lots of lapses in concentration of poor decisions in transition that sees us piled under the pressure, plus, we seem a little shakier from set piece than we ever did at Bochum, too.

Europe is still on the cards with seventh going into the Conference League and fifth and sixth into the Europa League. Honestly, a shot at competition recently won by Gladbach, Villa, FC Midtjylland, Chelsea, AEK, Villa, Spurs and Villa seems like a pretty good opportunity and one that exceeds the board’s desires of top half.



March means a welcome to some new recruits and a little bit of a focus on the youth side:

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The entire intake was pretty strong and I signed all but the bottom two players from the list, in an attempt to allow each of the players at least one year in the youth side to grow, develop and then to have a decision made about their future, fleshing out some gaps that will appear in the summer when the over-age players are no longer available to play at this level. I agree with the ratings of the staff largely with Maik VogelFelix SchulzVictor Manuel MayorFynn Angerer and Arman Batyrkhanov being the players I have highest hopes for. Really strangely, we have another Maik Schulz – taking the total Maik Schulz’s in my game to over six hundred. I do not know if this is a bug or something that everyone is experiencing but it’s getting rather strange now!

With not too long until the end of the season, I’m getting excited for what a full summer can bring to this club


  • 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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