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A tale of two cities. Leverkusen and not-Leverkusen.

Our home record is somewhere near where we want to be, overall. Unbeaten at the BayArena and strong, scoring two goals a game. Yet, our away record has us barely scraping victories, scoring – and conceding – at a goal a game with some absolute mid-table form. In fact, we haven’t lost a single home game this season but defeats on the road to Dortmund, Werder, Koln, Bayern, Fortuna and Stuttgart all came without us scoring and averaging just 0.95xG per game, reducing to 0.72 when discounting the 2.33 we accrued against Koln. Looking at those reverse fixtures – we beat Werder 2-0 in the reverse, Fortuna: 2-1, Stuttgart: 3-0 and drew with the Dortmund, Bayern and Koln proving that these are teams we can beat, we just need to be more tactically astute. Nevertheless, I feel that we’ve performed pretty well – just two places below our prediction with a transitional squad and taking into account the over performances of Stuttgart, who were fighting relegation when I moved to Bayern, and our rivals, Koln. Next season, there will surely be an onus on teams like Wolfsburg, predicted eighth but finished fifteenth as well as the likes of Gladbach, who occupied the top four for the majority of the season, to show a return to form. Yet, for me, we’ve finished just about where we should’ve expected: the xPts table has us just about on par, although over performing in each area, something which cannot really be seen as a long term approach!

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A full season means that I have an accurate picture of how my style is translating on the pitch and, overall, I feel that we’re doing pretty well. We’re third in the league for dribbles per game – a key metric in how well we carry the ball and move vertically but only register ninth for passes within the opponent’s box and tenth for chances created. Our shots are then pretty poor quality – seventeenth in the league at 39% accuracy but we convert 15% of all of them, leaving in fourth in that metric. Pleasingly, our opposition conversion rate sits at a league low 7% but that also is a double edged sword: is it that low because we allow the fewest amount of shots? (no, we are seventh in that metric), or is it that low because Fischhaber has been so good? (yes, he has an xGP of 12.76, second in the league after Stuttgart’s keeper, which may well be worth noting for next season). Our defensive line height – 37.58m – puts us seventh, some three metres ahead of Union Berlin but some seven behind Bayern’s high line. Interestingly, this line would put us fourth in the Premier League, twelfth in Serie A, fourteenth in La Liga and eighth in Ligue Une. This stat really means nothing in the grand scheme of things but just kind of reassures me that I’m not at either end of the spectrum with what I’m seeing and, therefore, my argument that my high line costs me goals away from home probably isn’t that valid. Overall, our general attacking team stats need to be looked at. Some of this is tactical and some of it is player driven, which I hope to unpick a bit more. We lead the league in xG overperformance; granted, some of our goals are wonderful and with players like Duran, we can shoot from long range and maintain a high success rate but we also do not create enough high quality chances – and, in my experience, a lot of those are created (particularly with us as the defending team) by pull backs into the box. Our cross completion – at 12% – is the league low with us attempting 746, the thirteenth best in the league. Neither Minami or, when he played, Boniface really were a huge presence in the box and with Duran’s trait to arrive late, I guess it means that we barely had the players occupying the spaces. Furthermore, we’re fully mid-table with crosses attempted from set pieces per game, at 7.74 – 35% of our overall crosses. I’m not anti wing-play but, with a VOL and an SS in the middle, I really want to use them. That being said, to be an elite side, we need to have several strings to our bow and do most things well, even if we favour a style of play. That will come – I hope!

As the season began to dwindle, I began planning in more depth for next season.With significant losses made this season despite a small wage bill and tight control over transfer spend, I needed to look a little deeper than maybe I would normally. Whilst I’m excited at the news regarding youth graduate Yekini and his lovely sell on clause, money will need to come into the club before it can go back out, hence a more holistic view of finances and performance. I think that it feels like a nice collab with my player stats to look at, firstly, minutes, and then effectiveness based on a financial metric rather than just a performance one.

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Above are three graphs, split roughly into positional areas – defend, transition, score – showing the total amount of minutes played this season (red) shown as a percentage of the total available, with a further black bar to show the minutes available and not on the pitch, with any space at the end showing minutes they were not available for. Whilst I have renewed some contracts across the season and – therefore – will slightly invalidate small bits of data, I have multiplied the weekly wage by fifty-two and then divided it by the number of minutes that they have played, essentially created a €/min metric to see really who is justifying their wages as our pursestrings tighten. Defensively, I have heavily relied on my two full backs Ozdemir and Hagiwara with the latter costing nearly double but being a key player. There is significant interest from the big boys and Saudi Arabia but, hopefully, my €70m price tag will put them off. At the other end, neither Bischoff (€28,000 until 2034) or Krejci (€38,500 until 2034) have really played that much, even though they aren’t paid that much whereas Tapsoba (€67,000 until 2034) has found his minutes dwindling as age catches up to him. In the midfield, the backups – Bangura, Stiepermann and Gottschalt have all worked our pretty expensive with the latter reaching an extension taking him to €36,500 until 2036 – not ideal for just over 25% of the game time played. Up front, the situation with Boniface is pretty clear – €85,000 until 2034 combined with availability for less than three quarters of the game time, meaning he’s cost me over €5,000 per minute he’s played. Furthermore, if I dig deeper to now look at cost per goal involvement, excluding those such as Fischhaber, Ozdemir and Hagiwara, you’ll see that Boniface has cost me over €1m per involvement this season, which is pretty appalling when compared to Minami – €52,000, Krassnizter – €52,000 and even the likes of Gottschalt (€379,600), Bangura (€119,600) and Stierpmann (€273,000).

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Boniface has been well and truly usurped by a youngster who’d never played in Europe before in MinamiThe twenty year old has overperformed his Non Pen xG + xA per 90 buy 0.33 a game, with 0.83 contributions per game, to the Nigerians’ 0.43, from an expected 0.41. The only area in which the elder statesman still holds his crown in in his aerial competence, which, if we’d put more crosses into the box, may well have led to more goals. However, significant injuries have hampered Victor’s game time and part of me feels that it’d be unfair to really comment on his performance because of that, however, across his career, he’s hardly been the prolific 20-goal striker that we really need to kick on with. He’s our joint highest earner with twelve months left on his deal and, unfortunately, I think his time here might be coming to an end. Part of me then worries that Yuki, even with sixty-eight goals in 129 games, is a little too inexperienced to lead the line of a Europa League club and that I might need to look elsewhere to replace.

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One of those replacements who could potentially slide back into a forward role are Pejsa or Arkineboth of whom have had particularly poor years on the wings. I allowed Stepan a bit of time to come in, settle, and learn how to play as a wide forward – feeling that his lack of top end speed might hold him up and that utilising his Flair, Work Rate and Technique from out wide might help us create – but, I feel I might’ve been wrong. Unlike Boniface, he does have age and time on his side, with another four years at the club. However, with thirteen appearances off the bench given a lack of form, I think he’s going to be playing for his future at the start of next season. On the other wing is Arkine, wo has also been pretty poor, ending with just a third of Krassnitzer’s goal contributions, at 0.20 per/90. Hicham feels a bit different to Stepan, having been here longer and already demonstrating what a top quality player he is. Mentally, he is a lot stronger than the Czechian and I think, if necessary, he could move back up front, which would, actually, mean that I don’t need to recruit a new player. That would give the aforementioned Krassnitzer a bit more game time and allow the likes of Stiepermann and Bangura more, too. Both of those, along with Gottschalt have done really well but all are used as impact subs and I am acutely aware of the difference and step up between a bench option and a key player, of which I don’t feel that either of these could necessarily do. The latter is not home grown at the club but the former two bring that, also, which will be even more important as we are in Europe next year.

Much to ponder! So much so that I’ll leave that for an entirely separate post.

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The intake was presented to me and felt a little bloated but, as I wanted, some top quality talents. I quickly worked my way through who I felt deserving of a contract and the whittled down of eleven players signed contracts and headed to the youth side. At this point, and – again – with that style over substance approach that does feel like it’s coming out more and more, I moved back to my Statman skin and added a graphic on the player popup panel that shows their suitability towards the DNA attributes – first touch, technique, decisions, determination and pace. Whilst my own Excel calculations then add in age and nationality where the game cannot – I felt that this would be a solid base point and, for the most part, the youth players all rate highly on those two additional strands, anyway.

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The gem of this intake, and Ternana’s loss is Francesco D’AnziAt 16, he’s already incredibly well rounded for a job on either wing and has no real holes within his game. Interestingly, my team don’t rate is potential ability to be the highest – indicating a ceiling created by really early development. However, now that we are in the almost elite level, I take far less interest in those and just see no end goal for their development. He’ll work his way through the changing foci, as do all the youth players but I think will be fast-tracked into some first team minutes very soon. Cevik is the highest rated player from this intake and I think he’d make a decent inside forward/wide forward kind of role but I[‘m less excited about him than D’Anzi! Joel Kahl is the perfect template for a player style I’m missing so dearly – the role where a player can switch between an IFB(d) and a CWB(a) role, with ease. A lot of the full backs on the market are one or the other but I see good development potential for the young Swedish born lad and his height at full back will certainly be a bonus, too. Ivan Zrilic is a player who really fits in with the club DNA and is, again, quite well rounded for his age. Whilst he’s only sixteen, I’m not entirely sold as to whether he has the top speed required for a Shadow Striker role but, then again, feels too weak for a Volante role. A poorer personality than the other players talked about, too, means that he’ll have to work really hard to build on is good foundation. Alberto is unlikely to become a top quality keeper but, as another distributor, is so much more aligned to the team’s needs than Schulz – who, despite having high potential, will be forming the first wave of mismatched player departures, where the good of the team and the identity of the team trumps that of the individual; see Victor Manuel Mayor and his (heavily incentivised) move to Bayern due to his lack of development, largely caused by his personality. Five star potential or not, he’s wholly unsuited to what I want to create!

However, for every departure, there is potential for an arrival or just someone to play themselves into my plans.

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Yu Ho-Jae arrived in January for €1m and is doing pretty well at the youth level. FYI – if you change the youth team view to this, their stats populate all the graphs and charts I’ve created, so these are in-game screenshots of their performances in the U19.Liga. Yu already fits in really nicely with the ideology of the club and has two Japanese players that, if he reaches the first team, will surely be able to assist his integration. Again, a strong positive for the new recruitment model and a big thanks to Yushi Sato for finding him! Promising players are coming from closer to home, too. Mushure, despite not really fitting into my DNA or having the top end potential to really make it as a first team player here, has performed really well with fifteen goal contributions in the youth side. This is part of my bigger commitment to the B04 pathway that aims to keep as many players within professional football as possible, giving them a two or three year apprenticeship, if nothing else!

I’ve also lucked out with some loan deals after getting the board to agree to a further affiliate, Ingolstadt, in the 3.Liga

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Noa Nikolic was on loan at my other feeder, Duisberg, who sat bottom of the 2.Liga. He’d scored twice in twelve and wasn’t playing well enough to really kick on. However, moving him down a level has seen the goals fly in and his development skyrocket. Additionally, I then used this opportunity to get three other players there, too, with Bjorklund the only one who’d not been at Duisberg earlier in the season. Whilst playing at the 3.Liga level may not be quite right for their ability, balancing good form with training facilities feels really hard this time around. With Ingolstadt in a playoff to get promoted, I kind of hope they don’t – meaning that I still have a team at each professional level of the game to utilise for playing time.

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Steady progression is better than no progression! I’m hoping that Yekini moves to PSG which should, even after TV money, stabilise us for the summer as to not need a big sale. However, I want to be coy in the transfer market and only bring in if we are really able to upgrade and, given my thoughts here, may have the money from the potential sale of Boniface to reimburse. The quality of German talent is really poor at the moment or, it is good and the player is not interested. Therefore, players like academy graduate Kai Havertz, who is about to leave Arsenal, may be looked at. However, I think that the majority of the summer will be fine tuning the squad and really working with what I have, as their head coach.

Die Werkself!

Author

  • 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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