The curse of Bayer Neverkusen strikes again!

I know the plan was never to compete for the Bundesliga this year – Bayern are simply too good – but my intention was to take on the Pokal and the Europa League, hoping that our league form would mean this would be the last foray into the competition. We performed admirably to get there – overturning a really drab home defeat at Napoli into a dominant performance and solid win in Naples. We then crashed out of the Pokal in dramatic style, pegging Bayern’s early lead back and dominating until Bauer’s poor pass gave them the easiest tap in and the win. There was nearly another catastrophe against once tycoon owned Spezia, as we nearly let our three goal lead slip, firstly through Markovic’s hilarious own goal and then through a similarly annoying passback from Stierpermann straight into the path of their striker. Our league form didn’t suffer – Leipzig aside – despite playing a very rotated squad, ensuring that our key players were fit for the big fixtures.

Then, when the biggest of them all came up, we just didn’t show up. I was delighted that a seventh placed Rennes progressed ahead of a Zidane-managed Chelsea, who’ve continued to spend massively all across the last decade but just found that we didn’t have it in us to break them down. I tried multiple approaches, building up in different ways within the same 4231 shape that I love but we were toothless and naive. However, I cannot let that overshadow a top league performance – one that is so strong it ranks second best against our historical performances, including the 2001/02 squad with such quality players like Juan, Michael Ballack, Ze Roberto andDimitar Berbatov.

Everything has, pretty much, gone right and that is visible in our expected outputspitch tilt and the clarity within our attacking game plan to run at defences and attack quickly and efficiently. With Champions League football to look forward to next year, my priority must lie in winning a competition and I think that the Pokal will be that, with the step into the Champions League likely to take a few years to adapt to. Bayern are the current holders, which gives me even more impetus to build a team that can challenge.

One regret that I do have, although made to look more extreme here – given the rise to prominence of D’Anzi and Vogel is the amount of minutes I’ve given to the youth players at the club. I have big plans to create the best youth system in the world here and, to ensure that I am giving my players the best chances, they need exposure to the first team. That being said, on the whole, the performances of those within the first team was strong:


In my defensive units – I’ve been impressed at the offensive outputs from Bischof and Hannibal, although the latter has stuttered in terms of goals scored this season, dropping down to a solitary one from five last year. However, the emergence of Reckert along with an African Nations has meant that he’s been out of the team more and far more fatigued that I recall him being. He’s still world class and an integral part of the squad, one who can play on both sides of the double pivot but, given his defensive skills, has often found himself the more defensive one this time out. In the full back roles, I’m settled with Ozdemir and Vogel as his backup – with the young German rising to prominence across the season and appearing in over 2,000 minutes – quite astounding for a 17-year old. is outputs, too. On the left, Helmes hasn’t quite hit the heights that I wanted him too – despite looking to be about on a par with first choice Hagiwara but there is a possibility of a chance to bring in a new face over the summer which I may explore. I’m potentially light in the centre back role but Bauer, Ammer and the rock Markovic have all done well. My only concern is that they are all pretty safe and rank in the top 10% of (not) losing possession as I sometimes find that I’m wanting them to play the luxury ball out but they pass between whichever two are there. Definitely something to explore!


The attacking unit have been sublime. Bangura’s target achievement gave him the motivation to kick on and twenty-nine contributions puts him second only to Ferhat Duran on thirty-three: both world class returns. It has meant that there has been some rotation across the wider roles with Arkine spending more time up front to accommodate. He’s made significant improvements on his outputs from last year and, along with Nikolic – who is clearly riding the wave of a successful loan spell, converting 57% of his shots – have created a strong front two. One cannot be tricked by Minami’s league vs cup form as his poor league form, with the saving grace being a hattrick in the season ender against Koln, meaning that I’ve actually already agreed to his saleNikolic (5%), Arkine (22%) and Minami (9%) have been poor in the air and, whilst we don’t really focus on crosses into the box, I feel that I need another option up top – a different type of forward – and the Japanese ad doesn’t do that as well as being the worst performer of the three this year.

It’s all about fine margins and I think my thoughts on the squad development below will help me answer where I want to go next!


The squad depth is starting to get really strong with multiple players able to cover multiple roles. I think that the one area that needs amendment is that a lot of my players are quite similar. We’re building a team around a strong focus on the DNA – first touch, technique, decisions, determination and pace – and that is great but what we don’t necessarily have are different types of players who excel at those things. One area for thought over the summer is my left wing role:

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Salman Kuczmann – European Golden Boy and wonderkid – is due to return back from his loan in Portugal after ten goal involvements for a Famalicao team that finished eighth. He’s a little more one-dimensional than I’d normally like for a winger and his traits certainly need some work but, as an out-and-out pace merchant, he’s better than what we already have and, at 20, probably can still improve. Then I have Niklas Schulz, who didn’t quite hit the heights at 2.Liga Union Berlin but, clearly, still has some quality. He’s a player who I could see stepping into the Havertz role as a replacement for Duran later on in the game, either as an SS(a) of a DLF(s) but, actually, there is something about his height and balance that makes me think he could be that bully of an AF(a), if needed. There’s a big gap and that is his Work Rate and I do feel like he’s quite a bit weaker than the other players within the squad but as a ‘type’ he’s certainly offering me something that isn’t readily available elsewhere.


Two left wingers coming in means that Francesco D’Anzi can go out and get the first team football he really needs. When selling Pejsa in the winter, I promoted him but he’s not exactly taken his chances, with outputs suggesting that he’s not quite ready for this level, yet. That – of course – is no issue but I didn’t want to sanction that without a clear plan for a replacement. A more contentious deal – given his solid statistical output, is to sanction the sale of Florian Stierpermann, the homegrown winger who has been solid since I took over but is now really starting to show his dislike of big games, with errors and ghost performances at the wrong times. Also, his goalscoring record is not what I’d want of a winger and I think that the combination of Schulz and the ability to use Kuczmann in an area that will allow a strong finisher to play could be necessary to see us develop. I’ll see what kind of bids I can get in for him.

The summer, overall, will be interesting as I look to develop the squad in a couple of areas.


After witnessing the unhappiness with individual foci specifically focused around a defensive player doing an attacking focus, I wanted to make a further change. By moving to a plan for each training unit, I can focus more on the attributes that are part of my DNA that matter to them. Below, the gantt chart shows when each attribute is worked across the year:


Again – no idea how this will play out but an interesting thought. There are eight months of the year where my attacking unit will be focusing on just their position and decisions, whereas the defensive unit do the same for that and technique. If it turns out that I create technically strong defensive players and clever offensive players then I’d suggest that something has worked


  • 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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