Stafford Debut Season in the Premiership
A lot of this is gonna be from memory, so bear with me. Thus begins the tale of a rollercoaster season. Going into the season, we were already used to a specific style of play. During preseason, I decided that a defensive posture would be more appropriate for Stafford, after all, they did lack pace and height. And thats a deadly double dose especially when we are dealing with a whole bunch of AI managers.
So there we are, we immediately go to work in preseason identifying a string of players to strengthen the team with, 2 million pounds doesnt get you very far, so we end up looking for bargain free signings. We end up filling the team with up to 8 more players, but up front we are still using Antonio German from the season before, with 12 for finishing thats asking for a whole lot. My priority however is not to concede, if we can survive the first few months I could get some players in the January transfer window, provided we do well financially. So the goal is to be financially prudent, keep ourselves well under the wage budget, so that we get a nice kitty going.
Preseason starts and immediately I draw up a battleplan of tactics that includes a 41221, a 4411 and a 4141. Its a rather defensive posture, but I reckon by the time the season ends we should be strong in one. With 8 new players I am pretty certain cohesion will be an issue. Our preseason is a shambolic nightmare, we win one game out of a possible 5, ah well, its a good time to experiment. I settle on a plan to go with the 4411 for the first few games, we arent going to have adventurous fullbacks, the tactic will be purely counterattacking with only the midfielders and the two boys upfront making forays.
Our first game is against Everton at Goodison Park, I curse our luck. We approach this game cautiously, at all costs we will not lose the first game. The game is peppered with shots from range, in fact all our shots come via airmail, with 80% flying into the ether. Everton dont have much luck either we walk away with a point. On a good note the team average rating is 7.5. I am happy its not a bad first day, at least we didn’t get hammered.
Our next match is against Aston Villa at Marston Road, 4 shots vs 10. Pathetic one might say, hell out of those 4 shots 2 are on target and all of them are from inside the box. Not bad. Its a good match. Tactically I am still approaching all games with a counterattacking stance. The team is still training cohesion and teamwork, we get 4 pts from a possible six.
Our next match is against Championship side Swindon in the Capital Cup first round tie, the bookies have actually got us down to lose. Thats really depressing. Well this will be a good chance to see how this tactic does in control, so i make some minor adjustments to release my fullbacks. We don’t dominate possession, which worries me, but we win the match 2-1. I begin to wonder if the 4411 is a good idea after all.
I decide to try something different in the next game, team gelling hasn’t really kicked in yet, so I can still afford to tinker if the tactic is sound, I shouldn’t get knocked about like a balloon on a windy day. Our next match against West Brom finishes 1-1 as we switch to a 4141, and then I return to my 4411 for the game against Newcastle, we suddenly turn in 22 shots on goal with half from range, but the performance is sweet as we walk away 2-1 winners. Sunderland go down as well 1-0. Its been a great start, I am cautiously optimistic, but this does mean its going to be a long hard season for me, all the wins have been narrow, and these are sides that like us will battle to avoid relegation. So we decide to stick to a 4411 and switch to a 4141 if we need to contain sides.
And then the news comes, the Football Association of SI World are meeting in SI Towers, talk has it that new changes are coming into effect. These are expected to have far reaching implications for how football will be played in the future. I await with bated breath as I go pick up the new rules. We read through the rules and see that on the surface all looks right. The new rules are meant to encourage more open play. I reckon this should be a good day, boy did I get that wrong.
Cardiff awaited us in the next round, twas a Capital Cup first round tie, comfortable in the knowledge that we were on a 6 game unbeaten run, I decided to field my second stringers. Cardiff score two early from setpieces and then Robert Beech my unused 20 year old who’s about to receive his walking papers, decides to stun me with a Messi run from deep in defense to score. I stare at the pitch in disbelief, we may have lost but I have Messi? If he has 17 pace and is doing that to other defenders….whats going to happen to me?
I soon find out in our next home game to Chelsea, in fact what followed was 7 games without a win. We were going into matches and finding ourselves facing lil Messis. SI had given the world the Messi treatment. I was laughing and crying at the same time. How in the world am I to defend against super dribblers? I attempted a 4141, 41221, 4132, 532, 460, counter, contain, defensive. I was at wits end. There were two things I could do , quit or figure out a way to get even. I started analysing all matches that had pacey players vs average teams, and the same thing unfolded, Messi had landed in England, and he brought the gift of sharing. What a christmas! Not for me!
Its times like these that separate the good football managers from the bad ones. The notebook on which I did my scribbles is now lost..i actually left it in the hotel two days ago when I was away on business, but inside there I did whats called Constraint Model. I took the team apart to see where the cracks were, and then I paired players together in partnerships. If i had a creative player in midfield, he would always be partnered with a bruiser. If i had a great jumper in defense, beside him would always be a great tackler. Upfront I was seriously considering a strike partnership, someone to knock down the balls, but not a targetman, more like a DLF who had the strength to hold players off for a finisher.
The patch had obviously created a huge tilt towards attacking play, there were now more shots and more runs. Players were running..even when there were options to pass, and these were happening to close to the defensive line. Defenders weren’t challenging. What I saw immediately gave me hope, if my players are on normal and they are not tackling…LOL the AI will be doing the same, when it defends. It was time now to come up with a new plan. I had already created my partnerships, now it was time to look at my strengths.
In my team we have decent defenders, they arent fast but they have composure and concentration. My DMC is a former defender who has great acceleration, and in midfield I had some great AMs but this wasnt going to help me just yet. I can’t out dribble the AI, but if I can out pass it at pace then I could get something back. So I switched to a 4312. For every match that was to follow I was going to make it hard for the AI, so I pushed up and started playing on Attacking mentality. I also made one critical change, i set my fullbacks and my DMC to hard tackling. If a player has the right attributes and low aggression, hes just gonna break someones nuts and if well executed he won’t see red. I also decided to focus on defensive positioning for the next month.
In our next game we snapped our losing streak a 1-1 draw to Reading was quickly followed up by a 0-0 to Blackburn, and then we started to win. A 4-2 win to Ipswich, made me sit up and notice my fullback making a lunging challenge and winning the ball from behind the winger who was running at top speed. I was cocksure I had hit upon the right formula, now it was a matter of tweaking it. I stuck to my attacking stance, home and away. If I was going to go down, I was taking a few of these Messis’ with me.
Chelsea, Arsenal and United followed, and we lost all three matches, but we were prepared for that. Up next, Fulham, we took a 4-1 lead, a freaking 4-1 lead within the first hour, and then they clawed it back to 4-4. It was then that I realized that i was too attacking..time to tweak things..it was from that moment on that Stafford started playing on commentary. All our matches were now on control, pushed up and narrow. I was playing to our strengths, we also changed training : Balanced with Attacking Movement as default, switching only to defensive for tough away games and attacking for home games.
By the January window we had brought in a speedier and stronger AMC as well to join my midfield and another striker who had more finishing and composure. Stafford started hammering sides 4-1, 3-1. We finished the season unbeaten in 10, 8 wins and 2 draws. Our final day summed it all up. A trip to Anfield, they score first, we equalise, they take the lead at the start of the second half and we start pelting them and finally get an equaliser on the 90th minute. Stafford finished in 9th spot on 55 points, when the patch hit I was just planning for 40 to survive, the boys did more than just survive.
Stopping Messi was so easy 😉
I am pretty keen to see how the players are going to do in terms of training and development. I didnt set up the right custom screens at the start of the season. My players generally do Balanced training only, with the focus in key areas of their games. Match preparation is simple..attacking for home, defensive for away.
Nathan Ake is one of my top defenders, in fact hes been with us for a while now. What i have noticed is that since 2 years ago he has seen these increases:
- Concentration, tackling, anticipation,marking, heading and determination +1
- Composure +2
He was trained as a DMC but as of last season his focus is generally on PPMs.
I also plan to keep tabs on these players as well: