FM22 Analytics, tactics and soccernomics
A lot has happened in the last few days in the virtual world of Football Manager.
After taking a step back and realising we’d won only 1 of our last 8 La Liga games it was time for a change.
There’s been highs, there’s been lows…
Going full circle
That’s right, we’d won 1 game from 8 La Liga matches, yet we had hopes of qualifying for the European places! HA! What a fool!
Our 3-4-1-2 formation wasn’t producing the goods, and granted, we’d had some bad injury luck, with most of our starting defence being our for a while, but as I mentioned earlier, we were wanting to qualify for European football so something needed to change.
With 12 games remaining, we were 6 points off the magical 7th place and didn’t have an easy schedule to close out the season. It was time for the comfort of something old and familiar and something new but a bit more high risk.
For our game against Real Betis we reverted to our 3-5-2 which got us promoted but proved a bit toothless in attack in La Liga, which eventually led to a new formation being adopted.
If struggling in games we’d switch to the 3-4-3 where possible. I tried the 3-4-3 before and whilst it was promising in attack, we were easily outnumbered and overpowered in midfield, but hopefully, if we’re chasing a game it can be of use.. . we’d likely be losing anyway!
Our first game in the 3-5-2 was not easy as we travelled to play against Real Betis. After a scrappy first half, which ended 0-0 we went behind soon after the restart after Casas cut in from the right wing and hammered a belter into the far corner. Luckily, this seemed to kick us into action as we then scored 4 goals, through Bueno, Bernardo, Rhomdhane and Fuentes, giving us a 4-1 victory.
With the spring of victory in our step we welcomed Catalan rivals, and main competitors for that last Euro place, Espanyol, to the Felix Farro. Despite dominating the first half we were caught on the break by Wu Lei and found ourselves 1-0 down, before Bernardo equalised with a header from a Felipe Cruz corner. A “RDT” thunderbolt from 25 yards put us behind once more, but another goal from a corner levelled the game up at 2-2. We were still the better team, and if anyone was going to take the win it would be us. That’s how football works… right?? Of course not. Wu Lei, again latched on to a long ball and scored what was to be the winner on 85 minutes.
As if the late, and undeserved loss wasn’t enough, the injury bug hadn’t stopped it seemed. Aldair Fuentes, who filled in admirably in defence and then forced his way into a starting midfield slot, would be out for the next 5 weeks.
We finished off the month with a 2-1 win over Granada, thanks to Ganago and Bustus goals, before losing to Villareal as a Trigueros double gave them a 2-0 win, which was a tough loss as like the Espanyol game, we deserved much more.
Looking at the stats you can see why I was annoyed at the loss to Espanyol, and gutted to lose 0-2 to Villareal
We picked ourselves up after the loss to Villareal and pulled off THREE wins in a row! Admittedly, we were very fortunate against Elche and but fully deserved a very impressive 2-0 win over Atletico Madrid. We then easily despatched 19th placed Tenerife (managed by Fernando Torres). The month ended on a low point though, after a 0-4 demolishing by 1st placed Real Madrid, where Lewandowski scored two goals.
Stats-wise we’re more in line, defensively, with the xGA. Unlike March, where the xGA was 3.75 but we conceded 7.
Things are looking up, however, as thanks to those 3 wins, we’re still right up there with a chance of the European places:
With just four games remaining it’s vital we pick up as many points as possible, and unfortunately we have to hope that Espanyol drop some points. Their run-in is much easier than ours though, as we have to face Real Sociedad, Levante, Barcelona and Sevilla.
Despite Real Sociedad‘s lowly position, they still have some really good players so I knew it would be a tough game but it was imperative we pick up 3 points.
The game was very close, with them edging most of the possession and creating better chances, so midway through the second half my wishes turned to securing a point, rather than claiming all 3. It wasn’t to be though, as in the 80th minute, Arnau Martinez, back from his serious injury, was caught in possession and as a result, they managed to grab the only goal of the game.
Fair play to Sociedad though, I have no idea how they are down near the bottom as they were magnificent. That result could cost us a European place.
OR COULD IT?!?!?
Espanyol only went and lost 3-2 against lowly Cadiz, who are fighting for survival!!! If we pick up a win over our bogey-team Levante, we’d still be in with a chance.
And pick up a win we did!
Thanks to Bustos and Bernardo, we were 2-0 up within 10 minutes and huff and puff as Levante did, they could only pull 1 goal back, despite an ankle injury to Aleix Garcia, putting him out for the rest of the season..
We’d go into the last two games of the 2023/24 season just 1 point behind 7th place.
Unfortunately, those last two games were against Barcelona and Sevilla.
Barca desperately needed a win to get into the Champions League places, and you could tell! They went 0-1 up after 26 minutes through Memphis Depay, and they were playing some beautiful football. We barely got a touch.
When we DID get a touch however, we created a few decent chances on the break but we were like a mouse being toyed with by a lion. With 20 minutes to go I switched to a positive mentality and they bought down their deadly claw with incredible power. Pjanic capitalised on a very dubious penalty call, and then Coutinho and Griezmann both scoring in injury time to notch up a 4-0 win.
All we could do was hope that Espanyol failed to beat Getafe to keep our dreams alive.
Ofcourse, they won 1-0 meaning we wouldn’t be playing European football next season.
We had one remaining game, against Sevilla, where a win or draw would secure the 8th place, and would at least give us an improvement over last seasons 9th.
Despite out best efforts to try to kick the game into some kind of life, the season ended with a 0-0 draw in which neither team really managed to create much, or seemed to care.
Outside the Barcelona game the xG stats look good. If only I can find the key to consistent strikers things would be much different – although I’m sure that’s the same for most teams!
There we have it. Another season completed. Despite the board just wanting us to avoid relegation, my aim was qualifying for Europe. We’ve fallen just short of that but at least our 8th place finish is better than our 9th place from last year!
Here’s the final table:
Congratulations to Real Madrid who’ve clinched the second title in a row, NARROWLY beating Athletic Bilbao, who I always like to see do well. Their 2nd place is even better as they finished 13th last season!
Barcelona improved on last seasons 5th place finish and Real Betis, who finished 4th last year ended up in 11th.
Rather infuriatingly, according to the xG table we should’ve finished in the 7th position we spent the last 3 months chasing. In the reverse of our situation, Athletic Bilbao should have finished 4th, but managed to grab the 2nd spot.
Is progress actually progress?
So we may have finished 1 place higher but are we actually getting better?
Well, let’s start by looking at the formation. For the last 3 months we reverted back to our 3-5-2 and we can compare the results from our 12 games in that, against the last 12 in the 3-4-1-2:
The 3-5-2 is clearly better, and if not for conceding 8 goals against Real Madrid and Barcelona we’d have been much nearer our xGA.
So, that’s the formations compared but what about the rest of our performance over the whole season. Well, luckily I’m a numbers geek who keeps tabs of this stuff…
We’ve finished 1 place higher, but managed to get 1 point less. And it’s easy to see why… we drew 5 games more. Hopefully, a bit of luck and managing to turn a few of those draws into wins can be the difference between 8th place and a European qualification spot.
When it comes to our attacking stats things are looking rosy. Our cross completion was lower but we didn’t really have an aerial threat – something I want to address for next season – and we just averaged less shots each game.
Defensively, the story is more of a mixed back, however, we have to take into account that this season we mostly played with an AMC, rather than a DMC, so it’s understandable we’d not be as tight at the back.
The free agency market wasn’t particularly good. The players we had interest in we’re interested in signing for us as they had bigger teams after them, and there was a couple who would come but wanted way too much money.
Outlook for next season
Well….let’s start with the positives.
Our home, the Felix Farro Arena, is being expanded, which will mean more revenue in the long-term:
We’re also getting an upgrade to our training facilities:
Now for the not so good….
Remember last season when I signed Calvin Stengs from OGC Nice? Well, after adjusting the budgets I managed to get a transfer kitty of over £8m…. but as we needed improvements other Stengs, I took him on loan with a mandatory fee at the end of the season of £8.5m? This loan deal meant I could spend money elsewhere, which I did on Ganago and Rhomdhane, amongst others.
I did this full of optimism that A) we could hopefully secure European football and as a result would get a handsome transfer budget… and B) that because I was managing the finances well, we’d hopefully get a handsome transfer budget…
Well… the end of the season is now here which means I have to pay £8.5 million for Stengs….
A transfer budget of £5.78m….which doesn’t cover Stengs… and even if I can tinker to get it to £8.5m, doesn’t leave anything to upgrade anywhere else.
I’m really hoping that £5.78m already accounts for the Stengs money…
Quite the predicament.
Next time: Squad analysis as we decide who we have to keep and who may be surplus to requirements and might raise us some funds. We’ll also look at the youngsters to see who can come in and add depth to the squad or might even be challenging for a starting spot.