This is the fifth post in this “We Are United” series with Newcastle United – click here to read from the beginning if you’ve not already done so 👌.
30th January 2021 – In Game 💻
If patience was a Manager attribute in FM, then I would have 0/20.
12 league starts, 9 sub appearances – 1 goal, 2 assists. Joelinton has not produced the goods on Tyneside this season, and surprisingly our “Temur Ketsbaia” replica Valeri Qazaishvili has been the one who has stepped up to the plate and grabbed a few goals in his absence, picking up 5 goals in 11 appearances to add to Alfredo Morelos 8 goals in 23. We spoke a lot about Striker partnerships back in Part 3 and these lads have pushed €40m flop Joelinton to the bench since before Christmas so we decided to offload him and put the £12m cash to much better use – more on that in a bit.
Speaking of cash – our esteemed (well he’s not Mike Ashley) Chairman Mark Blower seems to be in the festive spirit as he offers us the opportunity to revise our initial expectations this season – at the start our only option was aiming to avoid relegation, however it seems we have convinced the board that we are capable of more and as such we are able to increase our transfer budget from £16m to £20m meaning if we do things right, we could have close to £30m to play with this January transfer window….this writer feels a few signings may be impending 👀.
On the topic of signings – Zinho Vanheusden, the man we brought in last summer to be the next Philippe Albert (see Part 1 if you’re wondering why all the 90’s Newcastle references) has been really impressive – the 20 year old has kept Jamal Lascelles out of the squad and alongside Fabian Schar has given us an extra layer of steel and quality in transitioning from defence to attack. Both are Ball Playing Defenders with decent Technique and Passing, and each have also gotten on the scoresheet this season with Vanheusden picking up 2 goals so far in Set Piece situations – can’t wait until we play Man Utd.
When we signed Vanheusden we tipped him to lead the back line for Belgium at the next World Cup – the FM Gods clearly feel the same, don’t they say good things come in threes?
Did I Stutter?
When we last left off, we were just finding form at the end of 2020 following a major tactical revamp towards a more narrow Tiki-Taki style of play – this continued into January where we picked up 4 wins from 7 including wins in both the 3rd and 4th rounds of the FA Cup.
Granted we kept 3 clean sheets but two of them were in the cup and that won’t hold up in court. We have been very erratic and have stuttered our way through a few games not including the trouncing we got at Leicester. Since changing from 3 at the back to a flat back 4 we have conceded twice as many goals, so just as we focused on our attacking contingent in my last post, now it’s time to sort ourselves out defensively and find out where we have gaps and where we can improve.
We want three main things from our defensive players, in particular our central defensive pairing:
Right place at right time – we need intelligent players that don’t get caught out of position; too many goals have been conceded by getting caught behind the opposition striker and leaving Dubravka completely exposed (key attributes: Anticipation, Positioning, Decisions)
Strong in the air – both defensively and offensively, we need to dominate the aerial battles both from opposition goal kicks as well as balls over the top and of course on our own set pieces where we can offer an attacking threat in the air (key attributes: Heading, Jumping Reach, Height)
Can play a bit – our Centre Halves/Defensive Midfield seem to be in posession a lot, and with this vertical Tiki-Taka style they will be essential for us to regain posession and starting subequent counter attacks and build-up play through quality ball distribution (key attributes: Passing, Vision, Technique, First Touch).
Here’s where we stand currently in terms of our defensive backbone:
✔️ No major issues with Tackling, Heading, Marking and Strength, Bravery etc.
❌ Lacking most of the attributes listed above to meet our 3 defensive objectives – poor Vision, Passing, Anticipation, First Touch and Technique.
So – with some additional money available from our revised budget combined with funds raised from the sales of Joelinton, Karl Darlow (Hull) and DwightGayle (Charlton) – all we need to do is find a technically astute defensive player who is tall, intelligent, good with a pass and strong in the air. Easy right?
Ok we haven’t really unearthed a gem here and Ajer is a well-known and unsurprising signing for a club of our stature – however looking at our shortcomings and where we need to improve, he is exactly what we need to fulfil our counter offensive strategy as well as help tighten up and solidify our defensive unit, and for me is an absolute steal at £20.5 million (50% up front).
Now – there are things you love to see and things that define why literally millions of us love this beautiful football simulation game:
Granted we started him in midfield and conceded two against Leeds at home, but on his debut Ajer steps up on 55 minutes and smashes home a 30 yard screamer to bag all three points in front of a packed St. James Park crowd…SCENES!!
As we arrive at the end of the January Transfer Window, I can’t help but be concerned that our only backup Striker is that man Andy Carroll. Fair enough he won us the game away to Salford in the FA Cup Third Round however he definitely doesn’t cut it in this league and with £10m in the bank I decide that we will try to locate a young, English Striker with bags of potential to whom we can give some time from the bench this season. It’s inconceivable to even consider looking for the next Alan Shearer already, however it’s nice to dream….
It takes the full £10 million to convince Fulham to let go of Jay Stansfield, an 18 year old 4 1/2 star Striker from Exeter whose attributes combined with his determined personality make him a potentially electric Striking option in 1 or 2 seasons to come. Already receiving plaudits in real life for his performances for Fulham U18’s, our mission will be to see him develop and succeed quite a bit sooner in our current FM20 universe. Time will tell!
I briefly wondered if maybe my spending has been a bit too extravagent for the club, obviously getting further and further from reality albeit we live in a Mike Ashley-free world at present. My mind was quickly changed however..
Progress or deja-vu?
We set out to achieve an improved defensive record in a month that sees us face Manchester United, ManchesterCity and Chelsea away from home – not forgetting that the latter two have just spent a combined £120m on two players in the transfer window. Nicolo Zaniolo has also just overtaken Neymar as the most valuable player in the game (£99m). Do we stand a chance?
I think we did alright! Aside from conceding three at Man City, we managed two clean sheets, lost to an 88th minute winner by Everton at Man United (confused?) and in the end we took Chelsea close. All in all we are starting to gel and improve tactically and if we are lucky (writer’s note: we aren’t), a late surge of form might just put us in contention for a Top 10 finish.
We approach the end of March at that can only mean one thing – Youth Intake 🔥👀.