This is the seventh post in this “We Are United” series with Newcastle United – click here to read from the beginning if you’ve not already done so 👌.
If I were to choose an appropriate song to describe the following post that ensues, it would most likely be “We Used to be Friends” by Dandy Warhols.
We started the 2021/2022 season with a narrow 1-0 defeat against League Champions Liverpool, I say narrow because of the scoreline and not based on their 41 shots on goal versus our single attempt (which wasn’t even on target). Newcastle fans are feeling optimistic about this season – signings like PatrickSchick, GiovanniReyna, MaxAarons and SebastianoEsposito echo years gone by on Tyneside, scenes that haven’t been seen since the Entertainer days of the Kevin Keegan era.
The season started brilliantly. 4 wins, 1 draw and 1 defeat leave us flying high in 6th place after 7 games, the highlight being a comeback from 2-1 down to beat Brighton 5-2 in front of a packed St. James Park. New signings Esposito, Schick, Reyna and Aarons all get off the mark and suddenly Toon fans are dreaming of Champions League football (Writer’s note: it’s only October lads).
Now I know what you’re thinking – meh, nothing special about this save. Plenty of cash for signings, FM wonderkids, game is too easy – I probably would have agreed with you…
We picked up a win against Norwich in October, before a 6-1 battering at the hands of Antonio Conte’s ManchesterCity sets of a chain reaction of outstandingly mediocre to poor performances from literally every player on the field. The goals dry up, we concede 9 goals in two games and all of a sudden we are the Premier League whipping boys dropping from 6th in October to 13th place by the end of December. Christmas at the MaddFM household is a sombre one, with The Chronicle, NewcastleHerald and NewcastleEcho all calling for the the Manager to be fired before we enter 2022…sacked at Christmas ring any bells? (Christmas pun fully intended)
Chairman Blower (loving that name) must read the papers as we are summoned into a Board Meeting to discuss the team’s current performance. We sit outside the board room considering our options….the reality is we have completely new team with an average age of just 23; we are playing a tactic that means we play pristine tiki-taka football, but are still refining it as it’s producing very little end product; our top scorer is only 18 years old and is torn between becoming a Toon legend and hitting the clubs with Gavin Harris; and finally, the amount of mistakes we have made (writer’s note: it’s your tactics mate) have resulted in us missing chance after chance and conceding the most ridiculous goals the Premier League has ever seen. Will they buy my bullshit?
So, for the second time in two seasons we narrowly avoid losing our job..there can not be a third. It’s time to shake things up (again) to inject some life into this team.
New Year, New Us?
First things first – we are leaking goals…big time….defensively I still feel we have a solid back 4 in Max Aarons, Kristoffer Ajer, Zinho Vanheusden and Aaron Martín, while Ismael Bennacer has a 90% Tackles Won ratio playing in the Ball Winning Midfielder role. What can we change?
I’ve heard Doop repeatedly say on the 5* Pod about “not being a great scorer of goals, but a scorer of great goals” and I think a similar logic applies to Martin Dubravka in this save. The Czech stopper makes some outrageous saves in FM, but he just doesn’t make enough of them – conceding frequently in 1v1 situations and particularly struggling with long shots from outside the box. If you rewind back to the beginning of this save, one of our missions was to sign the next Shay Given and we did exactly that – after spending the first half of the season on loan at Blackpool, we recall GavinBazunu back to Tyneside and even though he is still only 18 years old, it’s time to take a gamble on him in the biggest league in the world.
2. Defensive Approach
Having grown up in an era whereby Jack Charlton’s “Put ’em under pressure” philosophy was legendary among Irish football fans, I’ve always emphasised a “More Urgent” Pressing Intensity whereby we are always looking to press our opponents, close them down aggressively and as Jack would say “Put ’em under pressure” for 90 mins in the hope that we can break down their rhythm and regain possession or commence a counter attack.
This doesn’t work in FM..
I have found that any attempt by my defenders to close a player down means they leave acres of space behind them, and I have conceded countless goals due to balls over the top and/or opposition wingers getting in behind my full backs. Take the example below where our Left Back Aaron Martin gets caught out not once but twice wherein he has pressed too urgently (and pathetically) and allowed Man City’s wide players (Walker and Bernardo Silva) to capitalise on the resulting space left behind him:
I realised that although I had set my defenders to play a low line to try and prevent balls over the top, I had both the team’s and my individual defenders pressing intensity set to more urgent so that’s the first thing we change in order to maintain a lower line, absorb pressure once they arrive in the final third and eradicate the amount of goals conceded behind the defensive line.
3. Defensive Coach
Who knows how effective coaches are in FM – we all spend hours building the best backroom staff possible every year, however at times I am not always convinced on how much of a difference it makes! Either way, it makes me feel better to know that we have a strong defensive coach in our ranks, and that’s exactly what we went for:
4. Bad Juju
With the likes of Vanheusden, Ajer and Schar in the squad, there hasn’t been much room for Jamal Lascelles to feature despite still being Club Captain and actually having decent defensive attributes. Unfortunately the result of this is that he has become quite discontent at not getting any game time, and had a fantastic tantrum after we turned down a £4.7m bid from Crystal Palace for his services – so much so that he managed to temporarily turn the whole dressing room against me due to the fact that he is the most influential player in the squad. In the end we settled for a £5.75m bid from Zurich and we say goodbye in the hope that we can restore some morale and positive atmosphere in the dressing room.
5. Tactic Switch
For the third time in this series, we are going to do a tactic overhaul. After starting with a 5-3-2 WB formation before reverting to a 4-3-1-2 Narrow (both of which brought some decent football into the team) – I finally accept that the two-striker formation (see Post #3 for more info) simply hasn’t been effective for us and in 20 games our three Strikers (Schick, Esposito and Morelos) have managed just 12 goals between them. I am at the point where a jersey is being wasted on a second striker due to the lack of impact, so to shake things up we switch to a 4-4-1-1 bringing the likes of Allan Saint–Maximin and ChristianBenevente back in the side to make more use of space out wide as well as provide support due to our low lying full-backs. I am keen to retain Giovanni Reyna in the Shadow Striker role between midfield and attack, therefore we sacrifice a Striker spot to facilitate it:
We now move on to the million dollar question….will all of these changes make any difference in helping us keep our job or has the proverbial horse bolted already? 🐴
ABOUT F*CKING TIME LADS!! We finally end the worst streak in the club’s history in a 3-1 home win against Leeds, and suddenly there is a spark of hope beginning to ignite at St. James Park. After scraping a 1-0 against Vanarama side Woking in the FA Cup Third Round, we have back to back wins and Manager MaddFM challenges his side to kick on and turn the season around. Does this young team have what it takes?
Unbeaten! 5 wins and 2 draws in January, and out of nowhere we look like a quality side – we concede late to draw with Man United before putting in our best performance of the season against Chelsea in the FA Cup 4th round where we batter them 4-1 at home. I would have said this result was the highlight of the month and of this remarkable turnaround, however..
We finish January in 11th place in the league, and with 13 games left to play we might just have an outside chance of getting European football next season. Whatever happens, for the first time this season – WE ARE UNITED.
Thanks for reading, feel free to share thoughts or comments below and be sure to check out WeStreamFM.com for more great blogs and FM content!