Despite earning the club a hefty €13m in prize money by finishing in 5th place in Bundesliga 2 last season combined with our best efforts to sweet talk Chairman Niall Quinn into parting with some badly need funds for our transfer budget – we start our second season as Greuther Fürth Manager with a measly €2.5m to spend on players – I say measly because we have 5 first team players to replace after Felix Beijmo, Mathias Oliviera, Aaron Connolly and Josh Sargent have all returned to their parent clubs while Julian Green moves on to pastures new at Akhmat in Russia (because why wouldn’t he).
The transfer policy we have in place is that we will only bring in players on loan if we can agree a reasonable future optional transfer fee to sign them permanently should we get promoted or have the finances to do so – the only one of those players we can afford with that budget is Left Back Mathias Olivera (€2.1m optional fee) however I am understandably reluctant to blow all of our budget on a left back with both of our main Striker options having left the club. Connolly and Sargent scored a combined 22 league goals last season, bearing in mind we rotated them in the lone Striker role – if we can somehow manage to get either of them back in on loan then our limited budget will be well spent elsewhere.
Before that though, we continue the Irish revolution in the City of Fürth as we welcome not one but two promising Ireland internationals who both arrive after their contracts were not renewed at West Ham and Man Utd respectively.
Both are likely to be first team contenders, in particular everyone’s favourite FM20 first season free agent Kieran O’Hara who should be a quality signing at this level. Cullen will compete with Seguin and Lozano for our central midfield spots, the latter two were solid as a rock last season.
My biggest concern is in defence. Having lost both our full-backs after their loans ended and with aging Captain Mergim Mavrajhaving turned 34 years old, only Ryan Porteousremains as a guaranteed starter – we have some major gaps to fill.
I’m reluctant to bring in signings who won’t be with us next season either due to the fact that their calibre/transfer fee surpasses our means or that they won’t be good enough for Bundesliga football should we get promoted. Keeping this in mind, we will only bid for or loan in players that we know we could and would take with us permanently if promotion beckons – any loan signings we bring in will have optional future fees agreed that must be below €10m, and as usual no one over the age of 25 will be signed. Sounds easy right?
Our defence is bolstered with three loan signings to fill our vacant RB, LB and CB slots – while there’s another addition to the Kleeblätter Green Army with 24 year old Irish International Ronan Curtis arriving to provide competition for David Raum on the left hand side – suddenly our squad is looking a lot healthier apart from up front. With half our budget spent on Curtis, we have no option but to return to the loan market – as mentioned above, we already know who we want but can we get them both back in?
It’s inevitable what will happen once we kick off Season 2 – one does not simply replace half the team and expect to start winning right from the get go. The influence of morale and squad dynamics in modern day FM are so strong that it’s next to impossible to avoid having to wait a few weeks before the squad starts to gel etc – and that’s exactly what happened. Despite frequent Team Bonding sessions down at the Irish Cottage and the subsequent Community Service Outreach earned (drinking ban now in place), after 10 games we sit in 9th place following a somewhat tumultuous start to our second season.
Now I am as impatient as the next guy when it comes to FM. While I am well aware it takes time and we have a very young squad at our disposal, I can’t help but feel we aren’t creating enough chances or dominating opponents, and while we are picking up wins, most of the time it’s by the narrowest of margins. FM20 has made me very conservative when it comes to how we line up tactically – when managing Newcastle in my last save, I couldn’t ignore the amount of times we leaked goals over the top and allowed speedy wingers in behind by pressing poorly and immaturely – so much so that I completely removed all instructions in terms of pressing & closing down both at team and individual level.
Team & Individual Instructions to prevent balls in behind
For the same reason I carried a similar strategy over into this save however there are some fundamental differences that I haven’t really thought about until now:
1. We are a stronger team in this league than Newcastle are in the Premier League by comparison
2. Most of the teams we play should be inferior to us, whereby we should be the ones putting teams under pressure and dictating the pace of play
3. There are far less “speedy wingers” and quality of passing at this level, therefore there are less killer balls and exploiting at the back
We’ve been setting up to not lose games rather than win them – playing a very balanced, structured, rigid symmetrical tactic and strategy. While it is quite safe and we don’t seem to concede a huge amount of goals, equally we create very few chances and rarely hit more than 10 or 15 shots on goal per game.
Rather than sticking with this tried and tested albeit safe and boring approach – we decide to try something which I’ve rarely if ever implemented in Football Manager in my 25 years of playing these games:
Having grown up with the standard Championship Manager games and traditionally always operating fairly straightforward tactics that are ALWAYS balanced and visually symmetrical (#OCDmuch) – we completely flip our tactic on its head and switch to a Gegenpress style of play in order to grab the game by the balls horns and pressure our opponents with a more offensive mentality so that we can break on the counter more frequently. Last year I wrote a piece about Defensive Midfielders in FM, and one outcome of some analysis on Half Backs is that they are highly effective at covering for attacking full-backs and wing-backs when possession is lost, therefore Seguin is dropped down to the Half Back role from his initial DLP position – this allows us to push George Bello up to Wing Back in order to take advantage of his pace (15) and crossing (13). Deploying Raum in the Inverted Winger role on the left will hopefully also provide cover for Bello on the overlap as well as create space by cutting inside and taking the opposition full-back with him.
On the other side, pushing our right-winger up into the Inside Forward position will hopefully give us another option in the box as it was clear that our lone striker was getting isolated – instead we will now have an Inside Forward, Advanced Forward and of course a Shadow Striker (see my last post for more info) as options in the final third to hopefully provide more attacking outlets, fashion more chances and ultimately get more badly needed shots on goal.
So to summarise – a switch from Control Possession to Gegenpress; from 4-4-1-1 Balanced to 4-1-4-1 Attacking and from zero pressing intensity to full on Jack Charlton style “put ’em under pressure“…this could either be great or about 3 hours of time wasted between setting it up and writing the last 5 paragraphs 😅.
Was there a difference? Definitely. Granted this wasn’t our toughest run of games but in terms of dominating games, creating chances, imposing ourselves on the opposition and ultimately getting more shots on goal we could see a clear improvement based on this new approach (82 shots on goal in last 6 games vs 59 in the previous 6). Pushing Bello up to Wing Back has been immense while moving Hrgota to the Inside Forward position has added an extra level of firepower in the final third as planned. Below is an example of where we can see we our players closing down the opposition successfully from which we launch a counter-attack to actually win us the game on 86 mins – not exactly a tactical masterclass but effective nonetheless when it mattered most. I still find it hard to look at the lack of symmetry in the tactic but if we turn a blind eye then at least one side of it looks balanced :D.
By December and as we enter the winter break (still getting used to that), we find ourselves in joint 3rd place after 18 games played, only 3 points off top and missing the playoff spot by a single goal! A lot of football left to play but hey, we are playing Fürthball now 😎.
Thanks for reading, feel free to share your thoughts and feedback below or let me know if you’ve had success with something similar previously!