After our opening 5 league games during which record signing Ferran Torres was literally on fire nabbing 4 goals and 3 assists, it’s safe to say life for the Kleeblätter faithful started like this as we commenced our fourth season at the helm of Greuther Fürth and our second in the Bundesliga:
What followed over the next 15 games or so unfortunately resembled something more like this:
Despite Torres exploding on the scene, everyone else in particular our Strikers Josh Sargent and Noel Bilic decide that the 2 month winter break caused by the 2022 Qatar World Cup (sigh) isn’t enough and they basically go missing for 3 months either side of it – neither of them scoring throughout the whole of September through to January leaving us in 12th place after 20 games played (I don’t even want to talk about going 64 days without a competitive fixture – cheers FIFA).
While neither Sargent or Bilic have ever been prolific and our tactical setup means we only play one out-and-out striker at a time, something surely is afoot here if our first choice striker can manage to go 15 hours (yes that’s more than 10 games) without scoring while his understudy similarly failed to deliver a goal in 4 starts and 8 substitute appearances.
Again – I’m happy with our formation and tactical setup, however for whatever reason we just aren’t getting the right supply to our Striker, or else it’s a case that he is not getting in the right positions to create goal-scoring opportunities for himself. Either way, something has to change and where else does an FM blogger go for inspiration but to consult his real life football management acquaintances by taking a look at what some other creators have experienced in this year’s edition of the greatest game in the world (Writer’s note: what? it is).
As we were going through this particularly unspectacular run, I spotted @FM_Samo release a post from his Eibar save whereby similarly he had a Striker going through a dry spell (28 games if you don’t mind) even though in his situation the team were still playing well and scoring at will finishing as 4th top scorers in the division. What I liked about this post is how he looks at what he wants from the lone striker role and assesses whether or not his striker (in this case Eddie Nketiah) is good enough to play that role versus some of the other options he has. In our case – we have been playing Sargent/Bilic in the Advanced Forward role whereby we want them playing on the shoulder of the last man, getting into the box and putting pressure on our opponent’s back four, however because of this it appears too easy for their two centre-backs to nullify the threat and effectively eradicate how much influence they can have on the game by marking or cutting out balls into feet. This coupled with our short passing play meant that our striker has become one of the least influential players on the pitch when in fact the opposite should be true.
I’m convinced both are good enough both for the level as well as for the system/role being implemented – even though they are distinctly different types of player, both have more than enough when it comes to Off the Ball, Work Rate, Acceleration, Touch, Technique etc so for a rare occasion I’m going to suck it up and admit to myself that IT’S YOUR TACTICS MATE in terms of why these guys aren’t scoring, and it’s up to us to fix it.
As I thought more about how we can tweak and change this without completely shaking up our tactic, @FMGrasshopper released a timely piece via Football Manager’s The Byline (where yours truly has also contributed two Wednesday Wisdom articles) wherein he wrote about getting more from your Strikers in particular via Attacking Movement and specific player instructions for the Advanced Forward role. As I read his thoughts on playing the AF alongside an Inverted Winger and Attacking Winger (similar enough to our own system), a couple of points stood out in terms of movement and supply for the lone striker in particular the following:
focusing on having the Advanced Forward run into space and try to break away from / through the opponents back line
implementing a more direct passing approach to capitalise on movement and attacking runs from our Striker
leveraging the Goalkeeper to get more involved and initiate attacks by distributing the ball over the opposition’s defence
I decided to try some of these by tweaking our team and player instructions to emphasise and facilitate all of the above – adding the “Roam from Position” instruction for the Advanced Forward, instructing Kieran O’Hara in goal to continuously look to distribute long balls over the top and intermittently switching to a Direct Passing Style in games where we felt we could stretch our opposition, create space and therefore lead to more clear cut chances for our Striker in match situations. The result?
While our results are good without being great, we see a marked improvement whereby Sargent and Bilic manage to bag 5 goals between them in 7 appearances, which is pretty decent considering both are rarely if ever on the field at the same time. The increased movement means that our “Pass into Space” strategy that we have always had seems to include the striker a lot more often than before, thus getting them on the ball far more frequently and creating goal scoring chances. Similarly, the pace of Bilic means that the additional balls over the top and direct passes into space are more effective as he has the speed to beat most defenders in this division. Have we perhaps turned a corner at exactly the right time with 7 games still to play?
**INSERT ANNUAL DISAPPOINTMENT UPDATE HERE RE: YOUTH INTAKE**
We aren’t chasing a Golden Generation, heck (heck?) we aren’t even that desperate to produce a wonderkid at this stage even though we have made huge improvements to our youth facilities and recruitment over the past 4 seasons (excellent and good respectively) – all we aspire to achieve is to produce an Irish newgen of reasonable potential at the Kleeblätter Youth Academy, and following last year’s affiliation agreement with Shamrock Rovers one has to feel like this could be our year in terms of fulfilling this objective:
Wheel of Fürtune
Three of our next five games went very well; two of them did not.
So tight is this league that those two defeats put us back to 10th position with two games remaining although incredibly we are only 3 points away from Mainz in 5th place – in the meantime, Leverkusen managed to leapfrog RBL to win the league and Bayern are languishing in our way in 8th position. Is it me or is the Bundesliga just flat out bananas?!!
They say fortune favours the bold – a draw in our penultimate game vs Wolfsburg means we have it all to do on our last day. To have any hopes at European qualification, the following need to happen on the last day of the season:
We need to beat already relegated Union Berlin at Home
Hamburg, Schalke and Mainz need to lose to Wolfsburg (H), RBL (A) and Leverkusen (A) respectively.
WE F*CKING BOTTLED IT. With all three of our nearest competition losing, we couldn’t break down the team with the worst defence in the whole league and a 0-0 finish is enough to earn/condemn us to an 8th place finish – exactly the same as last year albeit with one point less, leaving us at the point whether we are wondering if we have done well to climb from 12th to 8th or if we should be disappointed at missing out on Europe.
Let’s go with the first one shall we? All in all for a team with the least financial muscle in the league who are operating under fairly rigid constraints (e.g. half of Fürth is now Irish), it’s safe to say we have cemented our place in the Bundesliga and surely things can only get better from here. With recent announcements from Sports Interactive eluding to the fact that FM21 might be later than normal this year, this save will continue until we either rise to the top of German football, or finally produce an Irish Newgen that we can hopefully develop towards the first team – either way, we are having good craic in Fürth and on we go to Season Five – stay tuned!