05|03 RITORNO: AGAINST ALL ODDS!

seasonFive.episodeThree | Ritorno

I decided against making any purchases during the January window. We are flying high, morale is excellent and the team cohesion couldn’t be better. I didn’t want to rock the boat, despite the board giving me another €9m to spend if I needed it.

I rejected to spend it, let’s hope that decision was the correct one.

THE RESULTS

As always we’ll take a look at our domestic performances first.

Domestic competition | Serie A

We were on the back of a 7 win streak at the end of Andata. Our form had surprised even the most staunch of our supporters. To continue that run was going to be a big ask, especially as we were about to face AC Milan.

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Milan didn’t even put up a fight. In fact, it wasn’t until a lack-lustre performance against Torino that our winning run came to an end. Nothing could stop us. The goals were coming from everywhere, it’s as if the players finally understood what was being asked of them.

We then lost all of our midfielders. In one go…

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The results that followed, under the circumstances, were quite remarkable.

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Leading scorer Escandar saved us from the penalty spot against Pescara, however, we finally lost when we faced Inter Milan in a game that was hard to take for myself and our supporters. Inter scoring the winner on 90+4 minutes after leading the 10 men for most of the game.

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We were toe-to-toe with Juventus at the top of the league and following the defeat of Verona we were level on points at the top of the league, with Champions League football all but secured, barring an absolute collapse of form.

Then we played Lazio.

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I don’t think I’ve recorded a win over Lazio yet. And they beat me again. they’re fast becoming my nemesis! We then struggled to beat Genoa and any hopes of a title race were fading, and fast. Two wins later and we were back to three points behind Juventus with just two games to go. Up next, Juventus.

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We had the better goal difference, but in Italy, positions are sorted by games against. Despite taking a third-minute lead against them at our ground earlier in the season, we lost that one 2-1. We needed to score, and win, if we really had any hopes of winning the title.

But let’s be honest here, I have no thoughts of winning the title right now. It is for Juventus to throw away, not for us to win. We shouldn’t really be in this position in the first place.

And we certainly started like we didn’t deserve to be where we are. My left-back Reece James, with the positional sense of a mole rat, went walking to let Rafael have a clear run in on goal to set up young Thales for the Juventus opener. Things went from bad to worse when he did exactly the same again, only this time Rafael crossed for Matheus Fernandes to score an easy goal.

Notes were made at halftime to find a replacement left-back. But before I could think about that I had to think about how we were going to get back into the game. We hadn’t registered a single shot in 45 minutes. I assertively told the lads that I expected to see a much better showing from them in the second half.

I decided to push up the wing-backs to give them more attacking intent. It was shit or bust. I also told the team to stop pressing their centre-backs. We were being bypassed from their build-up too easily, so wanted to get into position a lot deeper.

We huffed and we puffed, pulling a single goal back, but it wasn’t to be. As the game entered 2 minutes over stoppage time, Juventus got a third to rub salt into the wounds. My wing-backs leaving with a 6.10 and 6.20 rating tells you all you need to know about where our weaknesses are.

And that result handed Juventus the title. We had spent €3.4m this season in contrast to their €102m outlay so, on the whole, we can be extremely proud of where we are.

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To round off proceedings we capitulated to a midtable Sassuolo. A combination of playing too many youth players and a reminder that our defence is still in need of a lot of work over the summer!

Final league table

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So it was Juventus who quite comfortably claimed the league again. I never felt like we were in a title race. We were more chasing a Champions League position as we need the money if we’re to compete with the top teams in Italy.

I want 16 wins, 65 goals and less than 50 conceded. I want automatic qualification to European football.

We set a target of 16 wins, 65 goals scored and no more than 50 goals conceded. By the end of the season, we had won an amazing 24 games, scoring 77 en route to a second-place finish and conceding 45. We wanted European football and we got it!

Domestic competition | Coppa Italia

Screen Shot 2018-03-10 at 12.27.07To add to our fantastic league campaign, we somehow managed to win the Coppa Italia. We were 51-1 to win it at the start of the season and despite those odds, we absolutely deserved to get to the final and win it on the day.

We had a quite remarkable couple of games in the semi-finals, first up a brilliant away performance, where we scored from all three clear-cut chances we created and won the leg 1-3. However, things were not as rosy going into the second leg at home.

We had some tired players as the fixtures piled on top of the injuries and we found ourselves 3-0 down after an hour. We were going out 4-1 on aggregate. I wasn’t too disappointed as we’d done well to get where we were. I made a couple of tactical changes and we managed to pull it back to 4-4 on 80 minutes. Both teams played out the 90 minutes.

In extra time, goals from Billiat and Nketiah sealed the victory for us. We were going to the final!

The final itself was made harder than it should have been. We absolutely dominated Roma from start to finish and I’m still scratching my head, wondering how it was only -1 in the end.

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In the end, we’ve defied all odds in what has been a quite unbelievable season. I cannot believe the effort by the players and this will live long in my memory as one of those seasons where I’ve beaten all of my expectations.

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European Competition | Europa League

Given this is my first season playing in the Europa league, I didn’t really have any expectations. However, it’s fair to say had I thought about what we might achieve, I would never have predicted what happened. As we saw in the previous update, we blew away all before us in the group stages. Spartak Moscow were up in the first knockout round.

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Never in doubt. The first leg we were a little fortunate to come away with the win, as Spartak had the lions share of the possession and shots, but in football, you have to take your chances and we did just that. Our reward was a second-round tie against Feyenoord.

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The first leg was just crazy. To go from winning to losing, to winning again and then snatching the draw I didn’t know what to feel at the end of it. I was just relieved it was over. In the second leg, we were at our best and it was probably our best performance of the season. Everything we touched turned to goals and their strikers struggled to make a breakthrough. The draw for the quarter-final couldn’t have been tougher. Juventus. Bloody Juventus.

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We got hammered at home in the first leg. We were diabolical. It has been like that every time we’ve faced them. I’ve never known which team of ours would turn up. However, the away leg we were fantastic and at one point we were so close to knocking them out, but it wasn’t to be. We went out 6-4 on aggregate, but the prize money will be very useful as we look to build the back office and put firmer foundations in for the club.

For personal rewards, Emmanuel Escandar broke the average rating record, with an average of 8.23 from his 10 appearances. However, he was pipped to the player of the season award by Bernardeschi of Juventus, despite the considerably lower average rating of the latter.

PLAYER STATS

Last season our overreliance on Iemmello was our downfall. When he played bad the team played bad. This season a slight tweak to the system meant we could better share the goal burden. Our leading scorer was attacking midfielder Escandar, who played many of his games from central midfield. Nketiah and Alagna got 16 and 15 respectively, while Iemmello struggled for some game time due to poor form and an inability to adapt to the changes in our system. He might be one we let leave over the summer.

The stars of the show were the wingers, collectively scoring over 30 goals and assisting 46. Praise also has to go to the attacking midfielders, predominately Escandar and young Komes, who each chipped in 32 goals and 21 assists between them.

Defensively, as I said last season we need to improve. I will be looking for reinforcement here. With the added Champions League money I really hope the board take a gamble and free up some funds for us to get some quality in here. Ideally, I think I need a left back, 2 central defenders and possibly a new keeper.

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Next season we will have Serafini and Mijailovic in the central midfield roles, I’ll need to find a left winger to replace the on-loan Larsen, and possibly get Mboula in again if Monaco will let us have him.

Oh, and it’s not important, but I was named Serie A Manager of the Year and Managers’ Manager of the Year…

FINANCIAL RESULTS

Cash in the bank is up yet again this year. We have another round of youth facility upgrades to the tune of €4m.

We’ve had to pay some extortionate wages to keep some key players and bring in some new players to strengthen, but hopefully if we can get a couple of wins in the Champions League, the prize money for that should help us.

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Commercials up again. Champions League football will only improve this further next season.

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UPDATE ON OBJECTIVES

At the five year point, I thought it would be a good time to review where we are against the objectives I created at the start of this journey.

As a little reminder, this is what we set out to achieve. And where I think we are now.

Objectives 2

We got promoted and with that, I’ve had a couple of renewals. We are sustainable and have not once dipped into the red, unlike some of our rivals. Our scouting model is working wonders and uncovering some really good players for the team that have helped us get to where we are in the league right now.

We made the Europa League last season. We’re playing in the Champions League next season, but technically, we’ve not played in it yet. A good amount of progress so far.

PLANS FOR NEXT SEASON

It seems everyone wants a piece of the Champions League money pie. I have players coming to me demanding wage increases from €28k per week to €95k per week. It’s going to be a difficult summer of recruitment, while also keeping the ‘stars’ of the squad happy.

I’m going to struggle to strengthen and keep wages under control, which is understandable I know. If we can get Champions League football again at the end of next season then it’ll be a success in my eyes.

I really hope some of the better youth players can make more of an impact in the side, too.

Until next time, arrivederci.

O.Jensen

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