SeasonTwo.EpisodeOne | Pré-saison
After the massive overachievement last season, reaching the Champions League third qualifying rounds, this season is likely to be a bit of a disappointment comparatively. Moreover, with France slipping in the coefficients table, the 6th placed team no longer gets Europa League football, making achieving our minimum objectives even harder.
June 2020 – August 2020
Now that title might be a bit click-bait, I assure you the board takeover wasn’t that exciting, a consortium who aren’t putting any money into the club. They did, however, decide to sign a couple of players on my behalf. To say I’m pissed off is an understatement. My transfer plans were on hold under an embargo all summer and when I could finally sign players, the board did it for me, using up all my funds in the process.
THE TRANSFER WINDOW
After a whole season of planning transfer purchases, the board took those decisions out of my hands and spent €34M in the process. Fortunately, I managed to get a couple of signings in, agreed before the embargo.
I’ll start with my transfers and then show you the two players bought for me.
IN | Anthony Rouault | €2.8M from Toulouse
I like the look of Rouault and after my scouts gave him a glowing recommendation I decided to see if we could get him. To my surprise, we got him for a good price, although my Director of Football loaned him back as part of the deal. Probably not a bad thing as he’s not quite ready for our first team yet, anyway.
For a 19-year-old he has good heading, marking, positioning and decisions. With his concentration being good, too, he can be a real strong defender if he develops well. He’s also great in the air.
IN | Jesús Vallejo | on loan from Real Madrid
I got in Vallejo to cover for injuries since our transfer budget was wiped out by the board’s signings. He’s a good player and will offer good cover for us should we get any injuries in defence.
IN | Exequiel Palacios | €7.75M from River
When my scouts told me that Palacios would be interested in a move to Roazhon Park and that we could probably do a deal for around €8M it was a no-brainer to go in for him. A lot of fans will be aware of this player already, I have high hopes for him.
IN | Amine Gouiri | on loan from Lyon
Gouiri is a player I wanted to sign permanently, however, Lyon valued him much higher than I could afford. However, they were kind enough to let me sign him on loan for the season.
IN | Julián Álvarez | €2.1M from River
Another player to sign from River, Álvarez is someone I didn’t want to sign this season, but given other clubs began to circle I decided to pull the trigger now. I’m not sure what sort of game time he will get this season. I will see how he does in the preseason and go from there.
He has great agility, flair and a nice first touch. At the moment he’s comfortable as an Advanced Forward and will play there, but he could make a good playmaker.
And now for the board transfers.
IN | Michael Koumamé | €17M from Genoa
Okay, the reason I’m so pissed at this transfers is that I needed a left-winger, I think that was clear from last season, but rather than buy me a left-winger who plays in the ML position, I get an AML inverted winger. He’s right-footed, cannot play in the ML strata, so this season probably pretty useless for me.
I either play him as a striker or force him into the left-wing position. I’ll make a decision on that when I’ve seen him play. When I compare him with my current left-winger, James Lea Siliki, he isn’t really much of an upgrade.
Still, he’s a Rennais player now, so I will do my best with him over the season and judge him at the end of it.
IN | Jérôme Onguéné | €16.75M from FC Red Bull Salzburg
Okay, Onguéné is a signing I am happy with. He’s tall, strong, and has all the right mental and physical attributes to be a very good centre-back for us. Interestingly, it was his partner, Pongracic, who I had identified at the start of the window, who statistically outperformed him
I am delighted with this transfer, however, so well done board. You did good and almost made up for the previous transfer.
Now for the departures.
OUT | Flavien Tait | €€2.8M to Genoa
Flavien and I fell out very early in our relationship. He didn’t really seem to make an effort in training and on the pitch his performances were disappointing, so this isn’t a loss for me. The only downside is that he came in for €10M last season so quite a hit to take financially.
Youth player promotions
Georginio Rutter | 18 years old | Striker
This might be a little too early, but I’ve decided to bring Georginio Rutter into the first-team squad. He’ll likely play a lot of games for the second side, but I want him around the team and perhaps make an appearance off the bench in some cup games.
At the end of last season, I noted that we needed to be more defensively solid. We were a little too passive in the defensive sense and we’re dreadful at dealing with crosses. Most of our goals conceded are from crosses into the box and tall, strong attackers getting the better of my defenders.
The signing of Jérôme Onguéné should help in that regard. He won 80% of his headers last season, and when you compare that with Damien Da Silva and Jérémy Gélin who won 63% and 67% respectively, you can see why we struggled in the air.
Sticking with the 4-4-2 which suits us in this league, I’ve made a couple of changes to the roles and instructions, which I hope will help secure the central areas of the pitch better, and potentially help deal with the source of our issues, crosses.
We will continue using a cautious mentality. I don’t like the description of this too much as I feel it puts an emphasis on only being useful for an underdog.
This mentality is best employed for matches in which you expect to lose the battle for possession but feel you can break with some regularity.
It aims to keep men behind the ball when defending but to provide quick support to attacking players when the ball is in the final third. It relies on getting the ball forward quickly enough to expose the spaces behind aggressive full-backs and wingers, with players tending to stay deeper and maintain defensive shape if the break looks like coming to nothing.
When playing with less risk, it’s not because we are considered underdogs, it is for me at least, because we want to better control the match with a more calm and considered approach.
In my first season, I noted that most teams play a 4-2-3-1 here, so they have high wingers with spaces to exploit on the counter. Perfect for us as we have some good, technical wingers who can cause damage.
Out of possession
In order to help us control the central areas of the pitch better, we defend narrower. I know this is counter-intuitive if we want to prevent crosses as it concedes space on the flanks but bear with me.
When teams have the ball out wide, generally I will set my wingers on those players with the aim of making them cut inside or go back to a full-back behind using opposition instructions. If they manage to get the ball in, then we should be heavily packed to prevent strikers from getting space.
Something akin to this. Rather than having my full-backs out wide, I want my wingers to provide that defensive cover and the defence to sit relatively deep and narrow.
To make sure we have players behind the ball defending, we have a lower line of engagement, in conjunction with a standard defensive line (which will be deeper due to our mentality). This should stop my midfielders from pushing high up and trying to take the ball from the defenders and improve vertical compactness, i.e., making us more compact.
Again, to prevent strikers from getting free in the box we use tighter marking. I’m not normally a fan of this as it can pull players out of position if the opposition has players with good movement off the ball, however, I feel it’ll make it harder for players to get free in the box.
Finally, we will get stuck in when tackling. I want our players to be up for the fight and win the ball back with some urgency when players enter their zone. I felt we were a little too passive last season and players would sometimes get the better of us. I hope that this will improve the rate and success of our tackles.
This is a great read on the basic principals of defending. Often, I think it’s one of those things where people just select counter-press, counter, high line, high line of engagement and a mental level of pressing intensity without any real consideration for the ramifications of the instructions. I’d recommend this read to reset the thinking process.
Basic principles of defending:
There are two types of transition in-game; when the ball has been lost and when the ball has been won. The former being attacking to defending transition, the latter defending to attacking.
When we lose possession we regroup. I know this is probably an alien concept to most, because who does that in 2020!? However, I don’t want the opposition to be able to attack us when we’re out of our defensive shape. Counter pressing instructs the players to win the ball back as soon as it has been lost, at the detriment to your teams’ shape. When you regroup you get back into your shape to avoid being caught out on the counter.
A byproduct of this, I hope, is that we won’t get caught out by balls over the top as much, because my team will be back into position in a low block ready to defend.
When we win possession we then counter.
When Eduardo Mendy, my goalkeeper has the ball, he’s instructed to distribute to centre backs and distribute to full-backs as well as take short kicks.
I want to try to encourage play through the middle of the pitch more, without using the instruction to focus play through the middle, as this has other implications in terms of players individual mentality. With this in mind, we play with a narrow attacking width.
I try to keep things simpler in attack and let the players do their thing so the only other instructions I use are to pass into space in a hope that we will create more through ball opportunities and hit early crosses as to try to catch out the opposition when we win the ball back in wide positions.
On the pitch, we line up like this.
The only thing to do now was to test it out…
PRESEASON 2020 RESULTS
I won’t dive too deep into the results of the preseason as I try to take them with a pinch of salt, however, it was immediately obvious that some of the defensive changes we made were paying dividends. The goals that we conceded were primarily from set-pieces and mistakes, but considering the rotation to get players fit, I’m not concerned by that.
I could see the tactical changes taking shape and working as planned. I introduced some player instructions to give the tactic some variation and a set of opposition instructions to further refine the system and it is one I’m happy to go into the season with.
Well, that was a bit better than last season.
Angers and Brest are teams we would expect to beat, and we did quite comfortably while not really being challenged. Saint-Etíenne is probably the best I’ve seen us play. We were outstanding.
Nantes were a different story, and despite being second from bottom with 4 losses in 4, they gave us the most trouble. We were very lucky to come away with a win, considering we were outplayed for most of the match.
Unfortunately, we also lost new signing Jérôme Onguéné for a month with a foot injury.
We have looked so different from the team that started last season. I know this isn’t a fair representation of where we are at right now, and the target is still very much Europa League qualification, but we can enjoy it for now.
A great start to my second season, and one that will be made tougher with our participation in the Champions League. Oh, did I not mention the draw?
Barcelona, FC Bayern, and Inter Milan.
And on that note…
As always, you can get in touch with me in the comments below, via twitter @fmfutbolmanager, or my slack channel #fmFutbolManager — if you’re not a part of the Football Manager Slack community, then you can join here!
Until next time, à tout à l’heure.