In the first instalment we looked at the background to my PES-related anxiety and explored the training options. Now the stabilisers are being taken off and it’s time to dive in.
There are various offline options to choose from, the pick of the bunch undoubtedly the Champions League. But we’ll work our way up to that, starting out instead with the basics.
The advantage this format offers is the ability to customise it to your tastes. Here you can choose your preferred competition size, number of legs, card regulations and more. I’ve opted for a 16 team, single leg, straight up knockout tournament with entirely random teams. As before, skill level will be set to regular with injuries activated. Learning from my experience last time out, and despite running out with a comfortable 4-1 victory, I have altered the formation to a 442 to play to my natural inclination to look for runners down the wings.
Our first tie draws us against the might of Buriram United FC. What do you mean, ‘who?’ Why there were Thailand’s triple champions in 2011, lifting the the league, FA Cup and League Cup. Formidable opposition indeed.
We start brightly and are ahead after just a few minutes, Sturridge poking home from close range after good work down the left from Coutinho. The Brazilian magician then turns from provider to scorer, rifling home from the edge of the area with a tidy finish.
Despite the positives I find 442 a little flat and so at half time switch to my favoured 4231 with Firmino dropping back into the AMC slot. The 2nd half through brings pressure from the opposition, our goal peppered with shots as we struggle to make much of an impact going forward. Still, we run out 2-0 winners and its on to the next round and a date with Brazilian side E.C. Vitoria.
Another switch in formation, this time back to the default 433, which brings Emre Can into the team at the expense of Firmino. The FM player in me takes over a little as I start spotting some annoying gaps in my formation, the wide men in particular too high up without compensatory runs from the full backs. Something to think about when we get into the Master League. Still, after a couple cracking goals we notch a 4-0 victory.
The semi-finals bring the Italian side Napoli, surely a more difficult challenge. Again we score early but then Mignolet has to pull off a triple save to keep them out but then Sturridge pounces to make it 2 before half time. With 70 minutes gone we go close but Napoli hit us on the break for 2-1 before quickly hitting an equalizer for 2-2 and it’s into extra time. Both teams have chances but with the extra 30 minutes goalless, we endure the lottery of penalty kicks. Despite my recent skills training, I fail to keep any out whilst missing a couple and it’s a traditional glorious English failure at the semi-final stage as Napoli progress. And indeed they go on to win the competition, thrashing Dutch side FC Groningen 4-1 in the final.
Well the first thing to say is that I had great fun! Okay so I didn’t win and really should have done but so what? Generally speaking my players did what I asked them to, I pulled off the moves I wanted to and I scored a couple of cracking goals. The ebb and flow of the game feels like real football, especially when I went a couple up and could feel the complacency seeping in, only for the opposition to get their tails up and hit back.
One thing I wasn’t sure about was tactics. My experience of playing football video games is that tactics are superficial as individual player attributes take over. Got a nippy striker? Just dink the ball over the top for him to run on to. Got a midfield powerhouse? Surge forward from the middle of the park and unleash a screamer. So when I started faffing around on the tactics screen I wondered if I was getting a bit carried away and going all a bit FM. Indeed at the back of my mind with any tactical decision is the thought – how would this play out in Football Manager?
But why shouldn’t I have fun with the tactics? Sure, it’s not quite the same as FM but it has a real influence on how you play. Perhaps inevitably I find myself drifting towards 4231 (Rafa, you have a lot to answer for!) but whatever, it’s a side of the game that interests me and if it helps with my decision making in another game then all the better.