Wow, I actually made it!
In a gaming history littered with rage quits and petty restarts, I managed to get through the entirety of a first season without once switching off.
Yay for me but how did we get on? Well after our ten game winning start to the season, we ended up losing 9 times overall but finishing in a very respectable 3rd place behind the two Manchester clubs. City ran away with it in the end, racking up 26 wins and 86 points. Our tally of 24 wins and 77 points seems a little meagre by comparison but I take heart from the fact that we were comfortably the division’s top scorers and but for some inconsistent performances here and there could have ended with so much more.
Still, we have qualified for the Champions League, nudging out Arsenal and Spurs in the process whilst at the other end Everton clung on by the finger nails, finishing in 17th place, just a single point ahead of West Brom.
Some surprising performances this year but my stand out player has been Sadio Mane. Whilst there were occasional games where he went missing or ran down a blind alley, his tally of 15 goals and 12 assists is a mighty contribution, granting him an impressive average rating of 7.49.
A close second was Coutinho. Unlike Mane, who positioned himself firmly in the AMR slot, Coutinho found himself moved around a little as I tried to figure out his best role and position. His return of 14 goals and 5 assists for an average rating of 7.44 is therefore commendable but I’ll be looking to maximise his influence next season.
Our main goal threat was, unsurprisingly, Daniel Sturridge although on 17 strikes (and 4 assists) it is clear that our goals were well spread. Indeed Divock Origi was largely utilised as back up but still managed 13 in just 10 starts.
A couple of players really stepped up though. He started as a sub but by the end of the season Wijnaldum had forced his way into a starting berth, contributing 9 goals and a whopping 12 assists. Jordan Henderson too led by example, excelling in a box to box role. Further back, my man Alberto Moreno was a defensive stalwart, not only contributing 8 assists but racking up a rating of 7.30. The rebuffed offers of £25m from Aresnal and PSG were more than justified.
On the other hand, Lallana was a disappointment, as was Firmino, both contributing goals but neither offering consistently high performances. Oh and James Milner must never be allowed near a penalty spot again after missing two in our goalless draw with United.
After starting with 4231, mid season we made a successful transition to 4123 (or 433) and I intend to stick with it. I think it brings out the best in a number of players, notably Can in the DMC strata and Coutinho at AML. It also allows greater control of the midfield and some freedom of movement.
It does of course place more a strain on the striker and Sturridge, whilst a regular scorer, is not ideally suited to being a lone forward. I tried both Origi and Firmino there, both naturals, but neither really grasped the role and so I felt it important to try and make some changes for the new season.
With Iker Muniain already agreed, providing some competition and options from AML, I was pleased to tie up the signing of Alexander Lacazette from Lyon for £36m. At 25 he is a good age and has a great scoring record in France. Most importantly though his physical and technical attributes appear perfect for a supporting complete forward role and I hope he is the missing piece in my tactical jigsaw.
Other offers have been made and deals tentatively agreed but will now need to wait until the new season budgets come through. Dele Alli agreed a £65m switch but I ran out of funds. To be honest I probably don’t need him given the form of Wijnaldum, Coutinho and Henderson but he is undoubtedly a great talent and also English, which may become important as quotas kick in.
Sticking with Spurs I had hoped to bring in Harry Kane, another natural in the lone forward role, but I’ll settle for Lacazette. My attention now turns to a goalie; Mignolet has been steady if unspectacular whilst Karious has been prone to blunder and may benefit from a loan. Joe Hart might be a solid option if he’s interested. Potential signings still cite our defence as needing improvement but between Sakho, Lovren, Matip and Klavan, I feel well stocked at centre back with none of the 4 letting me down.
At full back I probably need cover for Moreno but at right back I feel well served by both Clyne and Alexander-Arnold. I’m also conscious of the number of players out on loan with Joe Gomez in particular a great prospect across the back line.
Elsewhere, I’m interested to see if Markovic has anything to offer when he comes back from loan as he may be a good alternative to Mane. A couple of other youngsters caught the eye on loan too, notably Brooks Lennon and Lloyd Jones. In my youth team meanwhile, Ben Woodburn looks like a star but a few of the other lads are worth keeping an eye on.
Finally I took the opportunity to renew Coutinho’s contract to try and see off the interest from Barcelona. Firmino has disappointed but the game seems to rate him so I renewed his too, if nothing else ensuring that I’ll get a healthy fee if I opt to move him on.
With Champions League football secured, my immediate target has to be silverware. The title is of course the number one priority but another top 4 finish, competitive in the league and a cup would represent a good follow up.
* After struggling to connect early on I soon found myself become worryingly obsessive about the game. The PS4 sits temptingly in front of me but despite my brother’s repeated requests to go online with PES, not to mention a burgeoning stack of games to play, I kept coming back to FM. I just had to finish the season and see where things lay before I felt I could move on. At the same time, I feel a sense of guilt at not playing with my new toy, not to mention the retro game reviews that are outstanding, the books I haven’t read, the magazine propped up against the toilet, etc.
* After smashing Chelsea 4-1 we drop 3 points to Spurs. With just 3 games left, including one each against Man City and Man Utd, I convince myself that I am going to lose all 3, drop out of the Champions League places, throw a hissy fit, rage quit and have wasted everyone’s time with this blog. In the end we dispatched Burnley 2-0 before a tight draw with United and a thumping off the champions to finish 6 points clear of fourth. Yep, that will be all or nothing, black and white, catastrohising negative thinking right there.
* Transfers are a constant source of anxiety. I received a couple of pretty good bids in the season for both Moreno and Lovren. I ultimately rebuffed both, which I think was the right decision, but there is an underlying insecurity. I have this fear of undermining and weakening my team, or selling someone I really should have kept, to the extent that I don’t want to sel anyone ever, just in case. At the other end of the business spectrum, I worry about brining people in. Did I pay too much? Is he any good? Where will I play him? What about the guy already playing, what happens to him? What about the youth player who can also play there, am I now blocking his route? Should I have signed someone in a different position? Oh no, I’ve wasted my money, this is a disaster, how can I unwind it…and so on. It can become crippling to the point that, as much as I feel this pressure that I should sign somebody, this is counter balanced by a worry that if I do I’ll get it wrong.
Even when I did get two signings over the line, I took to Google to see what other people thought of them. I couldn’t just allow my decision to stand or fall on its own merits, I had to seek external validation, approval if you like, for my decision. It speaks to my ongoing battle for self confidence and belief, talking myself down from the position that says other people always know better because they’re not me.
* Overall though I take mainly positives away from my first season. I demonstrated flexibility, switching my tactics mid season rather than becoming stuck in an obsessive pattern, not afraid to try new roles and duties. Despite my misgivings, I made some signings and feel like I can now start to shape the team in my own image, rather than just feel like I am pretending to be Jurgen Klopp. And finally I had the wherewithal to step away at important moments, to not allow FM to totally define my leisure time but rather to be an important, enjoyable aspect of it.
Season 2, here we come! After a couple of days away.