Inspired by Iain Macintosh’s journey with Everton on CM01/02, I’ve decided to boot up Football Manager 2017 and take Aston Villa back to the glory days of the 1980s.
It’s been a month since we lost at Wembley. The dust has now settled and I know what needs to be done to redeem myself – nothing but promotion will do. The best managers in the world are able to reflect on their mistakes and adapt accordingly.
So now I’ve had time to reflect on what went wrong and what I need to do to improve things in my second season, I’m ready to go again.
I’ve come to the conclusion that my constant changes to tactics ultimately led to our failure. It doesn’t take a genius to work that one out. My first task in pre-season, then, must be to find a formation that I’m going to stick with for the entire campaign.
Obviously I also need to pay close attention to the squad. I’m expecting a number of players to demand a move away now but we do have several lads returning to the club from loan spells to counteract what could be a bit of a player exodus.
The returning loanees could actually be a life saver for me, too. Tony Xia’s handed me a downright offensive £737k to spend in the summer.
Promotion on a shoestring budget? It can be done, but not without its difficulties. To be fair, though, I spent over £17m of the club’s money in January and we still didn’t go up; that’s another area of management I should consider improving. You know, actually managing.
I do also have some talented looking youngsters waiting in the wings. Promoting a handful of them and giving them some first team game time could see me unearth the next Marcus Rashford or something. If not, at least no one can accuse me of ignoring the youth.
Anyway, unlike previous episode where I talk you through game by game and, more often than not, moan about how rubbish we are, I’m going to play the entire pre-season out and then summarise how it went in a far more shorter description that normal. Then we can crack on with the season.
I’m conscious of the fact that my poor management doesn’t particularly make great reading, hence the decision to water down the details and instead give you guys an easier way to see me crash and burn.
Given the players I have at my disposal, I’ve opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation. Team instructions include; play out of defence, close down more, get stuck in, be more expressive and higher tempo.
Mentality is set to control and team shape is flexible.
The dream is to stick with this approach for an entire season. I know I can’t make the same mistakes as I did last season but what if this turns out to be useless too?
A lot of interest has come in for a several of my first team players. Jordan Amavi asked to leave for Celta Vigo, who soon came in with £9.75m bid, a fee that could eventually rise to £13m. You just can’t turn that sort of money down when you’re in the Championship.
Jordan Ayew also left the club for Hull, who offered me an attractive £9.5m, which could rise to £12.25m with add-ons.
Elsewhere, Ritchie De Laet moved to Bristol City for £1.5m, Jed Steer joined Cardiff for £300k and Mile Jedinak switched to State de Reims for £250k.
Carlos Sanchez, Micah Richards, Aaron Tshibola, Jerrell Sellars, Keinan Davis, Andre Green and Easah Suliman all left on loan.
Leon Osman retired and I released 16 players to help free up some of my wage bill. All in all, 29 players have left the club so far with less than a month left of the window to go.
In terms of signings, so far I’ve been pretty shrewd with my business. Seven players in for a total outlay of £5.75m – that entire fee going on Swansea’s Neil Taylor.
I raided Ajax for the double loan signing of Richairo Zivkovic and Vaclav Cerny while Mohamed Larbi arrived on a free from GFC Ajaccio.
Zeki Fryers, Tiago Ilori and Cuco Martina all arrived on free transfers after being released from their previous clubs.
As we head to in to the opening game of the season against Bristol City, I can’t help but be very pleased with the business done so far.
Perhaps one or two more players will still leave on loan but unless something worthwhile arises, I can’t see myself signing anyone else.
Pre-season went without a hitch, the only defeat coming to Tottenham in Gabby Agbonlahor’s Testimonial.
The good sign is that we’re scoring plenty of goals when using this new tactic and, barring a mental 8-5 win over FC Twente, we’ve been pretty solid defensively.
Take that sort of form in to the Championship season and I think we’ll have no problem in getting promoted. Fingers crossed.
So the first month of fixtures look like this…
Brighton aside, I don’t see many clubs in there that can cause us problems in the opening stages of the campaign.
A decent home draw at home to Forest Green in the EFL Cup gives us the perfect opportunity to start a cup run, but that’s not my priority this season for obvious reasons.
A narrow 2-1 win at Bristol City gets us off to the perfect start, even if the performance was far from perfect.
We had to wait until the first minute of the second half to register our first shot on target, but we soon found ourselves in the lead through Ross McCormack and Rob Holding.
Jamie Paterson gave us a nervy ending but my players held on for the three points, much to my own surprise!
Last season we began with a 4-1 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday. Progress. Weirdly enough, our first Championship win of the season last year came against Bristol City. Consistency, it’s key.
A comprehensive 3-0 win over Forest Green follows, the goals coming from James Chester, Ilori and McCormack. We draw Walsall at home in the third round, which is kind, I feel.
The visit of Brighton was earmarked as the only real test for my players in August and I wasn’t wrong…
A goalless draw is an acceptable result but we did have 18 attempts on goal, which suggests we need to improve in front of the sticks. Do that and we’ll be laughing, or at least I hope so.
We scrape through away at newly promoted Charlton thanks to a late winner from substitute Jonathan Kodjia but the fact we had 21 attempts on goal and only six on target has me worried.
We won’t get promoted by playing like this.
Another game arrives, but it’s the same old story. We beat 10-man Rotherham thanks to a first half Tom Ince goal but it’s another game in which we dominated but failed to make the most of our chances. Ross McCormack’s missed penalty making this result look a lot harder than it was…
I just don’t know what to do here, our failure to comfortably win a football match is beginning to really get on my nerves.
Fixtures are coming in thick and fast and we have to grind out another 1-0 win to progress to the 3rd round of the EFL Cup thanks to Tom Ince’s second consecutive first half winner against Walsall, but I remain unconvinced.
One positive is that we haven’t conceded in all competitions since the opening day of the season but we’ve only scored three league goals in four games.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be so miserable about it, this time last season we were getting smashed 7-0 at home to Huddersfield after all, but for some reason I’m not happy about us winning this way.
We end August with a drab 0-0 draw away at Burton. That’s now six clean sheets in all competitions. At this stage last term we’d conceded 18, so I suppose I have no reason other than to be pleased with how far we’ve come. But I’m not.
I’m going to use the international break to slightly tweak this tactic to improve our attacking threat. I’m not going to make any drastic changes like I used to, just a couple of small ones.
If I don’t then it’ll only be a matter of time before this goes pear shaped. It feels as though we’ve gone from one extreme to the other.
I’ll admit that our results on paper do look rather impressive for once, though…
On a positive note, we go in to the international break in the top six while Birmingham City are rooted to the bottom of the Championship with just one point from their first five games.
Sunderland, Swansea and Middlesbrough (yes, really) have all failed to convince since their relegation from the Premier League and the three promoted sides from League One, MK Dons, Sheffield United and Charlton, already look set for a fight to remain in the second tier.
I now have the international break to find the solution to our shyness in front of goal. I may have to buy another striker as Zivkovic has been atrocious up to now.
That’s the easy way out though, isn’t it?