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The FM17 Aston Villa Project – Episode 8

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.

Previous episodes: Episode One, Episode Two, Episode Three, Episode Four, Episode Five, Episode Six, Episode Seven

It’s a new year, and I’ve taken it upon myself to craft a new me. In the real world, anyway.

In this parallel world, in which I’m the manager of Aston Villa, it’s still December 2016 and life continues to play with my emotions. We enter the final month of the year on a four match unbeaten run in the Championship, but history tells me a run of good form doesn’t mean anything with this bunch of players, a disappointing result is normally just around the corner.

Things seem to be looking up, though – we’re just two points off the play-off spots and my players finally seem to be getting used to our style of play. I thought we’d reached an understanding a couple of months back, but the Reading and Fulham results were sickening. Back to back defeats to end a run of six unbeaten. With the benefit of hindsight, I really don’t have a clue whether they’re getting used to my tactics or if they just choose when to turn up and when not to bother.

The January transfer window opens soon and I plan to bring in some reinforcements. Some players may have to leave in order for me to balance the books, so they’re technically playing for their Villa Park futures now. Not that they seem to care, mind.

On the subject of transfers, Tony Xia gets in touch with some good news. He’s given me a transfer budget of £16m, which I intend to spend wisely – this is Aston Villa, of course.

Another beacon of wise financial dealings, Leeds United are up next in the league. This should be another victory in the bag for us. They’re 20th and have lost five consecutive games in all competitions. Their last league win came midway through October, so we should win.

On paper this team should make fun of Leeds, but for some reason I’m not entirely convinced. I do, however, keep faith in Jordan Ayew, despite the fact he’s not scored for three games. Ross McCormack, though, is on fire right now. I sense he’s desperate to hurt his former club with goals.

At last! A convincing victory at Elland Road finally moves us into the top six. McCormack’s brace set us on our way to another three points and Jack Grealish sealed it all off to ensure we go into the busy festive period as one of the Championship’s form clubs.

McCormack now has six goals and three assists from his last five appearances, which is pretty incredible. It took him a while to decide he wanted to play, but he’s clearly enjoying himself now. I’ll put that down to my incredible man management skills, obviously.

We have 21st placed Wigan up next, who have won just one of their last eight games in all competitions. Another straight forward victory should be on the cards, but first, it’s the draw for the FA Cup third round…

Tasty! Remember how we beat them last time? Of course you do, it was emphatic. I’m a hero because of it. I’m determined to ensure we don’t leave it as late next time.

I’m forced into making three changes for the visit of Wigan. Jordan Amavi and James Chester are both suspended after picking up five yellow cards, while Ross McCormack will be benched because he’s recovering from man flu and doesn’t look too great – I’ll only bring him on if I have to. Elphick, Osman and De Laet come in to replace them.

Somehow we won that, but I won’t complain. It wasn’t the best of performances – Wigan had more chances than us and will be disappointed to have not taken anything from the game. It’s a victory that takes us up to fourth, five points off the automatic promotion spots. Finally it feels as though we’re achieving something.

A trip to Carrow Road is up next and I’ve been able to revert back to what is probably my strongest XI, barring Westwood who is suspended for five yellows now, Leandro Bacuna replaces him.

I knew that would be tough but I didn’t expect us to be outplayed. Norwich deserved the three points and I’m now definitely considering making several signings in January. That’s the disappointing defeat following a good run of form I’m starting to become accustomed to. The amount of yellow cards we’re picking up is beginning to worry me as well. That’s 14 bookings from our last three matches. Vicious bunch, my players.

We’re down to seventh again but it’s still very close up there. Just six points separates 4th and 11th, so there’s still so much to play for. We really need to start pulling away from those around us though, otherwise we’ll be in trouble. How I spend my £16m transfer kitty in January will no doubt decide the second half of our season, so I’ve told my scouts to start looking for worthy additions.

Our next two games are huge: QPR away next, they’re 3rd, and then Burton Albion, just a point and a place below us in the table. Failure to pick up points will leave us with a mountain to climb for automatic promotion, which would be a disaster. I may not even have the chance to spend that £16m if we don’t win these games!

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s men are the bookies’ favourites, but I’m still quietly confident of getting a result. I’m at a stage where I know what my players are capable of, it’s just getting them to do it consistently that seems to be the issue. Hopefully I’ve got them on a good day…

I can accept a point, especially after trailing for most of the game. Jordan Ayew’s goal was wonderful and Jack Grealish should’ve won it for us at the death but he missed from just a couple of yards out.

The trouble is, we’re now 7th and two points adrift of the play-offs. We were fourth just a couple of games ago, which shows just how ruthless this league can be. But it also shows how quickly we can get back on track. We must be beat Burton then, no excuses.

That makes me feel a lot better. Two second half goals secured all three points, including a rare one from James Chester. It wasn’t the best of performances but that’s what makes great teams, right? Winning despite not playing well?

With just one game left in December (another meeting with Leeds) I’m beginning to make some early moves in the transfer market. Aly Cissokho has asked to leave and so I’ve accepted a £925k bid for him from Burnley. But most importantly, Derby accept my £11.5m bid for Tom Ince. Some would say that’s expensive, but they’re willing to sell and I could do with more depth in midfield. £25k-a-week has been offered to him and I’m confident he’ll be a Villan by January 1.

Before that, though, December has to end the same way it started: with victory over Leeds United.

Do that and we’ll go into the New Year in the play-off spots and with a positive goal difference. It’ll set us up nicely for our trip to 18th placed Cardiff on January 2. I’m naming an unchanged XI and tell the lads I expect them to win. No pressure.

Victory. Comfortable, sweet victory. The Villa fans head to the City centre for their New Years Eve celebrations with huge smiles on their faces. Their beloved Villa are back to winning ways and well in the race for promotion.

2017 is a huge year for the club. It must be in the Premier League come August, and it’s down to me to ensure they’re there.

Here’s how we end 2016…

Bring on 2017. And Tom Ince. He’s joining…

<< Click here for Episode Seven | Click here for Episode Nine >>

Article title: The FM17 Aston Villa Project – Episode 8

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