Welcome back! After a rough start, the team and the performances stabilised during the first half of the season. If you missed it, you could read about it here.
It very early became clear that we needed to strengthen the squad in several areas to compete with top dogs. Especially in defence, to play with three at the back. Anel Ahmedhodžić was signed from Malmo already in late November but didn’t arrive until the transfer window opened. He looks like a real talent that needs to take the next step outside of Sweden. He made quite the fuzz in FM last year, but this is actually the first time I have him in my squad. The expectations are high.
Because I sold four central midfielders that left as soon as the transfer window opened, I needed to add quality to the midfield. So Dani Ceballos and Hannibal came in on loan with an optional future fee. Ceballos can contribute immediately and is an excellent option to Pulgar in the deeper role. Colin Dagba was brought in as cover for Odriozola on the right wing-back, and while he’s doubtedly ever to be a key player for us, he brings good cover. Finally, Lorenzo Lucca is one transfer I’m delighted with. He had no intention of joining us, but after months of talk in the media, he started to soften up.
I also brought in Andrea Papetti and Dan-Axel Zagadou to strengthen the defence. While Igor has been solid so far, Zagadou will take his place to the left in the back three. He’s a physical monster, and my expectations of him are enormous. For only £5.75M, I consider him a steal. Finally, on the last day of the transfer window, I manage to get the player I’ve been drooling on since the summer. For only £23M, I finally got my hands on Benjamin Šeško. We will pay for him over the next three years and his following 50 goals for us, but I hugely doubt that I will regret that. The question is what role he will play, and he looks well set for almost every role and duty.
The players leaving were plenty, and I doubt you want to read a lot about them all.
We accumulated a decent amount of money and freed up some wages. The most crucial transfer will officially happen next summer, but I got the money in the budget this January. Federico Chiesa will leave permanently for Juve after playing the 16 matches in his clause. Of course, there is no shock that it will go through, but it would, of course, be an immense player to have at the club.
Some players were also brought in for the future and will play for the U20’s and U18’s. Burak Ince was loaned directly back to Altinordu for the remainder of the season. He looks like a beautiful technical player to have in the squad, and hopefully, we can develop his weaker sides a lot.
We brought Olav Veum and Syver Aas in for a total of £3.1M from Norway. Both of them look like real talents, especially Aas has a wonderful personality on him.
Lastly, Emmanuel Tannor was brought to my attention by his agent on deadline day. As some of you know, I had him on my list of potential wonderkids for FM22, so I guess I have to give him a try and see if I was right about him.
With that significant changes to the squad, I felt a need to have a tactic where I could utilize all the striking aces simultaneously. I’m afraid it will be too attacking. However, it would be a shame not to give it a go.
Underneath, you can see the two tactics.
Against weaker sides, and when we need a goal, we will probably use the one with three up front. Both formation and mentality will be a work in progress, and we will likely try out many different variations.
The one thing I’m sure about is that if Lucca plays, we will play with a target man.
With a lot of new players and a new tactical approach, we had a rather bumpy start in January and played against some of the best teams in the league. When we look back to the beginning of the season, we lost 0-4 and 0-5 to Juventus and Milan. This time we lost against Juventus after leading and drew against Milan. We also took the lead against Napoli in Coppa Italia before Napoli turned the game around. As you can see, we stepped it up in the league game against them. After that, we went on a crazy streak with 13 consecutive wins and only one draw for the rest of the season. It was crazy. Out of the 17 games, we managed to keep a clean sheet in 12 of them, and everything we did seemed to work. One of the three aces up front scored in every game, and against Spezia, two players had a 10.00 rating! Biraghi with his five(!) assists and Lucca with a hat-trick.
The excellent form made us eventually finish second in the league, and that’s the first time the club finished second since the 1981/82 season. We smashed both the board, media and my predictions before the season, so I’m proud of the team and the season we had.
I also managed to get one of my favourite managers sacked, but that’s the name of the game. So in a way, I consider it a milestone and a confirmation that I’m the better manager.
I could take you into more detail about the season, but I instead focus on some of the key players and elements further down in the post.
With the form we had in the second half of the season, the eight-point gap can close in on. Hopefully, the following season can be exciting with the proper transfers in and hopefully no significant holes to fill because of transfers out.
- Dusan Vlahović was our leading man up front all season. He didn’t miss one game and scored some crucial goals for us. If we look at his late goals alone, he singlehandedly won us 14 points. Without those goals, we would’ve finished 8th. He’s also had a decent development in stats during the season, and it looks like he still has half a star to go until he peaks. He signed a new contract last summer, so I hope to keep him for the next season.
- Erick Pulgar is one of the players that surprised me most, and I would not have guessed that he would be our best central midfielder. So good has he been that Atletico, Liverpool, Milan and Real Madrid are now showing major interest in him. King Erick has asked to leave, and with him turning 29 next season, it’s probably a smart move to cash in.
- Cristiano Biraghi is maybe the most important player this year. He’s topping three of the significant stat areas in Serie A with most assists, the most man of the match awards and most key passes. With 213 key passes, he has got 20 more than Luis Alberto and 76 more than Dybala on third. Insane numbers for a left-back. Hopefully, he can continue to thrive in the same role next season.
- Lorenzo Lucca has been a revelation since his arrival in January. He was hard to get a hold of, but I’ve never regretted it. In Serie A, he played 18 games and scored 16 times, and he also chipped in with five assists. His goal contribution is crazy, with a goal every 97.62 minutes. I wonder what he can do with an entire season. He’s even better in the air than I could ever expect on the forehand, I don’t have the exact number, but my qualified guess is that 13/14 of those goals are headers.
There were no big surprises in the other top leagues at first glance. The biggest surprise was that Man Utd won the Premier League and that PSG only won with a five-point gap to Monaco.
And it is, of course, a massive surprise that West Ham got relegated.
Liverpool won the Champions League and Leicester the Europa League, so the English teams did well this season. Leeds winning the FA Cup and Rennes winning the Coupe de France is also huge surprises, but the most shocking and most astonishing results I could find came in the tenth round of Coupe de France when Paris FC shockingly knocked PSG out of the cup. I would call that a victory for football and a great day for everyone that loves the game more than business and money – fantastic!
Thanks to everyone for reading this blog. I can’t wait for the next one!
/ FM Veteran