Welcome back to On the Break! A lot has happened since the last post, I’ve had a little rebrand over on Twitter and given myself a little manager avatar which you’ll see dotted around on the site here too, but more importantly, I’ve partnered with the guys over at FM Base and will be adding some articles to their site! I’m really pleased to have been given the chance to broaden my horizons and write some different pieces, and the first is live right now! Click the link HERE to check it out!
The first half of this season saw us shoot out of the gates, only to slow our progress with an inconsistent second half of the stage. Could we regain our form and rebuild our title challenge? Let’s find out!
I decided after the Apertura to try and do a little bit of transfer business, ideally to bring in a centre-back and a winger to offer some cover. We missed out on our main defensive target, Léo Coelho, who accepted terms with us on £825 a week, but then we were blindsided by Peñarol who offered him a huge £3.2k per week, nearly a quarter of our wage budget! You can’t blame the bloke really!
We did get in a couple of players, though, securing Brazilian winger Canela and an agreement with young Colombian striker Yerson Solís who will join on a free transfer from Academia Tolimense in June next year. Matías Rocha was allowed to leave on a free as he was getting unhappy a lack of game time, he found himself a contract at CA Rentistas.
As long as Nacional, Peñarol and ourselves keep finishing in the top three of the Apertura we’ll only ever face one of them in the groups, and with no disrespect to the other sides, that’s all we really look out for in the draw. With the way the Intermedio groups are drawn, split into odds and evens, we’ll always face a mix of sides from the top and bottom of the table, so the specifics aren’t really important. I believe we’re good enough to beat every side in the division, the key now is to do it on a consistent basis.
When we discussed how to get the best out of club captain Martín Rabuñal (click HERE to read that post) I presented the idea of changing shape to a back 4 to facilitate putting an extra central midfielder into the side. I arranged a few friendlies to test out the new shape, and for the most part it went very well.
The U19s battered us – I did say for the most part!
This was enough to convince me to give it a shot in competitive action, many sides won’t travel to us for a friendly so we often play sides from our own division, but it gives me a good sense of how we’re doing, and I saw enough positive signs despite the humiliation against our own kids!
Just that one tiny orange circle separating us from perfection!
Four days after having our pants pulled down by the youth team we hosted Nacional, and despite two late goals taking the gloss off of the result a little, we secured a comfortable victory. This set the tone for an incredible Intermedio group stage, dropping only two points, and even qualifying for the final with a game to spare, allowing me to rotate the side which Maxi Juambeltz took full advantage of with a stunning hat-trick. With our job done and qualification secured we looked over to the other group, where Peñarol were overwhelming favourites to meet us in the final. Could any of the other sides stop them?
No, they couldn’t.
So Peñarol stood in our way of a first stage win of the save, but to achieve that we would have to beat them away from home for the very first time. We were easily the best team in either group, but now we needed to hold our nerve in a one-off game against better opposition.
We absolutely smashed them!
We did it! We’ve beaten Peñarol three times now, but this is the sweetest and possibly the best result of the save so far, because it led to something tangible. We blitzed them with three first-half goals, and then just sat and held them at arms length for the rest of the game, the perfect performance.
Our incredible showing in the Intermedio left us top of the overall table on goal difference, level with Nacional and two points clear of Peñarol. With the 4-2-3-1 working well and side in great form this is the best chance we’ve had so far to put up a real title fight.
We didn’t get off to a great start at all. It could have been worse too, we were exceptionally poor against Progreso and Fénix, and conceivably could have been 4 points worse off than we were. I’m not sure what happened really, the system clearly works, morale was okay, it just wasn’t clicking for us and the goals dried up a bit.
Luckily we managed to turn it back around, continuing to prove our worth in the title race by going away to both Nacional and Peñarol and coming back with 6 points, to close the gap created by our earlier shaky form.
There’s no point in trying to dramatize the final day of the season. We were technically in the title fight, which is progress in itself, but we would have needed a win and for Nacional and Peñarol to both lose to force a Championship Playoff and we couldn’t even hold up our end of the bargain. Nacional threw away the chance to avoid a playoff altogether by dropping points away at Juventud on the final day, and then compounded that misery by inexplicably fielding a weakened side full of reserve players and losing 5-1 to their main rivals.
I said at the end of the Apertura that I wouldn’t be satisfied with another third place finish, but I think that was a touch premature. Sure, by league standing it’s the same as the last two years, but we cut the gap from 14 points to just 5, and proved on more than one occasion that we can beat our biggest rivals, which gives me a new level of belief in this side. This year was a good step forward, but we need to push on again next year, no doubt.
Our yearly analyst reports show another year of good improvement, we became far more clinical going forward which was our biggest weakness last year, and with the key signing of Martín Payares we had the best defensive efficiency in the division. I’m not content to tread water though, and there are still improvements we can make, so I’ll be looking for the players to step it up again and reach new heights next year.
Next season brings another opportunity the close the gap further, and the board have backed me big time, more than tripling the wage budget to £40.5k a week! I’ll take a chunk of that out to pay agent fees if necessary, I’m still reluctant to spend a transfer fee given the financial situation, but I’ve got the budget now to go out and attract some real quality to take us to the next level.
I’ve got some decisions to make with some of the youngsters we talked about in the last post, as an injury crisis led to first team opportunities for Christian Schneider and Nahuel Paiva, both of whom could skip their loan years and provide competition if I can’t find the right depth. The same goes for Nicolás Larrosa, who could be promoted now that former captain Alejandro González has retired. The final call for all of those will be made dependant on transfer dealings, as I’m wary of promoting them too soon just for the sake of depth.
Santiago Mele has continued to be called up to the Uruguayan national side which is excellent, although he’s a pretty clear third choice keeper so I don’t see him getting capped in the near future. More promisingly though, Matías Ocampo and Alan Rodríguez have also been linked in the press with call-ups which would be a brilliant reward for the progress they’ve made this year.
Last but not least, we’ve got our youth intake preview, the first since Mario Desiderio retired. We haven’t been able to get a HOYD of the same calibre, and I think it shows in the preview, but there are still promising signs and we could be pleasantly surprised.
So another year down, and more forward progress. I feel like the save is starting to reach it’s first crucial stage, the longer we take to close the gap the harder it gets, especially with our financial situation. Let’s hope next season is an exciting one for Defensor!
Thanks for reading.