Welcome back to On the Break! In the last post we concluded the 2024 season, and I mentioned that the squad needs a big overhaul, probably a bigger one than I’ve done in a few editions of FM. In this post I’m going to talk through my process, starting with evaluating last year’s squad, identifying weaknesses and underperformers, and then coming up with a plan for the transfer window.
2024 IN REVIEW
Before I start I should mention the incredible work of Magnus Steinkelsson and his Tableau tutorial, his recent posts have been a big inspiration in taking a deeper look at my squad and I wouldn’t have been able to put the charts together without his tutorial. Go and check him out if you haven’t already!
I’ve never run super small squads in Football Manager, but last season I had a 28 man squad, plus four players in the Reserves that have previously been first team members, and throughout the season 27 players saw some action (some only due to a few injuries at once in certain positions). In a 38 game season that seems quite high, especially as when everybody is fit I have a very settled starting 11, as I mentioned in the last post. It also leaves at least five players that have been paid all season to not feature at all, and I’ve got exciting youth prospects ready for their chance, so there’s lots of work to do to trim this squad down. (NB. In the last post I said 32 players had featured, I think I doubled counted the players available for reserve games! With all of the players in the current first team squad plus the youth players I plan to promote, I’m looking a 32/33 man squad if I don’t shift some players!)
Generally squads run with two players per position and a couple of utility players, so a 24/25 man squad. I like to make sure I’m well covered at CB and CM as I need 2 per game instead of just one, but I’ve got some very versatile players in the squad, something that means I won’t necessarily need as many players on the books which will be very handy as I plan my squad. The first thing to notice is that five of the squad played 90 minutes or less, with only young goalkeeper Jonathan Damián getting those minutes out of absolute necessity.
If we look at the squad in another way (again, huge credit to Magnus), it becomes painfully obvious how much of a disparity there is between our starting eleven and the rest of the squad when it comes to minutes played. It’s very much a starting side and then the replacements with no shades of grey, nine players in the squad played under 500 minutes, 14% or lower of the amount Mauro García and Martín Payares played. I’ve marked the area between the ages of 23 and 29, the prime of a majority of player’s careers, and 13 of the squad sit in this age bracket which is a promising sign, but many of them are the players struggling for minutes which means they’re likely to stagnate and make less impact when they do have to come into the side.
The players I’m most worried for though, are in the bottom-right section, all coming towards the twilight of their careers and not seeing much action, and worryingly two of them are mid-season signings who never really got a chance (although a backup keepers role is different and often leads to limited game time). Some of the younger players have started to make a bit of an impact (Paiva and Schneider both got minutes due to injuries) but only Vicente Poggi could really claim to have put pressure on the current incumbent Juan Manuel Jorge, making 21 appearances to Jorge’s 29, although Poggi only made 10 starts so he’s still a long way off.
Based on last season’s performances out on loan and the potential they have, Santiago Mernies; Diego de los Santos; Bruno; Yerson Solís and Christian Colman are all ready to take a place in the first-team squad, so I’ve made some decisions on players that I know won’t be a part of the action next year, plus a couple of reserves players that need to go.
ON THE WAY OUT
Matías Dufour – Goalkeeper
Mauricio Gómez – Right Back
Emiliano Álvarez – Right Back
Nicolás Larrosa – Centre Back (Pre-Contract)
Lucas Rodríguez – Centre Back
Federico Larraura – Centre Midfield
Gonzalo Nápoli – Centre Midfield
Facundo Milán – Striker
Matías Kusmanis – Striker
So the first wave of squad assessment is done, but with the addition of the promoted youth players I’ve still got a 27 man squad, so there’s still work to do. The next step now is to analyse the areas that I think we either have too many options, or the players we have need to be improved.
I have an idea of where I believe the team needs to be improved, but instead of blindly making changes as I’d usually do, I want to use data to ensure that my feelings are backed by what’s happening on the pitch. If not, I can then reconsider my plan for the transfer window, rather than carry on blindly and suffer next season.
Throughout the season I became concerned that we were very reliant on our main front three of Benjamín Rodríguez, Matías Ocampo and Pablo López, with the rotation options seemingly not contributing when they play. I was proven to be correct, although to a degree I’m also disappointed with the contribution from Rodríguez as he went missing a lot more often than Ocampo or López. The only players to provide an above average contribution other than our starting front three were Luciano Boggio (starting AMC) and three of our central midfielders.
Between our three backup wingers (Mesa, Canela, A. Rodríguez), Paiva up front and Schneider in the hole, they contributed 11 times (3G, 8A) in 3,214 minutes at an average of one every 292 minutes. If we add Boggio to the front three, they provided 80 contributions (53G, 27A) in 11,163 minutes at an average of one every 139 minutes. There’s bound to be a combinations of factors towards this, but I immediately look towards the following:
- Starters are starters for a reason, they’re better players and able to make more of a difference.
- Rotation options playing less minutes will be lacking sharpness which will affect performances.
- Paiva and Schneider in particular are young players in their first senior year of football.
I believe that with more minutes some of those rotation options would contribute more. Alan Rodríguez and Canela both showed in 2023 that with a run of games they can impress, and I’m certain Schneider and Paiva will continue to develop, although Paiva may benefit from a loan spell away (more on that later). The main casualty here is likely to be Lautaro Mesa, he was a bit of a wildcard signing when he joined in 2023 and has only ever started 8 games for the club, so maybe he hasn’t been given a fair shake, but as I’m looking to develop the side and really push forward he’s done nothing to prove he deserves to start more games.
As an aside, I noticed a couple of other things from the scatter chart that I hadn’t paid much attention to just from gameplay. Our full-backs don’t really contribute much in attacking areas, which I put down to the tactical choices I’ve made as the play comes predominately through the middle, and we don’t offer much of an aerial threat up front so crosses become a less potent threat. I may look to tweak this for the upcoming season and get the full-backs involved a bit more, but the system is relatively successful as it is so it’s not essential. The chart also shows me that I should probably give Vicente Poggi more credit than currently gets, as he was not only the ONLY player to provide an above average contribution from below average game time, but also offered more contributions than Juan Manuel Jorge, the man above him in the pecking order.
Nahuel Paiva (Loan)
The defence, particularly at centre-back, is the area of the side I’ve had the most issue strengthening since the start of the save. I’ve struggled to identify targets that add quality without wanting extortionate wages, missing out on players whilst also losing promising youngsters. Martín Payares has undoubtedly been the best signing I’ve been able to make at centre-back, with Brian Ferrarés struggling to make an impact in three years at the club. Martín Rea may turn out to be a good signing, but has only played one game for the club since joining six months ago.
I’ve used the attributes I look out for most in a central defender to take an average and compare the central defenders that played any first-team minutes in the 2024 season. The attributes I used are:
I was surprised to see Martín Rea come out with the best average score as he’s barely had a sniff of football, but our two starters both have an obvious weakness (Payares has 8 for strength, Álvarez has positioning of 9) whereas Rea is more well-rounded. This of course also doesn’t use every attribute that Football Manager lists as key for the role, so the results may change if I used them all, but these are the attributes I deem the most important. Brian Ferrarés is probably worthy of some more minutes based purely on attributes, as he also outperforms Payares in this metric. I like a settled CB pairing, so it’s not somewhere I’d willingly rotate on a regular basis, but I do think I need to spread the minutes slightly more evenly than I did last season and give Ferrarés and Rea chances to impress. Payares may be at risk here despite playing well since his arrival, he earns more than double any of the other central defenders at the club and I’m not certain he justifies that. He also takes one of only six foreign spots in the squad, so could be expendable if we can find a Uruguayan replacement.
Moving on to the full-backs, Varela comes out with the highest average as I would expect, but not by as much of a margin as I expected. Dimas Morales was another mid-season signing that only played one game but comes out with an average score that matches Mauro García, the man keeping him out of the side. Morales probably deserves a decent run next year and is a handy option, but much like Payares he takes a foreign spot, so could be replaced if a decent Uruguayan becomes available. Pintado and Gómez are both decent players, but stand in the way of game-time for Diego de los Santos who could be a star, so they need to make way for the good of the youngster’s career and the possible fee we could get for him down the line. For reference, the attributes I used to get an average for the full-backs were:
Looking at the different p/90 defensive stats available in Football Manager for each player (I’ve excluded Pintado, Morales and Rea because of their small sample size) there are some interesting finds that give me food for thought. Youngster Nicolás Larrosa was the most aerially dominant defender at the club last year as a percentage of his attempts, while both Payares and Ferrarés struggled in this area, hindered by their lower jumping reach and strength. All of the central defenders also struggled to make tackles, with none of them making over 1.5 per game. The full-backs put in okay numbers across the board, with Mauro García the standout, but the truth is the whole defence is underperforming somewhat for the title challengers we are, as demonstrated below with the league comparison.
Technically we are ‘above average’ in four areas, heading, marking, positioning and strength. However, heading and strength are so marginal that I don’t consider us above average at them, we’re ranked 9th and 10th in the league in those metrics after all. Between the league comparison and our fairly underwhelming per 90 metrics, it’s pretty clear to see that we’re doing well despite our defence, rather than because of, and that’s something that needs to change urgently.
“Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles.”
Sir Alex Ferguson
For the first time while planning a transfer window I need to take the Uruguayan squad registration rules into account and act accordingly, due entirely to my own lack of care over the past 18 months.
The rules are pretty lax as you can see above, but we do need to limit the squad to 6 foreign players, 3 of which can be named in the starting 11 for league games. We currently have 4 registered in the squad, (Mehring, Mesa and Morales all have Uruguayan second nationality so don’t class as foreign players) but also have Yerson Solís coming into the squad next year and I don’t want to be put in a position where I leave a weakness in the side due to having to leave a fit foreign player out of the line up to accommodate registration rules.
The players most likely to fall foul of the registration rules are Canela, Payares and Bruno (who would go on loan again). Payares would be the most tricky to replace as I’ve already discussed above, but we’re looking to improve the defence anyway, so he could leave to accommodate any new targets. Canela simply doesn’t play enough to justify his wages and we’re pretty well stocked on the wings, so he could make way without even being replaced, especially if Mesa and/or Paiva end up staying.
THE TRANSFER PLAN
When it’s boiled down to just a checklist of priorities the job seems fairly simple, but make no mistake I have to get this transfer window right, and I haven’t really got the scouting setup I’d like just yet. Realistically I’ve been a bit too passive with transfers in the save so far and the squad has gone stale as a result, but we need to take the motivation we’ve gained this season and build on it. Anything less than a title next year and I’ll be disappointed.
That’s it for this post, hopefully you’ve enjoyed a bit of a deeper look at the squad and some of the stats I usually don’t go into detail about. Let me know in the comments or over on Twitter.
Thanks for reading.