S01E05 – THE ANNUAL REVIEW 2020/21

PROLOGUE

In the previous blog I stated that youth intake day is likely the most anticipated day in the Football Manager calendar. For me though the fun really begins when the season ends, this is where you get to tear it all down and find out what worked or what didn’t. Who performed or who didn’t, whether that youth team player you took a chance on performed well enough in the minutes you gave him to justify a bigger role next year. It’s not just about the internal analysis though, applying and comparing your findings to the rest of your division could well give you the key that unlocks the door for next season.

For us this first season went far better than I could have expected especially based on how poorly it started out and so over the next couple of blog posts I am going to break down my approach to navigating the summer months within the game, todays focus will be more on the squad and league analysis and then I will follow that up with a recruitment specific blog based on what we discover today.

IN SUMMARY

I do love this little end of season package that the game provides you with and for someone like me who’s play time can often be quite erratic it’s just a great little way to remind yourself of the goings on throughout the season. These few pictures will form the basis of this post in terms of content, there will be a section on the season overall and then a more detailed look at the team performance before some more individual analysis. This should certainly help when it comes to recruitment over the summer. I already know that there are some positions that need improving and after continuing on a few months into the off season (spoiler alert) a couple of key players who are going to need replacing.

THE BUNDESLIGA SEASON

These two images essentially sum up what I was saying earlier in the prologue. After playing ten games and trailing three different tactics I felt that I was already in real trouble and I was very much on the way to replicating the season my real world counterparts are having. By the time we reached the midway point of the season things were beginning to improve and from there we never looked back. So much so that we were even in the race for a Champions League spot on the final day but unfortunately we were unable to capitalise on the slip up that Borussia Mönchengladbach had against a mid table

Werder Bremen. Finishing above fierce rivals Dortmund is a nice little bonus in what I would call a pretty successful season overall. The almost 20 point lead that the powerhouse named FC Bayern München finished with goes to show that we still have a long road ahead of us before we can start to claim domestic dominance but we are definitely headed in the right direction. You can see by the league table just how strong the next group of teams are in the division given the fact that there are only eight points separating the 3rd and 8th places in the table. I would very much expect that the 6th place finish for Borussia Dortmund is simply an outlier and would likely expect them to be battling it out for one of the top 3 places next season. At the same time I would like for us to make a real push much earlier on for that 4th and final Champions League spot against the likes of VFL Wolfsburg and Borussia Mönchengladbach.

A recap of fixtures to help better illustrate the league positions graphic

A pretty awful start to the season culminating in a change of formation around the middle of December after suffering 5 straight defeats. The plan had always been to try and play counter attacking football but it was a matter of finding the right combination of shape and roles to both meet my requirements but also suit the players I had at my disposal. Clearly something clicked as we had a extraordinary second half to the season helping us to really fly up the table. Also a little quirk I’ve just noticed is that we seem to like ending months with a bit of a bang, recording big wins at the end of January, March and April, there was even the beating that we took at the hands of Gladbach in November.

Bowing out of the DFB-Pokal in the third round was bitterly disappointing for my liking. We only fell one round short of the board expectation but I made the mistake of completely underestimating a fellow Bundesliga side and played a fairly rotated side, including a debut for 17 year old goalkeeper Daniel Rose. Safe to say we paid for it big time and only managed to have one player finishing the game with a match rating above a 7.0 with most others falling far short of what I would consider an acceptable performance.

THE ANALYSIS

TEAM FOCUS

As I begin to look into the statistics and analytics for the season I start to get a better understanding of how or why things happened and just below here I will post some images of how my analysts perceived our performances this season. Seeing these things presented in a more visual form than just a list ranking clubs really helps to get a better idea of how we compare to the other Bundeliga clubs in specific areas of the game.

Click the picture to see a full size version.

So the overall consensus according to my analysts is that we’re pretty average; we performed better than expected in some categories whilst also disappointing in others. I completely disagree with that assessment, I think we performed well above expectations. Look at the image in the general performance section of their report, we are above average in 5 of the 8 categories and only fall below average in terms of Pass Completion Ratio which actually makes sense when you consider the team instruction “Pass Into Space” is selected, along with a “Standard” passing directness.

My opinion of us being above average is further backed up when you then look at the XG image. You can see that we manged to score 10 more goals than was expected and also managed to collect 7 more points along the way. While we only managed to finish one place higher than the expectation of our analysts we did exceed both the media and our own boards expectations who predicted a 10th place finish.

In fact the overall XPTS table makes the league table really look like it could/should have finished in a very different state to how it actually did with clubs like RB Leipzig and VFL Wolfsburg quite clearly exceeding expectations meanwhile a club like Arminia Bielefeld came up much shorter than my analysts thought they would.

An overview of the more attacking focused statistics and analytics.

Moving into the more conventional numbers based stats now I have used the Team Detailed and Overview sections found in the league tab to create a couple of graphics to show where we have ranked in the top 6 spots.

(Shout out to @TCSSkin for the always excellent skin which allowed me to do so.)


Looking at this in a general state I can begin to see why we managed such a brilliant second half of the season but at the same time I also feel a little let down that we couldn’t achieve more. Bear in mind one thing you can’t see here is that we rank 13th in terms of average possession with 47% but I’m immediately drawn to the fact that we have created the most chances in the league by far but then find that we are tied for 4th with Borussia Dortmund in goals scored with 58. Does this mean that my guys just aren’t clinical enough? In a word, no. You can see for yourself that we are right up there and on par with the clubs around us when it comes to conversion rate or the amount of shots per game.

One area that could be a cause of concern is the amount of times we have lost possession. I realise that this is the right end of the table to be at but when you factor in the amount of possession we have compared to some of the teams around us. Or maybe when you consider the fact that we are 14th best in terms of the number of completed

passes (10923) compared to the 13000 or more that the top 5 teams completed. Relating this back to our tactic and playing style though the attacking unit all have the PI of “Dribble More” hardcoded into their individual roles. You would have already seen that we rank 2nd in both dribbles made and dribbles per game so the approach that I think we might have to take going forward is focusing on trying to make those dribbles more of a priority over a passing based approach. I believe that the passing style is what could be causing us to lose possession more often than the dribbling but this is something that we can further investigate when it comes to the individual analysis a little later on. Either way I think this will require some trial and error tweaking team and/or player instructions going forward.

Authors Note: I realise that statistics aren’t always recorded accurately especially where CCCs are concerned but I went down a rabbit hole and that was me trying to reason with myself about it.

When it comes to the defensive side of the game we begin to look far more average and it could well be down to luck that we didn’t concede more goals than we did. If we refer back to our analysts opinions earlier they state that we conceded around 3 more goals than we were expected to after digging a bit deeper I discovered that we were very much mid table in terms of the amount of shots we faced. Part of that will be down to our playing style, a counter attacking system as you would expect invites greater pressure on to us and that is fine. Perhaps though, Ralf Fährmann and his backline deserve more credit than I have given them so far. It is actually quite hard to pinpoint how good we’ve been defensively in relation to how we attempt to play. I have thrown together a small table below to illustrate our rankings in terms of the defensive statistics I would expect to show the most impact.

CategoryRanking (1st is Most/Highest)
Fouls Made7th
Tackles Won7th
Tackles Won Ratio11th
Blocks11th
Possession Won9th
Clearances13th
Interceptions8th

A couple of observations can be made immediately, let’s look at tackles for example. We win a fairly decent amount if you only looking at tackles won but I also notice that the tackles won ratio is 4 spots lower in the ranking which means we’re actually missing a fair share of tackles too. That discovery then becomes even more alarming given the amount of fouls we commit. These are a few things I think could be worth diving into a little further on an individual basis to find out who is missing the tackles or committing the fouls and which part of the pitch are they being made.

Overall though, this obviously this isn’t the end of the world. I have to remember that we finished 5th and were a final day result away from qualifying for the Champions League, I have just begun to identify some of the issues/flaws in our playing style that will need to be addressed if we want to close the gap on the top dogs in our league and begin to realise the objectives I have set out for this save. Given the speed at which I’ve been playing lately those solutions will need to be discovered sooner rather than later. Constant improvement is the way forward around here.

INDIVIDUAL FOCUS

A quick recap of the individual player awards and stats leaders.

This isn’t a squad full of superstars and if I’m being brutally honest we don’t really even have much in the way of key players either. It is a team that is built as and operates as a collective, this statement can also be backed up just by looking at some of the basic statistics, over the course of the season we have had 16 different goal scorers and half of those have scored more than 1, a similar statement can be made when you look at assists where we’ve again seen 16 different names create a goal the difference here is that there are 10 players who have registered multiple assists.

When it comes to individual analysis I like to break it down and make comparisons between specific roles. There’s no point comparing Rabbi Matondo with Benito Raman for example, while they are both playing on the wing they are also doing so in completely different roles so this won’t give a clear indication of who is performing or not.

In years gone by I have always used the analysis squad view prepared by @SecondYellowCrd and this year will be fairly similar except that I will be mixing those in with the KSPP Method, these are the stat pairings created by @fm_student that I have mentioned in previous blogs but have thoroughly enjoyed what they have brought to my virtual management experience so far this year.

GOALKEEPER

It’s never easy trying to find methods of comparing goalkeepers.

Ralf Fährmann is a club legend, aside from a brief stint at Eintrach Frankfurt and a single season at Norwich he has now spent 15 years with FC Schalke 04 and accumulated 206 appearances for the senior team. This season he has continued to prove this season that he is still a more than capable shot stopper finishing 4th in the league for save ratio with 77% and conceding the 3rd least goals overall (28) in Bundesliga games.

As I said at the very beginning of this save though he already wasn’t at the level I required of somebody playing the Sweeper Keeper role, he lacks the vision and passing for him to trust us to play out from the back and also lacks the athleticism or aggression to Sweep like the role asks for and those attributes are further declining now given his age.

With that in mind though he is still under contract for another season and I will be keeping him for that period whether it be in a back up role for a ready made keeper to replace him or whether I look to bring in a younger up and comer who Ralf can then be utilised to mentor and help him transition into the first choice role.

In terms of the others keepers at the club Frederik Rønnow only managed to make 6 appearances for the first team before we came to a mutual agreement with his parent club to terminate the loan deal. I also mentioned earlier that 17 year old Daniel Rose was handed his debut somewhat accidentally in the 3rd round of the DFB-Pokal which was the only game he played for the first team this season. With Markus Schubert now returning to the club Rose will now have a new battle on his hands to decide who will be first choice between the sticks for the B Team.

LEFT BACK

Swipe right for Oczipka or left for Mendyl

There was far less competition for this role that I could have ever imagined even if Mendyl had put up a fight Oczipka would still have obliterated him. Finishing 3rd in the league for assists (7), 5th in key passes (32) and leading the league in clear cut chance creation (35). It is also worth mentioning the fact that Bastian Oczipka finished the season with an average rating of 7.16 which places him 12th in the entire league. This suggests that either Oczipka has just had a brilliant season or that the Left Back position is a key one in our system especially as a creative option.

Based on the massive disparity in minutes played it would be rather unfair on Mendyl to use those rankings as the only method of comparison between both players but it doesn’t get a lot better here for Hamza either. He makes more dribbles per game which we could link back to the earlier investigation about the amount of times we lost possession. As well as that Hamza also wins more headers per 90 minutes and actually managed to recorded 6 key headers compared to Bastian’s 9 despite Bastian playing approximately triple the amount of minutes.

Both guys are under contract for one more season and with Oczipka quickly approaching his 33rd birthday and the inevitable decline in his physical attributes time is running out for Mendyl to prove himself capable of carrying the torch and helping me to decide whether I will have to look elsewhere for a replacement.

CENTRE BACK

First off special mention needs to be made of Salif Sané and the absolute monster that he is from set pieces due to the fact that all 8 of his goals this season came from headers off of set pieces. Along with that he also led the league in key headers (162) and overall headers won (130) and finished tied for 1st place in pass completion (96%) alongside players such as Jérôme Boateng and Manuel Akanji. Top 10 finishes in terms of both clearances and blocks all add up to give Salif an overall average rating of 7.19 for the season which saw him ranked 7th in the Bundesliga. For the sake of comparison Benjamin Stambouli played further up the pitch only featuring here sparingly as a rotation option on the odd occasion when Salif Sané was rested.

Matjia Nastasic on the other hand has had a rather tumultuous season even being dropped from the starting line up multiple times due to inconsistent performances and also my wanting to try and integrate Ozan Kabak as early as possible. While the end game is to eventually have Kabak take over the BPD role from Sané, he has found himself playing in the CD role both due to Salif’s brilliance and Matjia’s inconsistency and I think it’s fair to say has performed admirably and perhaps should have been given more opportunities. The only real issue I see with Kabak here is the tackle completion ratio (67%) but for the time being I am happy to put this down to inexperience and will look to give him more opportunities next season. There area a few teams sniffing around Nastasic who only has one year left on his contract at the age of 28 so if the money is right then I would consider him moving on so there is the possibility that Kabak could just get thrown into the deep end.

RIGHT BACK

For Ludewig swipe right and left for Roerslev.

If you think back to when I was first going into this save I said that I wasn’t happy with the options at right back and so Mads Roerslev was drafted in from Brentford on a short term loan during the January transfer window and I have to admit he didn’t really add much more to the little that we already had. I wouldn’t say that either of them were particularly bad but average is probably a good choice of adjective to describe their performances this season. Maybe though, the right back role is just not as flashy as its left sided counterpart in our system.

If we refer back to the role guide in game it essentially tells us as much.

He should primarily be a defensive player who will support the midfield when the opportunity arises is what it would suggest and I expect that due to the fact there is a conventional winger playing just ahead then those opportunities don’t actually arise that often. So if we refer back to our statistical analysis and focus in on the defensive elements then things actually start to look a little better for the pair of them. Ludewig for example makes a rather solid 3.19 tackles per 90 with a very respectable 83% completion ratio and you can even see on the odd occasion that he has gotten forward he can actually provide something albeit 1.02 key passes per 90.

Having completed the analysis of this position it has given me a greater understanding of what to expect from the role and as such has also completely altered my transfer plans for the position. Understandably so considering that we had Ludewig in on loan for a measly £2200pw. While I will still look for an improvement in this area of the field I would genuinely consider bringing Ludewig back too either as cover or to continue as the starting option.

LEFT MIDFIELD

The guy I originally had expected to provide cover here ended up playing primarily in more central positions. Amine Harit has filled this role during the late stage of games as a result of substitutions so its just Benito Raman to discuss in this section and before I say anything else I want to point out that he finished the season ranked in 4th place for tackles per 90 minutes (5.15) I’m still genuinely not sure what to make of that ranking as there is nothing in my tactical set up that asks him to do anything special or extra in terms of tackling. If you then look at his attribute profile you will see that he only has a rating of 7 for tackling. So unless its the combination of aggression and work rate I’m stumped.

Tactically we can see that Benito Raman isn’t really playing a creative role, (disregard the 5 assists) to me he presents more as an extremely hard working winger defensively but one who also seems to be rather prolific considering the 9 goals scored from an XG of 5.71 on a total of 25 shots on target. This is another role that has really opened my eyes after looking at it a little bit closer and Benito was awarded a multi year contract extension during the season as I have been really quite impressed with his performances on the left hand side. Now it’s about finding some suitable cover.

CENTRAL MIDFIELD

Ignore Amine Harit here, I couldn’t get the game to filter him out despite not playing central midfield at all this season.

There have been many times during the season that I have found myself dissatisfied with the output of these positions, the DLP-D in particular. It would seem that Suat Serdar is doing the work of both roles from his position as BBM; recording more interceptions, tackles and headers than anybody else who has played in the midfield. Also covering a whopping 401.4km over the course of the season which is good enough for 8th in the Bundesliga. (Stambouli’s numbers are blemished slightly by a few appearances at Centre Back). Nabil Bentaleb had been earmarked as the first central midfielder off the bench due to his versatility but disappointed for the most part and considering that there are still 4 years remaining on his £85,000pw contract he will likely find himself transfer listed in the coming weeks.

Club Captain and 1st choice Deep Lying Playmaker Omar Mascarell proved to be a good link between the defence and midfield exactly as I had hoped the role would operate but I’m not sure he quite stepped up to the mark on the defensive side of the game; weak aerially, lacking in interceptions and an average tackle completion ratio. This is what I was referencing earlier when talking about Suat Serdar and so Benjamin Stambouli was repurposed away from the initial duties I had in mind for him to take the place of Bentaleb as the first one off the bench and I think its fair to say that he fulfilled both roles fairly well, certainly far better than Nabil Bentaleb did anyway.

Finally young Nassim Boujellab saw very limited minutes simply due to the perceived quality of the other players around him which makes me somewhat regretful that I didn’t accept any of the loan offers we got for him during the January window. He is another with only one year left on his contract at the moment, at 21 years old and appearing to have plenty of potential he is very much still in my future plans and I would expect to see him get more minutes next season if I can manage to offload Bentaleb as planned, failing that I will certainly look to sanction a loan move.

RIGHT MIDFIELD

For Matondo swipe right and left for Sané.

This could well be the most exciting position in the entire team it’s certainly my favourite because I genuinely feel that they are both superstars in the making. When it comes to league rankings they both feature commonly among the top 10 or 15 guys in the entire league and they are both still under the age of 21. Matondo receives rankings for XG (8.77), shots on target (34), shots per 90 (2.55), dribbles per 90 (1.59) he was also one of the most fouled in the league (66 times) and rather interestingly possession lost (337). Sané on the other hand features in distance covered per 90 (14.73km), average minutes per goal (143.71) and conversion rate (24%). Bear in mind that Sané has made 2/3rds of his appearances from the bench and played about half as many minutes as Rabbi Matondo has.

The biggest challenge I feel like I’m going to be faced with in the future is trying to fit both guys into the team at the same time but a quick glance at some of the analytics allows me to begin to picture who might play which role. Matondo for example beats Sidi in all of the defensive categories we also concede less goals per 90 with Matondo on the pitch whereas we score more overall with Sané on the pitch whilst also earning more points. It would seem on the face of it that he is the better goal scorer too doubling his XG and scoring more per 90 on slightly less shots.

Either way, the future is incredibly bright for both of these lads and I for one cannot wait to watch them continue to develop, all I can hope is that we can achieve enough, quickly enough to convince them to stick around long term. Imagine being the club that fails to hold onto both of the Sané brothers.

ATTACKING MIDFIELD

I have highlighted the 3 who are relevant to this position.

Right for Harit but left for my guy Maden.

Once again this is a position that really only requires analysis of one guy due to the fact that nobody else spent considerable time here. Serdar covered when Harit was required on the left and I felt I had to give Maden his moment due to him being the first youth team player to be deliberately given playing time. He’s only 19 though and sadly doesn’t seem to have as big a future as I had previously hoped so this might be his one moment for the entire blog.

Anyway with the sentimentalities out of the way I had identified Amine Harit as the key guy immediately and once we moved to the 4411 he didn’t disappoint as one of them main creators in the team finishing the season tied for 2nd in the Bundesliga for assists (8). He much like Benito Raman also appears to have performed more than would be expected on the defensive side of the ball with impressive numbers in both interceptions and tackles.

Harit is another guy that I have genuine fears over whether I can hold onto even in the short term considering I have already received and declined bids for him from direct rivals RB Leipzig and VFL Wolfsburg. So far he hasn’t made too much of a fuss but I’m not sure how long I can stop a guy of his talent from wanting to play in the Champions League next season. I have yet to make that promise to him but have the card up my sleeve should I require it.

CENTRE FORWARD

I cannot think of a more inconsistent group of strikers in all my years playing Football Manager and we started the season with two more options in this position. You might remember Vedad Ibisevic? Although I won’t blame you for forgetting him, I had too until it came to this analysis. He was sold to Austin FC in the MLS during the January window for a measly £100,000. We had a misunderstanding over his lack of game time and was swiftly pushed out the door because of it due to his alleged veteran presence in the dressing room at the time.

Ahmed Kutucu is another name that was at the club at the beginning of the save but the 21 year old didn’t get much of a look in early on and so was allowed to leave on loan to his native Turkey during the January window where he has made 20 appearances in positions all across the attacking end of the pitch resulting in 5 goals and 2 assists.

This brings us to Gonçalo Paciência who has spent the year here on loan from Eintracht Frankfurt and I’ve spent the entire season considering whether I want to activate the £9.13m optional future fee clause in his loan deal or not. The only ranking he appears in among Bundesliga players is for XG (9.27) resulting in only 8 goals which doesn’t even make the top 20. The word average comes to mind if you consider a centre forward who scores so few goals and also only provides 4 assists whilst operating in a supporting role. I probably should have expected this though taking into account that this is a guy who has only managed 41 goals from the 169 appearances he has made in his career.

I think its safe to say now that I am not at all interested in that optional fee because I could probably get the same production for a fraction of the cost. A replacement does need to be identified though as we no longer have a first choice option with Paciência returning to Frankfurt. I think this again though will be another role that I need to take a much closer look at during the upcoming preseason and see how I can get something more from it.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I’ve said it before and I’ll more than likely have to say it again but this turned into a bit of a long one and I am genuinely grateful if you have made it this far because I really am enjoying writing this series. My apologies too that it took a little while to get it out, its been about 3 weeks at this point and that is certainly not something I intend on making a habit out of going forward but this is just a hobby and sometimes life has to come first.

This has been a hugely beneficial process for me though and has given me a lot to think about ahead of the recruitment phase. I have identified that we absolutely need a Goalkeeper better suited to being a Sweeper Keeper and first choice Centre Forward but possibly a Right Back too depending on what has been identified by my scouting team.

We still don’t know the fate of Weston McKennie yet either and I have no idea is there is any point in being optimistic.

As always though I would love to hear your thoughts and you can leave them here or find me on twitter @Chris_ANZFM and I am very appreciative of those who have already provided them.

Until then though, Auf Wiedersehen.

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