Welcome back to On the Break! Last time out we got off to an incredible start to the league campaign, although Peñarol are hanging in there behind us! There’s a lot of big news to cover in this post, so let’s get cracking!
I shared a while back on Twitter that the Uruguayan FA had approached me to replace Eduardo Favaro, who spent just shy of 7 years in the role before leaving after finishing fourth at the latest Copa América.
The timing of this offer wasn’t brilliant, as I mentioned in the tweet. After the start to the season we’ve had and the strength in depth we finally have, I’d say for the first time that we’re favourites to go on and secure the title. It’s a long way to go, sure, but it’ll need 100% focus.
Luckily, international management in FM isn’t an all consuming task, and who knows when this opportunity will arise again?
Expect to see more about the Uruguayan adventure in future posts!
We did a decent amount of mid-season transfer business, more outs than ins, but for the sake of post length I’ll just cover the players who’ll likely make a difference to the first team squad.
Máximo Alonso and Fabián Salas both join on free transfers, from Peñarol and Boca Juniors respectively. They’ll offer a bit of extra depth, and in the case of Salas, genuine competition for Mauro García something he hasn’t really had for the past 5 years.
The first major departure is Yerson Solís, who joins CF Pachuca (who you may recall stole Ignacio Laquintana from us all those years ago 😥). The initial fee of £400k for Solís is a little underwhelming, but for a player who was struggling for regular game-time it’s not bad. Throw in a 35% of future profit clause and it’s a deal I was fairly happy with.
A player I really didn’t want to see leave was Diego de los Santos. The full-back is probably my favourite newgen of any we’ve developed in the save, and when even interest from Liverpool didn’t seem to turn his head, I was hopeful we could keep him for a while yet. Once bids started to come in though, I knew it was a matter of time, and getting the best deal possible was the main aim. As with Ramiro Centurión, Diego didn’t move straight to one of Europe’s elite clubs, something I intentionally tried to manufacture so that the chance of getting the profit clause is higher, instead he’s joined French side Lille, and his value has immediately jumped to £22m. The fee was £9m upfront, with clauses taking it to £12m, plus a 40% of future profit clause. It’s a good fee to receive for a full-back who’s moved to a far higher reputation club and division, it’s just a shame to see him go.
Speaking of Ramiro Centurión…
With Nacional’s dismal showing in the Apertura, both they and Peñarol entered Group B of the Intermedio, meaning we avoid both of them for the second consecutive season.
We weren’t perfect like we were in the Intermedio last year, but we did more than enough to make the final. More importantly for the season as a whole, Peñarol dropped a point more than us to extend our lead in the Overall Table, and a resurgent Nacional made the final at their expense.
Drawn at Nacional’s home stadium, we were technically the away team for the final, but I felt this was a good chance to show them that despite their good form under a new manager, we were now a better team than them, and wouldn’t play a more conservative style to adapt to them.
They had the majority of the shots, but we had more or the ball and the better chances, and were clinical enough to make them count.
2 of 3 stages won, and 5 points clear at the top of the Overall Table – let’s go and get it!
Beating Peñarol in the second game of the Clausura was huge, and pushed the overall gap to 8 points. We were perfect for the first 5 games of the stage, but came crashing back down when we went to Nacional and got thumped 4-1. We were truly awful, and lost our long unbeaten league run. Worse than that though, Nacional overtook us in the Clausura table, and if they could stay there we would have a Championship Play-off. If we win the Clausura, we’ll have the clean sweep of both stage wins and the Overall Table lead so the title will be ours. Despite not being a threat all season, we now need somebody to do us a favour and take points off of Nacional!
Five more games with just the one blip, throwing away a two-goal lead to draw with Atenas de San Carlos. Luckily River Plate Montevideo also held Nacional, so no damage done. For all the times Cerrito have transpired to screw us in this save, they may just be the side that help us to seal our first title. Not only did they roll over while we scored three late goals to beat them, but in the very next game they scored a 94th minute winner against… You guessed it, Nacional!
Top of the Overall Table by 11 points, top of the Clausura by 2, it’s all in our hands!
Hang on, we’re three games short! Oh yeah, I guess it’s time to mention the…
Topping a group including giants São Paulo only added to my confidence that we’re a very good cup side, and over two legs I’d back us against anyone on our day.
The second round saw us draw another Brazilian giant, Internacional.
An excellent 3-1 win in Porto Alegre put us in the driving seat, and we were composed enough to see it out in front of our own fans. This was a huge tie to progress from, and doing so exceeded my expectations for the competition this season. After progressing, our reward was a tie against Independiente del Valle of Ecuador, a side I definitely fancied us against.
An emphatic home win set us on course, to the point where we even managed to rotate for the second leg, an opportunity that allowed Darío López to become the latest intake player to score for the first team.
Into the Semis we roll, where we could have faced our favourite foes Peñarol. However, they went out in the Quarters; this not only made us Uruguay’s last representative, but also meant we faced the side that defeated them, Grêmio.
A third Brazilian giant of the run, brilliant.
Oh wow, this could actually happen.
We were excellent in this game and fully deserved the winner when it finally came in the 90th minute. Benjamín Rodríguez has come up clutch for us plenty of times in the past, but this could just be the biggest of all.
90 minutes stand between us and the Libertadores Final, so I think it’s important to go back to the very first post of this series, and recap a rule I set out right at the beginning.
This is where I have one ‘proper’ rule for the save. My (or should I say Maxi’s) reign as manager of Defensor ends when we reach a Copa Libertadores final, win or lose.Me, about five months ago.
Should we progress to the final, this will be our last season at Defensor Sporting.
Originally I stated that the Libertadores Final would be our final game with the club, but this was based on my assumption that the Final would be the final game of a season as it is in Europe – knowing as I do now that it isn’t, we’ll see the season out and then resign.
This leaves us in a position where our final season could result in a historic Libertadores win and league title, or see us bottle both within 4 games. Of course, we need to get there first!
Grêmio away, a slender 1-0 aggregate lead, the biggest game of the save so far, bar none.
This was a very even match, but we led in possession, xG created and shots on target, so to lose was a disappointment. This of course made it 1-1 on aggregate, and as I prepared for extra time to try and grab a goal, I was surprised with the news that there wasn’t any. Straight into a penalty shootout to decide the tie, and the fate of the whole save.
We’ve never had a great selection of penalty takers in the squad, and our record in shootouts is okay at best, so to say I felt our chance had gone was an understatement. However, I picked the five I felt gave us our best chance, reassured them and Santiago Mele, a man who I felt our hopes hinged on, and sent them out to make history.
Holy Jesus, we did it!
An amazing underdog run has seen us defeat some of the most reputable sides on the continent, including three from Brazil, and make the final. Who do we face?
Flamengo – one of the most reputable sides on the continent… from Brazil.
So there we go, the 2028 season will be the last that sees Maxi Pereira in charge of Defensor Sporting!
The next two posts will be huge, as we have the Copa Libertadores Final, followed by a three match title run-in!
Make sure you don’t miss them by following the blog and following me over on Twitter.
Thanks for reading.