After the frantic deadline day that I covered off last time (catch up here), I was left with the question of whether or not to keep with the 4-2-3-1 that I had originally determined suited the squad the best or to change to a formation with 2 up front so that I could have both Patrik Schick and Andrea Belotti in my starting 11? My head told me stick with the 4-2-3-1, make them fight it out to be our number 9, they won’t make a good partnership as they don’t compliment one another. My heart on the other hand said ‘but what if they did…think of all the goals’
I went with my heart, it was a bad decision.
In our next 5 games we won 1, drew 1 and lost 3. Between Belotti and Schick they managed just 1 goal and in 3 of the games the entire team fired a blank. Our poor start to the season had got worse, the 2 up top experiment was well and truly over.
It was in Europe where we’d suffered the most, losing both of our opening games and embarrassingly so at home to Bulgarian side Ludogorets. I’d expected to walk the group and after just 2 games we were up against it to qualify.
Tactically we needed a reset, I’d tried different player roles and different team instructions but the 4-2-4 formation I’d been trying to implement just hadn’t worked and if I didn’t sort it out sooner rather than later then I was going to be out of a job. My head had said the 4-2-3-1 formation was the one to go with and all my tinkering had lead me to working out what player roles suited players best, a lot of them hadn’t been what I’d originally expected. This left the formation looking like this.
I ran with this right up until the winter break, I’d change the striker role to an advanced forward when Schick was playing but other than that it stayed the same.
So how did we get on? Pretty well.
In the league we won 8 of our next 11 games, drawing 2 and only losing once. We actually had a 7 game winning streak at one point which was only broken by a draw in our most recent match away at Freiburg. Our other draw was against top of the league Bayern München, so hardly a bad result. The defeat was away at FC Köln however we had been winning until we had a man sent off. We had moved as high up the table as 3rd but that draw at Freiburg had seen us drop to 4th but still in a Champions League spot which was what we were aiming for. Out of our victories a 4-0 demolition of Wolfsburg and a 2-1 win away at RBL were the stand outs.
Despite our disastrous start to our Europa League campaign we had recovered to qualify but only just. A win at home to Ferencvárosi, that had seen us score 2 in time added on, was followed by successive draws. Firstly in the reverse fixture against the Hungarian side and secondly against Ludogorets in Bulgaria where we got a 92nd minute equaliser through summer signing Živković that kept us in the competition. With just 5 points from 5 games it left us having to beat Rangers in the last game to qualify which we managed winning 2-1. We’d scraped through in 2nd via the head to head rule over Ferencvárosi. We’d made such hard work of it and finishing 2nd meant we didn’t get the bye to the 2nd knockout round but at least we were still in the competition.
The DFB-Pokal had been a bit more straightforward, a 2-1 win over second tier side Karlsruher had seen us into the third round which would be played after the winter break.
I was happy with our progress in the league, despite our bad start we were on to qualify for the Champions league and if it wasn’t for those first few games we would be on a par with 2nd placed Dortmund.
Our European form had been poor despite qualifying and we had about as tough of a draw as you could get with Europa League specialists Sevilla awaiting us in the first knockout round. We’d be trying our best to beat them but I didn’t fancy our chances after our group game performances.
The DFB-Pokal was our best chance of silverware and would be our main focus for the remainder of the season. We were into the last 16 and had a favourable tie against second tier SSV Jahn Regensburg. Unfortunately both Bayern and Dortmund were still in the competition but at least we didn’t have to play them yet.
With the January transfer window about to open it was time to assess the squad, I had settled on a formation but it meant that some players were now surplus to requirements. Before I do that here are a few key points at the half way stage of the season:
- Neither Belotti or Schick have established themselves as our number 9 but both are doing ok
- Out wide deadline day signing Khvicha Kvaratskhelia has been the star man, he was signed due to his potential but he’s already one of the first names on the team sheet
- I need to get more from my AMs, they are either brilliant or do nothing. I don’t want to change the role as it suits the balance of the team well but think I need to play with the player instructions. Andrija Živković actually plays better here than he does out wide
- Kerem Demirbay is brilliant in the cm attack role but it doesn’t suit Exequiel Palacios who can’t find a place in my tactic so I will be looking to move him on
- Edmond Tapsoba and Jonathan Tah have been our best 2 players and have formed a formidable partnership at the back, our change in form also coincided with Tapsoba returning from injury
- Jeremie Frimpong has been our best full back, Pellegrini has done ok but Fosu-Mensah and Bakker aren’t good enough
From the above you’ll have established that there is a lot to be happy about but also still a lot of room for improvement.
I mentioned in my previous post that I like a squad of 25 players, that means 2 for every position which takes us to 22, I then like a 3rd keeper, a 3rd striker as goals are essential and a utility midfielder. This leaves my squad looking like this at the moment. If a player is in green it means that I know they can deliver, if they are in black I haven’t made my mind up yet and if they are in red I know that they aren’t good enough.
|Position/Role||1st choice||2nd choice||3rd choice|
|GK – SK||Dominik Livaković||Andrey Lunev||Niklas Lomb|
|RB – WB||Jeremie Frimpong||Timothy Fosu-Mensah|
|RCB – BPD||Jonathan Tah||Odilon Kossounou|
|LCB – BPD||Edmond Tapsoba||Piero Hincapié|
|LB – WB||Luca Pellegrini||Mitchel Bakker|
|CM – BWM||Charles Aránguiz||Robert Andrich|
|CM- CM (A)||Kerem Demirbay|
|RW – IW||Moussa Diaby||Adnan Januzaj|
|AM – AP||Florian Wirtz||Andrija Živković||Paulinho (Utility Man)|
|LW – IW||Khvicha Kvaratskhelia|
|ST – AF/PF||Andrea Belotti||Patrik Schick||Iker Bravo|
|Surplus to requirements||Exequiel Palacios||Panagiotis Retsos||Julian Baumgartlinger|
A few things to point out from the above:
- Two signings are definitely needed in January, a new cm attack and a new left winger
- Two third choices are down as being able to deliver, this is because they are both homegrown by club and I’m happy having them as players who will only be called upon in an emergency
- Adnan Januzaj has suffered from 2 injuries in the short time he’s been here, I still think he’ll come good
- I have promoted Iker Bravo from the youth team but he is still available for all under 19s games
Anyway, that’s enough talking about what needs to be done in January, what did we actually manage to get done?
Well our main success was holding on to 3 of our key players Jonathan Tah, Edmond Tapsoba and Moussa Diaby. Newcastle United were a pain in the backside for the majority of January. They started by bidding for Jonathan Tah but it was no way near what I’d want for him, this prompted Bayern who were also interested to make a bid for him but their bid was even lower. Newcastle then thought well if we can’t have Tah we’ll have Tapsoba, a strange one as Tapsoba is better so you’d have thought they’d have gone for him first. This was a decent bid that totalled around £60m but I wanted more. Tapsoba kicked off but I managed to get him to agree that he could go if they bid £113m. If they’d offered that I’d have driven him there myself but they didn’t come back in for him. They then went back to Tah, he was already unhappy that I’d rejected the initial bids so when Newcastle went higher and I still said no he handed in a transfer request which I rejected. The Tah and Tapsoba partnership at the back is the biggest strength in this side and I’m not prepared to lose it, no more bids for Tah followed. Finally they came in for Diaby but similarly to Tapsoba it was just a one off bid which I rejected, he moaned but we agreed I’d let him go if they came back £90m which they didn’t.
There were 4 players that I’d deemed surplus to requirements and they all left although I could only get rid of Adli on loan. Further to these 4 another 2 players left. Timothy Fosu-Mensah joined Lokomotiv Moscow, he was a player I’d deemed not good enough but still needed as back up however I was able to find a cheap replacement which I’ll come onto shortly. Back up goalkeeper Andrey Lunev wasn’t a player I was looking to sell but he booted off demanding first team football and he wasn’t good enough for me to stand in his way so he also went to Moscow but joined Dynamo instead.
We didn’t have much money so all of my incomings had to either be bargains or players with potential. On the left wing we only had 1 option in Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, despite only being 20 years old he had been brilliant so I just needed someone to step in when he wasn’t available. In came 17 year old Andreas Schjelderup from FC Nordsjælland for £5m up front, eventually rising to £5.5m. A small fee for a player who will be worth the hell of a lot more in years to come. A great dribbler who also has an eye for a pass, exactly what you want in a winger.
The other signing we had to make was a central midfielder attack, I went for a bit more experience this time and signed Nicolae Stanciu from Slavia Prague for an initial £7m which could eventually grow to £8m depending on appearances. He is primarily an attacking midfield but I think he suits the cm attack role to.
With our back up goalkeeper having left we needed a replacement, Lennart Grill returned from a loan at Brann to fill this void. He’s not great but he will do for now, I have agreed a deal to sign Sam Johnstone on a free from West Brom when his contract expires in the summer so he will take over as the number 2 then.
The back up right back I had found which had enabled Timothy Fosu-Mensah to leave was Adam Marušić. His contract at Lazio was due to expire in the summer so I took advantage and picked him up for just £1.7m, a definite upgrade.
All of this business was done prior to deadline day, I chose not to participate in it as we were done for business. I was just enjoying my day off when the physio rang to inform me Luca Pellegrini had broken his foot and would be out for at least 3 months. Mitchel Bakker was a player I just didn’t trust, he’s one I will look to replace in the summer but I needed someone now so he wasn’t in my first 11. The loan market was my only hope with a few hours to go and just in the nick of time I managed to get a deal done until the end of the season for Greek full back Kostas Tsimikas from Liverpool. With that the window shut and it was back to focusing on football. The squad is in a much better place now and hopefully in the summer we can start to just bring in a couple of players that are real quality rather than focusing on bargains and youth. One other thing to add is that Sam Johnstone isn’t the only English bargain joining next season, James Tarkowski will join on a free when his contract with Burnley expires to offer better quality back up in the centre of defence.
So how did we get on in the second half of the season? You’ll have to wait till next time to find out.
Thanks for reading,
The Last Throw.