GLORY HUNTER – #10 – MY FIRST YEAR IN SPAIN

My first year in Spain is complete and I’m going to spend this chapter reviewing how I got on. If you missed the last chapter where I revealed the second club I would be managing as part of this challenge then please click here to catch up. If you’re completely new to this series then please click here to view the prologue post.

The bookies had us down as 3rd favourites to win the 24/25 La Liga season, as you’d expect Barca and Real were the two sides they expected to fight it out for the title with Barca slight favourites to pip Real, as they had done in the previous 2 campaigns. Both sides had spent big to try and secure the title for themselves. Barca had signed César Azpilicueta (Free transfer from Chelsea), Yves Bissouma (£48m from Brighton), Rick Karsdorp (£24m from Roma), Hamed Junior Traoré (£24.5m from Sassuolo), Owen Wijndal (£54m from Inter) and Jay Gorter (£1.6m from Ajax). Real hadn’t spent quite as much but had still spent a lot of money bringing in Ferran Torres (£63m from Man City), Leandro Barreiro (£51m from PSG), Alex Sandro (Free transfer from Juventus) and surprisingly Jack Harrison (£4.2m from Leeds). Both sides had already been better than the side I’d inherited at Atlético and the business they’d done over the summer compared to mine suggested that gap was only going to get wider. I wasn’t confident!

We had a tricky start in La Liga, Sevilla away followed by Barcelona at home. A 1-1 draw followed by a 3-1 win was a great start with João Félix scoring all 4 goals, my decision to play him from the left as opposed to in the hole was looking to be the correct one. In mid October we had the Madrid derby which we won 2-1 thanks to goals from Liam Delap and Koke, beating our 2 main rivals at the first time of asking showed what we were capable of and gave us great confidence going forward. It was the lesser sides that were the issue, we lost 2 games pre winter break, away at Elche and away at Osasuna. Despite that we still found ourselves top at Christmas, 1 point ahead of Real and 6 ahead of Barca. With away trips to both still to come I made Real the favourites but I was really happy with the start we’d made.

In the Champions League we’d been drawn in a group containing AC Milan, Celtic and Benfica. Doing the double over Celtic And Benfica put us through, we only managed 1 point against AC Milan but as they’d dropped points against the other 2 we still topped the group and were comfortably through to the round of 16.

The 4-3-3 formation I outlined in the previous chapter had worked well and I’d stuck with it. Lemar and Félix were the star men, getting lots of goals from out wide and was the strongest area of our team. Our weakest area had been full back which I’d expected, I also wasn’t fully convinced by Cunha as my number 9 but hopefully that would change in the second half of the season.

In January I didn’t have any money to spend so business would only be done if players went out. Brazilian centre back Felipe had barely played and wanted to move on, he was 35 and his contract was up in the summer so I let him join Flamengo for £1m. I replaced him with another Brazilian, 18 year old Rafa joined from Internacional, he will be one for the future.

It looked like that would be the only bit of business I’d do but then on deadline day my former Leverkusen player Victor Tsygankov became available on loan as he was out of favour with Nagelsmann. All I had to do was pay his wages for the rest of the season which I was more than happy to do. Due to his arrival I let Luis Sinisterra join Wolfsburg for £17.5m. There was no one available within that price bracket that I wanted so I decided to keep the money for now. I did however spend it before the end of the season, loanee Marc Roca had been solid when called upon so he would join permanently from Napoli in the summer and I also lined up an Argentine centre back who I will cover off in the next chapter.

After the January break the Spanish Supercopa occurs which is a 4 way competition between the top 2 sides in the league and cup, it is played in Saudi Arabia which is quite bizarre. We were drawn against our city rivals Real in the semis, the game went to penalties and they triumphed 6-5 and would go onto lift the trophy after beating Barca in the final.

Back to the league and our good form continued, we only dropped 2 points in January and February. These were away at Barcelona where the game finished 2-2, a good result on paper but one I wasn’t happy with as we’d thrown away a 2 goal lead. We slipped up in March, a draw away at Real Sociedad and an away defeat in the Madrid derby which saw us fall to second place. April saw us keep the pressure on Los Blancos by winning all of our league games including a 7-0 victory away at Cádiz where loan man Tsygankov scored 5. This meant that Real were 2 points ahead of us with 4 games to play, Barcelona were nowhere to be seen.

Manchester United were our opposition in the first knockout round of the Champions League. Luis Enrique had been sacked in November so it would be former England manager Marco Silva I’d be facing, he had been rewarded for winning Euro 2024 with the Man Utd job. Upon Silva leaving the Three Lions role I had applied for the vacant England job but they went for Ruud Gullit who had been sacked by Chelsea and replaced by Frank Lampard. Back to the tie and the first leg was in England where we lost 2-0 meaning that we faced an uphill struggle to put things right in the second leg. There was only one thing to do and that was attack, and attack we did! We found ourselves 3-0 up at half time, Félix, Lemar and Delap with the goals. Half time allowed United to regather and they forced extra time through a Alexander Isak goal. It looked to be going to extra time before a 121st minute Victor Tsygankov sent us through, 4-1 on the night, 4-3 on aggregate. Our reward was another trip to Manchester, this time to face Man City. With a strike force of Haaland, Mbappé and Vlahović I was scared and I was right to be so as they flattened us 4-1 at the Etihad before beating us 2-1 in our own back yard knocking us out of Europe.

The Copa Del Rey was kind to us at first before giving us the toughest tie of all. We beat Hércules and Valladolid to set up a quarter final away at Real Madrid who beat us 1-0. They were fast becoming my nemesis, it felt like revenge for what my Leverkusen side had done to them in the Europa League final the year before.

All that was left to play for was the La Liga title. With just four games left we’d have to hope Real slipped up but it was unlikely as their run in was kind, Alavés at home was followed by away trips to Elche and Levante before Real Sociedad were due to come to the Bernabéu on the final day of the season. Our fixtures on the other hand were much tougher. Villarreal away was followed by Athetlic Club and Getafe at home before finishing away at Valencia on the final day.

It was pretty much over after the first of the four games, Real beat Alavés where as we drew with Villarreal, Pau Torres getting an 87th minute winner to all but end our title hopes. Real had the chance to seal the title at Elche as they played before us, they won comfortably and our season was over with 3 games to play. We won our next 2 before a final day defeat at Valencia.

Despite falling short at the end it had been a fantastic effort by ourselves, the points we had amassed would have won the title in each of the previous 3 seasons. We had finished 14 points ahead of Barcelona who had won the last 2 titles and this was all despite not having spent very much money. Our points total was actually a record high for a team who hadn’t won the league, not an accolade you really want but one that shows how well we’d actually done.

There have been a few stand out players this season, both in a good and in a bad way. Here are my key findings:

  • As expected Jan Oblak is a world class keeper, he kept a clean sheet in over half of your games and he has signed a new long term contract
  • I knew full back was going to be a weak area and it really showed, the only one who impressed me was my young signing Pablo who overtook Trippier as first choice on the right hand side before the season was out
  • Nehuén Pérez started as a back up centre back but completely outshone Mario Hermoso and became my chosen partner for José Giménez
  • Koke was the main man for me in central midfield, Mateo Kovačić was disappointing and I may look to move him on
  • Out wide Lemar and Félix were class all year but Tsygankov was the star during the 6 months he was here, the only issue is it will cost £57m to sign him permanently and I need to spend money elsewhere
  • Matheus Cunha didn’t score enough goals but after a slow start Liam Delap really improved in the second half of the season. Man City stuck an optional fee of £51m on the loan deal which I’m never going to pay so I may look for another loan or allow him to return and then try and sign him for cheaper. Ideally he will be my second choice striker next season with a new player coming in to take over Cunha

Here is your usual view of the players stats over the season:

To finish off lets take a quick look around Europe to see how the other leagues have gone this season.

In England Man City made it 5 titles in a row but lost the FA Cup final on penalties to Vladimir Petkovic’s Leeds United side. Liverpool sacked Steven Gerrard in late February and were down in 7th and that vacancy really tempted me, so much so that I applied for it and had an interview but they chose Dortmund manager Marco Rose as the man to take over at the end of the season. They may regret that as the caretaker boss Barry Lewtas managed to get them to finish in 2nd and won them the Champions League, beating Chelsea in the final. Spurs sacked Mancini and replaced him with Luis Enrique after he’d left Man Utd, they finished right down in 10th.

Nagelsmann retained the Bundesliga for Leverkusen but there was no stand out team, they finished with 11 points less than what I’d got the year before. Dortmund are yet to hire a new manager so it will be interesting to see who takes over there.

PSG won Ligue Un but it was Nice who triumphed in the Coupe De France. Monaco have been the main rivals of PSG during this save but in the summer PSG flexed their financial muscle by signing Myron Boadu from their closest rivals.

Zidane won his first title as Juventus manager but lost the Coppa Italia final to Inter Milan who also won the Europa League being Lyon 3-0 in the final. The big shock was Napoli finishing in 10th place, Matías Almeyda lost his job mid season and was replaced by former Liverpool player Álvaro Arbeloa who had been the manager of Levante.

Here is a reminder of who has won what so far at club level:

Competition21/2222/2323/2424/25
Premier LeagueMan CityMan CityMan CityMan City
FA CupArsenalEvertonChelseaLeeds United
Ligue UnMonacoPSGPSGPSG
Coupe de FrancePSGPSGPSGNice
BundesligaBayern MünchenDortmundBayer LeverkusenBayer Leverkusen
DFB-PokalFreiburgBayer LeverkusenRB LeipzigBayern München
Serie AJuventusInter MilanAC MilanJuventus
Coppa ItaliaRomaNapoliAC MilanInter Milan
La LigaReal MadridBarcelonaBarcelonaReal Madrid
Copa Del ReyAtlético de MadridBarcelonaAtlético de MadridReal Madrid
Champions LeaguePSGMan CityDortmundLiverpool
Europa LeagueBayern MünchenAC MilanBayer LeverkusenInter Milan

Next season the board have only given me £24m which won’t go very far so I’ll have to be clever with how I spend it.

Cheers for reading,

The Last Throw.

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