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Bolton Back to Europa S1E2 – Pre-season


Strap yourselves in ladies and gentlemen, we have a lot to go through on this episode and rightly so being pre-season. So whilst you have another dig at the Christmas food like I will be doing about now, sit down and relax, have a read to see how we’re looking during pre-season and for the start of the competitive season!

Backroom Staff/Squad

When I decided on this project to get Bolton back to the good times, I knew pre-season was going to be key in terms of signings, potentially loaning out players for any sort of income and getting a good tactic in early for training. Now before we review what is a very large squad, a key thing when taking over any team in FM is the backroom staff. The only issue I had at Bolton was whilst the current staffing was good enough for League 2 it wasn’t the backroom staff that was going to match my tactical thoughts however, mutual termination sitting between £45-60k (as found out when terminating a physio’s contract) doing this across the board would easily put the club finances below £0.

Majority of staff contracts run until the end of the 2021/22 season, its not ideal but I’ll work with it until the time comes to let them go for free.

DP FM Tip – If you have the budget, make sure your staff match your preferred formation and tactic or as close to it as possible. This will mean you will not have to interfere with the training schedule throughout the season unless there’s something you want to work on specifically. In addition, pre-match tactical advice will fall in line with your chosen tactics and how you want your selected team to play.

Now the squad, all I can say is…wow. Bolton don’t have an u23s squad and have recruited a lot of players over the summer on 1 year contracts meaning any players I want to sell aren’t going anywhere. This is what we’re working with..

Don’t get me wrong there is some talent in there for sure, Ryan Delaney (DC), Ali Crawford (AMC), Nathan Delfouneso (AMR), Lloyd Isgrove (AML) and Eoin Doyle (ST) are going to be big parts of what we want to do this season. However, there are some players who are just not good enough to play for Bolton for their ability and age. (Screenshots taken after transfer window). Dennis Politic (AML) is my type of winger, quick and skillful but he is out for an astonishing 15-16 months with an anterior cruciate ligament injury, we won’t being seeing him until season 2 of Bolton Back to Europa.

A plethora of youngsters in the set up such as Bright Amoateng (ST) who I called up from the U18s is an exciting talent, Ronan Darcy (AMC) another who can make an impact and young defenders like Adam Senior (DR) and Ryan Colvin (DC) have good potential for future use. I’m the type who will use youngsters if needed or when I think it is a good game to play them. I am a big fan on the loan system but only if the agreed play time is beneficial for the player.

DP FM Tip – Getting match reports on a loaned out player who you have future plans on will give you updates on their performance every time they play and will allow you to see their stats such as their match rating. If they are over/under performing this will at least let you see if you need to recall them to play at a higher level or if they need more time in the youth team.

Tactics and Pre-Season Results

After reviewing the squad, I had two thoughts in mind – 4-1-4-1 DM with direct counter attack or a 4-3-3 DM with wing play. At first I decided to go with the 4-1-4-1 DM to be slightly stubborn when teams attack us and use our pacey players to feed the strikers but after 5 pre-season fixtures I really didn’t like it, we looked very negative at times. (Pre-season results coming up below!)

Even when I coach my youth team in real life, I coach them to attack and go at teams as I believe personally in positive football. So I changed to the 4-3-3 DM wing play and for the last couple of games in pre-season we looked a bit more promising. Little tweaks will be needed here and there but I felt a lot more comfortable watching the team opposed to sitting their getting annoyed watching the 4-1-4-1 DM even though it was my fault – admit it we all refuse to blame ourselves at first when gaming, all part of the beauty of it! So we set up like this

I felt after transfers (next section), this was my best 11 however, there was a decent enough bench to back the team when needed. Lloyd Isgrove got injured near the start of pre-season with a month of out with ankle issues. When going forward there is always an overlap from the wing backs, wingers take on defenders with pace but we also make sure we retain the ball. A high counter press is there to put opposition under pressure early when they try to play out from the back which is becoming increasingly popular in the current state of the game.

As mentioned before the first 5 results were not too appetising due to the old formation, one win vs. Ipswich which was a poor game in general but whilst we only lost by a goal in the following 3 matches to higher league opposition especially Leicester City, we really didn’t look good going forward. The first friendly vs. Goytre United who are in the Cymru South league of Wales (one down from their premier league), it felt like a Sunday league match being at 9AM, the result was certainly not what you’d see in a sunday league match by all accounts.

the 4-3-3 DM vs Sunderland was a good watch, my team looked comfortable throughout and the draw with dutch side Heracles Almelo we looked good just couldn’t finish some good chances so a positive end to pre-season.


As we know, the great Bolton Wanderers are not in a good position financially with £0 transfer budget and just under £2k in the wage budget but I wanted to be smart and just get in players who I believed would get us out of League 2 at the first attempt. It proved as hard as I expected to move players on also with not much money being made from loans. It got to a point where I had to get some players out of the squad as it was going to become a lot to manage.

By the time the season was about to start, I had brought in 4 players (3 loans and 1 free agent). Very happy to get Balogun on loan from Arsenal for the season, due to the affiliation made with the club, no fee or wages had to be paid. He’s a great player for this level and can play as a striker or out wide on either side. Jordan Spence definitely has great experience around the EFL leagues and I brought him in with a view of starting right back/covering centre back when needed. Francois/Sheaf both capable of playing MC & AMC, I thought I needed more depth in these areas as there are a lot of games to be played, did I need them both? Only time will tell my friends.

What’s next?

Next up is the start of the season, with a Carabao cup match vs Morecambe and a Papa John’s trophy group match vs League one’s Crewe Alexandra to get us going before we start our League 2 venture.

Episode 3 will cover the months of September and October to see how we fair in the opening parts of the season. The aim? Get some momentum in the cups and start getting as many points on board as we possible can to start cementing our place in the top 3. Episode 3 will be out before 2020 comes to a close so look out for it, get in contact with us for your opinions/questions and lastly from both of us at DP FM, we wish you a very happy Christmas, enjoy and see you back here real soon 🙂

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