After an unexpected 10 day break we are back with another update on this epic journey! Firstly I would like to apologise for the unplanned break, due to work commitments and training for a 100-mile charity bike ride (which I completed yesterday!) I didn’t have much spare time to blog unfortunately. However I feel it was a good sacrifice to make for the cause, if you would like to read more about the reason for the 100 mile cycle or donate then click here.
Anyway as it has been such a long break I have decided to give you an extra long update today and cover the month of February as well as the usual December & January months that cover the festive episode. Just to give you a summary of what happened last episode in case you have forgotten, we have started the season superbly and are performing way above expectations! 26 points from our opening 14 games has us sat in the top 6 and only a handful of wins away from hitting that all important 40 points mark and guaranteeing safety at this early stage.
However December is going to be a tough month as we have all of the big boys to play. Plus it wouldn’t be one of my festive episodes without a hectic January transfer window would it? Like I said, it’s a bit of a longer one this time so go and find your quiet place and enjoy. I’ve missed this, hopefully you’ve missed this, let’s get into it!
We started December with an early assessment of our youth intake for this year… could the next Lionel Messi be entering through the Palace doors? Doubtful I know.
It looks decent at best, not outstanding but not horrendous. The goalkeeper gets two mentions so looking forward to seeing him! Obviously this is just an early assessment so we will have to see what the actual candidates are like when they come in.
Let’s get back to the football shall we? As I said at the end of last episode, December was not looking promising. We have to play Chelsea, Man Utd, Tottenham & Liverpool so a losing streak was very likely! I don’t know about anyone else’s saves but on mine the top 6 sides just become absolute freaks of nature, almost impossible to play against… anyway, let’s see how we get on:
Fair enough. As expected I guess! A welcome win against Watford (2-1) kicked off the month before we faced the 4 fixtures of doom. Chelsea absolutely tore us apart, just have to take that one on the chin and move on (0-4). The rest of the fixtures could have been very different in all honesty.
The Man Utd game was disappointing, our performance should have been enough for a share of the points but our finishing let us down (0-2). The other 2 games were not the same in terms of us ‘deserving something’ from them, as both Tottenham & Liverpool played us off the park. However Spurs had to wait until the 78th minute to break us down so it was certainly a point lost (0-1), and Liverpool were forced to sweat a little as their breakthrough came in the 88th minute (0-1). Again we should have lost both comfortably, but once you’re in the position to take a point it becomes very disappointing to come away with nothing.
So overall not a great month, but it was expected to be fair. I was disappointed that we had failed to score in any of the games against the big boys, but ultimately they are far better teams with far better players than us so we take it and move on. After a points shy month how was the table looking?
I mean I would have snapped your arm off to have 29 points at the halfway stage of the season so I’m delighted with this! If we can repeat the success in the second half of the season and secure a top 10 finish I will be chuffed.
January promised to be a hectic month as always with 8 fixtures in all competitions as well as the transfer window to navigate. Anyone who has been following this journey will know that I always seem to have the most hectic January transfer windows and this one is no different.
Quite a lot of deals to get through in the outgoing section, I’ll run you through the big ones that were done deals prior to the window opening and then go through the in-window ones later. As you will see a lot of players wanted to leave to seek more regular first team opportunities, which is understandable.
Lucas Martinez Quarta (CB) wanted more playing time so we agreed a £10m deal to move him back home to Racing Club, whom he joined in December due to their transfer window opening earlier. Martim Neto (CM) wasn’t happy with his ‘super-sub’ playing time so I agreed I would let him go, I wasn’t expecting to get a £25m fee for him but offered him out at that value to see where the market stood. I had a £14m offer from Napoli which I declined, much to Neto’s annoyance, however out of nowhere I had a £25m upfront offer from Oil rich Middlesbrough and I nearly bit their hand off!
Charlie Cresswell (CB) again wanted more regular starting XI opportunities so we agreed to let him go to Nottingham Forest for £4.5m. Manual Ugarte (CM) had seen his playing time become limited due to the success of our summer signings and again was seeking a move, £16.5m was again good money to have coming into the club. The next deal shocked me, Angus Gunn at the age of 32 decided he needed to be a first choice keeper which I understand, his market value was £20m but I probably expected to get £7.5-10m for him, however I offered out at £20m just to see and straight in with the full amount upfront was Derby… great business if you ask me!
The next deal was probably the strangest of the window however. Pedrinho was a player who played almost every game for me, hardly ever from the start, but due to his versatility in CM/CAM/RW/LW/ST he would always come on at some point. Never a great performer but solid enough and at 29 was just playing his part without much fuss. Then out of nowhere, I mean literally nowhere, there was no ‘wnt’ sign or anything but HB China Fortune just offered a non-negotiable £32.5m transfer package for him. No negotiation was necessary, he wanted to go and I was delighted to have the funds for someone who was a bit-part player!
There were some smaller deals here and there but in total we had brought in a massive £109.5m from a bunch of squad players. It was all very unexpected but overall definitely for the best as we could reinvest this in the squad and the club as a whole to improve going forward.
Considering there were 7 players who left that were fairly regularly utilised squad players it was clear we were short in a couple of areas. However due to the fact we were only competing in the Premier League and FA Cup I didn’t want to go and get a whole load of players in, only for them to be disappointed at their playing time and want to leave in the summer. So it was about trying to find a balance:
A couple of deals were wrapped up ahead of the window, Ivan Rakic (RW/ST) came in for only £5.5m as my single handed dismantling of Red Star continued. Phillip McLoughlin (GK) is an investment for the future, and at only 18 years old looks like he could be a star in the making so well worth the £2.5m transfer fee.
Pol Seco is a young player who had yet to make a senior appearance for Barcelona, however at the age of 22 he has plenty of first team experience from his various loans in France & Germany, plus to have a player who is as comfortable at CB as he is at CM would be helpful for squad depth and the way in which I want the team to play. Expensive deal at £15.5m but in the grand scheme of things it’s worth the money as he’s only going to improve.
The final two deals came on deadline day as I realised I was a little bit short in the CDM/CM and CAM positions following the sales of Neto, Ugarte & Pedrinho. Now you might be thinking ‘does that say Jordan Henderson?! In 2028? When he would be 37?’… yes, yes it does. Now I am normally not one to bring in those who are on their way out of the game, however his attributes completely convinced me he still has it all to offer, plus with his versatility and overall leadership I really think £4.3m is an absolute bargain!
Finally we signed Miguel Beron, a 23 year old CAM/CM from Benfica. My scouts were raving about him and at only £5m what do I really have to lose? So overall a fantastic window in my opinion. I genuinely wasn’t expecting it to be that busy in terms of outgoings but when it happens you just have to think quick and make solid investments in your squad and club.
£109.5m incoming and £33.5m outgoing, £76m net profit from this window, great business! Plus when you see the quality of the players I brought in you will see why I rate backroom staff (and scouts in particular) as such a high priority.
Even though I tried to be reserved in terms of replacing those players who had left, we still ended up as the most active team in the division. Arsenal were the biggest spenders of the window splashing out £69m! Plus there were some dealings going on between the big clubs as Alexis Saelemaekers swapped Man Utd for Chelsea in a £61m deal.
Due to the shrewd transfer business we had manage to reduce our wage expenditure slightly, which meant we were now the 4th lowest payers in the division.
Considering we are currently occupying a top 10 place I would say I’m pretty happy about this. Of course we want to progress but there’s no point bankrupting the club whilst you’re doing it! This long term thinking means we are far more likely to be building a big club of the future or providing the foundation for the club to continue to be successful after we leave.
Back to the action now as we have 8 fixtures in all competitions in January. After that horrible run of fixtures in December we needed to try and get some victories and points on the board again. 4 losses in a row is something that can very easily turn into 10 if you’re not careful, then all of a sudden relegation talk starts to rear it’s ugly head. Let’s hope we can quash any thoughts of that pretty quickly!
What a way to bounce back! We started the month with a trip to York in the FA Cup 3rd Round, as you can imagine it was a great opportunity to rotate the squad and score some goals for the first time in 4 games (4-1). However we then repeated the scoreline in the league a week later at home against Wolves as 3 goals in the final 10 minutes added some gloss to a well deserved win (4-1).
A fairly even game followed away at St Mary’s, I do feel we should have won it but Southampton converted a penalty to take a share of the points, frustrating (1-1). It looked as though those frustrations would continue against Sheffield Utd at home, it was a poor performance by our standards to be fair and we probably couldn’t have had many arguments if they had taken all 3 points. However Ebere Eze showed incredible fight in the 95th minute as, whilst carrying a knock, he thundered in an incredible volley to take the roof off of Selhurst Park! 1-0.
To give you an idea of how much we didn’t deserve the win, our goalkeeper Milan Stojkovic was man of the match with 9 saves!
Another close fought match against Brentford followed, again it could have gone either way and a draw was probably the fair result but my side just refuse to give up at the moment and our new man Ivan Rakic came off the bench to score the winner in the 88th minute! What a way to introduce yourself to the premier league (2-1).
It was a break from the league now as we faced Portsmouth in the 4th Round of the FA Cup, however it was much the same story, not a great game as a heavily rotated side, which included 5 players from the U21 side due to injury and fitness concerns, struggled to breakdown the Championship side before new signing Pol Seco scored a thunderous late winner to put us through to the fifth round (1-0).
Back to league action as we took on fellow European challengers West Ham at home. This was a real opportunity to try and get ahead in the unlikely European race but we couldn’t take it, everything about our play was very good up until the finish. We had 11 shots and only 2 on target, which at this level is just not good enough. West Ham punished us and took home all 3 points (0-1).
Our final game of this long and gruelling month was against Newcastle. They have a very good squad on my game and are having yet another fantastic season as they look to close in on Champions League football, so going into this one I would have been happy with a point, particularly on the back of the West Ham game. However I never could have predicted the game that unfolded!
We went 1-0 up, then 1-1, then 2-1 with the last kick of the first half, before making it 3-1 with almost the first kick of the second half! Some fans would barely have been back in their seats as we made it 4-1 in the 50th minute, but with their quality Newcastle were not just going to take that lying down. They made it 4-2, then 4-3 before Mitchell Bircham (who I had promoted from U21’s due to the number of outgoings and injuries) came on to score a crucial goal to make it 5-3 and guarantee all 3 points for us.
What a month! Both with the transfers and results as we bounced back from a horrible December. We recieved some media recognition as well as Ebere Eze came 3rd in player of the month:
I even had some recognition myself as I finished runner up in the Manager of the Month award!
Personal achievements are nice of course but it’s the team we’re more interested in, and after that incredible month of results you may notice something about the table at the end of January…
42 points! 42 points at the end of January… 42 points after 25 games… I think it’s safe to say we are guaranteed our place in the premier league next season! To put this into context, when I joined after 26 games last season we had 24 points. It’s been an incredible turnaround, we could have so easily been playing Championship football this season yet here we are fighting away for the European positions. Football is a funny old game you know!
As promised here is the extra month of February added to this episode. I know it’s been quite a long one already with the transfer window added in, but due to the length of my break I feel like I owe it to you all!
Only the 3 games in February, however it was 3 games and an international break that could have season defining impacts on our squad, as you will see. The injury list in the squad was beginning to cause concern, particularly after Mihai-Dragos suffered an injury during training:
Yes you read that right, 9 players on the injury list, and with the exception of Dylan Woods these were all first team players.
Certainly a concern but there didn’t seem to be anything in particular causing it, I tried lowering the intensity of the training just in case that was causing the issues but a lot of the injuries were happening in matches and I know I have rotated sufficiently so I think it’s just one of those freak periods that you can have every now and again. Anyway, let’s get into the matches!
I always have the most frustrating matches against Burnley, and this time was no different as we dominated and were cruising to a 1-0 away win, that was until Aaron Connelly popped up out of nowhere in the 93rd minute to sprint past my entire defence and slot home an equaliser (1-1). However there was a bigger concern following the game:
Another injury to a crucial player, plus with the long term injuries to back up left back Hugo Montanana and third choice left back Luke Shaw it meant I would need to play Mitchell Bircham, an attacking left winger from the U21’s, as a complete wing back for the next couple of months at least.
I was concerned about this, particularly as we had Man City up next and with the quality of their wingers they could really exploit our weakness in that left back area. However wouldn’t you just know that instead of it being a weakness it was one of our biggest strengths! Bircham capped a man of the match display with a goal to secure a famous 2-0 win over one of the big boys.
With our injury list now at 10 players we were down to the bare bones and just needed everyone we had to stay fit until we started getting players back. Now you know that’s what we needed to happen does anyone want to guess what actually happened?
Our player of the season so far and outstanding goalkeeper Milan Stojkovic injured his ankle during a training session. Absolutely gutted as he had won us so many points this season and had been crucial! No big deal though, this is why we have backup keepers and Leandro Pias, the youngster who joined us at the start of the season has been waiting patiently for his chance and he would now have a solid run in the side… so what do you think happened?
OH COME ON! Injury list grows to 12 players and we now have 1 goalkeeper remaining at the club, 18 year old Philip McLoughlin who only joined the club from Preston in January and is yet to make a senior appearance at any level of football. Don’t get me wrong he looks a great prospect, but playing a 1.5 star goalkeeper in the premier league for at least a month is not exactly what I want to be doing.
To add in to all of that, his first game is away at the Emirates against last seasons runners up Arsenal. Poor lad, it was just one of those where you send the team out as normal and hope for the best! Fortunately he showed incredible character as he made save after save and picked up the man of the match award in the process… you honestly can’t write this. It wasn’t enough to get anything out of the game unfortunately but he still kept the score at only 0-1 and it was an incredible debut.
Of course the end to this game was followed up with only one thing… another injury!
That’s now 3 injuries in a row from ‘twisting in training’… clearly need to ban that for the time being! Marco Kana is our captain and a key player for us, he had only just come back from injury and then this happens. It’s just never ending at the moment, Injury list up to 13 now. We have managed to keep going so far but this can’t carry on, I have never seen this many injuries at one time in Football Manager! I just hope it doesn’t derail our season completely.
With that said, relegation is a distant memory and everything from now on is just a bonus anyway, so let’s see how we’re looking in the league at the end of February:
The season is more and more looking like it will end with a top 10 finish which I am just delighted with, obviously it’s not guaranteed yet so we need to keep plugging away, and these injuries are a real concern, but who cares? I am guaranteed Premier League football next season, plus a European dream is still alive, it’s not likely but it it is alive. So to be honest I am over the moon with this season no matter what happens in the final months!
We won’t have another update on this save for a couple of weeks as it is now my turn on The Far East Express! If you’re not sure what that is then check out the preview episode here, but basically it is a joint save between DP-FM and a whole bunch of other Football Manager content creators.
It’s unlike any other save I have ever seen before so it’s probably easier for you to read the preview rather than have me trying to explain the madness it entails! But keep an eye out for the updates from my turn on that save here on DP-FM.
However when we do come back to the Unemployed, Unskilled & Inexperienced journey we will be going through the final months of our first full season in the Premier League. The fantastic form in January has meant that we are thinking more of Europe than relegation which is mental considering where we were at this point last season. So to be honest anything else this season is just a bonus, all I want is the team to try and keep up their standards so the level of this season becomes the norm.
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While you’re here on DP-FM if you want to follow more challenges go over to Scott’s (the co-author of this site) challenge where he is on a journey to rebuild Bolton Wanderers and take them on a Europa League run! Click here for the first ever episode or here for the latest one.
Thank you for reading and supporting us. As always please keep safe during these difficult times and we’ll see you again soon!