After last episode’s announcement that this would be my last season at Bolton Wanderers, this season was all about going out in the best possible fashion that we can but ultimately providing a very good account of ourselves in the Europa League.
We’ve played the first month of the season and find ourselves 9th after a win and 3 draws which is a similar start to last season. The squad turnover means team cohesion once again requires a rebuild to ensure my tactics have the desired effect.
In this episode however, we’ll have a look at the months of September, October and November, check out our current Europa League group progress as we get to the point of one group game left and also my injury list seems to grow with some key players being ruled out in the long term.
There are a few games in the league and Carabao Cup to contend with, I will be showcasing our Europa League adventure in a separate section. The lack of league games you’ll see is from fixture rearrangements due to the Europa schedule, for some reason not all games were rescheduled for a Sunday – instead they were changed to midweek games later in the season…
Up first we faced Spurs, a team we can usually hold our own against and we done just that and more as we beat them 3-0! An unreal performance as the lads who constantly took the game to Spurs, not giving them a minute’s rest. New centre back Giannis Michailidis got himself a debut goal, an own goal by Franck Kessie following a cross doubled our lead and Jorge sealed the points with a simple finish late in the second half.
A cruel Carabao Cup draw paired my side with Chelsea who got the better of us in a 3-1 loss. I did rotate slightly for this due to the Europa League games we had to play but Chelsea went full strength and ultimately were too good for my side. Mauro Icardi grabbed a goal rolling back the years with a clinical finish in the box. Following this game in training however, disaster struck for young wonderkid Jovan Ilic…
After finding this gem of a player in my last season, I won’t be able to use him until the final few months of the season. A broken leg from a challenge in training from who I don’t know (If I did, they’d be getting offered to clubs!) but it’s just a kick in the teeth for the squad. 7.36 average rating after 5 games is what you want to see from a new signing but at least we have the depth to cover.
Despite the bad news, this didn’t stop us putting in a good performance against Manchester City where we held them to a 0-0 draw at the Etihad. We’ve been hot and cold against City in the past but in this game, defensively we shut them out and made a few chances of our own but ultimately it was a deserved point.
3 tough teams in this month but I’m happy with the league results as it’s not easy to take points from any of the ‘big 6’.
I was impressed with our performances in September league wise and with more straight forward teams I wanted to keep the developing form going.
And we start the month with a flyer dispatching newly promoted Middlesbrough with a 3-0 win. Similar to the victory against Spurs last month, my team did not give the opposition a second and with constant waves of attacks we got our rewards through Jorge, Lewis Bate & Mauro Icardi. It was then Brighton who were welcomed to the UoB stadium and they do deem to be tricky opposition for us usually. Despite the 0-0 score line, it was an open game as both teams had a go at each other but credit to both goalkeepers as they made some terrific saves.
We finished the month with a close fought match versus Southampton, providing my side with a narrow 1-0 victory. We normally have action packed matches with Southampton but this one was a lot tamer as we took the lead against the run of play thanks to that man Jorge. The second half we were more in control and held our own to see out the result.
Another decent month results wise with 7 points from a possible 9, also we are yet to lose in the league at 3 months in which is particularly pleasing.
Before any league matches were played in November, another training injury crashed into my inbox for a player who was just starting to show glimpses of his quality in his first season of Premier League football.
Young winger Hari Harvey was the casualty this time after a tough tackle in training breaks his ankle. Not quite sure what the boys are trying to achieve in training but its having an adverse affect. It’s a big loss, a player who has been out on loan last season and is now rated better than save legend Shane McNeill. HH will miss the busy winter period which is when you need the depth of the squad. Very frustrating!
Again, just a few league games to look at due to our early Carabao Cup exit as the games get tougher towards the end of the month.
Another newly promoted side in resident yo-yo club Norwich came to the north west and it took us a while but we grabbed a deserved 1-0 win. The whole game we were knocking on the door and I thought it was going to be one of them games until Junior popped up with a 23 yard scorcher to win us the game and a confidence boosting first goal for the club.
Next up was a tricky trip to Leicester who as we all know are a dangerous team in their own right. Thanks to an outstanding first half performance, the boys got the victory at 2-1. The man who has delivered for the majority of his time at Bolton – Tarrelle Whittaker grabbed a brace (you’ll hear more about him in the Europa League) as we took the game to our opponents. Despite Leicester getting a goal back with 10 minutes to go, we defensively dealt with any further late pressure.
Despite the high spirits from our great league form, it all came crashing down versus Arsenal in a brutal 4-0 loss. A torrid first half saw us concede all 4 goals as we just crumbled from the first goal. A half time rinsing got the boys going for a better second half performance but the damage was already done. First time in a while I’ve really seen us fully on the ropes however, the injury list was building with some key players out putting us down to bare bones in places. Although there was one familiar name on the scoresheet for Arsenal…
Thierry Henry?! Last I checked he was managing elsewhere but turns out it was a regen who was French and came from Monaco, sound familiar? The lad ran my left back ragged as well to make matters worse!
Whilst it was a loss to shake our morale, our early season unbeaten run also came to an abrupt end.
A bitter blow at the end of the month with that pounding but we are playing a lot of games this season and with the ever growing injury list, it was bound to happen at some point.
There we are lying in 7th place with two games in hand due to the dodgy rescheduling from our Europa League games. Another concern for me is our low scoring in the league, 13 goals from 12 games isn’t what I’m used to seeing with my squads over the years – maybe a splash in the January transfer window will be on the cards before a drought really kicks in.
Europa League Group Stage
At the end of November, five games have been played and the group is more or less shaped up. We’ll run through the fixtures/results so far and also have a look to see where my side lies within this group.
Matchday 1 – This was a trip to the illustrious San Siro to face AC Milan in an entertaining tie that finished 2-2. Milan took the lead just before half time before Rafa Marin equalised with a strong header. Milan then regained the lead five minutes later before Mauro Icardi stretched a leg out for an incoming cross to beat his marker for a late equaliser, great result!
Matchday 2 – This time it was a trip to Germany and I had the same thoughts as the AC Milan match in thinking a draw would be a decent result. Bayer Leverkusen are a very good team but we matched them punch for punch securing another good point at 0-0.
Matchday 3 – Finally a match at home against Motherwell who got a shock win against AC Milan on the last matchday. They proved a test for my side but we ran out 2-1 winners on the day after a great first half where goals from Tarrelle Whittaker & Mateusz Musialowski got us going. Motherwell did get a goal back in the second half but the lads held on for an important 3 points.
Matchday 4 – It was time for the reverse fixture as we travel north to Scotland to visit Motherwell’s Fir Park. It was actually Motherwell who took the lead just after half time which seemed to spark my team into action, with Adam Hlozek getting a 12 minute brace before Jorge secured the result in the 78th minute. I’m glad we’ve secured the double over this team before facing the big two again.
Matchday 5 – AC Milan were welcomed to Bolton in a scenery change different to what they’re used to. Again we share the spoils at 2-2 as Milan’s poor Europa League campaign continues. It was a fast paced opening 30 minutes as Milan took an early lead before Mateusz Musialowski’s equaliser but the opposition took the lead again around the half hour mark. It seemed we were up against it but some Tarrelle Whittaker magic got us back on level terms and that’s how it finished.
Let’s check out the group before I give our judgement on our performance so far.
Well would you look at that? Off we go to the knockout rounds with a game to spare! It’s been a close group with close scoring games, to be honest I was expecting AC Milan to run this group but they have struggled with no win yet. However, it’s great news for us but the last game against Bayer Leverkusen is key as top place means no draw against the Champions League drop down teams!
Now I’ve mentioned injuries a few times and I wanted to leave this for last so you can see how we’re going to be up against it a little in the winter period.
November turned out to be a nightmare as it felt like players were falling one by one but positionally it hurt us especially in wide areas. Hari Harvey being out leaves Mateusz Musialowski & Shane McNeill but the latter unfortunately does not seem good enough for the level we are at. With Junior & Adam Hlozek out, all I have is Tarrelle Whittaker to cover the left but with the constant games, the match load will take its toll.
Marko Stamenic & Jovan Ilic on paper are our best players and any team would miss them, Stamenic is very creative which is what we’re missing currently and Ilic was in such good early form.
The positive is that most players will be back in December bar the two long term injuries, then you have to get the match fitness back during the high game turnaround. So you’re still looking at an addition week or two for full match fitness again.
Hopefully with the staggered comebacks this will improve our performances especially in the attacking third.
Up next is the busy winter period where there are games flying about everywhere. I will also be keen to get into the January transfer window as I feel we are lacking up front and in a couple of other key areas within the starting XI. It may be my last season but I’m not looking to leave this team in a bad place when I do call it a day.
Whilst you are exploring the DP-FM site, go take a look at Louis’ (Co-blogger/creator of DP-FM) challenge where he is embarking on his series ‘Unemployed, Unskilled & Inexperienced’ which is currently on season 9. This entails Louis starting from the bottom of his management career with no coaching badges and low attributes to add to the fun!
To go from the start – https://dpfmblog.com/2020/12/21/unemployed-unskilled-inexperienced-season-1-episode-1/
Or to go from the current season – https://dpfmblog.com/2021/04/26/unemployed-unskilled-inexperienced-s9-ep-1-going-for-europe/
Thank you all for reading guys, we appreciate all the love and support you give DP-FM on twitter and discord! I will be back soon with episode 3 so keep your eyes peeled.