Welcome back one and all to episode 3 of our decennial season on this incredible journey! Bit of a longer gap between the last episode and this one but unfortunately work/life just gets in the way sometimes, but don’t worry this episode is just one of 3 we have dropping in the coming week, all from different challenges as well so keep your eyes peeled!
If you haven’t caught up on last episode then I recommend you do that now before I give you a bunch of spoilers. We somehow managed to secure top spot in the Champions League group of death with 2 games to go following an incredible run of 4 straight wins. However in the league our focus on Europe was coming at a cost, we weren’t losing many games but the incredible amount of draws meant a lot of dropped points this early on in the season.
We had managed to recover somewhat in the final month of the episode (November) and were sitting in 6th place, however there was a big gap to the top 4 places. Basically the focus was now simple, with Champions League knockout football confirmed and the first game not taking place until the end of February, the next 3 months would be fully concentrated on the domestic league & cups.
As well as 3 months (and 21 matches) of football to show you, I also have the January transfer window to update you on, as well as an early assessment of our youth intake… it’s going to be a busy one, I better stop wasting time! Come on, let’s get into it.
December starts off with some great news as the planned expansion to our youth facilities is complete!
The board have been fantastic with granting investment into the clubs infrastructure over my time here and it is certainly paying off with a golden generation youth intake last season. Speaking of which, let’s take a look at the preview for the upcoming youth intake…
Well well well… a second consecutive potential golden generation intake! It looks like a nice balance as well with talk of a CB, CM, winger & ST catching the eye. Who knows, with last seasons intake added into the mix we could become a 100% youth intake team in the next 5 seasons! Now that would be an interesting FM challenge. Anyway, needless to say I am delighted with this preview, let’s just hope the actual intake matches up to expectation.
Now for the football, in December we play 8 matches across 3 competitions. We need to start getting some wins on the board in the league and cut out the silly draws and dropped points. Let’s see how we got on:
6 wins out of 8 matches, not bad at all! We started the month with what should have been an easy game against Sheffield United, however they arrived with zero intention to attack, having just 1 shot all game and despite us continuously knocking on the door it seemed we would end up with another silly draw and more dropped points. However in the 88th minute Darko Kelava (ST) popped up with a scrappy finish to give us all 3 points, more than deserved (1-0).
We then followed that up with a very impressive 4-0 win away to Brighton. It was actually a very end to end game and really could have been anything but the penalty to make it 2-0 in the 74th minute forced Brighton to push forward to try and get back in the game, which allowed for space at the other end and Darko Kelava punished them to put some gloss on the scoreline.
We then lost at home to Chelsea unfortunately. It was a scrappy game of few chances but their superior quality shone through with a goal just before the hour mark gave them all 3 points (0-1). However you can see we bounced back with an astonishing result against Bayern Munich! You’re probably thinking ‘Louis, I thought you wouldn’t play your strongest XI in the Champions League now that you’ve already qualified’… that’s right, I wouldn’t.
The result you’re seeing, a 3-1 win over Bayern’s strongest XI who needed a win to get through to the knockout stages, was achieved by my second XI. I honestly don’t even know how but my lads are just loving playing the biggest teams in the world in this competition! This meant the group was wrapped up with 5 wins out of 6 and Atletico Madrid join me in the knockout rounds:
Honestly what an incredible group experience we had, drawing the group of death and then going on to win it by 7 points is just beyond my wildest dreams! I waited anxiously for the draw, I couldn’t decide if I wanted a massive team just top be able to play against them or a team similar to my level to see if we could go on a bit of a run. Well it wasn’t up to me, the draw gave us this…
Without a doubt the worst team left in the competition, which is a great draw for us, but we can’t be complacent, we still need to go out there and do the business when the times comes. Also, just reading the above is the first time I have realised Bayern Munich are the current holders and we knocked them out and into the Europa League. This Journey writes its own storylines I swear!
Anyway, back to the football, 4 matches left to take you through this month. Just a reminder of the results:
We welcomed oil-rich Middlesbrough to Selhurst Park and it was a really good game to watch to be honest. We finally got the breakthrough in the 69th minute but Middlesbrough levelled with just 1 minute to play and I was left cursing another inevitable draw and more dropped points, but we managed to get one more attack as our left back James Forrest went on a gut busting run and somehow got the ball into the box from the byline and our wonderkid Sebastian Szlenkier managed to nod it home for all 3 points (2-1). Incredible!
We were still in with a chance of retaining our Carabao Cup Trophy but had a very tough tie against Tottenham to contend with first in the quarter final. Spurs have been brilliant in the league and were clear favourites for this one. However we held our own and took the lead thanks to Darko Kelava, but Troy Parrott was on hand to level the scores just before the hour mark.
With the scores level at the end of normal time it went to penalties… an incredible penalty shootout followed with a total of 5 of the 10 penalties saved as we ended up 3-2 winners and into the Semi Final we go! The draw didn’t really matter to me anymore as the only 4 teams remaining were us, Man Utd, Liverpool & Chelsea, so it was going to be a tough game regardless. We ended up with Manchester United:
They may all be bigger teams than us, but we must not forget that we are the reigning champions in this competition and will play like it regardless of who is in our way.
2 league games to finish off the month as our second XI took to the field against Southampton and managed to scrape a deserved 1-0 win courtesy of a Lucas Alvarez penalty. We then took a trip to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and they managed to get revenge for dumping them out of the cup as they battered us from minute 1 and were deserved 2-4 winners.
On the final day of the month we got some awful news regarding club captain Marco Kana…
Another long term injury for him! He plays so well when he’s fit and is so important around the place but my word I think he has spent more time injured under my management than available. We wish him well of course and look forward to welcoming him back for the final 2 months of the season.
However there was some better news at the end of the year for our goalkeeper Martin Perez, who won North American Goalkeeper of the Year for the second year in a row!
Anyway back to the league as we take a look at how the 4 wins and 2 losses had changed the table:
Not much change in all honesty, we hold on to our 6th place for now and we’re slightly closer to the top 4 than we were before but the top 3 are in a division of their own at the moment. The aim remains the same, secure European football for a second consecutive season.
Into 2030 we go, and this is going to be a big month as we have the transfer window to get through as well as 9 matches in the league! Let’s start with the transfer window:
In particular the outgoings. Srdja Vucinic (RW) had finally been granted his work permit and was playing well in the odd game as our 23rd squad member, but I offered him out on loan to get more game time to aid his development and he returned to the club we signed him from in the first place (Red Star) for the remainder of the season.
Paterne Lomboto (CAM) is someone I signed on a free from Mainz not long after I joined the club. He has progressed well in 3 loan spells since but is unfortunately not going to reach the standard to become a first team regular here and we wish him well in his £15m move to Hamburg.
Jan Kolbas (RB) was recalled from Villarreal after not getting much game time and sent back out to Sevilla for the second half of the season. Laurence Goode (RW) is a youth prospect who I think will have a decent career, but I’m not sure he would have ever made it here so when Brentford came in with an offer and he wanted to leave we got the deal done.
The final one was a bit of shame for me, Carlos Antonio (CM/CAM) had joined us in the January transfer window last year as a 4 star rated player for only £8.5m, a real find. However his transition to english football hasn’t been great and with the form and development of others his game time became very limited and he ended up being a 2.5 star player, a real shame but ultimately he drops down to the Championship to try to rebuild from there and we take a sizeable £18m for him. Good luck to him!
Our first piece of business was actually recalling 2 players who had been out on loan to join back up with the first team. Ondrej Cech (CAM) & Pedrag Joksimovic (CB) had been out on loan with West Ham & Real Madrid respectively, and returned the better for it!
Now onto our permanent signings:
Just the 4 players signed, with 2 coming straight into the first team squad & 2 signed as players for the future. Gianfranco Paz (CM) & Atila (LW) are 2 Wonderkids who will spend the majority of this season in the youth team, and most likely next season out on loan but are definitely one’s for the future.
Sergio Rodriguez (CM/CDM/CB) & Jose Mariano (GK) are coming straight into the first team squad and I look forward to seeing how they progress in the second half of the season. Check out their profiles below, to me getting all 4 for £37.5m is great business.
Despite only signing 4 players we were still the most active team in the division, with Chelsea coming out as biggest spenders as they splashed £56m on Jose Vicente (ST) from Villarreal.
I hope the next picture will surprise you as much as it did me…
That’s right the Championship was the top spending league with £379m splashed out! My old club Stoke clearly not sticking to the values I held dear after I left as they finished 5th in the top 5 spending clubs across Europe.
As you will know by now I like to see how my team compares to others in terms of wage expenditure to league performance:
We’re one place down on this time last year and yet are still putting up a great fight for European Football. I don’t know what it is about this game, even when there is money to burn I prefer to do things shrewdly and only pay what I think is a fair deal, and to be fair it has worked so far so why stop?
Right with all the finances and numbers out of the way we can get back to the football. 9 matches to play across 3 competitions, let’s see how we got on:
What a month! 7 wins out of 9 – let’s break it down…
We start with a great performance and comfortable (in the end) win against Wolves (3-1). Up next was our first taste of FA Cup action this season as we dispatched of Wycombe comfortably winning 3-0 at their ground. Unfortunately the draw for the 4th round was not so kind to us:
Never nice to get a big team so early in the competition and those of you with good memories will recall Chelsea beating us in the final of the FA Cup back in 2028, so less than ideal but we’ll go for it of course.
Speaking of big teams, we have the first leg of the Carabao Cup Semi-Finals up next against Manchester United at Old Trafford, and we somehow come out 2-1 winners thanks to that man Darko Kelava (ST) yet again! We still have the second leg to contend with but to go to Old Trafford and win is a great start.
Up next is a trip to Everton where our second XI grind out an impressive 1-0 win before we head straight back to Old Trafford to face Man Utd again, this time in the league. What is it with my team beating clubs in the cups and then immediately getting beaten by them in the league? It was a close game to be fair and they had to wait to the 79th minute to get. the win (1-2).
No time to get too down over a loss at the moment with the games coming thick and fast, our second team hosted Newcastle at Selhurst Park and put on an absolute show for the fans as we ran out 4-0 winners, before a mighty impressive performance gave us all 3 points away at Leicester (1-0).
We finish the month with 2 cup games, first our 4th round FA Cup tie against Chelsea before the second leg of the Carabao Cup against Man Utd. A scrappy game against Chelsea where we actually took the lead before they managed to turn the tie on its head and knock us out. A shame but understandable given the opposition.
Then it was the big one, just 90 minutes and a 0-0 draw would have us in the final of the Carabao Cup for the second consecutive season. Everything was going to plan, 0-0 draw mid way through the second half, until the 65th minute… where I have no idea what happened but somehow my players scored 4 goals in 9 minutes to put us 5-1 up on aggregate and into the final! (4-0). Now it was time to find out if it would be Liverpool or Chelsea in the final…
Damn. I mean both teams would have probably beaten us but Chelsea are just one team I can never seem to get one over on. Having said that our recent games have been very close fought and in a cup final anything can happen!
To wrap up a very impressive month Linkyel (CM) won the Young Player of the Month award, I know it doesn’t count towards it but he was awesome in the second leg against Man Utd.
Right time to see if the 4 wins from 5 in the league had moved things around in the table:
Not bad at all! Still sat in 6th place but a gap is opening up between Liverpool in 7th and us in 6th which is good news, and we are now only 4 points off of the top 4. So after the incredibly busy winter period we are well positioned for our objectives this season and have the opportunity for another major trophy.
Into the final month of this mammoth update so thank you for reading this far and will try to keep this one short & sweet so you can go and watch the Euros!
We start the month with the board agreeing to invest £5.28m to improve the youth facilities even further. Hopefully this means we can continue to have golden generation youth intakes for years to come!
Just the 4 matches this month, including the first leg of our round of 16 knockout match in the Champions League against Club Brugge!
The Perfect Month! I mean we didn’t face the hardest teams but still had to beat them. Darko Kelava kept up his fine scoring form with a late goal to give us all 3 points at the Vitality Stadium (1-0). We followed that up with back to back 2-1 wins at home against Norwich & Reading, the latter was a particularly nervy game as despite Reading only having 1 shot all game we had to wait until the 94th minute to secure the win, but we got there in the end!
Then it was the big one was we faced Club Brugge in the knockout rounds of the Champions League. I was desperate to get an away goal and just try to keep a clean sheet, and as if by magic that is exactly what happened as a goal just before half time from January signing Sergio Rodriguez gave us a crucial lead heading into the second leg! (1-0).
Thanks to his impressive scoring form Darko Kelava (ST) won Young Player of the Month and dedicated his award to me, what a man!
Right time for the final table update of this episode, 3 wins from 3 in the league, was it enough to budge us up the table and out of 6th place?
You bet it was! A great position to hold with only 11 games to go and European football looks to be in our sights for the second season in a row.
What a mammoth episode! Thank you for reading all the way to the end. Up next we will be going through the final 3 months of the season as we start March with the Carabao Cup Final and we of course have the knockout rounds of the Champions League to contend with plus the final 11 matches of the league season to fit in amongst it all. It has already been an incredible season, can we round it off with another Major Trophy, a Champions League quarter final place, and a top 5 finish in the league? Find out next time!
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