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The Unofficial French League Superthread FM2021

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RC Lens Update 3: Season 1. I've got my players all in by early August, so now it's a matter of scheduling a lot of friendlies against weaker opposition to get everyone up to speed and fit, and to work on a formation and a consistent line-up. As the goal of this save is to try to retain much of the original Lens core (and to hopefully bring back past Lens home-grown players), I'm curious to see how we'll do with a team of players whose stats don't leap off the screen; most of my team's key stats for their individual roles are in the 12-15 range, with hardly anyone boasting anything in the 16-20 range except new arrival Mathieu Valbuena. I'll also be avoiding using any regens until at least the fifth season, when the "sign young players for the future" vision becomes difficult without using them, lol. If I sign any, or have prospects from the youth set-up, I'll send them on loan.
We'll be going with a Balanced 4-2-3-1 Wide formation, in a Gegenpress or Vertical Tiki-Taka counter-attacking style. (This formation and style also appears to be what we'll go up against a lot in Ligue 1). Against more talented opposition, we'll switch to a Cautious style, with one of the midfielders dropping down as a DMC. Against lesser opposition, I'll switch to Positive, and try to get forward even faster, but I don't want to get ahead of myself yet. Either way, we'll be up and at 'em, using an aggressive man-marking system that will bring us plenty of fouls, ha ha. And for games against the PSG's and OL's of the league, I'll break out a paranoid 4-1-2-1-2 formation, where we drop deeper, pack the middle, and hope for the best.
Our two fullbacks in the 4231 will basically operate as attacking wingbacks, or Complete WB-Support. (Can't really trust them as CWB-A yet, as I don't know how good we are.) Haidara and Clauss, along with their backups Sylla and Costanza, have the stats for this, with good crossing, dribbling, and technique. (Again, they're not all-stars though.) They'll overlap in the wings, hopefully pushing the wingers (used as playmakers or inside forwards) in a bit and creating an overload. In the center of defense we'll have the young Marlon Torres paired up with ancient veteran Zakaria Diallo, with Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa alternating among the two depending on form, suspension, injuries, etc. By the winter we'll have signed Aned Ahmedhovic, who'll slot into the rapidly declining Diallo's spot. Anchoring the goal is Wuiker Farinez, with Jean-Louis Leca coming in periodically so he stays somewhat happy.
The inside midfielders will basically operate as the shields, providing power rather than flair, stopping the opposition but hopefully still getting up and down the field and moving the ball onto the attackers in front. Seko Fofana operates as the box-to-box dynamo, unless against more powerful opposition, in which case he'll stay back a bit as a Deep-Lying Playmaker-Defend or a Ball-Winning MF. His usual partner is Cheick Doucoure, staged as either the clean-up-man Carrilero or, dropping down to DMC in cases, a traditional defensive midfielder. (Asst. Mgr Alou Diarra suggests his best role is Central Midfielder-Support, so we'll try that too.) Rotating with them is Mamadou Loum and even young Brahima Ouattara, if we need more flair and less heel-biting. Kakuta can also spend time there if needed. 
On the front lines Valbuena, Kakuta, and Thomas Amang alternate, with usually Valbuena on the left as either an Inside Forward, Advanced Playmaker, or Inverted Winger; Kakuta in the middle (where his lack of speed can be hidden from the wings) as an Adv-Play-Support (if it's Attack, he doesn't come back to help out as much in the middle of the park), and Amang burning down the right with his pace and fitness. Amang proves deadly as a Winger-Support thanks to his workrate, speed, and teamwork; he pops up in the box constantly with either runs with the ball himself or to head in a cross from the left wingers. Rotation options are Ayron del Valle and Thai youngster Ekanit Panya, while Clauss can also be brought up from wingback to lock down any late leads in the AMR position. I learn that even when I need creativity, though, I need to split up the shorties Valbuena and Panya, as their small statures are taken advantage of by other teams.  
Up front it's Ignatius "Ganagoal," and...that's it. PSG loanee Arnaud Kalimuendo comes on for relief at times, as does del Valle and even Amang, but really, it's just Ganago. All day, every day, he'll start 42 out of our 44 games, and be used as a sub in the other two. I think that he's the first outfield player that I've ever used, in multiple years of playing this game, in every single match of a season.
Though I signed several players in pre-season, my Lens originals of Ganago, Kakuta, Fofana, Doucoure, Haidara, Diallo, Clauss, and Farinez provide the Lens core, with each appearing in more than 3/4ths of the games. (On-loan-from-Toulouse backup left-back Issiaga Sylla is another, plus central defender Alexandr Radnovanovic, who'll be a back-up as well before leaving in January). With 8 of the starting 11, and 10 of the most-used 15, retained from the original Lens line-up throughout Season 1, I'm pretty happy, as I'm trying to hold onto some level of realism in this save.
Our first game is against fellow relegation candidates Angers SCO, so a good test of where our level is. Ganago sets the tone for the season by opening the scoring in the 6th minute with a sharp turn and shot in the box, while Kakuta puts us two ahead with a well-taken penalty in the 37th. (One of his few good ones: I'll learn the hard way that we don't actually have any great penalty takers in the team.) A Valbuena own-goal in the 83rd makes things tight, but Clauss winds up in the opposition's box in the 87th minute and smashes home a rebound to seal a 3-1 away win for us. I'd share the highlights, but am on a Mac and can't seem to get this 'export highlights package' option to work, aaargh. It's a strong win, with our xG at 1.74 vs. Anger's 0.73.
Our second game is where I realize that this may work for us. It's our home debut and it's against eternal Northern rivals Lille, who are expected to do much better than us in the league. Del Valle comes in on the right for Amang, while in midfield Loum takes over for Doucoure, and in the center of defense Yanga-Mbiwa gets paired with Alexandr Radovanovic, another Lens original holdover. Ganago starts things off in the 6th minute (again!) with a header and scores again in the 63rd from an excellent finish, bringing his tally to 3 goals in the first two games, while Del Valle opens his account in the 36th, and Fofana wraps it up in the 94th, as we run out 4-1 winners. Take that, Lille. 
3rd game is away against the much-better Lyon. We switch to my paranoid 4-1-2-1-2 narrow, cautious formation, used against top opposition, packing the middle, forcing opponents to beat us from outside, and generally clogging the midfield with ankle snappers.  Del Valle and Ganago lead the line, with Kakuta hovering behind them, while Fofana, Doucoure, and Loum enforce the middle. Somehow we battle our way to a 2-2 draw, with a dramatic ending that features Ganago getting his second goal of the game in the 86th minute for what we think is the winner, only for Moussa Dembele to tie it up in the 91st. Ganago gets an 8.1 rating to go with last game's 8.2, while the two goals bring his total to 5 in 3 games. His battle with Dembele will last through the season, as both run neck-and-neck for top league scorer.  
Next up: the rest of Season 1's highs and lows. Thanks for reading.
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RC Lens video clip! Fortune falls in our favor, as we finally take down a big club—Olympique Marseille—in late October, thanks to this dramatic 94th-minute run from beyond the halfway line by Gael Kakuta, who fights off a tackle at the edge of the box and coolly slots it home, to the delirium of the home fans. It caps off a come-from-behind, two-to-one win. More to come, but I just wanted to test if I could share a video or not. (Also, it's the first time I think I've ever seen a run from beyond the halfway line actually end in a goal, lol).


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