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[FM21] A Game of Two Calves: Can Grealish win a trophy with his boyhood Villa?


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Never done a career thread before, so let's give it a whirl.  As a fan, Aston Villa is always my first FM save each year, so it seems a fitting way to end the FM21 cycle; hopefully using everything I've learned along the way to do a better job this time around.  The goal is simple: Win a trophy with Jack Grealish.  Once Jacky boy leaves, the career is over.

There are a few entirely unnecessary rules I'll be abiding by:

  • Use a no-attribute skin for players & staff
    • As mentioned above I have played as Villa before, so this does slightly remove the handicap as I can remember some, but not all, attributes.
  • Can only sign players who have been scouted
    • I can request a scout report for players it is reasonable for me to know (e.g. it's realistic to ask for a report on Cristiano Ronaldo; it's not realistic if I ask for a report on Ivo Mammini)
    • DOF responsible for all negotiations - I'll add players as transfer targets
  • Coaches to be hired based on tactical philosophies and personality
    • Only applicants from Job Centre; or
    • Former Villa players

So without further ado, let me introduce Aston Villa's new manager (not a real person):


Having survived relegation on the last day of the 2019-20 season, Aston Villa decide it is time to thank boyhood fan, Dean Smith, for the fantastic job he did in getting Villa back into the Premiership and hire the man they believe will help the club establish themselves once again as one of England's great clubs.  Garland, a former Premier League footballer, won the admiration of many at St George's Park whilst studying for his UEFA Coaching badges, but his lack of first-hand coaching experience will be seen as a huge risk for a team of Villa's stature.  Nonetheless, he has been entrusted with the reigns at Villa Park.

Club Vision: Entertain.  Moneyball.  Survive.



You're going to need a key for this, as attributes are colour-coded for a range:

Pink: Elite (17+)
Light Blue: Good (13-16)
Dark Green: Okay (9-12)
Dark Grey: Poor (1-8)



Martinez, as in real life, is the clear first choice for me.  Although Heaton has some really good mentals, he's injured for 6 months, and I value Martinez's better agility anyway.  Steer will be backup until Heaton is healthy, and then hopefully sell in January

Centre Backs


Little bit less clear cut here.  Mings is vice-captain and probably a guaranteed starter.  Konsa is next according to the coach, but at only 6' and with no mention of his aerial ability in the coach report, I'm a little concerned - although with his high composure, he might be an option at DM.  Engels, like Heaton, is out for 6 months.  No-one excels in any area, and 3 out of the 4 are injury prone.  CB is definitely a position that needs strengthening.

Full/Wing Backs


This is easier.  Two young English full-backs who are a little bit better than an aging understudy.  The right backs (Cash & Elmohamady) both seem to be more attack-minded, and I'd definitely prefer to see better Marking & Positioning, but I think it is serviceable.  Both Elmo & Taylor's contracts are due to expire at the end of the season, and as they are past their prime, I might need to start thinking about their replacements.

Defensive/Central Midfielders


I like the options here.  Despite the coaches opinions, I'd probably prefer Nakamba over Douglas Luiz for his Aggression and Bravery.  McGinn probably edges ahead of Sanson, but I am a sucker for high work rate.  I can realistically see any combination of 2 or 3 of these guys on the field at the same time without any problem.  Positions are definitely up for grabs in midfield.

Attacking Midfielders


I'm sure it will comes as a shock to no-one that Grealish is the first name on the team sheet.  Nothing to discuss in that regard.  Similarly, Barkley is probably a regular starter too - and his excellent Strength makes me wonder if he could be a DLF.  Not sure who I prefer between Traore & Trezeguet.  Trezeguet would probably shade it if it wasn't for the Plays No Through Balls trait.  Traore can also play as a striker, so will definitely be a key part of the squad.  El Ghazi seems to be on the peripheries, however, and his Injury Proneness isn't doing him any favours either.



Looks like we've got the classic big-man-little-man combo up-front with Wesley and Watkins.  Or we would if Wesley wasn't also out for 6 months.  Davis is not good enough and will be on the chopping block in January.  Unlikely to be able to shift him beforehand as he's just signed a new contract.  Nonetheless, his days at Villa are numbered.  Sorry.

Youth Prospects


These 3 are candidates for the first team according to my Assistant Manager.  Barry (ST) will definitely be given a chance to compete against Davis, whilst Ramsey (AMC) and Chukwuemeka (M/AMC) are probably more for the future, given how crowded their position is.  Nonetheless, all 3 have been brought into the first team for pre-season.

Overall, I'm quite happy with the squad.  It feels a lot more balanced than I remember, which probably means a lot of these players are closer to the bottom of the attribute ranges.  Full back is the weakest position according to the coach reports, but I think my main priority is competition at Centre-Back and Striker.  Or at least it would be...


Looks like we'll be exploring the loan market, and might be focussing more on back-ups than genuine competition.  All-in-all it's probably for the best with Engels and Wesley hopefully back in January.  With us relying on players to be recommended by scouts, we might have to be patient with our transfer activity.



This is going to be our template for pre-season.  It was a toss up between 4-3-3DM and 4-2-3-1 Wide, because we seem to have a wealth of midfield options.  With 5 "Attacking" midfielders, it felt like 4-2-31 would probably be more balanced.

I like the idea of Grealish as a Trequartista, given the freedom to essentially do whatever he likes.  Advanced Forward to keep the defensive line deep and a Shadow Striker to hopefully occupy any DMs, so there is space for Grealish to cut in an wreak havoc.  With both our right-backs being more attack-minded, the inverted winger should give space for the overlap.  Not entirely sure about the Roaming Playmaker.  Probably going to alternate between RPM and BBM to see which works best, but I like the idea of the possible interplay between Grealish and McGinn/Sanson on that left side.  With Mings on that side, too, it might be a overly risky, but hey, the board did ask for entertaining football!!

As for Team Instructions, they kind of chose themselves:

Attacking Mentality - Club Vision
Play Out Of Defence -  We have a BPD
Low Crosses - Our aerial threat is injured for 6 months
Counter-Press - We have 4 players in very advanced positions
Higher Defensive Line - We have reasonable pace in defence
More Urgent - We're playing Counter-Press

There's likely to be a lot of change tactically before the season starts, but hoping this will be a solid base for pre-season.  No PIs as of yet, either.

Next up?  Staffing, Training & Pre-Season!

Edited by GIMN
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Posted (edited)


Let's get philosophical.  We're playing Attacking football, with slightly shorter passing and urgent pressing - although I'm not too tightly wed to urgent pressing.  With that in mind, this gives us an idea of the kind of personnel we want in our coaching set up:

Preferred Formation: Anything with a back 4
Playing Mentality: Attacking/Adventurous
Playing Style: Passing/Standard
Pressing Style: Mixed

Sweeping changes required, as only Craig Shakespeare (Assistant Manager) and Richard O'Kelly (Coach) survive the cull.  New arrivals included an unemployed, former Borussia Dortmund player, Marc Arnold (nope, I hadn't heard of him either) as Director of Football; Darren Wassall, poached from Derby, as Head of Youth Development, and; former Villa keeper, Stefan Postma, who was pegged for the Goalkeeping Coach position.  Staff profiles are a bit dull with this skin, so I've hidden them in spoilers if you're interested.





With new faces bought in, and looking at the coaching team comparison, we seem to have collated a decent bunch of coaches.  Not world beaters, by any means, but I think it was an improvement on what we started with.



An possible solution was found for Centre-Back depth, with free agent Alexander Milosevic bought to my attention, who was swiftly brought in for a trial.  He was pretty solid, and a 1 year-contract was offered, but he eventually signed for Norwich.  Scouting hadn't proved all too useful.  Liverpool Centre-Back Ben Davies was also on the radar for a loan, but he was picked up by Sheff Utd before I could get a decent scout report.  Pre-Season came and went with no new arrivals.

On the pitch things went well.  5 games, 5 wins.  Granted there was only 1 game against proper opposition, but a 4-0 win without an injured Jack Grealish was very pleasing indeed.  Grealish, alongside El Ghazi and Barkley, all missed 1 game due to minor injuries, but other than that we came through unscathed.


Tactically, a few tweaks were made.  BBM won out over the RPM role, and the AF was changed to PF.  Front movement was a little stale in the opening games, so Roam From Position has been added to the IW and the SS, whilst both full-backs have been asked to take fewer risks, as they kept giving the ball away.  Low Crosses changed to whipped crosses.  Not sure it really made a difference, but we'll stick with it now.



Everything seems set, and it's time to roll on into the season, where a home game against Everton is sandwiched in between two away derbies against Wolves and West Brom respectively.  Whilst that sounds quite rough, I think the fixture list has been very kind.  There's a Liverpool-Chelsea double header in December, and a run of 5 games from Liverpool on 10th April to Tottenham on 8th May which look particularly nasty, but otherwise there's not really a spell that I'm worried about things going terribly wrong.  Having all home games over the Christmas period is very nice, too.


Can't wait to get into competitive games and for everything to fall apart!!

Edited by GIMN
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I forgot just how horrible the start to the English season was with Carabao Cup games squeezed in between each round of EPL games.  Thankfully it's been a bright start in the league:


3 wins out of 3!

A bit of a nervy ending to the opening derby against Wolves, with Douglas Luiz receiving a straight red for what my Assistant Manager deemed a deserved red card.  Against Everton & West Brom it was the Jack Grealish show - contributing to 5 of the 6 goals we scored.  With Targett's two MOTM awards, it's clear the left side of our formation is looking very dangerous.

Morgan Sanson has nailed on the starting spot at BBM; he's been an absolute class act, knowing when to recycle possession or play an incisive pass, and his goal against West Brom was no less than he deserved.  Been a little concerned with Barkley who seems to go missing a lot, but it's early days yet.


In the cup, things went just as well.  We've been able to rotate the squad quite heavily, and 16-year old Carney Chukwuemeka became the League Cup's youngest goalscorer!  A quarter final against Leicester looms, but we don't have to worry about that now until December.


We still haven't signed any one yet, but we have narrowed down our CB search to 3 options: Japhet Tanganga (loan), Santiago Bueno (transfer), Dimitris Nikolau (transfer).


Tanganga is probably the better choice, but his positioning and marking scare me, whilst Bueno at 11st seems a little light-weight.  So, despite being the worst option according to my scouts, I've instructed my DOF to put a bid in for Nikolau.

A bid of £1.9m has been accepted, and a contract offered.  I'm a little worried the deal's not going to go through, as my DOF seems to have lowballed the contract offer.  Offering about £3,000 per week less than what the scouts think he'll want.  We'll just have to wait and see.


A Manager of the Month award & a B- grade from the board wrapped up September.  Obviously a very pleasing start, but it's far too early to get excited.  Especially with a trip to Man City to start October.

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