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[FM22] Sassuolo - The Ceramic Army


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U.S. Sassuolo Calcio

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After guiding Sassuolo to consecutive 8th placed finishes the previous two seasons and narrowly missing out on European competition, manager Roberto De Zerbi departed for Ukrainian powerhouse Shakhtar Donetsk.  Moving quickly, Sassuolo identified the then manager of Empoli, Alessio Dionisi, as the heir apparent.  Dionisi, a lower league centre back in his playing days, had garnered interest from many Serie A teams as he steered Empoli back into Italy's top flight, but ultimately chose the Neroverdi for his next challenge.  With backroom staff in place, Sassuolo were well positioned going into the 2021-22 season.

On 19th July 2021, a mere 18 days into his tenure, Alessio Dionisi was fired.  Whilst there has been no official statement from either party regarding the reasons behind the decision, representatives for Dionisi have moved to quickly dismiss rumours of inappropriate conduct between the manager and the wife of owner, Marco Squinzi.

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Step forward, Gianni Mustermann.  A relatively surprising hire, having no top-flight management experience, Mustermann is viewed by many outside the club as a short term solution whilst chairman, Carlo Rossi, looks to put the team back on track.  It is believed that Mustermann has been given a clear set of objectives for the upcoming season to keep the Neroverdi on track, maintaining the culture and relative success established by the club since their promotion to Serie A in 2013.

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Rules of Engagement

Before we continue, it's probably best to outline the entirely unnecessary and arbitrary rules for this career.  These are:

  • Use a graphical-attribute skin for players & staff
    • Shameless plug of my own skin here
  • Can only sign players who have been scouted
    • I can request scout reports for players it is reasonable for me to know (e.g. it's realistic to believe I am already aware of Cristiano Ronaldo; it's less realistic if I claim to know who Ivo Mammini is)
    • DOF responsible for all negotiations - I'll add players as transfer targets
  • Coaches to be hired from:
    • Applications via Job Centre
    • Shortlist of former applicants or staff I've previously worked with
    • Former Sassuolo players (or whichever team I am managing at the time)

For those who don't know, graphical attribute skins work by hiding the numerical value and replacing it with an image which is then colour coded as per the Skin Colours set in Preferences.  Below is a key for the ranges that we will be dealing with:

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This means a player profile will look like the image below.  Whilst it makes it harder to distinguish marginal differences between players, I find it stops me from being wedded so much to attributes and focus more on traits and performances:

877492935_FrancescoMagnanelli_Profile.thumb.png.397cd02f4b5d5b112e42ba27bc0d2c1e.png

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Squad Assessment

There's a lot of players, so in the interest to of reducing just how much scrolling will be required, I'll be posting up player cards only.  As the series goes on, I'll be spotlighting individual players in more detail.  Without further ado:

Goalkeepers

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Serie A veteran Consigli is the clear first choice keeper here.  At 34 he might be entering the twilight of his career, but should be serviceable for at least another couple of seasons.  Or at least, I hope he will be - it will be rather dependent on him signing a contract extension.  In fact, all 3 senior keepers' contracts expire at the end of the season.  Pegolo is surely due for retirement, and I'll be prioritising getting him on a coaching course, whilst Satalino seems a long way off being good enough, even as a backup.  We'll see how it pans out, but I think I'll be in the market for a backup at the end of the season, maybe a free transfer, with a first-choice keeper my target in summer 2023.

Centre Backs

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We're certainly not short of depth, nor experience, at the position, but I'm a little nervous about the quality.  Ferrari and Goldaniga offer aerial prowess, whilst Peluso is the only elite tackler in the group.  Chiriches and Ayhan seem solid, if unspectacular, and Romagna is out injured for the next 6 months.  Ayhan is listed as a DM also, so I think his flexibility will prove useful.  With such depth I'm wary of buying another CB, but this is an area I want to address eventually.  Goldaniga, Romagna and Peluso are also out of contract at the end of the season so, at the very least, it looks like we'll have an opportunity to retool at the back for the 22/23 season.

That said, 6 is still too many senior CBs, and personally Chiriches is the odd one out.  He might have a higher star rating, but I think I prefer Goldaniga to partner Ferrari and would rather keep Peluso as the emergency back-up.  Chiriches is the top paid centre-back, and shedding that 25k per week now is an additional saving of £1.25m in the year (on top of whatever fee he might garner).  Peluso is another coaching candidate and, alongside Pegolo, that would be 2 possible future Model Professionals in the coaching team.

Full Backs/Wing Backs

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Possibly the trickiest position to judge. All rated at 3 stars.  Toljan and Rogerio seem to be the more attacking options, Muldur and Kyriakopoulos the more defensive.  Nobody coming up to the end of their contract, and all approaching their prime.  Mulder and Rogerio stand out in terms of personality, but ultimately I think it's an open competition through pre-season for both full back/wing back positions.

Central Midfield

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Quite excited by this group, as there's quite a lot of diversity available.  Obiang - who is unfortunately out for 8 months - is a harrier, Lopez is the creator, Magnanelli - our current captain- is a defensive anchor, Henrique keeps things ticking over, Frattesi looks to drive from deep, and Harroui is joining on a permanent transfer next summer, when he will duly be sold on as he's a bit rubbish.  Interested to see how it plays out in the match engine, but with each player offering something different, I think there's a lot of potential for reacting dynamically game-to-game.  With Ayhan offering cover for DM, too, we've got more cover if needed, and I suspect it will be needed with Magnanelli being another member of the Sassuolo retirement home.  He's another Model Professional, so could be the 3rd eventual super coach.

Wingers/Attacking Midfielders/Strikers

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The reason to want to manage Sassuolo; this is a team brimming with attacking talent.  Realistically, more attacking talent than I might be able to accommodate.  Berardi needs no introduction and is sure to be the centrepiece of what we choose to do.  Boga is enigmatic and Scamacca has been sensational this season in real life.  Raspadori is the inspiration for this career as he was my favourite signing in FM21 (a spot starter, who performed admirably regardless of whether I played him as an Advanced Forward, Shadow Striker, Trequartista or Inside Winger).

That said, there are issues.  Boga's contract is up, and he is not interested in an extension.  Duricic's contract is up, and I'm not sure he's got a long term future, especially with Traore looking like he has the potential to be Boga's replacement.  My thinking right now is that I'll look to cash in on Duricic now, and risk losing Boga for nothing.  This ultimately comes down to valuation.  If I was to sell Boga, I'd want 15-20m for him which I'm not going to get.  I think we'll benefit more from having him for one final season, as Traore and Raspadori develop, whilst Duricic is probably 6th on the depth chart.  Equally, Defrel doesn't look to have much of a route to the first team, so we'll see if we can squeeze out a few extra pennies from a sale there, too.

Tactics

With all that in mind, we'll turn to the tactic board.  The club vision - attacking, entertaining, possession football with high pressing - pretty much establishes the tactical style, so the main decision is going to be shape:

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I plan to start pre-season with the 3 striker formation.  A lot has been said about the match engine when it comes to Inside Forwards and Inside Wingers and I've found False 9s to work quite well as an alternative.  Having them drop deep and drive at the defence, with the ability to go on the outside if the opportunity presents seems ideal, and I think will get the best out of Berardi and Boga.  Wing backs provide width, whilst the central midfield is kept vanilla to hopefully allow those players' personalities to shine through.  Against 2-man strike forces I might drop the Anchor Man into central defence and push the wing backs up into a 3-4-3 shape to kind of mirror the Bielsa philosophy of having one more defender than the opposition has strikers.

For the time being there are no PIs - I want to see how things play out during preseason and adjust as we go.

Edited by GIMN
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Staff Assessment

With our tactical identity formed (well, forced on us by the board), it's time to take stock of the backroom staff, and see how well suited they are to bringing the kind of football Sassuolo want to be known for.  The approach is going to be very simple - we're looking for staff with the following tactical preferences:

Playing StylePassing
Playing Mentality: Attacking or Adventurous
Pressing Style: More Often

Now we will be selective where we apply this - I'm not overly fussed about my physio's preferred playing mentality, but I would expect the Director of Football to hold most, if not all, of these philosophies.  Furthermore, I'm not necessarily going to be blessed with options that satisfy all criteria, and realistically I will settle with 2 of 3 matches, with the remaining philosophy neutral (for example, a "Balanced" pressing style).  In addition, we will look for Control Possession, Tiki-Taka, Vertical Tiki-Taka or Gegenpress for Tactical Style.  When there are multiple options, we'll start to consider personality, experience and attributes.

With that in mind, let's look at the senior coaching set-up:

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This is tragic.  Only our Performance Analyst, Massimo Carcarino, meets the criteria.  Given the club culture, I expected it to be...well...I don't know what I expected exactly, but it wasn't this.  In best case scenario it will take roughly 2 weeks for candidates to come through via the Job Centre, so I can't realistically sack all the coaches right now.  Instead we'll have to post up the adverts and wait for those applications to come through.

It's not all doom and gloom, however.  U18 manager, and Sassuolo icon, Filippo Pensalfini is a possible candidate for promotion.  He fits all the criteria, favouring an Adventurous, possession based approach with frequent pressing, and a Professional personality to boot.  He's not the most talented from a coaching standpoint, but highly disciplined whilst being good enough at motivating and managing people.  Still to attain the highest coaching badge, there is scope for growth, too.

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A contract for Assistant Manager has been offered, and the incumbent, Paolo Cozzi, has been given his marching orders.  Unfortunately, there weren't any other suitable candidates already within the club, so adverts have been placed for Goalkeeping Coach, Fitness Coach, Coach and Performance Analyst.  I am wary of making sweeping changes so, depending on applicant quality, I will probably look to hire 1 of each, and retain the best of the existing staff (probably until the following summer). 

Outside of the senior coaching team, the priority is a Technical Director and Recruitment Analysts, as neither of these positions are currently filled.  The Technical Director will be given responsibility for medical staff and youth coaching.  I'll also be replacing the Director of Football eventually as, he too, is not a cultural fit for the club.  But, with the transfer window under way, and the DoF being responsible for negotiating transfers, this will have to wait.

Transfers

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There's a decent transfer budget available but, with only 13k per week left in the wage budget and a significant number of contracts due to expire at the end of the season, we're not in the strongest position going into the transfer window.  As mentioned in the previous post, 3 players have found themselves on the transfer list and I'm optimistic, given their modest wages, that we should be able to shift them and raise somewhere between 10-15m, whilst also saving £72k per week on their wages:

Vlad Chiriches
Filip Duricic
Gregoire Defrel

That said, I'm quite happy with the squad.  Or, perhaps more accurately, I feel the squad is too large as it is, especially as we are only competing in Serie A and the Italian Cup.  Whilst there are areas I'd be keen to improve, I'm not desperate to get business done in this transfer window.  With that in mind, I'll be keeping an eye out mainly for a starting calibre centre-back and/or defensive midfielder.  A quick perusal through the scouted players has thrown up a couple of interesting options.

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We only have one real requirement when it comes to transfers: buy Italian.  By that virtue, AC Milan's Matteo Gabbia definitely fits the brief.  At 21, and with room to grow, he looks like he could be a long term solution and will be affordable IF we can raise funds through sales.  That said, whilst he hasn't been fully scouted yet, there doesn't seem to be an area he excels in, which ultimately is what I've criticised my current centre-back options for.

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I know nothing about Jerdy Schouten, but he definitely looks to be an interesting prospect.  Elite dribbling and tackling is an odd combo, so I'll be keen to see what his traits and attributes look like after further scouting.  Poor marking, bravery and concentration suggests he might be more suited for CM than DM, and that area is less of a priority for me, but nonetheless I'm intrigued.

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Finally, Mancuso has peaked my interest.  It's quite nice to have ended up at a team who don't have a "DO NOT SIGN PLAYERS OVER THE AGE OF ___" policy, and so Mancuso is probably a little bit of a different profile to that I normally sign.  I'm a little concerned about the wage demands for a player who, realistically, would be no more than a backup, but he does offer something different to the rest of our strikers.  Someone who could offer a bit more physicality than the surfeit of fast, dribbling bois at our disposal, and a bit more speed and guile than Scamacca.  We'll see what further scouting reveals, but my initial gut reaction is that he'll end up buried too far down the depth chart to be a worthwhile purchase.

Edited by GIMN
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21 minutes ago, GIMN said:

On 19th July 2021, a mere 18 days into his tenure, Alessio Dionisi was fired.  Whilst there has been no official statement from either party regarding the reasons behind the decision, representatives for Dionisi have moved to quickly dismiss rumours of inappropriate conduct between the manager and the wife of owner, Marco Squinzi.

So you scattered rumours about Dionysius and Marco Squinzi’s wife like was done to Nero to take the Roman Empire, I mean create a position for the Sassuolo job?!

Graphical Attribute Skins are all well and good, but I want to know about this Ceramic Army :D

Yours will be the second thread like this on here, after @Shrewnaldo ‘s Statman and Robin statventure. Looking forward to your approach :thup:

Edited by Sonic Youth
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1 hour ago, Sonic Youth said:

 

So you scattered rumours about Dionysius and Marco Squinzi’s wife like was done to Nero to take the Roman Empire, I mean create a position for the Sassuolo job?!

Certainly not!  I wouldn't dare to spread false rumours to advance my own position, and even if I did you can't prove it.  Sadly it may be years, if ever at all, that we find out the truth.

Coincidentally, I was considering calling the save "Neroverdi burning Rome".  Then again, I also played around with rewriting the lyrics to Talking Head's Psycho Killer to reference Sassuolo players.  I had a lot of ideas - most of them bad - and settled on the safe option of The Ceramic Army, as Sassuolo is the epicentre of Italy's ceramic tile industry (how anticlimactic!)

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49 minutes ago, GIMN said:

Certainly not!  I wouldn't dare to spread false rumours to advance my own position, and even if I did you can't prove it.  Sadly it may be years, if ever at all, that we find out the truth.

Coincidentally, I was considering calling the save "Neroverdi burning Rome".  Then again, I also played around with rewriting the lyrics to Talking Head's Psycho Killer to reference Sassuolo players.  I had a lot of ideas - most of them bad - and settled on the safe option of The Ceramic Army, as Sassuolo is the epicentre of Italy's ceramic tile industry (how anticlimactic!)

:D

Apologies for the aspersions cast. Let’s put this behind us and welcome the breathe of fresh air breathing through the club.

Ah, I see. I think you ended up choosing wisely, as singling out the Romans could make an uncomfortable next trip to the capital. I wasn’t aware of Sassuolo is the epicentre for the tile industry in Italy. I thought Ravenna was an important centre for ceramics. Then again, I always think of majolica from Faenza as one of the important historical ceramic areas in Italy. Though Tuscany is reasonably close by too.

Are those player cards your creation too? Part of your Graphical attribute skin? I like how clear they are, how easy it is to find the information about the player.

Speaking of players, 3 Model Professionals about to retire? Hope they become good coaches for you. You’ve got an interesting squad but decisions to make about it. First though, a season to play :thup:

 

Edited by Sonic Youth
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4 hours ago, Sonic Youth said:

I wasn’t aware of Sassuolo is the epicentre for the tile industry in Italy. I thought Ravenna was an important centre for ceramics. Then again, I always think of majolica from Faenza as one of the important historical ceramic areas in Italy. Though Tuscany is reasonably close by too.

To be fair, neither was I.  According to Wikipedia, Sassuolo produces 80% of Italy's ceramic tiles.  Unfortunately, that was the only thing considered notable about the town, other than the football club.

4 hours ago, Sonic Youth said:

Are those player cards your creation too? Part of your Graphical attribute skin? I like how clear they are, how easy it is to find the information about the player.

Appreciate the feedback!  Yeah, they're part of the main player overview (you can see a few screenshots of the full page on the recent update above).  Would've been nice to squeeze in the attribute analyser to help show the some of the skill differences between the players but I would've probably only ever used it for the purpose of this post.  I'm hoping that spotlighting individual players throughout the season will fill that void!

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Love the writing very nicely done, skin looking fantastic as well like the skin colours. Another one to be intrigued by with the limitations of not having actual attributes and allowing the DOF your negotiations (personally I hate my DOF 🤣)

The club is a great choice as well except the play in green (I’m a Heart of Midlothian fan) it’s nice how the departure of the Maverick De Zerbi (who’s football I loved) ties in nicely with your story albeit the new guy had to have sex with the owners wife to clear the final path 🤣.

And finally I love the idea behind the false 9’s in the front three, I had good success tail end of FM21 with the F9 and  have this year went with a CF mainly down to players I have available. So I’m really interested to see how the tactical shape looks and the movement’s it creates.  

following and best of luck.

Up the Tilers!

Edited by SixPointer
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Steadying the ship...

As we sit at the precipice of the new season, I feel pretty satisfied with the progress so far.  Chiriches, Defrel and Djuricic were quickly shipped out, all on permanent transfers, raising a reasonable £13m.  We also received a bid for 3rd choice keeper, Giacomo Satalino, for a whopping 35k, (rising to a potential 55k).  How could I turn that down!?  Sarcasm aside, he's not very good, and I was going to let his contract expire, so something is better than nothing.  The board have shown displeasure at the financial aspects of the Chiriches deal.  I initially offered him out for £3.5m, and realised I might've lowballed it a bit too much when 12 teams started bidding.  I tried to squeeze some extra cash, but the damage was already done.

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With £18m now available for transfer fees, and a 90k wage budget, we're in a decent position to strengthen the team.  So, without further ado, let me introduce the newest members of the Green & Black...

 

 

 

 

 

 

...it's not gone well so far.  My initial excitement for Gabbia and Schouten subsided when their traits were revealed.  Gabbia's propensity for playing long passes doesn't really mix with the possession based approach we're forced to adopt, and whilst he has the potential to be a superstar, he didn't necessarily represent an upgrade on our options right now.  Schouten "Dwells On Ball", and whilst that can have it's advantages, it's not a trait I really want to see on one of my midfielders.  I've also shelved interest in Mancuso as Djenario Daniels, a young Dutch striker on loan from Utrecht, put in some good performances in our opening pre-season games.  A pulled abdominal muscle restricted him to only 2 games but a goal and 2 assists is more than enough to convince me that he will be serviceable as our 6th choice striker.  The search for reinforcements continues but, as mentioned in the previous post, I'm quite happy with the squad depth at the moment.  Or at least I was.  More on that later.

On the staffing front, things have been a bit more productive.  Pensalfini accepted the promotion and is our new Assistant Manager.  Nicola Pavarini, Giuseppe Bellistri and Marco Donadel all joined the coaching staff and nearly met all the criteria completely.  For complete transparency, I did slightly amend one of my rules.  Pavarini was recommended during a staff meeting.  To me, this feels like a perfectly organic way to hire someone, so I'm allowing it.  Rules are made to be broken, right?  We also found a Performance Analyst, although the search is ongoing to flesh the team out even further.  Most excitingly, however, is our new Head of Youth Development, Dieter Eilts.  Bremen's U19s won their regional U19 Bundesliga in 2015/16 whilst Eilts was HOYD, so I have high expectations.

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There are still a few vacancies for the recruitment team to finalise, with the Technical Director, Loan Manager and Recruitment Analyst positions still vacant.  There's been slim pickings in terms of applications, so I may have to be less stringent when it comes to tactical philosophies.  When I do sign a Technical Director, I'll be delegating a fair chunk of staff recruitment to him/her, and I can't imagine he'll be quite as fussy as I am anyway.

On the field, things have been reasonably successful.

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5 wins out of 5,11 goals scored and 2 conceded.  We seem to be scoring a good variety of goals - headers/tap-ins from crosses, through balls, long shots and a dribble from the half-way line - whilst the 2 goals conceded have been from set-pieces.  We didn't really play against the greatest competition, with Serie B's Pisa being the hardest away game, whilst Wolfsberger AC were considered a team of similar stature to ourselves.  As such, I'm a little concerned that there wasn't a signature win in these games.  A comfortable 5-0 win would've been nice just to ease any doubts about the set-up.  We also got a chance to add some of our youngsters into the mix, with Djenario Daniels impressing.  The excellently named Ryan Flamingo also deserves a mention.  Not because he's ready for the step up, he struggled in both his appearances, but because he's called RYAN. F***ING. FLAMINGO.

Tactically, I've been happy.  We've seen some nice interplay between the wing-backs, central midfielders and strikers, although the final pass has eluded us a little too often.  Switching to a back three has been effective against 2-man strike forces and hasn't left us too light in midfield.  We did, however, struggle to against Wolfsberger's 4-2-2-2 (2DMs & 2CMs).  With the middle of the pitch so congested, I will probably have to experiment with moving the False 9s out onto the flanks like a more traditional 4-3-3, if we come up against that formation in the future.  I did play around a little with Shadow Strikers behind Scamacca in a supporting role in a couple of games, and have tried a variety of roles for our central midfielders.  Overall, there's been a couple of tweaks to the original tactic:

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Play Out Of Defence has been added, alongside corresponding distribution instructions, to help cement the possession style we're looking for.  I've also increased the width, and given the players more freedom to be creative.  Player instructions are still at a minimum, with just the Wing Backs and False 9s given further direction.  Finally, I opted for Box-to-Box midfielders as this seemed to give us a bit more movement offensively and cover defensively.  As alluded to in the original tactic post, there is an alternative with the anchor man dropped into a back 3 as a BPD with cover duties, and the wing backs pushed up.  I expect there will be changes game-to-game, especially with those central midfield roles, but for now I'm happy with this as a base.

 

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20 hours ago, Ewan0404 said:

Looking forward to following this. Always thought about a Sassuolo save but never got round to it. 

Scamacca was phenomenal for my Roma side earlier this year. 

They're a team I've never really thought about much before.  When I normally start a career in Italy, I tend to look towards the established also-rans (Fiorentina, Roma, etc...) or the fallen giants (Genoa, Parma, Pro Vercelli).  With the hype surrounding Scamacca and Raspadori, I wasn't expecting such an old team to be honest, but quite happy as it gives a lot of opportunity for change.

 

8 hours ago, SixPointer said:

Love the writing very nicely done, skin looking fantastic as well like the skin colours. Another one to be intrigued by with the limitations of not having actual attributes and allowing the DOF your negotiations (personally I hate my DOF 🤣)

The club is a great choice as well except the play in green (I’m a Heart of Midlothian fan) it’s nice how the departure of the Maverick De Zerbi (who’s football I loved) ties in nicely with your story albeit the new guy had to have sex with the owners wife to clear the final path 🤣.

And finally I love the idea behind the false 9’s in the front three, I had good success tail end of FM21 with the F9 and  have this year went with a CF mainly down to players I have available. So I’m really interested to see how the tactical shape looks and the movement’s it creates.  

following and best of luck.

Up the Tilers!

I fully expect to hate my DOF, too.  I've had middling results in the past with this approach, but I think it adds a touch of realism.  I'm still bitter about my beloved Aston Villa refusing to stump up the extra £500k to buy Robbie Keane from Wolves over 20 years ago and for some reason I want to recreate that frustration in what is meant to be an escape from reality.  As I type this, I'm realising just how much of a mistake I'm making.

I'm really keen to see how the double F9 works.  With play often being forced out wide in the current match engine, I've found a wide F9 can be a threat both on the flanks and inside.  I'm just hoping this still works with two in the lineup, and doesn't leave us too exposed in defence.  Guess we'll find out!

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Player Spotlight: Jeremy Toljan

535197427_JeremyToljan_Profile.thumb.png.19313cece6da73ab74220aa0ecd3bc13.png

For reasons that will become apparent, the first spotlight will be on the versatile Jeremy Toljan.  He signed over the summer after spending the last 2 seasons on loan, and there's a lot to like.  Bags of pace, technically capable and mentally solid with only his heading, marking and composure being sub par.  Whilst he playing time says Regular Starter, he looks like more of a rotational player to me and, as he can play on the right or left, I think he's got a lot to offer.  I could be wrong, though, as his speed alone might be enough to hold down a regular starting spot, especially as there is a lot of onus on the wing-backs in our system.  Had a pretty solid pre-season - making 9 key passes in 225 minutes of football and, despite being considered a weakness, won 70% of headers.  In summary, he'll do.

The Season Approaches...

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Whilst it's been a tumultuous year, with Sassuolo on their 3rd manager in 3 months (technically), at least the calendar has been kind.  4 home fixtures in the opening 5 games is nothing short of a blessing, and whilst we need to navigate a trip to Milan in between, I think 10 points is more than achievable.  October looks scary but, if we can build up some momentum heading into those games, we've got a chance of an upset or two.  I am getting a little ahead of myself, granted, but there is reason for optimism.

We're predicted to finish 9th, and if the pre-season odds are anything to go by, it might take a miracle to better that.

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As far as the media are concerned, there's a clear gap between the top 8 and the rest of the league (arguably there's a gap between the top 7, then there's Fiorentina, then the rest of the league).  Interestingly Juventus Zebre are favourites, despite having only 2 players in the Dream Eleven compared to Inter's 6.  We're a day away from the start of the new season, and there's not really been many notable transfers.  Of the 10 most expensive transfers, only 3 have been signings for Italian teams, and 1 of them is for Cagliari's youth team.  Hopefully that means I won't regret not strengthening the team (yet).

I say yet because my hand might be forced.

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3 days until our opening fixture, and we've reached crisis point.  Yeferson Paz, my third choice right back, had featured in pre-season and was in line to start against Torino as we're currently a little stretched at full-back.  Rogerio and Muldur were injured in friendlies and Kyriakopolous is suspended, leaving just Jeremy Toljan.  This might mean pushing Ayhan out to right back but, with Harroui also injured, this leaves us thin on cover in midfield.  To make matters worse, we have roughly 3,000 players out on loan, and none of them are eligible for recall.  It's looking like we're going to have 7 youth players on the bench for the opener.  My optimism is dwindling.

We're 5 updates in, and yet to play a competitive game.  I promise that'll change next time!

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49 minutes ago, GIMN said:

We're 5 updates in, and yet to play a competitive game.  I promise that'll change next time!

It's all good my man, easing us in slowly and providing a little narrative...a good combination of you ask me.

On a separate note October looks horrific! 

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2 hours ago, MattyLewis11 said:

It's all good my man, easing us in slowly and providing a little narrative...a good combination of you ask me.

On a separate note October looks horrific! 

I’ll second that. It’s good to build a background, set the scene that way I can understand your thinking which usually carries throughout (coming from the slowest FM player in history)

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10 hours ago, GIMN said:

We're 5 updates in, and yet to play a competitive game.  I promise that'll change next time!

It’s all good. Getting all this down now means more time to get into games, transfers, training, youth intakes, your interests of choice :D

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The Opening Salvo

Now the season is finally upon us we got to see things in action.  In an attempt to rival you for speed @SixPointer, I'll be watching games on full highlights (sideline camera, lowest height, full zoom & reversed for the closest approximation of a dugout view that I can muster).  With attributes obscured, I need to use every advantage I can to get a true feel for how good (or bad) my players are.  Furthermore, I no longer have the same amount of free time at my disposal as I did in my CM 03/04 heyday, and can't complete a season in a week.  As such, I might as well enjoy the ride.

First up - Torino.

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An absolutely delightful start, both to the game - with Scamacca opening the scoring after 3 minutes - and to the season.  In the previous post I suggested I might play Ayhan at RB and switch Toljan over to the left.  Before the game, I chickened out, instead opting for the veteran Federico Peluso to slot in at LB and allow Toljan to play in a more suitable position.  I don't want to say that I'm a genius, but it was Toljan's bursting run down the right flank and cross to Scamacca that lead to the opening goal.  In honesty, Scamacca should have had a hattrick as he spurned two great chances either side of half time and Ferrari hit the crossbar from a corner.  Raspadori came off the bench to tap in a low Berardi cross at the death to put the game out of sight.  Torino did have their chances, especially at the beginning of the 2nd half, but with an average xG of less than 0.07 per chance, they didn't truly threaten.

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I'm convinced our pass map would have been a thing of true beauty if I hadn't made a couple of tactical tweaks.  At 37, there was no way I was expecting him to bomb up and down the left flank, so his role was changed to FB - Support, and Boga shifted from F9 to an Inverted Winger just to give more support on that side.  Offensively he was underwhelming, which is no surprise given we hadn't tried that particular change during preseason, and he was the one who eventually made way for Raspadori.  In fact, we left a lot of our substitutions until late, and there was a clear correlation between fresh legs and us creating chances again.

With a win under our belt, and 6 days recovery for us to get some players back, things were looking positive ahead of our trip to Milan.

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Don't let the result fool you, we were absolutely battered.  Kyriakopolous, returning from suspension, came in for Peluso and he probably wished he was still banned.  Milan did a great job of cutting off supply to the front lines and Giroud bullied our centre backs.  There are some things to be encouraged by.  Despite their 25 shots, average xG was again kept low.  Our defensive shape looked decent, and players rotated well to pick up threats and force them into difficult shots.  The winner eventually came from a cross, though, and with Giroud's aerial presence we needed to do more to restrict these.  Give him enough chances and he's going to score.  I tinkered too much in the second half in an attempt to wrestle back some control and I think that played a large part in our inability to create chances.  That said, Hamed Junior Traore had an absolutely gilded chance at the death which he blazed over from about 10 yards.  I was right about the passing map, though.  Our base formation creates a very pretty passing map.

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We head into the international break with 3 points which is exactly what I expected from these opening fixtures, and to have a positive goal difference is probably a blessing.  Before the month is up however, there is the small matter of Transfer Deadline Day.

Whilst I'd previously said I wasn't going to sign anyone for the sake of it, there's something about the Deadline Day yellow that lures me into involvement.  With rumours growing of interest in Boga and Mulder, it also felt wise to be involved, just in case I needed to bring in some last minute panic emergency replacements.  CB was still a priority, if I was going to sign anyone, and after so much indecision during the pre-season, I finally instructed my DoF to do the needful.  I had two targets in mind - Matteo Gabbia (previously discussed) and Fiorentina's Lucas Martinez Quarta.

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With an offer of first team football and a reasonable pay rise, Gabbia decided he'd rather stay at Milan and renew his contract.  DoF offered about 25k per week, and there's part of me that thinks we could've got the deal done if he'd been a bit more generous.  Sadly, we'll never know.

Eyes turned now to Quarta, and for a club record fee we have our man:

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As an important player, it's understandable that the DoF offered a bigger contract, but it kind of compounds my feelings about the Gabbia deal.  But what is done is done, and I've got to pretend like we Quarta was our first choice target all along.  And to be fair, he might've been.  Unlike Gabbia, I did attend a Fiorentina game but come deadline day we didn't have a full scout report available.  With traits and injury proneness unknown, Quarta is a bit of a gamble, but attributes wise I was happy that he represented an improvement at the heart of our defence.

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Perhaps the biggest triumph of Deadline Day, however, was being able to stave off interest for the rest of the team.  Bids for Boga (Hoffenheim & Dortmund), Muldur (Wolves) and Rogerio (Nice) were rejected.  I have agreed to sell Boga and Muldur if valuations of £13.5m and £25m respectively are met but, for now, they remain with the team.  Had the bids come in before Deadline Day I might've entertained them, but I didn't want to scramble last minute to find replacements.

Heading into the home triple-header, and with players returning to fitness, I'm confident that September should be a good month and hopefully we can build up some momentum before the big, scary run the following month.

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Martinez Quarta is a good addition to the backline and his combination of Bravery and Positioning could be key to dealing with opponents on the break.

Fantastic thread so far and I have downloaded the skin to try and test myself. Great job.

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4 hours ago, roas1875 said:

Martinez Quarta is a good addition to the backline and his combination of Bravery and Positioning could be key to dealing with opponents on the break.

Fantastic thread so far and I have downloaded the skin to try and test myself. Great job.

Martinez Quarta is definitely an improvement and his positioning and marking were what essentially drew me to him.  He's also got Italian second nationality so I'm hoping that satisfies my board's desires.  Re: the skin - a couple of views have been broken by the Winter Update, so I've just released a quick fix.

I'm keen to see what impact the Winter Update has on the ME.  Patch notes suggest IW/IF are more inclined to cut in, but we'll have to wait and see if it has a significant knock on effect elsewhere.  Thankfully, we're only two games in, so it's not as if we're wedded to this style or reached full familiarity.

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Watching the full match is a real dedication, I watched on comprehensive mostly but now my tactics are settled. I watch the first 15 minutes on comprehensive if Iike what am seeing from the team In regards to the four phases of play I switch up to extended. 

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6 minutes ago, SixPointer said:

Watching the full match is a real dedication, I watched on comprehensive mostly but now my tactics are settled. I watch the first 15 minutes on comprehensive if Iike what am seeing from the team In regards to the four phases of play I switch up to extended. 

It's super chill.  Allows me to sometimes let my focus drift without missing too much, although can be frustrating in games where nothing goes right.  Like the Milan game.

Perhaps, more interestingly, I've found it changes my approach to shouts.  Rather than focus on team shouts and/or body language, I'm more reactive to events.  For example, if someone's repeatedly booting the ball away under little to no pressure I'll tell them to Calm Down or Focus, or if someone's made a few tackles/blocks in quick succession I'll praise.  It might not be the most effective approach, but it feels a little more realistic to me.  I'm also more inclined to make small tactical changes - and I'm pretty certain this is just because the games are longer, rather than actually being needed or useful!

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4 minutes ago, GIMN said:

It's super chill.  Allows me to sometimes let my focus drift without missing too much, although can be frustrating in games where nothing goes right.  Like the Milan game.

Perhaps, more interestingly, I've found it changes my approach to shouts.  Rather than focus on team shouts and/or body language, I'm more reactive to events.  For example, if someone's repeatedly booting the ball away under little to no pressure I'll tell them to Calm Down or Focus, or if someone's made a few tackles/blocks in quick succession I'll praise.  It might not be the most effective approach, but it feels a little more realistic to me.  I'm also more inclined to make small tactical changes - and I'm pretty certain this is just because the games are longer, rather than actually being needed or useful!

It’s probably the most realistic approach I’ve seen anyone take. Which I think is awesome coming from a fellow slow player I think you take it to the next level 

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Just caught up on this and I love everything that you’re doing here! The skin is absolutely lovely and  your style of play resonates with me. Lastly, you have an ally in your ‘annoyance at the Robbie Keane deal’ - as a fellow Villa fan, I’ve never quite got over that!

Good luck for the rest of the season!

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Never Was a Cloudy Day...

Basking in the success of the transfer window - having kept hold of my key players - and with the international break underway, things were looking rosy.  Of course with comfort, there's always the risk of hubris.  It was true that the transfer window had closed in Italy, but Italy is not the only country in the world.  The opening days of September saw Dortmund, Wolfsburg and Zenit all submit further bids for Jeremie Boga.  Thankfully, they were all under the asking price, and we were able to reject without repercussions.

Elsewhere Scamacca was starting to get antsy, as he felt he deserved a new contract.  Usually, I prefer to deal with contracts in the offseason but I was unable to convince Scamacca to wait that long and, as he was on a paltry £3k per week, I could hardly deny that he was woefully underpaid.  A deal was offered, agreed, and the focal point of our attack is now under contract for the next 5 years.

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Despite successfully signing Quarta on the final day of the transfer window, I stuck to my plans in the opening post, and sent DoF, Giovanni Rossi, packing.  In his place former Lazio winger, Pasquale Foggia, was hired.  I'd love to share his profile right now, but the Winter Update has unfortunately caused some issues with obscuring staff attributes, so I'm avoiding staff profiles in their entirety!  What I can show is his tactical preferences:

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Into the games.  First up: Cagliari.

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We were utterly dominant throughout, and honestly, it was disappointing to only win 1-0.  That said, we were fortunate last time out to only lose 1-0, so I can't complain too much.

Unsurprisingly, given the possession we enjoyed, we spent a lot of the game camped in Cagliari's half but they were effective at keeping us contained.  Our average xG per shot was notably down in this game with most of our chances falling to Scamacca in a crowded box.  Boga and Berardi created 9 chances between them, but only mustered a single shot combined.  Part of this was my fault (well, as manager, it's probably all my fault), as I swapped Boga and Berardi around so they were on the side of their favoured foot - e.g. Berardi on the left, Boga on the right.  As we were up against a back 3, I thought we would be better placed to exploit the channel between the outside centre-backs and wing-backs this way.  Whilst I was right, as shown by chances created, it was easy for Cagliari to shepherd the players into less threatening positions.  Our eventual winner came from a blocked Scamacca pot-shot that spiralled into the air and landed in stride for Scamacca to volley in, via a touch from Cagliari's keeper.  No nice interplay, just luck.

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Pleasingly Rogerio made his return to the first team, Martinez Quarta made his debut, and our defence looked assured throughout.  Although, it's not as if we can really read too much into a shut out at home against Cagliari.  Next up, Spezia:

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The Scamacca show continues.  That's 4 goals in 4 games now and, despite a recent 550% pay rise, his new contract is looking like an absolute bargain!  Spezia lined up in a 5-3-2, so we gave our 5-2-3 a run out.  Goldaniga came in, with Matheus Henrique dropped and, based on the last game's analysis, we went back to Boga on the left and Berardi on the right.

Once again, we dominated the whole game, and whilst the xG match story shows Spezia having good chances, they didn't muster a single shot on target.  Our 2nd goal, a Scamacca tap-in from a Berardi cut-back, started from a last ditch block inside our own area (more on that in a later post).  Scamacca's first was set up by an absolute pearler of a cross from Rogerio, on his 2nd game back from injury.  Unfortunately, Rogerio's 2nd game back only lasted 45 minutes as he came off with a bruised ankle.  Whilst we were comfortable in the 2nd half, the chances dried up, and it's hard not to see the correlation between chance creation and Rogerio's availability.

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One minor observation - which you would've thought I'd noticed earlier considering I'm having to regularly take screenshots - the post match analysis has dropped from Advanced to Intermediate.  Turns out I failed to notice that our new Technical Director, Piero Ducci, had restructured the analyst team - stealing a performance analyst for the recruitment team.

The final game in our triple-header is a midweek game against Udinese.  With only a few days in between, I expect a bit of rotation to keep players fresh.

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Don't let the Man of the Match award fool you.  This was, yet again, the Scamacca show.  He's now responsible for 6 of our 8 goals this season, with Raspadori having netted both of the other goals.  This was another very pleasing performance overall, but I'm starting to worrying about our overreliance on Scamacca.

Udinese were coming into this game off the back of a respectable draw away against AC Milan, and had a very good defensive record.  To score 3 goals was a pleasant surprise.  Moreover, I was delighted with the contributions from Traore and Raspadori, who came in for Lopez and Boga respectively.  It was Traore's through ball that led to Raspadori's  74th minute goal.  Boga has been a bit of a disappointment so far, which may be a result of him having to learn a new role, but Raspadori now has 2 goals in 130 minutes and is pushing for a first-team spot.

Whilst the result was good, Udinese should've scored in the opening minutes.  A lapse in concentration by Ferrari saw Beto clean through on goal, but Consigli stood tall.  I do wonder what might've been had Udinese taken an early lead.  Their defensive record suggests they may have been more than capable of restricting us.

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Another change of note, Scamacca has been switching between a poacher and complete forward during games.  By and large, I prefer him as a Complete Forward, as I want him involved in build-up, but sometimes he's taking up the spaces I want to see Berardi occupy.  A bit like the concerns surrounding Harry Kane with England, involvement in build-up also means he's always in the position where he is most dangerous: in the 6 yard box.  We can see with the above pass map, that the gap between Scamacca and the F9s is a lot smaller, and I think it is no coincidence that we had our biggest win of the season.

We rounded out the month with a trip to Salernitana:

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A little better than our last away game, that's for sure.  We once again changed to our 5-2-3 in response to Salernitana's formation, and a 93rd minute consolation goal, a tap-in after Consigli spilled a long-range shot straight at him, responsible for about 0.75xG made the game look a lot closer than it was.

Raspadori was given the start ahead of Boga after his mid-week heroics, and boy did that pay off.  Another goal from Henrique's ball over the top, plus an assist for Scamacca's 2nd, more than repaid my faith.  Kyriakopolous set-up the opener, and that's now 4 assists from our wing-backs.  Whilst we're definitely reliant on Scamacca's physicality, we're seeing a decent diversity of goals scored.  It should have been a 4th consecutive clean shot, if not for Consigli's error, and we seem to be surprisingly solid at the back.  Of course, that is partly a by-product of the possession based approach.  If the opposition doesn't have the ball, it's a lot harder for them to score, and - outside of the Milan game - we've had at least 63% possession in all our games so far.

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With September's games all wrapped up, and 5 wins from 6 games, plaudits are starting to come our way:

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Whilst I might be a little biased, the plaudits are utterly deserved.  I'd even go far as to say, there are not enough.  The whole team should have been in the Team of the Month.  SASSUOLO ARE THE GREATEST TEAM IN THE WORLD.

Okay, I might be getting a bit ahead of myself.  We've had an easy opening salvo, and even then, we've outdone expectations.  I would've been happy with 10-12 points, so 15 is fantastic and sets us up well going into this nightmare run of games in October.  Both Milan sides remain unbeaten, but have dropped points to draws, leaving us - somewhat amazingly, at the top of table.  Let's be fair, this isn't where we're going to be come the end of the season, so let's enjoy it whilst we still can.

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For the next post, I plan to look more in depth at the tactical approach, performances, and a much overdue spotlight on a few more players.

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On 25/02/2022 at 06:40, SixPointer said:

It’s probably the most realistic approach I’ve seen anyone take. Which I think is awesome coming from a fellow slow player I think you take it to the next level 

Since adopting this approach, I've rekindled my love for FM.  Means I'm very unlikely to ever see more than 10 years into the future, but I've often found that the deeper into a career I get, the more disconnected I start to feel.

On 25/02/2022 at 09:33, _Ben_ said:

Just caught up on this and I love everything that you’re doing here! The skin is absolutely lovely and  your style of play resonates with me. Lastly, you have an ally in your ‘annoyance at the Robbie Keane deal’ - as a fellow Villa fan, I’ve never quite got over that!

Good luck for the rest of the season!

I've been enjoying your Matryoshka updates - your journey in Russia inspired me to do a Rostov save before this, which is where I first discovered the joy of the offset F9.

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Well that went well, the first month of the season. Topping the table is a nice reward for a successful month :thup:

Scamacca started the season in blazing form, rightly picking up player of the month.

 

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21 hours ago, Sonic Youth said:

Well that went well, the first month of the season. Topping the table is a nice reward for a successful month :thup:

Scamacca started the season in blazing form, rightly picking up player of the month.

 

I was excited to manage Scamacca, knowing how well he started this season IRL, but my word - he's an absolute monster.  Unfortunately, I think that means it's only a matter of time before he leaves for greener pastures, as our wage budget does not seem to be overly conducive to keeping our best players.

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7 minutes ago, GIMN said:

I was excited to manage Scamacca, knowing how well he started this season IRL, but my word - he's an absolute monster.  Unfortunately, I think that means it's only a matter of time before he leaves for greener pastures, as our wage budget does not seem to be overly conducive to keeping our best players.

That front three probably won’t be there at Sassuolo next FM or season. I’ve especially thought Berrardi would have left a season or two ago. It’s always amazed me that Boga was sold to Sassuolo from Chelsea, and he’s still there too. Money is tight in Italy, even with that tax break they have there.

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Player Spotlight: Strikers

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There is something beautiful about the Data Hub radar charts for our starting trio, with each excelling in one facet.  Scamacca the goalscorer, Berrardi the creator and Boga the dribbler.  Raspadori, as a rotational piece seems to offer a little bit of each, which is perfect, whilst Traore hasn't really featured enough.  One clear thing to note is the assault of downwards arrows for Boga and Traore.  Both players are learning a new position, so this is expected, and no cause for panic.  Or at least, not yet.  I am a little concerned that 6 games in, Boga has yet to make a goal contribution and maybe I made a mistake to not cash in on him.  It's still early days yet, but Raspadori is putting his case forward to start more games.

Berardi, our vice-captain, is a mental monster and will almost certainly take over the captain's armband full-time next season.  I'm considering training "Comes Deep To Get Ball" to try and enhance his performance as a False 9.  I don't usually delve too much into Player Traits, maybe only ever focussing on developing one or two on a player, and letting others come organically.  As a result, I'll probably wait until the New Year before I make an absolute decision.  Berardi is contributing well as it is, so no need to upset the apple cart if things are shaping out how I want already.

With the exception of Boga, which has already been discussed, the rest are all under contract for at least the next 2 seasons.  If we can stave off interest from other teams, it means this is unlikely to be an area we prioritise in transfer windows for a while.  That's no bad thing but it brings out a little sadness in me because - let's face it - strikers are the signings that most people get excited about.

I Haffi Work Work Work Work Work Work...

As I briefly touched on traits, it seems only naturally to dive a little deeper into our training approach.  Despite the title, I actually prefer a gentler approach to training.  It's all about rest and role development.

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The above is my base schedule, which is modified ahead of each week.  In the most part, the schedules here are just there as a reminder for what I need to put where.  First off, Tuesday is for the back-ups.  After every match, players who played 45 minutes or more are given an additional day's rest.  This is immutable.  No additional days off for an exceptional win.  No additional training demands after a disappointing result.  As such, training starts in earnest on Wednesdays.

From a game perspective, does it make sense to have players doing Community Outreach every week?  Probably not.  Is the claim that we are developing not just players but "good people" ridiculously pretentious for a game that is essentially a glorified spreadsheet?  Absolutely.  Do I care? Nope.  If I was managing a professional club in real life, this would be an absolute staple of our week.

For the rest of the schedule, I mix between the generic sessions outlined and ones which specifically focus on "Individual Roles" for the secondary groups.

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These sessions are:

  • Attacking Movement / Defensive Shape
  • Ground Defence / Aerial Defence
  • Chance Conversion / Chance Creation
  • All the goalkeeping schedules

Finally, the tactical or possession slot will occasionally be replaced by something directly related to our tactical set up (Play From the Back, Transition - Press, etc...) and the set piece slot will be rotated between the options.  Eventually we'll end up with something like:

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Is this effective?  Absolutely no idea.  One of the joys of the graphical attribute skin is that attribute development is only really noticeable when a player moves across a colour threshold (e.g. from 10 to 11), so ultimately we are relying on feedback from players and staff and training ratings.  The latter is consistently good, with players in the red being uncommon.  The former is much the same as it always is.  There are always complaints that we're not doing enough of this training or that training, but nothing that's manifested in significant complaints.  I suppose the best way to explain it is whilst it might not be optimal, there's been barely an adverse effect and as far as I'm concerned, that's all I can ask for!

It's probably worth adding that, like traits, I have not utilised mentorship yet.  This is something I fully intend to explore from the Winter Break onwards.  Again, I could treat it like the game it is, and just pop high potential youngsters in groups with all those Model Professionals I'm fortunate to have at my disposal.  This is a fine approach, but I want to see how players fit into our tactical approach, their standing in the squad and how organic those interactions would be.  For example, Peluso is a great candidate to be a mentor for our left-backs, with appropriate traits such as "Runs With Ball Down Left".  However, at 37, with poor dribbling and acceleration, it wouldn't make much sense for him to be working alongside our pacy, athletic wingbacks.

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59 minutes ago, Sonic Youth said:

That front three probably won’t be there at Sassuolo next FM or season. I’ve especially thought Berrardi would have left a season or two ago. It’s always amazed me that Boga was sold to Sassuolo from Chelsea, and he’s still there too. Money is tight in Italy, even with that tax break they have there.

Very true.  I think Berardi might stay IRL, as he's able to excel at Sassuolo and seems to have a place in the Italy squad.  In game, Mancini refuses to pick him and is agitating for Berardi to move to a bigger club.  It will come as no surprise that I don't like FM Mancini.

I kind of understand the Boga sale.  Yeah, he had potential, but the season before he didn't exactly light things up whilst on loan at Birmingham, so there probably wasn't any real path for him at Chelsea nor many suitors.

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On 26/02/2022 at 12:24, GIMN said:

Since adopting this approach, I've rekindled my love for FM.  Means I'm very unlikely to ever see more than 10 years into the future, but I've often found that the deeper into a career I get, the more disconnected I start to feel.

 

I’m often very similar with this year being the exception we’re im trying to do a journey 

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On 26/02/2022 at 12:12, GIMN said:

Never Was a Cloudy Day...

Basking in the success of the transfer window - having kept hold of my key players - and with the international break underway, things were looking rosy.  Of course with comfort, there's always the risk of hubris.  It was true that the transfer window had closed in Italy, but Italy is not the only country in the world.  The opening days of September saw Dortmund, Wolfsburg and Zenit all submit further bids for Jeremie Boga.  Thankfully, they were all under the asking price, and we were able to reject without repercussions.

Elsewhere Scamacca was starting to get antsy, as he felt he deserved a new contract.  Usually, I prefer to deal with contracts in the offseason but I was unable to convince Scamacca to wait that long and, as he was on a paltry £3k per week, I could hardly deny that he was woefully underpaid.  A deal was offered, agreed, and the focal point of our attack is now under contract for the next 5 years.

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Despite successfully signing Quarta on the final day of the transfer window, I stuck to my plans in the opening post, and sent DoF, Giovanni Rossi, packing.  In his place former Lazio winger, Pasquale Foggia, was hired.  I'd love to share his profile right now, but the Winter Update has unfortunately caused some issues with obscuring staff attributes, so I'm avoiding staff profiles in their entirety!  What I can show is his tactical preferences:

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Into the games.  First up: Cagliari.

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We were utterly dominant throughout, and honestly, it was disappointing to only win 1-0.  That said, we were fortunate last time out to only lose 1-0, so I can't complain too much.

Unsurprisingly, given the possession we enjoyed, we spent a lot of the game camped in Cagliari's half but they were effective at keeping us contained.  Our average xG per shot was notably down in this game with most of our chances falling to Scamacca in a crowded box.  Boga and Berardi created 9 chances between them, but only mustered a single shot combined.  Part of this was my fault (well, as manager, it's probably all my fault), as I swapped Boga and Berardi around so they were on the side of their favoured foot - e.g. Berardi on the left, Boga on the right.  As we were up against a back 3, I thought we would be better placed to exploit the channel between the outside centre-backs and wing-backs this way.  Whilst I was right, as shown by chances created, it was easy for Cagliari to shepherd the players into less threatening positions.  Our eventual winner came from a blocked Scamacca pot-shot that spiralled into the air and landed in stride for Scamacca to volley in, via a touch from Cagliari's keeper.  No nice interplay, just luck.

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Pleasingly Rogerio made his return to the first team, Martinez Quarta made his debut, and our defence looked assured throughout.  Although, it's not as if we can really read too much into a shut out at home against Cagliari.  Next up, Spezia:

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The Scamacca show continues.  That's 4 goals in 4 games now and, despite a recent 550% pay rise, his new contract is looking like an absolute bargain!  Spezia lined up in a 5-3-2, so we gave our 5-2-3 a run out.  Goldaniga came in, with Matheus Henrique dropped and, based on the last game's analysis, we went back to Boga on the left and Berardi on the right.

Once again, we dominated the whole game, and whilst the xG match story shows Spezia having good chances, they didn't muster a single shot on target.  Our 2nd goal, a Scamacca tap-in from a Berardi cut-back, started from a last ditch block inside our own area (more on that in a later post).  Scamacca's first was set up by an absolute pearler of a cross from Rogerio, on his 2nd game back from injury.  Unfortunately, Rogerio's 2nd game back only lasted 45 minutes as he came off with a bruised ankle.  Whilst we were comfortable in the 2nd half, the chances dried up, and it's hard not to see the correlation between chance creation and Rogerio's availability.

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One minor observation - which you would've thought I'd noticed earlier considering I'm having to regularly take screenshots - the post match analysis has dropped from Advanced to Intermediate.  Turns out I failed to notice that our new Technical Director, Piero Ducci, had restructured the analyst team - stealing a performance analyst for the recruitment team.

The final game in our triple-header is a midweek game against Udinese.  With only a few days in between, I expect a bit of rotation to keep players fresh.

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Don't let the Man of the Match award fool you.  This was, yet again, the Scamacca show.  He's now responsible for 6 of our 8 goals this season, with Raspadori having netted both of the other goals.  This was another very pleasing performance overall, but I'm starting to worrying about our overreliance on Scamacca.

Udinese were coming into this game off the back of a respectable draw away against AC Milan, and had a very good defensive record.  To score 3 goals was a pleasant surprise.  Moreover, I was delighted with the contributions from Traore and Raspadori, who came in for Lopez and Boga respectively.  It was Traore's through ball that led to Raspadori's  74th minute goal.  Boga has been a bit of a disappointment so far, which may be a result of him having to learn a new role, but Raspadori now has 2 goals in 130 minutes and is pushing for a first-team spot.

Whilst the result was good, Udinese should've scored in the opening minutes.  A lapse in concentration by Ferrari saw Beto clean through on goal, but Consigli stood tall.  I do wonder what might've been had Udinese taken an early lead.  Their defensive record suggests they may have been more than capable of restricting us.

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Another change of note, Scamacca has been switching between a poacher and complete forward during games.  By and large, I prefer him as a Complete Forward, as I want him involved in build-up, but sometimes he's taking up the spaces I want to see Berardi occupy.  A bit like the concerns surrounding Harry Kane with England, involvement in build-up also means he's always in the position where he is most dangerous: in the 6 yard box.  We can see with the above pass map, that the gap between Scamacca and the F9s is a lot smaller, and I think it is no coincidence that we had our biggest win of the season.

We rounded out the month with a trip to Salernitana:

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A little better than our last away game, that's for sure.  We once again changed to our 5-2-3 in response to Salernitana's formation, and a 93rd minute consolation goal, a tap-in after Consigli spilled a long-range shot straight at him, responsible for about 0.75xG made the game look a lot closer than it was.

Raspadori was given the start ahead of Boga after his mid-week heroics, and boy did that pay off.  Another goal from Henrique's ball over the top, plus an assist for Scamacca's 2nd, more than repaid my faith.  Kyriakopolous set-up the opener, and that's now 4 assists from our wing-backs.  Whilst we're definitely reliant on Scamacca's physicality, we're seeing a decent diversity of goals scored.  It should have been a 4th consecutive clean shot, if not for Consigli's error, and we seem to be surprisingly solid at the back.  Of course, that is partly a by-product of the possession based approach.  If the opposition doesn't have the ball, it's a lot harder for them to score, and - outside of the Milan game - we've had at least 63% possession in all our games so far.

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With September's games all wrapped up, and 5 wins from 6 games, plaudits are starting to come our way:

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Whilst I might be a little biased, the plaudits are utterly deserved.  I'd even go far as to say, there are not enough.  The whole team should have been in the Team of the Month.  SASSUOLO ARE THE GREATEST TEAM IN THE WORLD.

Okay, I might be getting a bit ahead of myself.  We've had an easy opening salvo, and even then, we've outdone expectations.  I would've been happy with 10-12 points, so 15 is fantastic and sets us up well going into this nightmare run of games in October.  Both Milan sides remain unbeaten, but have dropped points to draws, leaving us - somewhat amazingly, at the top of table.  Let's be fair, this isn't where we're going to be come the end of the season, so let's enjoy it whilst we still can.

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For the next post, I plan to look more in depth at the tactical approach, performances, and a much overdue spotlight on a few more players.

Great stuff, lovely writing and magical form. I love the pass map from the 523 shape especially from the Spezia game, a nice box formed with fluidity in front. 

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1 hour ago, GIMN said:

After every match, players who played 45 minutes or more are given an additional day's rest.  This is immutable. 

How do you manage this? Is there an in-game option or is it something you do manauly (many many clicks).

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The Mustermann Way

As promised (to my audience of 3-4 people), I was going to drill a little further into what we're trying to do tactically.

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Whilst we've deployed two different tactics - the narrow 4-3-3 featured in earlier posts, and a 5-2-3 where the DM becomes a CB and the WBs push up - both formations aim to do the same thing in attack.  The key for us, is the yellow area.  By deploying two box-to-box midfielders, and adding Roam From Position to the two false 9s, we're giving the players a lot of agency to find pockets of space, encouraging lateral movement to create overloads anywhere within the yellow area.  The wing-backs, anchorman and complete forward also have licence to be involved in this area, giving us potentially 8 players in that strata.  With the wing-backs staying wide, this give us the opportunity for some tight interplay on one side, which we then quickly switch over to the other flank.

With this in mind, it's no surprise that Scamacca has been responsible for most of our goals.  Whilst I expect the false 9s and the box-to-box midfielders to offer goal-scoring threats, Scamacca is obviously the most constant threat in the blue area.

Maybe not as dynamic an example as I'd have liked, but here it is in play.  During build up, we see Scamacca dropping deep and attracting attention.  As we patiently build up on the left-hand side, we eventually drag 6 opposition players over to the left hand side of the field.  Eventually the ball makes it into Ayhan, and with Traore completely free in the hole, it's only 2 more passes before Raspadori is in for an easy goal.  Despite not touching the ball at all, Scamacca's position helped create the massive gap that Raspadori was able to run into.  We see something similar in the next example, too:

This time play is focussed down the right flank, until the opportunity presents to switch play to the left.  A better ball by Henrique and Kyriakopolous would've been in behind.  Despite the poor ball, we were able to work it to Berardi, who had the space to carry the ball, draw players in and play the ball back to Kyriakopolous.  Isolated against just one player, all it took was shifting the ball to create the angle for the cross.

Now in an ideal world, these switches of play would have been a lot quicker.  As the board want us to play possession football, however, we are playing at a lower tempo.  This doesn't mean that we can't be swift.

Possibly my favourite goal so far.  Magnanelli initially gives the ball away, and a lapse in concentration by Goldaniga allowed Spezia in behind.  Magnanelli identifies the threat and makes a phenomenal block, coming from the blindside of the attacking player, which leads to a swift counter-attack where all 3 strikers combine.

Defensively, there's not been much thought, in honesty.  We play with a higher defensive line, as our centre-backs have sufficient pace, and with an anchorman (or 3rd defender) we ensure we always have 3 players positioned to prevent the counter-attack.  This is also why we ultimately opted for box-to-box midfielders instead of central midfielders.  The expectation on them is to track back and provide defensive support.

What we do, however, is take a considered approach to Opposition Instructions.  The basic set-up is nothing mind-blowing:

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Funnel full backs inside.  Close down midfielders.  Mark single strikers.  Very simple and straightforward - we just try and funnel them into an area where we can then contain them.  With that in place, we then focus on identifying the opposition's weakness.  Let's take the Udinese game for example.  Jens Stryger Larsen was identified as being in poor form ahead of the game.  A quick glance at his attributes showed that whilst he was reasonable, he lacked composure:

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Playing at left wing-back our base instructions would normally have us just showing him onto his right foot.  Larsen is right footed, however, and with his sub-optimal composure, we changed the instruction to player specifically, pressed him more often and showed him onto his left foot.  It was a similar story for Bram Nuytinck, playing in the middle of Udinese's back 3.  Whilst not in poor form, composure was clearly a weakness so he was an additional target for the press.  Effectively we focused on pressing 5 Udinese players in that game, which is a little more than I would normally be comfortable with, but we knew they were going to be playing a very defensive formation, and that we could probably sacrifice some structural solidity without getting punished. 

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Whilst no-one for Udinese played particularly well, Nuytinck as the worst of the bunch, and this was in no part due to him giving possession away frequently.  Whilst looking at the Udinese game:

A good example of what we're trying to do.  We effectively kept Udinese in front of us.  Whilst Pereyra occasionally found pockets of space, he was quickly closed down, eventually leading to a cross that was easily handled.  Despite winning the 2nd ball, Udinese were unable to get any real penetration and eventually settled on a low-chance pot-shot that was easily saved.

Now, it's worth pointing out that it's very easy to talk about tactical philosophies when everything is going well.  This is obviously going to be stressed by the upcoming opposition, and it will be important to see not just how this approach fares against better teams, but what tweaks will be necessary and how this impacts the overall balance.

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19 minutes ago, MattyLewis11 said:

How do you manage this? Is there an in-game option or is it something you do manauly (many many clicks).

Manually, but not many clicks - highlight all the players who played (and usually it's just the starting XI), right click Training -> Rest -> 1day.

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37 minutes ago, SixPointer said:

Great stuff, lovely writing and magical form. I love the pass map from the 523 shape especially from the Spezia game, a nice box formed with fluidity in front. 

Appreciate the kind words.

And absolutely agree - that Spezia pass map is glorious.  It's actually given me pause in other games when I've wanted to swap the false 9s around, but know that it's going to make the pass map look more squashed.  Normally I'm not too bothered by aesthetics (some might describe my style as hobo-chic, without the chic), but that all goes out the window when it comes to analytical data.

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We're Not In Kansas Anymore

So here we are.  October.  The month where we come back down to Earth.  We start with a trip to Naples, against a Napoli team who have had an indifferent start to the season and lie in 11th place.

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Daylight robbery.  Napoli spurned multiple gilded chances, somehow forcing only 1 save - a very good save at that - despite getting into good positions.  We didn't really start to get going until the introduction of Boga in the last 20 minutes, mustering a handful of pot shots.  Then, in the 85th minute, Toljan was able to find space on the right flank and sent a low cross in to the near post area where Berardi was waiting.  By the end of the game we had more shots, we'd dominated possession, but make no mistake this was a smash 'n' grab.

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Abdou Harroui returned to the bench for the game after spraining his knee ligaments in pre-season, meaning for the first time all season we had a full squad at our disposal (minus the long-term injuries we started the game with).  Unfortunately, during the international break, disaster struck.

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Only recently returned from a pulled back muscle, having played about 40 minutes first-team football in 3 substitute appearances, Muldur is now out long-term.  I'd originally viewed Muldur as my first choice right back, but Toljan has been able to secure that position with little to no resistance thanks to Muldur's poor injury luck.  In hindsight, I should've accepted that bid from Wolves on Deadline Day.

Next up, the homeplace of Christopher Columbus, Genoa.

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This was the reverse of the Napoli game - we controlled the game but just couldn't find the finishing touches.  When we did get a shot on target, we were offside - with Scamacca having a goal chalked off early in the 2nd half.  In the end, it took a low curling effort from the edge of the box from centre back/defensive midfielder Ayhan to break the deadlock.

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We're back to the Mapei stadium for a double-header against Lazio & Juventus Zebre, but not without more injury woes.  Goldaniga goes down with knee cartilage damage and is set to miss the next 4 to 5 weeks, whilst Rogerio has pulled his groin.

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A respectable draw, in what was a very even game.  We might've shaded xG, but as can be inferred from the MoTM award, we owed a lot to Consigli for a 3rd consecutive clean sheet.  The highlight being a great save at point blank range from an Immobile header.  Toljan took a slight knock in the first half, and was replaced at half time by 19-year old Colombian Yeferson Paz.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the quality of the opposition, Lazio got quite a bit of joy down that flank.

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On to Juventus Zebre, and this time we'll be without Maxime Lopez after he, too, pulled his groin.  This is even more incredible considering, given the gap between games and my insistence on giving players rest after each game, that Lopez essentially did it during the Match Preview.

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Who needs Lopez anyway!?  Scamacca returns to goal scoring form after a 3-game dry spell, and we extend our run of clean-sheets. Juventus Zebre will feel hard done by as xG was comfortably in their favour, but having fallen 2-0 down so early I think it was inevitable that Juventus Zebre were going to be applying pressure for the remainder of the game.  In case the victory was not enough, Manuel Locatelli - who is on loan from us, ahead of a £30m transfer next summer - struggled and was subbed off 10 minutes into the 2nd half.

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Not of any great consequence, but the post-match interview did give me a chance to embrace my inner Alan Partridge:

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Pretty successful month so far.  Just the small matter of a return to the San Siro to square off against Inter Milan.

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WE. F***ING.  DID.  IT!!!

An entertaining end-to-end game that looked destined for a draw until Berardi picked the ball up 10 yards inside his own half, drove into space, before unleashing an absolute pearler from 25 yards.  A draw would've been a fair result, but if there had to be a winner, it seemed only fitting that it would be something so beautiful.  Dzeko thought he'd equalised in the 92nd minute, but was a good 5 yards offside as the cross came in.

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I actually can't believe how well things are going.  I considered replaying the Inter game to get a less favourable result.  In isolation I can believe the win against Napoli or Juventus Zebre, but to finish the month with 13 points out of a possible 15 is ridiculous and, quite frankly, unbelievable.

Berardi's wonder striker won Goal of the Month and, having not conceded a single goal in October, our defensive core all were named to the Team of the Month

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In what can only be described as the least suspenseful league table reveal, those results keep us top of the league having extended the gap over Inter by a whole point.  For the mathematicians amongst you, you may notice that means Inter were ahead going into the last game.  Scamacca's relatively quiet month, having scored only 2 goals, is enough to see him joint top goalscorer with Immobile, whilst Toljan has been an absolute revelation as a starter.

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November sees us face off against Verona, Venezia, Bologna and Empoli.  On paper this should be an easy run of games, but this run of form has to end soon.  Surely?

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Player Spotlight: Midfield

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First thing to note - we're 11 games in, and have a grand total of 2 goal contributions from our midfield - an assist from Henrique, and a goal from Ayhan.  This, simply put, is not good enough.  More frustratingly, it's not through lack of quality. 

In Lopez, we have someone with the culture and guile to unlock defences, and despite creating above average for the league, this isn't leading to goals.  He's also been the best midfielder at breaking the lines, and has popped up with a number of opportunities to score, but just hasn't been able to convert.  Ultimately, I'm not too concerned - we need to start seeing some output, but I'm confident it will come.

Henrique is doing a good job at keeping things ticking over, but isn't really stressing opposition defences.  This is fine.  It's nice to see the differing styles play out, and Henrique offers balance.  He's safe, dependable, boring.

Magnanelli has been brilliant; effectively screening the defence.  At 36, I did not expect him to start so many games, but he has been very good at setting the base from which we build.  Even when we've played a 5-2-3, he's been a starter (as a BWM rather than a BBM).  Ayhan has been a dependable back-up/rotation option, also playing a handful of games in defence, and has unfortunately been victim to Magnanelli's importance.

Frattesi is someone I want to see more of.  He's been okay as a substitute, without really standing out, but does lead our midfield candidates in dribbles per game (at a whopping 0.67).  I want to see more progressive carries in the middle, drawing players out and hopefully creating space for the front 3 to exploit, and Frattesi's traits lend themselves well to this.

Harroui has been injured and played something like 20 minutes.  As such he's not really had the chance to dispel my pre-season opinion of him being the weakest of the bunch.

I've left Obiang out of this, as he is still expected to be out for another 4 months.  That means he should be back late February/early March.  Whilst I hope we will be able to get him up to fitness to contribute in the final games, I'm considering him a scratch for the season.

Transfer Targets

This feels like an appropriate time to touch on this, albeit briefly.  With the restrictions I've unnecessarily put upon myself, we're heavily reliant on players scouted by our recruitment team.  To free the scouts to focus on their assignments (for which DoF, Pasquale Foggia, is responsible), I am rarely asking for fully reports.  In December, I'll sort through scouted players and identify those that I want to know more about in preparation for the January transfer window.  Midfield is going to be a priority.  Ayhan has proved capable of playing as an Anchor Man, but we need to plan for Magnanelli's surely inevitable retirement.  Whilst I've got confidence in Henrique and Lopez, I'm also keen to get someone in who might create more.

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You, Minion, Are Too Saucy

The final international break of the year, and a relatively easy slate of 4 games - November will, hopefully, be the month we consolidate our position in the top 4.  Sure that sounds unambitious given our current position, but we know our form won't last forever, and if we can create a buffer we will be strongly placed when that drop does eventually come.

First up, Verona...

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A comfortable win, even if it did take a little longer to break through than we would've liked.  Two free-kicks got us over the hump - a far post cross for Ferrari to head home, and a delightful 25-yarder from Berardi put us 2-0 up.  Raspadori turned his man on the half-way line, drove forward, and played in Scamacca for the 3rd.  Verona's attacking threat was non-existent.  Whilst we've obviously been on a great run, it was nice to have a game that was, with no disrespect to Verona, easy.

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Into the international break, and it wouldn't be a true international break without more injury troubles. Henrique and Frattesi both go down with sports hernias within days of each other.  With Rogerio and Lopez going down with pulled groins during in October, it feels like injuries come in pairs.  I suppose this indicates some form of good squad harmony, or something.  Whatever it is, I don't like it.
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It had to happen sooner or later, I suppose, but galling nonetheless.  Okereke ghosted in between Toljan and Quarta and finished smartly and Venezia should've been 2-0 shortly after, too.  The summary doesn't show their (correctly) disallowed offside goal, either.  On a positive note, Boga scored his first goal of the season after a delightful lofted pass by Lopez but, even against 10 men for the last 20-25 minutes, we couldn't force a winner.

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An away draw isn't the end-of-the-world result that it feels like, but it feels like it's going to be important to bounce back in our next game.  Before that, however, Raspadori has decided he wants a new contract.  Like Scamacca before him, Raspadori was on a paltry £3k per week, so it only felt reasonable to oblige.  A 5-year, £20k per week contract agreed.

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We did enough.  A great early start, with Quarta popping up with his first goal for the club, this was a largely comfortable game.  Or at least it was until the 92nd minute.  A fortunate bobble put Federico Santander through on goal, and Consigli had to stand tall to keep the chance out.  Consigli has been absolutely phenomenal for us this season, making BIG contributions when it really matters.  Like with Venezia, a draw wouldn't have been the worst result ever, but clutching that win stops the possible rot before it sets in.

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Ahead of the Empoli game, injury empathy struck once again, as Kyriakopolous and Traore both went down with hamstring injuries.  Thankfully, Traore's was just some tightness and he was available for the next game, whilst Rogerio was ready to return from his groin issue.

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A decent win.  2nd game this month with the opposition down to 10 men, but this time we capitalised.  Boga with a wonderful top-corner strike from the edge of the area.  Scamacca also picked up his first assist of the season, laying in Raspadori for the opener.  That's now 11 goals from someone who isn't Scamacca, and it's nice to see that we've stopped becoming so reliant on one player.

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Tactically, we've made some minor tweaks, choosing to force opposition outside, as too many chances were being created from central positions.  Lopez has also been deployed as a mezzala quite a bit this month as, due to injuries, Magnanelli has been playing in a more advanced position.  Given his lack of athleticism, he's been deployed as a BWM rather than BBM, and so we've given Lopez more licence to get forward.

Inter have won out, leaving us neck-and-neck at the top of the table.  Thanks to our narrow win at the San Siro we hold the tiebreaker.  AC Milan and Lazio aren't too far behind, either, but with an 8 point buffer to 5th, we should feel comfortable of ending the year in the Champions League spots.

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(I managed to squeeze in quite a few games over the weekend, so the updates are coming thick and fast)

Eyes on January

A few days after Raspadori signed a new contract, chairman, Carlo Rossi, sent an ominous email.

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Whilst it is true there was little remaining in the wage budget.  At the time of receiving email we had something like £500 per week spare, but with some minor adjustments we were able to change this.  Surprisingly, our bank balance had held at a pretty stable position throughout the season, so I was a little disappointed that the board felt this move was necessary, but that is their prerogative.  I'm hopeful when the transfer window opens, we'll be able to re-assess the seasons expectations and bump up the budgets a little.

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With this in mind, we'll probably have to sell before we can buy.  Whilst I have a lot of faith in my scouts, I'm not entirely sure we're going to see all that many players that could potentially improve the starting lineup for £2m and less than £20k per week, and our recruitment focus may have to be for the summer, with the loan market explored for short-term cover.  Of course, if we receive highly unlikely but substantial bids for Boga (contract expiring and AFCON) or Muldur (injured), our plans might change!

The scouted players have highlighted a few players I'd like to take a closer look at.  As attributes are murky, performance/stats are going to be the key indicator:

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Maleh is the first to catch my eye.  He's only played 220 minutes across 8 substitute appearances, but in that time registered 3 assists.  His left-footedness would bring some much needed balance to the midfield, and he is driven and consistent.  He only joined Fiorentina in the summer, and despite what I would consider reasonable contributions, seems unable to break into the first team.  Italian second nationality also a plus.

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Another left-footed, former Venezia player, Caligara is an interesting prospect.  He's playing in Serie B, so obviously it's against lesser competition, but he is considered by my scouts as a Ball Winning Midfielder.  To have 8 goal contributions in 16 games, when that isn't necessarily considered your strongest suit, is pretty astonishing.  Younger than Maleh, and perhaps a little more well rounded, he could be a good option although his low determination does cause some concern.

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Another young Italian plying his trade in Serie B.  Cassandro certainly seems to be better defensively than offensively, but that may just be down to not being fully scouted.  More importantly, he has oodles of pace and that might be enough to make him an effective understudy for Toljan if, miraculously, someone decides they want to break the bank for Muldur.

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On loan from Juve Zebre, Frabotta has been impressive for a Verona team who have been punching above their weight.  The most obvious concern is his discipline - 6 yellows and 1 red in 12 league appearances - and that I'm not sure he'd be willing to wait for his chance.  Rogerio and Kyriakopolous have both been solid for us as left wing-backs, and whilst Frabotta could allow us to sell one of those on, he wouldn't necessarily walk straight into the starting lineup.

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Whilst I have focused on Italian players, as it's part of the club's vision, I am not trying to exclusively target young players.  Sadly, with a slightly restrictive wage budget, the more established players tend to be out of reach.  Nonetheless, I'm impressed with Di Serio's output in relatively few appearances. 7 goal contributions and 1.87 dribbles per game, again at Serie B level, is rather splendid and there's definitely scope for him being an impact sub once Boga has gone.

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Another with Italian as a second nationality, Kouamé, is having a rather good time at Anderlecht.  16 contributions in 26 appearances is certainly enough to make the spine tingle, and his wage demands look rather favourable.  Moreover, he seems to have some physical presence, that means he could potentially play anywhere across the front 3.  If Fiorentina continue to (slightly) underperform expectations, there's a good chance of swooping in and taking both Maleh and Kouamé off their hands in the offseason.

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O Come All Ye Faithful

December started with some big news coming out of Naples.

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Spaletti will undoubtedly be disappointed to have been ousted less than 6 months into his tenure, especially given his proven track record with Roma and Inter, but with Napoli languishing in 9th, it can't come as too much of a surprise.

Heading into the Atalanta game, we are still struggling with injuries in midfield.  Henrique is still a couple of weeks away from fitness, whilst Traore tweaked his groin (oo-er) the day before the match.

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A reasonably even game, but we managed to snatch another late win.  A lovely ball over the top from Berardi, meeting the wonderful run from deep of Raspadori (which is starting to become a hallmark of his game) was enough to secure the 3 points.  Atalanta probably have a right to feel aggrieved - they narrowly edged shots and xG - and a draw would have been a fair result.  I'm certainly not complaining, though!  Also, may I present to you the least helpful Match Momentum and xG Match Stories you'll ever have the pleasure of looking at:

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A trip to Florence beckons:

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I've lost count of how many goals we've scored in the last 10 minutes of games.  Thankfully we have a Data Hub at our disposal, which tells us it's 7.  This time round it took an 89th minute penalty, after Raspadori was bundled over in the box as a cross from the left hung in the air.  It was going to be out of reach, an absolutely unnecessary foul.  But, once again, I'm not complaining.  Otherwise, it was a pretty dire game.

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Sadly, that was the end of Italiano's reign at La Viola, as the board swiftly decided to part ways with the former Spezia manager.  Another manager who was hired in the summer and who will have felt he wasn't given enough time to establish his plans.

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The most exciting time of year is finally upon us.  That's right, the early youth intake preview:

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As always, no point in getting too excited at this point.  Preview opinions and reality are often a little disconnected, but there's certainly some encouraging signs.  The best prospects seem to address the areas of needs.  Now it would be very nice if they come into the club already ready for first-team football, but that's unlikely, so whilst they might be positions of need, it's not likely that the youth intake is going to make any noticeable impact on our current transfer plans.

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Our penultimate fixture before the Christmas break, and a disappointing 1-1 draw.  Like the Fiorentina game, it was a pretty turgid affair, and we looked tired - especially in midfield.  Henrique did make his return from injury at half time, allowing us finally to give Magnanelli a breather.  Having turned 37 in November, we've demanded far too much from him in recent weeks and whilst he has soldiered on like the model professional he is, the Winter break can't come soon enough.

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One game to go.  We have lost ground to Inter in the title race as a result of the last draw, so I'm hoping for a good result to see us into the 2nd half of the season.

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Boy did they deliver.  A lethal 3 minute spell late in the first half really put us in the ascendency.  There may have been fans in the ground who went to the toilet at 0-0 and returned at 0-3.  Lopez scored his first goal of the season with an absolute peach of a effort, curling the ball into the far corner from the edge of the box after Sampdoria had headed away a corner.  Whilst we've had wins which could be considered statement games, like the Juventus Zebre and Inter results, this is the first time we've really run up the score, and it sure does feel good.  I should be disappointed that we conceded, but frankly who cares!? FIVE.  FRICKING.  ONE!

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That ties everything up for the calendar year, and the players now have a week off to enjoy the Christmas season.  Inter's winning form shows no sign of abating, and they now have a 2 point lead over us at the top of the table, with AC Milan a further two points back.  There is now a 14 point gap between us and 5th and I genuinely feel confident that Champions League football could be making it's way to the Mapei Stadium next season.

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Domination on the flanks and half space in the 5-1 clear to be seen in the pass map.

Scamacca must have some goal return now what’s he looking like compared to other CF’s in the league?

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1 hour ago, SixPointer said:

Domination on the flanks and half space in the 5-1 clear to be seen in the pass map.

Scamacca must have some goal return now what’s he looking like compared to other CF’s in the league?

Indeed.  Sampdoria played a narrow 4-3-1-2, and this left their full-backs hideously exposed.  I hadn't noticed, initially, but after the match Roberto D'Aversa became the next manager to be ousted.  No surprise, given they'd dropped into the relegation zone.

Scamacca's up to 14 now, sitting second in the scoring charts (Immobile has 22 goals in 19 games).  It's tailed off since the opening 6 games, but when he scores it's a good bet that he'll get a brace.  More importantly, goals are being spread around a bit more, and even when he gets a poor rating, I'm pleased with the contribution - especially the way he tends to open space for Raspadori.  He also leads the league in shots, so this is some concern that his finishing could do with extra work.

Incidentally, Lautaro Martinez has an astonishing 13 goals from only 20 shots this season, and 6 of those have been penalties.  An incredible goal return considering, but I'm still trying to work out how Inter are doing so well if they've barely been able to create 1 shot a game for someone like Martinez!

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"It's perfect. It's awesome. Every day is just filled with just wins. All we do is put wins in the record books. We win so radically in our underwear before our first cup of coffee, it's scary. People say it's lonely at the top, but I sure like the view."

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A wonderful way to close out 2021.  Obviously it's useful that the game only has half a season to base this on, but we're happy to accept any awards they want to sling our way.  Consigli also was named in the World Team of the Year, and took the trophy for Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year and World Goalkeeper of the Year.

On other news, Filippo Romagna returned from his 9 month lay off for damaged knee cartilage.  7 days later and he's picked up a hip injury that is going to put him out for 3 months.  With his contract set to expire in the summer, it looks like he won't play for Sassuolo again.  The board also didn't see the need to reassess season expectations, so looks like we're not strengthening the squad this window.  Unless, of course, we receive some offers that we can't refuse.

First game after the winter break is a revenge game against Milan.

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And boy did that revenge taste sweet.  It was a thoroughly underserved win, but I don't care!  A beautiful angled through ball from Scamacca set Raspadori through on goal for the winner and, once again, we were celebrating thanks to a goal in the last 10 minutes.  Whilst we again dominated possession, it didn't feel like it.  Milan bullied us in the air and were a threat from set-pieces throughout the game - Kjaer's far post header from a near-byline free kick looked to have rescued them a point.

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Stop me if you've heard this before, but a late Berardi goal was enough to secure the points on our visit to Turin.  It took a late penalty to break the deadlock and, whilst there was no indication from commentary or post-match interviews that it was controversial, it seemed a little soft.

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If you were to judge by the analytic data alone, you'd think this was a comfortable win.  In reality, less so.  Yes, we controlled the game after Joao Pedro was set free by a Pavoletti flick on, but we seemed to lack bite.  At half time, I switched Scamacca over to the right of the front free as Diego Godin had him in his pocket.  Berardi went central, and Raspadori pushed out to the left as an Advanced Forward.  It worked, albeit not quite as I expected.  Scamacca won two free-kicks which led to the opening 2 goals, and Raspadori won the penalty for the third.  That's now 4 consecutive goals from set plays.  Not necessarily how I planned to win, but I suppose it's good we can pose a threat in different passages of play.

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WHAT. A. COMEBACK.  Fiorentina were good value for their 2-0 lead, and should have had more.  We were abject.  Perhaps I shouldn't have included so many fringe players, with Muldur, Goldaniga, Frattesi and Schiappacasse all making starts.  Muldur was pulled at half time and replacement Yeferson Paz provided for the equaliser.  Frattesi lasted a bit longer, but his eventual replacement, Lopez, was the creator for the eventual winner.  There was still time for Fiorentina to score, and Sottil had an equaliser ruled out (correctly) for offside, which would have been no less than deserved.  I may have jumped out of my seat at full time.  There may have even been an air punch. It's my first Italian Cup game and I already love this competition!

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An eventful last game of the month.  4-0 win, Spezia had 2 players sent off, Rogerio and Muldur injured and Berardi missed a penalty that would have secured a hat-trick.  The Berardi-Scamacca connection was on full display: a one-two put Berardi through for the first.  Scamacca's blocked shot from a Berardi cross fell at the feet of Lopez for the second.  Another one-two for the third then, finally, a beautiful through ball for Berardi's second.  Spezia were so bad and those two so good that I could have potentially subbed all my other players off!

A special word for Maxime Lopez, who after failing to register a single goal contribution in his opening 9 games, now has 3 goals and 5 assists for the season.  We'll chalk down the early season struggles to settling in at a new team.  More importantly, his emergence reduces the urgency with which I need to address central midfield, which is good considering the limited funds at my disposal.  On that note, the transfer window passed with no movements.  Bids did come in for Ayhan (who we've agreed to sell if a bid of £6.75m is forthcoming) and Berardi, but not enough for us to consider selling.  In fact, with the help of the board, Berardi signed a new contract:

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We also gave out an extension to 37-year old captain, Magnanelli, whose continued to perform well despite his advancing years.

Our other veterans, Peluso and Pegolo, sadly weren't as interested in staying at lesser roles nor as staff, and have signed pre-contract deals at other clubs.  As has Boga who will be plying his trade at Wolfsburg next season.  With Raspadori having pretty much secured that 3rd striker spot, I really wish we'd cashed in on Boga at the beginning of the season.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

The January transfer window was pretty quiet elsewhere in Serie A, too.  23 total deals, with Aissa Mandi and Nampalys Mendy being the biggest incoming transfers.  Zapata (Tottenham), Bennacer (Bayern), Joao Pedro (Ajax) and Diawara (Wolves) all left for other leagues, so in many respects I feel like we're in a stronger position now despite making no moves.  

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N.B.  I forgot to take a screenshot of the league, and I'm well into February now.  Nothing much had changed since December, as Inter had also won out.

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When Art Imitates Life

February started with two snippets of goods news.  It seems Lopez's form is being noticed by more than just myself, as he makes his way into the Italian Serie A Team of the Month.  Pedro Obiang also makes his return after 9 months out with a viral infection.

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We opened with a comfortable home win against Salernitana.  After 3 away league games, it was nice to be back at the Mapei stadium.  We opened the scoring with another penalty - Berardi putting the miss last time firmly out of his mind.  That's 4 consecutive games where we've been awarded a penalty, and rival fans are complaining that we've payed off the refs, with some going so far as to suggest this was the real reason behind Dionisi's surprise dismissal, speculating that he wasn't willing to engage in such blatant match fixing.  For the record, I deny any wrongdoing on the part of Sassuolo Calcio, and this spate of my penalties is just reflective of how much of a threat we pose in the enemy's box.  I would also like to point out that we hadn't been awarded a single penalty all season until the December Fiorentina game.

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Another undeserved win in the Italian Cup.  Another set up of unhelpful charts/graphs.  We created decent chances, and I felt we deserved the goals we scored, but we were fortunate that Atalanta were wasteful with the chances they had.  That said, their goal came from a cross deflected in by Consigli, so maybe they can't bemoan luck too much.  Having not learnt my lesson from the last round, I once again engaged in some minor rotation with Goldaniga, Ayhan, Frattesi and Traore given starts.

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Another league win, and no penalties this time.  WHERE'S YOUR EXCUSES NOW!?  WE DON'T NEED TO CHEAT TO WIN.  Sorry, I lost my composure there for a bit.  We were lucky to win our first match-up at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, but this time round we were good value for the win.  Berardi's second was delightful - Lopez switched the ball to Berardi, who plucked it out of the air on the edge of the area, jinxed inside onto his left foot and bent the ball into the far corner.

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Upset that Berardi appeared to be taking over as the master of scoring braces, Scamacca decided to remind us that, he too, is unable of scoring a hat-trick.  Another comfortable win, a third consecutive 2-0 in the league.  Berardi also registered his 10th assist of the season.  With 13 goals to his name, he became the first player (in Serie A at least) to reach double figures for goals and assists - a feat he also achieved in real life in the same week.

Unfortunately for us, Berardi decided to celebrate his achievement by snogging everyone he met for the next few days, and came down with the flu in the run up to our trip to Lazio.

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I SUPPOSE WE PAID OFF THE REFS TO GIVE LAZIO A DAMNED LAST MINUTE PENALTY, HEY!?  Oops.  I lost my cool again.  Sorry.  It won't happen again.  A 93rd minute penalty, saved by Consigli, landed back at the feet of Immobile for a last gasp equaliser.  We had earlier taken the lead through a penalty of our own and, had we won, it would've been underserved.  Nonetheless, it still rankles.  Given our phenomenal season so far, Lazio have been the first team to deny us a win in either game (Roma and Venezia still have the opportunity to do the same)

Immobile's goal was his 35th Serie A goal in 27 games.  The man is unstoppable.

The draw may have ended up hopes of a surprise title.  Inter's winning form shows no sign of abating, and they hold a 1 point lead with a game in hand.  With 11 games remaining we've secured a top half finish and, barring a complete collapse from hereon out, we are probably good for a Champions League spot.  AC Milan are only 6 points behind.

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