2028/29 Review - The (Near) Perfect Season
So much success, so close to the perfect season and a hint of sadness to just miss out on that.
La Liga - 1st place, 101 points. Won 32, Drawn 5, lost 1. 84 goals scored, 14 against.
Copa Del Rey - Winners, beating Valencia in the final
Supercopa - Lost in semi final to Sporting
Champions League - Winners
Club World Cup - Lost in semi final to PSG
Having only conceded 4 goals at the halfway point in La Liga, I felt we had a chance of the invincible season, which is something I've only done a few times in a life where I've played far too much FM. However it's never easy to avoid that one unlucky result where the stars align for the opposition and things don't go your way. This time it happened 3 games from home - after clutch wins against Real and Valencia away, and coming back from 0-2 down against Atletico with 3 minutes to go, I really thought we had it. Unfortunately Villarreal away was our undoing, on one of those stupid square pitches that make no sense whatsoever. We played poorly, but still did enough to win the game, however didn't take our chances and they scored from one counter over the top - a combination of a poor performance, a resolute performance from them and a bit of bad luck. Definitely a bit sad about that, but it's so hard not to have one slip up like that at some point, so i can't complain. None the less a very comfortable win of La Liga.
In the Copa Del Rey we beat all the big teams on route to the final, beating Valencia comfortably on the big day. Valencia are very strong now in my save, finishing 3rd in the league last season and 2nd the year before.
In the Champions League, this was probably our finest hour. After an easy group draw consisting of Sporting Lisbon, Celtic and Shakhtar, we proceeded to a first knock out round against Benfica who are a very solid team and have produced a remarkable amount of talent in recent years. Our first Champions League final was a narrow win against them, since then they've sold a lot of players for big money, but seem to have replaced them with another generation of exceptional youngsters. A first leg away defeat 1-0 after a sending off for us mid way through the first half was disappointing, but I was happy to still be in the tie after the sending off. We then dispatched them comfortably in the second leg, to set up a quarter final date with a very strong Man Utd team. I fancied we'd have our work cut out here, but what followed was an exceptional performance away at Old Trafford and a 2-0 win, followed by a 2-1 success at San Mames - potentially our best two legged performance ever. Things didn't get any easier for the semi final though, drawing our nemesis PSG. We came from behind twice in the first leg away at Parc Des Princes, including a screamer in the 92nd minute by Alex Gabilondo - time and time again he pops up with key goals, despite not being the best on individual talent. I still fancied we were facing a tough time in the second leg, as we had been a little fortunate to leave with a 2-2 draw, and PSG's front line of Mbappe, Chiesa, Naci Unuvar and a mexican regen called Juan Huitron is better than anything other front line, and it doesn't get any better elsewhere in the side with world class players in every position (and on the bench). I think Julen Uriarte and perhaps Delgado would be our only players who would get near their team. We managed to scrap through the second leg with a 0-0 draw and an away goals win. We've had to beat PSG in both our Champions League winning campaigns, and I think they've knocked us out in every other year in recent times (or it feels like that anyway). That win led to a final with fellow Spanish giants Real Madrid - I felt confident here as we had beaten them twice in the league, looking pretty good both times, and the final followed suit. A 1-0 win but it should have been more.
The Champions League completed a marvelous treble and our best season yet.
Following the end of the season we had our first venture into the Club World Cup, in the new format in the summer months. A group of Auckland City and Guadalajara saw us comfortable winners there, including a 12-0 victory against Auckland. We then drew Barca in the quarter finals, going 4-0 up before the game finished 4-3. The game was 48 hours after our last group game and our players were ruined at the end - Barca were in much better condition. We then faced PSG in the semi final after a few days of rest, losing a fairly close game 2-0, their world class talent told in the end. They deserved this one after we beat them in the Champions League (and the subsequently won the final comfortably). We played a young team in the 3rd/4th playoff against Bayern, losing on penalties. I was really looking forward to this competition, but the fixture congestion and timing of it during the middle of the off season made it a bit of a joke to be honest.
We paid decent money for two new players this year - they aren't that good but we have 300million in the bank and I will spend whatever it takes to bring in any decent players at the moment. Unai Pena and Ruben Saenz (see below) are both in our squad now looking towards the future, Pena is a central defender (an area we are desperately short following departures) with a good attribute spread and potential to improve, while Saenz is an interesting attacking midfielder - I'm trying him on the right of midfield in the WM (A) role, hes left footed but perhaps that adds an interesting option so giving it go.
We said goodbye this year to some club legends - Yeray retired, Unai Nunez was declining and moved on to Napoli, and Alvaro Odriozola left at the end of his contract. We also sold Aihen Munoz who is now 31 and constantly whinging about first team football despite playing a lot - we had a good replacement in David Sanz so I was only too happy to get rid of him for nearly 30 million so he can waste away in China.
Here is our 4-4-2 that brought so much success this year. Definitely not a plug and play tactic as it revolves heavily around the skills of Julen Uriarte in the AP role. On the left side, we have two supporting roles providing passing options to him, with movement between the lines and runners down the right side for through balls and passing options for him. The movement of the DLF opens up space for the WM (A) and WB (A) to exploit, and the AF is there to finish the cut backs they provide. The CM (D) is there on the right hand side to provide cover for those players. We occasionally get caught out on that side, generally if the WB pushes up and loses the ball, but the CM (D) (Inigo Uriarte) has great mentals so provides exceptional cover.
Goalkeeper - Ojeda, Simon, Galdos - Galdos is coming on well and will replace Simon in the next few years.
Right Back - Sanchez, Villar - Two great options here, Sanchez a bit more solid and consistent, while Villar is a great game changer/attacking option.
Left Back - Sukunza, Sanz - Sukunza is the main man, but Sanz provides excellent competition.
Centre Backs - Lafuente, Delgado, Pena, Jose Angel Martinez - Lafuente and Delgado are world class, outside of them there is a massive lack of decent basque centre backs with no good youngsters I can find. Pena needs to improve or this is a real problem area if I get an injury.
Right Midfield - Exposito, Saenz - Exposito is the main man with the young Saenz there to provide an alternative option. Sancet played here last season, but I've moved him to CM (D) after Jose Angel Martinez has been turned into a back up CB.
Central Midfield (Defend) - Inigo Uriarte, Sancet - Inigo Uriarte is our club captain and key pivot in the midfield, Sancet deputises.
Advanced Playmaker - Julen Uriarte, Oroz - Julen Uriarte is our best player by far and runs the team on the pitch with his attacking play. Oroz is a very capable back up to him and probably deserves more starts.
Left Midfield - Gonzalez, Barrenetxea - Gonzalez is my main man here, as he stays wider and does a better job for the team. Barrenetxea cuts inside, so while overall I find this a bit limiting for the system, he provides a alternative and has moments of magic.
Deep Lying Forward - Iker Garcia, Alex Gabilondo - Iker Garcia gets at least one fairly significant injury a season, but Gabilondo is one of my favourites and deputises superbly.
Advanced Forward - Inaki Nunez, Inaki De Paula, Jose Manual Vera - Inaki Nunez is our main man and top goalscorer - he didn't bag quite as many this season as the year before, but being left footed he's perfect for this role. The others deputise well, and Vera in particular has shown a serious eye for goal. The latter has gone on loan this season to play week in, week out, while De Paula covers the front line.
Young talent not mentioned - Eduardo Lasa, Eneko Garmendia. I see these two as our other promising young players, Lasa will eventually replace Sancet in the CM (D) role, and Garmendia I think has potential in the DLF role with a bit of training. His star rating isn't great but there's something about him that tells me he's going to be better than that suggests, from his attribute spread to the way he's developing.
The forward roles above stay a little fluid, I prefer to have a left footer on the left side, so, Inaki Nunez dominates that role, and the others kinda rotate in and out a bit with Iker Garcia being his regular partner. I've sent Vera on loan this season as I wanted to keep De Paula at the club for mentoring reasons. Vera I think is the one I'm more likely to keep long term but the game time away from the club will benefit him, meanwhile De Paula needs mentoring due to lower determination and a weaker personality. The only issue I have is that neither really fit what we want to do, unless I play a right footed advanced forward, but that means playing them on the left up front or changing the tactic. There is a left footed striker out there at Alaves, only 16 though, but he is one I want to pick up for the future.