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  1. And after knocking out Brisbane (courtesy of Melbourne City's striker Buhagiar scoring a brace), Adelaide become our next opponents. We're down to single KO matches now in a race to the finish. On the other side of the draw, Sydney FC beat Central Coast Mariners 2-1 so it'll be a Wellington / Sydney showdown in their Semi Final.
  2. With Castro's contract up on the 31st of May, I was worried he would just immediately quit despite his retirement being a month later. To get around this we offered him a job - youths coach! So I'm not 100% sure if he stayed on as a week-to-week contract until his retirement because he's waiting to start his new job on the 26th, or if he would have stayed with us until his retirement anyway, but he's here. Though I'll be a bit upset if the final is on the 27th and he becomes a full time staff member and can't play, despite 'retiring' a day later.
  3. Haha, I wrote it over a couple of days too! Wasn't sure if it would let me have that many images in 1 post. I actually never know if it's better to pen in a series of shorter, sharper posts, or just let the narrative roll long like that? I guess so long as it's broken into sections it's easy for someone to digest in parts either way.
  4. 27 May 2022 Melbourne Victory - Playing in the A-League Instead of summarising, I haven't done a match-to-match review really. Just adding in some interesting graphics I had lying around. League Run Home Last time you saw the table was on the 19th of April, and we were top. It was just after we secured progression from the ACL groups. Something like this: From there we had Sydney & Newcastle which got us into the last post, with 7 matches in May once you include the ACL 2nd Round Knockouts! vs Sydney FC This match was 4 days after the Okayama FC game in Japan, and with another 5 days break after before facing Newcastle (bottom). I thought if we could push the players for just 1 more run they could basically skip Newcastle & the final ACL match (we were first no matter what), and rest up for a Western United showdown on the 7th of May. But the players just couldn't do it. I'd say 'on paper the stats looked even' but it's a bit of a stretch to pull that card when you've been flogged 3-nil! One of the main problems is Sydney have this 17yr old named Bradley Dodd that they play up front solo, and while his attributes haven't been fully realised yet, he's always a nightmare for us. He can shimmy past defenders with the ball and beat them for pace running onto through balls. He's got high flair and great technique for making those risky passes too! When your side is tired, you're not tracking back and your centre backs are fatigued going into the game - he just made fools of everyone. vs Newcastle Jets And then we went and had our 5 day rest and came back to belt Jets at home! Mo Toure got his first professional hattrick! Fun trivia - There are 2 Toure brothers in the game, and his older brother Al Hasan was let go from Adelaide as well. Finds himself on loan at Newcastle for this one and we had both Toure boys at opposite ends of the pitch. Fortunately ours goes home happier! At this point Wellington were holding fast. Our loss to Sydney gave them back their lead. Central Coast were probably done there after a loss to Macarthur FC (10th), but Adelaide belted the Roar to keep their dreams alive. Adelaide's goal's for and against is going to end up like ours last year at this rate - high scoring, high conceding! Nix keeping it tight as always, but adding in some extra goals courtesy of them signing 34-yr old Fijian international Roy Krishna back from India. As for Victory? Well scoring 10 more goals in our final 4 matches will put us around about where we were last year in Goals For, but letting in 10 more would also put us in the same spot for Goals Aa vs Guangzhou [0-1] Yeah they beat us. What did you expect?! We rested everyone we could and took a well earned deep breath before the crazy run home. Took them 91 minutes to finally break us, but they were the better side and deserved it. Gave Rojas a sneaky run in the midfield mezzala role because we've got this message popping up now: Which means Castro will either leave on the 31st or stick around until the 28th of June. Last season's Grand Final was on the 27th of June.... Either way we'll need someone to step into Castro's shoes, while it will be a transfer window from July onwards and we could sign a replacement (though it'd have to be a replacement Aussie because Diego was naturalised) I'm not sure the new guy would have time to acclimatise to the team and tactics (and the climate itself!!) before our important ACL games. Hence the test - and Rojas did a good job there! vs Western United [2-1] WUN scored in the 10th minute off a corner and I was downright furious, feeling I was watching our season slip away from us! But after I gave it to them at half time, they came out and made amends. Two beautiful through balls gave both our strikers a chance to slip in and score. vs Melbourne City Next up, home to City. They've been struggling and they really shouldn't be. Sacked their coach in February and made the colossal blunder of hiring a coach with no Professional experience (it's exactly what we did prior to my arrival) - this guy has got 2 wins from 10 and is currently 4 losses in a row. I think we laughed at them a little bit last time. Their stealing of Kruse has backfired, we belted them in the last derby and they're a sneeze away from the wooden spoon - especially if we pile on the goals! It's a reverse ladder, just to be clear! Scoring is clearly their problem and you can see it right away when you check out their stats: For comparison, at this stage we've got 3 guys in double-digits and no less than 8 contributors of more than 2 goals each. So it's not really the City strikers that are a problem - between Maclarenn and Wenzel-Halls there are goals - it's everywhere else that's not contributing. And that just tells me there's no belief and cohesion in the squad and the goals they are scoring are just individual moments with good strikers to capitalise. Even more damning is that they've loaned out 2 guys and both are scoring for their respective clubs. Buhagiar is even just on a sideways loan to A-league rivals Adelaide (you know, the guys in 3rd!!). And the match........?? We threw out mostly a full side, despite a short turn-around in Asia. We only rested Brimmer and Rojas who had both lead the team against Guangzhou 10 days ago. And yes, that's the kind of flow-on impact of fatigue nowerdays. They played that extra game in the past 30-40 days and eventually that catches up to the two guys. But in hindsight all the precaution probably wouldn't have mattered. They lasted until half time, but Ansell got up for a corner in the 56th minute to score and it just broke their backs. The 2nd goal I can only describe as satisfying. There looks like there's nothing on with Van der Saag stuck with the ball at right back, but in the most simple of 2x striker formations we create something fluid and rewarding. The pass from our DR splits the defenders perfectly. Wood anticipates the opportunity and makes the run, catching the defender off guard. Toure also acknowledges how this is going to go and gets the inside track on his marker. Wood has the skill to deftly flick the ball into the path of our pacey scorer. There's really nothing to write home about there - but the simplicity of it when it comes together just leaves the best feeling! That's how it ended. Maybe City were a bit unlucky, but I honestly think it's a matter of cohesion. That's why I showed the movement for our 2nd goal above; we're making plays like that with sync'd up players and harmonious movement, and City are taking 15 shots of a match and scoring 1.... there's something wrong in their 'mix' somewhere. They'll be sacking the new manager at EoS, I'm certain of it. vs Gangwon FC This was a really competitive match, and I was seriously worried that we'd reached the wrong end of the fatigue curve over a season. You see when the ACL started this year in February, a lot of these S/SE Asian sides had only been in pre-season. We'd been playing since December and were really hitting our peak of freshness vs tactical chemistry among the team. Fast forward to May and Gangwon have got 2 good months of solid league footy under their belts, enough form to make it out of ACL groups and are right in the middle of their season while we're coming towards the end of a hectic, condensed season and extra ACL fixtures! Our bit of magic came from Cisse at the back. It was an absolute ripper and I think the keeper (much like myself) was a little shocked that a fullback would even shoot from that angle! It's not that wide, but it's also going into the top right corner! In pre-season I'd signed Van Der Saag more as a centre back cover who could play a bit of right back. Since Cisse came into the squad late, the young Aussie had already been playing pretty well out there. Cisse arrived without my knowing all of his attributes and at the time I know I was quite disappointed that we'd paid money for someone I (at the time at least) felt wasn't up to standard once we got a good look at him. But over time the player has really shown himself to us, and we've certainly been picking him as the First XI right back. Neither of our options are blowing our minds week-in-week out, but with some context - these lads are still 22-23 and they're not Mueanta levels of international quality. They're just handy squaddie players who will have long and successful club careers, and that's fine for us! The main thing that puts Cisse ahead is that extra level of flair or lets call it unpredictability. I mentioned that the Aussie looks like a centre back - 6ft tall, strong, brave, good at tackling and just so happens to be good at crossing and a bit of dribbling which makes him an OK fullback as well. Thing is, you could find dozens of options to do that kind of role for you, give or take a few points here and there. Djimou (above) Cisse on the other hand gives us a completely different kind of package at right back. He's even taller than Harry - a massive 6ft 4in! The Senegalese player is quick, he's aggressive rather than brave, and while he's not as good at crossing or dribbling, he's got decent touch and really good decision-making. It all combines to give us a completely unique style of player and I think with us generally looking for ways to break teams down, it pays to have someone you can't predict, in a usally-fairly-predictable position. From there we ran away with a 2-1 win at home! That will mean they have to go after us a bit more in Korea and it might make some gaps for our pacey strikers. Meanwhile.... On that same day, across the ditch Brisbane Roar pulled one out for us! And yes, that is OUR Dukuly and yes, I was mocking City for loaning out their strikers who were now among the top scorers for their high-placed rivals and here we are doing the exact same thing!! Which doesn't seal the deal for us, but it's close. We face equally positioned opponents and they need to beat both where we can secure it with 2 draws or 1 draw so long as they don't blaze away scoring goals for fun! And while we're in an intermission of sorts, Mo Toure takes home an award. Just look at that contribution over 19 matches. 10 goals and 5 assists, and the kid is just 18 years old! I know we're looking at Mueanta and he's only 19, but Suphanat has been playing for his country from a very young age - the senior team, not the youth team. He's been starting and scoring for his club since he was 16. Toure may or may not make it to Mueanta's level, but I think he's proving that he'll grow way beyond the A-League, and I only hope young players like this get the proper development and opportunity into National Team players. And that goes double for real life, because the talent of the Toure brothers is something rare! vs Central Coast Mariners Just 8,000 fans showed up in Gosford to watch 1st vs 4th play out at the end of the season, with this being a potential precursor to a KO Finals match in a few weeks! Having said that I'm kind of glad because in between ACL fixtures we were yet again really lifeless and terrible. I've mentioned before that when you have heavy rotation in the squad, you take a lot of gambles - and the only way to know if the gambles were calculated or calamitous is by seeing how they pan out. Here we gave Mueanta the day off with Susnjar & poor Butterfield - he's played almost the most Starts and he doesn't sub off and he played in that box-2-box role, covering more metres than anyone else in the team! But it crushed us. We weren't bad, we fought for a 2-3 result, and maybe with luck one way or another we could have got a point or 3 to win this. I think what put me off the most by the frustrating result was that the goals we let in felt avoidable. That's how I know it was a fatigue thing. On the 2nd for them you can see the defender with his out-stretched leg trying to cut off the killer pass - and I'd argue that if we weren't carrying the fatigue around he would have been in that position to stop that pass. Their 3rd goal was after a penalty - Action actually saved it, but his parry went straight back to the pen taker who jammed it home on the 2nd go. Things like that, that one another day could have gone in our favour. Then City beat Wellington a day later and we won the A-League Trophy again!! vs Gangwon FC [4-1 aggregate] Lads had 1 night to celebrate before jumping on a plane to Korea to get back to business. With a 2-1 lead, at home Gangwon only needed to sneak a 1-0 win and they'd knock us out. We could play a draw out, but ultimately we wanted to go in and score to make sure of it. And we almost got a bit too carried away with things, as Susnjar and Kirdar were booked early. Fortunately things settled when we scored our first goal. It was quick and direct and ultimately we turned the our opponents around and got in behind them. Both goals actually came from a striker slipping in between defenders and to hit first time shots into the low corners of the goals. Mueanta set up Rojas and then Rojas returned the favour 25 minutes later! After that the game teetered out and we were through! Which puts us on a Quarter Final path to Thailand. The QF legs will be played from 6th of July, which actually helps us get the A-League Finals Series out of the way to prepare. What's interesting is that last season these fixtures were played in September - which is why the Grand Final for the ACL blew out to November. This season it's possible there's been a reset back to a post-covid kind of environment. So I went and had a proper look around: It's a little better for us, without being ideal. Fortunately the only 2 players we have off contract are Castro and young fullback Nishikawa, so we should be able to at least keep the squad together. It will still leave us a Diego-sized hole in midfield though. We'll see if there are any obvious players we can snap up to come in there. vs Macarthur FC [6-2] Which brings us to Macarther FC - I hate to say it, but they're almost an afterthought at this point. They can't make finals and a loss for us doesn't change anything. Maybe it would be nice to stay in form leading into the finals. And yet, despite all our troubles with fatigue lately we couldn't just rest the whole team. Being top 2 in the A-League in a 6-team finals series means we get the first week off. So to rest players for this match could mean it would be 3-4 weeks between fixtures for them. So apart from Laws & Ansell who were both suspended - get them outta the way now boys! - we went in full strength... actually I think this was the first match all season with Van Der Saag starting DC! And this just started well and kept getting better. The early red card obviously helped, but we were already well on top at that stage. It was nice to bang home a 6 goal haul to see out the regular season though! League Table I wanted to put both League seasons next to one another, to help describe how much tougher it was this season: We see a much more elongated table in the 2nd season - which meant more teams near the top were a threat. Last season 2nd and 3rd got 45 points, but here we had 3 whole teams chasing us above that! I always like to appreciate sustained success and you've got to hand it to Wellington for sticking it out in another tough season. Roar and WSW dropped off and Adelaide made a dash up the table after a complete rebuild. But Nix have been consistent over 2 seasons - even improving in the 2nd one by becoming even more of a defensive powerhouse. As for us, we vastly improved. The last match helped a lot, but we ended up scoring more and keeping it tighter at the back. ANNNNNNNNDDDD that's the run home in 1 fairly big post! We'll come back and assess the season a bit in the future, but for now we've got some Finals to consider. That'll be for another post!
  5. It's a tough one, because it's only at most, 6 matches spread out post-season. Kirdar may well be the option. Or some kind of reshuffle. It's probably not worth bringing in a replacement. I'm probably more afraid of keeping some semblance of match fitness during that time (should we get that far). FM21 not having the season start in October makes that pretty tough.
  6. Theoretically Gangwon FC are not as strong as Ulsan - they're not as wealthy, they don't have quite as many foreign signings. They're also lower in their K-League. That won't mean this is easy, but it should mean we can compete for another win. After that? Who knows! Here's our predicament though. Last season the ACL second round was played in May - which works well for us as we'll be playing out our local season through May and Finals in June. But then the Quarter Finals are in September - which is actually in a new season for us. We'll theoretically have a different team! For example, there's no way Castro is going to postpone his retirement (and to be fair, he's finally dropping off a little bit in physical skill), and we have to work out which of our young attackers stay or go - remember we sent Dukuly and Popovic on loan... but this season I'd argue that guys like Wood and LLL haven't contributed much, maybe it's time to loan those guys out and try the other youngsters. The ACL Grand Final would also be in November - FM hasn't reverted back to a 'normal' A-League calendar (starting in October) so it'll likely roll out another December League start. Meaning when we come to face the ACL Quarters, Semi's and Final, we won't have played any competitive fixtures for months!
  7. 19 April 2022 Melbourne Victory - 1st in the A-League [13w, 5d, 2l] We did it folks, we're onto the KO rounds! Asian Champions League - Group Stage That'll do it! Stop me if you've heard this one, but Ulsan scored early on us in the 4th fixtures. Fortunately Mueanta is just getting better and better and he stormed home with 2 goals to secure that win. The Japanese came Down Under after that and we just crushed them, running away 4-1 and locking in top spot of the group with 1 round against Guangzhou to go! I think the next round is South/SE Asia vs itself and same in the Middle East, before they combine for the quarters or semi's, so I can't really predict who this lines us up against. It'll be nice to throw some more of the younger players at our final match though and give them some experience against big opposition. League Results I'll lead with this and talk through a few bits and pieces. Keep in mind that there are some ACL games in between some of this - that's why you have Toure who's been playing excellent, but then there are random League starts for Wood ahead of him. Well it's likely Toure was playing in ACL and wasn't as fit for a potential 90 minutes as Wood. Same with the rotation in the backline. Player Rotation If we had our time again I'd have locked in 2 more players. We haven't had too many injuries and suspension troubles, but it's not just about having a fit side - we need to have an in-form side and also have tactical options. For example with the internationals and Mueanta not having an off-season (he spent all our pre-season at that Asian tournament remember and started the season jaded), we've had to make sure we bring a couple of striker subs on the bench each week. But that has meant we've been short midfield subs - specially if we need offensive options. We'll often get caught with just Kirdar or Brimmer on the bench, when I really need another Castro or something to come on and give us a bigger impact. All professional club appearances since the season started. That's 26 matches in 4 months (17 weeks?) for Susnjar. It's not the most insane schedule, but it's tough for players who haven't seen that kind of intensity in the A-league before. So I just wanted to take a moment out to mention the heavy rotation schedule going on and acknoledge that it's kind of like a big shell game - you keep playing until you get caught out! As evidenced by our 2nd loss of the season - we tried to get away with giving Traore & Susnjar a rest after playing a LOT of matches, but we'd run ourselves too thin at that point and we couldn't get the mix right. On the flipside, despite a midweek game to secure promotion from the ACL groups, we forced our best XI on the park to face Sydney FC, and we drew a game that maybe we could have won if we'd just made use of some fresher legs in the starting lineup! League Results As you see above, it's going well results-wise. The A-League is a lot tighter at the top this season though - last year we had 2nd and 3rd tie on 45 points. This season 3rd place is already on 41 pts with 6 rounds to go. We're actually in a better position than we were last season at this time in sheer points, but with the fight from Wellington it could go down to the wire! One thing I'll touch on more at the end, is our goal difference. Last season we let in 32 goals and ended up GD +23. Already we're +24 and our defensive efforts are considerably better! It's important to savour the small wins like that. The tactics change, for one, gives us much better structure and doesn't leave us as vulnerable at the back; letting go Shotton and getting a slightly more athletic DC in Susnjar seems to have paid off; cutting off guys like Roux from the start has also been good for us. Have we scored as many this season as I thought we would? No! But if we score 50 and only let in 20-21, I'll be really happy with our efforts. Manager Movements Maybe I'm just taking a moment to bask in someone else's misery, but this has been interesting: I feel like the WSW sacking was a bit unfair. They were still on the path (and still are) to qualifying out of their ACL group, and a bit of an early season league slump while you've got that going on is unfair. But Haliti has turned it around - they're storming along in April... kind of glad we're not playing them anymore this season haha! Newcastle managed as high as 8th last season by the end, but they lost a few players and they don't have any money - so they just won't have the recruitment. But of course what we're really here for - as cross-town rivals and all... is the fall from grace of Melbourne City! I didn't think they had recruited that poorly. They didn't lose too many players and really just moved some loans around to put together a slightly better squad. But mostly I'm a little bitter that Robbie Kruse demanded 3 times the wages and a multi-year deal to stay with us, and ended up leaving on free and running over to City for a 1 season contract on the cheap. It has not paid off for him.... Not that Robbie's the only problem at the club, but it makes me chuckle all the same. City are having issues with disipline, coming out on top in the cards charts, and while we're one of the foul-i-est sides in the comp, we're also one of the best tackling outfits... so City's worse tackling leads to more cards instead of just fouls. Their star man up front - Jaime Maclaren has been struggling to get fit through a series of injuries too which doesn't help. I think there's enough from the other Melbournians to get back up, but it's too late this season. Tough Matches Let's start by showing off all the fixtures: I guess this just enforces the idea of how tiring the season has been. Keep in mind we also played 8 matches in January just to get to here. The attendances for ACL have been huge too - just note that because we can only fit 30k into AAMI park at 'home', we actually move these fixtures over to Docklands/Marvel Footy Stadium, which is a big, more oval-esque ground (it's for our beloved AFL I guess) . vs Melbourne City [2-0] The City game was pretty combatative - one of those that got up around 40 fouls, and cumulated with Mitch Nichols being sent off in the 86th minute. City were competitive - they didn't let us siege their penalty box (which is what sides like Newcastle, Brisbane and generally Perth let us do), but I think we're just getting better and better working as a team. The first goal was so simple where Rojas dropped in to receive the ball centrally and Mueanta moved into the space left open - essentially the pair did striker criss-cross tactic 1.01 and it was too easy for us to score early. Brimmers later goal was a Traore cross an disorganised defending - our middie attacked the ball the most aggressive and stabbed home from 6 yards. It was just 2 teams at opposite ends of the form & cohesion spectrum. But let's segue into looking at stats from our creative contingent this season: (all competitions): I don't know if I'm over or under selling Mueanta. I'm forever mentioning him, but I'm not gushing over him like I might be Castro.... why not? Because Mueanta is just consistent and doing exactly what we need of him. On one hand I'm feeling like he isn't taking the league by storm, but then on the other I'm seeing our top scorer, a fair share of chances created, and just generally a good relationship between him and Toure and he and Rojas. It's also nice that every player there is passing well above 80% accuracy. It was be so easy to say these are our expressive players and we've been pushing to be more expressive so we give them some slack as they go for more killer passes... but no, the consistency and patience is there! vs Brisbane Roar [4-1] Not going to lie, this one just felt good because we're still smarting from the GF loss! We even had the cheek to call up Nishikawa to play left wingback again because he tore them apart last time - and he put in the cross for the first goal and took home 2 assists for the night! Then Kirdar played in the Castro role (roaming Mez) and loved it too! And we're coming off the back of 3 hectic months, knowing 2 more to go, but we've got a critical game against Ulsan in 3 days - but the team still gets their mind on the game and still pulls out a big win! So we might leave it there for now. I'm on the run home with 1 eye on FM22. I'll touch base again when I think it's appropriate - maybe when we know how & when the ACL KO's come together, or as we near the final few A-League matches in our title race with Wellington and Adelaide.
  8. Yes and no with the focus being ACL I guess. It's the bigger comp, it's something new and the league being "we did pretty well last year and we're doing pretty well again" - there's not always something to say. Mostly I just don't want to lose the initial reaction sometimes - so ACL is shorter and needs more of a 'live update' feeling to it. I can't fake the buzz from doing well in groups if I'm already 2 month's ahead, 2 more rounds in and knocked out lol. But we're battling along in League, no worries.
  9. 18 March 2022 Melbourne Victory - 3rd in the A-League [10w, 3d, 2l] Bloody Perth beat us! Asian Champions League - Group Stage We've just completed the first leg of our group stage matches, testing the waters against each side. It's been an emotional ride! Before we went in, I expected Ulsan to be strong as a club, but probably Okayama FC to be a challenge purely because I'd rate the Japanese leagues slightly more competitive than the Korean ones. But I still expected Guangzhou to be cashed up and better still. Overall we've got to be very happy about that! Our acclimatisation to Korea was poor and we were completely lost for almost the entire first half here. Fatigue was a problem, but we'd rested some key names from the League and should have been ready to go. Rushing Nick Ansell back for this one proved to be a mistake though as he picked up a knock early and could only battle on to half time. There was only 1 guy who looked up for the first in the first 45 and that was Rojas. I imagine he's played in this comp before and being a New Zealand international himself, he's probably no stranger to playing in Asia. His assist to Mueanta breathed some life and enthusiasm into the side! 2nd half was when we really put on the pressure. I don't know if it was a match sharpness thing or if we'd finally got over the shock of conceding early, but we went after them - eventually our young Thai striker taking his brace well. I hate to heap pressure on young players, but their equaliser came from some poor defending from our youngster Corey Mason at right back. With Cisse and Ansell having been out for 4-5 weeks, we were short on legs across the back and I decided to give him a run - and it cost us. Much like our first match, the Chinese giants scored first. Last game it felt like a mistake that lead to the early goal, and here we did turn it over in midfield cheaply and let them get on the break.... but sometimes a player is just too good... If they've got players who could beat the keeper from there, what hope have we got!? But we soldiered on. Traore made a storming run down the flank to get past his man and play a low cross to Mueanta. The Thai international made a first-touch lay-off to Toure who smashed it home! A really smooth break away! The second one was a long ball forward for Toure, who roamed wide and got 1-on-1 with his marker in the corner. Our striker got enough space to play the perfect cross for - you guessed it - the most slippery 39 year old in the A-League, Diego Castro! Two touch matches and I expected more of a fight from the Japanese. First goal was some beautiful ball movement: A throw in to Butterfield who nodded it back to Broxham. Leigh takes a touch to let the play expand a little, then stabs a difficult pass into the guts of the defence. Birkan Kirdar (who has come along in leaps and bounds since his trip with the young Socceroo's!) plays a first time flick into the space for Rojas to charge onto and the New Zealander executes a lovely strike to score at the far post. From there they simply couldn't handle Mueanta who slipped through for two 2nd half goals. Which puts us in a commanding position - especially with the goal difference, and with Ulsan & Okayama to come play us at home. You can also tell just from the description of some of our play that it is coming together well on the park. The attackers are blending well and there are a lot of contributors. Mueanta is on fire and Rojas is enjoying the freedom to roam. Castro is always a threat and if guys like Kirdar keep popping up as playmakers we could be onto a good thing here. I'll leave with 1 previously unmentioned note about the Asian Champions League. The Tournament is essentially split into 2 parts - a lot of the South and SE Asian clubs play off (including Australia), and a lot of the Middle-Eastern nations play off. It's split for a few reasons - but a large part of it is geographical.. it's a long way from Australia to the Middle East!! So with the kind of money going into the sport over there, you never quite know if us 'southern asianers' are really competitive. Al-Nassr (Saudi) won last season so maybe the tables are turning. If we make it out of groups it'll be testing the waters yet again to see if we're competitive with the other half of the competition! Internationals We're not trying that hard to hoard internationals, but still (no Aussie seniors though!) :
  10. Don't you mean the A-Leagues
  11. 18 February 2022 Melbourne Victory - 1st in the A-League [9w, 3d, 1l] Quick one before we start up the Asian Champions League. Ulsan Hyundai FC I've actually been simulating a lot of the Asian leagues for this save, so let me start by showing off where Ulsan ended last year. Because they're running off a calendar year, that effort is as good as October 2021 - really just a bit of a longer off-season, but still representative of the club's form. The main reason for pausing before the match is that Aussie clubs do not have a good track record in Asia, and it's always difficult to figure out where a good Australian club stands on any given day. To put it into perspective - Hyundai used to sponsor the entire A-League in Australia, but here they sponsor just Ulsan. Who would be getting more money? I went to transfermarkt for an independent source: That put's the K League higher than the A-League, but not noticeably enough to say it's completely dominant (unless you're a glass-half-empty kinda person - then it's 'almost twice as big'). What's really interesting to me is that only 10% of players in the K-League are foreign. I'm not quite sure how A-League gets 25% when they only have 5 out of 23 slots allowed for foreigners (should be 20% tops, right?). Regardless that's pretty impressive that Korea is so strong despite such a strong showing being local. I'd show off some of the good players at Ulsan but we simply don't have the detailed scouting to give you an idea of how good they are. Here's the top 5: That's a pretty handy core - Bulthuis is 191cm tall, so I'm sure he's going to play at centre back. You can see straight away the wages are up compared to ours (we're paying Mueanta $7.500 pw). so that might make it tough. That is a big striker though - another >190cm guy in the box - and he's been banging in goals for fun for 12 months. Our saving grace may be the age of the side. They have plenty of younger talent, but no real bolters who are young, fresh and really looking for a whirlwind season before moving up in their career's. I'd wager almost half our squad is in that part of their career, so maybe we can make that count. Anyway I just wanted to take a minute to savour the moment. We may buckle under the sheer talent on offer or we may be fitter, faster and match-fit and run them off the park. With the group we have, we need to beat one of these top teams - and if you look where China and Japan are on that transfermarkt table, this might be our best shot!
  12. 2 February 2022 Melbourne Victory - 1st in the A-League [7w, 3d, 1l] Hi everyone! How have you been? Where have I been? Well Butlee decided to gamble on a covid-free couple of weeks in my state and rush off on a holiday. With FM22 rolling around, obviously I'm pretty excited to prepare for that. I don't have any a specific club or save idea in mind, but I want to do a longer save and do a more comprehensive write-up over the life of the game in here. If you have any interesting ideas (be it building 1 club or starting somewhere tough with journeyman to the top!) let me know. Meanwhile I'm still keen to get this over the line before FM22 releases, but we might have to do a few less updates along the way. Vuck Victorious! Well, mostly. It's been a bumper start to the season and even though we've played a couple more matches than our nearest rivals, you can already see Goal Difference improvements. By round 11 last season, we'd let in 17 goals! And keep in mind we didn't win until the 4th round last season - then got better and better. If the trend follows, and if some of our new key players start to gel with the rest of the squad more, we could be on for a much better run. The Big Games We won't go through all our matches, but let's pick out a couple to highlight how we're going. First though, some quick comments: That City match we hyped up last time was a fizzer. We went with a fatigued Mueanta and City camped in their own half and knocked the ball around. We ended up with a dozen shots to 1, but we didn't take our chances and drew 0-0. Our only loss so far was to challenges Wellington Phoenix, 0-1. It was a tough one because we had chances again and didn't take them. The Referee also handed out 35 fouls and 7 yellows, so neither side really ever got any rhythm going. vs Brisbane Roar [2-0] We got our revenge for the Grand Final in from of 13,646 Queenslanders. As a Brisbane man I'm sceptical that Moreton Daily Stadium can actually fit that many, but we'll take it. We're just better this year when it comes to finding different ways to score. The tactics we employ vary our attack and we have a few X-factor players (or maybe we're just using the right roles where players can step up and become X-factor players) that really give us something when we're stuck. The City and Phoenix games tell us that we haven't mastered it yet, but it's been a promising start! The key passes stat tells me what I want to see here. We're not running down into the corners and over-working van der Saag and Nishikawa (good showing from the lad who barely ever gets a mention, covering for Traore) over and over - we're moving the ball around and finding the short spaces for our midfield to play creatively as well. The two-man attacking line means Rojas & Mueanta are giving one another chances. And the goals coming from midfield is a testament to the overall movement and choas we create for defending sides. This first goal is simple, and probably a mistake from Brisbane - but it's the kind of scenario that coaches love to see. Rojas has chased the loose ball and kept it in and despite being well covered in the box (left image) we've got 4 guys encroaching on the box and our #9 and #7 are both primed to make dangerous runs short. The defenders (right image) move to cover that off, but the Brisbane #3 is torn between standing in the empty goal and tightly marking Diego Castro #12. And he makes the wrong call to cover inside because Castro is too good all-round to miss a header from that close. And the 2nd goal is a bit more opportunistic, but it shows yet again how teams aren't handling our movement well and it's creating opportunities. Nishikawa on the left gets put into space on the flank and despite the penalty box defending being squared away, they don't track Leigh Broxham's run from DM. When the Brisbane DC wins the aerial duel it pops out to Broxy at the top of the box and he fires it home first time. A lovely finish. He may not score that shot every time but the point is that had 24 shots that game - and that would be one of the more difficult ones. So if you get good players in form with an array of different chances - you should expect to score goals like this. Brisbane are mostly the same team as last season, but they've shot themselves in the foot a bit with recruitment. If you watch the AI closely, you can see how it thinks sometimes. It has some of their best players as B2B MC's or DM's and so it's trying to play a 4-2-3-1, with the fullbacks overlapping. They're signed Andrew Hoole to play right back and he's more of a winger himself. Nishikawa walked all over him. To compensate for less flank defence, they've reinforced their DC stocks with an Israeli International - Abu Hana - but I don't think he had the cohesion with the team yet to handle our player movements. The Key to Passing Let's expand on that Key Passing concept for a minute to really hammer home how well we've improved. Last season we had 7 players who averaged 1 or more key passes per match over a season. Brimmer got the most with 68 from 25 matches (2.72 p/match). This season we've already got 9 players providing at least 1 key pass per match, and our leading man is again Brimmer, performing at 2.52 p/match. So while our best player in this metric has largely stayed the same, we're allowing more players to create more chances for us. Overall last season we averaged 15.64 p/match, and already here we're at 17.36 p/match. And this is where I love everything about FM. Last season we identified that while we were good and could hold possession and score goals, our weakness was actually in the creative area. It ended up costing us the Grand Final. We made a conscious effort to bring in players who's talent would naturally provide more vision and flair. Here we are 1/3rd of the way into the season, and we can see tangible evidence that we have been able to improve in this area! Further, the best thing about this is that FM22 is going to take this concept of data analytics and dial it up to 11!! vs Sydney FC [3-3] It's hard to imagine a time in the A-League where Sydney FC were bad. They finished 9th once - when the comp last had 12 teams - but the year prior they were League winners, and the league post they bounced back into finals. So the memories of Sydney FC are that they were never bad. They have not always been title contenders, but they're probably the only side in the 15 years of A-League that you could never properly point to them and say it's all fallen apart. Every other club has. To that end, despite a 6th-finished season last time around we knew The Big Blue would be amazing, and my goodness what a show! You never really want to tip your hat to a bitter rival. Especially if they're putting a dent in your title aspirations. And yet here we are.... Sydney would be the underdogs despite being at home and while we showed the same dominant signs we have done in prior matches and managed to start turning that into goals properly, they dug their heels in really went toe-to-toe with us. I'm not a superfan of xG (the analyst in me doesn't like someone else making the assumptions on how likely a chance is to becoming a goal - invisible metrics like that can be a trigger...), but here it tells the story of a battle. The competitor in me is frustrated - because we played well, fought back from a goal down and lead going into the final minutes. A healthy, fresh sub came on and slipped between our tiring centre backs. The schedule has been brutal and I think that's what left both sides reeling in the 6-goal thriller. I want to bring some attention to the first scorer of the match - Sydney's AMC and linchpin of their attack this season, Bradley Dodd. That's right, the kid is 16! I know everyone has seen or had better wonderkids in FM, but this is a kid from the outback who's just showed up to dominate the A-League. AZ in Eredivise have already agreed to buy him and I wouldn't be surprised if even they are just a stepping stone. He's great because he already has skills in the finer points of the game - technique impacts so much and being a set piece and long shot specialist makes him immediately valuable. But what makes him truly special are the features that you can never really train on players. His Decision-making and flair are world class for his age, and his brave, hard-working characteristics mean he's not some precious playmaker kid - he will put in the hard yakka! So it's no surprise that the lad jammed home an early freekick against us and was generally a pain until he went off at half time. We had to play catchup! Which brings us to one of the most positive things of the game - our new Thai striker starting to get comfortable here. He was only fractionally offside for that first goal, but his second was him reacting quicker to a stray pass and squeezing off a low shot to score. The kind that only an in-form attacker would latch onto. It's been a bit of a juggling act to get him match fit, but also to let him rest off after a hectic December & January playing in these Asian tournaments. The lad hasn't had an offseason. It's important to make sure you don't burn out younger players. But for now it's nice to see him contributing - he's finding the net, he set up the 2nd goal for Brimmer by drawing a defender out wide, and he's generally doing well for a striker in the key passes review shown above. Overall, while I'd love to have beaten Sydney, won the derby and solidified outright top spot on the ladder, all I'm feeling is positive vibes from where this is going! Player Watch - Fullbacks For what it's worth, I tend to have 2 main pages on my squad page. There's an overview which tracks more of the General Info, star ratings, wages, contract end & active general management flags like training progress, morale and the little progress line graphs. The other main page I use is an expanded general stats. This shows the enviable position we're in where all 4 of our fullbacks are taking their chances. It's pretty hard to decide who to play each week - with fatigue building up, when do you rotate players and just how much gap is between the 4 of them? We know what we get from Traore (including a rare goal against Sydney!). We saw Nishikawa dominate Brisbane so he's got to be at least competitive at this level. van der Saag has been good and covers at centre back a bit as well. And Cisse - honestly he was a gamble since we couldn't fully scout him from Spain.. I'd seen that he was quick and could defend and I figured so long as he had something else, his sheer pace would make it work. He came back with 5 in crossing.... But Djimou is determined and he has reasonable touch on the ball - and as you can see, he's putting in just as much work as Adama on the opposite flank. Maybe he'll train into it a bit so his attributes don't make me feel so bad about signing him haha! Player Watch - Everyone There's been a lot of good performances this season so far and I can't highlight them all without just listing off the teams. But an example of one player who hasn't even got a mention yet is Jacob Butterfield. The English B2B middie has completely come back to life after wearing out towards the end of last season. He loves his role in the new formation where there's slightly more options for him to move the ball around to and slightly less opposing midfielders pressing him because of the 4-man unit in close proximity there. Jacob is happy to operate as the guy who connects A-to-B and he'll stack up 50+ passes a game, never pushing the ball more than 10 or 20 metres! I don't go into the individual player analysis very often, but this is the perfect display of his efforts the last 2 matches. He's sitting in that role, connected to our better wingback, a ballplaying central MC and the False-Nine/Playmaking Forward. his job is to give us an outlet to build the player up and get all 3 of those options up the park while we have the ball. Even though he's primarily a left-sided player, you can see as we go up the park and the MCR - Mezzala - pushes wide, Butterfield naturally slots more into the centre, and doesn't push up into the box at all. The Englishman is still right up there with our key-passing metrics and he's still put in for a couple of assists - just overall he does a lot of the hard work, relieving some of our more creative options of the burden. There are just so many ways I like this working, and I could go on for ages with how the midfield moves, but I should stop there for now. Because he's just 1 of many examples I could pull up where it's really starting to come together and I'm confident we're just a couple of wins away from starting a glorious run to secure this title..... Player Watch - Diego Castro Of all the players that are doing well for us, none of them hold a candle to 39yr old Diego Castro. Even with all the praise I gave him when we secured his signature, I wasn't expecting what we're getting this season. He's our top scorer, and he's right up there in key passes with the best of us. But he doesn't compromise on the hard work with - he's plugging 30+ passes a match, he's beating people on the dribble, he's shooting as good as our striker Rojas and he's tied for most distance covered per 90 minutes (with Brimmer). His best showing was a hattrick against Western Sydney Wanderers a few weeks ago. 3 completely different types of goals from 3 different setups. Here's the middle one. He makes it seem so simple. He's on the lurking option for corners, and here his marker just doesn't pick him up. Diego knows how to make himself the greatest threat from here and does make that run so he can fire home a shot. Also note that they haven't sent anyone out to protect from the short corner either. If they were to do so, where would the extra space be? I figure almost any scenario would leave even more room for Castro to roam about in. Another of his goals came from a header 6 yards out after a Traore cross. And similarly his last goal had him get right in front of the keeper: Again a simple play, after Mueanta chases a ball into the wide area and Cisse gets the break on his man. But Castro's made that run inside this time (remember he's in the Mezzala role, expected to peel wider on the right most times) and the defence just isn't great at picking him up properly. League Appearances It's a bit hard to quickly narrate all the decisions that went into things over 11 rounds, but in general we stuck to the same lineup where we could early on. As January dragged on and our U23 internationals came back, we started to try and rotate a bit more. Ansell going down injured wasn't great, but Laws has been fantastic at the back - so we didn't notice too much difference there. If I have a weakness, it's by not reflecting on things like this enough. I got caught up in the Mo Toure hype and I even started looking at ways Rojas could play in the midfield, helping cover Castro and Brimmer. But the reality was that in our first 9 matches, I only ever once paired up our two senior strikers and we couldn't expect teenagers like Toure to be consistent over the entire season. Losing to Wellington really made us reflect on all that kind of thing. Giving Paulsen a run in goal for example - can get away with that against Newcastle, but it was arrogant to do so against 2nd-placed Phoenix. And even resting Butterfield - we moved Broxham up the park, Laws to DM and van der Saag into central defence. All valid moves and capable players in those positions, but it was the first time we'd tried that kind of rotation - why would you do it against a title contender!? That's not taking away from Wellington - they were solid - but we didn't do ourselves any favours there. Asian Champions League If you're still on board with this post, you see why I chose now to stop and prepare a recap episode - the Asian Champions League was drawn. I don't know a lot about the clubs in Asia, but I believe they all are top two clubs from their respective countries. People are quick to shout 'group of death' these days, but I've gotta say it here - this is the ACL group of death. The whole thing kicks off on February 22nd. That put's it in between the Macarthur and Perth, meaning we have to fly to Japan, play footy, and come back within 6 days to play both our league games. We've got 10 days to rest up before CCM, then it'll b a hectic rush through to WSW in March, 10 days rest again, and then pretty much a match every 3-4 days until the back end of May as the League season wraps up! This is where ACL gets tough for Aussie clubs. Since we historically have played 1 game per week, there's never been a huge sense of 'squad' - you just needed your best XI. With covid and the condensed schedule, it's actually forced clubs to dig deeper into their roster, to make sure they have your players available and tested out their stars. But that combined with ACL mid-week games is another level of hectic. But we're about as equipped as we could be. We haven't even see guys like LLL yet and we know he's competitive. Patrick Wood is supposed to be better than LLL & Toure and is just recovering from the Aussie internationals - he could step up. Someone like Kirdar is touted as the best young player we have, and he hasn't even had a start yet! So if you glass-half-full this challenge, it'll be great to see if the youngsters can show us a thing or two! Anyway I think that's enough for now. I want to get through a fair bit of this ACL group stage quickly, so I can see how far we want to push this save - FM22 pending. If we qualify from the ACL groups, the tournament actually runs off a calendar year - it's at-odds with the A-League being on a European-esque calendar. That would mean I'd have to run through another lengthy off-season with Melbourne, and try to keep this squad together to tackle the ACL KO rounds... I'm just not 100% sure if they would continue seamlessly through June/July/August, or if they break mid-season (like the UEFA Champs League) and would pick up to run out in Sep/Oct/Nov? And if we don't make it that far, then our focus is just on getting to the Grand Final in June. So how we're going in Asia makes a big difference to how much time to commit to the save! Hopefully we'll know how competitive we are/aren't in a couple of matches.
  13. Just wanted to wrap that we've had some success in creating, seeing and joining Network Games. So I'd say this is resolved, barring any unseen connectivity/reliability issues. We'll try some matches out over the next few days and see if any of the usual gremlins (ie, not being able to spectate one another's matches in a Network game) show up.
  14. Some further feedback. Step 1 - Testing options out in FM21. - Successful in Inviting from the Game Status screen. Step 2 - Check Project Bandele (as host). - Game showing as FM Career, not FM Network. - Invite Friend button on the Game Status screen is missing. - Unable to invite friends to join game through Steam friends list. Step 3 - Check Project Bandele (as guest). - Unable to see the game (or any) in the Online lobby. - Unable to use Steam Friends list to join host's game. Hopefully this is exhaustive troubleshooting. I can't stress enough how this seems identical to last year - we brought it up in this forum and it was resolved in a few days (unsure if you archive the alpha forums or keep a ticket record, but it may help). Thanks, Dan
  15. It's set to allowing anyone to join. The save says FM Career, not FM network (this is what happened last year and had to be resolved). We haven't tried Steam invites. We've never really done that. Might be able to test later. I can't see an invite function on the Game Status page.
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