After such an incredible season, it deserves a post worthy. If you can't be bothered reading it, there's a TL;DR at the end!
END-SEASON REVIEW (2021/22)
Out: Michal Cizek (Empoli £3m), Ze Paulo (free)
Cizek was one the crop of promising Czech youngsters I bought a few seasons ago, of which only Popelka has become a fixture in my side. Cizek showed promise in his early forays, but last season struggled when given the chance, one match-winning performance aside. Allied to the fact he hadn't developed his attributes, he was sold to Serie B Empoli for a £1m profit, and was top scorer in B. Ze Paulo was a short-term midfield solution signed in January and had now served his purpose.
In: Walter Osvaldo (San Lorenzo £6m)
The previous summer it was a toss-up between this guy and Dudé for my striker option. I plumped for Dudé, but now I needed a striker to replace Cizek, and with this guy still available, I decided to take the plunge on his excellent finishing and physicals.
In: Vojtech Kubista (Marseille £4m)
With my change in formation working well in the latter half of last season with players playing on the wings unsuited to that position, I needed to invest heavily in 'defensive' wingers. Now Kubista doesn't come under the role of traditional winger, but with good all-round stats, and superb physicals, possessing great long throws and able to play in the centre of midfield too, this was a no-brainer at this price.
In: Adama Traoré (Arsenal 12.5m)
Out: Ladislav Bohac (Avellino loan)
Adama Traoré was another winger signed as I committed to my new formation. Superb pace and strength allied to good technical attributes, able to play both sides, with excellent PPMs, this was a bargain, signed for less than his value. Ladislav Bohac was part of the 'Czech Bunch' and is bizarrely low star-rated, but Kim was only too happy to take him on-board at Avellino, and I was only too happy for him to gather more experience.
In: Thierry Ambrose (Man City £4.9m)
I had Ambrose on loan two seasons previous, where he impressed briefly before getting injured. With him available at such a cheap price (knowing how his value can grow), and with Ongenda on the way out, this was another no-brainer deal. I was actually surprised I snagged him, as some big clubs were in also, his pace and finishing invaluable. His PPM of 'looking for pass instead of attempting to score' was alleviated by myself a little by re-training him to 'hit first-time shots'.
Out: Hervin Ongenda (West Ham £15m)
I had bought Ongenda for £6m way back in Serie B, with the 'Tom Cleverley windfall', but it took him a full year to bed in, scoring just two goals in that time. Once he did so, he was very effective however, giving me two 20 goal, 20 assist seasons, totalling 53 league goals for me. But when West Ham offered £15m up front, combined with the Ambrose deal, I couldn't say no. His effectiveness had also waned with the new formation.
In: Sinisa Zgela (£8m Pisa)
Zgela is a Croatian winger who Pedro and AndyG had fought over back when he was 18, and with Pedro moving in the opposite direction to me (wingers to wingbacks), there was no place for Zgela, and I took the plunge, in a deal good for both parties, with me paying way above his value, but him possessing excellent potential.
In: Derek Hughes (Nottm Forrest loan)
Out: Srdjan Mijailovic (Real Madrid £7.5m)
Derek Hughes was signed as a fifth choice and promising centre-back who I could take a look at over an extended period of time. Mijailovic was being forced out due to the formation change. He is a one-trick defensive pony, a very good one-trick pony, but nonetheless, I needed a little more flexibility and I was over-subscribed in midfield. He was frustrating me however, turning down Milan, Villareal and San Marino, and I was beginning to think I wouldn't be able to sell him at all, never mind get a decent fee. However, it paid off for him, and me, as Real came in with a good offer, matching Milan's, and he got £170k pw (from £25k pw)! I had signed him on a free four seasons previous. Best agent ever. He promptly was placed in the Castilla squad!
Out: Ezequiel Rescaldani (Napoli £34m)
At this point, my transfer dealings were over. I hadn't strengthened my back line as much as I hoped to but I was fairly satisfied. However, my plans were changed when Napoli made an offer I really couldn't refuse. 'Resca' was my best striker, but had turned 29 in the summer, so I couldn't turn down this kind of cash. I signed him for £4.5m four years previous and he had scored 71 league goals, three of those seasons above the 20 goal mark.
In: Helder Penetra (PSG £28m)
I decided to reinvest the money from Rescaldani into the defence first. After being knocked back from several targets, I bid for Penetra on the off-chance he was available, after PSG signed one of my DC targets called Wagner. To my surprise he was available, one of the best young DCs in the world. Not exactly blessed with technical skill mind, I had been chasing him since his days at Sporting Lisbon, who PSG bought him off for £22.5m two years previous.
Out: Sandy Walsh (Augsburg £10m)
Walsh I signed from Ajax two seasons previous for £9m, and he had been an excellent player for me at right-back. With my move to 3-4-3 however, there was no place for him, with Penetra coming in, as he was too short to play centre-back and not technically gifted enough to be retrained as a defensive winger. A real shame, one of my favourite players.
NB: I had meant to sign a striker to replace Rescaldani, but I failed to get the paperwork done in time for Marcão from Benfica (who would score 30 in a breakthrough year for him), so would have to be one striker light until January.
FIRST HALF SEASON
As you can see, mainly positive results. A few too many draws early on, especially in the Champions League where we were handed a stupidly hard group. Our inability to put away CSKA in the first game and Schalke in our second match with them cost us, as Chelsea capitalised on every half mistake we made too. The tonking of CSKA in the last game at least gave us the Europa League consolation. In the league I was fuming we weren't top earlier, especially after we lost to a San Marino penalty, after they played awfully, with us not much sharper. But by the halfway point of the season we were on top of the pile, despite having two men sent off in a defeat versus title rivals Pisa, straight after beating Juventus. Our goal scoring prowess was really shining through, hitting 8 teams for four or more goals, including that 8-1 versus Lazio. Our defensive frailties were exposed in games versus Fiorentina and Chelsea though, and there wasn't exactly a glut of clean sheets., something that had to be fixed, with better personnel or a slight shift in tactics.
In: Kurt Zouma (Barcelona £27.5m), Remigio Ramirez (Fiorentina £25m)
Out: Carlos André (Milan £6m)
After the first part of the season, I still felt the centre-back positions needed strengthening, with the option of Sviatchenko or André, alongside Penetra and Bianchetti, not satisfying. To answer this, I turned to Kurt Zouma, for big bucks, and sold Carlos André, who I had signed two years previous for £10.5m, an arduous process that was too. I retrained him to centre-back from right-back, but he never really performed, despite excellent physicals, and is one of my semi-failures in the market. In the previous window I had tried to sign Marcão from Benfica as my fifth striking option, but he signed a new contract, and I decided to look closer to home. Remigio Ramirez was joint highest scorer in the league at the halfway stage, having transferred to Fiorentina from Napoli for just £9.5m last January, a deal I was gutted to miss out on. So now I needed a new striker, I decided he was still worth paying £25m for as proven Serie A talent, over foreign promise for £20m such as Marcão.
Out: Bjorn Engels (Torino £2m)
Now on to one of my real failures in the market. Three seasons ago I signed him for £9.5m and soon as I signed him knew I had overpaid by around £3-4m. Tall and aggressive, he never really improved his defensive attributes, probably because I never really trusted him, and therefore didn't get the games required to improve.
Out: Dudé (Man Utd £40m)
And back to one of my big successes in the market. I signed striker Dudé for £10.5m 18 months previous, and spent much of the first half of the season injured, including losing three pace and one acceleration attributes after straining his knee ligaments, a bizarre occurrence. He remained fairly effective thanks to his movement and his finishing, but I was very surprised when Man Utd came in and activated his £40m release clause. I was more than surprised, I was delighted! After all, this was a player who was now my fifth choice striker!
In: Alexandru Tudorie (Real Madrid £7m), Luis Gustavo (Pisa loan)
Out: Petr Pokorny (Cagliari loan)
And to replace Dudé I turned to Real Madrid and the Romanian target man, Alexandru Tudorie who was valued at £14m but transfer listed at just £7m. Despite his hefty wages, I decided to go for him, betting on his value being much higher than that, even if he wasn't effective, by the end of the season. To bolster midfield I turned to Luis Gustavo on loan, to add depth and numbers rather than truly challenge for starts. Petr Pokorny was on his way out, on loan again, another member of that 'Czech Bunch'. He hasn't really developed like I hoped, but again needs games and still has time.
NB: Eighteen months ago my strikeforce consisted of Michael Cizek, Angel Correa, Hervin Ongenda, Dudé and Ezequiel Rescaldani, a quintet that cost me £31.5m in total. They were sold for £122m in total. The current quintet cost me £53m in total, for the same, if not better, output, a £69m profit. In theory, my current quintet cost negative £37.5m then. #notbad
In: Marco Asensio (Man Utd loan)
I was really using the loan system to bolster my squad, and Asensio, who can play left wing or playmaker, was another one those options, having been on the transfer list at Man Utd for as long as I can remember.
In: Simone Scuffet (Udinese £25m)
This was a luxury signing, made possible by Manchester United's ludicrous splashing of the cash on Dudé. Scuffet doesn't need much introduction, he was better than my current incumbent, Osman Hadzikic, and as such I signed him, having not been fully satisfied with this position for a while. A bonus is that he is home-grown.
Out: Osman Hadzikic (Sampdoria loan)
Naturally, Hadzikic had to be moved on following Scuffet's signing, but surprisingly no-one wanted to sign him permanently, so off on loan he went instead.
In: Martin Kovar (£1m Jablonec), Hrvoje Krncevic (Hajduk free)
Two cheap youngsters, both midfielders, signed on the off-chance that they will turn out well.
SECOND HALF SEASON
This was more like it; just seven non-greens, two of which in second legs of ties sealed in the first leg. Frustrating though was the loss to San Marino who, after defeating me in the Cup quarter-final again, went on to win the whole Cup. Again. This was my own fault for playing too aggressively, and my strategy became more reserved as the second half of the season wore on. I know that's difficult to believe, considering our results, but it really did! In this half we hit 13 teams for four or more, including two eight-goal hauls in the league and a six-goal mauling of Bayern Munich. We really hit form after demolishing San Marino, keeping seven clean sheets in ten games, despite that blip against Spezia. By the time this run of clean sheets came to an end, we had finally shaken off Pisa in the race for the title, who had been within four points since Christmas, a ridiculous state of affairs, considering I had a 75% win ratio! As it was, we won the league by a country mile, hitting more than 120 goals and scoring 92 points.
In the Europa League it was easy progress between Munich and Milan, but we had a trio of crazy games versus AC. First up, we won 5-2 in the first leg of the Europa League semis, their ridiculous attack keeping them in the hunt (Fierro and a beastly regen named Mputu), before what seems like a stale normal 1-1 draw in the league followed. That game was anything but, as their keeper scored a 9.4 (without an assist) after saving over 25 of my shots, including six or seven clear cut chances. They also took the lead in the 86th minute, and I thought 'typical, utterly batter them and get beat', but my team surprised me once more, with a 92nd minute goal, one that their keeper couldn't do anything about. Then the icing on the cake was the crazy 4-4 draw in the return leg of the Europa League, as they took 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2 leads, giving me a heart attack. Osvaldo saved the day however, scoring all four of our goals to grab a 4-4, 9-6 on aggregate!
Three particularly sweet moments were 1) beating Juventus and sealing the title at the same time, ending their decade-long dominance over Serie A, and then 2) beating Pisa in their own backyard to celebrate, including leaving out a few rested players, my closest challengers for the title, and 3) destroying Galatasary in the Europa League final, despite a semi-wobble in the middle part of the match at 2-1, as Ferati put the icing on his vintage cake of a season by scoring four.
Main players only (rating, goals/assists)
Matteo Bianchetti (7.38, 17/2), Helder Penetra (7.20, 3/3), Kurt Zouma (7.20, 3/0), Simone Scuffet (7.14), Erik Sviatchenko (7.05, 3/0)
The defence really struggled in the first half of the season, and indeed until the end of February, but once Zouma and Scuffet bedded in and we played a little more conservatively the defence was brilliant. Add to this the bonus of my captain Bianchetti scoring 17 goals (!), at least half of these rebounds. When I signed him for £2.5m several seasons ago, purely based on two years of outstanding defensive stats in the league at lowly Empoli, I never dreamed he would be the captain to lift my first Serie A.
Tomas Popelka (7.40, 1/3), Lorenzo Crisetig (7.24, 2/2), Youri Tielemans (7.16, 2/9), Marius Lundemo (6.65, 0/1)
Popelka did fantastically well to come back from a broken leg, and other small niggles, to perform so well for me. As the playmaker, he was often the 'second assister', finding players on the wing or edge of the box well, and always showing for the ball while being defensively solid. Less defensively solid but still a good performer was Tielemans, though it has taken three years to extract this kind of season from him. He bore all playmaking responsibility while Popelka recovered and he coped well, his set-piece deliveries especially dangerous. Crisetig was played in the more reserved role in midfield and had his best season yet for us, rarely putting a foot wrong. It was a season horribilis for club icon Lundemo however, as he endured his worst season of eight at the club, immediately following his best! No matter which role I played him in he just didn't perform and eventually griped about the lack of playing time.
Adama Traoré (7.58, 8/13), Vojtech Kubista (7.40, 0/10), Sinisa Zgela (7.30, 3/10)
Traoré ran riot all season. Early on he was forced into the left midfield role, due to Kubista's hot form and Zgela's bedding in, which affected the team shape as he would cut inside constantly on his preferred right foot. This was just something I had to cope with, but just before Kubista sustained a serious injury around February, Zgela had bedded in, and the twin-threat of Traoré down the right and Zgela down the left, who is a natural left-footer, was too much for most teams. The shape of the team improved immeasurably and so did the form. Kubista had an excellent start to the season, his physicality and long throws causing all kinds of problems for opposing teams. Here's hoping the serious injury won't ruin him.
Arianit Ferati (7.80, 29/38), Walter Osvaldo (7.58, 44/11), Remigio Ramirez (7.46, 17/10), Thierry Ambrose (7.42 (24/20)
Instead of a description, I will simply leave these pictures of the four main strikers' records this season:
Arianit Ferati (one hat-trick, one double-brace)
Walter Osvaldo (four hat-tricks, one double-brace)
Remigio Ramirez (one hat-trick, one quintuple)
Thierry Ambrose (one hat-trick, one double-brace)
I think the above striker records are ample final word on this season.
Spent lots of money. Received lots of money. Scored lots of goals. Won Serie A and Europa League at a canter.