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8 "What we've got here is a failure to communicate"

About dirkgently1066

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    Full time father, aspiring writer, mental health avenger.

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    Sutton via Hastings


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    Writing, football, wrestling, gaming

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  1. Managed it on FM14 with Sutton Utd, from National South in about 7 or 8 seasons. Finished a respectable midtable in my first PL season. Absolutely rinsed the loan system and managed to stay loyal to a couple of players pretty much all the way through. Stuck with 442 early on and transitioned into more adventurous formations higher up. Remains my greatest ever save.
  2. Champions Blimey, we only went and did it! An incredible end to an incredible season sees us crowned as champions. My first Premier League triumph since, I’m pretty sure, FM06. But we were made to work for it right to the end. Having dispatched Man City in the league and opening up a 5 point gap, I knew that Arsenal presented the last serious obstacle, and so it proved. In truth we were completed outplayed and deservingly took a tonking. Much to my surprise though, City also suffered a shock defeat to Swansea, meaning that we were still very much in charge of the title race. Crystal Palace were next, the scene of Liverpool’s very famous real life collpase under Brendan Rodgers and it proved to be a banana skin for my digital representation too. After taking an early lead, Andros Townsend turned in a world class performance, running as ragged as we went down to a 2-1 defeat. Suddenly the pressure was back on, out 5 point gap once again reduced to 2 and, instead of the final day of the season becoming a procession instead turning into a tense affair. Our final game saw the visit of West Ham. Again we took the lead, seeing out the first half 1-0, buoyed by bottom of the league Burnley taking the lead against City. But again, the opposition got back into it and I started to fear the worst. Fortunately however the players had other ideas. In a display of complete and utter domination, featuring no less than 43 chances created, we ran out 4-1 winners, sealing the title in emphatic fashion by 2 points from City, who themselves recovered to dispatch Burnley. It has been an incredible league season. Just 3 defeats all year, one of those coming against City, the other 2 coming during the final 4 games of our run in. We also helped ourselves to a club record points haul of 91 for good measure, adding the league to our earlier Carabao Cup triumph. There is a temptation to rake over the ‘what ifs’ of our run of course. Could we have avoided defeat against Arsenal? Could I have made tactical tweaks that would have seen us hold out Palace? The narrow margin of victory also gives voice to that pesky part of my brain that says, ‘hey, you didn’t really deserve it, you got lucky.’ But the facts tell a different story. We were never expected to win the league. We were something like 5th favourites. This was always City’s title to lose and besting them, by whatever margin, is an incredible achievement. With just 3 defeats and 7 draws, top goalscorers, meanest defence, fewest defeats, unbeaten home record and highest average rated player, we had an unbelievable season by anyone’s standard. The fact that the title race was so close speaks more to City’s strength in matching our results than it does any weakness in our performance. Plus we had been top almost all season, spending only 5 weeks of the season in anything other than 1st place and then only dropping to a low of 3rd. This was very much our victory, taken from the front and never given up. For the last few years, my single greatest FM achievement was getting Sutton promoted from Conference South to Premier League in FM14. I have finally found something to match it. Star Performers As the Premier League's highest rated player, 6th best goalscorer and joint highest recipient of man of the match awards, our star man was undoubtedly Mo Salah. The funny thing is, I wasn't always sure he was playing that well. He would often go several games without scoring, drifting to ratings of 6.5 or lower. But his tally of 31 goals and 16 assists in 41 starts across all competitions speaks of a level of consistency. Just one goal behind, and matching Salah's PL output of 17, was Roberto Firmino. Again, he had games where he seemed to disappear but he was also responsible for a number of huge goals, especially towards the end of the campaign and his tally of 18 assist speaks to his versatility. The assist king though, completing our look at Liverpool's established 3 attackers, was Sadio Mane. His PL goal output was fairly disappointing, although 14 in all competitions is reasonable. However with a whopping 26 assists in all comps, he certainly played his part. Other players also impressed; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain proved himself to be versatile and effective across midfield, Virgil van Dijk, despite being something of a moody agitator, marshalled the defence supremely, Alisson Becker made some absolutely crucial stops, collating a total of 23 clean sheets across 51 appearances, including 5 straight PL shut outs, and conceding just 47. However the other standout was a player I wasn't sure I even needed and kinda bought just because I had bought him on an earlier save; Nabil Fekir. As it turned out, he played an important role in our season, contributing 15 league goals in just 21 starts with 22 in all competitions and 16 assists. A truly magnificent signing that allowed me to confidently rotate my front 3. Champions League Sadly our Premier League exploits were not quite replicated in Europe. Having reached the semis we had a real crack at glory. With City awaiting us, I knew we would be in for a test. The first leg was at the Etihad and I was unsure how to set up. I opted for a defensive shape to try and contain them before becoming more expansive as the tie went on. Things soon turned sour though and after a thorough battering, we came away with a 0-4 defeat. Tie very much over. Or so I thought. With nothing to lose, I set us up to attack in the return leg. Even then we had to be patient, both teams cancelling each other out until Mane pounced in injury time in the first half. After the break, Salah notched, before grabbing his second, and our 3rd, in the 71st minute. Against all the odds, we were back in with a real shout of at least taking the tie to extra time. Sadly, and despite switching to an ultra attacking strategy, we couldn't find an equaliser and we were out in a a glorious blaze of failure. Still, I felt better that we had at least got a measure of revenge from the first leg and restored some respectability to the scoreline. With Spurs progressing in the other semi, it will be an all English final. Once again, that voice of failure nags in the back of my head. ‘You coulda won it all,’ it says to me. ‘You got it wrong against Watford in the FA Cup, you stuffed up against City in the Champions League,’ it bleats. Again, some perspective is required. Realistically I had no expectations beyond a good crack at the cups and a top 4 finish. To say we have exceeded my expectations would be an understatement. Maybe I'll just enjoy what we have. What Next? With Naby Keita joining next season, the return of several young prospects, a Premier League to defend and a Champions League to win, there is a lot to look forward to next season. Here's the thing though; I'm not sure I'm going to. I've really enjoyed this save. After numerous false starts, this has been one of my most satisfying games of FM in some time. I have felt empowered, seen my tactical plans come to life in front of me, been tested to make decisions and been rewarded by being bold. At the same time, I have barely scratched the surface of the level of detail within the game, rarely availing myself of scouting, team dynamics, post match analysis and countless other tools that serve to make FM the absolute unrivalled pinnacle of sports management. There is a lot to look forward to and yet I am conscious of the time dedication that FM demands, at least to play it in the way I enjoy it. I may come back to it, I may not. The key for me is that I no longer feel that I have to, just to prove a point. I am contented. I am happy. And that is perhaps the greatest victory of all.
  3. Anxiety Diaries ...as referenced above, my lack of awareness of the wider footballing world is in evidence at more complete lack of forethought for transfers next season. At the same time though, I have to be careful not to allow what my brain tells me I should be doing to influence me. My signings this season have been fantastic and I feel a pressure to go and strengthen again. At the same time, I have Solanke, Brewster, Sturridge, Wilson, Ojo, Grujic, Allan, Markovic, Origi, Ejaria and others either out on loan or in reserve. I may not need to dip into the market and indeed it may be more fun to try and develop the youngsters, rather than splashing the cash. ...Again, my lack of confidence comes into play. What if they're no good? What if we slip from the high standards we have maintained this year? What if some of them are no good? Do I back myself to sort the wheat from the chaff? ...I've often struggled with understanding which of my responsibilities to entrust to my staff and which to look after myself. It is a similar dilemma I have faced in real life, whereby I tend to err on the side of hoarding tasks through a fear of ceding control to others. It's not that I think I can do it better, it's simply the comfort of being in the driver's seat. If I fail, the failure is mine alone. In FM terms, this anxiety is slightly different. By ceding control, I feel as if I am not really playing. Is it really my success if my Assistant is taking team talks and running training or my Director of Football negotiating contracts? I have gone back and forth on it this term, initially controlling everything, then ceding virtually all responsibility and now, by season's end, finding a balance that works for me. I have let my assistant look after team training, purely on the basis that I don't know what I'm doing. Similarly I have asked Steven Gerrard, my under-18s coach, to renew contracts for youth players. On the other hand, I ditched my original plan to let my assistant control opposition instructions and individual player training. These are things tied directly match tactics, something I have, over the course of the season, learned to trust my own judgement on.
  4. April Shower...of Goals After our extraordinary exploits against Shakhtar, two further results in late March and early April ensure that this will be a season to remember. First up, Man City. The big one. The title decider. But how to line up? Should I be cagey and go defensive, hoping to hit them on the break? Do I try to start fast and then retreat? Or do I strike a balance and led the flow of the game dictate any changes? Well, whatever plans I had went straight out of the window when we scored 3 goals in the first 7 minutes. First, Oxlade-Chamberlain ran through from the kick off and smashed it straight into the net. Next up it was Fekir with a simple tap in and then on 7 minutes, van Dijk powered in a header. What a performance! Thing is though, it brought it's own anxiety. I always remember when England played Romania at the Euro's when Keegan was in charge. We struck out into a 2-0 lead, only to lose 3-2. A mate of mine remembered reading a comment from Keegan that at 2-0, he didn't know what to do. And that's how I felt. Do I keep pushing and go for more, however ludicrous that sounds? Do I switch to control and dominate possession? Do I sit back and hit them on the counter? I got caught betwixt and between, with what started out as a thumping turning into a nervy 3-2 victory. Crucially then, points secured but some underlying anxieties revealed, hinting at a long standing lack of self belief. The fun wasn't over though. The very next game was a Champions League quarter final with Juventus. Pre-match, a news reporter asked me how I fancied our chances of scoring, given that Buffon hadn't conceded in 5 games. It was a stark reminder of how little I involve myself in the wider gaming world. It never occurred to me to scout out the opposition. I barely even glance at the pre-match opposition reports or pore over heat maps, average position charts, strength and weakness reports or any of the other myriad support options available. As for the game itself, we quickly found ourselves a goal down, van Dijk somehow conspiring to injure himself whilst conceding a penalty. After 24 minutes it was 2-0 as Higuain converted. But then something interesting happened. I had noticed from watching the match that Higuain was getting far too much space in behind my defence. And so I dropped the defensive line back a notch. I was slightly worried about isolating my forwards but I had to react to the threat. The benefits came almost immediately, Firmino scoring after 30 minutes to get us back in the tie. Just after the break, he hit another and then unbelievably completed his hattrick after 76 minutes. The 2-0 win in the return leg at Anfield was as routine as they come and so not only were we top of the league and 5 points clear, we were into the Champions League semi. Oh, and guess who we drew in the next round. Yep, you guessed it. Man City.
  5. My Mind To Your Mind One of the features of my recent attempts to play FM is the sense that I need to rush to a conclusion. Playing as Liverpool, this has been more pronounced, perhaps understandably so. With the new season now underway, I have in the past felt a need to 'catch up' on and overtake real life. Even when I played as Eastbourne or Hastings, where real life becomes irrelevant, I felt a compulsion to get to the end of the season, the driver no longer a sense of being behind the times but rather a need to know if I would meet my target. Or, to put it another way, whether I was a success or failure. Such would be my obsession in such saves that I would find excuses to play whilst the children were around, I would forsake future transfer dealings, lost in the obsessive compulsion to find out the final result. Strangely then I feel no such compulsion in this save. Despite managing my favourite team, despite behind behind real life and despite being top of the league, I am comfortable with my rate of progression. This is the very definition of mindfulness. Rather than looking to the future or ruminating on the past, I am simply enjoying being in the moment. Each game is a joy to play through. Each tactical tweak that secures a win is a victory in and of itself. Honestly, I don't know how much more FM I'll play beyond this season. The game simply takes up too much time for me to play anything else and I have commitments I want to meet for VG Almanac. But I'm okay with that. It took me a while but I've really enjoyed this save. I have conquered some tactical demons, dismissed some preconceptions and reminded myself that whilst plans are fine in theory, there is no substitute for getting amongst it and learning on the job. Right. 7 games left. Next match up, City at home. Win and we go 5 points clear, lose and they go top. Our run ins are similar, although a trip to the Emirates will be tricky for us whilst Juventus await in the Champions League quarters. Let's have some fun.
  6. Comeback Kings Okay, I need to talk about this game. After 4 straight wins, we somehow conspired to get dumped out of the FA Cup by Watford, a team we had just thumped 4-1 in the league, in one of those 'only in FM' scheduling coincidences that sees you face the same side in consecutive matches. Against this context, we headed to Ukraine to face Shaktar, a capable but beatable opponent. After a dire first half we found ourselves trailing, a second half away goal giving us just a glimmer of hope in a 1-3 defeat. The Carabao Cup final followed, a lethargic start giving way to a fine 3-0 win, the first of another 4 straight wins. And then came the return leg with Shaktar. And blimey, what a match. We raced into a 3-0 half time lead with goals from Henderson, who both started and completed the counter, Firmino and Mane. We had done it, we were through! But straight after half time they struck and then to our horror, we conceded a penalty, converted by how-is-he-still-playing Darijo Srna. Disaster. 4-5, we were going out! But the fun was only just beginning. Nabil Fekir struck his first of the night on 54 minutes to make it 5-5, leaving Shaktar with the advantage of away goals. He then struck his second on 61 minutes, neatly converting a penalty to make it 6-5, then completing his hattrick on 72 minutes, coming after Firmino's second on 68 minutes. From glory to disaster and back to glory, we were through with a whopping 7-2 victory on the night and an incredible 8-5 victory on aggregate. Mind The Gap Elsewhere we remain top of the league, still 2 points clear of City. Since we turned them over in the first semi of the Carabao, they drew with Arsenal and have then set off on an incredible 12 game winning streak. Thing is though, we are matching them. Discarding cup games, we are unbeaten since City bested us in November, dropping points in just 3 draws since the turn of the year, with 6 PL wins on the spin. With bottom placed Burnley next, the big match comes after that when City come to Anfield in a match that really could decide the title. Whatever happens I must be pretty pleased with how things have gone. At the same time, I'm gunning for glory.
  7. February 2019 January was a busy month but as we head into February we remain on course for a successful season. A 0-0 draw at Old Trafford was a reasonable point, followed by two cup success; a 4-1 victory at Sheffield Utd and a 1st leg win over City in the Carabao, 3-1. Disappointing draws followed with Chelsea and Bournemouth, the disappointment in part due to my side's total inability to score penalties. A defeat to City follows in the return leg but at 3-2, it's enough to send us through to the final, where we will meet Spurs. The 4th round of the FA Cup sees us dish Reading for 6, followed by 5-1 and 3-0 batterings of Swansea and Spurs respectively. With 26 played we're now 2 points clear of City in 2nd. I'm getting nervous that they'll overhaul us and I worry what that will do to my enthusiasm for the save if they do. I must remind myself that we were never favourites and this remains a great season. Plus, we're really bloody good! I enter matches with the expectation of winning, with some victories achieved after I took charge and made tactical tweaks. My go to strategy in away games is to start with an attacking mindset and then after 10-15 minutes, switch to standard. I'm still tweaking the roles to get the best out of people. I can't help but feel a sense of failure in not quite eliciting from Mo Salah his real life form. It is interesting though that my first thought is that it is something I am doing wrong, reinforcing the negative view I hold of my own ability. Perhaps replicating his real life form was never likely. Perhaps his digital self is not a 100% true likeness of his real world self. Sure, perhaps there are tactical changes I can make to get more out of him but would that potentially serve to unbalance other parts of the team? A team, I might add, that is currently top of the league and still in every competition we entered. And hey, the guy has the second best average rating in the league, the most man of the match awards, 8th best goals return and equal 4th best assist stats. I think he's doing ok.
  8. January 2019 Happy new year! We enter uncharted territory in FM18 as I make it past Christmas and into 2019 and there is lots to report on. With 21 games played we sit on top of the pile with 16 wins, 4 draws and a solitary defeat to Man City. Our 43 goals scored is bettered only by Arsenal whilst only Chelsea can beat our 11 goals conceded. Somehow we are 6 points clear of City in 2nd and a whopping 15 clear of 5th placed Arsenal. Champions League qualification at this stage appears a certainty and we are in pole position for a tilt at the title. Elsewhere Man City await us in the semi final of the Carabao Cup whilst a trip to Shakhtar beckons in the UCL knockout round. Our cup exploits are rounded out by a visit to Sheffield United in the FA Cup. Our recent form has been exceptional. Our sole league reversal to City has been followed by (to date) a 10 game unbeaten run, including 7 wins on the spin. Our last game was a 4-0 rout of Brighton, which was a particularly impressive team performance. After an early season dry spell Roberto Firmino has hit 10 league goals whilst also providing 7 assists. Salah meanwhile can match Firmino's goal output whilst also contributing a further 5 assists, his total goal output across all competitions increasing to 18 in 24 starts. Elsewhere Oxlade-Chamberlain continues to impress, either as a central midfielder or out wide, contributing 6 goals and a mighty 11 assists. Nabil Fekir is equally dangerous, chipping in with 9 goals and 7 assists. At the back, Alisson has been a strong acquisition. Although not particularly reflected in his average rating, he has made some crucial saves. Van Dijk has been quietly consistent whilst all our fullback options have lodged healthy match ratings. Tactics Whilst sticking to the 433, I have tinkered with the roles to try and get the best out of everyone. I like to play with 3 attacking duties and struggled to understand where to put them. I started with Salah and Mane attacking from wide and one of the midfielders given an attack duty, then switched the midfield attack role to Firmino. I have now switched to make the wide left player a support role, with the striker, wide right and one centre mid role on attack. I think this offers me some variety and potentially offers me some greater flexibility in terms of roles. Interestingly having actually got underway with the save I have completely ditched my hesitation over using inverted wide players. I may still end up with a traditional winger on one side but I am all in at least one of my wide roles cutting across the box to create scoring opportunities. Yep, things are going pretty well. It's just that... Anxiety Diaries ...Salah is scoring but he isn't anywhere near replicating his real life form. I still don't quite know how to set his role so that he starts out wide but offers a central attacking threat. I feel like I'm underserving him... I also feel like I am micro managing every game. It will take me a month to get through a season at this rate. Is there any prospect of a long term save? When is it ok to let go and just play? ...I remain terrified of transfers. The scouting system has been rejigged for this version and I don't really get it yet. True to form, faced with something I don't understand I have turned my back on it, hoping it will go away. I understand that the only way to slay this demon is to confront it but for now I am intent on managing us to glory, which brings me back to my concerns over micro management... ...Similarly I worry about the size of my squad next season. Will I have the mettle to sell players and overcome my fear of 'getting it wrong?'
  9. Well, this hasn't exactly gone as planned. After the last update, I contrived to switch off the save just a couple of games later. I then conspired to start over at least a dozen times, switching arbitrarily between 4231, 433 and 442. I even decided at one point to chuck it all in and start as Eastbourne in an attempt to replicate my FM14 LLM success. Ultimately though I wanted to succeed here, with Liverpool. As noted above, the numerous restarts are not down to form. Indeed in several instance I gave someone a pasting, including last time out a 6-3 hammering. Instead it kept coming down to this ridiculous notion of how I should line up and what it said about me if I did it this way vs that way. Given the lack of material progress, I was loathe to update with just more of the same indecisiveness. Finally then I have a save worth reporting on. Approaching November we find ourselves top of the league with 7 wins and 2 draws from 9 games, 2nd in our UCL group and into the 4th round of the League Cup. We've scored in every game so far (bar one pre-season game, which I'll get to in a minute) and haven't conceded in 3. Just the one loss to date, a bizarre 1-4 battering by CSKA in a UCL qualifier, which we avenged with a 4-0 home leg to qualify. Tactically, I eventually settled on a 433. It still feels strange not using 4231 but I had to balance out 1) how to best utilise Salah, my best player, and 2) what I was looking for out of a formation. It was funny, watching actual real life football yesterday, I became frustrated at wingers who cut inside looking to score instead of going wide and crossing, which feeds into my like of 4231 or 442. On the other hand, I love attacking moves where your team swarms the box with bodies, which is better achieved with a 433 and inside forwards. Plus when watching Liverpool batter West Ham yesterday, I had to get me some of that. I am rewarded with Salah scoring 13 in 13 across all competitions, ably supported by unexpected successes such as Oxlade-Chamberlain, a revelation as a Mezzala. There have been some changes throughout the season but these are a natural part of development. I'm not sure of the best combination of roles in midfield and these may in any event change once Keita joins next season. Regardless, it just feels good to get going. Anxiety Diaries ... As the new season starts I become more aware that I'm falling behind. There is a sense that I have to catch up and overtake real life, which in turn feeds this need to play all the time. ...This in turn fuels the anxiety of continually restarting as I simply never get anywhere. I haven't played any other games in weeks. I have obligations for writing game reviews elsewhere. I think about it in the middle of the night. I think about it in the car and with the kids at the park. This isn't sustainable. ... Midway through the first league match I realise that I accidentally left my mentality on standard instead of attacking. Is that why we drew that game 0-0? Should I start again so as to correct this error? ...I don't, because that would be dumb. Not that it has stopped me before. ... I still worry that I don't really 'get' 433. I don't yet understand the combinations of roles and duties. it feels like there are too many gaps across the pitch and I don't know how to close them all. I must remind myself that this is the challenge. Gone are the days of football management games of yore where a 'defender' referred to anyone in the backline. This is a simulation of modern football with the myriad options that throws up. That's kinda the point. ... I wonder what the point of this all is. Why do I play? What's the end game? Then I realise. It's because, when I finally let myself play, when I finally allow myself the freedom to make mistakes, to learn, to develop and grow, there is no greater game. I bloody love it.
  10. Left. No, Right. No, Left. Aargh, We've Crashed! Man. It's my 4th post, almost a week since the 1st and guess how far we've got? Yep, still in pre-season. Why? Because I've quit and restarted more times than I can count. Let me take you through the wretched history... I decided that my 4231 with inside forwards was becoming too complicated and wanted to go back to something simple. So I switched it off. After thinking about it all day at work, I decided to go with a 442. Salah would go up top and it would create a BBM role for Keita next season. I won a couple of pre-season games and went to bed happy. Next morning I woke up and had changed my mind. I had to play 4231 or 433! So I switched off. I started agin, only to accidentally give Rhian Brewster a contract worth £16k instead of £1.6k. So I switched it off. I booted up a new save, only to find Steven Gerrard was once again a 3 star rated coach. Seeing as how I hadn't got anywhere yet, I switched it off. Next time round Gerrard was 4 star rated but wait! Now my fitness coach had gone down to 3 stars! So I switched it off. I loaded again. This time Gerrard was 4 stars, my fitness coach was 4 stars and so I got going. But then the Qatar World Cup was moved to Argentina instead of Australia. It had been Australia on my first save. It should always be Australia. I didn't want it to be Argentina. So I switched it off. I loaded again and found Gerrad with 4 stars, my fitness coach with 4 stars but then remembered that when I started the save, I didn't make a point of looking at the number of leagues loaded to make sure I selected England down to Vanarama North / South level, even though I do it on auto pilot and could check it in game. And so I switched off. I then loaded, quit, loaded for about 45 minutes, desperately trying to find a combination of 4 star coaches, only to eventually realise that I was looking at the wrong coach and that he had always been 3 stars. Phew, what a waste of time. You can see from this how hard it is for me to make any serious progress. None of these were rage quits due to poor form, they were obsessive, black and white, all or nothing thinking. I was aware that I was doing it but was either unable or unwilling to stop it. I simply had to indulge these thoughts before I could allow myself to proceed. Finally then I have a save up and running. After thinking long and hard, I have gone back to the 433. I had to be honest with myself and realise that I actually don't have a favourite formation. I have used 4231 because that's what Rafa did. I fall back to 442 because I'm English. But when I think of what I want from a formation, I want bodies in the box, attacking runs and goals, with the security of a defensive beast. 433 ticks a number of those boxes. Time to leave Rafa in the past and be more like Klopp. First game is again against Hastings. We win 4-0, a considerable drop off in scoreline. However we create a lot of chances, just don't convert them, and I like the type of football we are trying to play. Second game sees a poor performance as we fall to defeat to Ajax. It's disappointing but I am determined to ride this out for 10 or so games before making any rash decisions. Recruitment Scouting and player recruitment generally causes me anxiety as I don't back myself to a) identify the right targets, and b) get value for money. The real life recruitment by Klopp this season has been exceptional but this throws up another anxiety - if I copy Klopp, am I really my own manager? Ultimately I decided that I will be by the time I get to seasons 3, 4 and 5 and in the meantime I will use real life as a scouting tool. With that in mind, Nabil Fekir joins (in part because of the Steam achievement unlock, in part because he's good) and I decide to go for the jugular and recruit Alisson Becker from Roma. He's an immediate upgrade on both Mignolet and Karius and his signing represents a far bolder move than I would usually look to make in the first season.
  11. Assume The Position Okay, let's just explore this whole Mo Salah thing because it risks taking over my FM18 experience. Right the way back to CM 93/94 my games have become dominated by an obsession over the performance of individuals within my Liverpool saves. First it was Robbie Fowler, with many a save restarted because he didn't score enough, his rating was too low or he didn't get capped by England. Then it was Steven Gerrard, entire saves built around trying to get the best out of him, the assumption always that if he was performing poorly then there must be something fundamentally wrong with my tactic because he was the best player in the country. With FM17 it was the turn of Coutinho and now with FM18 I face the same dilemma with Salah. With Salah there are multiple thoughts competing for attention. Given his incredible form last season there is an inherent desire to want to replicate it in-game. To do this, you would assume an inside forward role at AMR would suit. On the other hand, what if he doesn't match up? Is my tactic a failure? Is it then even worth me trying? But if I don't, am I throwing away my best player just through fear of failure? On the other hand (and indeed the other wing), if I play him at AML I settle a few issues. First, he is on his 'correct' foot which means for my little Englander, non-tactical brain, he can hit the byline and whip a cross in for the traditional centre forward. Equally if I play him at AML he can be my John Barnes, a childhood hero, rampaging down the left as both a scorer and creator of goals. Finally if I play him at AMR it means playing Mane at AML. Mane for my money is best suited on the right, using his pace to hit the byline and so by indulging Salah I am pushing another player out of position. But then I come all the way back round to the thought, yeah but am I damaging Salah's prospects if he's not at AMR? When I did give in and play him as an inside forward I wasn't impressed with the results. He didn't seem to get involved in play, didn't get in the box enough and the full back didn't overlap. I considered trying a Ramdauter role but I don't like to create roles bespoke to players, I like a base tactic that I drop people into. I must remind myself though of the need to remain flexible. Deciding on a tactical plan does not mean I am stuck with it forever. Unbelievably part of me feels that even the slightest tactical tweak means I must restart from scratch, completely missing the point that pre-season, and indeed the game itself, is a continual opportunity to learn and change. For now then I have made the switch with Salah coming over to AMR and Mane to AML. This in turn has prompted me to adjust some other roles. Firmino switches to a supporting striker whilst Fekir at AMC becomes a supporting playmaker. The supporting full backs are upgraded to wing backs on 'Auto' so that I benefit from their overlapping runs on an attacking strategy. With playmaking duties moved to AMC, Henderson becomes a BBM role with Can picking up the DLP role with defend duty to link midfield and attack. It's a system that should fit Keita next season, albeit some positions may switch around. I've also toned down both tempo and pressing, two options I uplift on autopilot without thinking through a rationale. It's nice to make changes. It reminds me that I can and opens me up to making more. Once I build some confidence I hope to make second and third formations, building a 433 as a back up, even transitioning into it if I ultimately feel it works better. I feel a burgeoning sense of freedom at letting go of some of my preconceptions.
  12. On Second Thoughts... Well that didn't last long! Having got my head round the 433, I played my first game against Hastings. Again we ran out 7-0 winners, Salah helping himself to a couple, Firmino assisting 3 and decent ratings across the board. However I grew concerned early on that we weren't creating much. Using this save as the learning experience it is intended to be I put highlights on full match to see what was going on. What I found was that my wing backs weren't getting up the pitch and beyond my inside forwards, leaving the 2 wide attackers isolated. Instead of cutting in field and becoming extra strikers like I wanted, they were remaining wide. Indeed Salah, although he scored a couple, made his most meaningful contribution via crosses to Firmino. What's the point in that? If he's going to cross he may as well be on the left and use his strongest foot. This isn't what I want. I basically have 2 choices at this point. I can persevere and work through these issues or I can just say screw it and go back to 4231. Um...guess what? Yes that's right, it's back to 4231. I feel a little foolish after having made such a thing of switching formations but hey, it's my save. The point is to have fun. I also don't want anything I write here to be a burden on what I do in game. The purpose blog is to help me explore mind traps, not to weigh me down with some self inflicted burden. A quick reload later (by the way I say 'quick' but there is a routine I have to go through. Every time I restart I delete my save game and my tactic and repeat the whole process again, right down to editing my manager profile and resetting my social media links. It's part of a cleansing exercise and something I've done all the way back to CM 93/94. It's almost a punishment, an acknowledgement that I've been foolish, stupid (labelling words) and therefore I must pay this penance. It's an OCD trait, a term I do not throw around lightly) and we're back with a 4231 save. Playing Hastings again we run out 8-0 winners. General performance is about the same with Salah again grabbing a couple. Firmino impresses with 4 goals and a 9.8 rating. Although from the outside in it probably doesn't look much different, it feels different to me, better. Despite my reservations around certain roles, especially next season when Keita joins, I think I just prefer this. I must though remember to retain flexibility and change roles, duties, tempo, pressing, positions and even whole formations as my time with the game goes on and I see patterns emerging. Oh and just out of interest, our second game of preseason is against local side Bootle. We smash them 10-0, Ben Woodburn hitting 4 and getting a match rating of 10. He's a bit good, huh? Interestingly he's right footed, playing on the left. You know, like I don't want to do with Salah... Anxiety Diaries ...my pre-season report shows my projected line up with Salah starting on the right and my heart sinks. I've got it wrong! Surely he has to start at AMR? Then again, the line up sticks Milner at right back instead of TAA, so... ...I decide to look at the Under 18 coaching for the first time and see Steven Gerrard only has a 3 star rating for various coaching disciplines. I wonder if his skills are randomised and whether I can improve them by restarting... ...In one of my first saves I bought Nabil Fekir, unlocking the Steam achievement of buying my first player. I therefore feel a compulsion to buy him again so as not to make this unlockable a lie... ...Scouting feels overwhelming so far. It has changed significantly from FM17 with packages available to unlock knowledge of different parts of the world. I don't get it yet and so my inclination is to run away from it and ignore it... ...Similarly training. I don't know what I'm doing. Should I use fitness training? Cohesion? At what intensity? What's all this match preparation gubbins? Maybe I should leave it to my assistant. But then am I really managing?
  13. Readers of either of my previous blog series may remember how I used my time with FM to explore various facets around mental health, particularly in how the game both triggers and aids my experiences with anxiety. After struggling to get much further than August of the first season in FM18, I thought it was time to revisit the format. As before then, this will be less about results and trophy hauls (although I’ll hopefully have plenty of those) and more a running commentary of the various mental challenges the game throws up for me, however petty they may seem. Here We Go Again… I had expected FM17 to last me a good couple of years. The plan was to get a long term save on the go, skipping the annual instalment cycle. Sadly my save never really got going. Starting out as Liverpool I felt overwhelmed. A change of scene to Eastbourne brought back echoes of my successful FM14 save with Sutton but a panicked resignation soon saw me floundering. From there, I flip flopped endlessly, caught in a loop of Liverpool-Eastbourne-Liverpool-Hastings-Eastbourne-Liverpool-Hastings. Finally my creaking PC had enough of my seemingly endless procrastination and gave up the ghost. A 40th birthday present delivered a new rig and, as if sensing my new found powers of processing, Steam saw fit to slash FM18’s asking price by 66%, neatly rounding out the last of the birthday money. This time round I was certain. I want this to be a Liverpool-centric save. I wasn’t interested in replicating Jurgen Klopp per se but I would happily take influences where they fit my own philosophies. But as it turns out, this is where the problems started… Line Up Everybody, Line Up Oh it should be so simple (‘should’, a word I’ll come back to). Ask any Liverpool fan how to set up the current team and you’ll likely get a similar answer. 433 with Salah cutting in from the right, Mane from the left and Firmino up front. The midfield 3 can be rotated whilst anyone worth their salt will look to bring in a centre back and a goalie. Yep, pretty straightforward. Right? Trouble is, I’ve never played 433. Since the days of Rafa, I’ve only ever played 4231 in the Premier League or 442 lower down. I don’t really get 433. No problem of course, every day is a new opportunity to learn. But here we encounter our first of many petty anxieties. When you set up a manager you are prompted to enter your favourite formation. It is entirely arbitrary, other than setting it as your starting grid on the tactics screen and influencing the opening journalist questions. Play for long enough with a different set up and it will change. Knowing the strengths of the Liverpool formation, I know it is best to play 433. But I can’t. Because it’s not my favourite formation. Saying it is would be a lie. And so I choose 4231. And having chosen 4231, I can’t very well now change my mind when the game starts and choose 433 now, can I. Okay then, we can work with 4231. Salah can still go on the right, Mane left and Firmino up top. It alters my midfield roles but it’s workable. But what’s this? Salah and Mane are cutting inside, just like they do in real life. But I don’t like wingers cutting inside, I like them playing wide, getting cross in with their strongest foot. But that means playing Salah as a winger on the left. What sort of fool plays their best player out of position on the left wing? And whilst we’re at it, Naby Keita has already agreed to join next season. He looks like an all action midfielder who would excel in a box to box role. But I’m now playing 2 in midfield who really both need to hold. Would he fit? Would I get the best out of him? Good grief, I’m worrying about fitting in a player that we don’t even have yet. I play a game anyway with Salah on the left. A friendly against my home town team, Hastings United. We beat them 14-0 with Salah grabbing a hattrick and assisting 5 more. Across pre-season he helps himself to a total of 17 goals in 10 games. All from the left wing. Blimey, eh. We start the season at the Etihad and despite my worst fears we run out 2-1 winners. This might actually work! Next game, we lose to West Ham at home. 2 games and another defeat later, I switch off having determined that my 4231 was a failure and that I was a fool to select Salah at AML. I switch to 433 for my next try with Salah at AMR. We again play Hastings, this time running out 7-0 winners. 7 isn’t as many as 14. Salah doesn’t score. This means my formation isn’t as good. I am failing my best player. This is a disaster. I switch off. Next I revert to 4231 but retain Salah at AMR. We limp to just a 4-0 win. It’s worse. I turn it off. Deciding all bets are off I move to a 442 with Salah up top. It doesn’t match his best position according to the pie chart but surely puts him in the best position to score. But it’s 442 for goodness sake. 442! Who plays that anymore? All the best players operate in the AM strata. And so I switch off. But if I play 433 then I’m going against my own football principles, sacrificed on the altar of getting the best out of one player. And that’s where I find myself after 3 weeks of loading and quitting. No real rage quits based on results, rather petty thoughts intruding on and ruining my attempt at starting a game. Fleetingly I think of switching to a non-Liverpool save before deciding that doing so means I’m not a real fan, as if my real life fandom is dictated by my FM actions. No Change, No Change Phew, deep breath. It’s no wonder I don’t get anywhere with these saves when even progressing past the manager set up screen is a victory. One of the lessons from therapy was that if you don’t make changes then you won’t see changes. These FM saves are about challenging my thinking, pushing myself into areas of potential discomfort and working through how it feels. As much as it goes against my instincts then I am going to stick with a 433, using inside forwards to cut in and supplemented by overlapping wing backs. I know it isn't exactly revolutionary in the grand pantheon of FM tactics but it still represents a pretty fundamental shift for me. It isn’t my favourite formation (yet), it rubs against my usual way of thinking. But it fits what I want to do. And hey, I can always add a winger role on one side down the line when either Mane or Salah goes, which would have the added benefit of making my attack more unpredictable. Why not just stick with the 4231 and Salah at AML if it was working? It is a reasonable question. I just can’t help but feel that it worked because Hastings (and most of my pre-season opponents) were duffers and that once I stopped playing teams the equivalent of punching bags, and instead an opponent who would hit back, my overly aggressive, overly wide strategy would crumble and leave both Salah and Mane isolated. Despite myself I still want to use it, so much so that I've changed my mind half a dozen times whilst writing this. The funny thing is, I don’t even really like 4231 that much! It leaves a gap between midfield and defence, the AM strata gets isolated from CM and the wingers go so far wide they cross from the front row. Plus I only have one natural AMC and it totally screws up how I want my midfield to be shaped, forcing me to utilise 2 holders instead of a lung busting BBM like I would prefer. Hey, why have I been using this thing? Still to Come… Formation decided, next time we’ll walk through pre season, training, scouting and why I already have an anxiety over player recruitment.
  14. Thanks for this, it's a really thoughtful post that hits on a lot of key points. It's always reassuring to find that others experience the same (seemingly) trivial anxieties that I do. Your comment on tactical inconsistencies is absolutely bang on the money. I expected this save to be liberating but in truth I think I like a club that I can dedicate myself too, which is why Sutton was so satisfying. In an ideal world Liverpool would have been relegated a division or two and I would have to rebuild them. Starting in the PL, I struggle to picture where to go with them. Back in CM 93/94 days, where each season only took a couple of hours, I could rack up 20 seasons and cycle through multiple generations of team. With FM17, each season takes me days to get through, such that I cannot immediately picture a long term save. I remain tempted to stick with Liverpool, trying to develop a youth focused game where I bring through Woodburn, Ojo et al but I worry that, with the new season upon us, I won't be able to escape the shadow of real life. Perhaps I need to just stick my fingers in my ears, say 'la la la' to the world and define the game in my own image.
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