South American Journeyman Recap #14

Hey guys, how’s it going? Sorry for the delay, yesterday was just terrible day for getting anything done for me. I’ve also struggled to play much FM, but some advancements were done on the SAJ, so let’s take a look at how’s Castolo’s first weeks at Nacional went.

Tactical woes and result lows

A problem I didn’t take into consideration when first signing with Nacional was just how close the season start was; as I commented last time, the first match came only 6 days after I arrived. This had a few uninteded consecuences, one being that players had to learn the tactics over the running season, instead of througout a nice series of pre-season matches. Some of them are even learning completely new positions.

The main issue is Nacional’s squad complete lack of quality wingbacks (or fullbacks for that matter). My four wingmen are wingers being slowly converted to a new position, with no other players offering solid alternatives. As they’re the only real wing players in my set-up, I priorize crossing, dribbling and passing when looking for wide players for the back 5, with their defensive duties falling slightly behind on the pecking order, but none of the available fullbacks had a crossing ability better than 9 (other than Oscar de Marcos who sits at a less than fascinating 11 and no longer posseses the physicals to play the position).

Leandro Añasco, arguably one of the best prospects of the squad and Nacional’s best fullback. Also, a terrible attacking fullback.

As such, I figured sooner rather than later I was gonna have to teach these fellas to simply play the position for which they “counted” for me as it was too late in the market to pull a Guardiola and go fishing for a brand new set of WBs. I knew from the get go that it wasn’t gonna be quick, but I estimated that the overall quality of the squad compared to the rest of the tournament was gonna be enough to pull us through the rough, but the season hasn’t exactly been smooth sailling.

After the draw at Fenix came a mind-numbingly boring 0-0 vs. Boston River at the Centenario, and an absolute yawn-fest at the Gran Parque Central vs Montevideo Wanderers were we lost 0-1 and got no clear or half chances despite mustering 7 shots on target. Something was clearly not working.

After that my inner tinkerman could not hold back any more and I started the eternal touching and retouching of the tactic. I even sat down, wrote all of my players into a sheet of paper, looked what could be achieved, what was best, planned their movement, their shape, everything… I arrived at a 5-2-3 where the wingers cut inside an the sole striker became a Trequartista. With that we managed to FM the Defensor Sporting manager to death with a 3 to 1 win where we got 4 shots. So not exactly the best of starts but at least a win.

Continental debut and going strikerless

Next up came the Copa Libertadores debut. Back when we started this adventure, winning South America’s top club competition was the ultimate goal, so appearing there out of nowhere feels a bit…unearned. Nonetheless, it was a magical moment and I set to enjoy it…

Oh, dear…

Rivals were Campeonato Paulista giants Corinthians, who earned their qualification by finishing 5th in the 2021 brazilian Serie A, and one of two paulista sides in our group, the other being Sao Paulo. Libertadores giants Independiente de Avellaneda, who have been to the last two finals winning in 2020 and losing in 2021, completed the group.

Our Copa Libertadores debut… Who’s nervous? I’m not nervous! You’re nervous! Stop it!

Now, Nacional isn’t exactly predicted to rock to boat on the international level, and after 6 six without a local title (Peñarol have claimed the Campeonato Uruguayo every year since 2017), it’s not looking like this will be our year. Still, the board expects us to be competitive, whatever that means, and I would like to at least pull some upsets, claim a 3rd spot and maybe launch a Copa Sudamericana campaign.

Sadly, the Corinthians match went all too familiar. We struggled to gain any sort of control over the match, with the brazilians all dominant, but failing to turn that into an advantage on the scores. A 39th minute penalty gave them the lead but after a second part consisting of much the same, it looked like a lucky corner goal would help us steal a draw. No worries, we dropped it all with the finishing line in sight as they scored three goals in the lapse of the last 10 minutes. Luckily, a 5-2 Sao Paulo win over Independiente meant we’re only last on goals scored, but last nonetheless….

That was followed by a very underwhelming 1-0 win vs Cerro Largo. They had complete control of the match, having more and better chances, but once again we were left off the hook by an early corner goal. The problem seemed to stem from a lack to take control of the ball. I have had the same issues with the 5-2-3 so I was expecting a level of complications, but we were all over the place. Once again, I began tinkering.

Drawing from what I had read from Seattle Red’s and the guys at From the Cheap Seats and of course Guido‘s articles at Strikerless, I figured…

From a set-up standpoint it makes sense. Rodriguez, probably our best striker/offensive player is an AM, and dropping him there gives us an extra man in midfield, plus creates a space for the IF-A to attack mercilessly. A similar decision stopped the bleeding at the win vs Cerro Largo, so I’ve put it to full action. It is still to be tested, but to be honest if this doesn’t work I’m not sure what will. The tinkering has to stop at a point and as the season goes on it starts hurting our chances for the second part of the season (if we ever make it that far, as our contract ends the 30th of June, halfway through the season).

The rest of March is looking like a make or break part of the season, with 2 more Copa Libertadores matches that could put us in a good position to achieve our goals or get us effectively eliminated, and a duel with current 3rd placed Danubio. If things don’t go our way, we could quickly find ourselves looking for a new destination. I guess we’ll find out soon.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Published by fromero92

Argentinian writer and journalist

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