South American Journeyman Recap #26

How do you do, guys? Welcome to a new Monday Recap on the South American Journeyman! Number 26 no less! It’s been a long journey, and I’m starting to feel like we’re gonna run out of FM20 before it finishes, but we carry on! Last time we had finished a very interesting first season at Cienciano; coming out of the 2nd Division, we managed to get a Copa Sudamericana spot. All of that certainly upped the expectations for season número dos, so let’s see how it went!

New blood

Last episode I pointed to several areas of the squad that I was looking to improve, namely the wingbacks, the centreback and the centreforward. We achieved… some of those.

I know, Jim, I know…

For a while now I’ve been using a “shadow list” system, as proposed by Guido Merry in his excellent series “La Magica – The Monchi Files”. Though I try to list by position and not by role (so as to not limit myself in terms of interesting talents coming my way), I follow a similar scheme and it has helped me take advantage of the year-long cycle of scouting, assisting me in finding the right targets for each transfer window, instead of having to hunt through a long and messy single list (or, god forbid, a the “Scouted” list of players).

It’s not a perfect system though, and it still largely depends on what your scouts bring you. I have it set it up so four scouts search through the South America East and West regions looking for either Hot Prospects or First Team Players on Expiring deals. I find it to be a good balance that helps me spot some of the big talents of tomorrow while also not missing out on any top players for cheap. It means, though, I have to sort out through whatever my scouts bring, with no position or style given particular preference. I might be dying for a centreback, but if the scouts only bring me interesting goalkeepers… that’s all I’ll get. Of course, over a long enough period of time it balances out, but this time it meant that as I went to explore my options, I found my “Wide Defenders” list absolutely empty. None of my “Wide Attackers” seemed like a good fit for a conversion so… that was it for the wingbacks! The current fellas keep the job, I guess.

My scouts got these funny burofaxes after that happened… I’ve since revamped the department so it never happens again

Scouting failures aside, it wasn’t a bad market for Cienciano. It was though, one of impulse buying… Most of my acquisitions arrived as a pre-arranged deal, but quite a few of those could hardly be justified. Let’s meet the guys…

Paulo Goyoneche and Jhon came as the much needed centrebacks reinforcements. Originally, Paulo was meant to take up the Libero role, with Jhon slotting as the left sided centreback, but with time the Brazilian has taken up the main role and moved good Paulo to a rotation spot.

From our old stomping grounds at Confiança I picked up Gabriel Novaes. I believe I had him pre-arrange to arrive just after I left for Nacional or something similar. He was a beast on my parallel continuation save (sorry), so I’m very happy with his capture. With his solid technicals and physicals, he fits perfectly into my search for a withdrawn striker.

It was all neat and tidy until these two came my way. Héctor Campos could pass as a sensible adition, as it helped me move Jairo Velez further forwards. Julián López was simply an opportunity to make a quality jump in the midfield and I took it. Was he necessary? Doubt it, but here he is…

With great power…

It’s now been 18 years since the first of the Tobey Maguire Spiderman movies appeared in the US; it was (I’d argue) my generation’s first encounter with the Peter Parker Principle, Uncle Ben’s great piece of advice. Of course, it originally appeared much earlier, on Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1962, and the concept itself can be traced back to the words of Winston Churchill before that, and William Lamb before that, and even the French Revolution, almost two centuries before Stan Lee ever put it into those precise words. But we have to stop somewhere and 2002 already feels like a lifetime ago.

That moment when you realize Tobey’s first Spiderman movie is old enough to vote

On FM, I feel, there are several instances where that principle could apply. Your movements in the market is certainly one of those instances; with a great transfer budget comes the responsibility of making it all fit together. While we hadn’t done all that many movements, with just three players leaving the club (Abarzúa sold to Cobresal for €145k, Lutiger loaned to Sport Huancayo and Carranza released), we had added a number of players, many of which I intended to make key players on the set-up.

That led to some issues. For one, the tactical familiarity of the squad dropped significantly. That is to be expected, and is also something that should be worked on every pre-season. It did not help that the pre-season in Perú is a bit of a mess. The season ends in the last week of December, even when my last match was played in late November, and the pre-season starts in late January, despite the first matches of the season beginning in mid-February. I know a part of it’s got to do with the Play-Offs being played in December… but it feels like I’m being punished for not making it, instead of getting early vacations and extra time to work on the coming season.

I’d show you, but FM deletes old calendars like an aggressive workaholic. Enjoy this andean llama instead. No relation with the youtuber, I think…

The second factor, and one that I was not so much oblivious to but rather underestimating, was Team Cohesion. I know, I know, it’s massively important. But we hadn’t really gotten it all that high as the first season we had to basically build a squad from scratch, so I didn’t shiver in panic when it dropped by a considerable chunk as our new additions made their way to the club.

However, it seems that that bit of extra performance was carrying us a long way. Our form throughout February and early March was absolutely terrible, taking us to the depths of 15th place by matchday seven. Our Copa Sudamericana first round matchup came just in time to stop the bleeding, with a massive 1-0 win over Liverpool de Montevideo, but even that wasn’t enough to prevent us from losing with the same score to León de Huanuco on the league, taking us to six matches without wins and just 6 points from seven played.

After that, we had a couple of weeks to re-adjust, so I put special focus over that couple of week’s training on building up that team spirit again. We focused on match preparation, teamwork, and extra curricular sessions. The first weekend we also battered classic rivals Universidad de Cuzco for extra feel good.

The results weren’t perfect, and our form through the rest of the Apertura remained highly irregular, but we certainly picked up the pace and got enough points to secure a 9th place on 24pts. That puts us in a far better position to assault the Copa Sudamericana (or even Libertadores) places on the Clausura, though it’s gonna be hard. Speaking of which…

Throughout the early part of the season the Copa Sudamericana has felt like a breath of fresh air in the middle of a hard season. Our success on the First Round vs. Liverpool de Montevideo aided our efforts to get back on track providing good results against tough opposition, and that was further replicated vs top Ecuadorian side Liga de Quito with a fantastic 6-1 trashing of the former Libertadores and Sudamericana winners.

It has also proved a source of much needed financial aid, with the club picking up almost €500k in prize money, with a further €330k secured as part of our participation in the 3rd Round. It has helped to maintain our balance at a steady €800k in debt, which is not a terrible number all things considered. It does, however, make pretty obvious that securing an international spot for next season is key. So what can we do to make it happen?

A tactical withdrawal

My first instinct, whenever performance difficulties arise, is to go to the tactics screen and tinker away to my heart’s content. It’s not always the best course of action, nor should (or will) every problem find a tactical solution. It’s simply the facet of the game I dominate the most, and the one I enjoy the most as well.

Don’t you hate when the stupid machines don’t do what you want… I hate that…

So, how to fix our woes? Well, my observations were as follows: 

1. We were lacking inside runners. Our 5-2-1-2 set-up was built originally at Nacional as a 3-5-2 , looking to overload deep-sitting defenses by stretching them with wingers and exploiting the gaps created with the movement of the front three. At Cienciano, however, we lacked the individual quality and off the ball movement to hurt teams this way, so we ended up hoofing the ball wide and trying harmless crosses to no end. A set-up more deliberate on finding inside runs could help us exploit the gaps created by the wingbacks.

2. We were unprepared for long stretches of counter-attacking football. Nacional was, by the time we left, the top side in the league without a doubt. That meant that out of the 15 other clubs, maybe two or three were looking to bring the match to our doorstep; the rest just sat deep and hoped for the best. Cienciano’s situation is very different, as we rely on defending and counter-attacking more often. This means we generally lack people in positions of danger from the get go, simply because the original tactic wasn’t’ set up to provide that.

3. We were attempting a style too complex for the skillset of the squad. Our Nacional style was born out of two years of work at one of the country’s top clubs. We had competent players from the get go and got to build up on that. I feel like there’s a definite progression in FM in terms of the complexity and requirements of different tactical tools. Sure, a DLF won’t act and move precisely the same as a Target Man, but in terms of the tactical complexity of the tasks required and the skillset required, I think it’s not outlandish to draw some lines. Our Cienciano tactic was trying to implement some roles our players simply did not have the skill to pull off successfully. 

This was my attempt at fixing some of these issues.

We go back to the days of the 5-3-2, while adding several key changes. On each side of the DLP we now have a Mezzala looking to compliment their WB movement. Mezs are the half-space role by definition, so they should be available for the wide player to unload the ball if no clear options appear on the box for a cross.

Up top, we switch the DLF-S/AF combo for a traditional TM-S/P duo. The idea is that A) They are far “simpler” roles to play, requiring less movement and therefore less tactical and mental stress on the players, while their more static approach places them in optimal positions for a quick counter should the opportunity arise. 

It was with this change in place and truly worked on by April that our fortunes improved. And though a bad result was never too far away from us, never letting us gather some steam and put a run together, we did manage 18 points from the last 10 matches, a much improved output, nearly a point extra on average when compared with the first seven.

As previously stated, that left us on 9th on the table. Not an ideal position, but not an unsalvageable one. On the international front, we’ve been drawn against River Plate de Montevideo, which should be an affordable challenge. With a ticket to the Copa Sudamericana QFs and a move on the qualification places within our reach, the second part of the season should be a thrilling ride…or a terrifying one; we’ll have to wait and see.

Until then, thanks for reading.

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