At the end of my last post I mentioned that I’d be looking at my coaching set up and then analysing scouting. Coaching hasn’t been overhauled yet with just one coach brought on board alongside two youth staff members and we haven’t done anything radical with scouting yet. The main focus has been an unexpected start to the season.
As I analysed the mechanics of our 4141 set-up I made minor tweaks, namely in switching the winger to the left and making our right sided midfield and inverted winger. The key to our success here has been the Deep Lying Playmaker and Defensive Midfielder.
Samir Memisovic has been a rock in DM. He manages 41.01 completed passes per 90 minutes but the pivotal stat is his 96% tackle success rate leading to 3.71 tackles won per 90 minutes. This stat alongside his 24 interceptions in 18 games has contributed massively to our fantastic defensive record this season.
Hamit Altintop has been our cool head at Deep Lying Playmaker. At 36 years old he provides us with that crucial added experience in a largely youthful side. Completing 67.65 passes per 90 minutes he has provided 32 key passes in 20 games. As our first choice set piece taker, Altintop has contributed 3 goals but more importantly a further 6 assists. For a player of his age, he covers a tremendous amount of ground which opens up so much space for his fellow midfielders to make vital runs into.
A number of contract extensions have been agreed throughout the season but I will cover that in the final post of the year. Alongside this we made ourselves active in the January transfer window, both proactively and reactively.
Firstly, I will discuss our outgoing transfers. Jannik Pohl (AMRL,STC) struggled to break his way into the first XI so we sanctioned a loan move back to his old club AaB (Denmark) for the remainder of the season. Mimoun Mahi (AMRLC,STC) was again the subject of interest from bigger clubs and it was VFL Wolfsburg (Germany) who swooped to activate his release clause of £4.8m – 6 goals and 2 assists in 16 league games will mean he will leave a gaping hole in that Advanced Forward position. The last sale was that of Sergio Padt (GK). Padt conceded 6 times in 17 league appearances, keeping 12 clean sheets and his reward (and ours) will be a £7.5m move to MLS side LA Galaxy (USA). Uriel Antuna‘s (AMR) loan was cancelled and he returned to Manchester City at our request.
The first signing was a replacement for Padt, Alessandro Plizzari (GK/AC Milan) brought in on loan for the season to make use of our affiliate link again. This was followed up with a loan move for Juan Foyth (DC,Spurs) to give us added depth in defence. The final piece of business was the loaning of exciting prospect Brahim Diaz (MC,AMRC/ Manchester City) who may well be retrained to fill the void left by Mahi at the head of our attack.
Hopes were high after claiming 3 wins from 3 prior to the summer transfer window closing but September looked like it was bringing us back down to earth with a bump. After drawing a blank against PEC Zwolle we were undone, as expected, by Ajax despite battling hard. Our KNVB Beker exit to Eerste Divisie side Roda JC can only be described as abomination but we bounced back in strong fashion to claim a victory over FC Utrecht.
Wins over ADO Den Haag and Heracles Almelo in October were expected but still satisfying. We feared the worst for PSV’s visit but holding them to a scoreless draw felt almost as good as a victory – we even had a few chances to nick the win towards the end.
A 100% record in November meant that our unbeaten run extended to 7 games! A 3-0 destruction of Feyenoord was pleasing but it should be noted they are having a particularly bad season and languishing in mid-table. Let’s keep ourselves grounded…
In the context of our season thus far draws with VVV-Venlo and FC Emmen can only be classed as poor results but wins either side of these ensured we ended 2018 as unprecedented league leaders! Post-christmas the squad were sent off on a warm weather training camp to sunny Barcelona, it’s not Dubai but it’s something.
We visited Belgium and Scotland as part of our winter break programme and collected two very pleasing victories as we experimented with 3 at the back with our new loan signing Foyth. Heracles were swept aside but a dominant performance against PSV was our result of the season so far – Ritsu Dôan in inspired form.
Such a pleasing and unexpected start to the season leaves us just a point off Ajax at the top with a game in hand. We’ve only scored 29 goals in our 18 games but have only allowed 7 against us. While I don’t place too much value on the cup competition at this stage, our early KNVB Beker exit still irritates me but when weighed up against our league form I can sleep at night.
I mentioned that I would evaluate my own league expectations as the season progressed. Given the strength of teams around me and my own previous FM record, I’m not naïve enough to believe we could actually win the league in our first season! That said, with a 10 point lead over 5th place, I would be severely disappointed if we were to drop out of contention for an automatic European spot. Four months of the season remain and the key to our season now is to see if the loss of Mahi and Padt will have any dire ramifications.