So in the end, things sort of fell apart toward the latter part of last season but we still managed a more than respectable 4th place finish! As we head into season two I feel that there are two key things to address: keep expectations realistic and fix the problems that led to our poor run of form post-winter break.
Expectations – The board want a top half finish while the media predict 8th place for us. I’m wise enough to know that last season’s start was a bit of a freak occurrence and I don’t expect the same this year round. I will be happy to see us push on in the top half even if that means dropping back to 8th from our 4th place finish.
What were the problems? Well, as I explained at the end of my last post, part of this was down to our failure to bring in a goalscorer when Mahi left. This is something I feel I have addressed now.
We were alloted a transfer budget of £5.47m with our wage budget boosted to £155k/week, a significant increase on last season’s budget of around £88k/week.
Before we even touched our transfer budget we sealed moves for 5 players on loan: Juan Foyth (DC/Tottenham Hotspur), Tim Handwerker (ML/FC Köln) and Brahim Diaz (MC/Manchester City) all returned for a second spell. Further moves were also agreed for Isaac Mbenza (STC/Montpellier) and Iver Fossum (MC/Hannover 96). Luis Machado (MRL) signed on as a free agent. Bruno Varela (GK/Benfica) cost us £875k. Christophe Hérelle (DC/OGC Nice) and Simon Makienok (STC/FC Utrecht) represented our biggest outlays at £1.5m and £1.7m respectively.
Varela comes in to become our first choice goalkeeper following the sale of Padt alongside Begois’ retirement. Milan loanee Plizzarri could not be convinced to stay for another season. Makienok and Mbenza offer us very different options up top with Makienok more of a static target man while Mbenza is an athetic player adept at taking the ball on at this feet. Fossum provides us with more pace from the midfield while Machado while challenge Handwerker and Ritsu Dôan for either of the wide midfield slots. Diaz and Foyth give us strength in depth in key areas, Foyth giving us the option to push a 3 man defence when the time is right.
Loans out were sanctioned for fringe players Julian Chabot (DC/Fortuna Sittard) and Tom van de Looi (MC/Cercle Brugges) who both certainly will make our first XI at some point but just not at this stage. 19 year old Antonio Manolache (DC/Petrolul Ploiești) was also loaned out to give him the opportunity of first team football while we decide on his future.
We went on a Scandinavian tour to test ourselves against sides that were deemed to be of a similar reputation, in all honesty we did not perform well and were lucky to not have lost all 3 fixtures. A surprise win against Bilbao showed what we are capable off before comfortable victories over lower standard opposition. Pre-season was a bit of a fact finding mission with so many new players (only Mbenza and Fossum were late additions to the squad and did not feature in pre-season).
Ajax was never going to be an easy introduction to the season but we performed admirably and perhaps deserved more having been 2-1 at one stage. The same could not be said for matches against sc Heerenveen and Excelsior where 2-0 losses possibly even flattered us. Some tactical and personnel changes were made prior to the ADO Den Haag game where we secured a deserved victory and our first points of the season.
FInding the issues and fixing them
As I mentioned there were changes made prior to the Den Haag game. We had not performed well in the previous two matches and having conceded 8 goals in 3 games things threatened to spiral out of control.
Toward the end of last season I made the decision to change our right back to a Wing Back (Attack) to try and add an extra attacking force that would remedy our lack of goals. This had the opposite effect and, as you can see, led to us conceding goals from crosses down that side.
The solution was simple: we go back to a Full Back (Support) in this position and sacrifice the potential attacking intent in favour of much needed defensive stability. Alongside this we dropped Altintop back to DM as the Deep Lying Playmaker with new signing Iver Fossum filling in at CM as a Box to Box Midfielder – Samir Memisevic the unlucky party to make way. There was also a debut for Isaac Mbenza, scoring in his first game for the club. Juan Foyth made way for the more experienced te Wierik.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating, or rather the post-match analysis in this case. Of the 9 crosses Den Haag attempted 1 went straight out of play and the other 8 were intercepted. Maybe not a direct result of the role change for Zeefuik but no doubt we made their breaks down the left wing less effective with 5 of the 8 crosses attempted from that side.
It’s been a difficult start to this season but the ADO Den Haag result showed there is light at the end of the tunnel. Last season I got carried away with our overachievement in the league and neglected the necessary changes I wanted to make to our staff and scouting assignments. I’ve made the first steps in overhauling the coaching staff which I will discuss in my next post. Scouting is definitely next on the agenda before the Winter transfer window – although having already made 9 signings this season I anticipate a quieter January for Groningen.
If you have any thoughts on where else I might be going wrong with my tactical set up I am keen to hear them. Perhaps a move away from the lone striker system is needed?