I want to be happy about how the season has gone so far and, in reality, I should be but there’s just something nagging in the back of my mind about how it’s not going how I would have hoped.
Am I being dramatic? Maybe. I’ll let you make your own mind up.
DEADLINE DAY DISASTER
As always, the season had commenced but the summer transfer window had not yet been closed. I really dislike this because you can complete all of your pre-season preparations and then get hit with a dilemma out of nowhere – which is exactly what happened for me.
Following the end of pre-season, I sanctioned a further six outbound transfers without any concern. Transfers which netted us an additional £4m to add to an already overfilled transfer kitty. Then came 31st August and a bid from Real Sociedad for our last Colombian Luis Muriel. The 31 year old was keen to move and I was keen to avoid the hassle of a dressing room revolt and so he made his departure for an initial £20m (rising to £31m). I wasn’t happy about it and truthfully, I’m still not happy about it despite what happened in the months following.
I agreed deals for another three incoming signings – I’ve made a lot of signings which is something I’ll dissect later. Daniel Nachev (£4.1m from Levski Sofia) seems to be a name popping up all over FM saves right now and it’s obvious to see why. He’s a player with already very well developed attributes despite his age. Next in was a loan move for Oliver Batista Meier from Bayern Munich, the young winger was a player I’ve signed before in FM at Groningen and he comes in with an opportunity to win a permanent move if he impresses. The last signing of the summer is a “splash the cash” move for Edmond Tapsoba of Bayer Leverkusen – £45m up front seals the move for a player who will lead our defence.
I’m going to buck my previous trend and start with our European results. Faced with a group of Borussia Dortmund (again), Tottenham Hotspur and KRC Genk, I had already prepared myself for the eventuality that we might finish 3rd and drop into the Europa League. Somehow we managed to excel ourselves in Europe again and topped our group! Obviously the highlight of this was the 4-0 demolition of Spurs at home which saw a 92nd minute goal from youngster Shakur Omar. Brenner was the undoubted star of the groups with 9 goals in 6 games.
In Serie A, I predicted 10-12 points from our first five fixtures and I was bang on the money as we claimed four wins. I’m not sure what happened with the Sassuolo game as we just never really got going and 35 year old Francesco Caputo ran riot against us to score a hattrick.
We managed to put together another run of green circles, Edmond Tapsoba showing his steely determination from the penalty spot in consecutive games. We came unstuck again as Milan dropped us without much of a fight – a far cry from our last fixture against them which ended in a 5-0 win in our favour.
The Milan result must have fired the squad up as October was an unbeaten month for us. We had secured the win over Juventus before there were even 7 minutes on the clock, came from behind to beat Brescia and completed the jobs against Bologna and Parma. Cagliari are without a doubt our bogey team – this is now five league matches against them without a win. The positive side is that this is our first point secured against them.
PRE-SEASON II: THIS TIME IT’S PERSONAL
I’m probably in the minority here but I love a Winter World Cup. Only three of my players travelled for it, so most of them returned from the brief winter break refreshed and ready to go. We had a second pre-season scheduled in the training and five matches to further test our future switch to a 4-3-3. It’s far to say that it went well.
As December gave way to January so must also my chipper demanour allow the negativity to reappear. I’m sorry to bring the mood down again but January gave an opportunity for my talented squad to be raided again.
Dodo had become an integral part of my style of play since his arrival 18 months ago for £20m but when Barcelona throw £45m at you and the player wants to go then it’s hard to say no. Robin Gosens was the next to move and he joins Manchester City for £22.5m initially (rising to £32.5m) – I’m not too disheartened here for a player with 18 months left on their contract and who had already been displaced from the team by Matteo Ruggeri. Next was Tim Rönning, the Swedish goalkeeping giant, who joins Leicester for £15m which is all profit following his signing on a free just one year ago. Lastly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan moves to Al-Ain for £625k – I only signed him to please the board and he had no chance of getting into my first choice team ahead of anyone I already have so it’s a welcome deal all round.
Four signings came in to the club in January. Pedro Porro’s loan deal from Manchester City was made permanent for £14m in a panic move to ensure we had a long term replacement for Dodo. I’m not convinced Porro is anywhere near as good as Dodo but he’s capable enough for now.
The other three signings were yet more players to fill out the youth squads and a brutal attack on FC Midtjylland’s youth system. Niels Poulsen (£1.5m), Mads Jensen (£3.5m) and Yankuba Janneh (£3.5m) come to Bergamo.
Our mid-season/pre-season prep worked wonders as the season restarted. Six consecutive wins across Serie A and the Coppa Italia, which included strong statement victories over Napoli, Lazio and Inter. How great that we were also able to finally beat Cagliari! The Torino last minute winner created joy for so many reasons, not least because I bloody love an injury time winner but also as it marked 17 year old S⌀ren Knudsen’s first senior goal for the club.
The result of this incredible domestic showing means we end the Andata period of the league with a 3 point clearance at the top of the league!
SO WHY AM I NOT ECSTATIC?
We topped a difficult Champions League Group, remain in the hunt for the Coppa Italia and I’m sitting top of the table at the halfway point. I should be delighted but as I mentioned, there are just a few nagging doubts in my mind.
The turnover of players this season has been far too high for my liking. We’ve lost 8 players who were in and around the first eleven. With that being the case we’ve had to then go out and seek replacements. There’s still a week remaining of the January window and I’m expecting moves for Matteo Ruggeri, Bosko Sutalo and Thiago Almada at any moment now.
I mentioned how this could be a pivotal season and I feel it’s reflected in the transfers. This is the point where players either stay on board and propel you to being one of those heavyweights in European football or they leave while the team are riding the crest of a wave and things come crashing down around you.
I’m also concerned at our goals. With losing Luis Muriel, we’re seriously lacking in a second consistent goalscorer. Brenner leads the way this season with 20 goals in his 22 appearances and the next highest scorer is Adam Hlozek on 5. There are only four outfield players in the first team squad without a goal to date but I feel like a really successful team needs to have more players pushing to or over double figures.
Maybe I’m just trying to dampen my own expectations in case we manage to mess up this golden position we find ourselves in.
Before January ends we have Napoli at home in the next round of the Coppa Italia. In February and March we have our First Knockout Round tie of the Champions League against FC Porto.
In the league we have that fortunate opening five fixtures of the Ritorno but we end it all in May by playing three of the current top five! Just how crucial will that Inter fixture in the penultimate league game be in deciding the final destination of the Scudetto?