Hellas on Earth

I’ve only recently picked Football Manager back up after a good couple of years away from the game. Football Manager 2016 has been my most enjoyable experience save for a couple of fun saves in Champ Man 01/02. The enjoyment has come from learning so much more about the game from the playing community. Special shout out to Ed and George from the Deep Lying Podcast who I’ve tuned into and found much inspiration from not just in their own work but their guests and community section.

I’d tried to start writing about a new save from scratch but it was difficult to cut free from my previous save. It was the most successful of my modern FM saves, getting Barnsley promoted to the Premiership from League 1, the final promotion in 2024. It wasn’t a fast ascent but it was the best I’d been able to pull together since a dalliance with FM06. It’s been a long time.

The promotion to the Premier League was slightly unexpected. We’d been top ten most of the season but 4 wins out of the last 5 saw us grab second spot. As all good unexpected promotions, the squad probably wasn’t quite ready for the Premier League. We tried to add some quality but backed the majority of the squad in to survive.

We drew first up but didn’t get another point for another 5 games.  We muddled on picking up the odd point but were never able to push out of the bottom three. A draw to Newport County in the third round showed the confidence in the squad was low. We got through the replay, however, three subsequent losses (0-2, 0-3, 0-2) saw the board pull me aside. A cup game against Premier League opposition, West Brom was going to critical.

So I was sacked. A 4-2 defeat saw the board pull the pin, but also presented an opportunity to write about a new job, rather than a new save.

I applied for a couple of larger jobs in Arsenal and Roma but didn’t have the reputation to get those jobs over the line. There were invites to League 1 interviews, but I didn’t have the interest to travel up the English leagues all over again.

I had a cup of coffee with ADO Den Haag, third in the Eredivise but after the proposed vision that they should be winning the league I asked for more transfer funds than the Board were willing to provide. Still out of work.

Hellas Verona were in the midst of a relegation dog fight in Serie A. I was able to convince the Board that I was the right course. Hellas had been a Serie A club for the previous nine seasons, the last couple had seen them slide towards the relegation places but managing to stay up.

Jumping in with seven games to go was always going to be challenging. The squad was thin with only 20 registered to play. The deficiency was in players trained at the Club. Further to that, the backup players were nowhere near match fit. A premium was to be placed on players that would be sharp and able to run out the games.

A quick assessment of the squad revealed some talent but with limitations in regards to depth, particularly in the middle of the park. Clayton, Manuel Lanzini, Juan Irtube and Filip Helander were the core of the squad. Enzo Miano a new-gen central midfielder was on loan from Juventus and was going to be critical to our chances.

A 4-4-1-1 was rolled out at home to Sampdoria, a fellow struggler. They took the lead in the 33rd minute as French national striker Fred N’Gouinda got free and nodded home. We threw everything at them but we couldn’t find a goal despite the 21 shots, 9 on target and plenty more of the ball.

We then travelled to Milan to take on Inter. They were in a different class so we switched to a 5-4-1 to try and flood the box and frustrate them. To some extent it worked as we held out until the 81st minute, 28 of those with ten men after on loan Unai Nunez was sent off, seconds after conceding a penalty. The pen was saved which made me think we’d luck out but 13 shots on target off the back of 68% possession was too much.

Two losses in a row was not the start I was looking for but we were still right around the mark with clubs like Cesena, Bologna and Sampdoria unable to put a break on us.

And I picked up my first Italian point at home to Torino. Given the available points were being to be limited we went with a 4-4-2. Torino were easily top half of the table and they were able to push us around to the tune of 62% possession. We were able to hang on a grab the 0-0 result.

The bottom of the table must have been interesting to the rest of Italy as we hit a run of three games on TV. And how we delivered the entertainment.

Away at Atalanta and they bossed the early stages, going one up inside 15 minutes but the fourth formation we had tried (4-1-4-1) started to take hold, so much so that we were able to push the full backs up to provide width. One thing I had noticed is that our wingers were focused on cutting in with Iturbe and Bahebeck leaving plenty of space to exploit.

Enzo Miano opened my account as Hellas manager taking a shot, getting it blocked and then turning and smashing home. We battered the door down until Lanzini found space in the box to blast the ball off the bar and down over the keeper in the 86th minute and we took the full three points.

The 4-1-4-1 seemed to be the strategy and we rolled it out again as we hosted Udinese. It was another classic. We went behind twice and were saved by a sub, Jean-Christophe Bahebeck. The final goal coming in some serious Fergie time at 90+4. Fist pumps were had. We split the possession but conceded plenty of opportunities to a strong opponent. So 5 points out of 9 and things were roughly moving in the right direction.

We were out on the road again and visit to Naples. Fitness began to be a concern as our options for a defensive midfielder were exhausted as Jean Marc Favre and Antonio Fiordilino were both unavailable. This forced a formation change back to 5-4-1 but with the full backs asked to bomb on. We managed the first half and then took the game away from Napoli in the first 5 minutes of the second half with Miano and Brazillian striker Clayton notching.

It was in our hands, a win in the final game of the season and we were safe, it wouldn’t have mattered what anyone else did. And for most of the 90 minutes it went to plan. We were hosting Fiorentina, a team not in danger of going down but very much lower mid-table. We held firm and for most of the game sat safely outside of the bottom three.

That was until wonderkid Marcao stepped up and slammed home a shot from outside the box on the 75th minute. At that point even a point would have been enough as, despite goal difference, our superior results against Atalanta in 17th had us safe. The last 15 minutes were horrible as we subbed on attacking options and tried to get the team forward but we just couldn’t get the goal to keep us safe.

So despite the 8th best record over the final five games, we were down to Serie B. Employed but with work to do.

Next post will focus on dealing with relegation and re-setting for hopefully a short stay in the second division.

 

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