Having qualified for the Champions League last season, we had a good transfer kitty to improve the squad. As I said towards the end of my last blog, a few players were keen to get away. I didn’t want to have a huge squad, twenty players max, but really aiming for eighteen or nineteen versatile players. I’ll be signing players under 25 where possible. The long term aim is still to develop players, from my youth department or elsewhere if I don’t get good enough players in.
The window started with PSG making a move for Matija Nastasic. They offered me £14m but I managed to talk them up to £25.5m plus add-ons which valued the deal at around £29m. I knew that Ayhan and Kehrer were waiting in the wings, so it was a great deal for us.
I made the decision to sell Ben Yedder to AC Milan for £14.25m. Avdijaj was coming back and I really wanted to focus on growing him as a player by giving him as many games as possible. Ben Yedder had a good year but he dropped off significantly after the Winter Break so I got rid while he still had good market value.
Choupo-Moting, Uchida and Aogo all wanted to leave and I picked up £14m for all three. Sidney Sam said he wasn’t getting enough first team games, in the middle of summer, so he joined Mainz for £4.5m. Clemens was on loan at Mainz last season but he wasn’t good enough for the first team, so I sold him on as well. di Santo left in January for £17.5m and I took in Doumbia from Roma.
I only made a couple of signings for the first team along with a couple of youngsters. Kevin Volland was my primary transfer target. I had him earmarked as a support striker and I nabbed him for £26m. Only 23, so plenty of years in him. He had a great season with Hoffenheim last year when he got 15 goals and 8 assists.
I signed Gotoku Sakai from Hamburg to replace the outgoing Uchida and Aogo. My Head Of Youth signed Linus Wahlqvist and I decided he was good enough to be cover for the first team.
I signed Nikola Vlasic from Hajduk for £7m when Sam and Clemens had their deals all but wrapped up. Another versatile player who could play wide or through the middle. I spotted a young Danish regen called Thomas Dahl who looked like he could be a good striker, one for the future.
I usually start with the cup when it comes to the blog, but we’ll get to that later. The league was important. Again I set the target for Champions League qualification. I know, I know. We finished second last season, so we should aim to challenge for it this year. I’m a Liverpool fan, I’ve seen us come second and then fall away the next year far too many times. I kept expectation low this way.
Lucky I did.
We had a very iffy season. What was a strong defence totally lost their way. Clean sheets were a rarity. Only once during the league campaign did we keep a clean sheet for more than one game. We could still score, but we had to score more than they did. Our positioning was horrible, really horrible. Teams were slicing our defence to pieces. Ayhan and Höwedes looked like strangers. It was like watching the worst of the worst. I tried what I could to resolve it, eventually changing to a 4141 in the mid season break, but it didn’t help much. Our defensive frailty was there for all to see.
In the end, we managed to get 4th place, but only just. Much work required for next season.
The cup was a bit of a haven for us. We opened the season as usual with the first round, winning 5-0 against Mehring. We negotiated a 2-1 victory over St. Pauli before meeting Bayern in the 3rd round. It was a close contest, the 90minutes ended 1-1. Extra-time proved to be uneventful… that was until 120mins +2 when Leon Goretzka won the game, sending us through to the quarter finals. Victories against Braunschweig (4-1) and Gladbach (4-2) passed without incident, setting up a Revierderby final with Dortmund.
What a final it was too. Really was one of those games where you’re screaming at your computer one minute and then running round the room like an idiot a minute later.
My plan was, sit back and counter the hell out of them, something that had done us well in the Champions League. Things started badly though. Höwedes took down Aubameyang in the box after 3minutes. Berardi slotted home the resulting penalty. We were getting our fast breaks, but on 23minutes, Berardi doubled their advantage. Höwedes had now picked up an injury and had to go off. I changed my approach again and went in 2-0 down at half time.
A dressing down and a change back to counter followed. Instantly, we were back in with a shout as Volland pulled it back to 2-1. 5minutes later, Meyer equalised 2-2. I was jumping up and down in my chair.
It was short lived. Mkhitaryan took advantage of a sloppily cleared set-piece and they were back in the lead. 3-2
We stuck with the counter play that saw us score twice. I went for a double change at the hour mark, with Doumbia and Caicara coming on.
The 74th Minute came and Meyer equalised again. It was a really exciting match, end to end stuff. We didn’t have much of the ball, but that was the plan.
The next 15minutes passed without drama and I was planning for extra-time when Stefan Bell handled in the box. A 90th minute penalty. I couldn’t watch. Our penalty taking has been shocking all season. Goretzka was the nominated kick taker and at this point, captain.
Seriously started dancing round the room. Girlfriend thought I’d lost the plot, the dog was confused but stood up and joined me also.
But it wasn’t over. We gave away a free-kick just inside our half. We cleared it, Doumbia panicked and Schmelzer closed him down, released Aubameyang and it was 4-4. Extra-time. What the hell was Doumbia doing? I was shouting at him… “PUNT IT, JUST F*CKING PUNT IT!”
Tiredness had set in during extra-time with chances few and far between. Goretzka picked up a knock but had to carry on due to me using all of my subs previously. The game went to penalties. Penalty taking was our weak point and I suspected we’d lose and unfortunately, we did. Meyer missed his penalty and Dortmund lifted the cup. Great game, but heartbreaking indeed.
Considering how badly we were performing in the league, we managed to get through our Champions League group with only two wins to our name. We were horrible in the group stage. Horrible. I didn’t even think we’d qualified, that’s how bad we played. But we snuck through by one point. We beat Arsenal 7-5, which must be some sort of Champions League record (it’s not!)
I’d gotten a bit annoyed around the winter break and when we drew Man City, I knew that was us out. A 1-0 defeat at home meant that we had to go to the Etihad and win by two goals to go through. This is where the counter tactic started. It worked, it bloody worked. They piled the pressure on but two quick goals in the first half won it for us.
Chelsea were next and again, I set us up to hit them on the break. Avdijaj was on fire as we beat them 5-2. We Just had to keep it sensible at Stamford Bridge. We made it hard for ourselves though. We were 3-0 down and heading out of the competition when Kevin Volland scored an 85th minute goal to make it 6-5 on aggregate.
The semi-final against Atletico was a game that neither teams wanted to lose. It showed as the tie went to penalties. Luckily for us, they were worse than we were at them and we made it through to the final. We were only set the target of playing in the group, never mind the final!
Real Madrid were the opponents at the Millenium Stadium and after 5minutes, they put us in our place. Benzema slotted away and we faced an uphill battle. I didn’t expect us to win, I just wanted to keep it respectable. An equaliser came from Kevin Volland on the 23rd minute before Ronaldo finished the tie off on the 32nd. We played well and restricted their chances. but we couldn’t find that break we needed.
Shocking campaign that almost ended like a fairytale.
The attacking part of the team played quite well as it so happens. Avdijaj scored ten goals more than I expected he would. Volland, Sané, Vlasic and Goretzka all chipped in with a good return of goals and assists. Meyer was a bit disappointing in that respect compared to his previous effort.
Sané put in excellent performances over the course of the season and has grown in stature and ability.
We lost Ralf Fährmann early in the season to a cruciate ligament injury. I spoke with him and said “Don’t worry about your injury, when you come back, you’ll go Fährmann“
I had Wellenreuther available but I think it was a bit early to be throwing him into so many games. A shaky defence really didn’t help him much.
Really need to sort my defence out and will be reinforcing that in the summer with at least two new players. Quite happy with my midfield at the moment and I have decent options up top. I suspect one or two players will be moving on. Our tactics let us down more than our players, although the Ayhan/Höwedes partnership needs a lot of work. I’ve switched to a 4141 setup for the next season and that will hopefully give us a bit more protection.
Our U19 team is looking good and I’ve seen real signs of development from them. I’ve been tutoring the youngsters where possible.
Aims for next season are to qualify for the Champions League again and challenge for the cup if possible. I’m hoping for better all round performances, although with such a young squad, I know that will take a bit of work.
Thanks for reading