With the disappointment of two cup final defeats and a lot of poor league performances, I was left with decisions to make. Do I need new players, what players need to leave and more importantly, how are we going to sort ourselves out tactically.
The third part of that had been in progress since I switched tactic in January. I moved to a 4141 as I felt we needed cover in front of defence. We were leaking goals left, right and centre last year. It was a huge concern. You can’t go into games knowing that your back line is likely going to concede at least one goal.
I like the 4141 shape, but I was having a bit of trouble picking roles. I didn’t have a natural defensive midfielder for a start, so that was a problem. I thought having a creative DM like a DLP/D would work and it was quite disciplined at staying in the right positions, but he was pinging balls forward too often for me. Pre-season was spent ticking and un-ticking boxes until I got something workable. Still setup to counter attack but with a bit more control instead of the kick and rush which we were doing a lot of last year.
We setup like this for the new season. I did say at the end of the last blog that we were going 4141, but this is quite different to how things looked at that stage. I’ve only selected four team instructions to keep things simple.
Decisions were made and fingers were pointed pretty early on. I didn’t need a big change, just the right changes. I signed three players that were going to play in the first team and one youth player.
The backline was my big problem, so that was where the money was spent. Timo Horn (GK), Robin Knoche (DC) and Vyacheslav Karavaev (DR) were all players that instantly improved our team. Signed for a combined fee of £33m, it was good business.
I let two players leave that had zero impact on the first team. Gotoku Sakai and Seydou Doumbia. Both players were bought as cover for the team, but moved on this year.
Having made the final of this competition last year, I came into the season with the opinion that I’d quite like to win it this year. I thought I had a realistic chance and always put teams out that could win the game.
The campaign started with a 10-0 victory over Wiesbach. Hoffenheim and 1860 München were defeated 3-0 and 4-0 respectively before a tight 1-0 quarter final victory over Kiel in the quarter final.
In the semi final we faced Braunschweig, who we knocked out 4-1 in last years quarter final. It was an interesting game. We were 2-0 up after 10minutes thanks to a brace from 19 year-old Thomas Dahl. They fought back with two second half goals to make it 2-2. A 90th minute winner from Andrija Zivkovic secured our place in the final for the second year running.
Thomas Tuchel’s Hannover were the opponents in the final. It was a game that passed without incident. Robin Knoche scored the winner on the 13th minute after a corner created a penalty box scramble. We were in charge throughout the whole game with Hannover only getting one shot on target.
Pretty happy to have won the Pokal considering we fell at the final hurdle in the cruelest of ways last season.
Getting all the way to the final last year was a fluke. We won the games by breaking fast on the counter. That wasn’t the aim this year. I was aiming for the 1st knockout round this year. Anything above that was a bonus. The board agreed this would have been a good target to aim for.
Due to us finishing fourth in the Bundesliga last season, we had to go through the best placed playoff game before the group stage. Anderlecht were the opponents. A tough draw. Even though we were still working our way into the new tactic, we beat them 1-0 away before beating them 4-0 at the Veltins Arena. Group status, achieved.
We were drawn in a group with Juventus, Lyon and Legia. Again we struggled through the group. We went into the final game against Juventus needing to equal or better Lyon’s result against Legia, which we managed when we beat Juventus 1-0. Phew!
Two draws against Marseille in the knockout round put us through on aggregate. The quarter final setup a rerun of last season’s final against Real Madrid. They were far too strong and we went into the games missing a couple of key players. We lost 4-1 over the two ties to end our Champions League campaign.
We needed a big improvement in the league this year. Scraping fourth last year was uncomfortable and our fall from the top was embarrassing. I wanted to put up a bit of a fight. I wasn’t looking at a title challenge, just Champions League qualification again. Baby steps.
We got off to a false start with a defeat against Köln followed by a 0-0 against Frankfurt. Things picked up, defeat against Bayern aside, and we started to see victories and clean sheets coming at us.
Confidence boosting wins against Dortmund, Wolfsburg and Stuttgart kept the momentum going. We bounced back from defeat at Hoffenheim by putting six goals past Werder Bremen, followed by a 2-0 win over Hamburg to see us into the winter break in second place.
My teams are always slow starters to the new year. Victories over Hannover and Bayern were sandwiched between three 1-1 draws and a 1-0 reverse against Augsburg. Things picked up and we charged towards the end of the season in good form.
The league was tight as we headed into the final game. There was a point separating myself from Dortmund and a further point down to third placed Bayern. It came down to the final game of the season with any of these three teams still in with a shout. I had to win if Dortmund did, but I could win the league with a draw if they lost. I had Hamburg in the final game.
It took us a while to get into the match, but on the 31st minute, Donis Avdijaj popped up and scored to put us ahead. We just had to keep cool. Dortmund were 1-0 at Dusseldorf but Bayern were 1-0 up against Stuttgart.
We came in one up at half time. I made no changes and gave no team talk. Three minutes later top scorer Kevin Volland scored our second goal. 2-0. We were marching towards the title. I stopped looking at other results as it was well within our hands. We were in control and Hamburg didn’t look like they were in it. They didn’t even get a shot on target as we defended well.
The final whistle blew and we were crowned Bundesliga Champions. Was bloody delighted!
A bit more successful on the defensive side this year, conceding just 23. I like a tight defence, so hopefully that’s something we can improve on next year.
NOTE: Look at RB Leipzig. Bottom of the league, they finished third last season!
Kevin Volland was without a doubt, our best player last season. He featured from right midfield but was our main scoring outlet, grabbing 26 goals.
Leroy Sané chipped in with 14 from the opposite flank with Donis Avdijaj (19) and Thomas Dahl (10) being our other major goalscoring outlets.
Max Meyer proved to be the man who helped setup the most goals.
Our new signings fared well. Karavaev was particularly impressive and had our third best average rating and our second highest number of key passes. Volland regularly cut in from the right which left huge spaces for Karavaev to explore. The two linked up and were a constant danger.
Timo Horn had kept more clean sheets by Christmas than Wellenreuther did the whole of last season. He was solid rather than outstanding though as I think, defensively as a whole, we were much better.
I promoted Kai Höhn to the first team halfway through the season. He’s 17 years old, but I think he can be the long-term successor to Höwedes. He played 10 games for us, he did make a couple of mistakes, but I expected that. Nothing that cost us any games though. He’s developing well. My main concern just now is his bravery, which I hope will develop with age, and his height. Plenty of time for him to grow though.
As the season progressed, the vultures started to circle and it looks like we’ll be losing a couple of players in the summer.
Kristoffer Ajer took the huff in August and has refused to even enter into talks with me over a new contract. His one is up at the end of the season, which has greatly annoyed me, so it looks like I’ll be planning for the future without him. He had a decent season, but didn’t really contribute as much as he did last season.
Arsenal met Kevin Volland’s release clause in January. I didn’t want to let him go so I offered him a crazy deal to see out the season. I also put his release clause up considerably. Clubs have retained their interest though and with Zivkovic waiting to get his chance, I’ll likely cash in this summer. A blow, but I suspect a big profit will be in order from any deal.
Caiçara had asked to leave in January, but injury prevented that from happening, so I suspect he’ll depart. Ralf Fährmann is unhappy about being a backup and has asked to leave. I have a few goalkeepers so I’m ok with that.
I’ll be needing to replace Ajer in midfield. I don’t have anyone coming through that can really fill the void and Geis doesn’t really suit the role, so I’ll be looking for someone to fill the void. I’ll be trying to buy German though. I want to keep my number of foreigners low, unless they come through my youth system.
A full back might also be required for the left side, but I’ll be looking for someone versatile or young.
I’ll be aiming for top three next season. Still being safe with goals. If Volland does leave, that will leave a big hole to fill and I’d struggle to push for the title again. Knockout stages of the Champions League is also possible and I’ll likely put less emphasis on the Pokal until the latter rounds if we make it that far.
I’ll be promoting a couple of players from the youth team this season to bulk up the squad where possible and to give them a chance to improve themselves. I have one or two players that I think can make the step up if I manage their game time and development properly.
Thanks for reading.