Moving into the third season, I tend to do much less transfer business. I’m now at the stage where I’m looking at my squad and thinking about how to make a difference. I’ve filled pretty much every position with a player that fits the plan.
I don’t want to fall into the trap of signing a player just for the sake of it. I also don’t want to sell a player because he isn’t playing.
So, to recap the plan. I want to sign hard working, intelligent players. I want pace in wide and attacking positions as well, but that sort of comes with the roles.
The first bit of business was brought upon me. PSG wanted Timo Horn and I had a decision to make. Horn had been excellent for me. 63 appearances with 31 clean sheets, only conceding 51 goals. He had been out a couple of times with injuries though, once for 4months and another for 6weeks. That’s a long time to be without your first choice goalkeeper. If I could get close to £30m, I’d take it. I also needed to find an exceptional goalkeeper. Something I’d previously thought about, but hadn’t really looked into too much. After a bit of negotiating, I managed to talk PSG into giving me £26.5m including clauses. A £20m profit. I now only had Mignolet, but the search for a replacement was in progress.
I’m always looking for young players, but for Horn’s replacement, I was looking for a top class keeper. Something I never usually do. I tend to buy Horn or someone of that ilk and develop them. This time, I was looking for someone who was excellent, but had years ahead of them.
I seem to be attracted to German players and after a quick filter of attributes, Marc-André ter Stegen was the man I was targeting. I thought that signing ter Stegen was a considerable upgrade and one that could improve our style. His distribution is excellent as is his ability to run out of goal. Might be time to up that Sweeper Keeper duty to support. I’ll have a think about that though.
Barcelona wanted £35m and he was keen. I paid the man and in he came. His wages are steep, but we’re rich.
Comparing them shows that ter Stegen is overall, a better player. There’s a couple of things that he falls behind in, but I think what he offers with distribution, kicking especially, is worth the swap.
The Horn deal funded most of this transfer, so I was ok with the financial side of things.
There was a couple of other transfers that just made sense as I tried to trim the squad down. Lazar Markovic just didn’t work on the right hand side. I tried him and tried him, but he just didn’t perform. I got an offer of £25m from Atletico that I accepted.
Nkoulou wasn’t getting many starts as his form dipped in the middle of last season so I sold him off to Napoli and I’ve instilled my trust in Mammana and Gomez to supplement the experience of Sakho.
Origi was sold as he didn’t fit the mould of a player I could get into my team. With Gabigol and Sturridge as my striking options, it was going to be hard for him to play.
Simon Mignolet also wanted to be let go. Lazio were offering the best deal. I had to find a backup goalkeeper, which was pretty difficult to do. I didn’t mind so much what I was getting, as long as they were decent. It would likely be someone who would stick around for a couple of seasons and then move on. I’d signed Georgi Kitanov in FM15 on a save and he did well. For the cup games, I’m sure he’ll be fine for the job.
The midfield was actually in pretty good shape. I had good options all round and the likes of Ojo and one or two other youngsters could get games in the cups. Even if I lost a regular starter, there was sufficient cover for all positions.
Or so I thought…
I hit a weird run of form, players got injured and we were just grinding out results. I was getting unhappy with some players performances. Perhaps I should have made at least one midfield signing in the summer to ruffle some feathers. I didn’t and I suffered a little bit for it. Our midfield play became a bit predictable. I needed something new.
This was something new. Lincoln, 19 years old at the time (screenshot is from the future) was bought to replace one of my midfielders. I wasn’t sure who yet, but someone was going to end up leaving. That decision was for the summer though. He joined on January first as I sorted the deal out in October. £15.25m. Will be discussed more later on.
I decided to make some tactical tweaks going into this season. There were some issues I had noticed in the previous two seasons that I thought would get better, and they did to a point, but it was getting a bit frustrating.
The direct passing was seeing us give the ball away far too much. Hoofing the ball up the pitch when better options were available left me fuming on several occasions. Sometimes those passes came off and had us in one-on-one with the keeper, but more often than not, possession was surrendered.
I first tried to just implement the Play Out Of Defence instruction. It did tame the long direct passes a little bit, but there was still too many for my liking. I removed the More Direct Passing instruction and settled on that for the remainder of the season. We kept the ball a bit better. We still passed it into dangerous areas from deep, but when it suited rather than just for the hell of it.
I watched a few games and noticed how often Coutinho was needlessly giving the ball away in the middle, so I removed his More Risky Passes instruction. His passing rate improved greatly after that. The full backs were also guilty of giving the ball away a lot so they were given the Fewer Risky Passes instruction.
With the signing of Ter Stegen, I decided to try the Sweeper Keeper Support role which worked very well at times.
We drew a lot of games either down to lack of concentration or not being able to break down the opposition. We never scored in four of the draws and conceded late in another four. Things improved as I tinkered with tactics to find the right setup.
We ended up finishing second in the league this season, 8 points behind Manchester City. We had the same goal difference, but our draws cost us dear. 12 out of the 38 ended with the points being shared. We only lost three league games all season. Everton did the double over us, winning the second game with two late goals. Le sigh! There were no real stand out games in the league. We had a couple of games where we scored five goals, but everything else was three or less. Usually quite tight games as well.
In the Champions League we were in a group with KAA Gent, Barcelona and Roma. We did get a stand out result in this competition as we smashed Barcelona 5-1 at Anfield to finish the group as winners.
We made it to the Quarter Final where we lost on away goals to Juventus who were runners up in the competition.
The League Cup was over as soon as it began, losing a penalty shoot out to Leicester in the third round.
I did say we’d take the FA Cup more seriously as time went on and I stuck to my word on that. We beat Burnley, Leicester, Man Utd, Norwich and Man City on the way to a final with Arsenal. The final was one of those games where we did everything right. Sturridge and Zivkovic fired us to FA Cup glory and gave me my second major trophy as Liverpool manager.
Next time I’ll be looking into how the tactic and team has developed for the fourth season.