Last year was a big step for us, we made huge progress in the league, winning 26 games and finishing only 9 points behind eventual champions PSG. There were some frustrations as well, being knocked out of Europe in the group stages and obviously going out of the domestic cups early on. We did however, qualify for the Champions League for the first time.
This year, I’m again aiming to get into that top three positions. We’ve got the best placed playoff to get through to the group stage of the Champions League which would be great for the club due to the financial benefits it would bring.
As good as we were last season, I felt we needed improvements in midfield. If the right players were available, then signings would be made. A few players were going to be leaving as well either due to the offer being too good to turn down, or due to being surplus to requirements. We were given a decent £11m budget this year.
The first man to arrive was Giovani Lo Celso from PSG. I’d identified him as a signing target in January. His attributes were very appealing as well as his personality type. He also found himself unwanted at PSG and on the transfer list. For £2.1m, I could hardly say no. He’ll fit in as my CM/A and I’m hoping his passing and creativity will benefit us.
Right back was position I’d been considering improving for a couple of years. Samba is a decent player, but he’s always looked like a weak link in my backline. Finding a replacement that fitted my profile was difficult and I had to break my transfer record to get him in. Jonas Svensson was my man. He was a bit older than what I’d usually look to sign, but I made the exception due to his professional personality which would help with tutoring the young players I have coming through. He cost me £5.75m rising to £6.25m when he arrived from Espanyol. His ability to play on the left hand side of defence was a nice touch as well.
My final signing was a rather well known FM wonderkid. Hirving Lozano had joined Chelsea for £17m in 2016 but in the last two years he’d found himself slip out of contention and onto the transfer list. He’d only played 6 games in that time so was available at a cut price. I left it late in the window as I was having inner conflict about signing him. His price dropped further and again, we broke our transfer record to seal a £7.5m deal to bring him in. His ability and versatility should be a great asset for us and I suspect, should he do well for us of course, I’ll be able to move him on for a nice profit. I forgot to take a screenshot of him when I signed him so I had to go back to my end of season back-up to get a screenshot of him.
There were a couple of players that I chose to sell. Alexandre Vincent (£1.9m – Lille), Hervin Ongenda (£1.5m – Sochaux) and Omer Atzili (£2m – Eibar) barely featured last season so it made sense to move them on, especially as I had good options in their place.
Maurício was being chased all summer and due to me preferring Loucif and Aloe, with the likes of Muller and Thomas coming through, he was free to move on. Marseille made the best offer of £13.25m which gave us a tidy £7.5m profit.
In January, despite not really wanting to sell, Dorin Rotariu left for West Ham. I’d have preferred to have kept hold of him to the summer, but again, it was a huge offer that I couldn’t turn down. He left for £17.25m which really boosted our financial position. £15m profit is not to be sniffed at.
We’ve put ourselves on a good financial footing with these deals as we made an £18m profit on our business. Our transfers were smart and we’ve added quality in key positions.
This is where every club wants to be so it seems like the best place to start. We were handed a tough tie again Ukrainians, Dynamo Kyiv. We were at home for the first leg and that’s where our qualification to the group stage was sealed, with an emphatic 4-0 victory with goals from Lo Celso, Aye, Nefzi and Sabak putting us in the driving seat. The return leg in Kyiv was a frustrating one as we couldn’t convert our chances after they took a 1-0 lead. We defended quite well for most of the game and although we lost the tie, I was happy with the performance.
We were handed an incredibly tough group, drawn with Man Utd, Atletico Madrid and Spartak Moscow. I wasn’t hopeful. We started with a 4-4 draw against Atletico. It was kind of disappointing as we were 4-2 up, but late goals from Griezmann and Andre Silva got them back into it. We followed that up with four defeats in a row before stealing a 90th minute winner. Somehow, those results were enough to see us finish third and into the Europa League.
The Europa League campaign last just two games as West Ham eliminated us 6-2 on aggregate.
The Cups are our most realistic chance of picking up silverware at the moment. PSG and Lyon are very dominant and if we can avoid either of those teams in these competitions, we’ve got a good chance. I’m still using the youngsters in these games where possible.
The Coupe de la Ligue was over on the same day it started with a penalty shoot out defeat against Le Havre. Unfortunately, we couldn’t score a penalty last season, we were shocking from the spot.
The French Cup was to be our bitch this year though. The youngsters dispatched of everything in their path, knocking out US Raon-l’Etape (3-1), Amiens (1-0), Lille (1-0), Brest (2-1) and Toulouse (2-1).
When I played the final, I was up to date with my blog and I really thought about live tweeting the game on Twitter. It ended up being a late night affair as real life got in the way, so I decided not to bother.
Ligue 2 side Nimes were to be my opponents. A crowd of 74,773 turned up for the game, which is rather surprising given that we are both pretty small in terms of spectators. The in game attendance total said that 9,414 were away fans, does that mean we took 65,000 fans to a cup final as we were technically the home side? Answers on a post card please.
Things didn’t start well for us and within 10minutes, we found ourselves behind thanks to a goal from Cup top scorer, Rachid Alioui. I was regretting the thought of live Tweeting this game having seen how badly it’s gone for others.
We were in charge of the game, dominating possession and we didn’t have to wait long for an equaliser. A lovely ball into the box from the Sabak was met by Lo Celso who flicked it to Lozano, he composed himself and placed it beyond the keeper to make it 1-1.
Nimes were being very stubborn and difficult to break down. The second half started in much the same way as the first ended, we were dominating the ball and looking for an opening. A lovely bit of play between Sissako, Lo Celso and Bouillot opened up some space for Lozano to nip in and tuck away a second to make it 2-1.
We barely gave Nimes a sniff for the rest of the game, only managing two shots on target and 37% of possession. We saw out the remaining minutes to secure our first French Cup in 16 years.
With our stock rising, I was finding teams much harder to score against and we had to work much harder for our openings. When they did come though, we were brutal and tore teams apart. The early part of the season saw a flurry of goals and then spells where we couldn’t see out games. Emphatic victories over Nancy (5-1), Monaco (6-1) and Angers (4-0) were interspersed with defeats to Nancy (1-0), Bordeaux (3-1) and the usual defeats to PSG and Lyon. That’s a thing now, I don’t expect to overcome them any time soon as they’re that good.
The league was very tight and although we were in with a chance of a top three finish, we were just as likely to throw it away with our inconsistency. Bastia were matching us all the way and going into the last few games, we needed results to go our way to get third place. They weren’t going our way though. Bastia were in terrific form.
I needed 19th placed Toulouse to do us a favour on the final day to get Champions League football again. I wasn’t hopeful. We were playing Nancy and after 3minutes, Lo Celso put us 1-0 up. Come on Toulouse! They had been shocking all year, but after 14minutes, they were doing me the biggest favour by being 1-0 up! I was watching goings on in Toulouse more than I was watching things on the pitch. Do I chase the game and try to make sure of a win? Or do I play safe? I stuck! No change.
26minutes in and Bastia equalise, 1-1. Shit, shit, shit! It was always out of my hands.
27minutes Toulouse score 2-1! DON’Tou’LOSE THIS NOW! (sorry, dad joke)
It was too early to get excited. We still had to win. I was relying on the second worst team in the league to do me a favour and hold Bastia back for 65minutes.
They only bloody did it! Goal difference saw us into third on the final day. 11 defeats was upsetting, but we’re still a young team. We’ll improve I’m sure.
My new signings were excellent. Lo Celso and Lozano have looked like players that cost a lot more than they did. Svensson was a much more assured choice at right back.
Lamy has been improving magnificently. My newer youngsters making the first team have done very well, Bouillot and Maillard grabbing 13 and 10 goals respectively, despite their very young age. The future is indeed, looking very bright. Lots of great youngsters making their way through to the first team now.
A rather successful season, despite our inconsistent performances at times. The Champions League defeats really dented our confidence in the league games and a gift from Toulouse saw us finish third again. The French Cup victory was glorious was another big step forward.
More to come, I’m sure!