It’s been a wee while since my last update, but it’s the festive season so FM has taken a bit of a back seat. I’m slowly getting back to having some play time though and it’s time I filled you in with the news from my 8th season.
Last year we sold a lot of our best players and still managed to win the league. It wasn’t pretty, but we were rock solid defensively. Moving forward, I hoped to refine our approach and get a few more goals in the team and again challenge at the top.
I was really keen to get a new striker in as I planned to play out the season with a 532. David Jeanvier has been on my shortlist for a couple of years. During his time at Caen he’s banged in the goals and good performances. He could play wide if I needed a change of formation at any point, so his versatility made him a good prospect. He joined for £13m which I thought was very reasonable for a young Frenchman.
With Khedira retiring and a Lamy size hole still not being totally plugged, we lacked a bit of quality in midfield. I needed someone with energy to burn but with an eye for a pass. There were a couple of options, but none of the quality or value of £7m purchase, Emiliano Da Luz. He’d been in France on loan and had played over 100 first team games, so he had a bit of experience to boot. I feel like I robbed River with this deal.
Sometimes it’s not easy to sign good quality French players, but I think I did well to sign René Presse. Young and strong, he had the qualities I look for in a central defender. Being French was a huge bonus. £20m was the price tag, which may seem pricey, but you pay a premium for domestic players.
There were no major departures this year as to be honest, we didn’t really have a whole host of world beaters. Khedira had retired and Sissasko had agreed to leave on a free transfer.
Umaro Dabo headed to Brentford for £6m and Jordie Rodriguez went to Nantes for £4m. The only other major departure was Johannes Eggestein who joined Wolfsburg for £17.5m. It didn’t really work out for any of those players so I was quite happy to move them on and make a few quid off of them. This was the first time since my second season that I’d spent more than I’d made in transfer fees. It was only an £8m difference, but we’re still very much in the black in terms of spending.
As league champions, we kick off the season with the Trophée des Champions. Nancy were our opponents. They gave us a good game and a little scare towards the end, but a 3-2 victory ensured we picked up the trophy for the first time.
That game was the highlight of our domestic cup campaign. We were knocked out of the Coupe de la Ligue at the quarter final stage by Angers and out of the French Cup by Bastia in the 10th round. My eyes were cast elsewhere though, as you’ll see. I still use the younger/fringe players in the cups to get experience and give the first team players a break. It’s always my policy and even now, I’ve no plans to change it.
As French Champions, we were straight into the group stage of the Champions League. We were drawn into a tough group alongside Arsenal, Benfica and Hammarby. I thought I had a chance of getting through as the second qualifier.
To my surprise, we did quite well, kicking off the group with a 1-0 victory over a very good Arsenal side. I followed that up with a 1-1 draw against Hammarby who scored an 89th minute equaliser, always frustrating! Benfica came from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 with two late goals. We came from behind twice in the return fixture in Portual to draw 2-2. A 1-0 victory in London over Arsenal surprised me yet again before finishing off the group stage with a 2-0 win over Hammarby. Undefeated in the group and we qualified first with Benfica second.
The knockout stage pitted us against Borussia Dortmund for the third season in a row. We headed to Germany for the first leg. We had a strong first eleven, although we were missing our star striker, David Jeanvier as he was just returning from injury. In some ways, I’m quite thankful as his replacement, Maillard, had a stunning game.
Things started badly as we were 1-0 down after 7 minutes. Maillard grabbed one back in the 15th minute but we were 2-1 down a minute later, Bernadeschi grabbing his second. Maillard grabbed an equaliser in the 37th minute before rounding off a hat-trick five minutes later to go in 3-2 up at half-time. I needed the team to concentrate for the second half. Three away goals is great, but we couldn’t afford any other mistakes. In the 47th minute, Jovanovic scored from a well worked throw in routine, smashing it into the top corner, 4-2. We defended well, but in the 84th minute, Dortmund grabbed a third to make the final score 4-3.
The return leg was setup to be a monster game, but in reality, it was a defensive battle. We were trying to keep a clean sheet and Dortmund were attacking hard. René Presse took down Ferdinand Cotera in the box on the 48th minute and Cristian Pavón made no mistake from the spot. 1-0 (4-4 agg) we needed to keep our heads, there was a lot of football to go. I changed nothing, they needed the goals and I suspected they’d attack more as a result. They did, but we couldn’t quite find the opening we needed. The game finished 1-0 and we went through. Take that Lamy!
The games against Man City were rather exciting. Our first Champions League quarter final. Man City made us feel welcome by hammering us 3-0 with all goals coming in the second half. Oh well, that was nice while it lasted. The return leg was to be damage limitation, keep things respectable. After 26minutes, we were 1-0 up thanks to a nice bit of play between Jovanovic and Garnier, who nabbed the goal. Jovanovic was the scorer of our second goal, bursting into the box and placing the ball beyond the keeper. 2-0… we couldn’t, could we? 60th minute.. another goal, but at the wrong end. Our centre backs got in a muddle and Andre Silva nabbed one back. We needed three goals. There was enough time! 84th minute, Kasongo finished off an excellent team move to make it 3-1. 88th minute, Ahmet runs the length of the pitch and knocks one into the top corner.. 4-1! Three minutes to find a winner, chances came but they also went and we were knocked out on away goals.
Certainly an exciting journey this season!
I feel that I’m often over critical of my team. Sometimes it feels as if we’re struggling, but in actual fact, we were pretty good. We scored goals, we won games well and our defensive record was good. Beating PSG, Lyon and Nice is always enjoyable.
At times, we struggled to get the goals against the smaller teams. If we got an early goal, we could tear teams apart, as Caen(5-1), Marseille(5-1) and Montpellier(4-0) all found out. We were looking good for another league title, but when it came to crunch time, our title charge started to stumble. Defeats to Metz, Le Havre, and PSG meant we headed into what would be a title decider against second placed Monaco. A win would wrap it up for us. But Monaco were flying and had already beaten us 3-1 earlier in the season.
We got the early goal, hitting them on the counter attack. Garnier had the ball on the right and had four players to try and pick out. Da Luz was the man that he picked out and he couldn’t miss from 5 yards out. Not long after, Garnier again supplied the ammunition as David Jeanvier pulled the trigger from the edge of the box to make it 2-0. Monaco weren’t in the game and the title looked to be heading to Auxerre again. They managed to nab a consolation goal in the 92nd minute, but the job was done. Not even a final day 2-0 defeat to Dijon could sour the party.
Another league title, but we need to be able to carry our form throughout the entire season as we were scrambling for points towards the end of the season.
The new players settled in rather well, Jeanvier scoring 21 goals was good, but he went missing in a lot of games too. Kasongo had a great season from left midfield and Maillard also did well between left mid and striker.
The younger players that have come up to the first team also did rather well, Ouattara being very good in the deep midfield role. Garnier also stepped up his progression into being a first team player, scoring and assisting well.
Sofiane Loucif was a boss at the back. £925k for this man was a complete bargain as he has developed into a top class centre back. Big teams have been courting him all season, so I’d bet on this being his final season at the club.
And that’s it for our 8th season. Next year will be our last at the Stade Abbé Deschamps. Hopefully we can have a good send off for the stadium and retain the league title, although I’ll just tell the boys to qualify for the Champions League haha!
Sorry for the delay in getting this season out, Christmas/eating/drinking really got in the way this year. Hope everyone had a great festive season and here’s to a glorious 2017!