The year after a Champions League win is always a difficult one I think. How do you improve your squad? What happens when the big clubs come calling? The World Club Cup throws your team a few games behind etc.
I actually embraced a lot of this stuff head on this season. A few of my deals were wrapped up early as I had been plotting a change for a wee while. I suppose I am kind of a big club now, so it’s mainly huge clubs with vast sums of money (and a big reputation) that take my players away. The WCC brings its problems, but we were prepared for that too.
I’ve already gone into depth on my transfers for the season on my previous post, so I can dive right into the good stuff.
We’re now at the stage where kicking off the season with the Trophée des Champions is an annual event. We’ve played in 9 of the previous 12. PSG were our opponents and I can safely say that it was a snooze fest. Neither team really took control and chances for both teams were fairly limited. It ended 0-0 with the game going to penalties. We’re usually awful at pens.. really bad, but somehow we scored four and my goalkeeper saved two for us to win. Poor performance, but a trophy in the bag.
Next up was Stuttgart in the UEFA Super Cup, another chance to grab a trophy. Just looking at the match overview and realising we only had four subs on the bench. Pretty much everyone was away on international duty for the bloody Olympics. I had ten players away with France. One of the drawbacks of having a very young squad is that they can all go away. We have a pretty decent game though, controlling play and reducing them to only a couple of chances. We weren’t great, but a first half goal from Esteban Vargas settled the tie. Trophy number two.
For the domestic cups, I stuck with my policy of playing youngsters and backup players where possible. That backup team was getting better.
In the Coupe de la Ligue, we made it to the semi final stage before being knocked out by PSG. Have I ever mentioned that I hate PSG? It was a surprisingly close game from my youngsters, so I shouldn’t have too many complaints, but still. Bastards!
We’d have more success in the Coupe de France however, gliding our way past Nantes (2-0), Clermont Foot (3-0), Lille (1-0), PSG (haha.. 4-0, get it up ye!) and Bastia (4-0). This setup a final against Montpellier. They’ve had an interesting time of it over the past couple of years, finishing 5th in league in 28/29 only to be relegated the following season, promoted the next year and then finishing 8th last year. A great little turnaround. They’ve also produced some terrific newgens, but I digress. Getting to a cup final was a big step for them. With the way the season had gone, I decided to pick my best eleven. Unfair on the youngsters, but I thought the cup win was important.
12minutes in and we were 1-0. That’s gonna calm the nerves a wee bit. My captain had other ideas though. He obviously didn’t want to play in this final as he’d not played in any of the games in the run up. Two very quick yellow cards meant that after 21 minutes, we were down to 10 men. Shite!
A little reshuffle. Remove the DM, switch to a 441 with Lamy and Bangoura in midfield as DLP/D and BBM. I took Martinez off and took on youngster Roussel at left back. All sorted. We actually looked in control. 33rd minute and Montpellier get an equaliser.
I needed a good performance to grind out a result now. Although we had control of the game, we weren’t doing much with our possession of the ball. Montpellier were digging in. I decided to make a double switch in the 74th minute as I thought two attacking players could freshen things up for us. Caglar and Sandjak replaced Radomski (LM) and Romantzis (SC), but ultimately, it didn’t affect much as we headed for extra time.
Those subs would be the catalyst for the win though. Sandjak and Caglar linked up beautifully through the middle. Caglar played it wide to Dédé who whipped in a lovely near post ball that Sandjak volleyed home from 5 yards out. 2-1!
Another lovely piece of through the middle left four players in no mans land. A really nice link up between Caglar and Sandjak put Sandjak clear through on goal and with the form he’d been in of late, there was only going to be one outcome. 3-1 Auxerre.
Coupe de France in the bag!
Almost forgot about the World Club Cup. I don’t really understand how it works, but our first game was the Semi Final against Guangzhou Evergrande of China which we won easily by 3-0. That setup a final against River Plate. I suppose it’s not a very well thought of tournament and I’m not overly enthused by getting to a final after one game. That said, we beat River Plate 3-1 and were now World Club Champions.
It’s never easy the year after a Champions League win, I think that’s probably my mindset anyway. Everyone is out to beat you. In the group stage this year we were drawn against Anderlecht, CSKA Moscow and RB Leipzig. A group I expected to negotiate with ease, and negotiate it I did. It wasn’t as easy as expected though and although we qualified, a 3-0 defeat to RB Leipzig at the RB Leipzig Stadium (yes, it’s a new build) was an unexpected bump in the road. I returned the favour in France by beating them 4-1, but they came out on top, despite have an inferior goal difference and our head to head record being the same.
Finishing second meant that we’d get a harder draw in the knockout round. Our opponents this year were the same as last year, Barcelona. I was optimistic, we did it last year, we can knock them out this year too!
The first leg was in France and twenty minutes in, we were 2-0. Easy, easy! Overall it was a good performance but a 75th minute Barcelona goal meant it was going to be a difficult return leg. We needed to score at their place. Uh oh.
It’s ok, we’ve got this, I believe in my guys. In the second leg, 21minutes in and 17 year old Yohann Dédé showed maturity beyond his years to put us 1-0 up on the night. Boom, surely that was it?
No.. no it was not.
A collapse of the highest order, 4-1 on the night and 5-3 on aggregate. A shocking night, we just couldn’t defend to save our lives. This tie went the exact same way last year, but that time it was in my favour.
Retaining the Champions League was going to be hard, so I wasn’t surprised to not make the final. With all the new players in the squad, I expect it to take a couple of years before we’re in the mix again.
This is where we’ve shone for the past few years. I expected to win the league again this season, even with the introduction of many new players. The big hurdle was that this year, we’d have to spend almost the entirety of the season without our goal machine, Armand Sohna. In October he got knee tendonitis which ruled him out for 3 months, he came back in February, spent another 5 days injured with a bruised head and when I finally thought he was all good, he broke his leg which ruled him out for 5 months. Season over.
Time to see if my men could step up.
The answer was a resounding yes.
There was perhaps a few more draws over the course of the season than I would normally like. Eight to be exact. Overall, in defence and attack, we were really good. Scoring 83 goals and only conceding 13.
We only lost once, to PSG (insert angry face here) which was a bummer, but such is life. That did mean the final table was a lot closer than it should have been, but we ended on 95 points to their 92 to clinch our fifth league title in a row.
What I did notice this year was that lots of teams were refusing to venture out of their own half when they played me. Lots of team were switching to either a 4141 or deep defensive system. It meant that draws were inevitable. I did manage to get round it a few times by doing a couple of tactical tweaks, but it was very frustrating. Some teams never registered a single pass in the final third of the pitch.
That said, five in a row. Yey/woohoo etc.
I never really looked at the squad on my last round up, but I thought that it was definitely worth taking a look at this year, especially with all the new signings.
I was very happy with how the new boys fitted in.
Prince Mbemba had a great first season, playing 34 times and keeping 23 clean sheets. He still has a long way to go in his development, but things can only get better I suspect.
Yohann Dédé had an exceptional season for a 17 year old, scoring 12 and assisting 15 times in 44 games. He also made big strides in his development.
Abdoul Karim Bangoura was also a great acquisition, my record signing scored 6 and assisted 8 times. His overall contribution to play was much more obvious in game though and I expect big things from him in the coming seasons.
Here’s a look at the overall squad view from the season.
I suspect I’ll only need a couple of new additions for next season. I’ve already got a couple of youngsters arriving in the summer, but it’ll be evolution rather than revolution in the summer. I have my eye on a couple of very interesting French players, but the fees being quoted at the moment are out of this world. Will need to do my work in the press to see if I can unsettle them.
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