Hello and welcome back to defenceFirst and the fourth part of my introductory blog posts; ‘My Football Manager 2018 Story. This will be the final installment of these introductory blog posts, where we’ve gone on a journey from the Championship all the way to the top of the Premier League.
As per the title, this installment is all about taking that final step from continental qualification, managing that and overcoming the final hurdle in the Premier League, the league title. I’ll be covering multiple seasons.
Later in the blog, I’ll be sharing a little insight into my new 3-5-2, looking at some analysis and I’ll be explaining why I made the decisions I did. First of all, let’s talk about season 4.
As so many teams find out in the Premier League, it is so much easier to be successful without the distraction of continental football. You only have to look at Leicester in their one off wonder season and Chelsea last season. On the reverse, we’ve seen Tottenham this year struggle to live up to the heights of last year, whilst they’re battling The Champions League, I want to avoid this.
To do so, I knew I needed to strengthen my squad on the whole, whilst keeping some key players who performed so well the previous season. I was also in the predicament of not having as much money as the previous year, 30m to be precise. To make the additions necessary, I did have to sell some backup players and be clever in the market.
Let’s take a look at my departures >
Some key names who have departed include Joost Van Aken, Adam Reach, Lewis Baker and Sam Hutchinson. All these players were regulars on the subsitutes bench and provided suitable cover last season. However, due to an increased fixture congestion and my plans to rotate my squad, they simply are not good enough anymore.
Tonny Trindade de Vilhena wasn’t getting the game time he deserved, a regular on the bench and backup for Ross Barkley, he became unhappy. Due to the price I picked him up for (£8.5m) I decided to cash in for almost double, which proved to be the best move for all parties.
For season 4, I will be sticking with a 4-2-3-1 but I did have it in mind that next season I will be switching to a 3-5-2. So, I had this in mind when looking at transfer targets.
The first port of call was a Left Back, an area I felt we struggled in the season before. Other than Christian Gunter, I only had Kongolo as a back up, who was needed at CB. Benjamin Mendy is tall, powerful and a great all round left back. He’ll fit in perfectly for this and future seasons. Below is Mendy and my other star signing, Harry Winks!
The other key signing, who is still with me to this very season is Harry Winks. A star in real life and he lives up to that bill on FM.
Adopting the same philosophy, we had a really similar season and points tally. This time, we managed to secure 2nd spot in the Premier League.
All in all, it was so important to repeat the success of my prior Premier League campaign with the addition of European football. And a tough European campaign we had, due to the quality of opponent we faced, I was tending to rotate and play squad players in the Premier League. Something which was possible due to the additional strength in depth we had.
Overcoming Galatasary, Villarreal, PSG and RBL. It’s fair to say we proved we could compete during our maiden campaign, my expectations was to reach the First knockout campaign, to which we excelled. Here’s my best 11 for this season >
Overall, another solid season to build the foundations for the next chapter of my journey. We now had another season of Premier League money behind us, with the added ammunition of Champions League money to come.
Before moving onto season 5, please see our progression in our managerial performance:
As you can see, we’ve managed to turn those draws into victories. Still, managing a frustrating 15 draws, this still massively outweighs the number of defeats, which is a key target of mine. This shows consistency, which is what I’m trying to achieve.
Now comes the key tactical tweaks I’ve been talking about – a move I’ve wanted to make for the previous 3 Premier League campaigns. Sometimes you have to play a certain way to be successful, to which I did. However, now is the correct time to evolve and make changes, I’ll be operating the below shape and instructions:
I’ll start off with the 3 most important positions for this shape, the 3 CBs. Some will utilise a sweeper as the middle CB, and have them on ‘Cover’. I feel this encourages teams to get in behind, so would rather operate with a ‘Stopper’ who can push and block any playmakers in front of our defence. The positive about this is when the middle CB does push on, I’ll have 2 CBs back as cover.
Moving on to my wing-backs, I decided to use WB (s) as I prefer the balance this gives my side. CWB (A) would be my usual port of call, but I think this suits a more direct style of play, for providing more defensive cover the selected role suits my team. This doesn’t mean my wing-backs aren’t bombing on, because boy they do! With ‘play narrower’ this does naturally draw the opponents narrow with me to cope with the numbers I have, allowing space out wide for the likes of Diop (new signing) and Mendy to go forward.
As you can see, we’re very expansive and wide open with possession, which is the complete opposite to when we are without possession.
I’m purposely encouraging teams to attack us on the flanks so they are limited to crossing the ball. Then I feel I have the defensive advantage due to the quality of CB, and general height/physicality I have to win the defensive headers and clear the ball.
To deploy this system, I needed to let some players depart…
I began the transfer window being graced with the beauty of Chinese money…I never thought I’d say that. Long time servant Stefano Sturaro left for 23m, an 18m profit. Other key departures included Patrick Roberts for 14m and Ross Barkley for 48m in January, a BIG BIG risk.
With a change of philosophy and formation, I knew the vast majority of my budget was going to be spent on my defence. Incomings included Reece Oxford for £30m and regen Alessio Neri from Torino for £39.5m. Both boosting the height and physicality I mentioned above to deal with those crosses.
The final player I’ll show you is my signing of FM18. a free transfer from a second tier Italian side. He couldn’t play WBR which is the position I was going to utilise him in, a role to this day he’s still learning, but he puts in world class performances on the pitch.
These wonderful new signings and a key tactical switch resulted in us being very hard to beat, whilst deadly in front of goal. We won 25 of 38 league games, drawing 12 and loosing just the one away to Arsenal (2-1).
It wasn’t all rosy, we did lose out on penalties to Marsellie in the Champions League after a superb group stage performance.
4 Seasons Later…
As previously mentioned this is the final installment of my FM18 story so far. The following 4 seasons passed by with domestic dominance and European Success.
5 consecutive Premier League titles, losing 8 games out of 190 in the league. Apart from the 2024/25 season, we did concede an average of 0.5 goals per game, which is just utterly brilliant. I definitely achieved what I intended to defensively since the tactical switch.
We went on to achieve 2 Champions League wins as well as success in the Europa League after a disastrous Group campaign in the 2023/24 season.
A full list of my honours can be seen below.
Thank you for reading this and the previous 3 parts of my ‘Football Manager 2018 Story So Far’. The support really does mean so much to me, I’m really motivated to post more blogs and better blogs!
In future, I will be posting more general FM articles, and less ‘FM Stories’. Please stay tuned for tactical analysis and much more.