This has been an incredibly difficult save as I did not want to let you the reader down and I did not want to let Guido down as he was taking the time be the Chairman of the club but I at the start of this save I really really struggle getting this team to play with the tactic that Guido requested I use.
Since we were tipped to win the league this obviously could not continue, so I changed the tactic and the results improved. I have since spoken to Guido who said just change the tactic so you get the best out of the team. So that tactic has been changed and results have improved tremendously. Still not perfect but at least we are competitive. For me, this is why I love playing FM as you never know what stories the game is going to create. Sometimes you are lucky to get a newgen who can lead your team to glory or a normally good team get relegated and they have to sell their players cheap. So may options even before you talk about the rules that player may add to the game. Youth Acadamy Challenge, players only from one nation, start in a country with a crazy league format yes Argentina I am looking at you. FM creates a world unique to every save game and it never fails to suck us in. Anyway on to how I am faring in Croatia?
As I said above the league started off very difficult as I felt the tactic that the Chairman has asked me to play did not work. The midfield was never able to get hold of the game and dictate play. That’s fine against the best teams in Europe but not against teams that tipped to finish 2nd from bottom in our own division. Probably the most frustrating part for me is I have neither the tactical skill or ability to explain to Guido as to why tactic did not work. So that tactic was changed to tactics that know will work with these players and that has been tested by many players in FM18.
This competition for is the most important I want to go as far as I can in it. The Croatian League is a good league with famous teams and some real gems that have not been snapped up by the big teams in Europe but the money in the league is very poor. For winning the league you 800,000 Pounds whereas for winning 1 game in the Europa League you get 320,000!
Split entered at the 2nd Qualification Round, we were dawn again Haugesund from Norway in a game that I was confident of winning. Of course, that does not mean it was going to be simple in the 70th Minute of the first leg Borja got sent of for a second yellow. We were leading 1-0 at that point so I immediately went counter and hoped to hold on to the win. Haugesund then equalized in the 83rd minute. As they poured on the pressure pushing more men as they went the win, we broke on them in the 90th min and Robert Jandrek slid in a low driven shot from his right win position. This rescued 3 points for us and also spared embarrassment for red-carded Borja and Bezus who missed a penalty (FM18 carrying over the unrealistic amount of penalty saves from FM17) In the leg we controlled the game from the 10th minute onwards Haugesund scored early to make the game 2-2 on aggregate but they really never had the ball after scoring and we just pulled them apart. It took us until the 48th min to score from a penalty Bezus making up for missing one in the first leg. In total, we have 18 shots with 5 of this on target and 60% of the possession while Haugesund only 1 shot on target.
Next up was Luzern from Switzerland I was expecting this to be a lot tougher but in fact, it was easier we lost the first game 1-0 at Home in a game that only about 3 highlights for the whole game. 2nd leg though was different we won 4-3 away from home and if it was not for a 93rd min goal by Bozhinov for Luzern we were in total control. Luzern had no answer to our two wingers that night Ezequiel and Glavina 10 key passes in total from the pair.
The Euro Cup Play Off like the Champions League play-off is a brutal 2 legged affair with teams like AC Milan, CSKA Moscow and OM entering the Cup. I was excited and fearful as we drew Club Brugge, if we could beat them we really could give the group stage a go without fear. In the first leg, we destroyed Brugge 27 shots and 13 on target and we scored 6. They just had no answer to our midfield and 3 players got a rating of over 9.0 the final score was 6-1 to Split and I was ecstatic. 2nd leg Club Brugge played very defensively I guess they did not want to risk playing open attacking football at home encase they got thumped again, this leg finished 1-0 to Brugge but how care Hadjuk went through 6-2 on aggregate a score that would never have dreamed possible when the draw was made.
Croatian First League
While everything went well in your qualification to the Group Stages of the Europa League. Our form in the League did not start well, 2 wins in the first 8 games hard alarm bells ringing in my head. I was walking into my office and worrying Chairman Guido had told me to pack my bags. Favourites for the league and I only have 10 points from a possible 24 simply not good enough. I picked up the phone called Guido and explained to him while maybe on paper or a whiteboard his new tactical idea was working in real life (well in FM) it was not working at all. We were not controlling the game with our higher quality players, I need to change the tactic for results to improve and give me a chance succeeding at my job. Guido agreed and asked him to give him a day or two think about what I said. Next working I received an email with new tactical instructions, strikers were back and even a Target Man was going to be deployed along with two new positions in midfield Carrilero and Mezzala. The new tactic had an immediate impact on the players which was transfer formed into a big upturn in results. 22 points were collected out of the next 10 games.
Croatian powerhouse GNK Dinamo are our main rivals in our home nation, so getting dominance over them as soon as possible is imperative we have played them twice this season and won 1 and lost 1. The meeting was at home and we thumped them 3-0 they had 60% possession but Glavina and Basic were wonderful! Glavina with 2 goals Basic with 2 key passes and goal.
Basic is simply a wonderful player at this level. I have already given him a new contract and put in a 15 Million release clause for foreign clubs. I hope if he has to leave we can get the full 15 million for him. 15 Million maybe small change for clubs in the Big 5 leagues but for us it will allow us to transform our club.
Europa League Group Stages
We had reached the promised land of the Europa League Group Stages. I was not sure what expect from the Europa League groups so when we were given SK Strum Graz, Lokomotiv Moscow and Everton I was scared and pleased with the same time. I guessed Everton would just team roll me out the way home and away. Lokomotiv and Strum Graz I was not sure what to except at all apart from very difficult games. Our first game was home to Lokomotiv Moscow and we crushed then 3-0, just as pleasing as the result was the attendance we had 32,807 in the stand which is great when the stadium only holds 34,448.
With the first points in the bag, was hopeful of getting a point away at Everton but well it was not to be Everton scored first with Rooney then we took over and equalized in the first half. We then took the lead in the 50th minute with a lovely strike from equalizer Robert Jandrek. I have to admit I was dreaming of shutting up shot and getting 3 points out of this game. But FM can be a very cruel mistress sometimes after we scored that goal we never had a kick in the game. Everton took control equalizing in the 62nd min Sandro and on the 89th min they took the lead again with a goal from Jagielka. Hearts were broken we left Goodison Park with no points.
Back at the Stadion Poljud, we played SK Sturm Graz for our third game in the group stage again I was wanting to get some points to keep us in the mix with the rest of the group. We started on fire and took the lead on the 4th min through Daushvili we extended our lead on the 10th min threw a bullet header by Glavina and now we’re holding our own until the 40th min when the game was turned on its head Deni Alar scored twice, first on the 42nd min and then again in 45+1. I was fuming Sturm Graz had not been in the game yet now they are tied at halftime. Was very quiet then Bezus put the ball in the net complete a devastating counterattack on the 64th min give us a 3-2 lead. The game then opened up as Sturm Graz tried to get back in the game, as the chance started to rack up the inevitable equalizer arrived in the 73 min. We were now trying to hold on to a point against a team that could smell this game was up for winning. With the last kick of the game Marvin Potzmann socred to give the Sturm Graz a 4-3 win. Again I was furious that we had got something from a game where we took the lead twice.
We travelled to Austira for the return leg against SK Sturm Graz, we never got going in the game it was as if we were scared after that late loss to the Sturm Graz at home. We only managed 2 shots on target in 90 mins and picked up 5 bookings. In a thoroughly uneventful game, Sturm Graz scored a 68 mins penalty and that was the game done. even being down to 10 men for most of the second half Sturm Graz never looked like they were going to lose this one.
Moscow is a great city to visit and explore but a trip in the last week of November is not an ideal it’s cold and I mean really cold. As the game kicked off it was -5 and snowing but sometimes the worst conditions make for good games. In a must-win game, we scored the in the 1st min almost straight from kick Pesic game up the start we needed. In the 12th min we scored again and were in total control of the game Jefferson Farfan equalized for Lokomotiv on the 25th min out of nowhere but that was the only chance they had in the first half. I was very happy leading 2-1 at Half Time. The 2nd half started off with a flurry of chances for Moscow as they tried to get back in the game but nothing that was troubling the goalkeeper. In the 60th min, we extended our lead to 3-1 as Pesic got his 2nd of the game. I was not confident of holding on to the lead as I had seen nothing from Moscow to suggest they could get 2 goals to deny us the win. I as the game was slowly petering out Moscow grabbed a consolation goal in the 93rd win but it could not stop us leaving Russia with 3 points.
So on to the last game in the group stages Everton at home and we could still mathematically qualify for next round but we had to beat Everton. We only failed to take nothing away from Goodison Park on our trip and that still annoyed me. It was a game we should have won but ended up with nothing. With Stadion Poljud fill to the brim and our largest crowd of the season 33,469 cheering us on. We had to give it a really good go to my and the crowd’s disappointment nothing happened of note in the first half. So as the game had started we still needed to beat Everton to go through. In the 60th min Idrissa Gueye went off injured and the next min we scored a penalty. For some reason, there was no increased urgency from Everton so I was not surprised when we increased our lead Barry score with a thunderous shot from outside the box. When the final whistle went I punch the air in delight and the crowd went wild we had achieved our goal of getting out the group stage. This had an added bonus as we give another 276,000 for finishing 2nd in the group. In the first round of the knock out stage, we have been drawn with Athletico Bilbao. I am very happy with that draw if we going to lose to Bilbao there will be no shame in that at all. If we can get through then we can dream of games against AS Monaco, Arsenal and Lazio and of course, even more, money flowing into the club
Back to the League
With me concentrating on the Europa League our league form has been a bit hit and miss but after the transfer window. I want to really push on in the league it is critical we qualify for Europe again at a minimum. I would really like us to win the league but that is going to be very difficult with Dinamo already out of the league. It’s certainly not impossible as I believe in Basic we have one of the players in the league. If we had a striker like Dinamo have in Angelo Henriquez we would be laughing but we can’t afford ex-Manchester United players YET!!! Only the top team in Croatia makes the Champions League second and third get Europa League.
Now the tactics have been sorted out I am keen to see how far this squad can be taken. In the transfer window I would love a striker who can get me 15 goals in the remainder of the season but being realistic I guess I should just hope we can keep Toma Basic for the rest of the season.