Holiday Journeyman: Season Four Part One

After nearly three years of success at Krk, I called an end to my time at the club. There is so much about my Krk Island holiday that I will miss, the palm trees, the sandy beaches, the friendly hotel room service guy who always gave me extra croissants with my continental breakfast.

I had taken a small club with hugely limited facilities and finances as far as possible. The promotion season was up there as one of my most enjoyable of the entire of FM19, and players such as Kristijan Batelic and Nino Mohorovicic are some of the best I’ve managed on this year’s game.

However, it was time to move on. With an offer from top division club NK Lokomotiva in Zagreb, we had the perfect opportunity to further our holiday hunting football manager career.

So, we packed our bags and moved across the country to the capital, and settled in our new hotel room for the second leg of our holiday managing tour.

NK Lokomotiva

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A club founded in 1914, Lokomotiva are a club that tends to be in a battle for a Europa League place in the Hvartski Telekom Prva Liga. They are a much larger club than Krk, and the facilities and coaching represent that. This club offer us a huge opportunity to break into Europe for the first time, and with a huge, young (if unbalanced) squad, we really have the chance to build something special.

We improved the coaching upon arrival, bringing in a new assistant manager, new coaches, scouts and a Head of Youth Development.

Key Players

  • Luka Ivanusec– Throughout this year’s game, I have rarely used attacking midfielders, however, with an abundance of them at our new club, we will be looking to adjust our system to fit them into our team. The most promising is this twenty-two year old Croatian full international. Valued at seven and a half million pounds, he will be our most important creative player, and with other similar players around him, he could become the main man that we build our tactic around.

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  • Fran Karacic– With a lack of wingers, and a huge amount of central based attacking talent, it will be likely that overlaps will be important in providing our team’s width in the final third. The Australian wing back will be perfect for offering that, and being our only recognised senior right-back, he will need to be consistent in doing so. He got a seven point zero-one rating for the 20/21 season, and with his fifteen pace and fourteen crossing, he could prove to be a good outlet for us in both attack and defence.

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  • Matko Babic- With four recognised strikers at the club, competition for places up front will be very fierce during our first campaign. Top of the heap at the start of the season will be Croatian under-21 international Bright Kareem. He has scored twelve, eleven and thirteen goals for the club in the last three seasons, and is the most proven top division goal scorer at With good all-round stats for a striker, he will begin the season as our first-choice option, but will have to perform well to keep his starting position.

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The Rest of the Squad

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With two options in goal, Ivo Grbic is going to be our first choice. The twenty-five-year-old is valued at five million pounds, and has made over one-hundred and fifty-three appearances for Lokomotiva and Hadjuk Split. He will face competition of backup keeper Ivica Bogovic. The twenty-year-old has high potential, and with seventeen kicking will work well as our Sweeper-Keeper when called upon.

Defenders:

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We are certainly weak in numbers at the back, with just three options at centre-back, a single full-back on each side, and one defensive midfielder who can fill into the back four if needed. With the lack of depth, we have looked at signing defenders, but have been unable to before the start of the league campaign. Therefore, to start the season we will be forced to rely on what we have. Our highest rated centre-back (Denis Kolinger) will miss the first game due to injury, so will be replaced with youth option Luka Hodak.

Midfielders:

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Once again, we lack depth in the centre of midfield. Mainly, our players in the middle are defensive-midfielders, or attacking midfielders. Our best option is the suspended eighteen-year-old Zeljko Juranovic. He will more than likely be partnered by our first signing since arriving at the club, twenty-five-year-old Karlo Muhar. Arriving at the club for one-hundred and fifty thousand pounds, he will provide much needed quality in the centre of our midfield. Our other options will mainly be used in an attacking midfield position.

Attackers:

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Our deepest position is probably in the striking department. With four recognised front men, we will have a huge amount of options in the final third, with rotation possible throughout the long season. Babic, Kareem and Palic are all young regens who could develop into hugely important members of our squad, and the latter is a seventeen-year-old is the highest rated of our strikers. The fourth option is yet again a youngster, and Albanian international Arber Mehmetllari has netted twice in two appearances for his country, and the Lokomotiva academy product will hope to recreate his goal-scoring form for his club, in order to push his way up through the pecking order.

Tactics

Throughout pre-season, I experimented with a few formations and tactics. We managed to pin two options down as possible systems for the start of the season. They are both formations that I have never used before, starting with a narrow 4-2-3-1.

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I adapted my usual Vertical Tiki-Taka tactical style to a narrower formation. Normally, I have one inside forward and one outside winger. In this system, I will be deploying the best (and pretty much only) winger at the club (Drozdjek) as an attacking midfielder on the inside left, with his role not changing that much from his preferred Inside Forward position. He will be joined by two other attacking midfielders (Ivanusec and Groznica at the beginning of the season) behind a single poacher striker.

Behind them will be a two-man midfield, consisting of a Deep-Lying-Playmaker, and a more physical based central midfield player. His role will probably be either a Box-to-box or Central Midfielder with the ‘Automatic’ mind-set. At the back, a Sweeper Keeper and Ball Playing Defender will begin attacks, retaining possession before playing through the lines as quickly as possible. They will be joined with one more conservative and conventional Central Defender, and two wing-backs. They are set to attack, and have player instructions that tell them to stay wider. With our attack mainly based on central areas, they will be vital in creating the width in this system.

The second system is slightly less conventional, and is one of the first asymmetrical formations I have tried in this year’s edition of the game. In an attempt to make use of as many of our better players as possible, I have experimented with this tactic in pre-season.

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The back four will play out to create attacks, with a wing back pushed forward to enter the space that is left by the lack of a right winger. The half back will offer defensive cover and aid in building from the back, with an almost spare central midfielder ahead of him, with our excellent depth in left-wing, attacking midfield and the striking departments, we have managed to fit all of them into this rather unusual looking system.

With a mobile right wing-back, we hopefully shouldn’t miss the width of the right-winger. However, this issue should also be fixed by the instructions of the false nine and AM, the former is told to ‘run wide with the ball’, and the former is told to ‘move into the channels’. They will all create moves through quick passing together due to the ‘higher tempo’ instruction, working the ball into the box for the poacher to finish. With so many players in attacking areas, this system will work well when set to press, and will allow us to play attacking and daring football.

Friendlies

We had eight games to try these tactics out, so I decided to split them into half. The first four, I tried out the 4-2-3-1 system, which was the one I expected to perform better. Then, in the second set of friendlies, I switched to the 4-1-1-4 Asymmetrical tactic.

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The opening four games were the easier of the fixtures. We started with a win over our under -19s in June, before wins against GKS Tychy, Bursaspor and finally against Olomouc- Holice. The system seemed to allow us to create a large amount of chances, and defensively we looked solid for the most part. Our winger seemed also to perform well in his new AM role.

We then switched to the other system (which I’ve decided to call a 4-2-2-2 because any other option I could think of just sounded too weird). I was pleasantly surprised by the success we had.

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Beginning with a comfortable win against Monchengladbach, we went on to dominate Burnley, before putting six past both Maksimir and Hoffenheim. This system allowed both our best winger, Drozdjek and Ivanusec our central attacking midfielder to operate in their preferred system, and this lead to a huge amount of chances created.

Summary

So, as we settle into sunny Zagreb, we look forward to a bright new opportunity at NK Lokomotiva. Despite our success at Krk, for me this is the most exciting moment of the save so far, as we look to push for European football in our first season in the top division in Croatia.

My next post will cover our start to the Hrvatski Telekom Prva Liga, as well as any transfers we make before the deadline, as we look to begin our new Holiday journey.

#HolidayJourneyman

 

 

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Holiday Journeyman: Season Three Part Five

After a good run of form in our new counter-attacking system, we hit a block in the form of a five-one loss at the end of April. So, with four games of the season remaining, we enter May with a big decision to make regarding our future.

The choice has been made, with a massively over performing squad, financial difficulties and strong options elsewhere, I have decided to call an end of my time at NK Krk. After two and a half successful seasons, I will be moving on in June.

Therefore, with four games remaining and safety already secured, I was determined to end my time at my first club on a high.

May

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This began well, with a one-nil victory at home due to a goal from the league’s top scorer Nino. However, we followed this with a two-one defeat away, and threw away a two-goal lead at home in our final game on Krk Island.

We made up for it in our last game of the season though, in potentially the most exciting and dramatic game of the entire save.

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We went two goals behind against NK Varazdin in the final fixture of the Druga HNL campaign. However, loanee Zugaj got us back in the game. Dalibor Gerc our excellently performing young winger got a straight red card that seemed to throw the game away from us when the opposition followed up with a third goal fifteen minutes before the break. However, a goal from our left-back Manolo Bilic followed by a red card for one of their players left the game firmly in the balance at three-two going into the interval.

Straight away after the restart, Nino sealed the golden boot with his fourteenth of the season to pull us level against his old club, before goals from winger Josip Galesic and centre-back Smolcic gave us a five-three lead going into extra time. Varazdin would pull one back, but we’d hold out for a five-four victory in our last game in change of NK Krk. A fairy-tale ending to our time at the club.

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We finished firmly in mid-table, a huge overachievement with a side expected to finish rock bottom.

Season Review

Player of the season: Averaging a goal every other game, and winning the league’s golden boot in his first full season at the club as a permanent member of the squad, it was easy to give Nino Mohorovicic our player of the season award. His fourteen goals were crucial in our campaign, as he stepped up time and time again when it mattered. In many games, he was our only goal scorer, with his hat-trick against Hadjuk Split’s B Team the highlight in a very successful season for Nino. At our new club, he will be missed.

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Overall it has been an excellent end to our third season in the save, and with the back-to-back overachievements, we have managed to secure ourselves a massive step up as we move clubs.

New Club

From the beginning of pre-season in the 21/22 campaign, we will be managing in Croatia yet again. However, we have accepted a job in the top division of Croatian football, with last season’s six placed side NK Lokomotiva.

Playing in the Hrvatski Telekom Prva Liga, or Croatia’s Premier League, Lokomotiva just managed to secure Europa League football in the previous campaign. Going from a third-tier sized club in Krk, to an established continental club who are in European competition for the upcoming season, is undoubtedly a huge step up. With better staff, facilities and finances, this represents a chance for us to further our career, after huge success at Krk.

However, with this being the Holiday Journeyman save, there were things we needed to consider before taking the new job. Lokomotiva are a club based in the north of Croatia, within its capital city of Zagreb. With every club in this save, they needed to pass the Holiday Rule before we could manage them. This means that if a club is not situated in a location that I would like to visit on holiday, we cannot sign for the club.

So, I googled Zagreb, looked at what it had to offer, and it’s fair to say it has passed the test.

zagreb 1

Zagreb 2

This stunning city, will be where I will be based for the next chapter of the save. I will miss the beaches of Krk Island, with the rushing to the pool at six in the morning to secure a sunbed, and the sand in my socks, and the litres of factor fifty sun cream I would have to pour on my pale skin, but I am happy with my decision, look forward to moving to the city.

…okay I’ve done a bit of research and I will still have to put sun cream on in Zagreb because its currently thirty-four degrees Celsius there. So, not ideal, but still I’m excited for the job ahead at NK Lokomotiva.

Our next blog post will detail the beginning of the fourth season in the Holiday Journeyman save, as we move to our new club. Thank you for reading!

#HolidayJourneyman

Holiday Journeyman: Season Three Part Four

Holiday Journeyman Season Three Part Four

We returned from our winter break with the need to turn our form around. I had decided that a continuation of our disappointing results would confirm that I will continue my career elsewhere, leaving Krk after two and a half seasons on the island.

I finalised one more loan deal before the window ended, and it was a surprising one. I had been looking at Slaven Belupo centre forward Mile Zugaj since the end of our promotion season. He had racked up a huge twenty-three goals in twenty-nine appearances on loan in the league we had just won, and took the golden boot award. Unfortunately for us, his parent club were unwilling to let him go. However, six months on he was yet to make an appearance for the side in our division, and he requested a transfer. We were able to agree a six-month loan deal with an option to buy clause, making him our highest rated striker at the club.

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He came in as another option up front, with main striker Nino sitting on six goals for the season. He also allowed us to switch up the formation and tactic to something which I had been wanting to try for a while at Krk, details of that later, as we started our first game back in our customary 4-3-3 Vertical Tiki-Taka system.

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At first this seemed a good decision, as we recorded a big four-nil win over Solin on our return to competitive football. We outclassed a side that were in mid-table with us, in what was our best performance of the campaign by a long margin.

However, we didn’t quite follow this up how I would’ve liked us too. I’m not sure if our players’ breakfasts had been poisoned, or if our squad changing room had been sprayed with a type of gas that makes people dreadful at defending in football matches, but something had changed.

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Nino’s goal was huge for us, and could’ve seen us win all of the points. That is if BSK Bijelo Brdo hadn’t managed to score six against us, it was very close. They just edged past us in a tight game that could’ve gone either way. It is such fine margins in football, if we’d have managed to stop just five of their goals we’d have managed to get a point, as a manager you just can’t legislate for that kind of misfortune.

We followed this poor result with a change of tactic. We had been losing matches in which we had a lot of possession but no chances or shots on target. This was getting irritating, and we were relying on our midfield to score far too often.

Therefore, with three good options up front, I switched to a more conventional 4-4-2, with a false nine and a poacher as the strike-force.

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With a flat back four, we continued to start Gale. Bilic returned to his best role as an inverted wing-back, as we switched the left sided inside forward to and out and out winger.

A simple attack and defend midfield two was used to create more balance, with Kovacic and Maric both struggling to perform in more complicated roles. The idea of the tactic would be to win the ball back quickly, before progressing through the lines using quick passing and movement from midfield. The attacking midfielder and wingers would drive forward with the ball in counter attacks, creating overloads in attacking areas on the break. The false nine would drop deeper to help in these fluid counter attacks, looking to find the poacher in scoring positions. I started using a pressing forward, but quickly changed to a F9.

Our first fixture using this system was a success.

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A three-nil victory over fellow mid table Hrvatski Dragovoljac at home, with a long-range goal from new attacking centre midfielder Kovacic, and a header from Smolcic directly from a corner kick giving us a half time lead. New signing Mile Zugaj struck with twenty minutes to go on his first appearance for Krk, with an edge of the box shot driven past the keeper to make it three.

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We followed this up with another excellent result, away to top of the table Dinamo Zagreb II. A late free-kick was score by Kovacic, justifying his inclusion in the new tactic. The next result was perhaps the best of the save so far. We hosted fourth placed Hadjuk Split II, and managed to put together an excellent and complete counter-attacking performance.

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Nino became the league’s highest scorer with a hat-trick, which combined with a close ranged effort from centre-back Bruno Gale after a goalmouth scramble from a corner. This was an exceptional display, as we put four past one of the best teams in the division.

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We continued our good run with a victory away to fifth placed NK Osijek II, and a draw to NK Lucko. Our run came to an abrupt end with another tight game, as second bottom Hrvace smashing five past us at their home ground.

So perhaps our change of tactic hasn’t quite eased our woes in the league. The consistency still isn’t there for us, and with sporadic collapses occurring it becomes clearer that our squad maybe is at the pinnacle of its ability and potential. Mid-table in the league we have just been promoted to is an excellent result, but I am still unsure if it is the best I can do with this team.

Summary

With a new tactic seemingly breathing new success into our season, we seemed to have hit a purple patch. However, ending the month on a low is difficult to take.

The most interesting thing to happen in April though, was not the matches we played.

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After an interview, I was approached to become manager of Croatian top division club NK Lokomotiva. A squad with seven-million-pound value players, this represents a huge step up from Krk. Moreover, it is a step up I can make without even leaving Croatia. The club is based in Zurich, which certainly passes the save’s *Holiday Rule*. Therefore, with four games to go in my second full season at the club, I have big decisions to make.

In the next post, I will conclude the season, and make the all-important choice about my holiday future.

*The Holiday Rule*- I am only permitted to join clubs that are based in locations that I have an interest in going to in real life. I am also allowed to join them if I have been there in real life. If I have been there in real life and hated it, I cannot join the club…sorry Weston-Super-Mare.

 

 

 

 

 

Holiday Journeyman: Season Three Part Three

After a mixed run of form throughout the first couple of months of the season, we went into October questioning how much longer we would remain at NK Krk. Despite our secure mid-table position in the Druga HNL, the club’s finances were a mess, our form was stuttering, and the local supermarket had run out of Cornettos.

The run of games that followed would raise more question marks over our future, as we would finish for the three-month Croatian winter break in dire form.

October

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We followed our back-to-back draws in September with three more on the trot. Having taken the lead against NK Lucko through Nino, we needed a ninetieth minute equaliser to salvage a point.

Next up was a bore draw at home to Hrvace, followed by another dull affair at NK Medjimurje. Both games we were lucky not to lose, but poor finishing in the former kept it goal-less and another Kristijan Batelic goal got us a one all draw in the latter.

We then got our first loss of the month at home to fourth placed HNK Gorica. A decent performance from Krk saw us take the lead under ten minutes in through Nikica Stepcic, but the favourites equalised, before taking the lead quarter of the way through the match. After a red card for an opposition player’s late lunge, we pulled level with three minutes left on the clock, who else but Batelic to score it. However, another late goal took all of the points away from us, an exciting game, but I had nothing to show for it, except presumably a sweaty shirt and tie in the blistering Croatian heat.

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The month finished with another draw for Krk, as we travelled to Orijent 1919. Another late goal was needed, as we trailed by two goals to one with a minute left of the game. Up stepped Dalibor Gerc. An academy prospect who was drafted in to due to suspensions and Croatian league regulations (every team must start every fixture with at least three under twenty-one players), and he certainly took his chance. Meeting the end of a Josip Galesic cross, he tapped home his first competitive goal on his debut to rescue a point.

 

November

Gerc would continue to be a shining light in our poor form as November began, handing us the lead in a home tie against fourteenth placed NK Varazdin. However, in typical Krk fashion, that was not the end of the story, we were denied a long-awaited win by a ninety-third minute leveller.

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One week later however, we would finally taste the sweet flavour of victory under the palm trees of Krk Island, well…when we got back from the away match at NK Zadar, anyway.

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An opener from youth sensation Gerc made it three goals in three appearances for the local born hero. Loanne Ivan Krajina doubled our tally, as we finally managed to hold on to all three points.

Two Disappointing loses followed our third win of the season.

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The first was at home to sixth placed NK Rudes, a tough opposition who simply proved too much for our newly promoted squad. The second was much of the same, a good performance against second placed Sesvete away from home ended in defeat, despite a fourth goal for Dalibor Gerc, and a fifth of the season for last season’s hero Nino Mohorovicic.

 

Winter Break

This would end the first part of the Druga HNL. We were in poor form, but still five points off of the drop zone in eleventh in the table. We needed to improve our defensive cover in midfield, with our attacking midfielders such as Batelic and Kovacic only helping us offensively.

Therefore, over the winter break I chose to bring in more midfield stability and variety.

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This highly-rated defensive midfielder was scrambling around at Trnje, in the league we had just been promoted from, on loan from NK Locomotiva of the top division. We made an attempt to take over his loan deal, but had to settle for lesser options as the move was rejected.

The first of these backup choices came in the free signing of Viktor Maric. Who came in to play as a more defensively minded midfielder. At twenty-two, he helps us meet our quota of young players in a starting eleven and offers competition to our struggling DM’s of Bryan Derwich and the injured Alilovic.

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This signing was followed by the loan arrival of a player called Boris. Hopefully he is better at defending our goal than the other Boris is at defending our national health service (sorry for the football themed satire I’ll never try it again).

Boris Pranjic joined for the rest of the season from top division NK Istra 1961. Another young and versatile centre-midfielder, he will once again challenge our struggling midfielders and offer cover to the ones who are performing well.

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These two deals would be our only pieces of transfer business, as we went through the mid-season break. More would follow after however.

Our friendly results followed that of our league fixtures, with a couple of loses, wins and draws.

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The results were not surprising, with much better teams like Slavia Prague making easy work of our inexperienced Krk team.

Job Hunting

With my intention to search for a new challenge at the end of the season I began to apply for certain jobs, and take interviews. I ended up being offered just one of those over the winter break.

The possibility of becoming the Porto B manager was presented to me during the break. Although Porto as a city most certainly passes *The Holiday Rule*, I decided to turn the offer down as I had told them I would like to take the job immediately. Porto B have had three managers in the last two seasons, so I decided to wait on this job as it would probably still be an option in the not too distant future.

In addition, the idea of managing a high-profile club’s B team sort of defeats the object of the Holiday Journeyman concept that I have wanted to create. I would love to try managing a B-team, but this save was made to try out new countries in nice places that I would like to travel to one day, and jumping to a high-profile club, even at the B-team level, felt like it would be taking away the exploration aspect of the leagues I have loaded.

I was offered an interview at Western Sydney Wanderers, and this was another good option for me. I told the owner I would like to see out the current season, and I was not offered the position.

Summary

So overall with our bad form and structural problems as a club, I will probably be leaving the beautiful Krk at the end of a season in which anything above bottom would be a wild overachievement.

If we finish the season in sensational form, and I believe I truly could take NK Krk further, I would be delighted to stay, but a continuation of current form would mean I would leave the club.

However, I will be seeing out the season, and with three months and twelve games to go, my next post will follow our progression through the end of my time at my first club of the Holiday Journeyman save.

 

*The Holiday Rule*- I am only permitted to join clubs that are based in locations that I have an interest in going to in real life. I am also allowed to join them if I have been there in real life…on a holiday obviously, Swindon wouldn’t count.

#HolidayJourneyman

Holiday Journeyman: Season Three Part Two

August

With our preparation for the new season complete, we returned to competitive action and began our Druga HNL campaign against NK Zudar. With the sun shining, I piled on the factor fifty and prepared to manage in front of the loyal Krk supporters once again.

With a tough season ahead, I have decided that as this is a journeyman save, I would be looking to move on should things go wrong.

I’m not saying my Krk Island holiday is over just yet, I’ll just say that I am getting to the point where I am sick of my hotel room, I’m getting annoyed with tourists asking me to take pictures of them in front of landmarks, and I’m even bored of my buffet breakfast (which usually consists of a slice of melon, a croissant and a weird thin sausage). All I’m saying is, if the season starts to go badly, don’t be surprised if my internet history consists of daily visits to Trivago and Last minute.com.

So, with that warning, we began our season. A packed 308 capacity home stadium saw us take on Zudar on the opening day.

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An excellently timed volley from Josip Galesic gave us our first goal in second tier football. We created more chances than the opposition, and had the better of the game. However, a disappointing moment of defending allowed them to equalise with less than ten minutes to go in the first half. This performance showed me that this side did have what it takes to hang in with second tier teams. Our custom vertical tiki-taka tactic was still managing to create chances, and with a team that did not have a huge amount of personnel changes from last season.

This told me that it was not the time to cash in on the promotion, it was not the time to pack away the sunglasses and flip-flops just yet. The two games that followed in August highlighted this point.

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In an almost carbon copy first half to the one against Zudar, we took the lead against Rudes in our first away game of the season, before conceding just before the break. However, this time we had more to say after the interval, and last season’s top scorer and player of the season Kristijan Batelic restored our advantage twenty-one minutes from time. However, he did not cover himself in glory eleven minutes later, getting a straight red card for a two-footed lunge. This gave the home side all the momentum and belief they needed to pull level again, with a direct free-kick levelling the contest in injury time.

Our third game of the new campaign was again an example of our ability to take the game to second tier sides.

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New loan striker Ivan Krajina scored his first goal for the club off of the substitutes bench, to level up with NK Sesvete in added time. However, once again this was a game where our attacking and fluid football allowed us to better a team with (on paper) better players than us.

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With three times the amount of shots and nearly sixty percent of the possession, we once again could consider ourselves unfortunate not to win the game, as we continued to draw our way through August in our first Druga HNL season.

September

The month that followed however was far less consistent. We managed to get both our first two wins, and first two losses before ending up the month with a pair of more draws, taking eight points in total from September.

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Our back to back wins at the start of the month left us unbeaten after five matches, and fifth in the table. We started off with a win away in a classic match at NK Solin.

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We took a three-nil lead in just twenty minutes, after goals from the likely sources of Stepcic, Batelic and finally the first goal of Nino’s competitive career with NK Krk. After our second-choice striker had salvaged a draw the previous game, our loanee hero of the promotion campaign stepped up to show his worth, justifying his transfer. Solin rallied to score two before the final whistle, but we managed to cling on to our first three points of the 20/21 season.

We followed this up with our first home win of the season, a thrashing of last season’s ninth placed side BSK Bijelo Brdo on Krk island.

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The score was equal just before the break after yet another goal from Batelic was cancelled out. However, with a minute of the first half remaining an own goal from the opposition regained our lead in the tie. Left-back Manolo Bilic added to our advantage before another goal from Batelic and Nino’s second of the season sealed a five-one lead against the ten man opponents.

However, we followed this impressive victory with disappointment away at Hrvatski Dragovoljac.

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A thriller away to the side that finished the previous Druga HNL in sixth place ended in a five-three defeat. Despite the first Krk goal of £1,300 signing Jurica Kovacic, we were handed our first loss of the 20/21 season. This was followed by another loss, this time it was less disappointing. We recorded a one-nil loss at home to last season’s champions Dinamo Zagreb’s B-team. This was certainly not a disaster, with a much better team only managing to edge past us in our first season in the division.

The second biggest club in the league, Hadjuk Split’s B-team, were top of the table when we took the trip to their ground. A two-all draw was an excellent result for us, putting an end to our losing run the league.

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We went two goals behind in the first half, but mounted a comeback after a goal from Kovacic. He has been playing in our team’s Mezzala role in the midfield, and has been somewhat hit and miss. He has at times and has also been deployed as a Deep-Lying-Playmaker, but this goal is certainly his biggest contribution of the season so far.  Canadian backup centre-back Kosovar Sadiki was making just his second sub appearance of the season when he headed in a ninety-fourth minute equaliser for the biggest result of our season so far. He has still yet to make a start, but has been worth his contract fees just for this huge goal, with the former Stoke City youth player launching wild celebrations along the Split Riva after the game.

We finished off our month with a much more low-key affair. Another B-team came to Krk Island, this time NK Osijek. The teams played out a goalless contest that ended September 2020.

So, we finish our first couple of months in the Druga HNL eighth in the league table. With some key players underperforming, our team has changed a lot through the first nine fixtures. Going into October, it will be important to find some consistency in terms of results, our team selection, and also where to eat, as I’ve tried far too many Croatian restaurants over the past few months, and I need to find a local.

Thank you for reading my season three update, the next blog will take you through our fixtures in October and November, as we get closer to the winter break in Croatia.

#HolidayJourneyman

FMO Dortmund Season One Part One: Introduction and Pre-Season

This is the first post of my new blog save, with 2018/19 Bundesliga runners up Borussia Dortmund. Using the fantastic FM Inside update (https://fminside.net/), I have been able to use the new squad that the black and yellows will have for the new 19/20 season, as we try and challenge Bayern Munich’s dominance at the peak of German football.

Confirmed Transfers

With the update set into the game’s database, I would already have a number of new additions, as Dortmund have acted quickly in the transfer window.

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Firstly, the return of former captain Mats Hummels from Bayern will be a huge boost to our back four. One of my favourite defenders in real life, he will instantly become a key member of my side’s dressing room. He is capable both technically and physically, and will provide support to the younger members of our defence.

Two wingers arrived, in Thorgan Hazard and Julian Brandt. Once again players who I highly rate in real life, these will battle out with a set of already capable wingers at the club, and will provide us with great depth in the wide positions. Both are fairly young with space to grow further, and can give us the boost in attack we will need to compete for the title.

At left back, in came Hoffenheim’s Nico Schulz for twenty-two million pounds. He will once again offer us good depth, battling with Portugese international Raphaël Guerreiro for a place in the back four. However, this signing was somewhat ruined by an injury he picked up very early on in our pre-season in the save.

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A broken ankle will see him out until the end of the year, with the new full-back unable to make his debut anytime soon.

The two other signings arrived from Barcelona. One, Mateu Morey, is a free youth signing who will be of use to our squad in the seasons to come. He is joined by Paco Alcacer, joining on a permanent transfer after his eighteen-goal loan spell saw him as Dortmund’s top scorer in the 2018/19 season. He will be our main striking option for the beginning of the first season of the save.

My Transfers

With the club’s first team business already completed for the new season, I chose to focus on youth during the transfer window. My first signing highlights this.

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For a fee of ten million pounds, our first signing of the save would be twenty-one-year-old Mönchengladbach midfielder Florian Neuhaus. He is a Mezzala or Advanced Playmaker naturally, but can also play as a Box-to-Box midfield player. This cover will be helpful as we try and work out which system and midfield balance will work best for us, and having a player who can play in a variety of roles will help our transition between systems should things not go our way initially.

 

Our second signing is a popular Bundesliga prospect in Josha Vagnoman. He is a player who I have used in previous FM saves in 2019, and he has grown into a world class right back. Therefore, I thought that spending five and a quarter million to bring him in from Hamburg was a decent decision, as he would offer a future option in his position, with Piszczek retiring at the end of the season, and Hakimi returning to his parent club. Therefore, having a right back in our club who has high potential is going to be useful to us.

Finally, I allowed my director of football to make offers for players both first team and youth during this window. This is not a system of signing players I usually use, but with a high level DoF like Michael Zorc (with twenty ‘Judging Potential’), I thought it was worth a go. His only signing which I confirmed during the summer was the sixteen-year-old Kobenhaven striker Mohamed Daramy. He arrived for £325k and went into our U-19 squad for the next season.

On the way out of the club were many fringe players, or individuals who I felt I would not be able to give game time. I wanted to try youth options when rotating rather than lower ability squad players. Therefore, players such as Omer Toprak, Andre Schurrle and Jeremy Toljan left the club on loan. A couple of the youth players who were unlikely to get starts left on loan too. Leonardo Balerdi and Felix Passlack left for German clubs Darmstadt and Stuttgart respectively.

First Season Objectives

As with most of my saves, I will be treating the first campaign as a feeling out process. I am expected to achieve UEFA Champions League qualification, so will need to earn a top four position in the Bundesliga. I believe this is very possible with the squad we have available, so I will attempt to use the first season to find the best tactic and system for the players we have.

Tactic

Initially, I decided to go with the tactic that I have used in the past and had success with. I will use this custom vertical tiki-taka with a 4-2-3-1 formation to start with. I normally would use a 4-3-3 but as I have used this formation in the past, I decided to start with it as I felt it fit the options we have better than a three-man midfield would.

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Roman Bürki will be a sweeper who sits behind a back four. With Schulz and Diallo both injured, Guerreiro and Ajkanji will partner Mats Hummels and Real Madrid loanee right back Achraf Hakimi in defence. The wing-backs will be responsible for offering overlaps and creating attacking overloads in wide positions, particularly on the left with the inside forward, who will come inside to the half space.

Axel Witsel and Thomas Delaney will start as a double pivot in midfield, playing as a DLP and a BBM respectively, offering both playmaking efforts and defensive support behind the three attacking midfielders in the 4-2-3-1 formation. They will rotate with younger members of our first team squad like the newly arriving Neuhaus, and also Julian Weigl, Mahmood Dahoud, and finally the high potential eighteen-year-old former Barcelona youth start Sergio Gómez.

The attacking three initially will include just one of Dortmund’s new additions. Julian Brandt will sit as the Inside Forward on the left-hand side. He will cut inside and look to create openings for attacks, linking up with Marco Reus’ in the Shadow Striker role behind the striker. To the right side of him will be teenage English sensation Jadon Sancho. His excellent performances during the 18/19 season created a huge buzz around him. He is going to be a crucial part of our team, and will start as the outside Winger on the right, looking to get around the opposition left-back and get in behind to create scoring opportunities.

Our striker will be a Deep-lying-forward in Paco Alcacer. He will drop deep and interchange with the shadow striker, who will both look to find space throughout the middle, and will work almost as an unorthodox front two. Both have good technical ability, and will be able to play off of each other well in attacking areas.

Friendlies

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We started our pre-season fixtures with a friendly against our youth team in June, and we got off to a great start. We would continue this winning streak throughout our next seven friendlies, ending up with a one hundred percent record in pre-season. Excellent performances with goals and assists from newcomer Florian Neuhaus put him right in contention for a starting spot, with many other first team players adding to the thirty-eight-goal run throughout June, July and August.

Summary

So, after a successful pre-season we look forward to our first games of the season. Our Bundesliga campaign begins with the hosting of Augsburg at the Singal Iduna Park, as we look to prepare ourselves for a battle for a place in the Champions League.

Thank you for reading, join us next time for our first competitive matches of the new season.

#FMOBVB

Finding the Balance in a midfield three in FM19

Often when a team is underperforming in FM, the obvious direction to point the blame is the defence, or the attack. If the team is conceding too many, the defenders are considered to be at fault, but if the team is struggling for goals, the strikers and wingers are looked at as the issue.

However, on many occasions it is neither of these areas of a team that is the true issue. It is sometimes an issue in the balance within your team’s midfield. This is a problem that I have struggled with at many occasions throughout my years of playing the game, but here is the way that I believe it is best to address the midfield balance issue when using a three.

The main thing to do when attempting to balance a midfield trio, is working out which of your players fit particular roles. Certain roles in a midfield three work better together than others, and this is something that you should look at, if you are finding balance an issue in the middle of the pitch. The roles that you will require in midfield will of course depend on the system you are playing, and how possession/ attacking or long ball/defensive your team plays.

With that said here are the roles that I find most effective when combined together, in FM19.

Attacking System

Using these blanket terms of ‘attacking system’ and ‘defensive system’, it is possible to work out which roles work best for a given tactic’s midfield. This can easily be seen throughout football in real life, with team’s signing players to perform specific roles in very structured and planned out systems, in order to get the best results from them.

A clear example of this within attacking systems would be the Deep-Lying-Playmaker role. This has become a much more popular trend in England over the past couple of seasons, and with the arrival of Jorginho from Napoli to Chelsea last season, the topic of the DLP became one of the most discussed in the footballing world. In FM, I have found myself using DLP’s much more over recent years, usually dropping the player back into the deeper position in front of the back four. This player is responsible for helping a team play out from defence and beat an opposition’s attack, offering an easy passing lane for centre backs to build attacks through short possession exchanges. The deep-lying playmaker also needs to be able to help defensively, and therefore having a player who is fairly well rounded both technically and physically can help massively in this position.

It is then important to consider which roles will match up well with the DLP. I almost always refrain from using an Advanced Playmaker as well as DLP. This usually leaves a team short on attacking intent from midfield, as both of the two playmaking roles require players to look to receive the ball and distribute it to attacking options. Therefore, having two players to do that can mean that the team loses legs in midfield, as two passing based players are deployed to help pick out attackers, leaving just one free to attack.

Therefore, I often pair the creative and possession based DLP with a Mezzala and a Box-to-Box midfielder. This once again can be compared to a classic Sarriball midfield, especially when considering his team at Napoli. The Hamsik position on the left side of the three can be seen as similar to that of a Mezzala. He looked to get forward and attack through the half spaces, making runs inside of the wingers and looking to exploit space in attacking areas. This role can link well with a DLP, who will look to find the Mezzala after his defence splitting runs in the half spaces have occurred.

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The box-to-box often acts as a spare man in this midfield system, who helps to regain possession higher up the pitch in pressing phases, but also comes back to defend deeper when the team are struggling for numbers at the back. This player will also look to contribute goals and assists in your team, and once again should really be a player with good all-round stats and ability.

These three kind of midfield players offer the perfect amount of attacking, defensive and transitional support, combining together well to make a complete midfield. This allows a balanced central area to your attacking tactic.

Defensive System

The balance of a midfield three will be found in a different way in teams which play more defensive football. If your tactic involves a defensive, counter attacking style, it is important that your midfield three contain roles that fit that way of playing. Firstly, it will be likely that you will need a midfielder whose main role is defensive cover and support. This could include a Ball Winning Midfielder, a deeper positioned Defensive Midfielder, or even an Anchor Man in front of the back four. These players will not have to be involved in build-up play as much as in an attacking setup, so therefore are more involved in purely defensive phases.

Having this defensive minded deeper midfielder will therefore mean a lack of playmaking ability that would be found in DLP. Therefore, in a defensive set up often the technical role in the three is further forward. This can mean that the deployment of an Advanced Playmaker can lead to a better balance. In a counter attacking system, the defensive midfielder will win the ball back, but it will be down to the playmaking talent to create attacks, spotting runs and finding space quickly on the break.

Another example from real life of this system is Chelsea in big games under Jose Mourinho. During his second spell, he would field a three-man middle with defensive midfielder Nemanja Matic at its base. In front of him would then be Cesc Fabregas, would launch counter attacks and look for space to create chances.

Alongside them would be Box-to-Box midfielder Ramires. This could be the role you use for the third man in your defensive midfield. With a playmaker and a defensive midfielder, you could be lacking in pace and attacking intent from midfield. Whilst an AP could offer attacking impetus through passing and creativity, you may require a player who can make runs and contribute goals and assists from midfield. This could a BBM, or even a Central Midfielder with an Attack responsibility.

CHELS

Overall it is important to remember that midfield balance means that both attack, defence and transitional support is offered by the three men in the centre of your team. With lower league teams, often the rarer roles such as Mezzala aren’t suited to the level of player. Therefore, it is important to recognise that even a CM role can be effective if deployed correctly.

It cannot be overstated how much a midfield three needs to carry a varied range of ability and style of player. Finding the perfect balance of attack and defence will allow your midfield in FM19 to become unstoppable, no matter what level of individual player you have at your disposal.