Premier Managers #3: The big push

Welcome back to the dugout. Part 1 is here, part 2 is here. A quick reminder of where we’re at in the league with 14 games to go:

It’s a trip to Villa Park to get us underway. We’re still trying to find a way to cope without star CB Slaven Bilic. Bruce has the 2nd best average of all my CBs, but I’m concerned his 37-year-old legs might be starting to slow a bit. Unfortunately, the alternatives are all even older (Bielsa, Allardyce, Hodgson) or not quite Premier League standard (Moyes, Smith). Actually, Klopp is there, but he hasn’t set the world alight when he’s played. We’ll stick with Cribbins for now with a view to phasing in Klopp if we start leaking goals.

We’re on top throughout. Lampard wasn’t playing well so subbed him off for Jose and put him behind the strikers with Arteta moving to MC, and the special one does the business. Bruce gets a 9 and Villa have 1 shot in the whole game. Good work, Steve, never doubted you.

Away to Newcastle. Wor Alan is back from his torn knee ligaments and has got 2 in 2. They’re 1 point behind us with a game in hand so this is a bit of a crunch game. We’ll stick with the same team that saw off Villa, and hope that Newcastle are bit tired from the League Cup semi-final in the midweek.

Not our day at all. Nuno is struggling with an arm injury after 5 minutes. Newcastle create lots of chances but only get 3 on target, so I think leaving Nuno on with his bad arm was the wrong call. Given clatters Mourinho after 82 minutes but no penalty. “Unbelievable” indeed. Where’s VAR when you need it?

Someone must have told him what I said about him not being good enough earlier. Ok Dave, if you must.

Bolton up next. Pegguy Arphexad makes his debut as Nuno’s still out feeling a bit wristy. Lampard’s in poor form so he drops to the bench. Jose comes in behind the strikers and Arteta plays centre mid. Vialli’s form has been slightly patchy so we’ll go back to OGS and Handsome Ralph up front.

Good stuff. Bolton score with their only shot on target, but OGS is back in form, and had a 3rd ruled out for offside. Handsome Ralph seals the win.

Next to visit The Dugout are Wimbledon. Nuno’s back from his injury, so that’ll be the only change from the win against Bolton.

Very nice. Jose never seems to play well (avg 6.91), but that’s his 9th goal of the season. Looks like him and OGS have put aside their differences for the benefit of the team, and it’s really clicking for us at the moment.

Just a reminder of the team & tactics ahead of our trip to Everton. We’ll keep the same team that’s won the last 2.

The Manager train keeps rollin’. It’s a fairly dull, fairly even affair, but we do enough to get the win. Jose scores again and Pep bags his 3rd of the season. Newcastle and Derby both don’t play this weekend, so we’re up 3rd in the table in the meantime.

Next up we’re home to Spurs. No changes. Feel the rhythm. Feel the ride.

Handsome Ralph’s early goal is the difference, but it should have been 3 or 4. Ian Walker getting MOM in a losing performance tells you all you need to know.

Blackburn next. Wildcard G’s out for 2 weeks with a back strain, so Ryan Mason is our most attacking bench option. Starting XI remains the same.

It’s not pretty, but it’ll do. We limited Blackburn to a single shot all game. Brucey was MOM. Solid. Liverpool lose and we go 2nd, but all the lads immediately below have crucial games in hand:

Home to Derby. They beat us 2-1 earlier in the season, and having won their game in hand, they’re above us again in 3rd. Liverpool beat Newcastle in their game in hand so we’re back in 4th, and it feels like a crucial game if we’re to harbour (dare I say it) Champions League hopes. Derby played in the week so I’m hoping we can take advantage of their slightly tired legs.

Bah. Frustrating as anything. We don’t manage a shot on target until just before Handsome Ralph’s goal, but it’s not enough. We throw the kitchen sink at them but all the chances seem to fall to Steve Bruce and it’s a poor result.

Away to Leicester. We lost to these last time, as well. Time to attack. Arteta moves into an AMC role alongside Jose and Mr Carlo pushes into centre mid. Vialli back on the bench.

Absolutely raging. Raging. Look at this!

Get in the bloody sea, all of you. Yes, you as well, Martin O’Neill. Especially you.

CL would be a miracle now. I don’t know if 5th will get us into Europe…maybe?

Home to Saints next. It’s the Monday after the Saturday before so we need a few fresh legs. Back 3 of Big Sam, Bielsa and Wilder. Brodge-Hodgson connection in DM. Lampard in for Arteta in AM. Vialli in for Ralphy up front.

Well, that was nice. OGS was MOM (obvs) but Bielsa also rated 10. Beautiful. Liverpool beat Derby so we’re 6 points off 2nd with 4 to play. Unlikely, but Derby still have to play Arsenal and Man Utd so 3rd is maybe doable, though Newcastle still have that game in hand.

Away to Cov. We got well and truly Champo’d in the first game. They’re 16th but only a point above the drop, so plenty to play for. I’ve got some hard choices here, as it’s difficult to want to change a team that just popped 6 in.

Ok, here we go…

Dour stuff, not helped by Uncle Roy’s red card in the first half. 1 shot on target for each team in the whole game. Newcastle and Derby both lose so it’s a bit of a missed chance, but if we can get past Leeds and Man Utd do us a favour, we’ll be above them on goal difference.

Bielsa makes his Argentina debut aged 42, and it’s an emotional day all round.

Ok then Australia, showing off a bit with your “we only need 10 men”, eh?

Big Sam tears his groin stooping to pick up a pint of wine and will miss the last 3 games. Handsome Ralph and Hodgson are suspended. We switch back to 3-3-1-1-2 because I’m paranoid.

Wildcard G makes the most of his chance. Not our best performance, but good enough. Man Utd oblige us with a 1-0 win over Derby, putting us level on 67 points, but Newcastle are really good and it’s hard to see them not picking up 3 wins against Wimbledon, West Ham and Everton.

Sheff Wed next. They’re 19th but could still escape.

Damn it. We’re easily the better side, but Kevin “press gang” Pressman is in good form, keeping out 4 of our 5 shots on target, whereas they score 1 of their 2. As expected, Newcastle win their game in hand, so we need big favours from Barnsley and Everton if we’re to have any chance of sneaking 3rd place. Presuming we can get past Chelsea, who’ve got the CWC final in a few days time.

Here we go then. Mourinho’s gone off the boil badly in the last few weeks, and I know it’s Chelsea, but tough.

An infuriatingly terrible end to an otherwise fun season. We ran out of steam in the last few games, and really missed Bilic at the business end of the season where you just need that extra bit of defensive steel. It didn’t matter anyway, because Derby and Newcastle both won. Here’s the final table:

Have to be pleased with that overall, although 8 points from the final 7 games is a pitiful way to end the season. I thought we were going to struggle to make top half at one point, but they seemed to gel nicely around mid-way through, and the fact we were even in the CL conversation would have seemed ludicrous early on. Bloody Leicester.

There’s bound to be a slew of retirements in the summer, so we’ll have no choice but to bring in an influx of future/former managers to replace them. Bielsa’s off to play at France ’98, after which he’d take over the Argentine national team IRL. He actually plays every game, before going out in flames in the QF against Brazil:

France end up beating Brazil in the final. Sounds familiar…

Well isn’t that nice?

Yeah sure, why not.

See you next time!

Premier Managers #1

I thought it might be a fun, if not that original idea, to put all of the 20/21 Premier League managers into a team and see how they got on.

Creating the squad

I’ve included all managers who took charge of a Premier League game this season, not including COVID-based stand-ins, or anyone else I’ve probably forgot. Of the 24 lads that have been in charge this season, 14 already existed in the database and have been transferred in. The other 10 have been created manually, based on info about their playing career and style from Wikipedia and my own personal evaluation of what they were like having never seen most of them kick a ball.

For example, Wikipedia says that Demetriou Albertini was basically a clone of Carlo Ancelotti, so I’ve just copied DA’s stats across verbatim:

Sam Allardyce is your classic no-nonsense centre back:

Roy Hodgson, given his long and varied career, a very adaptable man:

Jose Mourinho, the maverick:

I imagine Brodge to be a bit more of a cultured defender:

Bielsa I reckon would be a good all-rounder:

I won’t bore you to tears with every single one, since most of the others all finished playing quite recently, and I can’t be bothered to argue with you about just how good Ryan Mason really was. So, here’s the squad:

The squad is perhaps a tad unbalanced, so I think we’ll make a rule that, during season 1, we’re allowed to bring in one future/former Premier League manager that appears in the database, so the likes of Alan Shearer, Stuart Pearce, Paul Lambert etc will all be fair game. (Just looking through the list for potential attacking talent. Dowie. Lombardo. Big Dunc!)  Oh yes and we needed a backup keeper so Pegguy Arphexad bravely agreed to step in, despite his lack of management experience.

First XI

I’d like to think we’ll be quite solid defensively, given how many bloody defenders we’ve got. We’re fairly fortunate in that Guardiola and Solskjaer are pretty handy, but OGS is out for 3 months so we’re probably going to struggle for goals in the interim, unless Ralph Hasenhüttl turns out to be a goal machine. When Solskjaer returns, I’ll likely play the 3-3-1-1-2 that won me the league in the first season with Arsenal. Until then, we’ll exchange a forward for an AM:

We can always try Dean Smith as an auxiliary striker, he’s got 8 goals in each of the last two seasons playing for Hereford! Shooting 14 as well. Noted. Right, let’s see who we’ve got in our first few games.

Ahh bloody hell. Maybe we can ask Roy Hodgson what “Baptism of Fire” is in Norwegian.

Right then, here we go. Game day 1:

Let’s do this.

1-0 up at half time. Mourinho gives us an early lead. Klopp is struggling with a back injury but as it’s Liverpool, I daren’t take him off.

Well blow me down! Handsome Ralph comes up with the goods in the second half. I promise not to be this forensic in every match, but here’s the ratings and stats:

Little cameo from Brodge there, playing as a 7 and a half. Next up, it’s a visit from the Arsenal. Klopp’s injured from the knock in the Liverpool game, and Bilic has got a bruised jaw, so we bring in Big Sam and Thomas Tuchel to cover.

Well, that was a bit of a damp squib. Still looking good defensively, but with Arteta not match fit and OGS still out injured, we’re having to make do. Also, Roy’s just hit the big Five-O, and he must have had some sort of mid-life gym-inspired crisis, because the man now has vastly improved strength, stamina and pace:

Perhaps feeling something is amiss with this save, Barcelona come sniffing around Guardiola.

No, you can’t have Mikel Arteta either.

Can everyone just leave my players alone, please? I’m trying to do something here.

42 year-old Bielsa on the bench for Argentina but he doesn’t get the nod!

Sporting Lisbon come in with a derisory £575k bid for Mourinho. I tell them to jog on. Next up, it’s the final leg of our Triptych of Destiny, and a tough test for our managers against the Great Manager himself, Lord Ferg. Klopp and Bilic are fit again, so they return to the back 3, and Arteta’s now at 92% fitness, so he replaces Scott Parker in central midfield. Ryan Mason is now also injured, so our most attacking substitute option is…Sean Dyche. Nah, I’ll put Dean Smith up front if I have to. It’s away to Man Utd, we’re screwed anyway.

We hang on until the 74th minute, but the pressure was just too much in the end. We’ll stick with the same team against West Ham, no shame in losing at Old Trafford and we need to try and build some stability.

That’s better! [/Townsend] 3-0 up after 49 minutes so it’s a chance to rest our precious attackers. Smith and Brodge replace Handsome Ralph and Jose respectively, and the two makeshift attackers perform creditably well as we run out 4-1 winners. Lampard scores 2 against his old club. Of course he does.

Next up is a trip to 3rd place Barnsley, flying high in this nascent league table. Definitely sticking with the same side that saw off the Hammers.

Terrible performance. Only 4 shots all game. I pulled off Bielsa and put Dean Smith up front with Ralph, and switched to direct style for the last 20 minutes, but didn’t get us anywhere. Terrible. Can we buy Alan Shearer yet?

Home to Villa. Arteta hasn’t been playing well so I’m popping Scott Parker back into centre mid.

Absolute pony. Ole! We need you! I think we’re gonna need to change formation, but it’s going to be tricky with so few attacking options, so I’ll have to play a few lads out of position.

OGS is still only 81% so I don’t want to risk starting him. Parker got injured on U21 duty so we bring in Brodge to cover. Guardiola moves to centre mid to hopefully pull some strings a bit further forward, and we’ll rely on Bielsa’s 42 years of wizardry to shield next to Brodge. I don’t think our team of journeyman-player-turned-star-managers has enough to maintain a passing game so we’re going direct.

Much improved. Lampard does the business. Captain Steve Bruce goes off injured, and since I’ve got Allardyce on the bench and it’s Bolton, why not? Per Frandsen gives us a wobble, so we bring on Tuchel for Brodge and OGS for Arteta and see it out safely after Lamps gets a hat trick.

Next up it’s the League Cup against Northampton. We’re gonna rotate the squad a bit, so it’s full debuts for Moyes, Dyche and Potter. Mourinho gets a recall for his favourite competition.

Handsome Ralph with a brace, Sean Dyche also bagging on his debut. Jose shows up for this one, as you’d expect.

Oooh, Vialli got sacked after losing 6-0 to Villa. Time to sign my one former manager wildcard for the season.

Home to Newcastle. Bruce is out for a month so we’ll go for Big Sam as Captain. OGS gets his first start. Team is starting to feel more balanced. Vialli on the bench, Mourinho doesn’t make the squad. (Ha!)

It starts well, with Mr Carlo raising his eyebrow high enough to score his first goal for us, but we’re soon behind thanks to the Geordie all-star smash’n’grab dream team of Andreas Andersson and Timour Ketsbaia. OGS isn’t playing well, so Vialli comes off the bench and rescues a point on his debut. Creditable result, but we’re a bit lucky as they were our only two shots on target.

Right, well I think we’ll leave it there for now. A steady enough start hopefully we’ll find some more rhythm as the season goes on.

The day we caught the train (to De Kuip on CM97/98)

Started a game of CM97/98 with Sportclub Excelsior in Toto Divisie. It’s hard playing with lower ranked Dutch teams in this game – no money, no fans, nobody wants to play for you, all the half decent youngsters either go somewhere else or get pinched after about 2 games because of the dreaded big-club release clause.

Anyway, through a combination of graft, luck, an exhaustively put together band of miscreants, and tweaking the tactics of @9798Nikolai, things have started to come together in season #5. We’ve found a bit of solidity with Jan Suchoparek at the back and possibly regen Neville Southall in goal. Regen George Weah, appearing as Joe Latoundji, has been prolific and equally instrumental in attack, alongside mainstay cheapo investment Bruno Gimenez.

We weren’t consistent enough to break the Ajax/PSV hegemony in the league, however we did finish a club record high 4th, and found our feet in the Amstel Cup. Feyenoord were dispatched in round 2, despite us going down to 9 men.

A kind draw gave us D2 Zwolle in round 3, who we saw off 2-1 fairly easily. The quarter final saw us host the reigning European and World club champions, Ajax. We came from behind twice to take the match to extra time at 2-2. Gimenez struck early doors in the first period to send us through with a historic victory.

The semi final saw us face fellow high flyers NAC, who I was expecting a stiff test against after a heavy 4-1 defeat in the league just 2 months earlier. However 2 goals in the first 6 minutes eased all the nerves and we coasted through, with midfield maestro Diniev adding a 3rd early in the 2nd half.

The other semi final saw lowly Telstar succumb to the might of PSV. They had wrapped up the league title a few weeks beforehand and were now preparing to face Man Utd in the Champions League final after they played us in the domestic cup final.

I felt cautiously optimistic going into it. We’d lost both league games to them – a 6-4 ding-dong that we actually had more shots on target in, but young Nev was still settling in, and a 1-0 where we matched them but their keeper, Luca Bucci, was MOM – but the overall improvement had been excellent since we started switching between the narrow 2-3-1-2-2 and a modified version that moves one of the AMCs to CB, depending on the quality of opponent and/or formation used.

Without wanting to blow my own alpenhoorn too much, this 3-3-1-1-2 had been pretty effective at stifling the attacking threat of the big boys and their Ajax/3-1-3-3. We essentially match the numbers at the back and try and focus our attacking in the space left by their only having 1 CB and 1 DM.

We’d only lost once in 15 games going into the final, an absolute mugging at home to Willem II where they went down to 10 men and scored with their only 2 shots on target (dammit Nev!) and we lost 2-1. Our overall record since the 1-0 loss to PSV was P15 W11 D3 L1. We lost our captain, Lyndon B Johnson, to a torn groin a few weeks back:

But other than that, there were no major injury concerns or suspensions heading into the final. My biggest concern was a potential penalty shootout. My personal record in CM9798 finals is reasonable if I get the job done in 90 minutes, but if it’s all square AET, all bets are off. Me and the penalties just don’t get along.

Right then, so the line up and formation shown above were what we went into the final with. Of the others as yet unmentioned in the first XI, Alexander Vergueitchik is regen Sergei Gerasimets, who famously scored the winner for Belarus against Holland in a Euro 96 qualifier (and had a rather splendid curly mullet to boot). The others, well they’re an honest bunch of lads. Here it is, PSV vs Excelsior, David vs Goliath, Branko vs Strupar: