After 13 seasons at Lancaster City I am taking them into Europe for the first time as we finished 6th in the Premiership last season.
We over achieved last year but were very inconsistent as we were either good or really bad, we were 10th for goals scored and conceded so average but we need to do better with both.
I also fiddled too much last year with tactics so I plan to stick with my 4-3-1-2 asymmetric possession tactic which for the most part worked well and I’m planning on sticking with most of last year’s team which is young and improving but I would like a centre back, a striker and some English players as we are short on players trained in nation needed for the European squad.
We moved into a new stadium last season which only holds 15,600 fans which was actually less than the total season tickets sold while we were ground sharing but the club have agreed to expand it to 23,490 which will be completed in March next year which means we will be ground sharing again, this time at Blackburn.
We’ve also had our youth level upgraded to level 3 which I’ve been asking to have upgraded for years. I asked them to upgrade it again and surprisingly they have agreed to upgrade the youth facilities which would then allow us to move up a level, I hadn’t realised the youth level was linked to how good youth facilities were.
The board have also removed the club culture to play defensive, direct and counter-attacking which is good as we stopped playing that way 2 seasons ago and changed it to make progress on and off the pitch which is good and they only expect us to avoid relegation which we should be able to manage.
For transfers the board have given me £76m to spend and increased the wage budget by £250k to £1m per week which gives me plenty to try and sign a couple of players I’ve been looking at getting. I might allow some players to leave too but only if I get offered big money for them.
I do also have 4 players signing for free when their contracts end as I’ve agreed to sign a 21 year Serbian right back, a 19 year old Spanish left back, a 19 year old Spanish striker, and a 19 year old Ivorian full back who is also English so will be good for the European squad as trained in nation, none of which are going to be first team players but will be good squad players.
Pre-season friendlies went well as we won 4 and drew 1 but pre-season transfers have been disappointing as we haven’t really spent much money or improved the starting 11. In addition the the players mentioned earlier that we got when their contracts ended we have brought in a 20 year English keeper released by Arsenal that has some potential, a 19 year old Belgium right winger released by Charleroi and then our only money signing is a 21 year old Scottish striker for £4m who scored 29 goals for Hearts last season.
All players brought in add some cover but don’t really improve the team that much, I have wanted other players but keep missing out on them to bigger clubs and others I want won’t talk to us as we are still classed as being a small club.
We had more success in players going out but only on loan as I haven’t sold anyone, in total 13 young players have been sent out on loan which most have a loan fee so we have brought in £10.75m in loan fees.
So we go into the first game of the season with the same starting 11 that ended last year, albeit they have improved and the lack of signings also means we start the season with a good team cohesion which is a bonus.
We also have a better start to the season this year compared to last as we have teams expected to be nearer the bottom than the top.
Before playing the first games, I checked the season preview and our odds have improved, we’ve been 2000/1 the last 2 season’s but are now 800/1 to win the league and only predicted to finish 3rd bottom.
Our first game was away to Everton and the first goal conceded started from our attacking throw in. If you read my last season update you will see me raging about it a few times and it just sums it up how much it’s broken when it’s the first goal of the season conceded that way.
It’s taken 24 minutes of the new season to piss me off and it got worse as they scored again just before half time as my winger took the ball to the corner, stopped and waited for the defender to run over and tackle him and then one long ball later their striker was through on goal to score.
We got a goal back in the second half and had more chances and a higher xG but lost the opening game 2-1, we couldn’t come back from conceding 2 stupid goals of which I’m sure we will conceded plenty more like that this season.
We did however bounce back with a 2-1 win of our own beating Villa at home, I was going to rage when we conceded an equaliser in the 83rd minute from their first shot on target but calmed down when we scored in the 91st minute to win the game.
We then got another 2-1 win away to Newcastle in another game we dominated. I changed my throw in instructions for this game to have all 4 defenders staying back, my wide midfielders/wingers taking the throws while having 2 players come short, 2 on the edge of the area and only 1 player in the box to try and nullify teams counter attacking while retaining the ball, although we would be less of an attacking threat. It seemed to work in this last game as no highlights showed us taking a throw in so hopefully this will stop those stupid goals where my players throw it to their players and ending in them getting a goal.
It was then transfer deadline day and I still had almost £80m to spend as I’ve had problems finding and getting players I want. I wanted a striker but the ones I’ve tried getting went to bigger clubs or wouldn’t talk to me but my scouts found a 18 year Uruguayan wonderkid with 4.5 star ability and a £2.4m release clause so I snapped him up at that price.
I’ve also been trying to get English players but most would cost too much as clubs want stupid fees for them, but one player I’ve been trying to sign was a 18 year old English right inside winger with good stats and lots of potential from AFC Wimbledon but they were wanting too muc, I’ve kept low balling them and declaring an interest until the point where he handed in a transfer request and they put a fee of £4m on him so I’ve bought him for that as he adds cover and a trained in nation player for Europe.
That’s all I signed, in total I’ve spent £10.5m on players which isn’t much. I also sold a player as Middlesbrough came in for a young defender that came through my youth team that only had Championship potential so I was happy to accept £1.8m for him brining the total incoming money to £12.5m so we have positive net transfers.
We then had the Euro Cup draw and we are seeded second which is better than I thought and we ended up in a group with Club Brugge, Real Hispalis and RC Lens which looking at their teams I could have a good chance to finish in the top 2.
After the draw was done we had to register the squad for it and as expected I have too many foreign players and not enough trained in nation in my first team which means having 5 back up foreigners unregistered and my back up keeper is a rubbish one.
Our first game in September was at home to Norwich and we won 4-1 but I noticed a couple of things I liked but also didn’t like. I liked that our first 2 goals came from our attacking throw ins and were nicely worked goals, however I didn’t like what I saw when I looked at the replays and 2D view as the first goal on the left was taken by my left back and not the left sided midfielder I set up and my right back was at the right side of their area but I’ve set it up so all 4 defenders should stay back but I only had 2.
Then the second goal was taken by my right winger as I set up but the right back came short instead of staying back and the left back was on the edge of the area leaving only 2 back and instead of having 1 player in the box I had 4 players and none of my players instructed to go short or to the edge of the area were where they were supposed to be.
If either of those throw ins went to the opposition we could have been exposed on the counter attack like the goals we have been conceding and it shows that players are not going where they should be on throw ins. So while it was good to score 2 goals, it’s annoying that players were not where they were asked to be.
After having a fairly easy start and winning 3 out of 4, we had last season’s run away winners Man Utd at home who easily beat us home and away last year and they’ve already scored 9 in a game this year so I was expecting the worst but they weren’t really that good and wasted the few good chances they had and we took the lead in the 71st minute. I thought the ref had helped them back into the game with a soft penalty but our keeper saved it and despite our best centre back getting sent off we saw the game out for a big 1-0 win which has put us 2nd after 5 games.
It was then the club’s European debut and we had the easiest team in the group at home first playing Real Hispalis and when they took the lead in the 35th minute I thought we were out of our depth but we equalised 6 minutes later and took the lead just after half time but they equalised in the 88th minute. Expecting a draw in our first game my young English right winger signed on transfer deadline day got a debut goal in the 89th minute, then a young English defender got a debut goal in the 94th before our left back scored again in the 96th to make our first game a 5-2 win.
Expecting a European hangover we played well away to Watford who defended well and we got a 0-0 draw before our reserves came from 2 down to draw 2-2 with Burnley in the Carabao Cup and win on penalties.
Then it was top of the table Tottenham in the league away and they looked too good for us as they took an early lead before going down to 10 men. After they went down to 10 it was a more even game but they scored again and although we got a late goal we lost 2-1, our second defeat of the season and first since the opening game, 7 games in and we are 4th in the league.
Afterwards we were back in Europe with our first away game against RC Lens who are a team full of only grey players and we won easy beating them 3-1.
Our game after Europe was at home to Fulham and as happened after the last European game we also drew this one 0-0 as Fulham defended the game and we couldn’t break them down.
Then after an international break I had my 700th game in charge of Lancaster away to Derby so I’m hoping to get a win for this milestone after losing the last few milestones I’ve had.
My 700th game was better than previous milestones as we romped into a 3-0 lead within 24 minute but Derby pulled 1 back and then we got a man sent off but we went on to win 3-1.
My reserves then got a 2-0 home win in Europe against Club Brugge as I rested my best players for playing Liverpool away a few days later and this time there was no bore draw after Europe as we actually beat them 2-0. We did get lucky however as my keeper got man of the match making 12 saves and Liverpool had an xG of 2.49 compared to our 1.05.
My reserves didn’t do as good in their Carabao Cup game at home to Tottenham as they destroyed us 4-1 to knock us out in the 4th round but my strongest 11 then went and destroyed Brighton in the following league game beating them 6-1 and I think it’s the first time I’ve ever had 2 players get a 10/10 rating as my top scorer from the last 2 season’s got a hattrick and my right winger got a goal and 4 assists with them both getting a 10.
I played my reserves again in Europe and we could only manage a 0-0 draw away to Club Brugge which is still a good result but then my best team lost away to Wolves 2-0 after wasting loads of chances to score and having more attempts and a better xG.
The next game at home to Leeds was going great as we went into a 2-0 lead while Leeds barely had a shot but after we went 2 up in the 73rd minute, they scored in the 74th with their first shot on target and then equalised 10 minutes later with their second shot on target. They never looked like scoring other than those 2 shots and even those shots shouldn’t have gone in with an overall xG from 4 total shots of 0.34.
After beating Brighton we were second but dropping points in those 2 games have sent us down to 6th but we are only 3 points behind second but Tottenham are starting to pull away at the top.
Our reserves again drew in Europe away to Real Hispalis which wasn’t bad as they are second in the group 1 point behind us and the draw confirmed both of us qualifying from the group and then my best team came from a goal down to draw away to Leicester to end November on a poor run of 1 win in 7 putting us down into 7th place.
December however started better as we had an easy home game against 17th West Ham where I rested by best players and we won 2-0 and we then got our best result of the season as a fully rested best 11 pulled off a 3-0 away win against Man City. Although City aren’t doing that good this season as they are 9th, they still have a world class team so beating them at their ground by 3 was unexpected and the last 2 wins has taken us back up to 2nd, 7 points behind top.
We then got the early assessment of the youth intake and like last year it’s not a great group of players as the only positive is we have a good goal keeper from Carlisle and it says not to expect much from the intake.
Our better league form continued in Europe as we ended the Euro Cup group with the reserves beating RC Lens 3-1 at home to top what was an easy group. It might get harder now in the knock out rounds, especially as Champions League teams will be dropping down into the Euro Cup.
There was then no European hangover as we hammered 3rd placed Arsenal 4-1 at home but we weren’t as good on Boxing day as Chelsea tore us apart at will and we were lucky to come away with only a 3-0 defeat while we were unlucky to lose our left back to injury and then his replacement also to injury so both are out for 3 weeks.
It’s annoying how we can go from beating Man City away and Arsenal at home easily then have an awful performance away to Chelsea, it’s that type of inconsistency which could cost us a chance to challenge for top 4.
We then ended the calendar year at home to 14th Burnley beating them 4-0 which was rounded off with a goal by a 17 year old left back that came through the youth team that had to play due injuries.
We’ve ended the year in 4th, after 19 games we have won 11, drew 4 and lost 3 scoring 38 which is the second best and conceding 19 which is 4th best so we have had a good season up to now.
The January transfer window now opens and after a quiet summer I’m expecting a quiet January too as the players I want still won’t talk to me until we are a bigger club.
I might sell my £20m striker we got last year as while he is a wonderkid, he hasn’t been particularly good and has lost his place to the £2.4m Uruguayan striker we got in the summer who has 7 in 13 compared to the other striker having 2 in 14 and last year only got 10 in 34, he’s wanted by a few clubs so if the right offer comes in I’ll sell him.
There are a few young players on my shortlist that have been released by their clubs so I’ve offered contracts to the promising ones but more than likely if we get then they will be loaned out or play in the u23s for now.
I did also get a surprise signing on the 1st of January as we got a Brazilian winger signing for £750k who I had forgotten about. I agreed to sign him last year but he didn’t turn 18 until December so this is the first window he could join.
At the start of January I’ve also done something I never usually do and I’ve changed my expectations from Avoid Relegation to Top Half finish as even though I might not be signing anyone, changing the expectations has given me an extra £30m so I have £100m to spend, if I don’t spend it now it’ll still be there at the end of the season.
Based on the first half of the season we are looking good for a top half finish but should hopefully do better, I don’t want to say I’ll do better than that in case we collapse but I’m confident we will get top half so I’m happy to change it.
Our first game of 2035 was in the FA Cup at home to League One side Sunderland so my reserves got to play and they won 2-0.
I then brought in a few players, the first 2 were a 18 year old Columbian midfielder and 19 year old Uruguayan goal keeper both released by their club so I got them for free and then loaned them straight out for £750k so already they’re profitable.
I also missed out on a few released promising players as they decided to go to bigger clubs, I didn’t need them but they would have brought in loan fees and future transfer fees.
I then signed a 22 year old Chinese midfielder as a squad player, he cost £5.75m but he’s not a great player, he will add cover as he could play in all 3 central midfield roles we play so will be a good back up player but one of the reasons I signed him other than a back up player is that he will increase revenue by £2.1m a year according to the scout reports so over the long term he will increase our income to cover what we paid for him, he will add cover to the squad and hopefully we can sell him on later on for a profit.
Straight away I got a message saying he’s boosted shirt sales and that touring China will increase commercial income so I know where I’ll be going in the summer.
After the cup win we won back to back league games beating mid table Aston Villa away 2-1 and then 5th placed Everton at home 2-0.
After those games I totally smashed my transfer record again eclipsing the £25m we spent on our winger to bring in a 20 year old advanced playmaker wonderkid for £70m who based on the stats and scouts reports looks worth every penny.
I hadn’t planned on signing anyone for the first team and definitely not for that kind of money but my scouts had been scouting him for a while and once I could see all his stats he was too good to turn down, also having £100m sitting there to spend makes it hard to resist and I’d rather spend it on one or two big signings than bring in loads of players to upset the dynamics and team cohesion.
He had a good game in the next league game as although we only beat bottom club Newcastle 1-0, it could have been 5 or 6 based on the performance and our new man got a high rating for his performance.
I’ve also sold some players selling a once record signing striker we got in the championship for £575k and who’s goals got us promoted and kept us in the Prem in the first season was sold for £18.75m which is good for a 22 year old that is no longer good enough for us. I also sold the 20 year old Spanish left back we got in the summer for free as he was 3rd choice and not playing so I sold him for £8m.
I then sold a 25 year old defensive midfielder we’ve had since League One but kept around as back up for £500k and then I cashed in on a 20 year old Brazilian midfielder we got for free a couple of years ago, he has lots of potential but isn’t progressing and is only League One ability, he was sold for a nice £10m.
In total this season I’ve brought in £53m in transfers and loans which helps offset the £87m spent mostly on 1 player.
Our last league game of January was a 3-1 win away to Norwich to record 5 straight league wins and after 23 games we are 3rd only 2 points behind top and now 5 ahead of 5th and 13 ahead of 8th so we are looking good to qualify for Europe again and are still in a challenge for top 4 or even the title if we can keep our form going.
We ended the month with an FA Cup win at home to Championship side Stoke beating them only 1-0 even with putting my strongest side out.
Then the transfer window ended and we had a bit more activity on deadline day as a player I’ve had on my shortlist but had no interest in signing now showed as being interested so I went and broke my transfer record again signing a 20 year old Portuguese wonderkid striker for £80m paying £40m now and the rest over time.
It’s not that I needed him but the stats and scouts reports for him are like the midfielder I signed, too good to pass up on.
I think with these two massive signings it can give us the extra quality needed to secure a top 4 finish.
I also sold another player on deadline day selling a now surplus striker, not the one I wanted to sell as no one wanted him but he’ll do as a back up but I managed to sell a 21 year old Montenegro striker for £35m which is a massive profit as we got him for free 4 seasons ago without a work permit so he was loaned out 3 times for £1.6m and then this season he got a work permit but only played 10 times and never scored a goal so getting that much for him is good and almost plays half the cost of my new striker.
The season totals for transfers is now £167m spent and £88m received which is new records for both and considering we spent £150m on two players, the net spend isn’t that much.
Our first game in February was at home to 14th Watford and I was looking forward to seeing how my new striker does against a struggling team but on the eve of the game he got the flu so will miss this game and the next away to Man United.
The Watford game was a formality as we comfortably won 2-0 to go 6 wins in a row but that ended away to Man United as we lost 3-2. I’ve not complained about goals conceded from attacking throw ins since I changed to a more passive throw in but their second came from our attacking throw in where we didn’t have the players in the positions they were supposed to be in. The other goals were poor defending too as the first was a long ball that defenders ran away from but the 3rd was the worst as 1 defender tackled their striker and the ball ran through towards my keeper, my keeper stood still, 2 of my players ran away from the ball while their striker got up off the ground, ran through to the ball that my team decided to ignore to round the keeper and score.
Other than the bad defending we played well but their win has put them top 4 points ahead of us as we’ve dropped to 4th.
Our next game away to Fulham was my new strikers debut and it didn’t start well as 2 defensive mistakes saw us 2 down within the first half hour but we pulled one back in first half stoppage time and a 63rd minute penalty drew us level. It was then time for my new striker to shine as he scored our 3rd with a back heel flick, then a minute later he was put through on goal to finish one on one, he then set up a 5th goal before breaking from his own half after their corner to get a debut hattrick and our 6th goal. I think this is my best debut of any player I’ve bought, 3 goals, an assist, 9.2 rating and man of the match.
Our new striker couldn’t however help us get past a good Liverpool side in the FA Cup as more defensive errors put us 2 down and although he did get a goal we lost 2-1 to exit the cup.
We had another cup game next as we were drawn with German club VfB Stuttgart in the Euro Cup second knockout round and the first leg was away where it was one way all game as we had attack after attack, I’m not sure how but it was 0-0 at half time, the second half was better as we scored 4 goals but it could have been 10 as we had 33 shots which is the most we’ve had in a game, 18 were on target and we had an xG of 5.45.
Our new midfielder got his first goal and an another assist, our new striker got 2 goals while our star winger got 10/10, a goal and 2 assists. Our winger has now broken a club record for most assists in a season as he now has 16 in 30 games breaking a record we got back in the Conference North.
For some reason our next league game at home to Liverpool was on the Saturday and not Sunday so we had 1 less day since playing in Europe which meant my players weren’t as fit as I would have liked but I still played my best team as Liverpool are 2 points ahead of us in 3rd so I didn’t want to risk playing a weakened team and it ended in a 0-0 bore draw, I don’t think there was a highlight in the second half, I’ll take it over a defeat though.
It was then the second leg at home to Stuttgart and I was tempted to play my best team to see if we could score a load of goals against them after the away leg domination but I went with the reserves and we won 1-0.
We are now in Mid March so it’s time for the youth intake and as expected we got a decent keeper and nothing else, I did give several youth players a contract as they could be ok players and bring in money later on if sold but none of them stand out.
Back to the league and we have a run of easier league games as we finished March with 3 wins beating Brighton 1-0, Derby 5-3 after being down to 10 men since the 6th minute and then Wolves 2-0 which put us 2nd by 1 point with a game in hand.
The first game in April ended with a poor 1-1 home draw with Leicester which put us down to 3rd as Tottenham went top by 1 point but they have 3 games in hand.
After 31 games we have 20 wins, 6 draws and 5 loses putting us on 66 points. Man Utd are 2nd on 66 points and a better goal difference, Tottenham are top with 67 points and Liverpool are 4th with 65 points but then there is a gap to 5th on 57 points which means any of the top 4 could finish top.
In the next Euro Cup games we were drawn against Belgium side Standard Liege with the first game away from home. They took the lead with their first shot on target in the 8th minute, we equalised in the 38th and then battered them without scoring again before they then scored in the 88th minute with their second shot on target via a penalty.
We had a league game between the Euro Cup games away to Leeds where due to losing the first leg I rested my better players which back fired as the team I put out were awful and full of mistakes, they had 1 shot all game and lost 4-0. It was our game in hand over Man Utd and Liverpool so we didn’t gain points on them and actually went down to 4th as Liverpool now have the same points and the 4 goal loss has put our goal difference worse than theirs.
Then in the home leg of the Euro Cup with our best team out we dominated from the start and won comfortably 3-0 which made me feel better about the league loss but we did lose my winger and best player this year to injury for 3 weeks.
After Europe we beat West Ham 2-1 in the league and then had 2 big games as we drew 1-1 at home to table toppers Tottenham before beating 5th place Man City also at home 2-1 which confirmed a best ever finish as we can’t finish lower than 5th but realistically we are 12 points ahead of 5th with 3 games to play so have pretty much guaranteed top 4 and Champions League football.
We are still technically in with a chance of the title as we are only 4 points behind top but they still have 3 games in hand so it’s looking like Tottenham will win the league.
Next up was the Euro Cup semi final and we have fellow English side Leeds who last time we played hammered my reserve players 4-0, but seeing as Tottenham look to be winning the league, the Euro Cup is a priority now we are a couple of games away from winning it so my best team played and we came from a goal down to win 3-1 in the home leg.
I rested players for the league game away to Arsenal and we lost 1-0 after they scored an early goal from our attacking throw in as instead of 4 players staying back only 1 bothered who then missed timed his header to leave their player with a free run on goal. The loss gave Tottenham the title as they were 7 clear before the game with 4 to play while we only have 2 games left, even if we had won Tottenham only needed to win one of their 4 to win the league.
A strong team then scored 2 first half goals and won 2-0 against Leeds in the second leg taking us to our first European final in our first season being in Europe where we play Spanish side Alaves.
We ended the league season with a 3-2 home win against Chelsea and a 1-0 away win to Burnley which has given us a very good 2nd place finish, 11 points behind Tottenham.
After 38 games we won 24, drew 7 and lost 7 scoring 74 goals which was 2nd best to Man Utds 83 and we conceded 40 which was only the 7th best.
There were a few stand out performers for us this season as our 21 year old right winger was immense as he finished number 1 for crosses and dribbles per game, had the highest average rating in the league with 7.72, got the most man of the matches with 11 (a new Premiership record), the second most assists and most key passes with 221 which was 42 more than second best.
He also won Footballer of the Year, Players Player of the Year, Players Young Player of the Year and was name in the team of the year along with my 2 centre backs.
My star centre back we bought for £50k in the championship has developed into a star worth £50m and wanted by every big club in Europe along with a place in the team of the year had the highest pass completion % with 96% and was 2nd for key headers.
My January signings made a big difference as my £70m midfielder got 8 assists which was 3rd best in the team and my £80m striker ended up as our second top league scorer with 11 in 11, he’s also joint top scorer in all competitions with 16 in 17 games.
Now the league has finished, we still have 1 more game to play in the Euro Cup final against Alaves. The last cup final we played in was the FA Cup a few seasons ago and we lost but we are a much better team now and we won this one 3-0 as Alaves barely done anything but defend all game and in our first European campaign we have won the Euro Cup.
That rounds off a very good season with a cup win and league runners up.
Next season we have Champions League which will be much harder against the bigger teams but we’ve shown in the league we can compete with the big English teams and next year we will be aiming for at least top 4 again, maybe the title if our new striker continues to score almost a goal a game.
I’ll be back with an update after next season where hopefully we could win the league or more cups.
– Sparko Marco