Football Manager: Chapter III, April Fool’s
With international matches wrapped up it was time to focus on finishing the season strong. Worst case I could be out of both Cups and Utd breathing down my neck if this month went sour.
Things did not start off well as the U23s lost the EFL Trophy by 3–1 to Port Vale. It saw several first team members fail to influence the game. What was worse Cech scored an clumsy own goal. It definitely put me on alert. Just before the Crystal Palace match he picked up an injury. Joao Virginia was called up as a substitute GK.
The match against Crystal Palace saw us storming at their goal any chance given. Shots were blocked, went wide and all this in the first 30 minutes. It was not until the 31st minute a cross found Oli who tapped it in. Sadly the linesman had his flag up. The team became more and more frustrated as no shot went in. At the break I could only say I was unhappy with what I saw. The team was wasting chances, they weren’t clinical in front of goal.
The second half looked to be more of the same. In the 67th minute we substituted Oli for Silva, perhaps we could beat them with a little bit more pace. In the 75th minute I told them to storm forward as this was just silly to see. We got another goal ruled offside as the game looked to finish as a draw. Zaha had a last chance for Crystal Palace. We had dropped points again, with 30 shots and only 9 on goal we had something to worry about if we were to beat FC Bayern.
In training we decided to take more time on match preparations. I hoped this would at least improve our chances on that front.
We were quickly in front against Everton as Santi scored from a corner that was cleared. It was a beautiful long distant strike. Sanchez and Oli’s performances so far worried me. A ball intercepted in midfield saw a chance being created for Dybala as Sanchez and Oli combined to bring Dybala into position. He squandered the chance as it went wide. Everton looked to escape our grip on the match as half time grew closer. I decided to sub Oli at half time and bring on Iwobi, perhaps he could bring something to the game. But it looked like were weren’t able to break down the Everton wall any further till the 53th minute where a free kick was taken short and Sanchez was there to head it in. Though we were able to play our game till the end of the game we did not manage to dominate the game further. Eventually it was Musi was who was awarded Man of the Match as the defence held on tight.
In Spain Real had retained the La Liga title. With still six matches to go they had created a lead of 22 points. Barcelona was 31 points behind in 6th place.
In the pre-game conference for the Bayern match I tried to place us in the underdog role. Ancelotti tried to do the same by praising me but I was not falling for that.
Come kick-off and the game was even. I was impressed by Douglas Costa his speed though we were able to tame him. A cross from the left that deflected was picked up by Santi who passed it to Ox, he left nothing to chance as he blasted it into the back of the net. Things remained balanced with no real chances for Bayern. A bad pass was picked up by Dybala, he passed it on to Oli who was in the middle. Sanchez was standing ready as Boateng was too much forward in an attempt to pressure Oli just waiting for the pass that came. He was one on one with Neuer as he shot it passed him. Things remained balanced after that. I had not expected the 4–3–3 formation to hold.
In the other match Liverpool destroyed Shakhtar
In between the Champions League matches I played Watford. What was seen as easy was much more difficult. It was not until the 31st minute that we scored a goal as Silva bursted into the box from the left to pass it to Jeff who was waiting in the six yard box as he finished coolly under pressure. Five minutes later Jeff returned the favour as he got the ball from the right moved into the box and passed it to Silva who tapped it in. Quickly after that on a counter attack Silva got the ball and held it up as Jack ran into the box to shoot it from just passed the penalty box line. We felt in control!
In the second half some one touch passing near the edge of the box lead to a Jack goal, sadly it was ruled offside. Laurent Poirier scored his second goal of the season showing how much talent strikers we had waiting for us.
The win put us 12 points clear again as Utd lost 5–3 against Leicester City. That would mean 4 points would be enough for us to win the title again. In Germany, Turkey and Italy things were exciting as well. In France, Portugal and the Netherlands the #1 teams were able to break away creating at least six point gaps with the #2.
The win against Watford resulted in four players being selected for Team of the Week.
The second leg of the Champions League Quarter Final started in similar fashion as the first. Again I had opted for Giani at goal. In the 20th minute we got lucky as Andrea Belotti headed against the post. It looked like Bayern was getting a foothold on the match. Despite a good chance of Ox going wide as he had a clear chance it remained 0–0 till half time. I had to remind the team to stay focused and watch out for complacency.
Because of the limited chances the forwards were not in the best form. In the 55th minute Ox pass the ball to the other side of the pitch where Sanchez was present to burst into the box and cross it to Oli who was there to tap it in. A similar attack from Bayer happend on the right but Musi was there to prevent a Belotti tap in.
Sanchez appeared to pick up an injury in the 70th minute. I was worried as Özil and Lucas were still out and the Semi Finals in the Champions League would be next in a week or two. After some passing around in midfield Santi played into Iwobi who turned and ran into the box to slot it passed Neuer. If we compared the Bayern we faced in 2017 and this team felt light weight.
After the match David Favre reported we’d be without Sanchez for two weeks. With some luck we could have him at 100% in the second leg Champions League semi final. But we would miss him for the most important match, Spurs.
Juventus shocked football fans as it prevented Barcelona from scoring while they won on aggregate goals. This would definitely mean the end of Paco Jemez who is in charge at Barcelona.
Good news as Iwobi withdrew his request transfer request and was happy to stay with the club. However that would mean a though negotiation this summer as his contract will expire next year.
In the Semi Final draw of the Champions League we were paired with Juventus while Liverpool would play Real. Just like with Bayern we were able to win from them in 2017 as we went through to the finals. Question will be if this year will be the same.
The FA Cup Semi Final saw us start the game strong. Within 20 minutes Silva put us in front with a beautiful strike from just in the penalty box. 10 minutes later we were passing the ball around in front of the penalty box after a badly cleared corner until Jack poked a through ball for Silva to finish. Our attacks went on into the second half. In the 69th minute the medical staff was rushed on after a bad tackle on Buitink, he was grabbing his knee. This caused for some adjustments to our plans but after the final whistle we were through to our third consecutive FA Cup final.
My focus lied with Thomas Buitink, the nature of his injury and his time out. David Fevre reported he’s be out for six weeks. So his season was over. He would miss the opportunity to play in the Cup Final. Our opponent would be Liverpool who beat Chelsea 0–2. Liverpool had played well in the cup competitions so far.
On April 29th the U18s would be playing Porto’s U19 in the UEFA Youth League final. I allowed Nelson, Tymon, Sarr and Dragomir to paticipate in the game.
I was interested to see how the team would do, so I decided to attend it. The match went into penalties and I was shocked to see Sarr taking the deciding penalty. After he missed it, it was clear we would not win it.
The U23s managed to win the Under 23s Group 1 title again thanks to Everton losing or it would have been down to the last match to decide.
I looked forward to next month as it meant a last run to secure the title and Champions League final spot. But more important, the derby where I could win the title.