Football Manager: Chapter IV, Christmas season
Matches around the holidays
Our Boxing Day match up would be against current relegation candidates Leicester City and their new manager Jaap Stam. The New Year Day opponents were our 2019 League Cup final opponents.
As if nothing had changed we lost Musi right before the craziest period of the season. His performance had been solid so far so his loss would be felt more than that of Kos.
Chelsea lost their manager who jumped ship.
Our second winter signing was confirmed. Sammy Ngobese who played with Bidvest Wits in South Africa was snapped up. Our scouts bumped into him after reviewing some reports from lesser known regions in Africa.
His skills reminded me of Pisano but a bit more skillful. There was still some work to do to bring him to the level I wanted him. That could become an issue as he did not receive his work permit and would need to go to AA Gent.
Before the Boxing Day match new reports came in that Man City had fired Guardiola. Their current league position of 14th and sub par finishes the last three seasons we enough for their board.
His departure resulted in Domenech Torrent, Mikel Arteta, Lorenzo Buenaventura and Rodolfo Borrell leaving. The last two had been on my short list for a while and I told my backroom team to approach them as quickly as possible. The board was still no interested in expanding the number of backroom positions so we would need to let go of two staff members.
Man Utd would be playing the first match on Boxing Day. They surprisingly lost 3–0 against West Ham being limited to just 3 goals on target. Former Utd Player Adnan Januzaj came back to haunt Mourinho. And former Gunner Rob Holding even got a goal. A nice Christmas present from him as we were up next.
Jaap Stam decided to play a very defensive formation in an attempt to stop us.
We had a few chances but not were solid. In the 11th minute Leicester came close as a long free kick saw Giani miss calculate and a their header go wide. I ordered Bellerin to take an attack role as wing back. Later one of our corners was cleared, Özil headed the loose ball to Dybala who tried a one time shot. It was blocked and Özil was once again the first to the ball to shoot it in at the near post. We were ahead!
In the second half the amount of chances at goal dwindled. In the 64th minute Thiago Maia picked up an injury, it looked like a head injury. Later we opted to bring on Iwobi for Oli as his effectiveness had disappeared in the second half. It was he who came close to 2–0 as he shot the ball high and over when he was clear from defenders in the box. I decided to play Alexis more wide as his performance in the match started to concern him. Perhaps a role on the wing moving inside could spark something.
A poorly taken clearance by Schemeichel was picked up by Iwobi who dashed into the box but failed to score as Schemeichel was there to take the ball. With less than 10 minutes left I told the team to keep focused. In injury time Alexis came close to score as Bellerin cross the ball in a crowded penalty box where he saw his shot hit the post. Even deeper in injury time an attack by Leicester was stopped by Sarr but it wasn’t clean so they got a last chance. Their players looked up for it but a cross was cleared to give us the three points.
With the loss of Utd we were now 7 points clear and looking to continue and expand on this. The confirmation came in for Buenaventura that he would join us.
Borrell agreed a day later as we opted to remove coaches who did not work so well with the youngsters we were planning to bring through the ranks.
Brentford was on the the attack from the start. Odegaard released a long ball to Jeff who was not able to cross it properly. A long ball into the box was held by Adrian from Brentford. he held of two defenders before shooting over goal. After 15 minutes we still had not been real close to a goal. That changed when a cross from Chambers was headed against the bar by Elneny. A minute after that Odegaard was given a chance to score but the keeper parried it. Our chances increased but the ball always went wide. We finally broke the deadlock when a Chambers cross was shot at goal by Buitink seeing the ball deflect on Harlee Dean for it to go passed the keeper. Just before the break Jeff got a chance as Iwobi crossed the ball high, he was unable to control it and it flied high passed goal.
The second half didn’t see much action till the 58th minute when Elneny got the ball from a forward and Buitink eventually shot the ball wide. Brentford had a big chance when a free kick in the box was flicked on and then shot at our goal. Chambers was there to clear it off the line at the far post. Dragomir had a chance when Iwobi his initial cross was cleared before he passed it on to Dragomir whose shot hit the bar. A long free throw on the right saw Iwobi dash towards the byline before releasing a low cross, Matovina held his marker behind him as he kicked it in at the near post for 2–0. Though not a dominating win I was still proud of this relatively young squad I fielded.
In the evening there was more good news as Utd drew against Stoke.
Dybala claimed his second consecutive Ballon d’Or.
While finishing second in the FIFA world Player of the Year award.
World Soccer Magazine felt Dybala was more worth of the title.
While a third award saw him be crowned Argentinian player of the year for the second year.
FIFA’s Starting XI only inclusded Dybala. While former Gunner Per Mertesacker was included as a sub.
A youngster we had our eye on in the last six months was crowned the Golden Boy award. Barcelona had gold in their hands.
I received some concerning news regarding an injury. Though I was happy it was not one of my current squad players it was broken to find out it was Maitland-Niles.
With the New Year just hours upon us the transfer window opened so we could welcome our two new signings.
The talented Ngobese would be sent to AA Gent right away.
While Kolasinac was given a tutee right immediately. He was our short term replacement for Gibbs by being the defensive option to our offensive alternative in Tymon.
The first 20 minutes of the match against Southampton were pretty dull. Dybala came close to score when he received a long ball to move away from his defender, his shot however was stopped. Five minutes later a ball cleared away from a Southampton free kick was played long into the box to Tadic who was standing onside and will all the space in the world to slot it passed Giani. The defenders could only look at each other. Six minutes later a cross was parried by Giani but Bender was the first to react to the loose ball which he played to Hojbjerg who was waiting in the six yard box to smashed it in goal. Sarr and Kos did not react well here. Ten minutes later a Lingard cross was missed by Kos and headed in by Tadic as he scored his second and put Southampton up by 3–0 before the half. I was furious at the team. Demanding they do more. I switched the formation to 4–2–3–1 as our 4–3–3 had failed us horribly.
Southampton almost scored a fourth when Cedric was given a long ball on the wing for him to rush froward. His cross reached Gabbiadini who headed at goal but this time Giani managed to hold on to it.
In the second half we weren’t able to create any proper chances for 15 minutes until Dragomir played a ball to Dybala who then played a through ball to Ox which he kicked to score with one touch to give us a life line. He was brought on just 10 minutes before when I felt Oli did not seem to be able to do anything. The whole team seemed to be lifted. But it was not until the 81st minute that we had another real chance as Alexis stormed down the left wing, moved inside before he played it to Dybala. He dribbled a bit before releasing a shot from outside the box to score in the top corner. I motioned my players to keep pushing as I told them to flood the opponents with attacks. An attack started on the wing by Alexis who had rushed forward which saw the ball end up with Thiago Maia in midfield, he dribbled forward before playing a through ball to Ox as he moved away from his marker and shot it out of the reach of the keeper to draw the match. The whole bench started jumping around and the travelled crowd went wild! Ox in his first match since his injury had salvaged a point for us.
Gibbs his performance in this match was a concern as Lingard was able to dominate him in the match which opened up the door for his replacement even sooner.
It was now time to continue to tweak the squad and staff.
(The Book of Gooner follows the career of a long time Championship/Football Manager player)