March 21, 2021

Football Manager Journeys #6: The Leeds Challenge (aka Bottling Leeds)

Football Manager Journeys #6: MARCHing on Together 


I know this is supposed to be the Real Sociedad first season Glory Hunter column but I took time out of my schedule to attempt the Tony Jameson discord server monthly challenge. The challenge is to do a season at Leeds and do the best you can without buying anyone or upgrading anything. No new signings, no new staff.  



Problem #1, which is also problems #2-#11 is a total lack of depth in almost every position. There are two goalies. Meslier, a great young kid and a fantastic player and Casilla who’s an adequate deputy. No issues there. Then there’s left back. Stuart Dallas is ideal. I love him. He can play IWB, which is perfect. If he gets injured I have a centre back called Koch who can play there and at a push Alioski who’s a midfielder. Right back is worse. I have Luke Ayling, who is garbage, and his cover is Koch (who really can’t actually play there) and midfielder Jamie Shackleton. He’s a swiss army knife kinda guy who can play anywhere to a passable level. Centre backs are Koch, who should get goals from corners as he’s tall, and Llorente, who is the only player on this entire squad who has long throws above 12. It’s not ideal to have a centre back taking long throws, aiming (usually) at the centre backs.  


FUTURE ARN: Having a central defender take throw ins is one of the worst mistakes I’ve ever made. The amount of goals we conceded on counter attacks because the line is all over the place from this. You’d think and learn and change it but Llorente was still taking throw in’s during the final game of the season.


Midfield isn’t great either. Kalvin Phillips is obviously a stud. Klich can play midfield centre or behind the front two. Wide positions are tough because Raphinha and Harrison, the starting wingers, want to play further forward and that doesn’t fall in line with desires here. I want a team that can defend when it hasn’t got the ball. Up top we’ve got Bamford and Rodrigo. I want to play two up top so hopefully neither of them gets injured because there’s literally no cover. Apart from Tyler Roberts, who is very ok. That’s literally it.  



We start against Everton and I can’t believe how good we are. 10 minutes gone and we’re winning 2-0. Hot starts is something we’ll demonstrate a lot. However, we’re also out here bottling leads (I should definitely call this column Bottling Leeds). Our 2-0 becomes 2-2 and this is a feeling I’m going to have a lot. We don’t have an easy start to the campaign and our second match is against Man Utd. 


We were robbed. They got a dodgy pen, and missed it, before Rodrigo put us ahead. We then bottled the lead and lost 2-1. We had more shots and more on target and the xG was the same. This is encouraging though. We are disappointed at losing to Man Utd, one of the best teams in the league. Next game was Arsenal away, where we were ahead 2-1 at HT before bottling the lead and drawing 2-2. Three games, three leads bottled.  



In a pleasant distraction from the league, the Carabao Cup gives us a chance at genuinely winning silverware. None of the big boys are taking it seriously due to fixture congestion. We smash Preston 3-0 to start our campaign with Bamford on target twice. My shitty luck kicked in here and we drew Liverpool away. Luckily they didn’t field a strong team and the lads courageously took us to pens where we edged it 5-4. We switched formations here and had a DM (Struijk) so I could play Raphinha and Harrison further forward where they might be happier and more productive. I did this again against Wycombe in the next round and we played really well, winning 2-1, but dominating almost every stat.  



Our run of shitty games ended against Chelsea. We were competitive but I switched to a conventional 4-4-2 so we didn’t get too overwhelmed by the better team. The gap between midfield and attack was noticeable but we barely lost on xG and Chelsea only scored one goal. Again, I feel we were unlucky and probably should have gotten a point.  


Then we hit the bad teams. West Brom at home. 5-1. I played 4-2-4 with two aggressive wide men (Raphinha as a wide playmaker, Harrison an inverted winger). 62% possession. Bossed it. We then smacked Brighton 4-1 with the same formation and I was excited. I’d finally found the right formula. We ended the month against Burnley and I tweaked it a bit, playing Pablo Hernandez behind a lone striker in a more FM traditional 4-2-3-1. We dominated the game, bossed it from start to finish and let in an equaliser in the 87’. 60% possession, double their xG, way more chances, way more highlights. Once again, we bottled a lead.  


I’m starting to get a touch frustrated at this point. We’ve been playing great football but we can’t beat teams unless we score four goals.  



We kick the month off by getting beaten at home by Leicester. It’s a close game but Vardy’s winner comes in the last minute with us good money for the draw. Then the ultimate ridiculous result; a 3-2 home loss to Sheffield Utd where we completely outplayed them. To round out the month we did Newcastle at their gaff 1-0 and didn’t even play very well. Bamford nicked a goal and we actually defended a lead for once.  



December was miserable. We got thumped 5-2 by Liverpool. I don’t want to talk about it. We then lost to Man City and I decided enough was enough, I was just going to throw any old formation out against Spurs and played 4-2-2-2, even though we’d never played it or trained it or had the players for it.  

It actually didn’t go that badly. The trouble with this formation is; there are no players to cover these positions at all. Plus Raphinha, who is arguably the best Leeds player, isn’t even on the pitch. We then drew 0-0 with Wolves in a game with lots of yellow cards and no highlights. Seriously. None. In the Carabao we made the semi’s following a 2-1 win against Norwich where we should have lost and got outplayed. Koch was man of the match as an anchorman. Can I not just buy Emi Buendia? Go on, Tony, one signing. We won again at Fulham and deserved nothing from the game. I make that three times we’ve won when we didn’t deserve it versus a lot of games we bottled. It’s been a wild season. To round out Christmas we put together the best of both worlds by playing dreadful football AND losing, 1-0 at home to Villa. This is the point where my “Dirty Leeds” tactic was officially abandoned.  



January is normally where I assess my squad and try to fill in the blanks. Like replacing Luke Ayling or adding some actual depth up front or midfield or defence. Our squad is paper thin. The rules say I’m not allowed though so we press on. After the loss to Villa I thought it was time for a drastic re-assessment of our strengths and weaknesses. Despite some decent performances from Shackleton we don’t have good midfielders. Only Kalvin Phillips. So I abandoned midfield. Phillips can play in there on his own and we’ll play Raphinha and Harrison deep as wingers. Pablo/Klich can slot in as AMC behind Rodrigo and Bamford and we’ll just take the game to the opposition. Leeds are good going forwards but they’re not particularly good at anything else.  

Those familiar with my saves will recognise the shape. I’ve tried different formations with Leeds but everything I try ultimately has a downside. This is still the best shape for this team. Even if it doesn’t get the best out of Raphinha and makes him defend more. We look more balanced. We look capable.  


We bulldozed Derby in the Carabao semi, thus getting us into an actual final (with this team!) We followed that with a win at Sheff Wed in the FA Cup R3. A league win over Crystal Palace followed, which we made hard work of but came away with a 3-2, scoring the winner in 90+3’ with an xG of over 4. We deserved the win. Especially as we got a goal not disallowed by VAR for a close offside, which never happens and Pablo scored a rabona. Game of the season. We then saw off West Ham. We were 2-0 up when Alioski, deputising for Dallas at LB, decided to go in two footed on Soucek and get sent off. 34’ in. Thanks mate. We were coasting! It ended up being a bit of a struggle but we held on.  


I put the kids out against Brentford in the cup, fully expecting to get tonked, and they surprise me with a great performance and a 2-1 win on the road. Only Meslier, Klich and Koch play from my normal team and such greats as Drameh, Kamwa and Charlie Allen play. Allen even scores a beauty.  


Next is Everton and we’re playing confidently for the first time this season. Everything falls into place. The squad are rested after the FA Cup game and magic happens.  

You may notice Ayling still didn’t get a 7 rating. At this point it’s never happening. What a performance though. If we’d been finishing like this all season we’d be in the Champion’s League.  


I didn’t screenshot this when we were doing badly but suffice to say, this looks a lot better than it did a few weeks ago. Tides turn quickly in football. Form is key. My club atmosphere was in the red in December. It’s now on excellent.  


I should probably shut up though as the next game sees us go head to head with Arsenal. It’s a really even game. We play as well as them for most of the match. They just edge it on shots 18-16, xG is 2.65-2.59 to them. It’s a very close game. They win 5-2. Three of their goals come from corners where we win the ball and it somehow falls to their player right in front of goal. Three times. There are times when Football Manager makes itself impossible to get along with. If this was a laptop it might be out the window.  


Fuck you, Arsenal.  



We kick off February against Man Utd at Old Trafford. It starts badly as Anthony Martial picks up a lose ball and then destroys our entire defence before scoring. This is not accurate to real life. I’d like to register a complaint. The winter update kills me here too. We set up for a long throw and Berardi doesn’t have one so the throw gets cut out. Oh no, my beloved long throws! How will we score now? We end up snatching an equaliser and I go super defensive but Utd grab a late winner and then Mata scores but there’s no highlight so I didn’t even see it. Does that count?  


Next game is West Brom away. They are abysmal. Worst team in the league. So naturally we draw 1-1 and need a 90+2’ equaliser. Should I have just rested everyone for the Man Utd game that we were always going to lose?  


I decide we should focus on the cups. Win them both and we should do alright overall. Good, in fact. So we spanked Crystal Palace 4-1 at Selhurst and deserved to win heavily. We’re into the quarter finals. We get lucky on the draw and get Brighton at home while Arsenal play Man City. Come on boys! 


Next game is a bit special. We have Chelsea at home and we’re finally better than a Big 6 team. We outplay them from the start. Pushing them back, limiting their possession and hounding them at the back. Bamford scores a cracker from an Alioski cross and Rodrigo adds a second and it’s a comfy 2-0 win in the end. Against Chelsea! Imagine what these boys could do if I could add to the squad? There is no ceiling! 


I had intended to set down the same marker against Brighton ahead of our FA Cup quarter final but the boys have other ideas. Alioski gives away an early penalty and Raphinha passes the ball across his own box for another goal. Brighton rely on dramatic last gasp defending and somehow it always comes off for them. We get in behind all the time against a back three but we can’t score. It finishes 3-0  



We open against Burnley and win 1-0 thanks to a cracking Raphinha free kick. It got a bit nervy towards the finish as Harrison got sent off but we did fine. Next up is Leicester and we’re keen to avenge a home defeat and should have done. We’re 3-1 up at 90’. I keep seeing teams concede a couple of late goals and thinking; just defend and you’ll be fine. Well, we defended and shipped two goals from stupid set pieces. One was a corner, which apparently AI teams have a field day with now and the other with me, once again, forgetting to turn long throws off. They just don’t work anymore and we got hit on the counter (four players against one on defensive, what the fuck, why is my centre back still taking throws?) 


Anyway, Newcastle were next and this was much better. We got after them early doors. Pablo scored a beauty from just outside the box and then Rodrigo and Raphinha put them to the sword on the break. Finished 4-1. Ideal performance. Why can’t we play like this more often? Next game is Sheff Utd and I remind the boys we need revenge for losing at home to them. They play like they want it too. Luke Ayling fires in the opener and I’m reminded that the last time that happened we bottled the lead. Sheff Utd’s equaliser came in the 90’. Mousset had a one on one with Meslier at 90’+4 and my stomach was in knots. He saved it and we escaped with a point. We should have finished the game off at 1-0 and fucked it. Not pleased. 


We round March out with the FA Cup Quarter Final against Brighton. We owe them for the 3-0 thumping in the league. We completely outplay them from the opening whistle. It’s arguably our best performance of the season. I’ve changed all our set pieces after they got nerfed and it pays off here with two defenders scoring headers from corners.  



First game is against Liverpool and we win 1-0. I’m stupidly happy about it. Pablo Hernandez gets the goal. It comes at a price though. Raphinha is out for a month. Dallas is out for the rest of the season. That’s probably our two best players. You could argue Meslier or Bamford perhaps ahead of Dallas but Raphinha is 100% the top don.  


Second game is Man City. We go 1-0 up and hold the lead until 44’. We lost 6-1. Moving on. The next game I rest players because we have an FA Cup semi coming up and I’m not going into that half cocked. It’s worth more ‘points wise’ than the league at the moment so balls to it. I’m happy here though because we take a 2-1 lead and promptly give up three goals in seven minutes in the second half. It’s another Leeds bottle job. I’d recognise it anywhere! Even worse news; Rodrigo and Shackleton both get injured.  

This is the greatest comeback in the history of sports. Absolutely unreal. We went in with a load of injuries. We were 2-0 down with five minutes to go and somehow, SOMEHOW, won 3-2. Insane game of football and it was the FA Cup semi-final to boot. When this kind of thing happens you praise the FM Gods because they have looked favourably upon you. Hallelujah!!  


I fully expected us to collapse in the following league game against Spurs. We were weakened, tired and these are games when you usually get pumped. We won 2-0. Bamford and Roberts repeating the cup strikes. My concern now is…are we tired for the Carabao Cup Final?  



Leeds Utd vs. Chelsea 

For Chelsea this represents their last chance at any silverware. They got knocked out of Europe by Real Madrid and they went out the FA Cup at Brighton in R5. They’re actually below us in the league. Leeds currently at P10, Chelsea P11.  


It’s a nervy game with very few highlights and lots of yellow cards. I’m fully expecting extra time as we hit an 89’ highlight. A hopeful ball to Tyler Roberts and he nods it to Patrick Bamford. Bamford, with unreal skill, rolls it past Rudiger onto his stronger left foot and then places it in the corner. 1-0. Seconds left. Chelsea promptly have three highlights in a nailbiting 90’+ stretch. It is agony but we see them off. LEEDS WIN THE CARABAO CUP!!  



We kick off against Fulham and just about edge it 2-1. Bamford scores again, along with Tyler Roberts. Next is Aston Villa and it’s a sign of our long season that we look tired before we even kick off. Bamford puts us in front but somehow Ross Barkley ends up with a hattrick and although Bamford gets a late consolation we lose 4-2. It was actually a very close game but everything Barkley touched turned to gooooooold 


We play Palace next and the first half is the one of the best halves of football we play all season. We take Palace apart. Destroy them in every department and get three goals. Naturally the scoreline is 3-2. A header from a corner and a weird deflection to set up an Eze tap in. XG is 2.40 vs. 0.70. The second half is more of the same. Total domination. We get a couple more goals and Klich ends up with a hattrick after Mitchell’s clearance hits him in the face and goes in. This was an honest to god great performance and 5-2 doesn’t do it justice. I guess it does. 3-0/4-0 would have made more sense.  



Playing Man City puts a lot of pressure on us but it also doesn’t, if that makes sense. We’re not expected to come close to them. They’ve won nothing else and will go trophyless if they fail here. We’ve already won the Carabao Cup. We’re clearly out of our depth and City should win. They beat us twice in the league. It’s their trophy to lose. We’re terrific in the first half. Aggressive, winning the ball off their defenders and if we had Bamford fit (he’s hurt his Achilles) it might be a different story. Walker cuts one back for Aguero for 1-0 and Ferran Torres scores a few minutes later. That five minutes before half time is where the game is lost. Second half they are all over us. We can’t get out of our own box and Walker makes it 3-0.  


Kalvin Phillips gives us a lifeline with a cracking strike from outside the area. 3-1. Klich accidentally diverts a Ruben Dias header past Meslier though and we’re fucked again. Oh well. Benjamin Mendy adds a fifth and we’ve been well beaten here.  


Two to play and we start with West Ham away. They’re in danger of relegation. We can finish as high as sixth, or as low as thirteenth. West Ham away goes well. We go ahead through Tyler Roberts (in for the injured Bamford) but Antonio cancels that one out. West Ham boss the second half and we get a bit lucky with Hernandez feeding Rodrigo for a quality finish. It ends 2-1, with me playing pretty defensively with 4-1-4-1. West Ham are actually boned in the league and might go down. A contrast to real life.  



Here’s what it comes down to. If we get a better result against Southampton than Villa do against champions Man Utd we can actually finish fifth. I would never, ever, have believed that after the way this season has gone but it goes to show anything is possible. It helps massively that the top four are miles clear. We are guaranteed to finish ahead of Leicester, Wolves, Everton, West Ham and Newcastle. If we get a draw we’ll finish ahead of Spurs and Chelsea. If we draw our worst place scenario is eighth. If we lose to Southampton we can finish eleventh.  


The first half is nail biting stuff. Goals fly in elsewhere. Brighton are getting a beating and are now no longer a threat. Leicester go ahead at Brammall Lane. That helps us breathe easier. Bamford gets in but is stifled by the Saints back line. We hit the bar! Ten minutes left and the results are still in our favour. PATRICK BAMFORD! The big man steps up and fires home from the angle after a corner. We’re ahead! I go defensive and make a few savvy changes and they score immediately. The ‘goal right after you score’ trope is overdone in my opinion. Full time is 1-1. GG’s all round. We got sixth lads. Well played. 



That’s it. Season over. I have a decent chance of winning the challenge, depending on Eddie Sideburns etc, but even if I don’t win I’ll be back for the April challenge. Fired up!  


NEXT – ?/Glory Hunter probably  

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