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Would a better manager get Villarreal to Europe?

We take to Football Manager to find out.

I’ve never played Football Manager before, but I figured, since I have insisted that Villarreal’s biggest problem this season has been the manager, I would give it a go and see if I could do better. For this exercise I downloaded FIFA Manager 20 on mobile. I chose the mobile version because 1. It’s less time consuming and I have a full-time job. 2. It’s about half the cost of the full version. So, over the next few weeks (possibly until real football returns), I’ll give updates on how virtual Villarreal is going in a world where Calleja is not the manager. This post will be longer than most in the series because we are setting the stage and talking about the summer window.

Roster changes

I have a transfer budget of about 10m. Bruno is miraculously healed from his injury woes, and Karl Toko Ekambi is still on the roster. Let’s talk transfer decisions. First thing’s first, with both Quintilla and Alberto Moreno (let’s hope his virtual self is a bit more sturdy) on board, Jaume Costa is surplus to requirements, so we sold him to Sporting Gijon for 4m. I also sold Andres Fernandez to Valencia for 4m. If they’re willing to pay that for a keeper I didn’t really plan on using, fine by me. I dropped Leo Suarez off at La Coruna for 2.5m (sorry Sid).

Arsenal came in with a 16m bid for Asenjo, and while our keeper wasn’t thrilled I turned it down I think it’s the right move for the squad going forward. Eibar and Alaves came in with offers for Pau Torres and I just laughed.

Our first big move was to find a defensive midfielder. Yes, I know I have Bruno, but I’m not comfortable with two of my nailed on starters in midfield (him and Santi) being a combined 70+ years old. Further, since I want to play a counter attacking 433, I really want to go find myself a true ball winner to drop into that pivote slot. To find this player, I went to the heart of modern pressing football, the Bundesliga, and found Diego Demme, a once capped German international then at RB Leipzig. He cost 9.75m. The real life Demme attempts over 20 pressures per 90, and wins 1.7 tackles. Leipzig sold him to Napoli in January for 10.8m so we got a little bit of a deal.

Having Demme and Bruno on board means I don’t have to try to make Zambo and Iborra defensive midfielders. That gives me tremendous depth in the box to box role. I also added French CB Romain Bregerie (because who wants to rely on Ramiro Funes Mori in a tight spot?) on a free. He isn’t the most skilled player but out of 20 possible points he’s rated 15 or higher in Aerial ability, tackling, decision making, positioning, and strength, while also scoring well in leadership, teamwork, pace, and stamina. I think he and Raul Albiol will be good elder statesmen to play next to Paul Torres this season. To replace Fernandez, I picked up Tim-Oliver Hiemer formerly of Mogengladbach’s second team, as a third keeper. Realistically he’s just a warm body. If a situation arrived where he would need to start, I’d promote from our B team but I’m not going to cheat Josele out of playing time so that he can sit the bench with the first team.

I’m not in love with our left wing options, but with only 10m in the transfer bank I can’t really improve on what I have right now. Unless a big shake up happens somewhere else I may be done for the summer window.

Friendlies and first league match

After a mixed bag of friendlies (probably the best gauge of our level was a 2-1 loss to Chelsea) we entered our first league match of the year against Athletic Club. This is a club that in real life we drew 0-0 and lost 0-1 to (on an absurd call). We set up to sit deep and counter attack. Here was our starting lineup:

I want to own what I consider to be my first clear mistake in this save. I never should have started Bregerie. I picked based on pre-season form at LW, CB, LB, and ST and I think it bit me. Here’s the box score from our match:

I’m comfortable with those possession numbers but I do not like the number of shots we conceded at all. That number got a lot better once I subbed in Demme for Bruno but still, Asenjo had far too much work to do.

So, what do you think?

We’ll update you tomorrow on however many matches I get done today. We face Granada next, and it should be a win.