Previously in Return to La Plata, Ángel Bastardo's band of leaders finished 6th in the league and progressed to the Copa Libertadores Knockout rounds.
Things in La Plata were always going to become tougher in the short term. Despite a 6th place league finish & an unbeaten Copa Libertadores Group Stage, three end of season departures left Bastardo's Estudiantes hollow and worried for the future:
- Top goalscorer Mariano Pavone retired, after scoring 14 goals (all competitions).
- Top goal provider Sebastián Dubarbier, with 12 assists (all competitions), left on a Free Transfer after refusing to agree a new deal.
- Best performer Juan Bautista Cascini, with an Average Rating of 7.26, headed to River Plate in a €4m transfer.
I was not agreeable to losing any one of the trio prior to 2018/19 kicking off, let alone all three. But there I was, replacing the best players of my team. Improving year-on-year has to be any manager's aim, but 2018/19 is so far turning out to be a real slog. Hold me.
The 146th top flight professional Primera División era La Plata Derby ought to have been a draw. No side deserved to win. 3 major decisions defined the match: a 1st half red card resulting in Gimnasia playing with 10 men for 60 minutes + two penalties, both to Gimnasia...who gratefully converted. For Estudiantes, they were awful. Chances were missed and they ended up losing the Derby 0-2! Our only remarkable stat: 21 fouls on the pitch.
After the final whistle, more fouls followed. An unquantifiable level of hatred and ugliness erupted on the pitch and then into the tunnel dressing rooms. The skirmish caught on TV would define a Platense generation.
Bastardo's innocence was lost, seen bringing down three Gimnasia players with a machette...
Prior to the infamous 'Battle For La Plata', we made a number of respectable signings, notably: Maximilano Romero who takes the No.9 shirt from Pavone in a €1.4m fee from Vélez Sarsfield. As discussed in my final intro post, squad numbers are re-assigned each season. So for 2018/19, we move towards using a 4141 Argentine system as our base formation:
2018/19 Argentine Primera División/Superliga
After the shock waves of the Gimnasia Derby, Estudiantes would go on to pick up just the one solitary point on the road. The form has been erratic and we're making no progress on last season's 6th league place. Probably not helped by the fact that no Estudiantes fan is allowed in an away stadium until at least 2019/20!
I'm still confident that we can use the mid-season friendlies to find some solidity and push up the table, where we currently lie in 11th place:
2018 Copa Libertadores
Bastardo also learnt the hard way in the Copa Libertadores. Having an away knockout match Vs Santos (the current Copa Libertadores holders in my save) in the 2nd week of pre-season was too much. The match fit Brazilians ran riot, winning 3-0 in the 1st leg. Not sure how I cope for this in the future, as the earliest Pre-Season date was chosen! In the second leg, we bested Santos for much of the game but still ended up losing 0-1 to a ridiculous Ricardo Oliveira freekick. The 0-4 aggregate loss came as a stark realisation of how much work is needed in order to become successful on the continental stage.
Surprise Copa Libertadores!
Hacked elections, mass brawls and now qualification to the 2019 Copa Libertadores, this save has it all. By finishing 6th in last year's league I had a very slim chance at gaining entry into the Copa Libertadores campaign: a glimmer of hope that both finalists in the 2018 Copa Argentina would be two of those teams in the 5 places ahead of Estudiantes in the final 2017/18 league table (Boca, River, San Lorenzo, Lanús and Talleres).
My fate to the Copa Sudamericana (South America’s secondary club competition) was seemingly sealed when San Lorenzo and Aldovisi played out the Copa Argentina final. That final 2019 Copa Lib place should go to losing finalists Aldovisi (as San Lorenzo had already qualified). In real life events, the Argentine Football Association (AFA) in their infinite wisdom, confirmed this was the process. But the luck of a poorly coded game, or a little bug, means Estudiantes qualify to the Second Qualification stage. I'd be raging if I was Aldovisi, but I'm not, so onwards and upwards. Estudiantes are through to the 2019 Copa Libertadores campaign.
Did AFA take illegal payments in my save? Ángel Bastardo cannot possibly comment.
The Argentine 2018/19 season is one of the shortest ever campaigns, with only 25 league games (26 teams playing eachother once) spread across 10 months, it could be forgiven for thinking that Argentina doesn't care about football! However, 2018/19 is the calm before the storm, as 2019/20 sees the league rise to 46 games (24 teams) who will then play each other twice. This huge increase in games leaves me with a headache:
- Recruiting too much in 2018/19 will more than likely cause disharmony in the squad, as players will be moaning for playing time.
- Recruit too little in 2018/19 means having a lot of work to do in the summer of 2019 (signings & squad integration), leading up to 2019/20.
This is a unique situation for me in FM, I've never had the league I am playing in change structure each season in the 1st five years. To remedy the headache of 2019/20's fixture list, planning the quantity of my core squad* is essential. After all, with the 2019 Copa Libertadores campaign now included, I could be looking at a 3 game per week cycle from August to December. Then a 2 game per week cycle [with no Winter Break] until March...where a 3 game per week cycle returns until May (if I qualify for continental football in this current season - 2018/19). It's tiring just writing about what's to come!
So the plan? Buy/agree to sign first team players in 2019, prior to the lead up to 2019/20. I reckon we need to boost our number of first team players by three. Then promote around 5 youth players during the later half of 2018/19 - giving them game time and integrating them into the squad. All in the hope that they can flesh out the squad during manic patches next season. So the core squad size i am looking at:
- Season 1 (2017/18) core squad of 22 based on 27 league games
- Season 2 (2018/19) core squad of 20 based on 25 league games
- Season 3 (2019/20) core squad of 28 based on 46 league games
- Season 4 (2020/21) core squad of 25 based on 42 league games
- Season 5 (2021/22) core squad of 23 based on 38 league games
*Core squad meaning those players within: Backup, Rotation, First Team and Key Player. Youngsters & Hot Prospects are an added cover...who usually don't come moaning to me :-)
The 23 man target for 2021/22 above is based loosely around the widely discussed number within the 25 man squad limit for a 38 game Premier League Season. Previously manager's like José Mourinho have come out and said they prefer to work with 20-23, which aligns to how I usually approach squad size in FM.
The transition from Season 2-3 is perhaps the biggest upheaval. But we've gone about our business proactively, bringing in 21 year old left winger Jesús Medina for €1m. He's a classic example of why I withdrew my fibra criteria on under 25s. I think he will be brilliant and will perhaps provide me with a great bit of profit in the future when I do sell on.
If we needed any demonstration of how good Jesús can be: he won the Argentine Young Footballer of the Year...only 9 days since arriving in the country. It seems award ceremonies are just as easy as elections to influence in FM18 :-)
The next step is to keep an eye on those entering the final 6 months of their contract. Of course, keep a check on my Twitter or FM Slack channel (#fmgrasshopper). It's here that I will update you on any future signings between blog posts.
I'm just one guy writing a blog. I'm not a brand and I am certainly not 'building a community', but I do want to wish readers a happy festive period. Whether you're religious or not, please take some time away from festivities and play the joys of Football Manager. This is my religion and it's a joy sharing my story with you.
So, season's greetings! My playtime will be limited over the period, as I will be in France with family. So it's best I wish you well now :-)
Speak to you in 2018 and thanks for reading.