We hit the winter break, and were sitting pretty in 7th place in the Bundesliga. Remember, it’s our debut season in the German top flight, and we’re smashing the expectations of the media, and of our board, who both expect us to fight bravely against relegation. In reality, they’re looking at our reputation (which is lower than the vast majority of 2. Bundesliga teams) and not at the quality of player we’ve got at our disposal. Depending on the winner of the DFB Pokal, 7th might be enough to ensure there’s some European Rasenballsport being played at the RB Arena next season. But from our performances in the 1st half of the season, I was aiming for more…
As I alluded to in my approach to training, there wasn’t any additions to the first team squad in January. I was happy with how things were going, and how we were covered in the event of any injury crises. Furthermore, the new signings we’d made in the summer hadn’t had much part to play yet, mostly down to the good performances of the players I inherited. My plan was to give them much more game time and chances in the 2nd half of the season. Anyway, let’s crack on with results.
The thing that should spring out at you is that we went unbeaten in the 2nd half of the season. It’s a great achievement, and I’m happy…but…with more draws than wins (9 draws/8 wins) was it more of a negative than a true positive?
A 6th place finish, and a Europa League qualifying spot beckons us for the 2017/18 season. Losing only 4 games all season is a brilliant achievement, but just think where we would have finished if some of those 15 draws had been wins instead.
Looking back at the results, there was some crackers. I was delighted with the 0-0 against Bayern to start us off after the winter break. Leverkusen were the early pace setters, and were still top when they arrived at the Red Bull Arena. We sent them packing with a 2-0 win that started their drop down the table. Yussuf Poulsen hadn’t scored since November until he hit the winner in our 4-3 win against Hoffenheim at the beginning of April that started his personal run of scoring 5 goals in 4 games, including a brilliant double in a 3-1 win against Dortmund. After his Augsburg double, he picked up an injury that’d keep him out for the remainder of the season. Typical.
As it goes, in the end, it was probably the three 0-0 draws in the last 4 games of the season that prevented us from finishing higher up in the league. We’d been lucky to draw against Hamburg (my bogey team for the season, mission 1 for next season is to finally beat them) and Frankfurt after going down to 10 men in both games. However, going into the last game of the season against Gladbach, I still had an outside chance of Champions League qualification. I had to hope that Leverkusen would lose away at Darmstadt, and that Hoffenheim would lose away at Dortmund. The latter might be possible, but the former? As it goes, the FM fates would align for once. Both things did happen, but did we keep up our end of the deal? Course not. We huffed and puffed, and despite a good number of half chances against Gladbach, couldn’t score that elusive goal that would propel us into 4th place and the Champions League.
The Koln game was a bit more comprehensive that the result looked. They took an early lead, but we were always on top. A win there set us up with a quarter final tie at home against Dortmund. What a bloody game it was, for the wrong reasons.
We raced into a 2 goal lead in the first half. The dreaded team talk when you’re leading, and on the face of it, it didn’t go well. However, just seconds before Schurrle got Dortmund back into the game, this had happened.
How did it not go in!? A great example of our targetman/shadow striker set up. Big Vanja kicks the ball out, Davie Selke pulls both Dortmund CBs out and wins the header against them. Werner has run in behind, and somehow the ball doesn’t cross the line. Literally seconds later, in the resulting counter attack from Dortmund, Schurrle scores. You couldn’t make it up.
Something else you couldn’t make up was Marco Reus deciding he’d scored 2 free kicks to turn the game around, and take Dortmund through to the semi final. They’d eventually lose the final against Wolfsburg, and we’d get our revenge a few weeks later in the league.
I’m very much aware that at the start of this save, I ignorantly presumed you’d know the RBL squad, and so I didn’t properly introduce you to some of our players. Here’s a run down of our top performers this season.
Yussef has been deployed as our targetman up top this season. 6’4″ and with a great jumping reach, as you saw from the Werner chance above, it’s been rather effectual at times. The fans agreed, and he was voted their player of the season. He scored 8 goals, and laid on 8 assists too, gaining a 7.40 average rating in his 25 games (incl sub appearances). I’d love his finishing and composure to be better, but attempts to improve both this season have proved difficult.
He was the standout of the first half of the season, and he continued his rich vein of form. I’m awarding him managers player of the season, as he hit 18 goals, 10 assists and an average rating of 7.24 in 34 games. It’s not just his output, it’s his general play too. He’s a constant thorn in the side of the opposition, hustling and bustling in the shadow striker role behind the targetman. I’m waiting for his value to rocket up any day now.
Heeeeeere’s Naby! Very much the man of the moment amongst football hipsters and purists alike. On FM though, his season has been quite similar to Poulsen’s. Not the best in terms of output, he’s only scored and assisted twice each, but we just tick when he’s on the pitch.
Davie’s been rotating with Poulsen in the targetman role, he’s also 6’4″ but has a slightly worse jumping reach. He still wins his fair share of arial bouts though (52% headers won v Poulsen’s 58%), and his vanity metric output looks considerably better than Poulsen’s. 14 goals and 7 assists in 35 games including sub appearances. I’d imagine this is something to do with his better finishing and composure attributes. Slightly lower average rating though compared to Yussuf at 7.34.
Here’s a glimpse at Burkey. 7 assists and 2 goals from his 26 games this season. Not bad at all I thought, and he’s developing really well. I really want him to stop cutting inside from the right, as I’d much rather he just bombed down the wing and laid on assists for our chosen targetman, or the incoming Werner.
Our unsung hero of the season? He only missed 270 minutes of football all season, or 3 games for the mathematically challenged out there (of which I am one). My full backs aren’t as attacking as they were on FM16, and it may be something I look to work on doing more with as the seasons progress. He did make the most mistakes in the league, but none of them led to goals. He’s young, he’s still learning, I forgive him, I still like him. I do, however, have a quite a big thing about positioning, especially for full backs, so I really want him to improve there.
Or the future, for all you non-German (of which I am one). In a separate post I’m going to introduce you to some of the players I consider to be the future of RBL. Keep an eye out for that one!
As a reminder, the remain phase I’d set out had us just setting out to consolidate our place in the Bundesliga in the first 2 seasons, with the push for European football not planned in until season 3. So I’m two seasons ahead of myself here, which is good and bad. Good obviously because we’ve done well, we’re in Europe and we’re improving the reputation and image (!) of the club. Bad because I much prefer to operate under the radar, set low expectations and beat them.
I should really stop moaning, RBL are rising. Still hate us? Good.
What you won’t hate is this awesome kit graphic that @FMPressure kindly created for me. Red Bull kits across the clubs might not be very unique, but that doesn’t mean to say they aren’t beauts to look at.