After the first half of the season, we were sitting 8th in the Bundesliga after a fairly average and uninspiring start to the season. Losing 4 times in those 17 matches had already equaled our total loss tally from the previous season. Our form in the second half of the season had to be better if we wanted to qualify for Europe again. However, remembering that the board only expect us to finish in the top half, there’s plenty of room to overachieve which is exactly what I like to do.
We’d also qualified out of our Europa League group, and had been drawn against English heavyweights, Leicester, in the 1st knockout round. Let’s get into the second half of the season then!
First off though, as opposed to last January when there was none, there has been some movement in this year’s mid-season window.
Benno Schmitz couldn’t get a look in at right back ahead of Lukas Klostermann so off he went to Hannover. Diego Demme quietly goes about his business for the current non-FM RBL side, he’d performed well for me, but if we’re aiming for the upper echelons I need to upgrade eventually. His contract was up in the summer and he’d agreed a deal to join Koln. I negotiated a fee for his early release and off he went. We made £2m in total from both sales.
My only priority right now was to bring in a new back up option at right back who could push Klostermann for starting time. In came Petar Stojanovic.
I’ve seen him in a few other saves develop really well, playing for Europe’s top clubs, so I was more than happy to spend £3.5m on him.
The other two incomings were purely for the future, and for a bit of squad depth. I took advantage of our increased reputation, plus our reputation across Germany as being complete and utter dicks, to snatch promising right back, Haidara, from Koln. It’s the first in what I hope becomes a long line of young prospects that I’ll steal from our rivals across the country.
Dusan Vlahovic joins from Partizan also as a nod to the future to see how he develops, but also to come in and provide some competition in the first team. Selke and Poulsen struggled with injuries around January time, which left us slightly thin on the ground. No goals in his 127 minutes of action, but he looks like he could develop nicely.
Down to the crux of it then. Operation turn draws into wins.
Bloody heck. Another brilliant second half of the season for us. Not quite unbeaten though, as we disappointingly fell to a 1-0 defeat against Ingolstadt, in which Rani Khedira got sent off and we conceded a penalty just after half time.
For me, looking at this, the thing that most jumps out is the number of clean sheets we had. 10 clean sheets from 17 games, we had the joint best defence during the second half of the season, only conceding 9 goals overall. Love that. Finishing the season off with 5 straight clean sheets too, and 7 in 8 matches.
A few highlights to call out, a couple of cracking wins. 4-1 away at Schalke (stay tuned for more Schalke madness), 4-2 at Braunschweig (our matches against them ended 10-4 on aggregate this season, brilliant) and a cracking 4-2 win against my usual bogey side, Hamburg. As I said, we ended the season in style, and that included an incredible 1-0 win at home against Bayern, our first win against them in the save so far. We’ve certainly come a long way in a relatively short space of time since the 5-1 thrashing they gave us in my first competitive match in charge.
From 8th place, that second half of the season must have led us to a good league position…
Champions League qualification! Just 1 point behind the giants of Munich. Tuchel’s Dortmund stormed their way to their first league title since 2011/12, largely thanks to Aubameyang and Reus helping themselves to 36 league goals and 26 assists between them, and keeping £40m signing, Luciano Vietto, out of the side. I knew if we turned some of the draws from last season into wins, we’d be able to overachieve expectations and, at least qualify for Europe again. Season on season progression is the aim though, and we’ve done just that. Our tally of 67 points is 7 points better off than last season, and we’ve gone from 6th to 3rd. We’ll do well to equal or better that next season…
Onto the Europa League then. We’d successfully navigated ourselves out of a group containing Monaco, Rapid and Rijeka, and up next, it was, Red Bull fanatic, Jamie Vardy’s Leicester.
In the end, we’d find ourselves overcoming Leicester, Celtic, and our league rivals, Leverkusen and Schalke, to find ourselves in the final against Jose’s Manchester United.
Unfortunately it wasn’t to be, but it wasn’t before a bit of late drama. United were dominating, albeit not creating many clear chances. I was gutted to concede from a wicked cross hitting off Orban to go in and it looked as though it was over before Halstenberg stepped up and hit a suspect looking free kick past de Gea in the 93rd of 92 minutes. Scenes in das haus von Samo!
Just when it looked as though the lottery of penalties would decide the outcome, Ander Herrera playing a beautiful long ball right in behind Klostermann for Martial, who controlled it, came inside and slotted past Vanja in goals. Heartbreak. We’d put up a fight but a strong United side were just that, too strong.
My favourite match of the Europa League run had to be our 4-1 win in Gelsenkirchen against Schalke, which was also our second consecutive 4-1 win against them away from home!
We were deadly. Timo was deadly. Here comes his hattrick in GIF form.
I love them all, but I really love that extra touch he took for the third, just biding his time before slotting it past the keeper. Ah, Timo.
The goals also showcase some great aspects of my tactic (which you can read more about here). 1 and 2 shows the great link up play between Naby at roaming playmaker, Poulsen as the targetman and Timo running in beyond him in the shadow striker role.
Talking of Timo, he had the season of his life. 28 goals, 12 assists, 7.43 average rating. The current reigning European Golden Boy was top goalscorer at the club, 2nd in the league goalscoring chart, 3rd place in the European Golden Shoe, joint top assister at the club, joint 3rd in the league for assists, 2nd in the league for man of the match awards, 2nd in the league for average rating, 2nd in German footballer of the year, 2nd in German players player of the year, in both the German fans and regular team of the year, fans player of the season, club young player of the season. Oh and he’s off to the World Cup with Germany. Enough said?
Bayern started to sniff around him, and I really don’t want to let my prized asset leave to our league rivals. I made him our highest paid player with a bumper new contract. He now makes up 13% of our wage bill alone. I’m not in the slightest bit bothered, he’s worth it.
One of die Zukunft, Dadachov got much more game time this season after he’d stepped up to the first team in January of our first season. He found the net 9 times in his 1,067 minutes of gametime, and laid on 4 assists. Most of his matches came in the targetman role, as I mentioned earlier, both Poulsen and Selke were injured at the same time around January. His performances led him to be named the German u19 player of the season.
This seemed like a pivotal season for Burkey, I felt like he really stepped up his game. He was our joint top assister on 12 along with Timo and he won goal of the season for his run from the half way line and long range strike against Rapid in the Europa League, which you can see below. Not bad at all. I experimented with him playing in the shadow striker role a few times over the course of the season, and he responded fairly well to it.
With Kaiser departing in the summer, Willi Orban stepped up to the captaincy for the 2017/18 season. He played 33 times this season, completing exactly 3,000 minutes on the pitch. At 25 years old, he’s one of the senior heads in the squad and with a resolute personality, I look upon him to really lead. He doesn’t perform too badly either, winning 84% of his tackles and 81% of his headers.
Our targetman, who’s closing in on becoming RBL’s appearance record holder. Despite being out injured for around 8 weeks, Poulsen bettered his output compared to last season. He scored 10 goals and made 9 assists this season, compared to 8’s for both last season. It unfortunately wasn’t enough to see him retain his fans player of the year crown though, as Timo stormed his way to it with a whopping 75% of the vote. I’ve been working to improve his composure this season, and it’s helped. He’s gone from 9 to 10!
Naby stepped up his game this season too in terms of goals and assists, getting 4 and 5, respectively. He still makes us tick, and we’re still a poorer side when he’s not playing. Especially so because the back ups I have for his role/position are nowhere near as good as him. Post coming soon on ‘Finding the next Naby’.
Here’s another reminder of the aims I set out for myself way back in my introductory post to the RBL save.
After the first season, we’d already achieved the Push phase, which was to go on a charge towards European football. This was 2 years ahead of schedule. The Sustain phase was to consistently qualify for European football, which of course is something we’d like to continue doing throughout my time at the club. If we can qualify for Europe again next season, that’d be 3 successive seasons, which is the initial aim of the Sustain phase.
Next up, is the Challenge. This was me setting out that I’d like to start challenging for the Bundesliga title by either my 5th or 6th season at the club. We certainly got close to Bayern this season, but Dortmund ran away with it and we weren’t anywhere near them. Can the big two become the big three, and can we be the 3rd team battling it out for the Bundesliga? The average age of the squad is just 22, so it’ll be a huge achievement if we manage to ruffle their feathers.
I’ve managed to persuade the board to upgrade both our youth and training facilities. These are currently deemed as superb and impressive, so I’m excited to see what we can produce and keep developing once these get completed.
Reflecting the non-FM world, the board’s project to buy the Red Bull Arena is almost complete as well. We’re currently paying £2m in rent per year, so they’ll be that saving there, plus I’m presuming we’ll have other benefits too, like being able to expand it eventually and retaining all of the profits from matchdays.
Our European run sees us shoot up the European club rankings into 49th position. Of course, that’s not great but when you consider that we made it to the Europa League final in our first foray into Europe, it’s not bad at all. Prolonged spells of European qualification will see us jump up these rankings in no time, considering we were 8th in terms of coefficient points gained during 2017/18. We’re also now 16th in the German club reputation rankings, progression.
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