Sempre Vitória | Fail Forward

At the halfway point of season seven we were top of the league and ahead of Benfica, who were in 3rd, by nine points. However, they had three valuable games in hand to go level with us. We’d sneaked into the Champions League knockout round. The new 3-5-2 tactic had started to gel after a few initial teething problems. Everything looked fairly rosy…

The art of Failing Forward

The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure.

John Maxwell, Failing Forward

Businesses, entrepreneurs and start-ups across the world preach the art of failing forward. If you’re trying new things and they aren’t coming off, take the learnings, iterate and try again.

Yes, I am comparing the second half of my seventh season in charge of Vitória on FM19 to the likes of Steve Jobs, James Dyson and Richard Branson. If you look at our results below, there’s only a handful of instances where we failed.

Three matches against Benfica, three costly defeats. We were 2-1 up with 15 minutes left to go in the January clash but threw it away by conceding in the 89th minute. FMGrasshopper’s love child, Santi Ascacibar, then all but single-handedly won Benfica the league and Taca de Portugal. His two goals in two 1-0 wins at the business end of the season sealed a domestic treble for the Lisbon giants.

Benfica slipped up on matchday 33, losing 4-0 against Sporting, to give us the tiniest sliver of hope going into the last day of the season. They matched our result though by comprehensively beating Setúbal 6-1 to win the league by a point, a year after they beat us to the title on the head-to-head record between us.

Despite us winning the Taca da Liga for the third time, the season overall has to go down as a failure. Despite us conceding the least number of goals in the league and the lowest total in the league for the entirety of my time at the club so far, we didn’t win the league. Despite us scoring the most league goals in a season across my time at the club so far, we didn’t win the league.

We’ll need to wait for next season to find out what our response is to this failure but to get to that point we need to ensure we don’t repeat the same mistakes, we need to learn from them and persevere. What can we learn from some of our failures this season?

Match analysis

Despite our goalscoring prowess overall, the Benfica 1-0 defeat aside, there was four other instances where we failed to score in a league match this season. Three of those came in the first half of the season, but the other came in April as Gil Vicente held us to a 0-0 draw, their second point against us this season.

Despite scoring an average of over three goals a game in the seven league matches since our last draw against Rio Ave, Gil Vicente’s two solid banks of four kept us out. A lot of our play already naturally comes from out wide, but in an attempt to encourage play to come centrally as well, one of the team instructions I have set is to play much narrower. In hindsight, it could have been that stubbornness to not tweak that during this match that cost us. Stretching the play could have broken down that solid back line. Though we were already quite focused out wide and did attempt over 30 crosses.

Dejan Joveljic and Pedro Ferreira ended the season with 53 goals between them, with Joveljic edging the league top goalscorer competition between them both. Both players played a huge chunk of the season together up top, starting 41 and 44 games, respectively. However that Gil Vicente match was one I chose to rest Joveljic in and bring in young Nigerian wonderkid, Uche Agu, for only his second start after he’d trained well. You don’t think these decisions could cost you come the end of the season.

Benfica had the beating of our 3-5-2 this season, but looking at our record against them, we haven’t actually beaten them since April 2023, more than two years ago. Each of our meetings with them this season were decided by just one goal, but why weren’t we able to continue our good form elsewhere into our matches against the champions? They are a class above anyone else we usually face in the league, but we did manage to pick up some really good results against Porto and Sporting.

In our 1-0 league defeat in the Estádio da Luz we actually played really well, outshooting them by 20 to 13, with 11 of our 20 on target. On another day we would’ve won.

In matches where we face a single forward, I amend the outer CB roles in my back three to be Ball Playing Defenders and in those two clips above you can see it almost paid off as they look to find the forwards with direct balls in behind opposition defences. On another day these clear cut chances would go in.

We obviously lost the match, but on the whole we did restrict Benfica to just one clear goalscoring opportunity. Our defensive structure is usually sound, and as I said earlier, much improved in comparison to previous seasons with us conceding the lowest number of goals so far across my seven seasons. Their goal came from an individual error as Ascacibar evaded a Grønli challenge to get a sight of goal from outside the box.

Our RCB, number 4, is too late to realise the danger while number 44, our central CB is completely free to close down but doesn’t. His duty is on cover plus I also have him set to close down less in order to sweep up behind and keep his position. In this scenario it looks like a fail and something I’ll take into future matches against Benfica and other top teams.

We were so close to winning a domestic treble and I’ve done a post about it being a failure. I do think it was, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy playing through this season. I mentioned in the last post about slipping into an FM comfort zone with the previously tactic, some of the performances this season were a joy to watch after the switch to the 3-5-2. If you feel like your save is stagnating but you aren’t quite ready to give up on FM19 yet, switch things up a bit!

There’s still plenty to come in this save. As ever, I’m loving some of the players I’ve got on the development pathway, we’re raking in serious fees for some of them now. We’ve done absolutely nothing in Europe yet after Manchester City knocked us out of the Champions League first knockout round and I really want to wrestle that Primeira Liga title back from Benfica. Thanks for reading, season eight incoming.

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