Season two didn’t start well, but things were starting to look up. A revamped tactical approach had seen form begin to pick up and a run of results put together towards the end of the last post. Could we continue that form throughout December and January? We’ve got a fair few matches to play…
December was a busy month. My first team barely trained this month as I prioritised keeping them rested between matches.
A tight victory against struggling Moreirense was followed up by a brilliant win against Braga. The Minhoto derby is a big affair these days with André Villas-Boas in charge of Os Arsenalistas. I was really looking forward to facing up to someone I think should definitely be back in football. That 4-2 win hauls us up another couple of places in the league to 7th, just four points off 5th placed Pacos Ferreira with a game in hand to cut it down further. Sigurd Grønli is starting to absolutely relish that CM(A) role. His first was him latching onto a loose ball in the penalty area, while his second and third were ridiculous free kicks, his speciality.
Sporting sacked Paulo Sousa with the side languishing in 14th. This could have so easily been me if we hadn’t managed to turn the corner over the last few matches. Our remaining league matches of the month go well, with us looking much better going forward since the change of tactic. All except that Estoril match, our first defeat in two months. On the balance of play we were the better side. I chased the equaliser and didn’t stop after we’d scored it with five minutes to go. I wanted the winner we deserved, but left us susceptible on the counter. Newly promoted Estoril got the winner in the 94th minute despite the ref only adding three on. We’re really getting done this season on that.
At the end of December we sit 6th in the league table. We’ve currently got a game in hand over 5th placed Nacional and if we win we’ll leapfrog them into 5th and a potential Europa League qualification spot.
Veteran goalkeeper, Douglas, has decided to retire at the end of the season, despite playing enough league matches to earn himself another year with the club. I did try and ask him to reconsider due to his form being good when he has played this season, but he’s calling it a day. 17-year-old, Sérgio Dutra, has been in the first team squad this season learning from and training with Douglas and Jori, but I think being back up next season might just be a bit too soon for him.
We needed a result against PSV and we got it. They had a few first half chances, but after a bit of a bollocking at half time, my players seemed to remember we had something to play for and got the job done. Here’s how the group finished.
Varzim were comfortably swept aside as we match last season’s effort in the Taca de Portugal by reaching the 6th round. We’re at home against Sporting next month for a chance at reaching the semi final. The Taca da Liga 3rd Phase group stage came to a head this month, and we’ve been ridiculously lucky.
After throwing away a lead in the first match against Maritimo, we were up against it with them having to face second tier sides Farense and Academica. We did our job against them, they couldn’t manage it. We go through to the semi final where we’ll face Benfica.
We go into 2020 and the transfer window opens again. I’d lined up a few deals ahead of the window opening. It’s always good to do your business early on, and identify positions that need strengthening or players that will give us something extra than what we’ve already got. The board have armed me with an £8m budget, not a bad Christmas gift.
With the tactical switch to playing an out and out winger on the right hand side I thought we should probably buy one. There was a few at the club that could play there, but none who properly fit in with what I like in the role. James was recently asking on FMSlack about what we look for in roles, and I mentioned that for wingers pretty much all I look for is pace and acceleration. If they can do other things too then of course that’s a bonus. Murillo joins from Tondela, where he’d scored seven goals in 14 league matches so far this season, for £1.9m potentially rising to £2.3m. He offers that pure speed down the right, with great flair, off the ball movement, dribbling and technique too. I’m excited to see what he’ll bring to the team.
I’d heard some great things about Mohamed Daramy from Ed managing in France with Lille. A few years down the line he’s being touted as a wonderkid and I wanted to see if I can mould him into one myself. He’s very raw at the moment but my scouts and coaches love him. I see him as an inside forward on the left at the moment and he’s been placed into a mentoring group to see if we can improve his personality and determination. He signs from Kobenhavn for £825k rising to £1.5m.
Thaciano had been highlighted by my Brazilian scout, Luccas Neto, as being on the transfer list for £1.6m at Boa Esporte in Serie B. I debated with my Slack channel about signing him. We’ve got some good young central midfielders that I wanted to promote to the first team but it was discussed that he’d be able to come in and make a good impact now. He’s good at most things and not really bad at anything in particular.
There was no major transfers out over the course of the month. Rafa Soares attracted a whole host of bids, but only Sporting’s got close to my £10m valuation of him. He won’t be leaving for our domestic rivals. Celtic Vigo bid £5.25m for Frederico Venâncio but I wasn’t going to let another one of our stand out central defenders leave for what I perceive to be a low bid. Sigurd Grønli was the subject of some summer window deadline day bids from Benfica and his form this season certainly hasn’t put them off. There’s no way he’s leaving for the £750k they refused to go higher than. They also popped up with a few bids for forward, Fernando Cardozo. He only joined in the summer for £850k so I won’t be selling him for £1.6m half a year later. He has signed a one year extension on his contract after that bid rejection to warn off any future suitors, it makes him our highest paid player at the club on £6.75k a week.
We played quite a few matches this month too.
Clean sheets against Rio Ave, Sporting twice and Gil Vicente saw us put together a run of five games without conceding in total. Those two wins in three days against Sporting were particularly pleasing and the latter took us into the Taca de Portugal semi final where we’ll face Benfica.
Talking of semi finals against Benfica, we played really well against them in the Taca da Liga semi. We created some golden opportunities during the match and managed to keep them down to five of their eight shots being long, but a Sébastien Corchia free kick in the 74th minute was our undoing. They went on to win the final against Porto three days later, meaning our scheduled league match against them that weekend got moved to the following Wednesday.
We dominated against the reigning champions, outplaying and outpassing our opponents for the most part. Vincent Aboubakar put them ahead against the run of play just before half time. Giorgi Arabidze won Primeira Liga Player and Goal of the Month for January and it was his 81st minute goal in this one that won him the award after coming on for the last 20 minutes. This was what he was signed for in the summer on loan from PSG, to produce moments like this.
That made it 2-1 but unfortunately Porto went straight up the pitch to score in the 83rd from a towering Felipe header to wrap the match up. A disappointing result to round off what was on the whole a good month. Here’s how the league table looks after those two months worth of fixtures.
At the end of the month I managed to get the board to agree an upgrade in our data analysis facilities and also for them to increase our junior coaching budget. That takes that up to exceptional which will hopefully better influence the quality of the young players joining the club in future youth intakes.
Next time I’ll be rounding off my second season in charge of the club. After the initial scare I’m now quite confident we can match last season’s 3rd place finish and secure a return to the group stage of the Europa League for the second consecutive season.
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