Disclaimer: The first save file managed to become corrupted, which was a real kick in the teeth. However, I had managed to have a back-up file saved before the final three Bundesliga fixtures commenced. So nothing much has changed from the original file in terms of the progress we made.
Welcome back to Saving Bremen. Previously I outlined my intentions and aims with the club, and my reasons as to why Werder Bremen was chosen as the primary focus of this FM21 save.
I don’t want to dwell too much with this introduction but, needless to say, it was fantastic to finally get this game loaded up and running. After taking time to play the FM Touch versions over the full game, I was just over the moon to play through a full season on an expanded format.
It felt like being reunited with a lost friend.
Anyhow. Today’s post covers my first season in Germany: from August 2020 to May 2021. I know, it already sounds like a long entry already. So I will do my best to break down all of the important events as this post goes along.
With that being said, let’s crack on.
Load-Out & Pre-Season 2020
With the new laptop I opted to test it’s capabilities with the game. Needless to say, it handled loading up plenty of leagues better than I had expected. I opted to load all of the major European & South American leagues; coupled with the leagues that border Germany (Poland, Austria, Belgium, Denmark & Switzerland). The total player database just came to below 60,000 – a healthy number to work with I guess.
Training & Tactical Familiarity
Despite starting the save in early July, the domestic fixture calendar was fast approaching – with the first round of Bundesliga fixtures due to commence in early August. One of my first priorities was to access the fixtures schedule and something immediately stood out: we wouldn’t be due a winter break this season. Whether this was because of the effects of the *pandemic* remains to be seen, but needless to say it put things into perspective for me.
We had three friendlies booked at our training camp in Austria, before opening our season in the First Round of the DFB-Pokal. It was paramount that training be focused on getting the players attuned to the tactical style that I wished to implement. I like how the fixtures come thick and fast, as it has forced me to draw up training plans on a basis of need.
Perhaps the one thing I’m not taking into greater focus is my Assistant Manager’s input. It just seems that with every day passing he feels we must adjust and change everything. My initial worry was heeding it as his advice wouldn’t allow time to develop a consistent tactical strategy. I’m glad I trusted my gut rather than my assistant, as this post will demonstrate.
‘The Bremen Magician’
Despite there being no cap on the amount of players a club playing in the Bundesliga can register, I wanted to go into my first season with a First Team squad consisting of no more than 25 players. My reasons for this are rather straight forward: it’s far easier for me to have my best players at the forefront of my attention. It gives me greater room to rotate and keep everyone happy and, should the need arise, I can call up promising prospects from the Reserve teams to gain first team experience – which so happens to be one of the requirements under the Club’s Vision.
I opted not to delve into the Summer Transfer Market and so proceeded to register my 25 players. I’d only just joined the club so I wanted to work with the current crop of players at my disposal. Also, I believed it would be better to evaluate during the first half of the season and then bring in reinforcements in January 2021.
I knew that the squad possessed plenty of attacking qualities that could easily make us a threat against many opposition defences. Milot Rashica would be the crux of our attack. The 24-year old Kosovan has the qualities I need to punish the opposition and with his crossing & dribbling (14) he can create the opportunities for our strikers to bag those vital goals.
Whether or not Rashica would live up to my expectations remained to be seen. Despite him being a traditional winger by trade, I am opting to deploy Rashica as a right-sided Inside Forward. My worry is his lack of strength (8) and passing ability (10). Not only does it mean he’s likely to be bullied off of the ball more, but he could prove to waste valuable passes when we’re looking to build up an attack. But there was no point worrying until I see the final results.
For my Bremen side he initially hit the ground running. In his opening seven games he proved be a consistent threat against opposing teams and bagged two goals, as well as adding three assists to his belt. However, as the season progressed his form dropped and it showed, as the below image shows.
Those three assists would prove to be his only contributions of the campaign – I guess that is partially down to deploying him as an Inside Forward. Needless to say I had expected more from a player that still has a lot of offer us. That being said, there is still plenty to be positive about. Rashica registered a high pass competition rate (85%) despite lacking in skill with his passing attributes. Furthermore, the Kosovan got involved when the club was on the defensive – a 77% tackling success rate.
It goes to say that while Rashica didn’t meet my high expectations, the Inside Forward is still an unpolished diamond with plenty of promise on offer. It has given me cause to go away and review how I can get the best performances out of him next season.
The 4-2-3-1 Formation
Rachica sits on the right side of the formation, supporting the Pressing Forward in the Inside Forward position. The aim of this formation is to continuously press the opposition into making a mistake, and then pounce on the counter-attack. Therefore, the formation relies on two wing-backs to spearhead the counter – the role on the right-side focusing more on an attacking mentality whilst the left wing-back delegates the attack to the left Inside Forward.
Initially, the DLP was deployed in a support role but, following friendlies where the defence was under increased pressure, I opted to have the DLP operate on a more defensive mentality. Having the midfielder sit in between the the two CBs and help link up play with the midfield is crucial – especially if we are opting to press the opposition with counter-attacking play.
Whilst not perfect I have had a lot of fun working with this formation. The DLP has become a key component during matches and has, at times, proven to be the key to winning matches. That being said, once I’ve brought in better defensive options I am probably going to move the DLP into a supporting role. At times, my BBM has been caught out due to a lack of support. There is still plenty of work to be done – but it’s all about adjusting and adapting as the seasons progress.
The funny thing about the Bundesliga is that, much like the stereotype of Germans being ‘consistent’, I had expected the likes of Bayern, Leipzig and Leverkusen to be on the up and up. The board had set me the target of Avoid a Relegation Battle – so my mind wasn’t focused on pulling off any upsets. Instead, it was about getting the wins against teams who weaker than us on paper.
Basically, we couldn’t have done any worse than the previous season. Could we…?
Short answer: we could indeed!
Despite being written off by the media as relegation candidates, we were able to secure 20 wins, 8 draws and 6 losses over the course of my first Bundesliga season. Some of those wins were brilliant to pull off, especially our wins over Borussia Dortmund (2-1) and RB Leipzig (3-2). Yet it does beg the question as to whether lady luck was on our side: something I believe would be better answered by looking at the final league standings…
I guess there is an argument that we did get lucky. Bayern Munich had a season to forget (17 Wins / 12 Draws / 5 Losses) not to mention that RB Leipzig were in the bottom half of the Bundesliga for the first half of the season – something which cost Julian Naglesmann his job (and any hope of securing the Bayern post). I guess the best way to sum it all up is that it was an odd season.
We definitely earned a bulk of our results on merit and hard work. Securing continental football this season was not my aim, but the fact we managed to earn a place in next season’s Champions League – especially with the squad I inherited – is nothing short of a monumental achievement for this club. We definitely had to adapt and change approaches to key games throughout the season, but we ended up finishing as runners-up to a resurgent Dortmund side.
Not bad, eh.
Despite our final standings there was still plenty to look over and analyse, both positive and negative. I’ll start with our biggest flaw: defence.
From our first 19 Bundesliga games the opposition averaged 10 shots per game against our defence, with a 13% conversion rate resulting in a goal against us. Only Leipzig, Leverkusen and Cologne had a worse rate than us within our bracket, and considering they were vastly underperforming in terms of league standing, this was a problem. We had a leaky defence. Niklas Moisander, our veteran CB had then spent 41% of the season to date injured, resulting in our second-choice left back, Marco Freidl deputising in the vacant CB position. Not a natural CB by trade, he did try his best to shore up the defence; but it wasn’t enough. Reinforcements were needed..
We needed to address the issue to ensure that our defence improved during the second half of the season. This is where the scouting department really got to work. I tasked them with finding targets suited to playing as a Ball Playing Defender and, preferably, under the age of 24. I needed a defender who, whilst being defensively minded, would be able to contribute to our pressing style of football. Thus my attention was centred on Victor Nelsson.
I’ve been a big fan of Nelsson since FM19 and I’ve always wanted to take him on during one of my saves. His attributes and skillset on FM21 made him a perfect fit for my Bremen side. Spending £8 million on the Danish internation may seem costly for a club expected to be mid-level at best, but the 22-year old is one for the future.
Nelsson’s technical attributes alone are decent but his mental attributes really stand out. An aggressive CB, Nelsson has the potential to be a highly influencial player and, quite possibly, a future first team captain. With both Niklas Moisander and Theodor Gebre Selassie both reaching the twilight of their respective careers in the professional game, I have to look to the future and Nelsson is very much a part of that future.
Looking To Next Season
My first season in Bremen definately packed plenty of surprises. Champions League qualification; coupled with a huge cash windfall from the Bundesliga. To our critics who said we overachieved, yes, yes we did overachieve. But we ended up being rewarded for the displays we pulled on the pitch.
Now, the focus turns to the 2021/22 season. I’m already expecting it to be a lot tougher for us. I can’t see the top crop of teams within the Bundesliga being as complacient as they were this season. I imagine the likes of Bayern Munich, RB Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen will give us a run for our money in the next campaign.
But we still have plenty to look forward too. With a healthier bank bank balance I’m hoping that the board will hand us a generous transfer budget to bring in the players we need for the long run.
But that’s something you’ll have to look out for in my next post. Until then, thank you once again for taking the time to read this latest entry.
All the best.