#FM17 : Burnley and the Quest for 17th

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“If the road is easy, you’re likely going the wrong way”

I have no affiliation to Burnley, the place or the team. Sure, like everyone else I thought it was a shame when they were relegated in 2014/15, but in all honesty I was a little underwhelmed when they bounced back. Since the start of the season however, having Tom Heaton in my Fantasy Football team, I warmed to the idea of them being a premier league mainstay.

So why devote my free time to learning the key attributes of the Burnley reserve right back? I like a challenge. Admittedly there are harder tasks in world football, pleasing the red side of Manchester being one, but battling survival has always captured my interest. Maybe if all goes well and I win the league I’ll get bored and move on. In previous editions I would run the game until January and take over a team in the relegation zone, hoping to turn it round. Last year I had the mobile version of the game and took Crewe from League one all the way to mid table Championship over 8 seasons… I never said I was great at the game.

So here I am, August 2017 game time, having completed an uninspiring 0-0 draw with Doncaster in a preseason friendly. About to start my second season in charge of Burnley.

Before we start that though, let’s reflect on my debut season in management…

I didn’t decide to write this until now, and was already at the end of the 2016/17 season, so here’s a (not so brief) overview

2016/17 – season one – Survival is my game

My first day starts like any new managers, a welcome, a squad introduction and more importantly, season expectations. I remain cautious and keep the expectations low, the extra budget not worth the risk. Battle against relegation and earliest cup exits as possible. They give me £9m budget for this and off I go to examin the squad.

First impressions of the squad are good, plenty to work with here, good defence and with Gray leading the line, we should give as good as we get. I want to play 442, be it a dying art or mearly as unfashionable as yoyos, it isn’t as common as it used to be. With a good attack though I want two up front, so this is how we will train.

At the end of the first week things take a turn as Spurs put an offer in for Michael Keane, who I planned to be my rock at the back. Sure, I push the price up but ultimately I can’t stop him progressing, i know that, and I’m fairly certain he does too. Plus, you can’t miss something you never had, so an initial 12m is added to my transfer pot.

I immediately don’t fancy George Boyd, assuming he’s passed it and rightly or wrongly, plan to use only as a back up. I forget to tell him that though, something we will have words about mid season. Anyway, off to market I go, searching key stats for a wide man and up pops Charlie Adam, on the transfer list from Stoke. (I didn’t include pace in my search). After deciding he can do a job out wide and £2m later he’s in the team for the first friendly. I also add Diego Poyet on a free, as I’m sure countless managers have, and set about looking for full back cover.

As at the time I didn’t know I would be writing it I am relying somewhat on memory. A memory that is sleep deprived due to young kids and a rekindled love for FM, but there’s always coffee to get me through. I am not sure of my exact tactics at the start, apart from the fact they were wrong, and how…

442 was the basis, that’s how I want us to play. I played a few other saves with numerous single striker formations and had success, but this was different. I knew to have even a hope of a chance of surviving that I needed to be solid defensively, so this was my base. To attack we would start counter attacking, unsure of the level of our quality, but with two strikers I knew that we would have chances, it why I chose to play this way. It’s a fairly flat 4 man midfield, we are going to need defensive support on the wings. I have only one winger of note, so my general tactic is to play a wide mid support role, changing as the game needs it. As for other roles and instructions I initially picked the best for the player and system. Preseason was a mixed bag, not the best but everyone was fit. I read a few articles on player roles and instructions so felt comfortable that I knew what I was doing from then on. And so onto the first game of the season.

Burnley 1-4 Liverpool

I could see twitter the following day, angry Burnley fans posting memes with my face over David Moyes’ with the line ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’. Rightly so, theyve just sacked their good manager and replaced him with a nobody. It wasn’t all bad, we took the lead mid way through the first half, Gray picking up a lovely ball from Barnes, the front two linking up exactly how I wanted. No sooner had I put my shirt back on after celebrating, things were level, I can’t remember the scorer, but it was the first of many, so that doesn’t matter. The assist was from Llalana, I remember that because he scored the subsequent three and rightly got POM. We did lead though, if only for a minute. Difficult fixture I tell myself, but it doesn’t let up from there.

I’ll gloss over the games that didn’t stick out, like the next sickening loss 5-0 away at Arsenal. I’m sure if you ask them they can tell you the finer details. Not many positive things from that game. Although we didn’t have many key highlights, maybe if I watched on extended I would have seen Cechs goal once or twice. Goals for, one. Goals against, nine. Time in the lead currently stands at 1 minute. The next game was the EFL cup at home to Wycombe and a chance to start my push for silverware.

It’s as routine as a post pub kebab, we win, and win well. I played a slightly weaker team but had too much quality winning 4-1 in the end. ‘My tactics aren’t so bad then’ I tell myself, we won once and only lost to two sides that would celebrate more than not this season.

Next up is Leicester at home, current champions sure, but I see this as a chance to kick start my season. We go behind only to come back and enjoy a half time orange level. Second half though we get beaten by two lofted through balls and Sulimani isn’t going to miss. 1-3 loss, and onto the next one, Chelsea away. It’s times like these I’m glad I was cautious with expectations.

Small disaster, it turns out that I won’t have a striker for this game. Barnes is injured from the start, Vokes has done his cruciate and won’t play until the clocks go forward again and the others are out on loan, doing well, but no use to me. Gray and loanee Bamford have done well so far, if not scoring in the league. After the last game however, Gray picked up a week long injury, and its Chelsea next, Bamfords parent club. Long gone are the days when Newcastle loaned players out only to play and concede 89th minute equalisers to them. I’ll need a striker. I won’t need him all season, but at max loan players already, so I pick up Matt Smith for 200k, a young target man who may have a long term place at the club.

I try a change of tactic, playing two strikers away to a big club is crazy, especially when you only have one to start with. In theory by packing the midfield we will be harder to beat. I try 4141, it’s helped me before, we also go defensive with more conservative roles. We lose 4-0, again offering nothing in attack and I could have had 6 extra men in midfield for all the good it did. This will go down as the first loss to a 3 man defence this season, spoiler, it won’t be the last.

Next however, is the game I’ve been targeting, the fixture list has to relent soon and I see this coming in the form of Crystal Palace. It’s away so not ideal but everyone knows how Palace will play, quick wingers, target man and 2 CDMs. I set man marking instructions on the danger men, Gray and Bamford back up front and away we go. We take the lead, and for longer than a minute this time, but it’s shaky, they have chances, lots of them. We go 2-1 down, Zaha is playing true to his real life form and sets them both up. We pull it back to 2-2, then 3-3, I’m happy because it’s been so long since we scored that I ignore the defensive frailties, we will work on that on Monday I think. The game is not over yet though and a long ball over the top lands at Benteke and he powers through to score, 4-3 to the Eagles and we are done. This was supposed to be our day, we can blame the fixtures before, but not now, people might start to think I’m a fraud.

I need help, or a reality check. I search the FM community for help on the problem. Is it bad tactics or poor players. It seems that we have been closing down too much with my centre backs, hence getting beaten by the lofted long ball. Also there are just too many (6) instructions, my players don’t know if they’re coming or going. I strip it back, some sensible roles that fit together and a more defensive minded midfielder. Lovely stuff, now to test it out.

Finally a relief from the league, we did win a game remember. EFL cup time and with my new tactics I’m excited. Except we don’t have it easy, a home tie is always preferable, but we have soon to be Premier League champions Man United visiting.

Yes, sorry to ruin that one so early, but you didn’t think we were going to win the league did you?

With all the games United have to play this season surely they would rotate and play a weakened team, surely we would have a chance. I don’t recall their team, but it must have been enough, we lose 1-3 and decide to concentrate on the league.

They’re still a good side, and apart from Palace, we haven’t been beaten by anyone we expect to finish above in the league yet. Up next is West Ham at Turf Moor. We have a chance here, they haven’t started the season well, and with my new tactical adjustment of stay in your position rather than chasing the ball like a school kid, I’m excited.

Before we can play though it’s bed time for the kids, one thing the community can’t help me with. It’s textbook though, great tactical vision from Mummy to give an early morning nap means we have tired eyes as the teeth get brushed. A quick rock later and she’s down for the next few hours. Now, on to West Ham.

The basis is the same, 442 and counter attack but we have new instructions. Now I ask the centre backs and defensive midfielder sit, wide men close down, and Defour as a box to box player providing support in both areas. After all though, there is only so much I can do, now it’s all down to them. It’s comfortable, we look good, and West Ham can not get passed our back line. Payet looks like a shadow of his former self, but maybe that’s Flanagans closing down. Zaza has a few chances, but he’s exactly like he is in reality, probably still thinking about ‘that’ penalty. In attack we are unplayable, Dean Marney, although on defensive duty is dictating the play and it’s his through ball to Gray which gives him a run in to make it 1-0. Bamford is in the creative role, supporting Gray and he sets up the second, before taking the third for himself. I can’t believe the difference playing simple football can make. I feel like I should do more but just by asking the players to make some decisions we play well. We were due a good performance though. Hendrick, on for the injured Defour, storms into the box to take a knock down from the sub target man Smith and drives in the fourth. His long shots from the edge of the box will become a feature of the next few games, but without the same effect. We win 4-0, it’s hard to hide the smile and the relief poors out. It was a difficult start after all, we may be able to do this.

Next up is the second of a ‘West’ double header, with the visit of Pulis’ Albion. It’s likely that we did so well against West Ham because they aim to play the ball around and attack. They gave us space and tried to out play us. West Brom will not do that, they will play a similar game to us. I’ve got injuries in the midfield, Defour is out for 5 months, Adam is covering left mid so it’s Hendrick starting in centre mid with Marney. We go behind early on, Matt Philips crossing and Rondon towers above Mee to head home. They have the lead they came for and sit back. The game goes on and I need to change something. I switch Arfield to attack and play more direct passing. Hendrick is shooting from range all too often and it isn’t good. After half time I ask him that for the sake of the team could he just stop shooting? It generally doesn’t seem to change so I switch Adam inside. It has an effect and he doesn’t shoot but plays in the on rushing Arfield to cross for Gray to tap in. It’s level, but West Brom sit further back and kill the game from there. We don’t create much more and my subs have little effect. A draw in the end, and all things considered, not a bad point.

Swansea away next, they’re in trouble, and the only team below us in the league at this point. From looking at their squad Bradley hasn’t replaced Ashley Williams at the back and they haven’t scored many so far. I stick to 442, the same system that’s worked for the last few games and got my only points so far. We win again, only 1-0 this time, and we are hanging on a little in the end but see the game out. For all of their creativity, they’re missing a quality striker to finish it. We had few chances, but the on form Gray finished well and that did for Swansea. I shake Bob Bradley’s hand after the game, but we won’t meet again this season. Swanseas poor form sees him sacked before Thanksgiving.

We are up to 16th, have an inform goal scorer and conceded only one in three games. If I can just stop Hendrick shooting we may have a chance.

I never like to stop a good run but it’s midnight and the kids will wake up at some point during the night so I call it a day. The end of October brings more tough games, away to Everton and a home double against table topping Manchester City and Spurs, where I’ll take whatever I can get. Then it’s into November where I target points at home to Sunderland and away at Saint Mary’s.

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I’ve been playing football management games since the days of the PS1, where you needed a full memory card to save. Since then I played a lot of Champ man 4 and it nearly cost me my A levels. -Winner of 3 UEFA cups with Villa on CM4 -Statue outside Villa Park -FA cup winner with Chelsea on FM05 -guided Crewe to Championship mediocrity on FM16 Now a father of two I picked up FM17 and decided to start writing about it I hope you enjoy