Toulouse 5.02: Left (Back) 4 Dead
Welcome back to Toulouse. We are sitting in what has become our almost permanent, very comfortable second place spot as the calendar turns over. We have looked decent so far, but I have some ideas on where we can improve, and hopefully we can run our rivals from the capital close this year.Ted promises a quiet January. He’s said that before. All I want for Tedmas is a left back, so quiet would be fine. I wrote a very polite letter, left out a mince pie, a glass of milk, and a large sherry. I even had the chimney swept beforehand. Hopefully it’s time for Ted to deliver…
With FEO flying on the field, that’s where I’ll start my breakdown of the January 2025 transfer window. I was gifted a side 3 points behind leaders PSG, and I departed with us 6 points behind. So what happened? I switched to a 4-2-4 the moment I took charge, as F had confided in me that he thought I was an excellent tactician. We were rewarded with two two-nil victories over RC Lens and OM…and that’s it. Quite simply, PSG played a game more, and I played you.
In the Kup, we strolled through the ninth and tenth rounds against lower league opponents, before a clinical PSG side knocked us out at the end of the month. A 2-0 defeat seemed a little unfair, seeing as they only made one proper good chance, but we didn’t create all that much either. We have failed to defend our crown.
The juicy stuff always comes on the transfer page though, right? I had shared with FEO that I expected January to be quiet, even with Alonso departing and leaving us short of a recognised senior left back. What actually happened though was that we signed 8 players (with two having been pre-arranged) for around €25m. Within this melee of incomings were two left backs, one couldn’t be registered due to non-EU spots being taken up, and the other is a young Czechian lad who isn’t good enough (yet, or ever, maybe). Only one of the players signed will end up featuring this season (I presume), and that’s Carioca.
Signed from SPO (FEO FEEL FREE TO PUT THE REAL NAMES IN BTW LOLZ) (Editor’s note: no.) for €14.25m. It looks like he can do a job anywhere in the midfield, and is good cover for Manuel Ugarte.
Most of the departures were on loan or for nominal fees, which included two first-team defenders who could do a job at full back. All-in-all, the business in January looks a disaster – I’ve weakened the defensive options by choice after being forced into the sale of Alonso following my failure to sort a contract this time last year (he may still have asked for a lot, but I didn’t even check). My reasoning is vaguely simple – Sarmiento can play at left back (just about). In addition, Sylla 2.0 needs minutes to become as good as Sylla 1.0, and the guys I’ve loaned out need more regular game time in order to fulfil their potential.
It makes sense in my head. I trust that FEO will be able to get the most out of the squad regardless, and maybe find a creative solution to the left back issue. Champions League and Ligue Un glory awaits…
Let’s cover the positives first. Carioca looks a great prospect, and on paper we now have five top players for the centre of the park, with a nice variety of different skills between them.
Although the first team squad is smaller than previous seasons, for nine of the ten outfield positions, the quality of back up has never been better.
Left back though. Left back Ted. The Alonso situation is not on Ted in my opinion, and the money we got for him was a relief. The failure to replace him? I’m not too irked by that, sometimes the right player isn’t there for the right money.
But Ted. Why do you be loaning out two potential solutions!? You absolute madman. Especially loaning out the wonderfully named, Christ Merali. Following Sarmiento’s injury, Merali had filled the first team role solidly, if unspectacularly.
Not satisfied with that, Ted then also loaned out Sawadogo, a versatile, ambipedal young defender, who theoretically would have been perfect as a covering squad player for the remainder of the season.
Next, just to make extra sure, Ted went into the Toulouse 2 squad and sold Mulugeta, who I admit, was not a great left back prospect, but had played a few minutes last year and was earmarked by me as an option if things got really desperate.
Why Ted, why!? :crying_cat_face: It’s not just that we don’t have back-up, we don’t have a single left back over the age of 16! I think someone got carried away by Sarmiento’s performances in January. Yes, he played well three times for Ted, but one of those appearances was on the wing, and two were against lower league teams in the Coupe.
Fortunately, I am mighty.
February and March 2025:
And so is Tony:
Despite Rouault being right-footed, I couldn’t overlook Sarmiento’s dodgy defensive work any longer, and made the change. He made that flank look more solid, and became accomplished at left back quickly, becoming the unquestionable first choice for the rest of the season.
Results wise, let’s quickly get Liverpool out of the way first eh? We improved upon last year’s 8-1 aggregate drubbing, by being comfortably knocked out 7-3 over two legs. We were only slightly worse than them in the home leg, but missed a number of great chances. So that’s some solace, I suppose.
Domestically, our good results had continued:
Our 16 match winning run was brought to an end by Lyon, and in total, resulted in us gaining precisely 0 points on PSG.
Despite this, our performances weren’t the best, outside of Nice away and the first half at home to Monaco. A couple of times we’d been baled out by switching to a 424 (Auxerre, Guingamp), and on a few other occasions, we’d been rather fortunate in our results (Nantes, Lyon, and Rennes).
As I mentioned last time, anybody playing AMC may as well have been at the beach. I tinkered with a Rensian 433 a few times, using Carioca as a Mezzala instead of an AMA. He remained invisible, but it came with the added bonus of making the entire rest of the team useless too. Apart from during the Coupe games against semi-pros for Tedderz, Carioca had done very little up to this point.
From the Strasbourg game I made a permanent formational switch, doing away with the completely irrelevant AMC, and bringing in a DM instead. The ball-winning midfielder was dropped back there, with Carioca in as a Mezzala again. It’s fair to say it didn’t change much.
April and May 2025:
For the start of April, I made one change, just the one. Mezzala was out, box to box midfielder was in, with our Brazilian wonderkid on his last chance before a dropping.
We’d had to do without David Carmo for a month due to injury, with “the next Nemanja Vidic”, Miroslav Djokovic covering ably. But from April onwards, this was without doubt our first team. Being out of Europe and the Coupe meant we had eight games to go, all on weekends, and rotation went largely out of the door.
First game out of the gates as a box to box midfielder, at home to Reims, Carioca FEO-assisted all three goals in a 3-1 win. There had been some lovely attacking moves on show, and these continued during an extremely comfortable 3-0 win at home to local rivals Montpellier, and a 2-0 victory away at Angers that was never in doubt.
The front three of Mazek, Aribi and Nestorovic were
combining beautifully doing bits (between them, they scored 18 out of our final 19 goals of the season). Mazek’s form was so good, he nabbed the Ligue 1 Player of the Month award for April (with a much improved Carioca in second), an accolade that I was beginning to suspect our players were exempt from.
Meanwhile, in Paris, Lyon had grabbed a creditable 3-3 draw…
A point behind, with an easier run-in, and PSG were still in both the Coupe, and Champions League. Could we at least take it to the final day, for a title showdown with a side that we’ve played three, lost three against so far this season…?
Oh it’s on. It’s so on right now. Perhaps none of the scorelines suggest it, but we were playing wonderfully. On paper, the biggest challenge was against a strong Lille side, but we dominated from start to finish, only our shooting keeping it relatively tight. The first goal, when it finally came, showed the almost psychic link that our front three had been playing with recently.
So, a simple calculus then, we need to beat PSG to win the title, correct?
Wrong. Miraculously, whilst I was suffering from just a few nerves at Lorient, in their penultimate game of the season, PSG lost at home to St. Etienne 1-0. Their first Ligue loss of the season, and their first Ligue loss at home during this entire save.
We were two points above them, and we “only” needed a draw. I’d love to say, “It’s over PSG, I have the high ground”. However, our record against PSG stood at: P11, W0, D1, L10, GF 10, GA 27. Apologies Teddy Baby, your Coupe win on penalties last year is technically a draw. My own record against PSG was a perfect 9 losses from 9 (10 from 10 if you include the #lq save).
We were at full strength, PSG chose to omit a half-fit Raheem Sterling, but still had an impressive front three of Neymar, Mbappe and Haaland. With Harry Kane in central midfield.
The first half was a quiet (dare I say drab?) affair, with Kane rattling the bar by accident from a cross, and only one real chance. Fortunately for us, it fell to Nestorovic:
That was the 12th minute. In the 15th, a David Carmo header hit the bar from a corner, and almost nothing else happened before half time.
The second half started differently. Neymar missed a great chance almost immediately from the kick off, and fewer than ten minutes later, PSG went 424 to put the pressure on.
Tenas made a couple of decent saves around the hour mark, but PSG didn’t create a chance as good as the one Neymar had missed. He did score however, with just ten minutes to go.
I won’t lie to you and say I remained calm. I most definitely did not. But my team did. I confess to being too superstitious to mess with the tactic in order to attempt to shut up shop. After the equaliser, the best two chances fell to us, though both Ugarte and the substitute Sarmiento were unable to convert…
Special mention for Anthony Rouault at left back, who kept Mbappe basically silent on that flank, condemning him to a 6.4 rating. tEd WaS rIgHt AlL aLoNg.
We’ve still not beaten PSG, but it doesn’t matter, because I’m led to believe that the league table doesn’t lie:
Congratulations to PSG, for equalling the record we set last season for most points accumulated to not win the league.
Most goals: Nestorovic (28), Vlahovic (16), Mazek (14)
Most key contributions: Aribi (7), Mazek (6), Camara/Ugarte (both 5)
Most assists: Ugarte (14), Aribi/Camara/Mazek (all 11)
Most secondary Assists: Ugarte (9), Garcia (6), Busquets/Prent (both 4)
Ugarte’s proliferation of stats slowed noticeably in the second half of the season, partly because the rest of the team clicked, and partly because of a few minor knocks that he took (he rarely saw out a full 90 minutes from February onward).
Our usually steady flow of set piece goals also dried up following the formation changes. I could’ve got under the bonnet and tweaked, but I was too superstitious to touch it after the box to box midfielder magically transformed us into a beautiful footballing side.
Why the end to the big pause?
Well, I’m an FMer, so it’s only natural to put out a couple of weekly posts immediately after alluding to an end.
We had a bit of a backlog to attend to, and then for the first time in a long time, I found myself “in the zone”. The final 14 games of this season all took place on the same day, with the last 11 happening in one session. It’s been about four months since I last played like that. Seeing the team play great football and getting results was good fun, and of course, I feared turning off due to the ever-present peril of succumbing to a classic #MythMike scenario.
My issues with FM21 remain the same, though I have partially mitigated some of them by handing off some responsibilities to my (in-game) Director of Football, Tomáš Rosický, and choosing to ignore certain other issues.
Anyhow, we’re basically fully caught up now. Ugarte’s demanded a new deal, and I’ve sent the save to Ted a bit earlier than usual as a result.
Speaking of Ted, sharing this save with him has been great fun. I don’t think it’s overstating it to say that without his input, I’d have stop playing a while back. If you’ve somehow missed the embedded links to his blog in these posts, here’s a more obvious one (he’s really good):
If this is reading a bit like an au revoir, that’s intentional. I have no idea if the next blog post is two weeks away, or six months down the line, and that’s fine. Winning a Ligue 1 title was the main aim of this save, and we’ve got one :smirk:
As always, thanks for reading, stay safe, get vaccinated x