SS Lazio – A Season to Remember

After a very good first half of the season the pressure was on us to continue it into the new year. At the last update we were sitting 4th, 4 points behind leaders Inter Milan, and were in the knockout stages of the Europa League and our Italian Cup campaign was just about to start. It would prove to be a memorable season.

Serie A

From the last update we would win 10 of our next 12 games to put us firmly in the title hunt. We were still conceding regularly but now we were absolutely banging them in, scoring 3 or more in 7 of those 12 matches. Our run came to an end against Napoli, who I have a shocking record against, who won courtesy of a Divock Origi double, who ALWAYS scores against me. We then beat Novara 3-0 which put us 2 points ahead of Juventus. At this point it was really down to the two of us with 6 games left. Who was I playing next? Yep The Old Lady.

The mercurial Paddy Roberts scored early in the 2nd half and despite pressure from Juve a late Lamin goal gave us a deserved 2-0 win. 5 points ahead with 5 to play. A tense 1-0 away win to Udinese was followed up with us throwing away a 2 goal lead to draw at home to Inter. Chievo were swatted away while Juve and Inter were playing out their own 2-2 draw. 2 games to go, we were 5 points ahead. It was ours to throw away. And that’s what we tried to do. We had a home game against 14th placed Sassuolo knowing a win seals it. We were horrible and got pumped 3-1. However, Juventus were held to a 0-0 draw by Chievo and for the first time since 2000 Lazio were champions! 21 long years of hurt were over.

But our season wasn’t finished.

SA Fix

sa

Europa League

Our first post-Christmas tie was against Marseille and we sneaked through on away goals. This set us up for a tie against German giants Bayern Munich. The 2nd knockout round had been our target so I was expecting much. At home in the first leg we recorded a magnificent 4-2 victory before drawing 3-3 in Bavaria to advance 7-5 on aggregrate (I only found out recently that the German for Bavaria is Bayern, go figure).

Back to France for the quarter finals and home (2-1) and away (3-2) victories over Olympique Lyonnais put us in the semi-finals. Again we would beat Athletic Bilbao home (3-1) and away (4-2) to set up a final against Tottenham Hotspur. We had now played 18 games in the Europa League and not been beaten once. We had scored 51 goals, a competition record, and been involved in some titanic ties. We were confident.

But Spurs were red hot favourites. Al Hassan Lamin gave us the lead in the 20th minute but Spurs equalised right after half time with a ridiculous goal from about a million yards. There were very few highlights after that and I was holding off making any subs before extra-time. Then, in the 92nd minute, wee Paddy picked the ball up wide on the right. Our right back was also committed up field and I was praying the wee man wouldn’t lose it. He jinked past one, Kyle Walker tried to clean him out but he rode the challenge, it looked like he had overran it but managed to hook a cross in from the byline, as Hugo Lloris came to collect Ciro Immobile nicked in at the near post to knock in a last minute winner. Is there any better way to win a trophy? It was Immobile’s 36th goal of the season and Roberts 26th assist, both club records.

But our season wasn’t finished.

EL Fix

Italian Cup

Napoli beat us 1-0 in the final. Cunts.

IC Fix

Actually, what is worth noting is that in the quarter finals of the Italian Cup we beat AC Milan 8-1. I don’t think in all my years of playing FM I’ve ever beaten a proper big club by such a margin. Certainly not without 2 or 3 red cards to help. A proper pumping.

Also nice to see Siena holding their own in Serie A, this season they qualified for the Europa League.

It wasn’t pretty

32 points is what I thought it would take to avoid the relegation playoffs. This year, 32 points took you straight down to Ligue 2.

By the time we reached December, my target had been – rather optimistically, it now seems – shifted upwards to 44 points. I can tell you right now that we did not achieve 44 points.

I haven’t updated much throughout the second half of season 5, because we’ve been so teeth-grindingly awful. Our record from January thru February is pretty bad, but we’re not falling back into the relegation places so I’m still fairly confident.

WLLWDLWLW

But it’s March where the wheels really come off. In fact, we don’t win another match until the penultimate game of the season, against mid-table Montpellier.

DLDLDLLDWL

Fortunately, we do manage to grab the occasional draw, and by the time that win comes, we’ve already managed to secure our position in Ligue 1, to the delight of the board, and the fans. And to my relief.

Our final position is 16th. Most of the season was spent bouncing between 11th and 15th, so it was a bit disappointing to drop to 16th as the season closed. Still, the media had us finishing 18th, and we were 950-1 for the title, so I’m just happy we didn’t get relegated.

None of the team feature in the end of season awards, nor do they appear in any of the top Player Stats lists. In fact, only a few players managed to get an average rating of > 7 all season.

So, it’s back to the drawing board next year. And with a vastly reduced transfer budget, too. I’ve no idea where all the money’s going, since I was under both the transfer and wage budget last year, but we’re now carrying a bunch of debt and I’ve been given 400k to spend in the transfer market. On top of that, last year’s signings weren’t great, so I’m going to have to do better this year.

My own profile is not looking too bad, though. This year, I managed to get both my National B and A Licences, and as soon as the season finished, the board allowed me to start studying for my Continental C Licence. I’ve also reached double figures in a few Coaching attributes: Attacking, Technical, Mental, and Motivating.

Next year’s going to be another struggle, I feel. And if I can’t do much more with Troyes than save them from the drop, it might be time to look elsewhere at the end of season 6.

Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day

So I have reached the winter break in my first full season at Lazio and, so far, everything is going pretty well. We won our Europa League with ease, winning all 6 games, and currently lie 4th in Serie A. Most of the summer signings have adapted well and the board are ‘very pleased’ with my leadership.

Serie A

The league campaign started brilliantly as we went unbeaten for the first 6 games of the season. This included a 2-0 away win over Roma in the della Capitale Derby thanks to goals from Alessandro Bastoni and Sebastian Perez. Our first defeat came away to AC Milan in matchday 7 although we bounced back with a good 2-1 win over Sampdoria. We have so far lost 5 games in the league but managed to win the next match each time which shows good squad mentality.

Last season we finished 7th behind champions Napoli, AC Milan, Internazionale, Juventus, Roma and Bologna and so far we have lost to 4 of them (Entella inflicted the other defeat). Bologna and Roma we beat, however, we have only played Napoli at home in the first half of the season so I’m hopeful that we can improve that record in the second half of the season. Both Juve and Inter pumped us and we were lucky to get away with 4-1 and 3-1 defeats, respectfully.

We definitely seem to have sorted out our goal-scoring problems from last season, as we are the top goalscorers in the division, but I’m still a bit concerned about our defending. We have the joint 11th best record in the division having conceded 22 in 17 matches. Given the potential quality of our defenders I’m putting this down to them not having reached this potential yet and that they will get better.

Defence

Wee Paddy Roberts has been the stand out performer for us. For a winger he’s 3rd top goalscorer in the division, 4th best minutes-per-goal ratio, most key passes, 2nd most MOM awards and highest average rating. He’s been transfer listed by Man City but I just can’t afford him. My best bet is to get him on loan again next season and then hopefully get him on a free when his contract expires.

Serie A schedule

Serie A table

For the rest of the season I think Champions League is a definite possibility. Realistically the league is a tough ask but with only 5 points separating the top 6 who knows. I suspect Napoli and Juventus will pull away and leave the rest of us to battle it out for the two remaining UCL spots, however, all of the other 5 teams have still to come to the Olimpico (I’ve not played Spezia at all yet so still need to go there) so we’re in a decent position.

Europa League

In the Europa League we were outstanding. Having seen off Austria Vienna and Olimpija of Slovenia in the qualifying rounds we went on to dominate our group. Our first match was away to Schalke where we won 3-1 and never looked back. We proceeded to win all 6 of our group games, scoring 20 goals in the process and conceding only 3. In our final group game I played the kids and 3 of them got on the scoresheet. David Gimenez became the clubs youngest ever goalscorer until Alberto Quadrini beat him to the record 75 minutes later. In the first knockout round we will play Marseille, who are currently 3rd in Ligue 1.

I also noticed that our attendances are considerably higher for the UEL. Our average attendance for the 3 group games was 35,341 whereas our average for Serie A is 23,938. You’d think it’d be the other way around. It would appear that Italian football fans are a weird bunch.

EL group

EL fixtures

Other News

The board have stopped me going for coaching badges so I am currently stuck on a Continental B Licence and, interestingly, I was talked about for the AC Milan job. I decided not to apply for it but it means I am getting mentioned in association with teams who might be able to win the Champions League. With the best will in the world I don’t think Lazio will be capable of winning it. They simply can’t generate the money to compete with the English clubs or Real, Barca, Bayern or PSG. However, we are definitely in with a shout of qualifying this year and I think that’ll be a good boost to my reputation.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

An incredibly busy summer has come to a close at the Olimpico and, overall, I’m pretty chuffed with the work we have done. Some backroom staff were out of contract so they were replaced but most of the changes came in the playing squad. 33 players left the club and 12 came in, obviously a fair whack of those that left were from the U20 and U18 teams.

I had basically decided that anyone with a potential rating of less than 3.5 stars was surplus to requirements and that included a few ageing high profile stars. All in all the sales netted us a cool £19.25m so I had a bit of money to play with. So what to do with all that mullah?

Well, trying to buy established players is an expensive business. Ridiculously expensive. However, as a Serie A club I can’t just buy loads of promising youngsters and blood them, like I did with Siena. The compromise, I think, is players aged about 20-22 with some first-team football experience and, ideally, U21 caps for their country. So I went raking about the international U21 squads. From that I managed to find centre halves Edoardo Bianchi (21 years old) and Filippo Romagna (23) both Italian U21 internationals. This would, hopefully, also help my porous defence. My scouts unearthed Diogo (21), another centre half and Brazilian U20 international and then I made the signing of the summer.

I’d lost my back up keeper and my number 1 keeper was pretty shite anyway. I’d had the scouts working on the goalkeeping situation for most of the second half of last season so I had 4 or 5 options to choose from. My top target was Christian Fruchtl (20). He was back up to Manuel Neuer at Bayern but was classed as a wonderkid so I thought I had no chance. Valued at about £300k I just threw in a bid of £1.8m, as suggested by my scouts, expecting it to be rejected but it was immediately accapted with no negotiation. Fucking bonza. I imagine I’ll keep him for 1 season but he’ll be sold for a fortune.

I also brought in my old favourite Alessandro Bastoni (21) who I had had at Siena for 3 years, on loan from Chelsea. He has been called up to the full Italy squad for the first time during the first international break. Also on loan arrived Kenji-Van Boto, 24 year-old left back valued at £9.25m, and Celtic hero Patrick Roberts, who I’m hoping will add a spark of creativity to the team.

To round off the first team squad I promoted Godfred Donsah and Aleix Garcia who had been out on loan last season. Given the state of the squad when I took over I’ve no idea why they were allowed to go out on loan in the first place. Alongside the young players I blooded last season I have a decent looking squad although it is still a bit young with an average age of just 23, the lowest in Serie A.

Squad

Surprisingly Lazio only sold about 4500 season tickets. This seems ridiculously low. Our average attendance last season was a little under 20k, in a stadium with a capacity of 87,409 (which differs from Wikipedia). Roma, who we share the Olimpico with, averaged 38k. I don’t know a lot about Italian football in real life but I still thought this was pretty low but apparently not:

Gibraltar

Anyway, back on the pitch, we comfortably qualified for the Europa League group stage, the first continental campaign of the challenge, where we drawn alongside Schalke, Basaksehir and Standard Liege. Might struggle to win the group but should qualify. We also started the league campaign with a draw (1-1) away to Palermo and a thumping home victory over Fiorentina (4-0). Already Fruchtl and Roberts look like inspired signings and James Fofana, who I played at centre-back for the 2nd half of last season, has adapted to his new role as first choice right-back seamlessly. All in all a good start but we haven’t really been challenged yet. The board expect Europa League qualification and the media predicts us to finish 6th.

Schedule

Table

On track, just about

I seem to be stretching a wee bit ahead of John here, given that I’m halfway through season 5. But I’m definitely falling behind in terms of the competition. A nice new job at SS Lazio is a massive step in the right direction, and I have some catching up to do. In stature, if not in games played.

The first thing to say is that my first season in the top division did not start well. Not at all.

The opening 4 games were all tough, and I managed a solitary point, in a 4-4 draw on matchday 4. Nice bit of numerology there. Prior to that tie, we’d lost 2-0, 5-0, and 3-0, giving us a worryingly poor start to the season, and a goal difference of -10. Not really what we were hoping for.

A couple of wins against Stade Rennais FC (1-0, Karim Azamoum with the goal) and OGC Nice (4-1, Isaac MbenzaBilly KetkeoGiuseppe Panico, and an OG) gave us 7 points from the opening 6 games, and allowed me to breath a slight sigh of relief.

It didn’t last long, though, and we then went on a run of 3 straight defeats, scoring only one goal in a 4-1 defeat against AS Monaco – Warren Tchmimbembe scoring for us). This run of games saw us lose to an aggregate score of 9-1 and gave me cause for concern all over the pitch.

A couple of tweaks to the formation, and a run of games in which I tried to keep to the same 11 followed. This seemed to help, as we reach the end of November after a further 6 games, all of which were unbeaten, apart from an unfortunate 1-0 defeat at home to Bordeaux as the month ended. That run included 2 wins and 2 draws in the league. Toulouse FC, 3-1 (Panico 2, Hugo Rodriguez); FC Lorient, 0-0; Angers SCO, 2-1 (Simone Edera, Tchmimbembe); and AS Nancy Lorraine, 2-2 (Edera, Rodriguez). On a side note, I spotted now 33-yo Marouane Fellaini plying his trade for Toulouse. He didn’t do much in the game against us, except get himself booked.

During this run, we also managed to squeak through to the 4th round of the Coupe de la Ligue, in a penalties victory against Racing Club de Lens. They’d beaten us 4-0 in one of those early season games, so this felt like we’d turned a corner. The 4th round was the board expectation, so we’re on track here. We’ve since drawn Paris Saint-Germain, so we ain’t going any further.

Another thing to point out is that every game we’ve played this season, league or cup, has been televised. I’m not sure what the attraction is, but it’s helping the bank balance to the tune of £1m per month.

As December starts, we’re 12th in the league, on 15 points. Last season, FC Nantes survived in 17th place on 32 points. We’ve played 13 games, so if we continue at this pace, we should finish with around 43 or 44. Last year, that was good enough for 13th.

Now that we have a 44-point target in mind – a more difficult one than the board have, since they’ll be happy with me finishing 18th – that’s what we’ll aim for.

Strengthening the squad

This year, the board expectations are as follows

  • Ligue 1, avoid automatic relegation
  • Coupe de France, reach 11th round
  • Coupe de la Ligue, reach 4th round

To be able to do any of these, we need better players, better staff, and we need to do it on a pretty low budget. I’ve got ~£2m in transfer fees, and ~£300,000 per week in wages to make it work.

In come a bunch of defenders: De Martino (£20k), Zanandrea, Mendyl, Isherwood, and Smith, most of whom are free transfers. We also bring in Zander Fulton on loan from Hibs. In midfield we bring in Ben Ali (£60k), Ntambani, Edera and Mbenza (£650k). Giuseppe Panico is our only striker purchase of the summer, and at £825k, represents our biggest transfer fee.

In the opposite direction, we have a lot of youngsters out on loan; a few players leaving on free transfers, and Christopher Hérelle making a move to Bordeaux for ~ £4m.

As far as the backroom staff are concerned, we let one of our coaches go and brought in a bunch more. We also strengthened our scouting and medical staff so that we’re now above average in all three areas. Those stats looked awful at the start of the season, so I’m really pleased to have made the progress we have.

Finally, the finances are not looking so bad. We’ve still got a few hundred thousand in the transfer kitty, and some capacity in the wage bill, so I can get more bodies in, if need be.