Hello, friends. I have three stories eligible for 2021 awards. All three are flash length (under 1000 words), which qualifies them in the “short story” category for science fiction and fantasy awards.
“Kintsugi for a Broken Heart” is probably my favorite story that I’ve written, in part because it’s so intensely personal. If you really want to read just one story to get a feel for my writing, I’d start with this one. It was published in February 2021 in Nature.
“A Dying World, Overheated and Nearly Ruined” is another personal story, drawing on a lifetime of computer repair and customer service, but perhaps not the same degree as Kintsugi. I’m proud of it, and I’m especially proud to have sold a second story to Nature, this one in August 2021.
“An Open Letter to Bezoath, Lord of Darkness and Shareholder Value” is a “write what you know” story about corporate life, and the tone of it is right there in the title. It’s a bit lighter, but with an underlying seriousness. This story also came with the best acceptance letter:”I’m afraid I have some bad news. We really enjoyed “An Open Letter to Bezoath…” and we would like to accept it for publication, which means you will no longer hold the title of TTL’s most-shortlisted-but-never-accepted author. (P.S. congratulations!).” Translunar Traveler’s Lounge may be a semi-pro publication, but they are publishing some great work, despite (or because of?) publishing a Brent Baldwin story.
I may yet have a fourth story out this year, but it looks as if it’s slipped to Q1 2022.
Piper passed last week. This post is me recording some of the moments of his life that the girls and I remember.
It started in a barn. The kids were hanging out at Carissa’s grandparents’ farm, and one of the cousins came in and asked if they wanted to see some kittens. Two girls, aged 7 and 10, clearly wanted to see some kittens, so off they went.
The mama cat liked to move her litters, so they had to check multiple places, but eventually the girls found their kittens. The kittens were a couple weeks old and various colors, but one little ginger guy was fearless enough (or foolish enough) not to flee the approaching children. It was pretty much love at first sight.
Piper joined us a few weeks later. He was still pretty tiny, but his mama wasn’t giving him the care he needed since cats struggle to buy antibiotics, so we picked up the slack. The girls were in heaven, and I was happy to have another male in the house.
Piper was an asshole jerk the first year and a half. Pretty much all kittens are, but he was the epitome of a rambunctious kitten. No matter how many feathers we dangled in front of him, not matter how many laser dots we gave him to chase, he loved to pounce. He’d pounce the kids. He’d pounce the dog. He’d pounce Carissa. He’d pounce his own tail and act indignant at the assault.
The joke is that ginger cats all share a single brain cell, and today is never a given ginger cat’s day. I can believe it.
Life was good the first two years. He mostly stayed in the house, and whenever he escaped we knew he was in the storm drain out front. We lured him out of it with kibbles and treats on a weekly basis.
Piper’s life–and ours–changed in the summer of 2018 with the move to London. There was no question about whether he’d come with us or not. The youngest child told me flat out that he came or she stayed. I’m pretty sure she meant it. Unfortunately for Piper, traveling to the UK was an ordeal. He had to arrive via courier and pass through the animal reception center. It was summer, so we had to wait for the weather to cool enough that he wouldn’t suffocate in transit in Dallas, which meant he had to spend a couple weeks boarded with the vet in Missouri. When he finally reached us, he was exhausted, afraid, and stressed. We took him to his new home in the village of Barnes, in London.
Living in the States, we never considered that it would be difficult to keep a cat in the house. The windows and doors were usually closed to keep the heat or the air conditioning inside. When the windows were open, there were screens. None of this was true in London. Relatively few houses have air conditioning, and they’re built to retain heat in the winter. Summers mean throwing the windows open and turning on fans.
Piper, already stressed from travel, bolted out the nearest open window.
We found him a few houses down, tangled in a thorn bush. The girls rescued him and passed him to me. That lasted about 30 seconds until he tried to flee the area. When I wouldn’t let him jump down, he decided to go vertical by climbing my face. Our relationship suffered for a few days until my face healed.
He settled in pretty well. We kept him in for much of the winter, and when spring returned, he ventured outside for a few hours at a time, but he always came back for dinner.
After the first year in London, we moved houses to Twickenham, a little further out from the city center. This gave us a bigger back yard garden and Piper more friends to make. He always loved people, and the neighbors soon knew his name when he turned up to beg. I’m sure the women next door thought we were the worst people ever for starving that poor cat. It was as if he had never had a meal in his life.
While Piper liked people, he hated other cats. The boy was a fighter, not a lover. (He was neutered, else he might have been both.) He loved a good brawl, and he came home more than once with another cat’s fur stuck in his claws. My running joke over the last two years was that he was London’s second-least-favorite orange American. At least no one ever flew a blimp to mock him.
In late September Piper stopped eating. We knew something was wrong and took him to the vet on the second day. They treated him for constipation and dehydration. He came home and ran around a bit, including attempting to flee out the upstairs window and being stopped cold by running headlong into the glass. The good times only lasted a few days. He still wasn’t well, and we took him to the vet again. A few days later he stumbled when trying to leave his litter box, and within two days he could barely walk. We took him to another local vet, who found a lump in his back and thought his symptoms might improve if we reduced the swelling with a steroid shot. Over the next few days we fed and bathed Piper and tried to nurse him back to health. None of it worked. Ultimately, we took him to a neurological specialist at the Royal Veterinary College.
His spine was damaged.
There were no good options. His breathing was already poor, and the best outcome from attempting surgery was that he might be able to walk again, but the vet didn’t think he would ever run or climb again. We left Piper with the vet overnight for another exam, and the news the next morning was no better. His breathing had gotten worse, and they had put him on oxygen. The recommendation was palliative care. Ultimately, we made the decision to say goodbye.
We don’t know what happened. I don’t think it was a brawl; he showed no signs of blood or missing fur. It’s easy for me to imagine him leaping down from the retaining wall to the bike shed, slipping on the plastic, and landing poorly. I don’t understand the progression of symptoms, and I don’t want to think about what our options might have been if the first vet had found the spinal damage. They didn’t, and here we are.
He was a good boy. The best boy. It’s been a week, and I’m tearing up again writing this. Piper and I were bros. The winter in England is gloomy, and we spent much of the last three winters hanging out together at my desk and in the kitchen. He would sleep in the floor behind me, on the cat furniture beside me, and sometimes in my lap. I never lacked for a lap warmer or for someone to interfere with my typing. When things were stressful with work, a relaxing purr was only a few scritches away.
The girls loved him even more. The youngest came into our room every night to check on him, and most of the time he was already asleep at the foot of my bed. The oldest gave him pets and scritches, even after developing an allergy that meant every scritch ended with a dose of Benadryl.
I don’t know if he lived his best life, but I am certain that he lived a good life. He had lots of adventures and lots of love.
My system for playing, writing, and posting has failed me. I was capturing the narrative and screenshots in Evernote and copy/pasting from there to WordPress. This worked well from my laptop, where the images were automatically uploaded. It failed on my desktop, where only the image attributes were captured. I thought I had a clever workaround by copying from the Evernote site, but apparently you could only see the images if you were logged in to my account. Oops.
It’s fixed now. Season 9 and the two follow-ups should now be fully functional.
By the time you read this, months will have passed in our universe. Multiple seasons passed in Sunderland’s universe. Abdoulaye Kouyate was worth his 145m transfer fee. So was everyone else.
I took a few weeks off, but I decided to load up the last save I made before retiring. You know, just to see what would happen.
We won the Champions League in 2030!
(We also won the Premier League in 2029, but came 2nd in 2030.)
2031 was our year, though, including a rainy night in Sunderland where we put Barcelona to the sword.
The season and the save culminated in this:
A brilliant treble, with a comfortable win in the league, an amazing comeback from 0-2 down to City in the FA Cup final to win it 3-2, and a 4-0 over Bayern Munich in the Champion’s League final.
I ended up buying a young Italian striker that was even better than Kouyate, and we tore through everything. The side could still be incrementally improved, but Sunderland are truly one of the best teams in the world.
And with that our journey really does end. I may putter around with another save, but I don’t plan to blog about it. Next year, perhaps, I’ll be back with something for FM22.
I said at the very beginning of this long, wonderful trip that Football Manager is a youth exploitation roleplaying game with a layer of football tactics on top. This save has reminded me of just how true that it is, especially if you are starting as a lower league club.
We were fortunate to get out of League One on the first attempt and unbelievably lucky to get out of the Championship on the first attempt. We did this with a handful of signings and some key loans. We didn’t start making expensive signings until we reached the Premier League.
Even though we were relegated, the Premier League money, the global scouting range, and the bump in the club’s reputation meant that we could attract players that would never consider a League One side. It also meant we could afford to pay their transfer fees (or compensation) and wages. Our success snowballed (along with the backroom staff’s grasp of Spanish and Portuguese). After a few seasons of midtable mediocrity, we leaped up to 2nd, and then won the league the following season.
My transfer business was generally good. I brought in a number of players that didn’t quite work out, but only a few of them were sold at a loss. There are a handful of deals I regret.
In our first season in the Premier League I went a little overboard on signing young, foreign players. In prior versions of FM (pre-Brexit; thanks, Boris) you could collect wonderkids by the bushel. In FM21, with the Brexit rules, you must be more careful. We signed Victor Hugo on a free, but due to his age, he didn’t arrive until January. By the time he reached England, I had already signed 6 (technically 7) other foreign youngsters. Victor’s transfer was canceled, and he signed for another Brazilian club within days. That was all on me, and definitely a moment I learned from for future seasons.
Selling Adam Steele might have gone down as a regret given how good he’s been, but he really wanted to leave for a bigger club, and I couldn’t risk letting him leave on a free. Would we be better with Steele on the right and Victor Hugo on the left? A little, but mostly because Hugo developed so well. It’s probably a push, to be honest.
Nicolas Bacolla I should have kept. Our set piece goals really diminished in our title-winning season. I think a big part of that was the poor delivery from corners and free kicks. When you have a 6’6″ striker, it pays to have someone that can put the ball on his forehead. Bacolla could have sat in midfield alongside Pardo and given us good passing and set piece delivery. With Lee Farrell and John Ramirez, we’re actually good for passing, but our corner and free kick takers are a step down.
Vladimir Puric aka Pure Magic wasn’t quite a regret. He truly looked like he’d be great and the scouts said he’d be great. He was just an object lesson in the fact that FM these days has some built-in uncertainty. My process was good, but the outcome was just something I couldn’t predict.
We’ve had a long-running joke about Lee “the Scottish Mistake” Farrell. The fact that he was the captain of our title-winning team (technically vice-captain, but McCrorie spent much of the season on the bench after being overshadowed by Pardo) and scored two goals in the match that sealed the title really speaks for itself. He might not ever be the best player in the world, but he’s the kind of player you need in a squad; not everyone can be a superstar.
I probably paid too much for Barji. He’s good, but I could have picked up Fabio Cesar for about 1/4 the price and he would have been comparable. On the plus side, he’s been progressing well since he joined the club.
I paid way too much for Kouyate. Again, he’s good, but he didn’t even start the final match. Cordero, Martin, and Baez are slightly better suited. If Kouyate had been 30m, he would have been a bargain. At 70m I would feel like I had paid a fair price. 145m was simply too much.
But you know what? We won the league. Barji played a ton of minutes across the season. Kouyate is young and already worldclass. They’ll both be fine. I might regret how much I paid, but their next manager won’t regret having either of them available next season.
I found that there are tiers of wonderkids. Well, tiers of pricing for wonderkids. South America is a gold mine. Brazil is the obvious place, and you’re looking at about 10-15m for a burgeoning Brazilian star. Next up is probably Argentina, where you’ll pay a bit less. Around 7-13m. After that is probably Uruguay, where you’re looking 4-9m. Colombia is amazing, and you can find excellent talent that might cost you 1-4m. You’ll find fewer wonderkids in Chile, Peru, Venezuela, and Bolivia, but you’ll still find some. You can often pay under 1m in those countries.
Eastern Europe is also excellent. Serbia in particular, but Croatia and Romania are also great places to look. You’ll be paying Argentina rates in those places, sometimes up to Brazilian rates or even higher, depending on the player’s age.
Before Brexit, it was worth scouring any country in the EU since you didn’t need a work permit, but with the new points system Serbia is the same level of difficulty as Brazil. Find a player, get them some youth caps, and off you go.
I had good luck in Denmark and Belgium, but prices are much higher there at 20-40m for actual talent, though I did find some decent Championship quality players on frees.
Here’s our full transfer history.
Now, I said I was retiring. And I did. But… I got an itch. There’s one more installment coming.
So, for the final time (and I really mean it), see you next time, footy nerds.
After the Kouyate signing, I was a little shell-shocked. That was A LOT of money to spend in one place. It might not even be worth it compared to Ramirez, Cordero, and Villafane.
I did move a couple fringe players.
Holub was never going to hit the level we need for him to compete with our big guns. I let him go to Southampton in a deal that ought to reach 11.25m. I might have kept him longer in the hope that I could further increase his value, but he complained about me not selling him for 7.25m, so I let him go.
Ignacio Escalante is a similar story.
He once would have been a good player for us, but his ceiling is lower than what we have in the squad today, never mind where we’ll be when those guys get to their mid-20s. He cost us 950k, and we should make 11m on his transfer.
Gaston Araujo is the third note in this refrain. He was a bit of a problem child after I broke a promise to sign a player that would help him settle in England, and I missed multiple opportunities to sell him for a lot more than the 8.25m Crystal Palace paid us. Sigh.
He’s a Premier League quality player, but he’s not a Champion’s League quality player. We ended up making a small profit . Maybe I could have kept him around and increased his value, but I’d rather sell him, make a little money, and use his registration slot and minutes to develop a better player.
I signed this gem from Romania. He’s good at a ton of things already, and I’ll train up his technical abilities over a couple seasons. He’ll be a great addition to our midfield in another season.
He cost us 6.75m, and he’s set to arrive in the summer. He didn’t get a work permit, but we’ve been down that road before. He’ll be off to a loan the day after he arrives at the club, and he should have his permit by Christmas. That should give him time to get even better.
Former Black Cat Michal Bednar just earned us 1.9m in a move from Spain back to England. We sold him for 9.75, and Bournemouth brought him back for 5.5m, plus apparently some incentives. I hope that worked out for Almeria.
Our January results were okay.
I’m not at all happy about dropping four points at West Ham and Burnley, and the win over Leicester was much too close for comfort.
Buyer’s remorse, the 145m pound edition.
A straight red card for a two-footed tackle. February did not get off to an auspicious start, not least because Liverpool, at the time, were in 17th place on 26 points. (Six above relegation, but still.) They lost to every top 6 side, then had a horrific run in January. Look at this bloodbath:
That was our form when we were relegated, not what you’d expect from a club that’s won the league 7 out of the last 9 seasons. We picked the wrong day for a red card. Damn. They have a great squad, too. Haaland, Lautaro Martinez, Jude Bellingham, Junior Wagenaar (a regen midfielder I’ve mentioned before and would love to steal).
After the Liverpool match we hosted Sheffield United, and I had an object lesson in just how crazy our attacking depth is. Club record signing Kouyate was suspended. Martin Ramirez was out with the flu. Fede Cordero started, but picked up a knock in the second half, but I was able to bring on World U21 Player of the Year / European Golden Boy Ricardo Villafane to lead the line. He duly scored to seal a 3-1 victory.
We drew with Manchester United after Sheffield United. United have such a strong team, and I couldn’t really complain about taking the point.
Last season, in the Conference League, we played some reasonably big matches. This season, in the Champion’s League group stage, we played some legitimately big matches. I’m not sure any match Sunderland have played during my tenure has been bigger than our first away trip to AC Milan in the Champion’s League knockout round.
We went down on 10 minutes on a direct header from a corner. It’s been ages since I’ve seen one of those go in. We went down 0-2 a mere 2 minutes later to a wonderstrike from Milan’s AML. They scored AGAIN on 17 minutes with ANOTHER 23 yard rocket. Five shots, 3 on target, xG of 0.4, 3 goals. It was unbelievable.
We went into halftime down 0-3 with Milan at 0.49 xG and us at 0.78. Both sides had 7 shots with 3 on target. All theirs went in. I pulled Adam Idah, moved Freddy Baez to the left, and put Kouyate in on the right with Martin Ramirez still up top. We were the definition of mediocrity in the second half until 87 minutes, when Ricardo Villafane picked up a loose ball on a corner, drove 70 yards upfield, and scored the most magnificent solo goal you’ll ever see. Martin Ramirez had a glorious chance 2 minutes later, but smashed his shot into the keeper.
Not a great result, though I honestly think the process was fine. We generated chances, but couldn’t finish them. We need two goals at home, and that should be doable.
Our next big match was not the second leg against Milan. It was the Carabao Cup final against Everton. We went down early again, this time to an Ian Hunt (regen I tried to sign a couple seasons ago) chip over Adan Tirado on 14 minutes. Claudio Pardo brought things level on 36 minutes after a neat interchange of passes with Freddy Baez at the top of Everton’s box. He slammed a shot home into the top left corner, not giving the keeper even the remotest chance. Things held steady until 90 minutes when Everton’s keeper cleared a ball high and long. It dropped to their forward, who skipped around Puric, and slotted home. Everton 2-1 Sunderland, with the assist to the keeper. I thought we were done. Cooked. Kaput. But I had to try throwing everyone forward, so I set us to Very Attacking mentality and put everyone but the keeper and center backs onto attack. That beautiful 4th string striker Ricardo Villafane scored us a goal at 90+3!
Everton somehow got one back at 90+5 after I moved everyone back to their normal mentalities. Unfuckingbelievable. Everton 3 – 2 Sunderland at full time. I was shook for days.
We had a match at home vs Spurs. I wouldn’t call it a big match. We were favorites. We won. (It hurts to be so flippant about Spurs.) I was still punching walls about that last Everton goal.
The next Big Match was our home leg vs Milan. I had to put Everton behind me and come up with a plan to recover our two-goal deficit. I rolled with the 4231, and I tried something new to fit as many of my best attackers. Yes, the plan was to stuff even more forwards onto the pitch.
Martin Ramirez is too good to not be at the tip of the attack, and he’s proven how effective he is there, so he got the nod over Kouyate.
Look at that jumping! Dude is 6 foot 7! He’s a monster in the air, he’s damn good on the ground, and he’s going to get even better.
I dropped Kouyate behind him as a shadow striker. Freddy Baez went out wide into his normal role as a right winger. The new wrinkle was putting Fede Cordero on the left as an inside forward. He’s not actually trained in that role, but he has all the attributes for it.
He’s reasonably fast, has a wonderful first touch, good dribbling, and good finishing. He even has good passing and vision.
I made Lee “the Scottish Mistake” Farrell a deep-lying playmaker. He’s been okay this season, and I thought it would be better to have him a bit deeper in midfield where he will have more space to use his ridiculous passing and vision.
Also, for a Scottish Mistake, he’s turned out pretty damn well. Maybe I shouldn’t have spent the money on him at the time, but he’s been a solid player for us. He’s also our vice captain, which means he’s frequently the captain on the pitch with McCrorie so often on the bench or not in the match day squad.
Once the match started, we poured gas on a bonfire. A corner kick on 9 minutes saw a loose ball in the box fall to Claudio Pardo, who smashed it into the net. Two minutes later Martin Ramirez brought us level on aggregate and ahead on away goals.
We took a 2-0 lead into halftime and looked GOOD for it, too. I told the lads how proud I was of them and to keep up the good work, and I actually meant it this time.
At 66 minutes Kouyate was on a yellow card and had a 6.5 rating, so I pulled him for Enric. I’m not saying I’m worried about my 130m signing being underwhelming, but I’d sure like it a lot more if he were overwhelming. Or just whelming. Is that a word? (Merriam-Webster says “yes.”) Fede Cordero’s condition dropped into the red around 80 minutes, so he came off for Jhonny Palacios, who has developed really well.
Everything was going well and looking good. And then…
Milan hit the post off a corner. I lost a year of my life. Moments later, we raced upfield, Donnarumma made a good stop on a Jhonny Palacios shot, and the ball landed at Freddy Baez’s golden feet. He slid a shot inside the near post as cool as kiss your hand, and we were up 4-3 on aggregate.
I pulled a knackered Scottish Mistake for John Ramirez and dialed time-wasting to 11. We calmly saw out the rest of the match for a 3-0 win, and we advanced 4-3 on aggregate.
Really solid performances pretty much across the board. I’m not actually worried about Kouyate. He joined the team two months ago, and most of these players have played together for years. He’ll adapt and be a star.
I promised glory nights in the Champion’s League. I. Have. Delivered. The weather did, too. It was spitting rain and howling wind for all 90 minutes.
We drew Manchester United for the next round. A tough draw, but I think we can get through. If we do, it will be Arsenal or PSG awaiting in the semi-final.
Our youth take arrived. I’m not blown away by any of them, but Niall Hyland is a Fairly Professional young striker who is starting with 14 finishing.
Supposedly he could be as good as Villafane. Which would be great, given all the awards Villafane just won.
We followed Milan with a poor loss at Spurs in the FA Cup quarter-final. I wasn’t terribly fussed about it given that I’d far rather focus on the league and the Champion’s League. But then Miguel Benavidez came into my office complaining about a broken promise to win silverware.
Maybe give me another two months, my dude. A lot can change between now and then. He’s a good player, and I’m not terribly worried. If we can win the league, he’ll probably withdraw his transfer request. (The promises system is rubbish and needs review. Seriously.)
Signing an injury-prone player is not bad in isolation. Fede Cordero is injury-prone, and he’s been amazing. Victor, on the other hand, has spent more time in the physio room than on the practice pitches.
Three major injuries in a row. I’ll try to sell him as soon as I can. That leaves me Barji and Neco at right back. Probably enough, but I’ve had my eye on this lad for a while.
He has a 15m release clause, but the bad news is that he’s also injury-prone.
It’s a hard call, but he is generally better than Fernandez.
I’ll figure it out in the summer. I’d still rather have a top-tier holding midfielder to rotate with Pardo, but it’s hard to pass up a physical monster like Cesar.
More bad news arrived after the Spurs loss.
Puric is probably our best overall defender. We still have good depth there, but I hate to lose him for so long. That’s the end of his season.
ANOTHER award for our strikeforce.
After going up 2-0 at Bournemouth, we did something I haven’t seen in ages. We gave up 3 unanswered goals, ultimately losing 2-3. It left us in second place in the table, but with two games in hand.
Our first leg against Manchester United was at the Stadium of Light. It wasn’t great. Mason Greenwood scored a stupendous solo goal on a corner counterattack (which reiterates that I need be double-checking to ensure I have a holding midfielder (Pardo) outside the box and not Freddy Baez, who has the defensive nous of my cat). Greenwood bagged his second late in the second half, and I thought were going to go into the second leg down two, but Jhonny Palacios did a fine job cleaning up a loose ball in the United penalty box, and brought us back to 1-2.
We need to score at least two when we’re away in Manchester, but we’ve done that once already this season.
The run-in isn’t terrible. We need some away wins vs United and Chelsea, and we really need a home win (or draw) against City, but things could be worse.
We scraped a 1-0 over Derby. We needed 3 points, we got 3 points.
Then came United. I checked and double-checked our set piece routines. I also set us up in the 343, thinking we’d stay tighter at the back and see if we could nick a goal on a set piece. The plan mostly worked, in that we kept things reasonably tight at the back, but we generated nothing going forward. With us needing two goals, I switched back to the 4231 at halftime and made a double change, pulling Enric (already tiring) and Felipe Augusto, and bringing on Fede Cordero and Freddy Baez. A pretty significant offensive upgrade at the cost of some defensive stability. I also checked all the set pieces AGAIN.
We played much better, and Nathan D’Haene pulled a goal back for us from a corner on 56 minutes. We were looking good, and at 65 minutes I switched Lee Farrell from DLP to CM-A to try to get a little more going forward. With the score 2-2 on aggregate, we were still down on away goals. At 75 minutes we went to Very Attacking mentality. Barji, at right back, was shifted from wingback attack to complete wingback attack. At 78 minutes, we cleared a corner, it was fed back into the box to a lurking Harry Kane, who passed to the open man, who finished without fuss. MUFC 1 – 1 Sunderland. We threw everything at United, including Pardo smashing a shot off the post. We couldn’t break the deadlock, and our first Champion’s League foray ended with a 1-1 draw and a 3-2 loss on aggregate.
I’m a little disappointed, but I can’t really complain, either. We played them about as close to even as possible. I could have done a little better with my set pieces in the first leg. Had I kept Pardo outside the area instead of Freddy Baez, I don’t think Mason Greenwood would have scored the counterattack goal that he scored. That said, my fullbacks should have stopped him, but I keep them around more for their attacking capability than their defensive capability.
The good news is that we still have the league in our sights.
We’re even on points at 69, but we have two games in hand.
We went away to Villa, and we should have thumped them. We were the better team, by far. They scored early when Jhonny Palacios missed a header and Neco Williams, standing on our goal line, somehow let the whole ball cross the whole line before heading it away. John Ramirez (midfielder not striker) leveled things just after halftime with a 25-yard screamer. Just when I thought we were going to scrape a draw, Freddy Baez broke up field, beat three guys, and slotted home. It felt like a smash and grab, but I’ll take the 3 points.
Top again, and we still have two games in hand.
Our next match was against Chelsea, and I put us back to the 343. The same principles of keeping it tight at the back and looking to counter or score on set pieces applied. Naturally, we went down after 11 minutes to a goal scored from open play. Like, wtf, my guys? Eleven minutes later, the same story repeated itself. I went nuclear and yanked D’Haene (who was the least fit of my 3 centerbacks and culpable for Chelsea’s first goal) for Freddy Baez and switched to the 4231. It kind of worked, in that we did stop the bleeding and scored a goal late in the match, but we also conceded from another corner and lost 3-1.
My honest opinion is that Chelsea have a better squad. We have some great, young players, but they have great, peak players. Give us a couple more seasons, and we’ll probably be superior.
The loss took us back to second place, but still with a game in hand.
I have a feeling our season is going to be decided on May 6th.
I rotated us a bit for Southampton at home. Fede was injured, Kouyate, Farrell, Pardo, and Martin Ramirez were knackered. We started in the 4231 with Villafane up top, Palacios on the left, and Baez on the right. So’ton were a bit livelier than I wanted to see, and on 15 minutes Neco Williams put in a wretched piece of defending and let his man skin him and finish inside Tirano’s near post. At this point, Neco is a liability. I hate that. He was good for us for years, but he’s gotten older and we’ve gotten better. The problem is that he’s Welsh, which means he doesn’t count as foreign, and I’m running into registration problems as my foreign legion ages.
We went into halftime down 0-1. I gave the lads the hairdryer, and we went back out to the pitch where Neco managed to get skinned again, but this time Tirano made the save. I had to throw on Farrell and Martin Ramirez to try to salvage something. Before they could enter the pitch, Neco failed to cover a defensive breakdown between D’Haene and Benavidez, and So’ton were up 2-0. We pulled one back, and I went full gegenpress to try to salvage something. We generated chance after chance but couldn’t get a second goal or a draw.
We’re really gonna bottle this, aren’t we.
We utterly destroyed Wolves 6-1, and somehow want-away center back Miguel Benavidez scored a hat trick (two headers and a penalty). We went back to second, even on points and 5 back on goal differential. We legit need to run up the score against bad teams now.
After the Wolves demolition, Mike France–our Director of Football–stopped by my office with a bit of news. On the one hand, I don’t begrudge the player his money.
On the other hand, what the hell did I let slip into his contract? (I swear it was 300k at 10 assists and 350k at 20 assists, but apparently not.)
We went to 9th place Everton in desperate need of a win to keep our title hopes alive. Kouyate earned some more credit by heading down a wicked, bending Palacios cross into the path of Felipe Augusto, who finished from 5 yards. Martin Ramirez was rested for an hour, but with a 1-0 lead, I brought him in and he scored on 65 minutes to put us up 2-0. The two goals were all we needed. We might struggle with Everton in a cup final, but not in the league, not today. Three more points, and what could be the title decider at home against Manchester City next weekend.
The pressure is back on them.
They won on Sunday because of course they did.
And West Ham let them run up the goals.
Tell them they aren’t expected to win? Are you kidding me? I’m not opposed to lying to the players, but not that, not now.
Manchester City at home. The title on the line. They are a very good team, they have the best striker in the world, but we’ve beaten them before. We will do it again.
Lee Farrell got our first shot of the match, wide open from 15 yards, but he blazed it over the bar. The match engine said it was 0.2 xG, and I can believe it. That should have been 1-0. Five minutes later our Brazilian left back Gabriel came marauding across the box, picked up a Freddy Baez cross, and rifled home. Sunderland 1 – 0 City. Game. On. Not two minutes passed before a poor City goal kick fell to Enric, who passed forward to Baez, who laid the ball into the path of a wide open Martin Ramirez. 2-0. Four minutes later Fede Cordero received the ball on a throw-in from the left, spun across the box, and buried a shot into the far corner. 3-0 after 12 minutes. We’re going to win the league. Sing it with me. We’re gonna win the league! We’re gonna win the league!
Is 15 minutes into the match too early to start time wasting?
We played excellently through the first half, but we did give up a goal on 40 minutes, only for Fede Cordero to score our 4th late in added time. At halftime it was Sunderland 4 – 1 City.
At 80 minutes I went to a Balanced mentality (we were Attacking before; we’re always Attacking by default) and set time wasting to 11. Delgado managed to get himself a goal in the 4th minute of 2 minutes of added time, but it didn’t matter. Sunderland 4 – 2 City.
The team have a lot to be proud of in that image. Yes, I absolutely, positively did a manual save after that win, just in case. I’m not save-scumming, but I’m sure as HELL not letting a win like that get lost due to a crash.
We need 1 point away at Fulham to win the league, and we have a week for our starters to rest before kickoff.
I changed nothing for Fulham. Martin Ramirez scored on 8 minutes. Freddy Baez worked the ball down the right and fed it back across the middle for an onrushing Lee Farrell, who smashed home from the middle of the penalty box. After completely dominating, Fulham pulled one back through Timothy Weah, who hit a preposterous curler over Tirado and into the corner. We went into halftime with the scoreline reading Fulham 1 – 2 Sunderland, and the xG at 0.09 to 1.37.
I took us out in the second half and asked the team to lower the tempo a bit. We usually are at high tempo to work the ball upfield more quickly, but A: I wanted to hold onto our lead, and B: we are technically much better than we used to be, and a more methodical approach should be fruitful. Fulham did scrounge another shot on target, but at 61 minutes Lee Farrell picked up the ball on the edge of the penalty area, took two touches, and fired home his second of the day. Which should have wrapped up things and taken all the suspense out, but 2 minutes later Gabriel scythed down a Fulham player in the box, and they converted the penalty. Fulham 2 – 3 Sunderland. Meanwhile City were up 4 – 0 over Leicester. I dropped our mentality to Balanced and pushed our time wasting to 11. Adan Tirado, in an effort to make even more of my hair turn gray, played a freekick from a Fulham offside past Benavidez and directly to Tim Weah, but Tirado redeemed himself and saved the resulting shot. I worked through my subs in the final minutes, wasting as much time as I could.
The whistle blew at 95:10 after what was supposed to be 4 minutes of added time. Fulham 2 – 3 Sunderland.
We did it.
We’ve won the league.
Read that again. We’ve won the league.
In 9 seasons, we’ve gone from League 1 to Premier League champions. The path has not always been smooth, but we’ve established ourselves as the best club in England.
Freddy Baez won the English Players’ Young Player of the Year. He had 7 goals and 11 assists. He deserved it. I won English Premier Division Manager of the Year. I also deserved it.
Multiple players made the team of the year. Including our former player Adam Steele.
We won the league, though if you put a few pints me and ask if we’re best the squad in the country, I couldn’t honestly say yes. Our best 11 can compete with and even beat any 11 in England, but we lack the depth of City, Chelsea, and United. We’re also much younger than they are, which can lead to matches like at Chelsea where we go behind and look utterly lost. Our young players will get better, though. We might not win the league or the Champion’s League next season, but we’ll be in the running for both.
At the beginning of the season I laid out what I would do if we won the league or the Champion’s League. I meant it. This has been a long, exciting save, but it’s been tiring, too.
I’ll write a retrospective and lessons-learned post sometime soon and put it up next week.
I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Fam.
After our start in August, I didn’t think the good times could continue. They did. I had to rotate a bit due to fixture congestion, and Leicester were able to take advantage to nab a point off us. We had great wins against Liverpool and Chelsea in the league.
We rolled through October.
Same story, different month. More good wins in the league, this time over Man United and Spurs.
At the end of October, we were top of the league.
We were also top of our Champion’s League group.
November was our first actual stumble.
My squad rotation bit us at home against Villa. We were slightly the better side, but couldn’t find the net. Rhian Brewster scored a penalty on 82 minutes, and Villa got their second after I threw everyone forward.
Our youth intake preview came in.
It doesn’t look very promising, despite the green rows. “This is a very poor crop of players.” That’s after I managed another upgrade to our recruitment.
One of my positions of “need” (I use the word lightly) is left back. Gabriel has been hurt for months, and Nilson is right-footed. Our scouts turned up a great-looking player.
Oh, wait. Victor Hugo. The one that got away. He ended up being better than Vlad Dragic. He is also monumentally expensive. I don’t think we’ll be signing him. Hopefully Gabriel stays healthy and develops further.
You know how I complain about not being able to spend our transfer budget? I… may have done a thing.
I’ve been sending the scouts to watch Kouyate for a few years, but he was never interested in joining us. He is now. He’s not the best striker in the world. I still think City’s guy Delgado is–and Mbappe and Haaland are still very much playing–but Kouyate could be top 5.
The catch is that I don’t really need another top-shelf striker. (You always need another top-shelf striker.) I have Martin Ramirez, who is probably top 10 in the world. Fede Cordero is right there with Ramirez.
Kouyate is better than them! He also will cost me 130m quid (plus agent fees) with a 15m bonus due after 50 league appearances.
I did it. F*** it. What’s the point of being rich if you don’t enjoy it.
There are clubs that have a philosophy of not signing a player only because they are good and available, instead looking to fill the actual needs in their squad. That is not my philosophy in general, but certainly not when I have a 165m quid transfer budget burning a hole in my pocket. You could argue I overpaid for him. You would probably be right, given our squad situation. But if we win a major trophy this year, and Kouyate is scoring goals along the way, will you complain? I don’t think so.
We are so loaded in attack, it’s kind of ridiculous. Kouyate, M. Ramirez, Baez, Cordero, Idah, Villafane, Palacios. I need to start playing 3124 and see if we can win with 4 strikers and 2 wingers on the pitch.
Our form in December dipped a little.
But only a little. City scored multiple late goals when we were throwing bodies forward to recover a 1-2 scoreline for a draw. The Porto match was a heavily rotated side in a match that was meaningless for us.
We’re in great shape at the end of December. I guess, technically, I could ask for a perfect record, but WE’RE TOP OF THE LEAGUE AT CHRISTMAS. By 8 points no less.
This is from 2 January, to reflect our club record transfer.
After we paid Lyon for Kouyate, our bank balance took a major hit, but we’re still preposterously rich. If I sell a couple more fringe players like Araujo and Escalante, I could still potentially bring in a 50-60m midfielder.
The rest of this season should be fascinating, but it will have to wait until the next update. See you then, footy nerds.
I checked to see if he’d come coach for us, but he wants to be a Director of Football, and he has terrible stats for it. I passed.
We had four new kids join the club in early June.
I mentioned him in the last update, but Neja checks a lot of boxes for me. He’s a professional, has good physical attributes for his age, and starts with a good foundation of defensive technical attributes. I don’t think he’ll play much his first season, but if he develops well, he could get lots of minutes in the future.
Miguel is another professional who has tons of room to get better. I initially signed him thinking he’d be a decent right back, but he’ll actually fit better as a centerback. With his personality and potential, I have high hopes he’s pushing Puric and D’Haene for their minutes.
Oliveira is a project signing. He was free, he had high potential, and I thought I could sell him on in a season or two. I also need to run the face updater again.
Ricardo is another I’ve previously mentioned. He was scheduled to arrive this summer to avoid our registration limits last season. I expect him to contribute from day 1. He’s cut from the same cloth as Fede Cordero and Martin Ramirez. If his physical abilities develop a bit, he could be a top, top player.
These guys make up 4 of my possible 6 transfers for U21 international players.
Julien is a world-class wingback, and the whole world can tell. He cost us 45m rising to 69m. He doesn’t really have the crossing I want, but he’s a physical beast and really good everywhere else.
Shortly after making the bid for Julien Barji, PSG approached with an offer for Vlad Dragic.
Vlad is a good player, and two seasons ago he would have been too important for me to allow him to leave, but at this point I’m not so sure. He has okay physical attributes with good pace. Mentally he’s excellent. Technically he’s just okay. His crossing is poor, and his dribbling is meh. Yes, he can pass and defend, but I need more from my wingbacks.
Farewell, Vlad. You were a good player for us. He cost us 18.75m in 2024, and he’s departed for 34.5m.
I immediately replaced him with a Brazilian wonderkid. Gabriel set us back 13m. He’s pretty comparable to Vlad, tbh, though with slightly better crossing. Gabriel is 5 out 6 U21 internationals.
Maybe I should have held out for more money for Vlad? Because a couple weeks later, I offered out Jordan Carlin, who ended up being a good player, but not Champion’s League calibre, and Club Brugge offered me 26.5m for him.
Tot ziens, Jordan. You ended up better than Finley Burns, but not quite good enough.
Goce was supposed to be our left back of the future, but I’m an idiot and didn’t realize he was right-footed. He actually did well in that role, but he came by my office worried that he’d never be good enough for our first team. I let him leave for Club Brugge in a deal that starts at 23.5m and could reach 32.5m. I am, unfortunately, paying part of his salary for the next FOUR years, but it’s still a great profit on a guy that joined us on a free (and forfeited his loyalty bonus by asking to be transfer-listed). With Nilson and Gabriel as the first-choice left backs and Puric and Augusto who can cover it, I’m not worried.
I brought in my final international wonderkid of the season late in the transfer window.
Wojciech was too good to pass up. The scouts thought he was 5 star potential, he had a release clause of 4.9m, great pace, and good enough mental and technical attributes. I can see him being a left-sided Freddy Baez in 18 months, so I got a deal done before West Ham or Arsenal could steal him. Now that he’s here and my coaches think he’s only 4 star potential, I have mild misgivings, but it’s getting hard to gauge the really high potential players.
I’m trying to come to terms with this:
Yunus Musah is a Bayern Munich player, and he would join us if I paid to get him
He’s a “world class midfielder”
My scouts rate him as 3 stars
Are we really to the point that world-class players are only 3 stars? I think my scouts are LIARS.
We took a shot at this guy, a truly world-class player, for 54m quid, who is–according to my (lying) scouts–the best midfielder in the world. He’s in the top few, for sure.
He chose Arsenal. I even offered him more money! (Seriously, dude wanted extortionate wages.) I would be annoyed, but I was more shocked that his agent even considered our offer. I’m trying to spend our war chest. I am. I just can’t do it with our current reputation.
I was minding my own business when Arsenal offered something like 30m for Nicolas Bacolla. I rejected it, of course. And the numpty decided to whinge about it.
He’s a good player, but also a little weird in that he’s supposed to be a winger, but he’s not really fast enough for it. He actually does reasonably well in midfield, but he doesn’t quite have the defensive nous or work rate to be one of my top three mids. If he didn’t already play for me, I’d seriously consider buying him, but I’d probably pass unless I could get a good deal. In the end, I let him leave for 62m (in installments). We didn’t end up paying many of the escalators in our original purchase agreement, so he only cost us 13.5m. I hope he likes keeping the bench warm for Filipe Canario.
Our first match of the season was against… Arsenal. I probably should have put us into our 343 to give us good defensive solidity away against a top 6 side. I forgot. We went in with 10 of our first choice 11 (Nathan D’Haene was still away on international duty), and we won 2-0 while looking good in the process. Guys. Gals. We’re good now. Legitimately good.
Leeds came to visit the Stadium of Light. Other than giving away an unnecessary penalty, we played our game and took full points with a 3-1 victory.
A trip to Sheffield United was spoiled only by the lack of a clean sheet. We cruised to a 4-1 victory, and Ricardo Villafane bagged two, proving that he’s an excellent addition to our attack and giving me a great option to rotate with Freddy Baez. He’ll get the winger minutes Bacolla would have seen, plus get some time at striker.
Burnley visited us. We smashed them 3-0.
We swept the August awards with me getting manager of the month, Fede Cordero getting player of the month, Martin Ramirez coming in second, and Kevin Beck Hebo coming in third.
At the end of August, the table looked like this:
I rotated players for those matches, and we still dominated.
This could have been a lot worse. We can realistically top our group.
We are richer than ever. I tried to spend 84m on a good (but not as good as Canario) German midfielder. Bayern wouldn’t take my money.
So I was cruising along, dealing with transfers and the start of the season, and who should come calling but the actual Football Association.
Huh. England made it to the Euro 2028 semis and went out in extra time to eventual winners Belgium.
I thought about it for a good 5 minutes before I declined the job. Even if I could work both jobs, which was possible in previous iterations of FM, I’d rather focus my (real life) time on Sunderland.
Which does bring us to my personal objectives. If we win the Champion’s League, I’m retiring. If we win the Premier League, I’m probably retiring. If we do well in both but win neither, I don’t know. I may have another season after this one in me. Beyond that, the outlook is unclear.
This update is going to be a bit of a different structure than the others have been. Mostly because I didn’t take as many notes as I went along this time, so the fixtures and results are all retrospective. The blog is not dying, and I’m definitely playing at least another season after this one.
Our players are actually good now. Not just young and with potential, but young and ready to play Right Now. Remember how I told you that Martin Ramirez was outshining Fede? The rest of the world seems to agree.
For the record, while a few of my wonderkids have release clauses in their contracts, Martin does not. He also has 4.5 years left on his 26k per week deal. (That will soon turn into 44.5k a week due to him playing so much.) I’m not saying I’m good at this game, but I do get things right on occasion.
Coming into the January transfer window, we had a solid war chest if we found any players who could improve our squad and were willing to join.
By “war chest” I mean “176m quid at the end of December.” That’s frankly obscene, but so is the Premier League TV revenue.
Our January form wasn’t great. Losing to Liverpool didn’t bother me, but the West Ham result was poor, and the dropped points at Bristol City were egregious. We continued to fight for the top 4, but at this point we were down into the Europa League places and I was afraid we’d slip right back to 7th as we have in the past.
We turned things around in February, stomping Chesterfield in our FA Cup replay, recording a famous victory over Chelsea, losing narrowly in a match where we played well at United, and thumping Leeds.
March was nearly perfect, only marred by the FA Cup exit. Annihilating Hoffenheim made up for it, though. The win against Arsenal was a good one, too. This put us back into the top 4.
Our youth intake was rubbish, as usual.
LA Galaxy turned up in March asking to take Harrison Jackson on loan. I countered with a 15m direct sale, which was a bit lower than the 20m I wanted last summer, but matched his value at the time. They accepted it.
He joined us on a free in 2025, played a good bit in his first season, but was replaced by better, younger players. In the end, he made us 15m quid. Darn good business, in my view.
April was one of the best months in the history of this save. After floating around the top 4 spots in the league, we finished the month with an amazing win at Manchester City that left us in second place in the league, behind Chelsea. We also progressed in the Conference League, including a first leg away win at Lyon.
And then there was May. We finished the job against Lyon to make the Conference League final. We then had a horrible, terrible, I-can’t-believe-it match against Huddersfield. A match that we may rue for decades to come. Had we won that match, we would have gone into the final day with a chance at winning the league. We would have needed Chelsea to stumble (which they did), but without those points, Chelsea clinched it. We needed a win vs Spurs to confirm 2nd, which we achieved with surprising ease.
To repeat: Sunderland Football Club just finished second in the Premier League! This was Chelsea’s run-in:
They had a commanding position in the league at the beginning of April, and then the wheels just fell off. Four scoreless draws! They wanted us to win the league, and we nearly did it.
We’re in the Champion’s League next season, friends.
I don’t know if we’ll ever have a better chance at winning the league. Hopefully next year, but 80 points is the lowest any league winner has had during this save. Honestly, though, if we can win some of those home matches against the top 6 sides and clean up our form a little against the basement dwellers, we should be in the conversation again.
Our players received significant recognition. Chelsea received more, but they did win the league.
We did still have one match left vs Braga in the Conference League. Going into the match, I went with our 4231.
I wanted our best players on the pitch, and I wanted to exert as much control over the match as I could. And if we needed to go more defensive, Pardo could drop into the back three.
Freddy Baez had our first shot within 15 seconds, but it was horrifically off target. To my surprise, Braga held possession around 52%, but they couldn’t generate much going forward while we were taking shots, including hitting the woodwork on 30 minutes. We went into halftime with 15 shots, but only 1 on target. Braga had exactly zero.
I have the lads the hairdryer, and sent them back out exactly as they were. Martin Ramirez scored his 32nd goal of the season on 54 minutes, cutting in from the left wing in Adam Idah’s role. It was nearly offside, but the goal stood and we were up 1-0. We kept the pressure, not so much dominating possession as simply never allowing Braga to get near our goal. Freddy Baez doubled our lead at 90+2. We won, of course. 2-0. Braga never took a single shot. It was the most anti-climactic cup final imaginable.
Winning the cup paid us 2.5m, but check this:
19m for television money! I didn’t expect that, at all. How delightful. We also received 1.45m for ranking pool money. Not bad at all.
Our new arrivals were key. Ramirez was even better than Fede, D’Haene was worth every pence, Kevin Beck Hebo played a ton, and Pardo was brilliant as our holding midfielder.
Finances were good. We’re still rich, of course.
End of season meetings are so dumb.
We came in second, and you don’t think we can qualify for the Europa League next season, lads? Are you mental? I suggested that we could finish top half, and they felt like that was better.
We’re still rich. Richer than ever, in fact.
Our keepers better than league average. I actually just gave Tirado a new contract on 79k a week. He wanted over 100k, and I had to offer a massive loyalty bonus to keep the wages down.
Our defenders are better than league average. We’re actually being held back here by Burns, Augusto and Jordan, who are all mid-table quality rather than Champion’s League quality. At least one will need to go in the summer if I can make it work with the homegrown rules.
Our midfield is now a position of strength rather than weakness. You love to see it.
The attack isn’t quite a good as the midfield, but our best attackers are top shelf and the guys behind them still have room to develop (other than Idah).
Looking about the squad, we don’t have any glaring holes. We could probably do with a better left-winger than Adam Idah, and our fullbacks could be better. I have tons of quality forwards, so I may not even need to go shopping for the winger.
We’ll leave it here, for now. I’m super excited about next season. See you soon, footy nerds.
One nice thing about having a decent-sized squad of wonderkids is that I can rotate and still have actual quality coming off the bench. My rotated sides are as strong as my starting 11 was our first season in the Premier League. It gives me the ability to play pretty much any non-Premier League side while resting my most-important players.
It’s not Champion’s League money, but that 2.66m isn’t chump change, either. It doesn’t matter too much for us, but if I were playing in a smaller league, that would be a noticeable boost. Add in money for wins/draws and advancing in the competition, and we’re near 5m if you get to the semis and lose. (We should win the competition, but I’m thinking of some saves I’ve done in smaller European countries.) Did UEFA actually get something right in their latest money grab?
Our scouts turned up another hotshit Argentinian striker.
Great agility, good pace, dribbling, finishing, teamwork, work rate, and first touch. He is injury prone, which is certainly a negative, but the scouts think he would be the best striker at the club if he were here today.
That doesn’t look true to me, to be honest, but he’s not far off, either. I signed him, of course. Boca was willing to take 10m with half over three years. Due to our signing limits, I’ve set him to arrive next summer.
September started pretty well with us being flat track bullies and running up the score against drastically inferior teams while I used highly-rotated lineups. And then this happened.
Some days you’re the dog; some days you’re the hydrant. Our defense of the Carabao Cup has ended at the first opportunity.
We went to Stamford Bridge to face league-leading Chelsea. We lost.
Our first big glory night on the European stage arrived with the visit of seven-time Ligue 1 winners Olympique Lyonnais. The weather was sadly pleasant, and while we hammered them in terms of shots, we only found the back of the net one time. That one time was enough to claim the points and keep us top of Group A in the Conference League.
We finished September in a good place.
The only real surprise was away at Hull, but otherwise no complaints.
Individually, we had some stand-out performers. Ten goals in 3 matches got us some recognition. Our recruitment has been excellent. Someone should get a raise.
It’s me. I should get a raise. 83k a week makes me tied for the highest earner at the club, with Kevin De Bruyne.
October started with a pair of narrow losses vs Manchester United and at Arsenal. Both matches were winnable, and I had my best 11 on the pitch, but we just couldn’t keep the ball out of the net in two matches where we kept the opposition to low-quality chances. Therefore, I went stress shopping.
For the low, low price of one point three million pounds I was able to secure another left-footed centerback. (I already have three, somehow.) Nejc is a Professional, which I really appreciate. He’s physically gifted, which I also appreciate. He’s a little sub-par in his mental and technical attributes, though he’s starting from a decent base and can easily improve. With his potential, he probably will improve.
Will he ever be as good as D’Haene or Puric? Maybe not. Will he give me another solid athlete to plug into my backline and make me 20m in a couple years? Almost certainly. I will admit this isn’t my best purchase, but I wanted another centerback prospect, and he’s only a Breakthrough Prospect, so it’s not like he expects to play every match.
Some days you’re the dog; some days you’re the hydrant. Adam Idah edition.
We scored SEVEN goals AT Everton. They’re a good team in this save! What a way to cap off the month.
Like I mentioned, two narrow losses to start the month, but good results the rest of the way. I should feel bad about hammering Plzen so badly. I do not. The Leeds match was one we controlled, though didn’t get as many chances as I wanted. I shifted things around a little prior to the Everton match. It, uh, worked.
We ended the month in 6th amidst a ridiculously tight table for there having been 11 matches already.
Our defense is quiet and leaky, but our attack is aggressive and clinical. This is so strange. In seasons past we were the opposite.
Let’s talk set pieces.
I’ve been double-checking my corners before each match. Well, before most matches. I forgot against Southampton, and we were counter-attacked twice and conceded two goals. The problem was that my guys on the edge of the area were actually forward, since my usual guy there was taking the corner. The ball was cleared out, the defenders got to it first, and it was two on two against our fullbacks. By keeping someone lurking on the edge of the area, we have someone to sweep up the loose ball, or at least a third body to contest the counter-attack. I’m also using someone to attack the ball from the edge of the area to give us another body rushing into the box, but this person has little effect on stopping counters. As you’re drawing up your own corner routines, I really, REALLY recommend having two back plus one on the edge of the area. Be smarter than me. November was almost perfect. The start was a little dicey with a narrow 1-0 away at Viktoria Plzen and a 0-0 at home to Villa, but when you score 15 goals in the next 3 matches, it’s hard to complain too much.
It feels really good to hammer mid-table Premier League teams.
We finished the month in the lofty heights of 3rd. Can we stay there? I doubt it, but the upcoming schedule is forgiving.
We should dismantle Norwich, Fulham, Huddersfield, and Bournemouth. That doesn’t mean we will, but it’s more possible this season than ever before. I don’t much care about Lyon and will probably rotate with Spurs in mind. Spurs and City are always tough matches. We could lose 4-1. We could win 2-0. We could draw 3-3 or 0-0. Pretty much any result is in the cards. If we come out of the month with 12 more points, I’ll be happy. That will keep us in the Europa League places, I think. Fede Cordero hit a rough patch without any goals, so moved Martin Martinez up top. He’s been outstanding.
Fede is still getting lots of minutes in the Conference League (EURO Cup II) and off the bench, but Martin is the clear starter until his form falters. We’ll see how he does against the top of the Premier League.
Oddly enough, Idah has been our best goalscorer coming off the left.
Thirteen in the league! I’d say about half of them are headers, either from Freddy Baez and Neco Williams crosses or from set pieces.
All that investment in our youth setup and we get “This is not a great group of young players.” Killing me, SI.
I said I’d be happy with 12 points from December. I would have been, though I was a bit worried that we followed up a 4-0 demolition of Norwich with a 1-1 draw at Fulham. The low score was bad enough, but we gave up an 84th minute goal to drop the points. Away to Lyon was a freebie as far as I was concerned. I heavily rotated our lineup. The lads brought us back another 1-1 draw. I was far happier about that one. For a few minutes of the Spurs match I thought we’d run away with it. Martin Ramirez scored in the first minute, and we had a chance to go up by 2 goals on 29 minutes, only for Fede Cordero to have a penalty saved. After a first half of Black Cat dominance, Spurs scored early in the second half and played much better. We had a chance to seal it late, but Fede hit the post, and we took only another 1-1 draw against the league leaders.
Then we rattled off 12 unanswered goals against City, Huddersfield, and Bournemouth. Twelve unanswered goals nicely spread across the 3 matches, no less.
We ended up with 14 points from the month.
We’re 3 points back of first place after Boxing Day.
That will probably turn into a 5 point deficit if Spurs win their game in hand. We’ve played exceedingly well over the first half of the season. The only loss where I was genuinely annoyed was at Wolves in August. I can’t complain about Chelsea, United, or Arsenal, especially when 2 out of 3 were on the road.
Looking ahead, January is promising.
An FA Cup match we’ll probably bottle, a tough home match against Liverpool, and a bunch of matches we absolutely should be winning. I predict 10 points from the 5 matches, but I’m secretly hoping for 13 (and assuming that we’ll draw one of Liverpool or West Ham).
At this point I think we’re more likely to win the league than to come in 7th. More likely we finish 4th or 5th, but anything could happen. We even play Spurs at home on the final day, so there’s opportunity for high drama.
But to find out whether that happens, you’ll have to read the next installment. See you next time, footy nerds.