Welcome back to the second half of the 2024-2025 season, footy nerds. If you’re just joining, the previous installment is available here, and the first installment in the series is available here.

We’re in the middle of our second Premier League season after a promotion, relegation, and immediate promotion back to the top flight.

I’ve been watching lots of YouTube videos about FM while I’ve been playing FM. I caught a quote today that really struck a chord. “I deal in a currency called Brazilian wonderkids.” -Zealand

Me, too, Zealand. Me, too.

The vultures have started gathering around our very much still alive squad, looking to pick off whoever they can. Between China and the bloody Americans, I have half a dozen guys who are wanted.

Shanghai Port tried to pry away Arnaut Danjuma for 37m, which feels like a solid price for a guy that’s 27, mid-table Premier League quality, and valued at 25m, but I declined it. I’m rich. I don’t need the money. I might have sold for 50m, but they didn’t make an offer. I’m also happy to keep him until summer and sell him then.
Wuhan and Henan both came in for Dzenis Burnic with offers around 20m. I was willing to take it, but not without a replacement lined up, and they wouldn’t let me negotiate so, so they never really had the chance to tempt me on a counter-offer. Ivan Sunjic attracted a 20m offer from Wuhan, but the same principle applied. I’d let him go even though he’s a team leader, but only for more money. Even Josh Onomah attracted offers! Of the four, Onomah was the one I was most willing to do without. 

For incoming transfers, I secured a face we all know and love.

I got him for 15m! Technically he was out of contract in the summer, but A) I couldn’t offer him a deal yet because his parent club (Liverpool) was also English (you can only offer pre-contract deals to players from domestic clubs 30 days before their contract ends), and B) Liverpool had a 1-year extension, and they would just activate it to keep him from leaving on a free. I’m happy with the 15m. He’s not ever going to be the best right-back in the world, but he’s going to be a very reliable player for us for years to come, plus he can play in midfield or at AMR as a winger.

The even better news was that I got this deal done early in the month, before we played Liverpool, so I was able to use Neco against them for a change. (Spoiler: it didn’t help.)

I found a young German fullback with a 575k release clause, which felt like a steal for someone his age and ability. I activated it, of course.

He’s not as good as Josh Tymon, but he could grow into a better player.

I made the offer, we agreed a contract, and… he went to Bayern’s U19 side. Those jerks.

Looking ahead at the possible departures, I wanted to secure some strong replacements.

I found this gem in Argentina, but I couldn’t exactly get him on the cheap, so I put together a deal with a bunch of escalators based on performance.

The board tried to block it.

Operative word: tried. I spoke to them, and they backed down. Which is good, because we needed him immediately.

I was a little sad to lose Onomah, but I predicted it would happen, and lo it has come to pass. The fact that his fee almost entirely paid for Bacolla’s transfer was a nice little bonus.

We didn’t lose a ton, to be honest. He could play across the attacking midfield band or at MC, which was helpful, but he wasn’t amazing. Certainly not the “competing for European places” level we want to be at.

I tried another pass at Dinamo’s wonderkid striker, Silvio Kramaric, who I still think is one of the best striker prospects in the world.

The board balked at my potential 30m offer, and I couldn’t talk them out of it.

Damn it, Kyril. We’re rich! Let me spend the money how I want!

He went to Milan for 21.5m. He’ll cost 60m if we ever want to buy him in the future. I might, conceivably, pay that if we’re in the Champion’s League. They signed him as a squad player, so I don’t think I’ll be able to get him on the cheap if he’s unhappy with his minutes.

Our old target Victor Hugo landed at Chelsea. I hate how the rich get richer.

I took a shot at this English kid for 34m.

He spurned us for Everton. I feel like I can find similar talent in South America for 15-20m, but he looked as if he could help us immediately and still have a ton of potential. The really annoying thing here was that the board didn’t even blink. They wanted to interfere with my Argentine and Croatian transfers, but you pay over the odds for a young English lad, and it’s all good?

We picked up a new goalkeeper to arrive in the summer when his contract ends.

Adan is on the books at Real Madrid. Our scouts already think he has better ability than Meggie, plus he has higher potential.

Adan’s aerial reach and reflexes are a bit lower currently, but he’s generally better physically. It’s probably a toss-up between them, but Adan is 5 years younger. This probably means Meggie moves in the summer for a big fee. If he does, it will be after 2.5 years at the club, so it’ll be fantastic value for a guy that came on a free transfer.

This deal was done after the window closed, but the guy is only 17, so he wouldn’t arrive until summer, anyway.

Ignacio is a Peruvian winger that’s excellent with the ball at his feet, reasonably tall, but not terribly fast. Unfortunately, he failed his work permit, but that was expected. We’ll do the ol’ “send ’em to MLS for six months” trick and he’ll very likely get his callups to the Peruvian U19s.

We scored a couple great goals in February. Enric’s, in particular, was very Son-esque. He ran past most of the West ham defense to finish a brilliant solo counter-attack.

Our biggest match of the season was on March 2nd vs Arsenal at Wembley. The Carabao Cup final. We went in with our 4411, which helped end a poor run of form in the week prior to the match.

Arsenal went up 1-0 in the first minute with a long-range strike. It was so early, I didn’t want to change anything.

We went into halftime looking okay. Down a goal, but comparable xG and shots, even if our shot numbers were lower than I’d like to see. On 55 minutes we switched to the 4231 and an Attacking mentality, which got us some more chances, but opened us up to a neat series of open-play passes that left Emile Smith Rowe 1 on 1 with Meggie. Arsenal 2 – 0 Sunderland. We went to Very Attacking, and adjusted our roles to be more attacking and our set pieces to be more risky, but nothing helped. We have lost our first cup final.

Arsenal were 20 points ahead of us in the table before the match. They have by far the better side. We played competitively and didn’t embarrass ourselves. The result wasn’t unfair, but it’s hard to be too disappointed, either. This won’t be our last cup final (well, it may be this season), and I expect we’ll come back stronger.

Our very next match was in the FA Cup 4th round at home against Bournemouth. Naturally, we went down to a low-percent shot early in the first half. The 4411 was getting us chances, but we couldn’t finish anything. Again, in the second half, I switched to the 4321. On 80 minutes I went to Very Attacking and moved the DM up to the midfield line and adjusted the midfield roles from support to attack. Enric scored a beauty on 87 minutes so I immediately dropped to Positive mentality and steeled myself for a penalty shootout.

Idah bagged a 90th minute winner, and we escaped getting FMed. (When you totally outplay an opponent and they beat you, anyway.)

The match story was so nearly a tragedy. The 4411 wasn’t really working. It helped break a poor streak of form, but I’ve had better luck with the 4231 with a higher defensive line and the DM in the midfield band. We dodged the heavyweights for the Quarter Final and drew our old pals Sheffield United at the Stadium of Light.

Imagine losing 1-4 to Spurs, only to turn around and win 3-1 vs Manchester City. I would say we have a consistency issue, but we’ve been consistently poor for half the season. Incredible result vs City, though. Dang.

The youth intake arrived in mid-March.

One of the things I’ve learned while watching videos during my FM sessions is that even coaches with a 20 rating for player potential are inconsistent at rating players 16 and under. It starts to take shape by 19, but doesn’t solidify until 22. So these three 4 star kids might actually be 4-star potential. They might also be 2.5 stars or 5 stars.

None of the three make me think “obvious wonderkid,” but they have potential. Edwards worries me, though. Unambitious is a terrible personality. We’ll have to see if the general level of the squad improves him any. Determination is one of the easiest stats to change, and I’ll definitely be after him for poor performance. Hopefully, he improves over the next few years.

Our FA Cup run came crashing to an end in the Quarter Final.

We were just NOT at the races. It was the third match in 7 days, I was doing a bunch of juggling with fatigue and fitness, and I think it just caught up to us. I didn’t expect to win the competition, but I hoped we’d be able to get past Sheffield United, of all teams.

The FA Cup loss left us with 8 matches remaining in the season, all in the Premier League. We were sitting in 9th place on 45 points, 5 points from the Europa League places.

  • vs 6th place Everton (probably a loss)
  • vs 15th place Leicester (winnable)
  • at 11th place Fulham (winnable)
  • at 17th place Southampton (winnable)
  • at 19th place Crystal Palace (winnable)
  • at 20th place Huddersfield (winnable)
  • vs 8th place Villa (winnable)
  • vs 3rd place Arsenal (probably a loss)

Of the six “winnable” matches, I figured we’d take about 9 points, which would put us on 54 for the end of the season and firmly midtable. If things went poorly, we should still be well safe from relegation, and if they went well we could sneak into the Europa League.

During the international break before that run of matches started, my scouts turned up this Brazilian lad unattached to a club.

Uh, yes, please!

See those 6 U20 caps? They make him eligible for a work permit. I snapped him up. The best part (okay, like third-best part) is that I had an open foreign under-21 slot for this season, and I was able to get him on the deadline day for free signings, so he won’t even count against next season’s six slots.

Really breaking the bank for him, too. Did I really need another defensive midfielder? Not really. Will he still get some minutes and next season? Probably.

Oh, what’s this?

If he can’t hold down a spot, I’ll sell him for a decent chunk of that total. If he gets a thousand minutes in the autumn, he may go off to China for twice that much. As the quote at the top said: “I deal in a currency called Brazilian wonderkids.”

The first match of the run-in was vs Everton. We played them evenly, with a slight edge to us in the stats, but my heart stuck in my throat more often on their attacks than ours. A hard-fought 1-1 draw felt about right. We held our spot in the table at 9th, but so did they at 6th, still 5 points ahead of us and the guaranteed Europa League place. (I’m not sure we land in the Europa Conference League if we finish 7th, so I’m not counting on it.)

We came into the Leicester City match with the usual 4231, but the fullbacks were set to WB-A, and the first ten minutes of the match were basically a basketball game of end-to-end attacking. Joao Pedro was doing a Lebron James impersonation for Leicester. Those ten minutes ended with us up 2-1 and me telling the wingbacks to switch to support. That settled things down a bit until we conceded on a free-kick into the top corner, only to pull ahead a moment later with a Finley Burns header from our own free-kick. (Dude is an absolute giant (19 jumping and 17 tackling), and I’m still amazed and delighted Manchester City sold him to us for only 300k.) It was still a bit loose when we went in at halftime up 3-2, so I dropped our defensive line and line of engagement both to standard and had Ross McCrorie man-mark Joao Pedro. We held on for the win.

Fulham went up 1-0 on an 8th-minute free-kick into the corner. That’s a recurring theme, and it’s getting frustrating. Obren Cikic, playing in midfield due to fatigue in the squad, slotted home in the 26th bring us back level. He’s now only 4-star potential, and I’m good with that. A very tidy player who seems certain to reach his potential. Around 55 minutes I decided to drop our lines again to solidify things, and while we were waiting for a break in play for the instructions to take effect, Fulham scored by getting a ball in behind Ross McCrorie at rightback. So. Frustrating. We scraped a draw in a match we pretty much dominated.

With five matches to go, we sat in 9th place, even on 50 points with 10th placed West Ham, but 13 ahead of 11th placed Fulham. We also sat 4 points from the Europa League places.

For the match away to Southampton, I started us with standard lines and only urgent pressing intensity rather than the prior extremely urgent. After about half an hour, I lowered our tempo and told the lads to play for set-pieces so we could aim at the jolly Scottish giant’s forehead. We weren’t giving up quality shots, but we were giving up too many shots, and we weren’t getting forward well at all. Southampton eventually scored on a near-post corner routine where their player beat Adam Idah to the ball and managed to avoid our towering centerbacks. Five minutes later, they did it again, this time getting two guys on Idah and overpowering him. We lost.

Our best players were knackered. Our second-best players weren’t good enough.

The summer crop of wonderkids cannot arrive soon enough.

The loss dropped us to 10th place with a 10 point gap between us and 11th placed Burnley.

We went into a match at 19th placed Crystal Palace as underdogs. We looked like a puddle of day-old dog vomit and lost 1-3. Is this season over yet?

Our forwards were shit. Our midfielders were shit. Our defenders were not shit. We drew 0-0 to a team that was already relegated. The European places are too far to reach. We could, possibly, be caught by Burnley and fall to 11th.

Players on my shitlist:

Danjuma – 6.54 average rating over his last 5 matches

N’Lundulu – 6.56

Sima – 6.64

Enric – 6.68 (he’s better than this)

Aston Villa, in 8th place, came to visit the Stadium of Light. We lined up with an asymmetric formation somewhere between a 4321 and a 4411.

I needed something different, and this put us in a shape where we could hopefully be solid enough at the back and get something forward in attack with a little bit of spacing.

It looked okay at halftime. If not for a bad Lee Farrell miss on a counter-attack, we would have been ahead on 50 minutes. Villa cleared a ball off the line on 63 minutes to save a certain goal. Just when I was starting to think we might win a match, Ollie Watkins broke my heart, only for Adam Idah to draw us level moments later. Pure Magic, back in the side for the first time in months, scored a counter-attack on 78 minutes to give us the lead. A brilliant, deep cross from Cikic to a streaking Idah added to our advantage in the 83rd minute. We held on for a comfortable 3-1 win.

That actually worked. I can’t quite believe it. That wraps up the 9 points I thought we’d get.

Going into the final day we needed one point from Arsenal, at home, to stay ahead of Everton and secure 9th place. Bacolla replaced Cikic on the right, and he put a perfect cross onto Idah’s head on 33 minutes. Five minutes later Bacolla found space on the left (after a failed set piece) and threaded a ball through to Idah for his second.  One minute later, he did it again, with the help of a deflection off Pure Magic’s back (for real, his back), for Idah to complete a first-half hat trick. Ho. Lee. Shit. One minute after that, Idah drew and converted a penalty.  Patson Daka pulled one back for Arsenal, only for Idah to score his fifth of the day a minute later.

I haven’t seen many 10.0 performances in this game, but Adam Idah delivered a brilliant one. We cruised to a 5-1 win.

We finished in 9th place, agonizingly close to the European places.

Our form was never great, though in retrospect it was never too terrible at any one time. Our fundamental problem is a lack of quality in the squad.

The star ratings are imperfect, but this gives an okay view of our quality. Farrell, Burns, Bacolla, and Enric are legit wonderkids. Neco, Augusto, Dragic, McCrorie, and Idah are all legitimately good players. After that the quality dips. Cikic was good at times. Wendel is too new for me to judge him. Burnic and Junjic are meh. Carlin and Lacroix are young enough that I have hope they’ll improve. (That Carlin purchase isn’t look as brilliant as I thought at the time.) Sima, Danjuma, Tymon, N’Lundulu, Bryan, and Meggie are all possible departures. Pure Magic is basically a flop. The scouts lied to me on him. So did that sexy, sexy dribbling plus finishing combo he had at 17.

Looking ahead, I want to upgrade Sima, Danjuma, N’Lundulu, Tymon, and Bryan. I already have an upgrade coming for Meggie.

Kyril’s giving me a good starting budget, and a few departures will see it go even further.

The wheels absolutely fell off this formation, but it did get us to midtable.

I tried to tell the team that we’d avoid a relegation battle next season, and they lost their pixelated minds saying we weren’t good enough for that. C’mon, dudes. I’ve only failed you once before.

Here’s a pretty good summary of where we ended up.

We’ll break here, and I’ll be back soon with the summer transfer window. See you next time, footy nerds.

Update: the next installment is available here