It’s starting to feel a lot like Easter

Just three weeks to the winter solstice, and then we begin the incremental journey back to lighter evenings and warmer weather. Before you know it you’ll be picking the silver paper off miniature chocolate eggs and hearing the first rumours about PES2018.

Will I be accompanied by PES2017 through to that unimaginable time, though?

Almost certainly. Hopefully. PES2017 continues to hold up. At this time I have no major worries about the game. I can sort of see where things might fall apart one day, but that day is currently so theoretical and unreal that I’m not going to spoil the here-and-now by worrying about it.

Here’s my Season 4 post-transfer-window Squad and First XI:

pes2017-season-4-squad-and-first-xi

Rice is hanging onto his first-choice position out of reputation rather than performance. I have so many other options now. My patience with him – and with Friday – won’t last forever.

Friday has actually shown some signs of coming to life. I kept him during the transfer window.

I sold Lescott. He was far too much of a nuPES clone for my liking. Playing with him was just like playing with any other identikit CB from the post-PS3 days. This is my new policy regarding players in PES. They have to come with some sense of themselves as individuals, or I’m not going to persevere with them.

The three PS4-era PES games we’ve had so far have seen individuality massively diluted. I don’t care what anyone says, there is no convincing me that individuality hasn’t been watered down, year on year, in the name of online-friendly ‘balancing’. Everything that’s rotten in the state of PES can ultimately be traced back to the stinking, piss-bottle-strewn lair of Johnny Onliner. Fact.

Over the next season or two I’ll be offloading every player who doesn’t feel like an individual – Bartual, thy days are numbered – and favouring players who do feel like individuals. This is my new sort-of House Rule.

The month of February in Season 4 was a poor one for results:

season-4-february-nightmare

That 3-0 drubbing of Reading was easily the highlight. Many moments from the matches above can be seen in today’s promised 5-minute compilation in some form:

Some big goals and some big misses from Friday in there. And I got one of those heel-flicky goals with Jarvis, who’s quietly becoming an indispensable sort of player.

I included the very last clip to show how I typically play PES2017. From the kickoff to the shot, some 10 passes and lots of ball-squatting later, I’m carefully husbanding possession, working the positions, waiting for my players to be open before trying the pass.

There are still many who aren’t having a great time with PES2017. I wonder if they’re trying to play direct all the time?

My experience is that direct play doesn’t lead to good things. Sometimes, yes, it does bear fruit, impressive fruit (as with the first goal in the clip), but most often I find that the slow-and-steady approach enhances PES2017 considerably.

The current table – 31 points after 31 matches:

pes2017-season-4-after-31

It’s reassuring to see the other two teams I came up with, Villa and Burnley, scrapping down there with me. I believe I’m safe for another season. But another few points will make certain.

You’re just too good to be true

Another sighting of my team’s somewhat random JIMMY HILL banner:

jimmy-hill-forever

What a time I’m currently having on PES2017. I’ll rate my last 5 matches, out of 10: 9-8-8-9-10.

A typical 5 matches on Top Player, particularly in the last half of my promotion season, would be something like: 3-6-4-8-5.

What do these scores mean, here? What exactly is being measured?

I’m measuring something intangible and deeply subjective: how PES-ish each match was. How satisfying it felt, passing and shooting. The intricacy of trying to craft a chance against the Superstar AI. The extremes of elation and despondency when chances are taken or squandered. The way that trying to squeeze performances out of players highlighted their individuality. In short, a gestalt of everything that PES has come to mean and represent, sentimentally, historically, and actually.

pes2017-season-4-4-3-3

I’ve alighted on a formation that seems to work for me, providing the required balance between defence and attack. It’s a narrow 4-3-3 with a single DMF. This is the exact formation that I played with in every PES from PES2 to PES2008 (with the exception of PES4, oddly, where only a 4-2-2-2 really worked).

This 4-3-3 is slightly different from my old PS2-days one. Back then it was a back four, a DMF, two central AMFs (no CMF or SMF), and three CFs (none of this fancypants ‘Support Striker’ nonsense). Nowadays I’ve compromised somewhat, and plumped for one CMF-AMF combo, and one CF flanked by two SS’ers.

One thing has not changed: this is the formation that created an air of mystique around the PES DMF position for me. PES5’s Mathieu remains my most memorable player in any Master League ever. Not just by a bit, either. By a long way.

In this kind of 4-3-3 the DMF is critical. He’s the last line of midfield defence and a crucial link to the front. He’s got to be superb, with a big, booming shot on him as well.

Petsos is a decent DMF, in fact he’s a bit more than simply decent, but I’ll need a truly top-calibre DMF for the future. At the time of writing I’ve just landed on the mid-season transfer window (of which more below). I’ll be seeking my main DMF for PES2017. I might not have to look far with a young Darren Fletcher waiting in the wings, but he might need another few seasons to be ready.

Januray 1st, a new signing waiting in the wings showed up — courtesy of my Scout, I now have this versatile CMF:

hojbjerg-pes2017-joins

I hope he’s not just another midfield clone in the style of Bartual.

A boatload of new Youths appeared. I treated myself to Gary Cahill, Michael Carrick (more future DMF material), and Fernando Torres. The latter was a key man for me in my still-recent PES2014 campaign, so it feels like welcoming an old friend.

pes2017-season-4-torres-joins

And of course Torres was a star man in PES5. And my current Home kit is very reminiscent of the homebrew kits I used to make for myself back then…

All in all, it’s as if a magic spell has settled upon me and PES2017. I don’t want it to end.

I’ve got a few clips saved up from recent games — a few goals and suchlike — that I’ll stick together into a little compilation for Friday’s post.

SPEAKING OF FRIDAY… the great man continues to be a shadow of his former self.

If it wasn’t for the still-vivid memory of last season’s heroics (top scorer in the Championship), I’d be shipping Friday out in this window. He’s got the rest of this season to come good again, or I might have to consider moving him on.

Still just two goals all season. One in the Cup, one in the league.

He seems to have no touch, no shot, no aerial prowess. I’ve tried balls to feet, I’ve tried pumping long balls endlessly from all angles, everything. The only thing that’s worked recently was when I dribbled with him, skinned a defender, and lobbed over a simple cross for one of my Youth debutantes to tap in an easy winner late in a game. So Friday got an assist on that occasion, which was nice. This goal is one of the clips I’m saving for the compilation next time.

I’ve already dropped Friday for a few matches in favour of the promising Jarvis, who scored a massive late winner for me versus Manchester United that I spoke about in comments on the previous post.

I’ve also taken the risky step of dropping Rice. He’s maintained the same battling form that first brought him to my attention in the starting crop of Defaults. But he’s no longer all that indispensable now I have so many good midfielders. Rice naturally makes way for them sometimes. Could another early-doors favourite’s star be falling?

Today’s TL;DR version: PES2017 is currently cruising along at a solid 9/10 experience. If this keeps up, the title of Best PES Ever might well be up for grabs. This was so unthinkable just one week ago that I can’t realistically foresee it happening.

You shall not pass

With a mere 25 matches left in Season 4, and no sign of any form whatsoever, my relegation from the Premier League is absolutely certain:

pes2017-table-after-13

I jest, of course, but with a serious undertone: I just can’t win. I can barely even score a goal. Look at those stats. I don’t even remember where those 6 goals came from.

Friday finally scored his first league goal of the season – in game 12. It was a rebound after good work from my newbie Youth, Cassano:

Still no sign of last season’s Top Player/Championship heroics from Friday or from any other member of my team. Worrying.

season-4-ccfc-just-cant-win

The entire fundamental nature of the game has changed on Superstar in the Premier League – for the better.

Every match now is about breaking down one of the most stubborn AI setups I’ve ever come across in PES. Possibly the toughest-ever.

Finally I see what people have been talking about when they’ve been saying the centre of the pitch is almost completely closed-off to approach play. My problem is that the wings are too.

PES2017 is still NOT a crossing-friendly game for me. Hence my lack of goal-scoring, and my relegation-threatened status.

Fouls are still absent from almost every match. Too many times the only times there’s a stoppage in play are for corners and throw-ins. Sometimes you don’t even have any of them, and the true dreadfulness of ‘continuous play’ is on show. When will this appalling trend end? Never, is the probable answer to that, we must acknowledge.

The time is soon coming – perhaps it’s already here, and has been here for a few years – when old-school PES players will have to play old-school PES to get their old-school PES fixes.

Certainly I can only tolerate nuPES ‘continuous play’ (the very phrase makes me groan) for so long. Thankfully I’m not routinely having those appalling 1000mph, anti-PES matches that rear their butt-ugly heads all too often.

This match was superb – check the fouls columns:

pes2017-season-4-vs-liverpool

What I loved here was that Liverpool never, ever let up: they were snapping and biting and niggling at me the whole match long. This was a superior-quality match in every way.

One last note of interest. When I start a PES match, I’m a ‘Press Start immediately’ sort of fellow. I don’t allow the pre-match introduction to go on for any longer than I have to. With the result that I have never seen the pre-match intro sequence.

One time I let the pre-match pseudo-TV-style intro wind on for longer than I ever have before, and accidentally saw the game’s version of my 4-3-3 formation:

pes2017-odd-pre-match-formation

That’s not my formation. That’s not how I have it on my Squad screen.

This is what it looks like on my Squad screen:

pes2017-season-4-4-3

The forwardness and centrality of Lobato as an AMF is crucial, in my conception of this formation. In the game’s pre-match version. Lobato is a centrally-placed, right-sided AMF. I don’t like that.

It’s strange how the game’s pre-match version rotates my entire midfield 90 degrees clockwise. Seeing things like this make me uneasy about what might be going on under the hood. Do all our tactics and formations really do anything? Does the game respect them as much as we think it does?

It’s probably a simplified abstraction as part of the TV-style build-up. Still, it’s a puzzling, needless niggle. Just another bizarre presentation issue in the world of PES.

There’s many a script ‘tween the FA Cup and the lip

Season 4, Superstar, PES2017, and a certain something has started to seem standard – look at the stats in this match, a 1-0 defeat:

pes2017-superstar-the-standard-shutout

About 5 of my 16 off-target shots were gilt-edged chances that ‘should’ have been goals. Each shot hit the post or crossbar. I hit the post or crossbar 5 times in this match.

Scripting is an old debate on Pro Evolution Soccer, and in football gaming generally – but it shouldn’t be. This match was the very acme of a scripted PES match.

The game has always massaged outcomes to matches, always, without question. The only concession I would ever make to the scripting-sceptics’ camp is to acknowledge that if I replayed the above game 10 times, I would score goals and win some of them. Perhaps I’d even score goals and/or win in most of the 10, but only because this first match had prepared me for what was to come.

So the scoreline of 1-0 to Everton with me having 24 shots, 8 on target, and hitting the post/crossbar 5 times isn’t a literal, scripted outcome. The general tendency within the match is the scripted element.

pes2017-season-4-losing-streakAll scripting and repeat-woodwork-hitting ridiculousness aside, I loved this match. Personal and work commitments this year have limited my time on the game compared to previous years, and will continue to do so. My progress meter is about 60% of my usual rate. This is reflected in a heightened appreciation of the game when I do get to play it.

The Everton match was my first one back after a few days away from the game. The brightness of the pitch, the lithe athleticism of the players, the weighty smack of the ball – I loved the whole thing. Football gaming is great. PES is great. PES2017 is… I cannot say great, not yet. It’s a good football game.

Look at the fouls/free kicks stats. I managed not to concede a single one, and got only 2 myself.

It’s a measure of how impoverished our expectations of single-player football gaming have become that those 2 fouls against me would be considered satisfactory by many football gamers in the year 2016. Perhaps even most would be happy with 2 fouls per match. (2 is in fact a lot for me. My average fouls-per-match is still around 1.)

But 2 fouls per match isn’t enough. Isn’t even nearly enough. I will not be satisfied with the fouls/free kicks situation in PES until we get back to PES5-style levels of fouls and free kicks. Yes, I am calling for an average of 7-10 fouls per side, per 10-minute match.

I know. The chances of that ever happening are so slim that you could add it to your Brexit/Leicester City/Donald Trump accumulator and multiply the odds by a staggering amount.

pes2017-season-4-4-3

I’ve abandoned the 4-2-4 that served me so swashbucklingly well in Division 2 on Top Player. It just wasn’t standing up to Premier League teams and Superstar. I gave Youth promotee Darren Fletcher his debut as a DMF in the 4-2-4’s last outing and the poor lad was just swept aside.

I’m experimenting with a 4-3-3 at the moment. Early results are not encouraging. I’ve played 3 matches with the above setup and scored 1 goal, losing two of them. Friday remains goalless in 7 Premier League outings now, and I can’t even recall a decent chance falling to him.

I did hold Man City to a 1-1 draw after extra time in the FA Cup 2nd Round, and then won the penalty shootout, so I’ve got that going for me.

In the league, I’m slipping dangerously near the relegation zone.

Another few defeats and I’ll be able to join the elite club who declare their relegation completely certain with only 30-odd matches remaining.

pes2017-season-4-after-7

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