Life at the bottom

I’ve zoomed ahead to February of Season 7 in my maiden season in the Premier League.

Life is tough. To put it mildly. No messing – here is the table after 24 matches:

Bottom of the pile. 24 matches played. Won 5. Drawn 4. Lost 15. Scored 24. Conceded 51 (FIFTY-ONE).

No, it’s not hard to see the problem. Too few goals scored up front, and far too many conceded at the back. A Goalkeeper and at least one defender were on the shopping list heading into the transfer window.

I needed them. Here are December’s results, which show a reasonable cross-section of results, including a nice couple of wins to finish the calendar year:Those two matches versus Arsenal and Man Utd were representative of how things tend to go for me against the Big 6. I tend to get absolutely thumped. Typically I go a goal down, and then take a few risks to try and get back into things. So I’ll push up. Then I’ll get done on the break. Now I’m 2-0 down. Still in the game, really, if I can just get 1 goal back… So I continue taking risks – and get done on the break again. That’s how the big teams punish you in the Premier League.

The matches against the top teams are not the most enjoyable matches in PES2019. In fact they’re very similar to the accursed Old Boys match and the Rivals matches – fast and furious arcade-style crap with minimal interruptions. Mostly. There are some good spells in these matches, but I don’t have the players yet to live with the opposition, and so they’re 80% tedious button-mashing slogs. It worries me that anyone (at Konami, or in the wider PES-playing community) thinks this kind of football gaming is good football gaming. All action! Thrills! Spills! Turnovers!

I vastly prefer meeting the Brightons and Huddersfields of this division. There’s the PES2019 I’ve come to know and love.

How has Forlan, my big Season 7 signing, got on?

He’s been worryingly anonymous for too many matches. Only 8 goals so far all season, which is a low strike rate compared to what I need.

But I have come to sense it’s my fault for not being good enough, frankly, and not getting Forlan in the game.

He had a great December, scoring 4 goals in a purple patch spanning 3 consecutive games.

Below is a brief video showing all 4 of those Forlan goals in December.

The first goal here was a consolation goal in a defeat, but it seemed to bring Forlan to life, and all the others came in much-needed wins soon after – including my only free kick goal of Season 7 so far. The final goal is a PES2012-style ‘turn and shoot’ jobby, which I am starting to get some joy from again.

Highlights aside, Season 7 is a grind and I love it. I’m rock-bottom of the league and facing a genuine battle to avoid the drop.

After well-documented financial struggles I have finally got myself to a place where I have a steady income of £550,000 per calendar month. It all flows into the wages budget. For the first time I feel comfort on that front – but how long will it last? The next round of contract renewals will likely give me something to think about.

I’ll focus on the here and now. In January I had enough spare cash for my first real shopping spree.

First I picked up two older Youths from my Youth team. I’ve had to frustratedly watch several decent-looking youngsters come to maturity over the past few seasons without being able to sign them.

JOAQUIN (SS, 80 OPR) and CESAR NAVAS (CB, 81 OPR), both aged 20, both come in. I’ve had the former before (in PES2017, I think) and he was great, so I’m hoping for more of the same. Navas has gone straight into defence.

I also carefully picked out a 20-year-old Goalkeeper from the Free Agents list – J PELE (79 OPR) is already more solid between the sticks than Mannone ever was.

My shopping still wasn’t done. I still had cash to spend! Ah, life in the Premier League…

Time for me to look for a proper DMF. I haven’t had one this season. My Loanee Jack Wilshere’s aerial passing has impressed me this season. Obviously I’m not going to keep the 30-something Wilshere. I wanted a DMF with the same kind of Passing stats and skills (Low Lofted Pass and Weighted Pass) as Wilshere has.

This fella popped up as one of only 4 players who fit the criteria:Riccardo Montolivo, who has the kind of facial profile up there that you might see on the front of a Roman coin. I got him for a bargain £6m from one of the Chinese sides. £1m per year salary, so it’s a risk. He’s a Regen, currently aged 20, and already impressive. Not so much on the going-forward front, yet, but he breaks up play and distributes well, and that’s the first job of a DMF.

I have a feeling that Konami nerfed the traditional swashbuckling PES DMF a few editions ago now. It feels like a long time since I had a stormin’ DMF in the Mathieu/Camacho mould.

And so that’s the state of play. My Premier League £££s have enabled me to kit myself out with 4 top players in the mid-season. It’ll be another season or so before I’m totally done with Loanees. Maybe I won’t ever be completely done with them, if I continue to struggle and future contract talks go the ridiculous way I suspect they will.

My relegation battle is close to the end of the season at the time of writing.

I’m about 7 matches from the end, still in the bottom 3, and 5 points from safety.

There is a very real chance of relegation, I sense. I would not like to see what happens to my finances if I do drop back to the Championship.

I’ve got enough 6-pointers against fellow strugglers coming up that I’m 95% confident of survival. Maybe it’ll all go to some Last Day Drama…. There’s a near-100% chance of that, I suspect.

So long, and thanks for all the R2 curlers

Goodbye, Lincoln. It’s been emotional.

Lincoln has been one of my main players from the very start. He was my first ever signing, a promoted Youth, and has been a faithful servant for 6 (SIX) full seasons, longer than many nuPES players ever get.

His silky skills, and of course those goals, pre-October patch, have gone a long way to define the PES2019 experience.

But now the finances in Master League have forced my hand. For most of the past six seasons, as the wages bill has crept up and crept up, I have relied on Loanee players to bulk out my squad. It’s time for that to start coming to an end.

This season – Season 7 – is my maiden season in the Premier League. I need to equip myself with the players I need long-term to make it big in the Premier League. And for this I need a solid squad of players of my own. I need to reorganise my finances. Hence Lincoln being sold.

This is not something I can do in one go – as will be seen, I will have a load of Loanees again this season. Possibly next season too. Depending on what happens budget-wise, where I finish, what I win, etc.

Lincoln was snapped up immediately for £10m. More significantly, his salary of £1.3m was removed from my budget.

All my Season 6 loanees departed. This was literally my entire squad on Day 1 of Season 7:

Rabiot is a Loanee who’d just arrived. Lincoln is about to be sold (and looks like he knows it).

I got cracking and went straight for the 20-year-old free agent Forlan up front, plus a CB at the back, Cabezas. Getting both of these used up all my wages bill and I was back to shopping for loans.

Here’s the squad I ended up with after deadline day:

Rabiot is a major coup, and is showing a lively lofted pass. Jack Wilshere is a sublime passer of the ball and has bags of immediately apparent individuality, which took me by surprise – he was a bench-filler, but has started nearly every match he can (his famous Weetabix ankles are a thing here too). My new reserve GK has an amusing name. Lozano might be the best Loanee I’ve had yet, and is a Level 3 star player who will put a few hundred thousand per month.

I won my first match, with Gomez (top scorer in the Championship again last season) getting the solitary goal.

That result made me wonder if the Premier League was going to be all I needed it to be, to continue the PES2019 experience.

But I needn’t have worried.

Played 9, won 1, drawn 3, lost 5. Second from bottom.

Whatever I do, I can’t do anything.

Forlan hasn’t been great so far. I got him because Jarvis was only getting about 10 goals a season. I thought Forlan might be the answer – 20+ goals a season, surely?

Well, in 9 matches so far, he’s scored just 1, a routine side-footer from 8 yards. I won’t let him sit in my team indefinitely, earning big money in seasons to come, without a return on investment. I’ll give him 2 seasons at least. He was one of my heroes of PES2012. There’s never yet been a case of a hero of one PES becoming a hero of another, so we’ll see if that curse can be lifted.

Forlan’s other key contribution was a nice assist for a consolation goal in a defeat by Man City.

It’s a type of goal I rarely post on the blog, so here it is for connoisseurs of neat near-post headers – and also to see my new Home kit in action: 

Last week another official patch arrived for the game, and as is now the tradition, a whole host of imagined changes were soon reported by the busy PES community in traditional ‘I know it sounds crazy but you gotta believe me!’ style.

As a committed patch sceptic, I feel almost embarrassed to confess that I now find the patch has loosened up the ball a touch. There is a palpable Sensible Soccer-style tendency for the ball to roll away from players in certain contexts, that simply wasn’t there before. The AI also now plays loose passes more often. I know it sounds crazy but you gotta believe me.

PES2019 seems better than ever. Life in the Premier League is good.

I do miss Lincoln. Something feels missing in my team. I think I made a mistake, now. It was a toss-up between getting rid of him or Giorza. I should have got rid of Giorza. I can always buy Lincoln back in the future I suppose.

You wait ages for one penalty…

Whew. Season 6 has ended with high drama. Of course it ended with drama. How many ML seasons have you played where things sort of dribbled out to mid-table mediocrity? Of course there are some nothing-y seasons, but not many. Master League is purposefully designed to bring about dramatic outcomes.

With 9 matches to go I was 5 points off the playoffs, and was just one of 12 teams in contention. I knew that if I put together A Run of Results, I would find myself in the playoffs.5 wins and a draw in May. I was very proud of those three clean sheets at the top, but I wouldn’t say the matches were the most enjoyable. The AI goes absolutely crazy at times. Focusing hard enough to keep those clean sheets was very stressful.

This run of results left me needing to win my last two matches to be certain of a playoff spot. I duly won my penultimate match – but lost my final match, which meant I was sweating at the final whistle.

Last season, in a similar position, the other results went against me.

This time, results went my way.

The final table:By the skin of my teeth. I did well to finish 6th for a team that lost 17 matches and conceded 70 goals. #MLtableScriptingFTW

I came up against Leeds in the semi-final. I started nervously, but got a massive slice of luck with an R2 curler. I haven’t had an R2 curler for so long (nerfed in the October patch) that I have almost stopped trying them. I try maybe one every two matches, on average. None go even close anymore. Keeper saves, or it flies wide.

This one hit the post, cannoned out, hit the diving GK’s back, hit the underside of the bar, and dropped in (it’s on the mini-clip below). I went on to win that leg of the semi 2-0, which meant the semi-final was won for all intents and purposes. The return leg was of course tougher, but I won it 3-2.Norwich in the playoff final at a weirdly-lit Wembley. The pitch seemed too bright,. Maybe it was my telly.

I was nervous. This was my first playoff final in PES2019 – I didn’t get past the semi-final stage when I was last here, four seasons ago. To have 46 matches depend on the outcome of this single match felt like a lot of pressure.

The AI was souped up to the gills. For most of the first half I struggled to get across the halfway line into Norwich’s half.

0-0 all the way to the end, and I began to get really stressed. It was getting to the point where I knew if I conceded, that might be it.

Extra time.

In the 1st half of extra time, I slid in on a running attacker and brought him down in the box. Penalty to Norwich, which they duly dispatched. 0-1. Disaster.

I was going to lose. I was going to spend at least one more season in the Championship. I’ve enjoyed these 6 seasons, but now I really feel I could do with a change of scenery,

Should I reload, or something?

No! No reloading. Never. If science fiction has taught me anything, it’s that the integrity of the timeline must be respected. Bad Things happen to those who meddle.

I played on, and the minutes dribbled away, and it looked hopeless. I wasn’t creating anything. Then I played a ‘PES2012 turn and shoot’ ball into Mario Gomez on the edge of the box with his back to goal and a defender on him. I forced a turn – Gomez is not the most nimble of strikers – forced some space, and took a snapshot. GOAL. 1-1.

With every player on both sides seemingly shattered and dead on their feet, it looked to be heading to penalties – until…

Above is a 1 minute 44 seconds vid that shows two key moments from my playoffs. First comes that flukey in-off-the-keeper R2 curler that kickstarted my semi-final. Robben is the striker of the ball, but the game rightly registers it as an own-goal by the keeper.

Second is the key moment from extra time in the final. The scores are locked at 1-1 and with a single swing of his boot, Castledine got us promotion. No aiming reticule was used. I remembered how to take them this time.

How wonderfully ironic that the goal that sent me up to the Premier League should be a penalty – but was it even a penalty?

No human ref would ever have given that as inside the area.

When it happened, I was too confused about what was happening to capture a slow, side-on replay of the incident. Getting a penalty in PES is a matter of staring and wondering what the hell is going on, then taking the resulting penalty in a daze, wondering if you’re dreaming it.

One angle in the auto-replay shows the Norwich defender’s knee seemingly just about making contact with the back of Jarvis’s calf a few pixels inside the box. Look at the area just above the ‘2’ visible on the Norwich player’s shorts – it’s the point of contact, and it’s probably around 4 pixels inside the box.

A human ref would have given a free kick just outside the box and everyone would have accepted it. But for a computer it doesn’t matter that 99.99% of the event clearly happens just outside the box. The contact might be 0.01% of the event, but it is the crucial factor, and it’s inside the box, and that’s what makes it a penalty.

Needless to say, I am delighted to be promoted on the basis of a dodgy penalty decision. Add in that freak R2 curler own goal, and I am happy as Larry with the outcome to Season 6.The playoff final was one tough match. I know I’ve said that several times already, but it really was. The final stats indicate the truth of this. It’s very rare I get out-shot, out-passed, out-crossed, and out-intercepted.And so to the next season.

Back in the goaled routine

Boy, am I making a meal out of being in Division 2 in PES2019, or what?

I am currently 2/3rds of the way through Season 6 in the lower league. It’s now looking entirely possible that there will be a Season 7 in the Championship.

By this stage a lot of virtual time has passed in this ML world, and all the teams I come up against are beefed up with talent. Brazilian Ronaldo at Millwall is a particular highlight. He always seems to torment me.

Work and real life have been extra-busy for me lately. It’s become impractical for me to play on working days in particular. This was yet another week that featured a few days of enforced absence from the game. Yesterday I finally got back on, and as ever it felt really good just to kick back and relax with a football game.

And then the AI started to kick my arse.

Here’s my first four results, from March in Season 6:

I was 2-0 up in that Bolton match as well. I did well to hang on for a point at the end.

Hull’s goal was from a weird free kick. The kicker, instead of shooting over the wall as I expected, passed sideways to a team-mate, who then passed the ball to a lurking unmarked team-mate on the outer edge of the box, who rifled the ball home. I couldn’t believe what I’d just seen.

Since when has the AI done training ground free kick routines? I’m not breaking out the bunting. I couldn’t do anything to stop it, as it was so unexpected. The AI had effectively given itself a hard-coded goal (the winning goal, it turned out). I’ll be wary of such ‘routines’ in the future, but it cost me this match.

I’ve moved into April and have picked up a couple of wins, but the overall trend remains one of struggling mightily for scraps of results here and there.

The table after 37 matches:Anyone who still doubts the existence of ML league table scripting, please examine this table.

I have lost 15 matches. My form overall should really be relegation form. But still I remain just 5 points outside the playoff spots. No matter how many I lose or draw, enough teams above me do the same to keep me close.

How is PES2019 faring overall, in gameplay terms? Very well, but a few issues are starting to show through. Roughly 1 match in 4, on average, is a blur of sprinting and sliding. No fouls. Uncomfortably close to the last few years’ 1000mph crap.

Thankfully the other 3 matches (in this notional sample) remain good enough to keep PES2019’s running score at around the 9/10 mark. At least once per session there’ll be a match that I can honestly say has the true taste of classic PES. This is not something I’ve seen in PES for a few years.

It’s a magic spell that I don’t want to break. Would promotion to a higher division (faster matches, presumably) break that spell?

9 matches remain. ML table scripting will doubtless let me into the playoffs – if I can deliver the results. I will certainly have finished the season in time for Friday’s post.

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