Defence minister

Here in season 2020 of my Master League career on the PSP/PS2 version of PES2008, I’ve just won the league title with several games to spare. I’m in the Division 1 Cup final and the European Cup semi-final. The Treble is very much on.

After winning the Treble last year, I badly want to win it again this year. It’s only natural. For me, winning back-to-back Trebles would be the ultimate confirmation that I’ve mastered PES2008 in terms of its gameplay. I’ve won a few Trebles in the past in this career, but never consecutively. In PES4 and PES6 I was capable of winning back-to-back Trebles without much effort. I found those two PESes pretty easy overall, so it’d be a yardstick for PES2008 if I could replicate my achievements now.

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As well as the general goal of a Treble, I had two bonus targets: to navigate through to the end of the league season unbeaten, and concede less than 20 goals while doing so. For a long time this season, it looked as if I would succeed on both fronts. And then I stupidly let my newfound confidence get the better of me. I lost a game to Valencia, my long-standing divisional rivals.

That hurt, but at least I was keeping the goals-against column down to respectable levels. As I’m remarked previously, it seems a lot harder to stop the CPU from scoring goals in this version of the game than in any previous versions.

In PES5, for example, it was customary for me to concede around 10-15 goals per season. Here in PES2008, especially in the early seasons of this ML, I was shipping an average of 30 goals per season. I’ve complained to high heaven about the CPU apparently waltzing the ball into the net with my players either rendered immobile or ludicrously unable to put in a routine challenge (or challenges) to stop the attack. In other words, I was asserting that most of the goals scored against me were scripted.

Scripting is a serious topic for football game fans, and for PES fans in particular. If scripting is real, and if it’s as bad as we sometimes think it is, then what would be the point of playing any football game? Wouldn’t we be complete fools simply to press buttons whilst watching an interactive script unfold before our eyes? Yes, we would be complete fools.

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Wanting to concede less goals than normal is my own little way of challenging myself, and of testing the sturdiness of the alleged behind-the-scenes script. I wanted to see if it really was true that half the CPU goals were inevitable and unstoppable, or if it was just me not concentrating properly, being reckless, being too attack-minded—in short, defending badly.

It might be too early, but I’m pleased to report that the answer would seem to be that it was all my fault. This season so far I’ve conceded 12 goals. With three league games left, unless I suffer a compete catastrophe in a game or two, I think I’m going to meet my target. We’ll see.

None of which means that scripting per se isn’t true. Scripting in PES is very much true. It’s real and it’s annoying and it doesn’t belong in a mature, serious football game. In my opinion. All that my little mini-experiment with defending shows is that with concentration you can drastically cut the number of goals you concede. I’d still say that 75% of the goals I have conceded were predestined and frankly unstoppable.

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In league game 28 I actually lost another game—my second of the season. Real Zaragoza beat me 2-1. I was actually more bothered about conceding those two goals than I was about the defeat.

It was very like the 2-1 defeat I took from Valencia earlier this season. The same scoreline and pretty much the same reason for it—over-confidence bordering on arrogance from me. When you head out onto the virtual pitch assuming you have a right to win the game, a lot of the time it’ll work out for you—if you’ve got enough experience in the game to back up your belief. But when you’re at 1-1 and the CPU is plainly up for a fight, and you ignore all the warning signs and push on regardless, looking for a winner that the game is in no mood to let you have, well, that’s a mistake. Best to shut up shop, accept that the game is a draw, and see if you can’t snatch a cheeky winner on the break toward the end. That’s what I’ve done countless times already this season to great effect and it’s what I should have done on this occasion. But I didn’t.

Like I said, conceding two goals was the most hurtful side of it. That’s 14 goals against me all season. I should still make it to the end with less than 20 conceded, but it’s looking like being a lot closer than it could—and should—have been.

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Happily, in Europe there was better news. I met Lazio in the semi-final of the game’s Champions League equivalent. It’s the third or fourth time, in total, that Lazio and I have faced off in European competitions over the seasons. They beat me in a European Champioship final a few seasons ago. I’ve generally found them to be alarmingly tough opponents, almost on a par with my domestic nemesis Valencia.

On this occasion, though, Lazio were pussycats. I won the first leg 1-2 at their place. With those two away goals to my name, I regarded the second leg as pretty much a formality—a dangerous thing to do, yes, but I got away with it. I won that second leg by the mammoth scoreline of 6-1. The only dowside was conceding that solitary goal, but that was near the end when the game was over anyway.

All of which leaves me having to win just the two Cup finals to win the Treble. My second Treble in a row, hopefully. And I have to try not to concede another 6 goals in my remaining three league games. I think I am going to do it on all fronts.