Month: March 2012

I have you now

So I beat Inter Milan 2-1 at my remodelled home ground, the New Ricoh Arena. In doing so I clinched qualification for the knockout stage of the Champions League for the first time in this Master League career.

It was as tough a match as I expected it to be. Every ounce of my newfound PES2012 nous had to be employed.

I took the lead, but Inter pegged me back thanks to one of the the most blatant, bullshit PES goals you’ll ever see (lofted cross, frozen defenders).

I scored the winner soon after, though, and when the final whistle went I celebrated much like Rivaldo is doing in the picture.

The final group table makes for happy viewing. Qualifying out of this group was no mean achievement.

The question now was: who would I get in the first knockout round? I’d have to wait and see…

In the league, I’ve continued my good run. I kept a four-pount lead over the nearest team, Manchester City, for ages. I kept winning, and so did they.

And then we played each other, at Man City.

Where I won. It’s getting to be a habit for me in PES2012, this winning thing.

This picture doesn’t even begin to tell the story of a great match. I was 2-1 down at 80 minutes. Scored a late equaliser, and felt happy just to get a point. Then the ball broke for Saviola in the box during injury time, and I got the winner.

I was quite happy about that.

The table afterwards:

Yes, I did deliberately take the picture that way. After so long being down there, it’s nice to be up here.

And then things got even better.

Just two matches later, Man City had played some of the other big boys, and dropped points. I’d continued accumulating them. Here’s the current top of the table after 26 matches:

Yep, that is a 10-point lead. “I would love it, just love it if we beat them…”

And, of course, it’s nice to score goals in PES2012, and have some kind of partity with the CPU teams.

Here’s the formation I’m using in PES2012 now. I take to the field with this formation against every single opposition team, no matter who they are. It brings me goals galore.

If things aren’t going well, I pop into the formation screen and move my wide midfielders even further forward.

It’s not as suicidal as it might seem. It works. That gap between my DMF and my attackers doesn’t really show up in the hurly-burly of actual play.

And Neeskens is an ace DMF anyway. Perhaps that’s the crucial thing.

I keep a conservative 4-2-2-2 alternate formation on a strategy button handy, in case I need to close things up for a bit. I get by with this system, and then some.

My team selections are very fluid this season. Maybe that helps account for the success. Saviola has emerged as an absolute marvel, a true fox-in-the-box. He and Forlan are on the top scorers’ list. Van Basten hasn’t faded, really, he just plays fewer games due to squad rotation.

Mancini is just out of view on this list, with 10 league goals for the season so far:

The Champions League knockout phase draw came round. I wanted to avoid Barcelona. I’d have preferred to play anybody else but Barcelona. Please give me PSV or Schalke. Please don’t give me Barcelona…

I got Barcelona. Of course I did.

At least the first leg would be at my place. I prefer it that way round in PES. Always have done. I like going to the other team’s place knowing what I have to do, and knowing that any away goal(s) I score will probably be decisive.

I’m looking forward to the encounter. Right now in PES2012, I feel I can take on anybody and give them a game. There’s little or no fear anymore.

Thing is, if I’m knocked out by Barcelona, I’ll be gutted that my Champions League adventure is over for the season, after putting in all this effort.

On the other hand, if I somehow pull it off and beat Barcelona, I’ll feel under pressure to win the whole darn thing.

A memorable League and European Cup double is very much on. My fate will be decided by a couple of crunch encounters coming up next.


Turn the ship around

Here we see Coventry City’s Diego Forlan about to take on FC Porto and their star man, Eric Cantona, in a crunch Champions League encounter in the year 2021.

Only in Pro Evo.

It had been a bad start to my 10th season, with a frustrating session in which I felt the game was interfering with things in an artificial way. PES2012’s notorious shooting mechanic annoyed me in a major fashion for the first time since my celebrated/notorious Return to PES2012 a few weeks ago.

Next session, of course, all was well again…

And it now seems that my PES2012 experience has changed radically. It’s still too soon to call, but I think I’ve finally cracked it on Professional.

Here’s the top of the Premier League table after 15 matches—pretty good viewing, eh?

This is the first time I’ve been top of the table in Master League 2012. I have never been top even after one or two matches at the start of a season, as can sometimes happen by fluke. No, this is the very first time.

The goals scored column is just as pleasant to look at. A new attacking philosophy is bringing me goals. I now expect to score at least two goals in each match. Just last season, if I scored one goal, I was pretty much certain that was it.

Something has clicked. I sense myself responding to the game and playing with a new-found confidence.

I’ve been going for teams’ throats this season, out of the blocks. No more dicking around with fancypants defensive formations, even when playing against the big boys. In fact, it’s so important to score goals against the bigger teams that I’ve become more attacking against a Chelsea than against a Blackpool.

Why not? I’ve got the players for it. And if it works, it works.

It works! It’s the kind of turning point where I’ve had to check that I’m still playing on Professional difficulty. (I am.)

Some highlights of recent results: I beat Spurs away 0-5. Beat Liverpool at home 3-1. Beat Chelsea away 0-1. Beat Norwich at home 4-0. Beat Derby away 1-5… And so it goes on.

I now play the same sort of attacking 4-4-2 from the start against every team. One DMF. Two wide men. A central AMF pushed very far forward. Two strikers in the box.

I do switch to an alternate 4-4-2, with two DMFs, when required—which is frequently. I’m adventurous this season, but I’m not suicidal.

One of the catalysts for the transformation is my discovery that Roberto Mancini is a bit special. I hadn’t been convinced by him. He was only making odd substitute appearances here and there.

Then a spell of fatigue and suspension hit the squad. Even with my bloated roster, fixture pile-up is a problem. The players moan this year if they’re over-worked. They get stroppy if you ignore them.

I was forced to play Mancini in a few matches, and he was brilliant. He’s now become a regular at the central AMF role, and plays as SS or CF when required too.

Mancini has been nothing short of sensational over the last 10 matches or so.

He can play as AMF or anywhere up front. He’s got a great shot—a comparatively rare and very precious commodity in PES2012. His long ranger skill card means he’s a threat from distance and close up.

I was exulting over Forlan a few posts ago. Mancini has overtaken him right now. [Late Edit: And Saviola has suddenly come out of his shell. Two hat-tricks in two games. It’s as if my players have all woken up…]

The one downside to Mancini is his age. As with most of the Classic players, Mancini appeared in the game world as an already matured player. He’ll be 30 this season.

Experience with Hagi, Stoichkov, and Rivaldo suggests that Mancini will start to decline pretty soon.

But hopefully not for another season or two. I’ve got a dynasty to build and a Treble to win.

This season, I’ve still got the League and the Champions League to go for. Either one of those would delight me beyond all reason. Anything I win in PES2012 would definitely count as my greatest achievement in PES, period.

The Champions League campaign started badly and got worse, with two straight defeats—away to Porto and then at home to Galatasaray—followed by a worthy draw at Inter Milan.

I’m in the Group of Death. I was not happy to be bottom of that group at the halfway point.

Realistically, I had to win all 3 of the remaining ties to qualify. If I did that, with 10 points I’d be very unlucky not to get through.

So I started with the return tie against Porto. I took to the field with my new gung-ho attitude, and stormed into a 2-0 lead inside half an hour.

Ribeiro, my mercenary prodigal son, got the opening goal. I yelled out loud when it  went in—it’s the first goal in today’s mini-compilation below.

There are four goals in total, from various matches.

First up is that opening goal from Ribeiro against Porto. If you think his chance is unmissable, you’ve never played PES2012.

Then two from Magnificent Mancini, one a thunderous long-ranger in off the bar.

Finally a ‘turn and shoot’, in-off-the-post beauty from Rivaldo.

I beat Porto 4-1. Mancini got a hat trick in that game. It was my best result of the season—better than any of my multi-goal sprees in the domestic League.

It would’ve been worth nothing if I hadn’t also beaten Galatasaray in my next match, away this time. I did beat them, 4-2. Forlan got a hat trick in this one. I said I was scoring more goals this season, and I certainly am.

It lifted me to 2nd in the group table, behind Inter Milan. My destiny is in my own hands.

My last group match is coming up, against Inter, at home. At my new home, the Ricoh Arena, as kindly provided by a regular commenter, Paul. The stands and ad-boards and everything all look a hundred times better than the rush-job I put together back in October.

I’ll reveal how my final Champions League group match went on Friday.

These are exciting times for me in Master League. I was half-certain that this time would never come. I’m playing to an accomplished level with the talented players I’ve got. There’s no better period in a Master League career than when I feel things are turning my way at last.

Took me bloody long enough.

Well, shoot

After Friday’s 2000-worder, a much shorter post today.

Season 10 is well and truly up and running. Before it began, I received news of the UEFA Player of the Year awards. I was pleasantly surprised to find that two of my boys made the grade for their positions:

I’m going for honours in Season 10, big time. I need something this year. I’ll take any Cup. I’d love the League. The Treble would be a dream come true.

I had to get through a qualifying fixture against Vitesse to make it through to the Champions League proper.

After winning the away leg 1-0. I was confident before the home match.

It was a massively important game for me and my season. I have an almost Abramovich-like need to play in the Champions League.

Right from kick-off, the CPU was running its ‘1-0 down script’. Aggression was turned right up to 11. My own players’ abilities were suppressed in a very familiar kind of PES dampening field.

I’m not even slightly embarrassed to call it SCRIPTING.

My top-rated players, playing at home, on a healthy mix of yellow and red form arrows, suddenly couldn’t pass the ball a few yards. They couldn’t tackle. All so that the CPU could get back in the game. Scripting in PES is a bona fide, cast-iron reality.

Call it balancing, momentum, whatever you like, but it’s a mean and dirty trick. Control of your players and of your team is brazenly taken away from you by the game code and handed to the CPU.

Such spells can be resisted, of course. Getting a goal always helps.

I made a few chances and got through on goal a couple of times, but I was not allowed to score. The shots went straight at the keeper each and every time.

Vitesse were allowed to hoover up every loose ball, win every header, disrupt even the simplest of passing moves. By some miracle, it was still 0-0 after 60 minutes.

I was getting more and more wound up and frustrated, and remembering why I’d tried to give up on this game in the first place.

Then the best thing that could possibly have happened, happened: Vitesse scored. The score was now 1-1 on aggregate.

And suddenly, as if by the flick of a switch (which it was, actually), I was allowed to play some football.

The passes started connecting. Tackles were made. The Vitesse players were no longer waltzing through my formidable DMFs for fun.

I couldn’t get my own momentum rolling quickly enough to avoid extra time, but at least I got the winner pretty early in the first period, and that was that. I shut the game down like a pro. I made it through.

Here’s the draw—looks like a Group of Death to me:

The league campaign got going. I was pretty relieved to lose the unbeaten record from last season in my second match.

Aston Villa are almost unstoppable in my ML world. They beat me 3-1 at home. One of their goals was scored by Albrighton after a pitch-length dribble that saw him beat five men en route to goal. Stephen Ireland got a nearly identical goal late on.

But I’m playing well overall, and scoring more goals than last season. One of my aims this season is to score 80 goals. To achieve that I’ll need an average of slightly better than 2 per game. After 7 matches, my average is exactly 2 goals:

Then came the FA Cup, and the Treble was over before the campaign even properly started.

I was knocked out of the FA Cup, at home, by Blackpool, in the very first tie. It was hugely disappointing, and came in the middle of that first bad patch with the game since the Return.

I had 22 shots on goal, 14 on-target. Blackpool had 5 shots on goal, 1 on-target. I lost 0-1.

I won’t bang on about it all here. I already have, to some extent, above. The shooting is the #1 issue for me, and the #2 issue, and the #3 one…

PES2012’s shooting hasn’t got deep and hidden subtleties. It’s pretty wretched, actually.

The instances when shooting does work are satisfying, but what a price we pay for that satisfaction.

Finally, below are three goals that were all satisfying in their own ways.

The first two are R2 placed shots (with a lovely auto-trick from Stoichkov for the second). The third goal is an almost Di Canio-esque leaping half-volley from Mancini—more about him on Wednesday…

I have no idea why the first two shots in particular worked on these occasions, and not on others.

I’ve been playing these games for 15 years now. I know all about context-related shooting etc., thank you very much. I know enough about it to know, in my footy-gaming marrow, that PES2012’s shooting just doesn’t work. It’s a shameful, cynical, deeply insulting mechanic. It does what I believe it is intended to do very well indeed: it keeps scorelines down.

I don’t get out much

Season 10 has begun. In a new, slightly bluer home kit (modelled on the left by a returning old friend… see below for more).

I’ve already played my first proper match of the new campaign—the first leg of the Champions League qualifying match, away to Vitesse. It was a tight match that ended Vitesse 0-1 Coventry City.

My away goal won’t count for anything if I let them get one back at my place, so I’ll be careful.

I haven’t played any other matches due to real-life commitments over the past few days.

So, for today’s post, something I’ve often threatened to do but never actually got round to: a full player-by-player breakdown of my entire squad. This one could get nerdy, folks.

My First XI is pretty much as seen in the squad diagram. The only thing different is a couple of the positional descriptions, which I’ll mention when I get to the individual players.

GK: DORDO. Easily the best keeper I’ve had in PES2012. My excellent defensive record last season owed as much to him as it did to any Zen-like focus on my part. I’ve lost count of the times when a certain goal looks on for the CPU teams, only for Dordo to pull off a save. I can count the number of his keeper blunders on one finger.

CB: RUGGERI. The Classic Argentine stopper plays up to his name: rugged, uncompromising. In real life he was the pre-Puyol Puyol (albeit slightly before my time). He’s my Captain, and there’s not much can get past him. If I’m missing Ruggeri for any reason, I know it. Every transfer window I receive £50million+ bids for him, which I turn down without batting an eye.

CB: NADAL. Ruggeri’s unsung partner in defence, albeit not as well-endowed stats-wise, Nadal is another player whom I really miss when he’s not playing.

LB: HYAM. A new signing this season from relegated Ipswich, Hyam is still quite young (26 I think) and very, very talented. He handles like a winger, with all the pace and stamina required. I’ve only played a couple of Training Matches and that Champions League qualifier with him in the side, but already I think I’ve found a new Roberto Carlos.

RB: CEDRIC SOARES. He came in last season when Luke Young went on a permanent purple arrow and suspended contract talks. I still need to replace Luke Young (who has since left the club), but I’m not looking very hard, because Soares is so good. Gets up and down that touchline all game long. He does tend to get beaten a bit easily sometimes, and allow the CPU in behind him, but that’s probably more my fault.

That back four, plus the keeper, are completely rock-solid most of the time. My only reservation is that Hyam and Soares are so useful going forward, I tend to leave myself exposed.

DMF: NEESKENS. He’s a CMF in the picture, but it makes little difference. Defensively, Neeskens (another Classic) is probably the most effective DMF-as-DMF I’ve ever ‘worked with’ in PES. In this game the DMF is designed to slot into the back 4 whenever a CB goes a-rovin’. Neeskens does this superbly.

He’s a tackler, a tracker-backer, a silky passer, and a linker-upper (and also #a joker, a smoker, a midnight talker… playin’ his music in the sun#).

The one thing against him—and this will probably keep him from full-on Legend status—is that he’s one of the many-too-many PES2012 players who cannot shoot to save his life. Historically, one of PES’s most thrilling attributes is leaping onto cleared corners with your DMF and smashing the ball into the top corner. Neeskens can’t do that. Otherwise, though, a top DMF.

LMF: JOHN BARNES. I know, another Classic, right? But the only tangible benefit all my Classics have ever brought me is the cashflow that comes from having sold a few of them. I’ve still won nothing, several seasons later, and most of them are ageing now.

John Barnes is… John Barnes. Got the lot. The sweetest left foot. Doesn’t score enough for my liking, but it’s not for the want of a solid left foot shot. He’s a 96OVR AMF in the picture, but his actual position is LMF, where he’s a 101OVR player.

You know, for all his skills, when he’s not playing I don’t really miss him. PES has always been eerily lifelike, and never more so than in PES2012. It took a lot to bring me back from FIFA12. The sheer staggering depth of PES2012’s player individuality and tactical options were a huge factor. John Barnes being a talented-but-luxury item is just one facet of PES2012’s very sparkly diamond of player individuality.

RMF: DOOLIN. This player annoys me more than a little. He’s not a Classic. He’s a Created player that came with the excellent Option File I’ve been using since the start. Problem is that for all his attributes, he’s another PES2012 player who cannot shoot.

Weak shots so feeble they might as well be underhit back-passes are the order of Doolin’s day. I don’t think I’ve scored 10 goals with Doolin altogether in the 5 or 6 seasons I’ve had him. All tap-ins. I think one was from the edge of the box.

I keep trying to sell him, but nobody’s buying, and anyway—who’ll come in to replace him? I have other midfielders in the squad with booming shots on them (see below), but none of them with Doolin’s passing, dribbling, pace, and stamina. Or his versatility: one of his alternate position is at right-back, where he becomes a very useful 87OVR right-back—better than Soares—and never embarrasses himself.

AMF: FORLAN. In 10 years’ time, when people ask me—as they will!—about PES2012, saying, “not-Greg, who was your player of Master League that year?”, I think I already know who I’m going to say. It won’t be Hagi or van Basten or Dordo or any of the other candidates, any of whom might easily take the crown.

I have a strong suspicion that I’m going to answer “Diego Forlan”.

It’s still very early in his career. Forlan’s a promoted Youth player, and he was special from the start, but not yet fully-rounded enough to become a regular starter. Partway through last season, he became a first-choice player.

First up front, alongside van Basten, where he was good but never really fully convincing. Then I played him at AMF and he was a revelation. A great attacking midfielder in PES is one of the joys of the series, simply becuase he can get the ball and leather it home when required. Forlan can do that.

SS: SAVIOLA. A bit of an experiment, this one. He came up from my Youth team at the start of season 9. I don’t remember mentioning it on the blog (mainly because I was packing up in readiness to jump ship to FIFA12 at the time).

In PES6, Saviola was a very useful player. In PES2012, he’s deceptively good. He’s fast and nippy and can link up well, but… yet again, the shooting prowess just isn’t there. His current First XI status is strictly probationary, and his time is running out. I’ll give him 5 more matches, then Stoichkov is coming back in.

CF: VAN BASTEN. One of football’s goal-scoring princes, the Classic PES2012 version of van Basten is doing the business for me too. 24 goals last season in the League, about 8 in the Cups—meaning that if he’s not on the pitch, my goals tend to dry up.

In an edition of PES that’s pretty parched for goal-scoring action in any case, a player who can put the ball in the net is priceless.

I get constant £50million+ bids for him every transfer window as well, and I turn them all down.

He’s not that great an all-round player. His value is almost entirely putting the ball in the back of the net when he has the ball at his feet in and around the penalty box. And that’s all he needs to do, really.

Whew. This is already the longest single post I think I’ve ever posted on the blog. So I’ll only glance briefly at most of the rest of the squad.

STOICHKOV: 33 this season and long past his peak. One more season in him. Still has that fearsome left foot, but it’s a rarer sight now.

HAGI: Ditto to the above, really. The Hagi of those first few seasons with me is no more. I can’t remember the last time he even had a decent shot on goal. I tried to sell him mid-season, but sentiment got the better of me.

CAMACHO: Ah, the PES2008(PS2/PSP) legend. Not quite the same in my ML world, but a fine understudy to Neeskens. Always reliable.

FALCAO: When I play against the big boys I play with two DMFs in front of the back 4, and Falcao comes in (replacing Doolin). Has a great booming shot, but isn’t as good defensively as Neeskens, nor as good in attack as Doolin, so he’s not a first-choice player.

T. MANFREDINI: a promoted Youth. I thought I sold him last season, but it turned out to be a Loan agreement, and when he came back he was a very competent young CB indeed. I believe he’ll turn into a minor star at the very least.

SCIFO: Yes, it’s the Enzo Scifo. Skilful, good passer, and has a good shot on him. Somehow I never feel compelled to play him, though. Always moaning.

RIVALDO: No longer an automatic first choice. Don’t be misled by the 97OVR thing. He’s fading almost as much as Hagi has faded. A worthy stand-in for Barnes and Forlan when required, though. A great header of the ball still.

GILLET: A decent resevre keeper, nothing special.

D. BULTHUIS: Reliable left-back, been with me for donkey’s years now. I can barely remember a time before D. Bulthuis was in my squad.

GERA: a disappointing promoted Youth player, never quite convincing me he’s worthy of cultivating. On the Loan and Transfer list for 2 seasons now.

ALDAIR: Good, experienced CB, subs for Nadal/Ruggeri when required. 33 now , but that’s a good age for a CB. Might be time to move him on, though.

CARACCIOLO: A minor PES legend in PES2008(PS2/PSP) for me, a major one for others. Another promoted Youth whom I thought I’d take a gamble on. Only a few sub appearances so far. Early days.

PERROTTA: Yet another promoted Youth. I have high hopes for this one. He plays almost anywhere. He played a few consecutive matches as an emergency RB for me towards the end of last season, and was superb, even getting an assist.

MANCINI: Yes, it’s the Mancini of Lazio fame, and latterly of Manchester City management fame. I’m old enough to remember Mancini as a very stylish player of the early-to-mid 90s. Every time I see fat old Steve Bruce on TV, I also remember him playing as a young kid for Norwich. “You know you’re getting old when…”

Mancini is skilful and has a good shot, but just like Scifo, somehow I don’t mind leaving him out. Always moaning too.

RIBEIRO: The prodgal son returns. After reading all about his heading prowess, I took a risk and brought this player back to the club where he started out. The transfer fee was only £300k. He’s 28 now and not going to get any better, but if he can get me 5 headed goals this season when I’m up against it, it’ll have been worth it.

NATALI: Another promoted Youth, and another one I have high, high hopes for. He’s tall and built like the proverbial brick shithouse. With his blond hair, it looks as if I’ve got Thor playing for me. THOR will be his Hulk-style nickname, if all goes according to plan. What’s the plan? For Natali and Manfredini to become my replacements for Ruggeri and Nadal as the seasons go by.

And that is finally that. I know my squad is too big. I know that I took the fast-track to riches (but not success) when I unlocked the Classics. I know.

I’ll be getting rid of at least 4 players before the transfer window shuts, prior to season 10 really getting underway.

Either Scifo or Mancini will have to go. Rivaldo’s on the list and I should still get a nice wad of cash for him. If I can’t sell Gera, I’ll release him. Caracciolo might well be surplus to requirements too. I’m toying with the notion of just putting Hagi out of his misery.

All in all, whatever happens, I will go into Season 10 with a great squad. I’m really looking forward to seeing where they take me, and where the young ‘uns end up, further down the line. Remember their names: Natali, Manfredini, Perrotta, Forlan.