Month: April 2020

The Unlikely Scenario

My best players are starting to become unsettled by big clubs sniffing around.

Manchester United want the 25-year-old Barbosa, arguably my best striker so far this season. £46m is tempting, but it would cost me at least that to replace him like for like. What would be the point of that? So it’s not good business at all, disruptive to my squad rhythms, and I’m not having it.

This is one of about 4 similar cases. When you start doing well, the players who shine start to attract attention. I need these players to actually get somewhere. The offers are all being ignored or rejected for now.

If this was Football Manager I wouldn’t be able to hang onto Barbosa for long. For now he’s grumbling a bit, but happy enough…

Just one session since last time owing to work (thanks, slow-motion Apocalypse), but what an intriguing session it was.

For several matches stretching into the last session I’ve had the feeling that I might have outgrown Professional difficulty. Matches were still by no means easy, but they were becoming straightforward enough that I was starting to wonder if it might be time to maybe sort-of think about stepping things up to World Class, and sooner rather than later.

I’ve remarked before that FIFA20 contains the same boxes of tricks that PES has always had. You’re not allowed to score, you hit the post/bar more than you should, top strikers miss open goals, etc. etc. Every football game that has ever existed or will ever exist has to have a hard-coded method of putting shackles on the human player when necessary. Call it scripting, call it scoreline management, whatever it is, it is in FIFA20 – usually more subtle than in PES, but sometimes not. Scripting is too strong a word for the way FIFA20 does it.

I entered a little run of matches in my last session where I was not allowed to score. Which means that in most matches, I was not winning them. I was 6th in the table at the end of last week. Here is the table now:Ouch. That good start gone to waste, pretty much. I’ll do very well to close that 9 point gap to 6th anytime soon, and the way my form is I’ll also do well to avoid being pulled into the bottom 6.

I wouldn’t like another season of mid-table scrapping. Not when I’ve got good players, and I’ve got exciting young players – there’s nothing better in football, real or digital, than having exciting young players coming through the ranks. That strange bursting pride!

I’ve got enough familiarity with FIFA20 now that I have a set target in mind of finishing top-8 at least, with perhaps scraping a Europa spot into the bargain. This remains the target. I’ve only played 15 league matches and I’m still in both Cups. This season will still be a productive one, I feel it.

Something different on the video front now. A scenario! Instead of a highlights package, a Misc Moments reel, or even a full match… here’s half a match – the second half of the league fixture away to Brighton.

The twist is that we start the action with me 2-0 down after a disastrous first half. Can I come back to seize a classic legendary draw or win? Or will the run of bad form and not being allowed to score – continue?

This half of football helps to illustrate that yes, FIFA20 is a different football game…

NB: I was having a bit of trouble with Origin in this match, where the application was trying to draw focus a couple of times. Fixed now.

Contract killing

Monday evening saw me have probably the greatest all-round session on FIFA20 yet. The back office stuff was interesting, and the on-the-pitch stuff was the most fantastic yet.

Why this session in particular? Because the players, for the first time, were all individually either bought by me, contractually fought for by me, or nurtured by me.

I’m going big on Youth talent now. Most won’t make it, but enough will to make it a worthwhile endeavour.

I also had a massive new signing who came good with 5 goals in the pre-season tournament (see below).

It’s not wrong to measure the Career Mode experience against the cumulative Master League experience over the years. For so long – for decades – Master League was the gold standard of immersive, enjoyable football game management.

Career Mode drew level with Master League for me in Season 1. In most of Season 2, and now at the start of Season 3, it’s surpassed it.

FIFA20 on the pitch has matured like a fine wine and come alive in my hands like no other FIFA before it. In Season 3 I am entering the most compelling stages of the experience, where I am building my team with great Youths, solid experienced professionals, and a star name or two.A huge lesson to be learned for anyone coming new to Career Mode – DO NOT LEAVE YOUR PLAYER CONTRACT RE-NEGOTIATIONS TO THE CLOSE-SEASON…

This Master League-influenced rookie error cost me five very good experienced squad members, among them Shackleton (unimpressed, above), and Berardi in defence.

I had got the ‘6 month warning’ on their contracts at the turn of the year in Season 2, and I made a token effort to renew, got knocked back, and thought ‘eh, whatevs, I’d rather play the matches for now and I’ll sort it in the summer‘.

That’s Master League thinking, and it cost me the players. A few of them agreed moves with other clubs. The others rejected every offer and then time simply ran out. Their contracts expired and they vanished into the Free Agent zone (and wouldn’t re-sign).

Identify which players you want to hang onto and keep a close eye on their contracts, and renew them before the 6 month warning, ideally (to prevent another club poaching them).

Any players you don’t want, and want to make money from, need to be placed on the transfer market with at least 7 months left on their contracts.Lesson bitterly learned.

So at the start of July, pre-Season 3, I was down to a squad of 18 players. Many of them Youths.

I had made a serious error. Master League complacency, of course. In Master League it really doesn’t matter how you conduct yourself with your players’ contracts, most of the time. Any player you want to keep simply stays, somehow, eventually. Perhaps once or twice in recent editions of ML, yes, I’ve lost a player after messing up somehow, but that’s been a rarity. In FIFA, losing players whose contracts you fail to keep an eye on and treat seriously, and keep them happy – this is the norm.

I had to sign a big star name to cheer myself up. Who is this man? Recognise him? Can you make out the name on the shirt?

Emails from the board indicated we’d been given circa £128m for finishing where we finished in the Premier League last year (12th). I saw £90m of that in the transfer kitty. At the time of writing it is still only the middle of August in Season 3 and it’s still half-unspent.

I spent the other half – around £43m all told – on a big new signing up front to share the goals with Deulofeu and Barbosa. I need goals and I need a beefier defence (next on the shopping list). Midfield is still pretty good with star man Kalvin Phillips (I love me a solid CDM) staying right where he is.

Lacazette is the man. Still only 30, it’s the twilight of his career as the kind of striker he is, and so this was a last big payday for him. I agreed eye-watering wages – £90k a week, about double our next-highest earner. This might be a step down for him from where he was – Atletico Madrid – but he will be a star man in my growing team. And he has a decent chance of participating in a Europa League campaign within 2 more seasons, with a League title push within 3 more seasons (that’s my ambition).

A lot of tactical tweaking has taken place. I did a clever thing and made my Defensive tactic identical to my Balanced starting tactic in every aspect but one: the full-backs stay back. So I switch between Balanced and Defensive 90% of the time, switching to Ultra-Attacking/Ultra-Defensive postures (with extreme formations) when match situations call for it.

I played the entirety of the pre-season tournament with this First XI:

I know, dangerously light in a few areas. I’ve got several weeks of the transfer window left and a few Scouting reports to get through. I feel fine. And I also feel that if I had to, I would relish playing a season with this barebones setup.

I took them into the pre-season tournament and got to the final, playing some lovely stuff, having great matches. Thanks mostly to my new star signing we got to the final, which we promptly lost of course. Malaga were another level. That probably bodes ill for the Premier League season when almost every team will provide Malaga-level opposition, so I need to shop for defenders and fast.

 

I scored 5 goals with Lacazette in the tournament, most of them on display in today’s snippets compilation – everything here is from the period of the pre-season tournament:

It’s a mixed bag that shows my continued obsession with trying to score volleys from corners and wide free kicks. (I am picking up a few more fouls now.) One day I’m going to get one of the volleys. Law of averages.

The second highlight above is deliberately included to show how FIFA20 very commendably includes miscontrol as part of its footballing calculation. The high ball to an impetutous young player cannot be controlled, and his attempted lunging pass goes nowhere. Timing and decisions are everything.

Another session later today will see me move into the Premier League season proper. Going to be interesting and my defnsive signings will be crucial – a quality CB and LB are a priority.

I feel fired up and enthused about the coming season, and would be disappointed to finish outside the top half. Maybe I can even snatch a Europa spot. We shall see.

The Adventures of Blaster Teague

Season 2 of Career Mode – with Leeds United – in FIFA20 – on PC – modded – in the year 2020 – in the midst of a global flu pandemic… has ended. What strange times indeed, etc. etc.

There will be a Season 3, which means that this is now officially the strongest FIFA year for me since FIFA15 – when I played 3-and-a-bit hugely enjoyable seasons while we twiddled our thumbs waiting for PES2015’s November release.

Even that wasn’t unprecedented. I played loads of FIFA back in the early years of the PS3 era. FIFAs 08 and 09 were particular favourites of mine, with the former in particular being a massive eye-opener in the context of the technical and gameplay disaster that was PES2008. In fact, it’s not too much of an exaggeration to muse that FIFA08 (as rough-around-the-edges as that game also was) was quietly the game that changed FIFA forever and with it the face of football gaming. Hindsight is the best sight.Quite a bit of business to take care of at the end of the season. I got through to the semi-final of the FA Cup. In the context of a tough League campaign the Cup was a welcome relief from the grind.

My semi opponents were Spurs and it was a tight match – a game of chess in which I was on the defensive for most of it and looking to steal a goal with one of the three or four half-chances I managed to create. I got through the tough Spurs defence a couple of times but Lloris is still in excellent form in FIFA, at least. Old timers with long memories of the before-times will recall that Lloris was ‘Joe Harting’ in real life, before you-know-what came along.

Anyway the match neared its end and was looking like extra time – but then Spurs scored a heartbreaking last-second goal that won them the tie and sent me home for the season empty-handed. It was a terrible goal to concede, too. It’s in the highlights reel at the end.

All I had to play for was as respectable a mid-table finish as possible. I was technically  not clear of the relegation zone for most of the season as well. This run-in was not straightforward. Every match I won seemed to be followed by a bad loss or frustrating draw. No consistency of performance from me. I will Do Better next season.

Hernandez has been a star for me from the start. I could put together a gallery of his long-range specials. He was retiring at the end of this eason at the age of 35, and before the final match I received a plaintive, pleading email.As if there was any doubt that he would play! Actually, he might have had some doubt. I had rotated the squad quite a bit in the last stages of the season. After bungling the January transfer window (again), I had left myself light of experienced players, so I was using a lot of kids, giving them experience with an eye on future seasons. The great advantage of a season with nothing left to play for is that you can turn it into an extended training session, and that’s what I had done.

Hernandez trotted out for his last game, and I made sure to substitute him – on his own – in the second half so he could get the send-off he deserved. That moment is also in today’s compilation.

The final table for the season:Goals Against is really embarrassing, and Goals For isn’t much better. A scoring ratio of exactly 1 goal per game isn’t going to get me anywhere. Must change next season. I’ll be aiming for a top-10 finish and straining to finish in a European spot.

A massive transfer summer coming up. I will have to spend at least a session just on transfers, patiently Scouting and negotiating my way through them all, instead of zipping through it all to get to the matches as I usually do. That is a bad habit I got used to in a certain other managerial mode from another football game… a mode that rhymes with ‘Blaster Teague’. Which sounds more like a California ’49er from days of old. The kind of thing you stumble upon when flicking through the channels at random of an afternoon these days.

Here are the highlights from my last session of Season 2. We start with all 3 goals in a fine match vs Liverpool, and end with all the goals in a crazy last-day match vs Watford. Crazy last-day matches are a fine real-life tradition too so this was perfectly all right by me.