Category: Valencia

Cech, please

Things are getting pretty serious in season 2020 of my ongoing career in Master League on PES2008. That’s the PS2/PSP version of PES2008—I always like to reiterate this fact in case any new visitors read that I’m playing PES2008 and assume that I mean the so-called next-gen version. I definitely don’t mean that version. I wouldn’t play that version ever again if it was literally the last football game on earth.

In my opinion, Pro Evolution Soccer jumped the shark (or nuked the fridge) with the PS3/360/PC version of PES2008. Whether the version was a genuine mistake—rushed out prematurely due to commercial pressures—or a deliberate, fateful foray into the ‘yoof’ market, remains to be seen. I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see a great version of PES on the next-gen consoles for another year or two, but I’m just an old cynic.

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In the mid-season negotiations I picked up a third goalkeeper from the Youth list. I got Petr Cech as a 17-year-old Regen, for a nominal yearly salary. Partway through this current season, Frederiksson was called up for international duty, leaving me with just Buffon to play in every game. In a couple of games I had to play him with half of his stamina bar gone. Then Frederiksson returned with half of his stamina bar gone, so it was an awkward situation all round. I conceded a couple of bad goals during this fiasco.

Having a third goalkeeper in my squad would have resolved the problem, but I didn’t have one. Well, I’ve got one now—and what a good one. Cech should be the top keeper in the game when he gets to his mid-20s. I’ve bought him specifically to fill in whenever my senior keepers have to do international duty, but I’ll play him for the odd game here and there anyway.

My squad is starting to feel a little bloated again. A few seasons ago I trimmed it down to 26 players, but it’s started creeping up once more. I’ll be having a long hard look at several of my squad in the off-season, and doing some pruning.

Along with going for the usual Treble of League, Cup, European Cup, I’m also trying for a couple of other lofty targets. I want to remain unbeaten in the League, and I want to concede less than 20 goals whilst doing so.

I’ve come close for the past few seasons, but this season I feel it’s ON. I’m way, way out in front at the top of the league with 17 games played. I’m still in both Cup competitons. All of that is important, but I’ll confess to having been caught up by the excitement of maintaining my unbeaten run, and of conceding as few goals as possible.

There was some business to take care of in Europe. I made the crass mistake of taking an early game in my European Cup qualifying group lightly, which I lost, thus endangering my qualification for the knockout stages. It was Galatasaray whom I took lightly, back in game 2. When will I ever learn? Nearly 10 years I’ve been playing PES/ISS, and I still get caught out by the CPU when I least expect it. This is a good thing, I think.

Happily I beat Galatasaray 2-0 in our return fixture to make my qualification assured. It’s a relief and a great weight off my mind. As every seasoned Master League player who’s going for a Treble knows all too well, the European qualifying groups can be a minefield. It can be so, so easy to lose a game and get eliminated too early. All’s well that ends well, though.

I was cheered up, briefly. Sadly, what happened next was one of the single most disappointing things that has ever happened to me in almost a decade of playing PES/ISS games. I am not exaggerating.

I lost game 17 in the League. Valencia wielded the knife and plunged it in. They beat me 2-1. It hurt.

I was actually more disappointed by this than I have been about any single game in this Master League so far. I can’t even blame scripting, really. It was my own stupid fault. My grasp exceeded my reach. My eyes were bigger than my belly. Worse things really did happen at sea…

I knew it was a dangerous fixture before it started. Valencia have consistently been my most dangerous opponents for just about all of this ML career. (I almost cannot wait for the probable emergence of another great team in the seasons to come. My money’s on it being Barcelona. Real Madid are actually getting worse, season after season. This year they’re down in mid-table.)

Against Valencia I went 1-0 up and thought: Ah-ha, that’s it… I got complacent, and conceded a dumb equaliser whilst pushing for a second killer goal. A Valencia striker broke through my defence a long way out. I charged my keeper towards him, and the Valencia player simply lobbed me from 25 yards. It was a great goal of the kind you rarely see from the CPU.

1-1, and in retrospect I should have just settled for that, shut up shop, maybe grabbed a winner for myself on the break. But no, I carried on attacking. I was full of myself, thinking I was invincible, that all I had to do was want to score a winner enough for it to become reality. The success of my season so far made me think I’m a much better player than I really am.

Valencia broke through on my goal again. This time I wasn’t risking it, and cynically chopped down their striker with Roberto Carlos. It was a justified straight red card. Even then I still could, and should, have held on for the draw, and preserved my unbeaten record.

I should have subbed one of my three CFs and brought on Chivu to slot in at left back, and gone to a 4-3-2. But instead of doing the logical thing, I had a moment of madness. I believed I could win the game with 10 men using a 3-3-3 formation. I was asking for trouble, and got it.

I started attacking, and had some good possession but couldn’t get through. I’d left myself wide open for a sucker-punch, which wasn’t long in coming. Valencia seemed to gleefully walk the ball through what remained of my defence, and into the net. 1-2 down with several minutes left, I could see the unbeaten record flashing before my eyes. How could I have been so careless?

I really tried everything to get the goal back that would have secured an undeserved draw. But it wasn’t to be. When the final whistle went I was – what was I? What’s the word? GUTTED. That’s the word.

The Neverending Story

I started season 2020 in my ongoing Master League career like a rocket. This is nothing new. Over the past few seasons in particular, as I’ve become firmly established with my team of galacticos, I’ve pretty much streaked to the top of the table and stayed there (or thereabouts) all season. In the earlier seasons, when my team had yet to come together, it was more usual for me to start badly and spend the rest of the season struggling to catch up. Not any more.

That’s how it’s always been for me on these open-ended Master League careers, year in, year out. My first PES game of the PlayStation2 era was PES2. I’m slightly embarrassed to confess that I have absolutely no memory of how I conducted my Master League in PES2, although I know that I played that game for the full PES year. I think I probably indulged in the common practice of restarting a Master League every six or seven seasons, once it had been ‘completed’.

I started the routine of playing one career non-stop all year with PES3. I briefly abandoned it in PES4, a game I found so much on the easy side that an annual Treble was pretty much guaranteed. In PES5 I made it to approximately year 2046 (a feat that I strongly doubt I’ll equal this year, but would have done if I’d been playing one career from October onwards).

With PES6, matters were slightly complicated by my purchase of a PlayStation3 in August 2007. Like many others I bought a PS3 full of burning anticipation for what was sure to be the greatest-ever football game—PES2008.

As a result of this special kind of anticipation (a feverish yearning that was matched only by the subsequent disappointment) I played PES6 very patchily for the last few months of its life. There were few good games for the PS3 when I got it, and there were no football games at all. I did play PES6 on it, but it seemed so wasteful, as if I’d bought a colour TV to watch black-and-white movies on. And then FIFA08 came out, of course, and showed us what a next-gen football game could be like—which raised the already sky-high expectations for PES2008 even higher… I don’t like the way that story turned out.

What I started out trying to say, and got sidetracked from, is that there’s a definite stage for me in my ML careers when I know that I’ve finally arrived as an established force in the league. After that stage is reached, I’ll always start the season well, and I’ll always have a good season, and I’ll win the Treble unless I get careless or extremely unlucky (or both). I think that stage is now. (The exception to this rule was PES5, where for some reason I contrived to just miss out on the Treble a lot more than I actually won it. In nearly forty seasons I only won around 5 Trebles. I won around 25 Doubles, but only a few Trebles.)

And that’s the point of my never-ending Master League career. I have to go on playing it, season after season, to see what happens next, to see how far I can take my team and squad; to see what stories will emerge; to see which players will become megastars, and which players will promise much but deliver little. Over the course of a single mammoth Master League career, everything that can happen in PES will happen.

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My two opening games of the season were about as tough as they come. My first opponents were Deportivo la Coruna, last season’s surprise package and early pace-setters. They fell away toward the middle of 2019 but remained a potent force throughout. I beat them here in game 1 of season 2020, a narrow 1-0 win. I was lucky to survive with a clean sheet.

Next up were Valencia, my perennial rivals. They’re still the best CPU team in the league by a long way, and probably the single best CPU team I’ve ever come across in Master League throughout the years. Our games are always great games that rarely feature more than a few goals. This one was no exception, and again I won it 1-0; again, I was fortunate not to concede any goals.

Two wins out of two wasn’t a bad start, but my low scoring meant I was hovering down in 5th or 6th place on goal difference. It didn’t feel right. I wanted to be on top of the league, where I now feel I belong.

Next up were Sevilla, a weak team and usually a walkover for me. Sure enough, I trounced them 4-0; it could have been 15-0 the way I just tore them apart. The four goals were enough to restore me to the top of the league, albeit ‘only’ by goal difference. Hopefully I’ll stay there for the rest of the season.

Seeing Treble

One of the long-term problems with Master League is that there are too few teams playing in too few leagues. I’ll go on record (again) and say that I hold Master League to be the greatest game mode ever created in the greatest game series ever created (so far…); but, as the years go by, even I am beginning to notice a certain fraying at the edges.

Take my latest three games as a case in point. It’s season 2019 and I’m going for treble of League, Cup, and European Cup. I qualified for the knockout stages of the latter competition by the skin of my teeth, scraping through with a 1-0 win in the final group fixture.

My opponents in the quarter-final were none other than the best AI team in my Master league—Valencia. But they were also my next opponents in the league. And then I played them straight afterward in the second leg of the quarter final…

Three games in a row against Valencia. Yes, it happens in real life—Liverpool vs Arsenal last season springs to mind—but then it’s a rarity, not a commonplace as it is in the current PES Master League setup. It shouldn’t be long before I do yet another Top 10 List Of Things That’d Be Just Great In PES2009. A bigger, better Master League, with a dozen leagues and hundreds of teams, is currently one of my most-wanted items.

The first leg of the European Cup quarter-final was on Valencia’s turf, just the way I like it. It gives me the chance to score a few away goals and make the second leg a formality. That’s the theory, anyway. In practice, especially against Valencia (have I said how great they are in my ML yet?), it doesn’t always work out that way.

I took the lead. Quite early on in the first half, I scored this lovely goal with Giggs. It’s been a long while since I posted one of my beloved half-volleys on here. This one is worth it:

Perhaps the pitch-level view captures the essence of the goal a little better. I love how ruler-straight the ball flies:

I think I was entitled to get excited about that goal—and about going into a 0-1 lead away to Valencia in the European Cup quarter final. If I played it right, I could wrap up the tie (and arguably the tournament) right here in this match.

Sadly, I didn’t play it right. Valencia were in their best form. Whenever a CPU team really plays well, I can only complain about scripting if I want to be sulky and churlish (not a pretty combination). Valencia stormed back with three goals spread out over the rest of the match. I was still in the game at only 2-1 down right until the last ten minutes, when Valencia finally scored their third goal. I was disappointed, but at least I had that away goal. Sadly, it set up the worst possible scenario for me in the home leg. I’ll be trying for an early goal, and if I get it the CPU will see itself as losing the game (rather than winning the tie on aggregate), and God Mode will kick in automatically. Valencia playing on God Mode is one tough number.

In the league I no longer had an unbeaten run to protect, but I still had a healthy lead at the top of the table to defend. Valencia were as good—it seemed to me—as they’d just been in Europe. But maybe I was a little more focused here. I was very keen to increase the gap between us in the table. In the Europe game, I knew at the back of my mind that I had a whole second leg match to rescue things in, if need be. I didn’t have that luxury here. I won the league game 2-0 and it was pretty easy.

The second leg of the quarter final was also a lot easier. I won it 3-0, making the final aggregate score 4-3. When I took the lead the CPU predictably went into full-on God Mode overdrive, but I withstood the onslaught and snatched another goal before half time. That seemed to quieten things down. My third goal soon after the break more or less killed the game off. I came under some concerted pressure near the end, when a Valencia goal would have forced extra time. But the expected storm never came. I’m into the semi-final.

Bigmouth strikes again

Yesterday’s press release from Konami was a bit of an anti-climax. Announcing that they are going to release PES2009 this Autumn is a little like announcing that the sun will rise tomorrow morning. What was the point of it? I suppose the point was to provide official confirmation of the fact—we’ve always just assumed there’ll be another PES this year. Now we know for certain that it will definitely happen. Great.

But what I want to see over the next few months are details—not just screenshots (although I’m sure we’ll get plenty more of them). I want to know about the gameplay. I want to know that the goalkeepers aren’t as uniformly, laughably terrible as they were last time. I want to know that the PS3 version won’t require two mega-patches to make it run sort-of-okayish. I want to know that a five-year-old playing on the hardest difficulty setting won’t be able to dribble with Gary Neville past the entire opposition team and then (virtually) stoop to head the ball over the line. I want to know that 6-5 scorelines will again be what they always used to be on PES—a true rarity.

I appreciate that I’m wanting a lot here. Given the nature of games development and the marketplace, I’m not likely to get any definitive answers until I actually have PES2009 in my hands. I certainly won’t be trusting previews and reviews again after last year. Yes, I think the gaming press will be warier of PES this time around, but no, I still don’t trust them. Speaking personally about the PlayStation3 version for a moment, I think one of the telltale signs of quality (or lack of it) this year will be the appearance (or not) of a demo on PSN before the release.

I’m sure there are still people playing PES2008 on PC/PS3/360 and enjoying it. Good luck to them, but for me that version of the game might as well no longer exist.

I still have my PS3 copy on the shelf behind me here. As a PES completist I cannot get rid of it, no matter how poorly I rate it (easily the worst PES game by a very long way). I might stick it back in the disc tray later on this summer, for curiosity’s sake and for a laugh. But otherwise? God willing, PES2009 will be a triumphant return to form for the franchise. If so, 2008 will become the PES year that we don’t like to talk about, and which we pretend simply never happened.

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It’s season 2018 of my career on PES2008—the PSP/PS2 version, naturally... I’ve reached game 24 unbeaten in the league, and was on course to complete my first unbeaten Master League season since PES5. Almost incidentally, I was a long way out in front at the top of the league. Valencia, my perennial league rivals, were 11 points behind me.

Earlier this season I was knocked out of the Division 1 Cup by the bottom team, RC Strasbourg. As often happens in PES, the minnows seemed to raise their game to epic proportions. When I met them again in the league in game 25, my spider sense started tingling. I sensed the trap. I felt that the game would go all-out to stop me in this fixture. The question was: could I avoid the trap?

No, is the short answer. Damn it all to hell, but Strasbourg beat me. They played with supernatural excellence, tackling hard, running for 95 minutes, defending in depth, attacking with verve and panache… I lost 3-2.

I’ve been trumpeting my unbeaten run since almost the start of the season. I just haven’t been able to stop talking about how great I’d feel if I managed to pull it off. Me and my big mouth…

The game was a pretty good one, with the lead changing hands a few times, near-misses, and miraculous saves from both keepers. I was disappointed about the result—and, as ever, deeply sceptical about the pre-destined feel of the game, but I’ve had worse. At least I felt largely in control of this game, and could only really blame myself for all three Strasbourg goals. Play enough PES Master League and you end up paranoid that the programming code is out to get you; but you also know when you’ve just defended recklessly, and could have secured a different result with a bit more careful, disciplined play at the back. It was the latter failing on my part that caused this result. And I just had to take it.

So that was the unbeaten season gone—again. Oh well. At least I still have the League and European Cup double to go for. That’ll still make it a great season by any standards.

The defeat by Strasbourg was matched with a win by Valencia (of course). They were now ‘only’ 8 points behind me, with four games to go. It was impossible for me to lose the title now. Wasn’t it?

A break came for the European Cup semi-final. I met a rather lacklustre AC Milan, and thumped them 3-0 at home. I don’t think I’m tempting fate too much by saying that the second leg should be a formality.

Heracles Almelo held me 1-1 in the next League match. Again I could only really blame myself. Heracles played at 100mph with a suspicious amount of skill and strength for such a lowly-placed team. But I still had chances, and again I was at fault defensively for their goal.

And Valencia won again. Now the difference is 6 points. Hmmm.

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