May you live in interesting times

My Cambridge United save is barely 10 matches old but has already sunk deep roots into me.

After 9 matches I’m sitting not too far outside the playoff zone, and I fancy my chances of doing well in my 1st season.

The Board Expectations are not very high at all – I believe I could finish anywhere and keep the job – so this season is effectively a blank canvas where I can lay down a few markers for the future and set myself up properly for the seasons when I really will need to get something done.

There’s a very good chance that FIFA, and Football Manager, will be the only meaningful football action on any plane of reality in my life for some weeks and months to come. With all the exciting lore around post-apocalyptic times, we never anticipated the pre-apocalypse part being so tiresome to live through, but of course it would have to be, how could we have been so naïve, etc.

If the final Collapse of all societal infrastructure can please hold off until I’ve got my teams – Cambridge Utd in FIFA20; and BK Avarta in FM19 – into their respective top divisions, I’ll be content.

The formation at the top of the post is the one I am going with. It fits my players and their modest abilities. A defensively-minded variant of a traditional 4-4-2. I have other formations, attacking and more defensive, mapped to the ‘Game Plans’ feature, and switch to them on the fly when required.

I’m starting to get to know the players, and will speak about them some more in Tuesday’s post, if there is a Tuesday of course. My strikers are poor but when one of them gets a goal I celebrate it with true joy.

For example, this goal, which I consider the Most Important Goal Yet in this career.

Why is that the most important goal yet?

Because I was 0-1 down, and I was down to 10 men at the time. I dug in and ground out a result. This 1-1 draw was epic. And the goal itself was not too bad. Notice the run of the striker at the middle-rght of the screen – I spotted the run and played that through-ball, which found its man in space (throwing the AI CB into a tizzy), and then I had to keep my nerve and (just about) finish.

This match was an important one in my still-continuing journey from PES to FIFA.

I’m still adjusting in so many little ways. I had a CB sent off for an innocuous-seeming tackle. That was with some time left in the first half.

In PES of recent years I’d got into the terrible habit of simply not doing tactical rejigs following a sending off. It never felt as if you had to bother to cover gaps, because the series has become auto-balanced to the point of ridiculousness.

FIFA is different. In FIFA, it matters. I was punished for ignoring the sending off. Just before half time the AI got behind my full back (for a change) and squared it for their striker to sidefoot into the net – exactly where my sent-off CB would have been, and where a subbed-on CB should have been if only I had ignored my bad PES habit and got him on immediately.

Goals are like gold. Goals make points and as you can see I am still in touch with the playoffs:

I’m quietly anticipating a classic with FIFA20. Career Mode is what I have been waiting for.

Those of you who regarded me switching so wholeheartedly to FIFA as a sign of the End Times… er… well, what can I say?

Singing in the Ranieri

And so it begins – finally, and properly, Career Mode has begun. After playing the equivalent of 1.5 seasons with Leeds United, it is time for reality to take hold. No more testing. No more familiarising. I’ve upped sticks and packed my stuff and moved to…

Cambridge United in League 2.

I will admit being tempted to play with Coventry in League 1. Why not play with them? My own club, sitting right there, ripe for a not-Greg takeover, in a FIFA where I finally mean business and finally have the time and the inclination to play a full Career Mode career all the way to a conclusion.

But something told me that I need to keep the spell going in the manner it has been going so far. That means I need to explore regions outside my usual comfort zone of Coventry City. Credit this new resolve to the spirit of Football Manager, where I am approaching Season 5 managing in the Danish lower leagues. FM19 has helped to change my footy gaming tastebuds as much as FIFA itself.

Not-Coventry is the way, and I am followng it.Cambridge Utd’s starting squad and formation will have to change. I played this opening match of the pre-season tournament with them. I dislike 5-3-2 in particular, but decided it was the decent thing to start with what the game had served me.

I recorded the entirety of the match, which I present at the end of the post. It’s a good match, one in which you will at least see me score a goal, and early on too. A good ‘sighter’ for the remainder of the Career Mode, which will hopefully be long and glorious.

A couple of amusing things to look at. First of all, I am of course still playing on the PC platform with a couple of mods. Chiefly the FIFER 2.0 mod, which introduces a raft of changes that inevitably have a few odd glitches here and there.

One of them made me laugh. I’m not usually the sort to start laughing whilst playing football games. Picture me with a face of grim determination. This is a serous business. But when I got Liam O’Neil sent off in the second match, something made me look closer…

I’m assuming this is a quirk of the mod. It might just as easily be a quirk of the game on its own. The thumbnail pic to the right here is what Liam O’Neil should look like.

I can fix this using one of the many modding tools available to me, but I am toying with the idea of not fixing it. How amusing would it be to have an aged grey-haired beloved Italian manager playing in my midfield for the season-or-two before I inevitably replace him?

Actually the joke would wear off quite quickly. I will fix it.

General play is great. The players feel like lower league. Although I am a Master League refugee I still want to see the best part of Master League in Career Mode, to whit, the way you can start with nothing and slowly, incrementally, build your club up level by level, identifying with players along the way and creating epic stories for them and you.

A good example of lower league life here. Regular readers will be aware of my Leeds Utd long-ranger phenomenon just after I started playing FIFA20.

Of course the first thing I have tried with Cambridge Utd is a few long potshots. Here is a clip where the first attempt goes hilariously wayward. My timing and position all wrong. The second attempt – with the same player – goes reasonably close and is a sign of things to come, I hope.

Yes, these players are poor relative to the Leeds players I’ve been playing with, but it is up to me to get the best out of them with some proper footy gaming nous.

I completed the pre-season tournament (didn’t qualify: W1 D1 L1) but have not even got close to the first league match yet because I am methodically going through my squad deciding which players I need in which roles, and fitting them in accordingy.

As ever there are some apparent gems of players not selected in the First XI by the game itself.

I am also taking my time in the transfer market and setting up a proper Scouting network. Money is tight. My goals for the first Season are simply to survive but I have my eye on the playoffs.

Finally here is that full match, Game 1 of a hopefully epic story:

That London Stadium

Like a moth to a flame I have returned to my Leeds United Career Mode save in FIFA20 (PC, modded).

I started recording in the 5th minute when it struck me just how bloody brilliant it all was.

The graphics, the stadium, the camera, and most importantly the gameplay.

That’s what I’m really here at FIFA20 for, you know – the gameplay. It’s superb, and everything else – graphics, camera, modding – is a welcome bonus that makes a superb experience Superb+.

The London Stadium is magnificently recereated in this game. The angles and distances it affords combine to create the most perfect viewpoint for playing computer game football that I have come across in all of football gaming since the halcyon days of the PS2 and PES’s epoch-making ‘Wide with Angle 1’ view.

The view above might be too far out for some tastes, but if I could play every match with that exact view, I would. When I finally do start that ‘no messing now’ Career Mode save, whatever club I end up choosing might well move to The London Stadium when they get big enough.

But for now, I am still plugging away with Leeds. I have put down roots with them, and I want to see the flowering.

Here I am again replaying the so-far disastrous start to the Premier League season. Back on Legacy Defending. Still on Professional. I am using the new version of Fifer’s Realism mod here, and I believe it makes the game a touch harder, as well as slower and more rugged in certain aspects.

If you watch the above match, you’ll see me play quite well for the most part, but I am seemingly unable to prevent the AI scoring whenever it gets the merest sniff of an opening. Whenever I let wide players past my full-backs it is almost always a goal for the opposition.

I lose the above match 6 (SIX) – 0 (NIL), so I know I am definitely doing something wrong.

Once I have put down roots in a football game mode, it is very hard for me to shake myself free from them and move on, if that’s what I try to do. I’m Groundhog Day-ing this save. I’ve already been sacked once.

But I want to see if my signings can take off and have an impact. There’s a Youth I want to see develop a bit. And there’s the fascination of what’s seemingly impossible as well.

I’ve got a single day off work next week, which probably does mean time at last to really take stock and finally start that League 2 Career Mode save. I think by then I will have grown tired of being thumped with Leeds all the time, and will feel in the mood to start constructing my dynasty.

Just the Match Facts, ma’am

Over the weekend the latest version was released of the PC mod I’ve been playing with on FIFA20 for most of my time with the game so far.

A week or two ago I boobed like a noob in letting an official EA update nerf the previous version of this mod. It was a mistake that will not be repeated. That said, my ten-days-or-so period of being ‘stuck’ playing the current official version of the game was not too shabby at all. If there were no mods I still believe I would be playing vanilla FIFA20 right now instead of PES2020.The mod brings a host of changes to the gameplay and Career Mode that are too numerous to, er, enumerate.

My thumbnail sketch: gameplay is heavier and slower and more stats-focused; Career Mode is more logical and real-worldy. I can’t comment on how much more challenging it makes Career Mode, never having really played the mode until now. My 3 seasons on FIFA15 happened too long ago for me to remember them in detail. And all the other scraps of seasons here and there on other versions of the game don’t count at all.

I played around 7 matches with the new version of the mod and found it overall as sturdy as the previous version. I had been worried that it would be watered-down in some vital way and that the last couple of months would come to seem like some sort of lost Paradise, but so far so good.

I started a new test Career Mode with Macclesfield in League Two.

And played the opening pre-season tournament. Good, satisfying games. The magic spell isn’t breaking any time soon, it seems. FIFA20 is here to stay.

I don’t think Macclesfield is THE new Career Mode save that I have been planning to embark upon. It could be, but for now I am treating it as a test-bed for the new mod, which doesn’t strictly recommend starting a new save, but it still seems best to.

My main takeaway from playing with League 2 players is that they handle very averagely compared to the relative thoroughbreds of my Leeds Utd save.

I have looked in on my Leeds Save. Played two matches in the Premier League and lost both of them badly — really badly. 3-0 away to Watford, and I was losing 4-0 at home to Newcastle at half-time when I rapidly exited out of the save to go and try my luck with Macclesfield.

I stress that these were the Match Facts at half-time:

I cannot get Leeds out of a negative spiral at the foot of the Premier League. I have even reverted to Legacy Defending, but I am still getting battered at the back and failing to create anything up front. Tactical Defending will come again, but for now I need Legacy.

I am starting to get the feeling that it’s time to finally begin a proper non-experimental Career Mode at last. No more testing. Total commitment and consequences. That might simply be a continuation of Macclesfield. I’ll see.