Intro: A season with Leverkusen

With a broken laptop that won’t be fixed until later in December, I’ve managed to sweet talk my better half into letting me install FM21 on her laptop to keep my urge to play FM at bay.

I’ve decided to manage Leverkusen for one season before I can get back to my Lille/Boavista/Mouscron multi-club network save, where I’ve reached January in the first season.

It’ll be likely that I’ll give myself until Christmas to get the season done and I plan to write some blogs about my approach between now and then because I have a writing bug I want to itch.

Maximilian Zollerman at your service

Why Leverkusen then? It’s’ been some time since I managed in Germany and with the recent licensing agreement they have with SI that seemed interesting.

That also means no need to download the additional graphics, a bonus. Leverkusen was always a big team in my eyes, I remember watching them in the Champions League growing up, both live at Highbury and also on the TV.

They also have a decent squad, one that gives me the opportunity to go for trophies in my season in charge, particularly in the Europa League and domestic cup.

Great expectations

As usual, as soon as taking over the reins you’re met with the board’s vision and expectations meeting and you can see from the above image that they expect me to qualify for the Champions League while reaching the Quarter-Finals for the DFB-Pokal and Europa League.

That’s ambitious and it worries me slightly. To qualify for the Champions League through the Bundesliga that means I’ll have to finish in the top 3 places, with Bayern, Dortmund, Leipzig and Mönchengladbach amongst others fighting for the same goal it’s going to be tough and kind of puts paid to my initial plans of prioritising the DFB and Europa League games.

Expiring contracts

Next in my inbox is a list of players in the last year of their contracts. When sorted by my assistant’s opinion of their current ability The Bender Brothers™️, Julian Baumgartlinger and Aleksander Dragovic appear at the top and that’s normal.

Ageing players who could probably be replaced but I want to take issue with that. The natural way that I play FM is to manage the club I’m the manager of as if it’s my own money and that’s I’m going to be manager forever and to really care and look after it.

And that’s still the case in this save, although I’m not going to be manager beyond this season. Lars B is a team leader, the other three aforementioned players at highly influential in the squad hierarchy, if I let their contract go down, they agree a new deal sign for another club, say a Bundesliga rival, there is always the worry of the morale in the team is affected.

That’s not good if we have our eyes on the winning trophies this season and I want to nip that in the bud. All four will be offered new deals.

Above is the squad I have at my disposal until January, with the first transfer window shut there is no opportunity to make any additions.

From the original squad, I’ve demoted Panagiotis Retsos, who is on loan at Saint-Etienne and Paulinho, who is injured for 7 months down to the Under 19s (I don’t have a reserve/B team). I also promoted Samed Onur and Florian Wirtz into the first team to give me my preferred 25 man squad.

My aim tactically for this ‘Season with Leverkusen’ is to be pragmatic within my usual preferred 433 framework.

I have a strong squad but it’s clear that some players have weak areas and I’ll need to think about partnerships of both roles and mentalities to make it work.

For instance, Lars Bender could potentially become my first choice right-back, this allows me to place a ball playing DLP in the DM slot to build-up play from the back.

But he won’t give me that attacking wing-back offensive play, he has poor off the ball amongst other things for that. However, he will allow me to play an attacking player ahead of him, such as Karim Bellarabi.

On the flip side of that, I could play Aleti loanee Santiago Arias, as an attacking wing-back that bombs forward with support focus inverted winger like Leon Bailey, ahead of him. In the central positions,

I have a real mix between young promising players and older exceptional players. The likes of Moussa Diaby, Exequiel Palacios, Edmond Tapsoba and Nadiem Amiri will mix with Charles Aránguiz, Karim Bellerabi, Kerem Demirbay and The Bender Brothers™️ to hopefully make some magic on the pitch.

That magic will be technical, possession focus football. As always the balance between chance creation and possession will need to be found, more on that when I get into the save.

We have a training camp in Belgium and a few other friendlies to tackle prior to the traditional DFB Pokal season opener where we’ve been drawn against Hansa Rostock. Which should be an easy win. I’ll check back in with some thoughts later this week.

I’m planning on being more active over on Twitter so feel free to follow me there if you don’t already.

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