So we start this episode in a pretty good position, we’re through to the semi finals of the Spanish Cup, of which we are the current holders, but we’re up against Atletico so odds are we won’t progress further. Our next four games, in the next 11 days, are against Real Madrid, Atletico, Barcelona and then Atletico again. Last time we had a run of games like this, we failed miserably, so I need to make a decision. Do I go for victories, keep the same formation that has kept us going all season? Or switch it up, find something that will keep the big teams on their toes?
After mulling it over with a bottle of delightful Coca-Cola Vanilla, which by the way is superb Football Manager fuel, I decide to keep the faith. The team has been playing well enough that we may have a chance against the big boys this time around!
I’ve decided to keep hold of Andres Renteria despite his lack of contribution, he did bag one goal against Eibar in the cup so that has delayed the axe somewhat. So my first team lineup will stay pretty much the same for this run of games.
I hold a team meeting where I steal Aragorn’s Black Gate speech from Lord of The Rings: Return Of The King almost word for word, ranting about how a day will come when Real Madrid will be an average side that we can dismiss, but for now we must be at our best.
The team laps up the inspirational speech, and walks out of the Mestalla tunnel chanting something about trophies and improved bank balances.
We go toe to toe with the Galacticos, who include Kevin De Bruyne, Kingsley Coman and Alvaro Morata in their side, and come away with a creditable goalless draw. Considering they’ve scored 44 goals in 22 games, I’m pleased with my side’s efforts.
Next up is Atletico in the cup semi final. I bring back the man who won La Liga’s Most Amusing Name trophy over Christmas, Wang Tang, in place of Jorge Ruiz. Atletico score most of their goals via crosses, so this will be a real test whether the 4 defensive central players can keep them out.
Andres Renteria must have overheard me on the phone offering him out to the work experience agency, as he pops up with a goal within 10 minutes. Armand Pater, who was originally only signed as a backup player, further cements his position in my side by holding off Atletico on his own at times. Tiny Tim Nederburgh runs his socks off twice despite a karate kick to the chest, and is warned by our kitman about his sock allowance in the budget. We win 1-0, not letting Atletico create a single clear cut chance.
Bad news strikes when Tiny Tim’s adrenaline runs out and I realise that he’ll be out for the next 3 weeks, missing crunch games against Barca, Atletico and our next Europa opponents, Sporting Lisbon. I head to the local retirement home and pull Andreas Beck out of his comfy armchair where he’s been watching TV most of the season.
Barcelona are missing Suarez through injury, so I’m left to deal with Neymar as their main threat. How to deal with a problem like Neymar??? He is 32 now, but still has 23 goals in 22 league games. Time for some outside the box thinking….
I come up with the most beautifully ruthless plan possible. We’re going to kick him. We’re going to kick him a lot. We will kick him until he stops running and waves a white flag on his way down the tunnel. I’ll have to wait and see where Barca play him, but if he’s out wide my wing back and winger will be both kicking him repeatedly, even if he doesn’t have the ball. If they play him in the middle, I have two centre backs and two defensive midfielders . That makes 8 kicking feet against 2 admittedly skilful ankles.
Neymar starts through the middle, which fills my evil heart with joy. Juan Bernat is out on the left, which doesn’t really scare me. Fernandes is making a name for himself on the right, so just to be safe I set Stafylidis and Musa to kick him up and down as well. Sebastian Rode is going to man mark Neymar and keep tripping him up, but should he escape, Bailly, Badal and Pater will hopefully be able to boot him into touch.
Barcelona dominate the first 20 minutes, which culminates in Neymar escaping Rode to collect a long ball and poke it past Mvogo before being hacked down. We go straight up the other end and score from our first shot with Renteria, who’s still playing for a spot in next year’s squad. Neymar escapes again, this time to meet a cross and we are a goal down again. At half time I take Rode off his man marking duties, I’d hoped his aggression would make the difference but he can’t keep up. I go back to our usual instructions and attacking mentality, and go out to equalise. But it’s too late, we can’t muster any real goal threat, and Barcelona see out the game easily.
Safe to say I will not be trying to kick Barcelona off the pitch again. Still, we live and learn, and I still have a chance of getting into another Cup Final! Before I start stitching the Valencia badge onto my second best dinner jacket though, I need to get past Atletico again. We take a 1-0 lead over to their place, but my first squad are exhausted from playing these big games with so little rest between. I am reduced to making 3 changes, and hoping we can wrap the the tie up before the rest of the side collapse on their feet.
Atletico go one up within a minute, but Rong Qifel, who is in the unfamiliar deep lying forward role, connects with a Ruiz cross to get his 17th goal of the season 8 minutes later. He is already asking to be subbed off, but I leave him on till half time just to get every last bit of danger out of him. Andreas Beck, or The Grandfather, as he’s fondly known among the staff, lasts a bit longer, but wanders off the pitch in the 65th minute searching for his medication box.
Half time replacement Renteria gets an assist 3 minutes later with a chipped ball for Ruiz to score our second away goal, giving me enough confidence to make my final substitution. Armand Pater almost falls off the pitch to a standing ovation from the small contingent of visiting fans, who keep singing even when Atletico equalise in the 74th minute. I’m still 3-2 up on aggregate with 2 away goals, and only 15 minutes to go, so they have good reason to sing.
15 minutes later, I am giving my players the hairdryer treatment. They conceded 2 goals in 5 minutes to render our performance in the first 75 minutes pointless. Carlos Badal flicks through his Spanish-English dictionary to find out exactly what a “pathetic arse-bandit” is, while young Jose Braulio phones Childline, only to be told that there are kids out there with real problems, and unless somebody touches him inappropriately, not to waste their time again. Andres Renteria kicks over my Lego model of the Mestalla stadium, and is force-fed a small Lego referee by captain Sebastian Rode as punishment. I down a tube of Pringles, and wonder how Atletico had 32 shots, but only scored 4.
At least my next game should be a bit less stressful, away to 13th placed Granada. I move Rong Qifel back to the wing, where he’s played most of his football this season. 19 goals by February is not to be sniffed at, especially for a winger.
The first half is boredom itself, apart from Qifel putting a header wide from about 3 yards out. I use all 3 subs in an attempt to freshen things up and force a goal, which sub Ahmed Musa eventually does in the 86th minute. Fearing a repeat of what the media have dubbed “LegoGate”, the whole team defends till the final whistle, and we hold on for a vital win to move us above Villareal to 5th. My next game is in Europe against Sporting Lisbon, hopefully I will be able to put together a good Europa League run to keep things exciting for the next episode!
My next episode will be at the end of the season most likely, so keep an eye out for it on Twitter! You can follow me @JDdwerryhouse to get regular updates, or follow the blog here on WordPress to get a notification as soon as I post!