Hello folks, and welcome to daily update of #TheJenaJourney – my #FM15 challenge to race Paul of FM Central to the Bundesliga. Well, we won that race and now the attention switches to not just staying in the Bundesliga, but getting a top half finish.
The media, and I am sure I wrote this at the start of last season too, have tipped us to be relegated. In fact, the think we will finish bottom. The bookies have made us 2000/1 to win the league. For once, I don’t imagine we will be in any title chasing scenarios this season, and for the first time ever I imagine I will be paying pretty close attention to the bottom half of the table.
The transfer window wasn’t great. I was not prepared to bring in players on £10k+ a week when I didn’t know what level of player I was going to need – I mean, if my squad can hold it’s own, just, why break the wage structure when I have kids starting to mature into first team contenders? Oh my, I sound like Wenger. I also refused to spend a penny on transfers, I fully believe there is quality in the free transfer market.
I have firm theory about the Bundesliga. Lose less than 12 games and there is every chance you will finish in the top six. Take Bayern and Dortmund out of the equation and anyone can beat anyone. Wolfsburg are the current champions, they beat Bayern to the title by a single point last season, and Dortmund suffered from the loss of Klopp to the Germany job. At the other end, 36 points will see us safe – in the three seasons preceding this, no team has been relegated with more than 35 points on the board. That is twelve wins, I can see us doing that.
After the cup game, which kicks off our season in a bit, we travel to Bochum (promoted two seasons ago and 16th last season) and then entertain Bremen who we have beaten in pre-season (8th last season, 14th the season before). These are two games that we would ideally get points from as we then face Wolfsburg and Bayern.
As I said, first up were non-league Seligenstadt in the cup.
There were three changes to last season’s title winning side. Giese was coming in alongside Camara at centre back, though I was likely to return to Luirink for the league games. Young Trinks was now my first choice left back following the departure of Fox back to Charlton, who then released him. Attempts to sign him failed as he wanted too much money. Dereli is injured, so YP plays up front. New signings Koc and Ramirez were on the bench with two youth team graduates, Lukas Bruckner and goalkeeper Jurgen Ostrowski.
We went ahead in the 21st minute, Erhart arriving at the back post to meet a Conde cross. YP hammered home a thirty yard screamer for 2-0 and any worries of an upset faded away. Tino set up Conde for number three before half time. Erhart got his second at the start of the second half, a poachers effort. He then set up Schmidt for number 5. I was able to give young Bruckner a full debut, which was good, and he very nearly got a debut goal with his second touch. Basil Camara made it six from a set piece and it was a professional job well done.
Now for the proper stuff, Bochum.
In the build up to the game I was offered two more Standard Liege players that I had had on loan at the club previously, the DM Pezzin and the striker Tahiri. I was very interested in both, as they were not going to cost a penny to bring here permanently, but I did regret making the signings I had already made. Having said that, I could try and loan out the lads who were now blocking the way for the three former loanees, or I could just accept that Geisler was likely to struggle in the Bundesliga and keep him around purely as back up.
The Tahiri deal fell apart very quickly when he asked for £7k a week.
Back to Bochum, time to focus. Camara was struggling in the week with a dead leg, so I was waiting for match day to decide whether to play him or not. Dereli was also fit again, and I threw him straight back into the side, despite YP looking sharp in the cup. Camara ended up being fit, so I decided to partner him with the experienced Luirink, Giese dropping to the bench.
This was it, our first ever match in the promised land of the Bundesliga. Bochum were also tipped for relegation and one of the smaller clubs in the division. They might be small, but they are still twice the size of us if you compare stadiums! Incredibly, I was naming a side that had three players from my first ever team selection for Jena four seasons ago, a (insert) – Tino Berbig, Tom Geisler and Tino Schmidt.
Three minutes in and Conde was at his frustrating best, played in by Sustersic he placed his shot the wrong side of the post. He atoned almost immediately though, heading home Malcuit’s cross for our first ever Bundesliga goal! We were in dream land when the ball fell to Sustersic twenty five yards out and he leathered home a drive into the top corner. 2-0, come on! I switched it up to overload in the hope of killing it off early. We came in two goals to the good at half time. Berbig made two excellent saves early in the second half, it was starting to feel like it might be our day. As soon as I felt that, naturally they scored. Game on. Sods law, they equalised. Harsh, really harsh. I switched back to overload, and Sustersic rifled home a wonder volley from thirty yards and we were back in front. Wow! We held on, and I learned that if we are going to stay in this division then we attack, attack, attack. It was not without casualties, Luirink and Erhart were both ruled out for 4 weeks. Giese will get Bundesliga experience quicker than expected!
Werder Bremen were our next opponents, the Ernst-Abbe’s first occasion of the season. They had lost 1-0 on the opening day, so would be hungry for their first points. I opted against Giese in the end, I bottled it, and went with my backroom recommendation of new signing Vegas. As well as Trinks has started the season, I felt going into games like this with two teenage defenders may be a bit much.
Deciding to start with Vegas didn’t look great when he was adjudged to have given away a penalty after eight minutes. It didn’t look like one at all. 1-0 down, not a happy place. He then went off injured after half an hour, so on came Giese. We had not created a single chance by this stage. Malcuit then get his second yellow, down to ten. This was becoming a nightmare. They made it two with fifteen to go, he had battled well but created nothing at all. Then finally, a break through. Sub Cebellos found space and finished brilliantly, 2-1. It ended 2-1, but we had competed well, if not been very creative and considering we had ten men for the second half we did not disgrace ourselves.
So next up were the champions, a nice easy game before we played Bayern. I was grateful to have three points on the board as even I could not see us winning either of the next two games. They had also lost their second match, so I was expecting a backlash. Giese would start ahead of Vegas, and Gmeiner would be in for Macuilt. Cebellos picked up an injury in training, so would miss out.
Two minutes had gone when De Bruyne put them ahead. Eight minutes when Geisler chopped him down for a penalty. Tino pulled one back after half an hour and we were back in it. Brazilian international Luiz Gustavo made it 3-1 with ten to go and we tired, the fourth went in. Basically, they were just better than us, and we are going to have a few days like this this season. We had seven days to lick our wounds before welcoming Bayern Munich to the Ernst-Abbe.
How do you prepare for Bayern and Pep Guardiola? I don’t think you can. I was not going to change my approach just because it was them. Sure, it might turn out being another hammering, but I believe in the way we play long-term. Once we have got used to the Bundesliga and our youth academy is turning out world class players, we will beat Bayern playing this way, I promise you. This time though, I doubt it. Vegas was back in for Giese and Macuilt returned. Erhart was fit again, so he came in for Koc. I had a quick look at Neuer’s wages before the match. £220k per week. My entire club spends £67k a week on wages. There is a slight difference here!
We managed to get to half time goal-less. We held on for an hour, then bang. Trinks gave it away and suddenly we were one down. We pushed and pushed, and with ten minutes to go YP stung the hands of Neuer. Deep into injury time we got hit with a second. We were unlucky, we played well.
So the first run of games was over. I had dreamed of six points from four games, hoped for four points and would have settled for the three we have. There was an international break coming up and a time to regroup. After four games were in the relegation play off place, the two teams below us with zero points. However, we had just played the champions and Munich and not disgraced ourselves.
I knew it was going to be a long, tough season but I reckoned we could stay up for sure.
Johnny Cooper, Championship Manager available in paperback or on Kindle through Amazon