Hello folks, and welcome to daily update of #TheJenaJourney – my #FM15 challenge to establish former East German “giants” FC Carl Zeiss Jena as one of the Bundesliga elite. This is season four, and our first season in the Bundesliga following straight promotions from the 4th tier of German football.
It has been a tough start, we have three points from the first four games which is sounds worse than it is considering we have played the Champions, Wolfsburg, and Bayern Munich in back to back fixtures.
I picked things up in the middle of an international break and saw that our next four fixtures, that will be reported on today, are against RB Leipzig (away, they have 4 points), last season’s 2.Bundesliga champions Mainz (home, they have 4 points), Kaiserslauten (away, they have no points) and Koln (home, they have 7 points). If we are going to stay up, and even push for a top half finish, we are going to be needing to take points from these types of fixtures.
It had been a tough start to life in the top division, but I genuinely felt we had been very competitive in each of the matches. It was disappointing to lose to Werder Bremen as I felt we could have got something from that. Wolfsburg only put clear daylight between us when chased hard for an equaliser in the last ten minutes, the result flattered them. Finally, Munich were only 1-0 in injury time and I felt we could have nicked an equaliser – in the end they got a second as we threw men forward. The early learnings were that I didn’t see any point in changing our style – we had got this far playing high pressing, high tempo, attacking football with quick incisive passing and not just looking for possession for possession’s sake. If we suddenly looked to be tight, defensive and hit teams on the break it would go against the culture that we had grown in three seasons at Jena. However, to allow us to do this effectively, we needed to be more clinical when chances came our way. It’s only been four games though, and we are learning fast.
Before the RB Leipzig trip came around I had Nana Welbeck in the office again, this time wanting to leave as he isn’t getting enough game time. He has a point, I think he is a quality player and should be playing more but Tino Schmidt is a legend in these parts and Sustersic has been one of our better signings so I cannot really find a place for him, yet.
The selection for RB Leipzig was fairly simple, Luirink came back in for Vegas who had struggled a little in his two starts to date. Leipzig were hardly setting the division alight themselves, one point above us.
Ten minutes were gone when we went behind, and that was their third clear cut chance. I waited until the 25th minute, then shifted us up a gear in the hope of getting something before half time. It worked, Conde’s swinging cross was met by Dereli to get us level. Berbig made a great save 1v1 with five to go to half time and we came in level, very much in the game. Geisler was getting taken apart in the middle of the park so I brought on Ramirez. We went behind, again, after 55. Set piece, they won the header, goal. Disappointing! But! The Conde/Dereli one-two worked again, and exact replica of our first goal, we were level again. Welbeck came on for Tino, who was having a bad day and Nana linked up with Sustersic, who scooped the ball over their defender for Conde to run on to and head home, 3-2!! But no, as I finished typing this I realised it was disallowed for offside, hard lines. The game swung again, a long ball down the middle exposed Luirink as very slow, their guy slotted home. This was a hard defeat to take, we deserved something from the game. We had played really attractive, exciting football but got exposed at the back. I made the decision there and then that it was time to play Giese every week, the lad will go on to be a club legend so he may as well start now. Thank you and good night Gus Luirink.
The “newspapers” were starting to comment on my reluctance to experiment tactically. Already. Three straight promotions, we lose four games on the trot and now I am being questioned. Jesus, I will be tipped for the sack next. The system works, the players are just learning the hard way in a new, tough division.
Next up were Mainz, fresh from humping Monchengladbach 4-1. I hoped they would now be over confident which would give us a chance to steal their thunder. Along with dropping Luirink, permanently, for young Giese I decided that Geisler was out of his depth in the Bundesliga and promoted Ramirez to start. I also thought long and hard about Tino and decided that Nana Welbeck deserved a chance, so for the first time to my knowledge, Tino Schmidt was going to be on the Jena bench. I didn’t see this being a long term thing, but Nana did deserve a start for sure. What we didn’t need to see was that Hoffenheim had also picked up a win, meaning we already two points adrift of moving up the table. However, it gave me confidence in my original theory – outside of the top few teams, anyone can beat anyone in this league.
We got to half time at 0-0, Dereli having a half chance blocked, and they were pretty much chanceless themselves. It is rare that a right winger/striker combination start to get talked about like the great striker partnerships over the years, but these two are getting there. Conde, again, crossed and Dereli arrived late to put us ahead. It was a clinical move. Annoyingly, we let them back in five minutes later, 1-1. Then Conde found space to cross again, this time Erhart arrived at the back post to put us ahead! Ten minutes to go, it was a switch to counter and fingers were crossed. For the second time in two games, I was wrong – it was offside. How is our luck?! It was onside! Then, five minutes to go, Macuilt wins the ball cleanly and a pen is given. They score it. God, what they say about there being no luck and justice down the bottom is true. The final whistle went, and if I could have done, I would have been banging on the ref’s door after that match. We were completely done by the officials.
It meant our next game against Kaiserslauten already felt like the clichéd relegation six-pointer. They had two points, we had three. I brought Tino back as Nana did nothing to write home about, and I also brought Koc in for Erhart. We needed a win here, not just for the points but for the manager not to start losing interest!
The most shocking defensive mix up saw us go behind, I am sorry but that does not happen on a football pitch. A slide tackle went in, the ball headed back to the ‘keeper and three players just stood and watched as the ball stopped still. Their lad walked, yes walked, to it and scored. That does not happen. We then hit the post twice in two minutes, that does happen. Fifteen minutes, we are 2-0 down. This is killing me. Dereli pulled one back at the near post, a cross from Macuilt and we had some hope again. Hope disappeared straight after half time, they scored their third. I was becoming clueless, I did not know what to do. Koc made it 3-2, could we get a point? No, we could not, and we were now in the relegation zone. Only Bochum, who we beat first game of the season, were beneath us.
I couldn’t face a fourth match in this run. It was hurting too much. To see the side that I had put together, that had over-achieved since the first season, that had made me so proud be punished like this was genuinely painful. I had to stay true to the belief that the way we play will bring long term success, but I also had to accept that these players, right now, were playing against better players. I could see we could score goals at this level, that was clear, but I needed to get my very limited FM tactical brain around how we could be a little less likely to concede three every week.
It was something to ponder until tomorrow, that was for sure.
If anyone wants to suggest something, or just send me a note to keep my spirits up, feel free 🙂
Johnny Cooper, Championship Manager available in paperback or on Kindle through Amazon