#FM15 #TheJenaJourney – Tactical Tinkering

Hello folks, I’m back.  Just.  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 an awful start.

We won our first game, but we have now lost six league games on the bounce, the last three being games I had earmarked for wins.  It has led to something I didn’t think I would do – look for something short-term to get us through this muddle, before hopefully reverting back to type when we have found our feet a little more.

Our next game is against Koln, who are riding high in third place.  I’ve watched back a few of our matches recently over night and I have drawn the following conclusions.

  • Defensively we are far too open, and that starts from the front.  My wingers have been offering nothing when we lose the ball.  My midfielders have been overworked and the defenders exposed, too high up the pitch quite often.
  • We are over elaborating, trying to do too much
  • We have not been clinical enough
  • We have had some shocking decisions go against us

I cannot do much about the last two, we either take our chances or we don’t and I cannot do anything about the referees.  I can try and change the first two though, so…

  • Defenders will defend first and foremost, no more ball playing defenders, no more complete wing backs.  Centre backs and full backs, that is what we will have for now
  • The midfield need to focus on protecting first and foremost, being playmakers and central wingers second (it kills me to lose the central winger)
  • The strikers will defend better from the front if they are narrower, so my wingers will now move central, and for them to drop deep I will play them as false nines.

I hope this works, if not I reckon my job will be on the line pretty quick!

So, Koln.  The shape was different, but the personnel pretty much the same.  Conde did make way, surprisingly, for YP as one of the three central strikers and Nana Welbeck came in alongside Schmidt and Sustersic in a flat midfield three.  The midfield was kind of now modelled on Joe Royle’s “Dogs of War” – three ball-winners, except all three of mine could play a bit as well.  I still cannot believe I have changed the way we play, this was the Jena blueprint after all!

I genuinely hadn’t been this kind of nervous going into a game for a while.  It was a different nervous to when we were trying to close out promotion last season.  This was a “I really don’t want this journey to turn sour” kind of nervous, knowing I have the capacity just to give up on a save if things don’t really work out the way I want them.  Saturday rocked round and the Ernst-Abbe needed to get behind the boys.

There was nothing to report, at all, from the first 45 minutes.  I took this as a good thing, and sent the lads out for more of the same.  I’d even take a point today.  56 minutes gone and we put together a very patient move.  Dereli got a chance and smashed it against the bar, so close.  Then the heartbreak.  Their free kick rebounded off the bar and was followed up.  Gutted.  Our heads dropped and they got a second deep into injury time, a 2-0 defeat in which we had created virtually nothing.  To sum it all up, I was told after the game that the fans found my tactics negative!  I cannot win, last week I was being criticised for not experimenting.  I was a bit lost, I genuinely didn’t know what to do.

I had stumbled across the success of the Jena Press, and I felt I was about to go into another run of tweaking, changing and trying to find a new winning formula.  The problem was, every defeat was going to make it harder to stay up.

In the end I found myself reading loads from @cleon81 – for me one of the best FM tacticians out there.  Reading how he beat Manchester City 6-1 when Sheffield United was inspiring.  I had noticed I was getting exposed by throwing too much forward (if you forget the last game).  I’ve also noticed that my wingers have been too easy to mark, so I need them finding space better.I have set the tactic to sitting deeper.  I’ve also asked the players to be more disciplined.  I’ve kept it attacking for the time being, but I also have an identical tactic that is set up as counter attacking with direct passing, hopefully to exploit the spaces bigger teams leave against us.  To try and utilise the space better I have changed my wingers to advanced playmakers, in the hope they will be more difficult to mark.  I’ll be playing the counter away from home from now.  Next up were Dortmund, so I wasn’t too hopeful!

Over the 14 day break I kept reminding myself that there was no need for a revolution of tactic, just evolution. 14 days of hell, incidentally.  I hate long breaks when I just want to get a defeat out of the system.  It’s been a while since I have needed to get 7 defeats out of the system mind – I haven’t felt this under threat since Johnny Cooper went to Wigan.

In the long build up Trinksy broke his ribs so was out.  Macuilt switched to left back and Gmeiner came in at right back.  We headed to the Signal Induna like lambs to the slaughter.  15 minutes gone, 1-0 down.  Half an hour, it was two.  It became three on the hour, jesus.  80,000 people watched us get our asses handed to us on a plate.  Having said that, two goals came from set-pieces.  We had just defended better than we had all season, so there were some positives.  Not many, just some.

The games were not getting easier, next were Eintracht Frankurt who were in 5th.  Give us a break, will you?  Mind you, we had lost to the teams around us so what do we expect?  We needed a win, obviously, if nothing else to start making this fun to write about again!!  Bochum also recorded their first win, which saw us sit bottom of the table for the first time.  Yes, even Bochum were winning games.

So Eintracht came to the Ernst-Abbe.  Was this the day it all changed for us?  Bochum picked up anaother point, how?  They were now two points above us at the bottom.  We needed a win.  We started superbly, the first three chances were ours and we took the third, Koc firing home.  Come on lads, come on!  We got through to half time without a scare, this was going to really hurt if we lost it from here!  They scored a thunderblot on the hour, nobody was stopping it.  I was expecting heads to drop, but no, we kept at it.  There were about twenty to go when Erhart beat two down the left, crossed and there was Dereli to put us ahead.  Come on!!  Then Geisler picked up his second yellow, straight from the restart.  Couldn’t anything be easy?  Of course we would get double punishment, the free kick hit the post and they scored the rebound.  2-2.  Tino thumped the post in injury time, this is becoming too familiar, and we had to settle for 2-2.  it was a far better performance, but that win is still being elusive.

We had a break from the league with the next round of the cup in midweek.  Hoffenheim were the visitors and I wondered whether the cup would lift the spirits or increase the gloom.  Was the last game a moment where we turned a corner?  I think the next game would tell us more.

We started well, Geisler hitting the bar from a free kick then Conde having a shot blocked after a very sharp break away.  Then Dereli had to go off injured after half an hour, which was a worry.  He was one of our few form players currently.  It was a close first half, we probably shaded it.  The second half was the same, YP missed a sitter though.  Naturally, with nine minutes to go they nicked it.  Out of the cup, bottom of the league.  Yikes.

We had to pick ourselves up quickly as we had to go to Stuttgart a few days later.  They were sitting in 9th, it was going to be another tough game to go through.  We looked ok, then we were behind after 25.  So frustrating!  They got a second early in the second half and we kept pushing, to no avail.  Another defeat.

It was another yucky run, no wins again today.  All I seem to have learned is that we are just not good enough yet.  The players aren’t good enough for this level and neither is the manager.  I have tried a few tweaks with absolutely no success.  When we have looked a little more defensively solid we have lost our cutting edge going forward.

What shall I do?  Go back to what got us promoted in the first place and hope for the best I guess.

If I am sounding thoroughly bored and despondent today, it’s because I am!

Hopefully tomorrow will be different, hey?



Johnny Cooper, Championship Manager available in paperback or on Kindle through Amazon

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