Welcome along to another update from the Black Sea coast. Following Constanta’s promotion to Liga I last time out, we’ll see how they fared in their first season back among the big boys, with Frank still at the helm. If you need a refresher on what’s happened so far, you can catch up on the series here.
In this update I’ll also cover how I strategise our path to success each season with a run through my forecasting model, plus i’ve got some highlights from my favourite content this week.
Liga I’s rules differ slightly from Liga II, but I think this works in our favour. We now need two U22 players in our starting XI (was two U19s in Liga II), and only 6 of our match day squad need to have been trained in Romania (was 10 in Liga II).
There’s also a change in league format, with all 14 teams contesting a standard league with home and away fixtures, before being split into two groups depending on where you finish. The top 6 then play home and away to decide the league winners and European football qualification in the Champions Group, while the bottom 8 play home and away to decide who will suffer relegation in the Relegation Group. The bottom two teams automatically drop while the 3rd bottom side contest a playoff against Liga II’s 3rd place team.
I can feel the pressure mounting now, I can only hope they remain patient with me. Thank goodness for my back room team, I’d be lost without them. At least I know I’m not alone in this.An extract from the diary of Frank M. Athlete, 13th February 2024
The prospect of playing football in Romania’s top division was one that brought both excitement and dread for Frank Athlete. While this had been the goal all along, now the team would have to fight against all odds to stay up. The media predicted Farul would finish bottom of the league, but Frank felt confident that the bulk of his squad, with one or two additions, could do the business.
The main areas of weakness were in both full back positions, in the middle of the park and up top. We lacked strength in depth and crucially, we needed someone talismanic who could create from central midfield. The budget well was dry so Frank turned to free transfers, signing Alexandru Sirbu (DR) from Liga I rivals Universitatea Craiova and Matteo Pranic from Croation side Sibenik, both on frees to reinforce our back four.
Elsewhere, Marko Roginic came in as cover for our Target Man while Mihai Capatina was brought in for his creative mind, able to play as a central playmaker or even out wide if necessary. In terms of outgoings, there weren’t any departures outside of the U19s, most of which were loans or youngsters with no future at the club.
With the squad assembled, the season got underway and things couldn’t have gone any worse. Five straight defeats and only two goals scored, saw the media’s pre-season prediction look more like a prophecy, although it’s worth mentioning that four of those sides were expected to feature in the Champions Group come the end of February. An up-turn in our fortunes saw Frank’s side go unbeaten in the next 6 though, as the team grew in confidence, and as we reached the half way stage, we found ourselves holding our own in 11th place.
In to the last few games before the winter break and while we struggled for goals, we did manage to earn a win and four draws before Christmas.
Frank left the squad intact through the transfer window, and instantly regretted his complacency. Five straight defeats in our last five games saw us drop to 12th, six points off 11th placed Sepsi, with an 8-0 hammering away to FC Rapid being particularly hard to take.
From here, the table is split into a Champions Group, made up of the top six teams, and a Relegation Group, made up of the remaining 8 sides, of which we were obviously one.
In line with the league rules, we took half our points from the first 26 games with us into the Relegation Group, meaning we began the campaign with 11 points and sat in 6th place. With 14 of our original 26 points coming from other teams in the Relegation Group, Frank had good cause to be confident of escaping the drop.
A very mixed bag of results saw us pick up a few wins and a couple of draws when we need them most, and for the most part we kept our head above the water. A win in our penultimate game kept us 1 point clear of the relegation places with one game to go.
By a strange coincidence, the final day of the season would see the top 4 teams play the bottom four teams, with Farul away to 3rd placed Sepsi. We’d need to match or better everyone else’s results with literally any of the bottom 4 capable of escaping the drop.
The moment arrived, the final day was upon us, and it seemed we barely turned up. Sepsi were all over us for the entirety of the match, scoring a goal in each half and comfortably beating us 2-0. Surely that was it? Our fate awaited us as we headed in to tunnel to find out the latest scores.
In a strange turn of events, it seemed that none of the bottom teams were particularly keen on staying up, having all done our level best to throw our Liga I status away. All four sides lost their last games and so by proxy, we stayed in 5th place and would get to do it all again next year.
As first seasons back in the big time go, Frank seemed quite content that we’d done ok. We’d not set the world alight, but we’d secured our Liga I status and earnt some good points against the bigger teams. There’s plenty here to build on for next year, and another year of consolidation is inevitably what awaits us before we can start challenging for a top half finish in a few years time.
Let’s hope Frank can keep the good times rolling with another season of success next year.
Mapping a Path to Success
So we survived, just! And it was hardly by our own hand, in fact we really only stayed up as a bi-product of the teams around us doing slightly worse than we did. But, in terms of how I anticipated this season would play out, we weren’t far off where I thought we’d be.
At the start of each season I look through our fixtures and attempt to work out where we’ll accumulate points. I consider a number of factors for each fixture, as follows:
- the venue – we might have a great away record against the big sides, but be dreadful at home against the teams around us
- our head-to-head history – is there a bogey team among those we should be beating?
- last season’s finish – a good indicator of whether they’ve been consistent, or they’re overachievers/underachievers
- the media’s prediction – this considers recent signings and comparisons with other teams in the league
- fixture congestion or the order in which they’re played – playing the bottom side two days after we played the league leaders might impact on our success
- previous successes and failures – are they 3 time league champions or the latest yo-yo club?
With all that considered, I enter the predictions into my spreadsheet prior to the season starting:
The left hand column is the media’s predicted finish, then we have the team and then how many points i expect us to get, home and away. This acts as a quick reference guide before each game, giving me an indication of how tough an opponent I thought each team would be at the start of the season. I can then factor in their recent form prior to the match to see whether they’re doing better or worse than expected.
In the example above, I’m a newly promoted team expected to finish bottom, and I haven’t played most of the teams before so there’s no historical data I can look at. I find it highly improbably i’ll take any points from the predicted top 6, and will be lucky to nick a draw or two from the mid-table sides. My best chance of points will be at home to the teams around me, and i will also hope to steal a draw at the away tie too.
As the season progresses, I fill in the spreadsheet and then reevaluate where I might need to get additional points from. For example, if we draw instead of win against a relegation rival, then I’ll need to look at where else I can get the points to make up the difference, from an underachiever for example.
Adjacent to the Actual Results section, you’ll see how we compared to what was predicted at the start of the season in terms of points attained and then where we finished. 22 points versus 18 predicted, and a 12th place finish versus an expected 14th place – enough to land us in the Relegation Group for Liga I.
The table above tells me we performed better than expected against the likes of CSM Poli Iasi and Dinamo Bucaresti, while we massively under achieved against Petrolul Ploiesti. In the last column, you’ll see how each team did in reality versus the pre-season prediction. Although we were poor against Petrolul Ploiesti having lost both games, we can see they finished 5 places above their predicted 13th, with CSM Poli Iasi taking their place 5 places lower than expected.
Over the course of future seasons, i’ll be able to collate the average points earned against each team and identify patterns in our results. Here’s a look at the cumulative table after I repeated the above process for the Relegation Group games as well.
You can see in the top left corner, we average 0.8 points per game at the moment (after 1 season). I can also see that we do surprisingly well against U Cluj, averaging 2.3 points per game from them, while we’ve never won a point from relegation rivals Petrolul Ploiesti.
From here, I can apply some historical data to my individual team assessment for the season ahead as I map out where those points are going to come from and work towards consolidating our stay in the top flight.
So there you have it, my approach to strategic planning: FM style! To be clear, this process doesn’t mean i don’t try and win every game, that’s a given. Instead, I get to take a season-long view of where we can accumulate points, and can track whether we’re doing better or worse than planned as the season progresses. I won’t sweat the losses if they were part of the plan anyway, and equally I can celebrate twice as hard when we nick those unexpected wins that can be the difference between a good season and a great one.
In this section I’ve highlighted some of the content I’ve been consuming of late. There are some excellent content creators out there, some old and some new, and the vast majority of which are all on Slack so I strongly advise you to join that community and check them out here.
- Best Save Update Blog: this week I’ve been catching up on TedRedwood‘s exploits with St. Pauli in his series Der Kult. Check out his progress here.
- Best Advice Blog/Article: As ever, Oliver Jensen (A.K.A. fmFutbolManager) has been pumping out some quality FM tools and guides lately, but his latest one tops the lot for me. Take a look at his Player Mentality Calculator to see a visual representation of how your players are affected by changes to your team mentality and approach play. Brilliant.
- Another Best Advice Blog/Article: I didn’t consume much audio/visual content this week (unless you include That Peter Crouch Podcast #PassthePod) so I’m including another best advice blog, this time from FMPressure, who shared a piece on modern full backs which highlights some important takeaways in getting the most out of your full backs, plus some insight into the value of retraining players to suit other positions. Enjoy!
Mental Health Awareness Week
Before I leave you, I wanted to take a minute to highlight an important message. This week we’ve been observing Mental Health Awareness Week and you may have noticed Frank’s usual diary excerpt (above) was more in line with battling his inner demons than usual.
I’m not a trained mental health professional, but I do know that in my own small way I sometimes struggle with life’s daily pressures. Some days I handle it better than others but on the whole, I know I’m lucky to have a strong network of friends and family that I can speak to.
Sometimes just venting to a group of trusted compatriots (you know who you are) is all you need, so I can thoroughly recommend talking about what might be bothering you. More often than not, you don’t need someone to fix it, but just sharing your thoughts can help you to process it. It does for me anyway.
Let’s keep mental health at the top of the conversation and make sure it continues to become a normal thing to talk about.
And that’s it for another update from me. Thanks so much for reading down this far, I hope you enjoyed it. As ever your feedback is always welcome either here in the comments, on Twitter or on my Slack channel. If you’re not already on Slack then you’re missing out. It’s free to join, there’s no pressure to post anything, and you’ll find there are some excellent people who you can chat to if you want.
I’ll be back as soon as I can with another update from Frank as he continues to take us Down the Danube.