Reminiscing about the glory days at Old Trafford — PART TWO

Welcome, fellow FM fanatics. In this post, the second of my FM2014 series about a rather memorable career at Manchester United, I’ll narrate the events of the 2014-15 season, a campaign that saw a *SPOILERS* defense of my Premier League and Capital One Cup trophies from the previous season. There was a lot of activity in the transfer market as well, with many familiar faces saying their goodbyes, and a host of fantastic talent joining the club as we continued to make the transition from the Sir Alex Ferguson era.

Before I begin with an overview of the transfer activity, let me just point out that if you haven’t read the first installment of this series, you can do so here.

The article covers the same general aspects of the 2013-14 season, including tasty anecdotes from a successful season that saw us win three trophies, but makes for an especially important read as it contains a detailed analysis of the tactical set-up I employed during the campaign. Seeing as I adopted exactly the same system in the 2014-15 season, I’ll skip a discussion of the same here. Let’s get started!

Season  — 2014/15

Having won the League and Capital One Cup double in my first season in charge with a relatively unchanged squad, I felt it was now time to prioritize molding the team into one that I could see winning things for the next three to five years. My first summer transfer window had involved working under strict self-imposed financial restrictions, with the remit including lowering the wage spend and returning a positive net transfer spend, both of which I achieved, before bringing home silverware. However, I decided to forgo the goal of financial prudence in favor of signing players I felt would enable us to juggle the dual challenges of success on the domestic and European fronts, and also help establish the core of the team for the next few seasons.

A lot of money spent, and some huge names and club-legends-in-the-making coming in.
A lot of money spent, and some huge names and club-legends-in-the-making coming in.

Let’s take a look at the outgoing transfers first, since any new signings are always determined by the positions vacated by departures, and areas of the squad that subsequently need strengthening.

Darren Fletcher to Southampton ($4.2 million)

The first to leave was Darren Fletcher, who’d made just 15 appearances in the 2013-14 campaign, scoring 2 and getting 1 assist at an average rating of 7.01. He probably could have stayed and done a job for me for at least a couple of seasons, but I felt his Physicals would only deteriorate with age, and far too quickly at that to justify paying his relatively high wages (the exact number escapes me). $4.2 million was a fair fee, and created one more position in midfield for me to fill with a new signing.

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez to Arsenal ($9.25 million)

Javier Hernandez was never really in my plans for the club, and I tried very hard to get rid of him in the summer of 2013 itself. While no offers for a permanent transfer were made, Arsenal did come in with a bid to take him on loan for the entirety of the 2013-14 campaign, which I accepted. He did relatively well at the Emirates, scoring 19 goals in 47 appearances in all competitions, which proved to be enough to convince Arsenal to return with a series of bids in the summer of 2014. Given his market value was between $17.5 and $19.5 million, I rejected most of the early bids of around $6.5 to 7.5 million, which were derisory and almost disrespectful. However, desperation soon took over from indignation, and the moment I got the bid amount up to $9.25 million, I accepted. Chicharito is a good goalscorer, but rarely contributes too much outside the penalty area, and there was no realistic chance of him getting game time ahead of Rooney, Costa, and van Persie.

Danny Welbeck to Tottenham ($13.5 million)

The same could be said for Welbeck, who couldn’t attract any buyers during my first season, and so had to be given game time. A rather pathetic return of 9 goals and 6 assists in 36 appearances meant selling him was a priority for me; I realized that Rooney and van Persie would soon stop guaranteeing 20 goals a season, and therefore I needed another source of goals, and Welbeck’s departure would create an opening for one world class goalscorer to come in. The $13.5 million bid from Tottenham was below his market valuation, but again, desperate times called for desperate measures, and Welbeck’s name was removed from the team sheet.

Patrice Evra to Juventus ($1.5 million) and Michael Carrick to AS Monaco ($1 million)

Patrice Evra and Michael Carrick were also sold because of their advancing years. I could realistically have gotten another good season from them, but felt it was time to revamp the squad, and giving them 15-20 games each over the season would only interfere with the natural development of new signings. Juventus and Monaco made acceptable bids.

Rafael da Silva to Juventus ($55 million)

The biggest departure, both in terms of the transfer fee and purely for shock value, was that of Rafael to Juventus. Now, despite having an injury-ravaged first season, Rafael did make 20 excellent appearances for the side, creating 6 goals and scoring an average rating of 7.23, and given his excellent attributes for the wing-back role (Acceleration, Stamina, Positioning, Work Rate, Crossing), the role I like my full-backs to play regardless of the overall tactical setup, I was confident he’d be part of the core of the side for the next five to seven years. After all, I’d seen first hand how good he is in the game. However, when Juventus made a $37 million bid for him, my interest was piqued; for a sufficiently large transfer fee, I felt Rafael was expendable. After all, we could get a worthy replacement for half the amount. So I entered into serious negotiations with The Old Lady, and eventually got them to accept a suggested $55 million transfer fee, without around $20 million being paid over 48 months. We sealed the deal, and I laughed all the way to the bank, already thinking about potential replacements.

On that note, let’s take a look at the players we bought in, and whether the overall transfer activity addressed key weaknesses in our team.

James Ward-Prowse from Southampton ($19.5 million)

If you’ve played the game, you know exactly how good Ward-Prowse gets in a couple of seasons. He can play in a couple of positions, and in more than a couple of roles, including the Deep Lying Playmaker and Box-to-Box midfielder functions, which makes him an ideal immediate replacement for Carrick, and a potential long-term successor to Wayne Rooney, who I usually use in an Attacking Midfield role behind the main striker. Plus, signing Ward-Prowse for less than $20 million seemed like too good a deal to be true, given that I once paid $35 million for him in FM 2012. While he doesn’t grow to have too many outstanding attributes, he should score between 14 to 16 across the board in a couple of seasons, a level of consistency that can sometimes be as valuable as having a player score 17 to 18 in a handful of categories, and 10 to 12 in most others. Ward-Prowse was only 20 when I signed him, so I knew he wouldn’t be starting 30 games a season for the first couple of campaigns, especially given my strict rotation policy. Thus, I felt I needed to bring in a senior player, a tried and tested Premier League veteran who could replace the experience of Michael Carrick. This brings us to my next midfield signing.

Mousa Dembele from Tottenham ($22 million)

With excellent Dribbling, Passing, Technique, Flair, Teamwork, Work Rate, and Natural Fitness attributes, Dembele combines the ability to control possession and dictate the game with the capacity to roll up his sleeves and dig in if the game gets physical. I wanted to sign him for two slightly sentimental reasons, the first being that I’d never managed him before this save, and I enjoy managing new players and seeing how they fit into my preferred style of football. Secondly, I have felt that, at his best, Dembele would have been a good fit for United in real life, and so bringing him to Old Trafford would have been an interesting experiment. Anyway, a midfield duo of Dembele and Fellaini seemed like a fantastic prospect for the season ahead.

John Manship from West Ham ($6.25 million)

One for the future. I was very impressed by this regen at West Ham’s Youth Academy, and saw he possessed the potential to grow into a sold right-back. At that point I felt he would most definitely provide able back-up to Rafael within a couple of seasons, and after Rafael’s departure, it became even clearer to me that I would need a strong long-term replacement for the Brazilian, and Manship seemed like an excellent prospect. The fee might have been a tad high, but with the right training and development, Manship could develop into something special. Finally, Rafael’s departure also made it important to replenish the number of players trained at the club for at least 3 years between the ages of 15 and 21.

Luke Shaw from Southampton ($40 million)

I returned to Southampton to snap up another one of their great English youngsters, with left-back Luke Shaw following Ward-Prowse to Manchester. Luke Shaw is really a no-brainer in the game, and develops into arguably the best left-back in the world. In my Wigan save in FM14, he moved to Manchester City, and regularly got 25 assists each season, in JUST the Premier League, no less. While such a remarkable return was not expected, but would certainly be welcomed with open arms, I was looking for a young all-round left-back to take over from Patrice Evra for the next decade, and Luke Shaw fit the bill perfectly. The transfer fee was exorbitant, but I was confident it would be fully repaid, and then some.

Andre Schurrle from Chelsea ($13 million)

Now this is not a signing I was actually planning to make. With Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, James Wilson, Adnan Januzaj, Wilfried Zaha, Antonio Valencia, James Ward-Prowse, and Marouane Fellaini capable of occupying the three attacking midfield roles in a 4-2-3-1 formation, I felt I had enough manpower to take me through the season relatively comfortably. However, when the German winger became transfer listed and offered at around 60% of his true market value, I felt it was too good an opportunity to ignore. Again, Schurrle was a player I’d never managed, and I felt it would help to have a strong, pacey Inside Forward cutting in from the left flank. Sensational Mental attribute readings, great Aggression, Determination, and Work Rate, and a clear threat as a crosser and from long range, Schurrle was close to the complete package for us, and I felt he would add to the club’s proud tradition of having threatening wingers.

Gino Peruzzi from Catania ($27.5 million)

Faced with the tall order of replacing Rafael at right-back, I wanted a player who would provide an improvement on him in the Physical and Mental categories, while being comparable in the Technical aspects. I could have given Alderweireld a permanent position in the Starting XI, or even played Phil Jones there, but felt I needed a new face instead of a stop-gap solution. Alderweireld was incredibly effective as a squad player, giving our “second string” side a lot of strength for less important games against weak opposition, and Phil Jones could play right-back, but not right-wing-back, which is the position my long-term tactical plans would utilize. And so, after scouring the market for suitable candidates, I settled on Argentinian wing-back Gino Peruzzi, who joined from Italian outfit Catania for $27.5 million. Now, I am writing this series a few months after I played the game, and so while I can’t show you how Rafael and Peruzzi compared in 2015, I’ll show you their attributes in 2019.

Rafael is technically slightly better, but Peruzzi's superior Mentals make him a safer bet in the long run.
Rafael is technically slightly better, but Peruzzi’s superior Mentals make him a safer bet in the long run.

Maxime Gonalons from Olympique Lyonnais ($14 million)

Having sold Carrick and Fletcher, I had only Fellaini, Dembele, a young Ward-Prowse, Nainggolan, and potentially Phil Jones and Wayne Rooney to choose from in midfield, and the highly intense nature of my style of play meant that not even the strictest adherence to a rotation policy — I rarely, probably never, name the exact same starting lineup in consecutive games — would have allowed me to maintain these players’ match fitness and condition at sufficiently high levels throughout a gruelling, 60+-game season. Therefore I felt I needed another utility man, a cheap, reliable player who could give me consistent performances with high levels of Teamwork, Work Rate, and Determination; an important, well-oiled cog in the midfield engine. I signed 25-year-old Maxime Gonalons from Ligue 1 outfit Lyon, for a reasonable fee of $14 million.

Gabriel Barbosa from Santos ($4 million)

A very familiar name to anyone who has played the game, Barbosa is considered by many to be the finest young talent in the game, and a multitude of players swear by his ability to score 40+ goals a season. Given the universal praise he has received, I thought it only fair I try managing him. Santos were surprisingly willing to let him leave, and the paltry sum of $4 million saw the Brazilian complete the transfer to United on his 18th birthday. I sent him out on loan to Feyenoord in January 2015.

Juan Carlos from Real Madrid Castilla ($6.25 million)

A similar signing to that of John Manship, I felt the 15-year-old Spanish striker would be one for the next decade, and signed him from Castilla.

And so, to sum up the transfer window activity, I signed 7 players for the first team, and 2 for the Under-18s and -21s, and sold 6 first team players, for a net spend of $67 million. After having discussed what I consider to be an incredibly successful foray into the market, let’s take a look at how the season panned out. Ah, before I do so, I’d just like to remind you that I made no changes to the tactical setup of the team (read the first post of the series to find out about the system I utilized in the 2013-14 season), and my first-choice starting XI (with second-choice players in brackets, although I should reiterate that I use the term “second choice” very loosely, since my rotation policy meant that a number of player played at least 20 games throughout the season) looked something like this: De Gea; Peruzzi (Alderweireld), Vidic (Jones), Smalling (Stones, Balanta), Shaw (Husband); Fellaini (Nainggolan), Dembele (Gonalons); Zaha (Valencia), Rooney (Ward-Prowse), Schurrle (Januzaj); Costa (van Persie, Wilson).

Manchester United_ Fixtures Schedule-4

Manchester United_ Fixtures Schedule-5

Manchester United_ Fixtures Schedule-6

We started the season off on a sour note, losing the curtain-raiser to the Premier League campaign, the Community Shield, 1-3 to Chelsea. Chelsea, more than almost any other team, have been incredibly difficult to beat away from Old Trafford; the 2013-14 season saw us beat them 2-1 at home and lose 0-2 at Stamford Bridge, and the 2014-15 campaign was no different, with us suffering a 1-2 loss in West London, but emerging victorious by a 3-1 scoreline at Old Trafford.

My belief that the summer transfer window had been a productive one, leading to the team striking a remarkable balance between defense, midfield, and attack, and creating strength in depth that had proved useful, was reinforced by the fact that we remained unbeaten in the league till the 4th of April, a full 31 games, of which we won 24 and drew 7. This excellent run saw us secure our second consecutive league title (and third for the club, if you count Sir Alex Ferguson’s last Premier League crown) with three games to spare. We celebrated winning the title with a resounding 5-0 humiliation of Southampton in front of our fans in Manchester, but then went on to lose the final 2 games of the campaign, away at Newcastle and Aston Villa, allowing Chelsea to cut the gap–albeit an insignificant one–at the top of the table to 3 points after the final round of games. The league table after an enthralling season looked like this:

English Premier Division_ Overview Stages-2
Sitting pretty at the top of the table; most goals scored, least conceded. Deserved champions indeed.

Domestic Cup Competitions

Our defense of the Capital One Cup was also a resounding success, with us beating Arsenal, Swansea, Stoke, Liverpool, and Tottenham in a grueling set of fixtures. We also won the FA Cup–United’s first in a decade–after seeing off the challenge of West Brom, Barnsley, Villa, Swansea and Liverpool, who we beat 3-2 in a tremendously exciting final. Winning the FA Cup for the first time was special, and victory over our rivals was the icing on the cake. We’d completed the domestic treble, and my decision to spend heavily in the transfer window to boost the depth of the squad was ultimately vindicated.

European Champions Cup

However, the real highlight of the season was to come in Europe, as we made dramatic improvements from the previous season’s campaign. We breezed through what seemed like a tricky draw in the group stages; pitted against Atletico Madrid, AS Monaco and FC Twente, we won 5 and lost 1 of our 6 games, scoring 17 goals and conceding 8. We received a rather favourable draw in the Round of 16, with Turkish giants Galatasaray posing much less of a threat than Bayern Munich, to whom we’d succumbed at the same stage in the previous season. Gala’s challenge was duly shrugged off, with us securing an emphatic 7-3 scoreline on aggregate. The stars seemed aligned in our favour, with Belgian outfit Anderlecht arguably even easier opposition. A 1-1 draw in the first leg played at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium in Brussels made us take notice of our opposition, enabling us to remove any complacency that may have trickled into our preparations. The second leg saw us secure a comprehensive 4-0 result, highlighting our potency in front of the Old Trafford crowd, and paving a path into the last four, and what had until now been uncharted territory for a United side in transition from the glory days of Sir Alex Ferguson’s long reign. But was this to be as far as this young United side would go? After all, there are no easy games in the semi-finals of the European Champions Cup.

And so it proved to be. We were drawn against Spanish giants Barcelona, who boasted the likes of Messi, Neymar, Alexis Sanchez, Andres Iniesta, and Xavi. I was not sure whether playing the first leg at home would be a blessing or a curse; surely chasing the game at the Camp Nou would be too daunting a task? The first leg got off to a better start than I could have hoped for. Barcelona were enjoying the lion’s share of possession, and we were pushed deep into our own half. However, an excellent tackle on Messi from Fellaini released Rooney, who found Schurrle in space with a beautiful long ball, and the German used his pace to beat Mascherano to the ball, and gave us the lead with a well-placed finish inside 6 minutes. Could we actually hold on for another 84? Not if Messi and Co. had anything to say, apparently, as Barcelona responded well, scoring 2 goals in the next 25 minutes, to leave us entering the tunnel at half-time with the scoreline at 1-2. I knew we couldn’t afford to let Barcelona return to Spain with a win; the two away goals had done enough damage to our chances. The halftime team talk involved aggressively demanding more from the side, and the individual positional talks reiterated my faith in the players’ ability to rise to the occasion and give Barcelona a fight. I was drawing on past experience in beating Barcelona, having seen Erik Lamela score a goal against them to give my United side a 1-0 win the final of the 2018-19 European Champions Cup in an FM2012 save.

The second half panned out along practically the same lines as the first, with Barcelona controlling the game, and United threatening on the counter. The electric pace of Zaha, who hugged the right side of the pitch, and Schurrle down the left gave us our primary attacking outlets, and I made our defensive line drop deep, and stopped allowing my full-backs to make overlapping runs. We withstood immense pressure for 40 minutes, as Barcelona went searching for a third goal that would effectively seal the match and tie. With 5 minutes of normal time to play, Zaha broke down the right, beat his man and crossed the ball, only for Pique to head it out, leaving me cursing the screen in frustration. We’ve all been there before, pulling the hair from our head, fists clenched, toes curled, brows furrowed in utter concentration. My frustration quickly turned to hope, as Pique’s header sent the ball floating towards the edge of the penalty area, where Rooney was lining up an attempt, and then to uncontrollable elation, as he made the perfect connection, sending the ball rifling into the top corner past a hapless stranded Valdes. 2-2! They still had the away goals, but the equalizer gave us belief, and reaffirmed the notion of the team spirit in the dressing room allowing us to stand shoulder to shoulder with Europe’s mightiest.

After that, it was all hands on deck, and after a flurry of tactical decisions aimed at shutting shop for the remainder of the game, we somehow ground out the result, and headed into the second leg with hope, if not optimism. We were travelling to the Camp Nou after all, home of the mightiest side in Europe over the last decade, and the best footballers on the planet united by a wonderful football philosophy. I can’t quite recall the details of the game, but we carried on from where we had left off in the first leg, scoring 2 goals in a rather more comfortable 2-0 win to progress to the final. We won thanks to how difficult we were to break down, and how swiftly we converted defense into attack. The win was fantastic for morale, and we continued our excellent run by beating Liverpool in the FA Cup Final four days later.

The final saw us pitted against Bayern Munich, a superbly-drilled, incredibly well-organized side that married a strong team ethic with superb individual talent. They’d knocked us out of the competition in the Round of 16 the previous season, and we knew we were up for a tough night. And it proved to be exactly that, as 90 minutes, and then 120, were not enough to separate two incredibly evenly matched sides. As we headed into penalties, I can’t say I was positive about my chances, since Germans don’t miss penalties (all my readers in England should know enough about this). I watched through tiny gaps in between fingers that were covering my eyes as we . . . WON! We won! We were champions of Europe!

End-of-Year Player Stats

The rather improbably success of the season was really down to the excellent performances of the players, and it’s only fair we take a look at the performances of each member of the squad as I named it earlier in the article.

NAME APPEARANCES GOALS SCORED ASSISTS PoM AWARDS GOALS CONCEDED CLEAN SHEETS AVERAGE RATING
David De Gea 64 0 54 27 6.87
Gino Peruzzi 39 0 4 2 7.42
Toby Alderweireld 26 0 3 0 7.47
Nemanja Vidic 24 10 3 4 7.53
Phil Jones 37 1 4 4 7.38
Chris Smalling 36 2 1 5 7.45
John Stones 30 4 2 3 7.26
Eder Alvarez Balanta 17 3 0 3 7.52
Luke Shaw 36 1 7 1 7.06
James Husband 31 1 1 1 7.37
Marouane Fellaini 46 6 7 1 7.07
Radja Nainggolan 34 0 2 1 7.02
Mousa Dembele 36 1 4 0 6.91
James Ward-Prowse 40 9 10 2 7.12
Maxime Gonalons 31 1 0 0 6.87
Wilfried Zaha 39 12 13 5 7.2
Antonio Valencia 12 1 1 0 6.98
Wayne Rooney 39 13 15 1 7.17
Robin van Persie 42 21 17 6 7.24
Andre Schurrle 54 28 6 5 7.11
Adnan Januzaj 20 3 8 1 7.11
Diego Costa 49 24 17 2 7.28
James Wilson 17 3 4 1 6.89
Gabriel Barbosa 5 3 0 1 7.08

You can see from the fact that only 6 out of 24 players played less than 25 games each in all competitions that the rotation policy was implemented very consistently, and allowed us to remain relatively fresh throughout the season, especially for periods as grueling as that between 19th April and 9th May, a three-week stretch that saw us play Everton (A), Arsenal (H), Man City (H), Barcelona (H), Southampton (H), Barcelona (A), and Liverpool (N). Talk about a tough set of fixtures.

End-of-Year awards

On the awards front, many of the team’s players were rewarded for fantastic individual seasons within a team that played some sumptuous football.

David De Gea won the Golden Glove for the second season in a row, keeping 18 clean sheets.

Robin van Persie won the Footballer of the Year award for 13 goals and 11 assists in 26 appearances, at an average rating of 7.33.

I won the Manager of the Year award for the second season in a row, with a 73% win rate. The team scored 86 goals and conceded just 25. I also won 1 Manager of the Month award, after a fantastic run of results in September 2014 that included wins over Tottenham, Arsenal, and Liverpool.

Diego Costa was the Players’ Player of the Year, after scoring 16 goals and creating 11 others in 29 appearances, averaging 7.31 per game.

Andre Schurrle finished in 2nd place in the Players’ Young Player of the Year award, sandwiched between Chelsea’s Hazard and Oscar.

We had three players in the Team of the Year, and one on the bench.

United were well-represented in the Team of the Year.
United were well-represented in the Team of the Year.

On the European front, Wilfried Zaha won the European Champions Cup Best Player award for his 6 goals, 6 assists, and 3 Player-of-the-Match awards in 10 appearances, at an average rating of 7.76.

So that was it, guys, the summary of a memorable second season in charge at United. The campaign saw some exciting players join the club for what I am sure will be long and successful stays at Old Trafford, excellent performances in comprehensive wins, plenty of goals and, as is necessary at a club of United’s stature, trophies. Join me next time, as I talk you through yet more success on the domestic front, and an eventful attempted defense of our European crown!

PS. If you have enjoyed this series so far, and want to read more FM-related content from me, don’t waste a moment in checking out another series of articles, this time about my first season in charge at United in FM2015. The articles can be found here:

Episode One: Settling In, Outgoing & Incoming Transfers, and Staff Deals

Episode Two: Outgoing Loan Deals, (an incredibly detailed) Tactical Discussion (including a discussion of the historical development of my preferred tactical approach), Team Instructions, and Training

See you next time!

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5 thoughts on “Reminiscing about the glory days at Old Trafford — PART TWO

  1. Love it when a plan comes together, which this season clearly represented to you. Schurrle is one of those players underrated in both real life and FM but in fact brilliant. A good read, keep it up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks a lot! I’m glad you enjoyed reading this, I certainly loved writing it! And wait for the next three posts of the series, you’ll find out just how much of a legend Andre Schurrle is! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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