Current season: 2028-29 – champions!

The pressure is on this season, as a poor 6th finish last season left me outside the European places. With an ever-increasing wage bill, an insatiable desire amongst the squad for the game’s biggest honours, my position is under scrutiny and this will be a vital season.

Eleven games in and happily I top the division, with matches plenty of goals and only one blot on the copybook so far with a surprising defeat to Everton:


The squad are performing well with no major errors or red flags amongst the key defensive and attacking players.

Defensively, my new signings Wolfel and Kerr have bedded in well…Wolfel’s high tackle and headers won rate, along with Hodgkinson at CB, have been the cornerstone of my side’s impressive defensive performance so far.

Parker, my reserve LB, has suffered from a headers won perspective (52%) but I had expected that. My defensive midfielder enforcer Sogodogo has also bedded in well and is improving constantly.


From an attacking perspective, I’m pleased with a wide range of players with Key Passes and the general pass completion rate of around 75%. My wide midfielders continue to provide plenty of assists, with each of them completing around one in four crosses. Troyansky will find it hard to maintain a 61% shots on target ratio but there is strength in depth should he suffer from a loss in form.


OK to the Everton game where I suffered a frustrating defeat. Here is how the teams lined up:


I had been using a 442 but for some reason decided to opt for the 4231. However looking at the match stats below, you can argue that I dominated and won the all important shots on target ratio by 5:1:


How good was my passing and therefore, the quality of shots that they led to?

Not a great deal of penetration from Key Passes around the box, but most of my shots are inside the box and not from excessively far out.

And what about Everton – not many Key Passes in the game and I didn’t concede many chances.



With a formation that naturally favours wide players, could my crossing have been to blame? The Prozone shows that Oxford on the right didn’t have a terrible time of it from this perspective with around 35% completion.

I changed the tactics in the last 15 minutes to an Attacking mentality and was still creating shots at goal from decent positions:


The aim was to employ a high defensive line to compress the game and play in the Everton half. However you could argue that this would leave me very short of space with the half crowded with 18 or 19 players.

I will have to put it down to a bad day at the office. However since then results did pick up, despite falling out of the Capital One Cup. A pleasing win at Chelsea and Bradford (one of the biggest spenders in the league!) put me at the top as we go into November.

I’m pleased to say that my consistency held throughout the season and I ended up as champions!


It had taken 14 years from starting out in July 15 in League 2 but a very satisfactory achievement was finally complete.

On the other hand, finances are looking pretty bleak at the club and the planned stadium expansion was cancelled. Therefore over the summer I’m looking to recoup some funds by offloading the elder players in the squad.



Season Summary 2027-28

The season ended better than it started; I posted a couple of articles about what I thought was going wrong and by the time I fixed it, all hopes of winning the league were over.

To summarise, a disappointing sixth place finish but a strong Champions League campaign:


However with the money rolling in, little old Oxford are now the eighth richest club in the world:


Those two articles covered the problem areas with my formations, but I thought I would update the blog with details of my new signings:

This boy Soumah has developed into a superb MR/AMR, now worth £25m with every attribute you would want in a wide player. He has become a full French international and I’m knocking back bids already:


I had my eyes on Sasa Sankovic as a Bosman signing – a superb CM/AMC with brilliant technical skills. I had earmarked him as a replacement for Stan Dewulf, but with the good news that he has signed a new deal and no longer wants to leave, Sankovic merely adds depth to the squad. I ended up by signing him now for £10m in January rather than on a free in the summer, and he settled in well:


Voropaev came in as a ML/AML to replace Johansson who had become disillusioned. I was becoming increasingly annoyed with him, he was starting to get a bit older and Voropaev was earmarked as the ideal replacement. However I had to pay through the nose to get him – £20m plus Johansson in part exchange. Nevertheless he had a fantastic season:


I was looking to sign a new enforcer and Sogodogo came in to fill that role – brutal, strong, aggressive, brave..the ultimate destroyer. I see him in the DM strata as an anchorman or BWM.


This chap did arrive on a Bosman deal, and can play in any of the three central roles form midfield to striker. Ideal to have as I am forced to re-enter the Europa League. Again fantastic technical skills with some great mental attributes toomamadou-sitges_-overview-profile-2

A bit of a reshuffle at the back saw Rosania and Yoon Yoon leave – the former due to his being 28 and the latter due to a poor season.

They were replaced with Heiko Wolfel and Sean Kerr.Wolfel will hopefully add some solidarity at the back as Yoon Yoon had a poor season, which I highlighted in a previous post – his performances last season were a significant regression from the season before. His height will also be useful at set pieces at both ends of the pitch, but his superb defensive skills should be a real asset.


The departure of Rosania meant that I was short of cover at RB, so I decided to splash the cash on a homegrown player – again with superb wing-back skills and a great age too.


I also brought in this boy on loan to give me three great option up front – probably the bare minimum needed for a league and European campaign. Great attacking stats but look at those mental attributes – absolutely superb. If he performs well I will make him a permanent member of the squad next season:


The wonderful news arrived that I was waiting for – Dewulf is happy again and has signed a new 5 year contract with his £66m release clause completely removed:


I completed the move into a new stadium, with the gigantic capacity of 28,000 which represents an additional 6,000 seats at the cost of £70m. I’ve already requested we expand, so we’re throwing in another 5,000 seats. Heady days indeed.

It is clear that my transfer market adheres strongly to these philosophies – this goes back to the DNA that I wrote about earlier in the blog:

  • I hardly ever sign players over 25 and look to move players on who are 28 or older
  • Mental stats are absolutely crucial (determination, bravery, teamwork  and workrate)
  • I prefer acceleration and pace and rarely sign players with attributes under 15
  • My regular task of succession planning means that I evaluate each position over the Summer and plug the gaps then – I rarely get involved in mid-season transfer windows.

The target for the season is to quality for the CL – I really believe I have the squad to win the league now.


WTF is going on?!

Following my previous post, the season is rapidly turning into a disaster – the only highlight being a 2-0 home win against Atletico in my first CL game (which was effectively overturned by a 0-2 defeat away to Benfica in the following game) and surviving a takeover which was spearheaded by Joan Laporta.

Barclays Premier League_ Overview ProfileOxford United Football Club_  Senior Fixtures-2

The table is purely shocking – a reminder that I finished 2nd last season. I had a gentle start to the season in terms of fixtures but zero wins. As said above the win against Atletico was a good one but the last three games against established sides have been absolute thrashings.

When this occurs, it can be a number of things but for now I will focus on:

  • Match analysis and tactics (I’ll look at the last 3 games)
  • Individual performances/stats

Match analysis and Tactics

As a reminder these are the three formations I’m using:

The 3142 is a relatively new tactic that I created last season – it uses a Standard mtentality and a Structured shape, as I think the formation offers enough in an attacking sense.

The 4231 is one of my tried and trusted formations: it uses Control and a Flexible shape. This could be excessive – it is already an attacking formation and Control may be too attacking, but I did want a formation that puts me on the front foot against supposedly weaker sides at home.

The 4132 is another of my trusted formations down the years, and offers attacking threat with the solidarity of a DM protecting the back four. This uses a Standard mentality with a Structured shape.

Across all formations, the team instructions are quite consistent: Close down the keeper, close down more, work the ball into the box, be more expressive and run at the defence.

The roles and duties are ones that I have used consistently over previous seasons – the wide players alternate between attack and support duties, I like penetration from central midfield through Dewulf, and where I have two strikers I have one on a supporting role and the other on an attacking one. The supporting role could be a DLF or more typically a F9 with the other working either as a poacher or an AF.

OK let’s look at how those three horror games played out:


Benfica v Oxford United_ Overview Formations

I used the 4141 with a Counter mentality because I wanted to be careful and not get walked over early on. However, the average positions and shot map below showed what a schooling I got:

Oxford on the left, Benfica on the right…far more shots for Benfica and look how further advanced their 2 strikers are. Clearly they were using a Control mentality versus my Counter – however I had success with the 4141 before so I was not overtly concerned before the match started. Their shots were much closer to the goal than mine.

Benfica v Oxford United_ Analysis Teams-3

Looking closer, I was concerned that the shots and activity seemed to focus down the right. I’ve included a breakdown of the first goal:

Benfica v Oxford United_ Pitch Full
2 players completely unmarked!
Benfica v Oxford United_ Pitch Full-2
And still, as Gomez looks to pick a pass
Benfica v Oxford United_ Pitch Full-3
My AML runs back, but it’s too late…
Benfica v Oxford United_ Pitch Full-4
..panic stations at the back, but the defenders can’t get across

The first image (and the red box) highlights a startling problem…2 attackers completely unmarked on the edge of the box! The following three images show the sequence of events as the move progresses, with Gomez picking out a difficult pass to the unmarked forwards, and my players can’t get back in time to cover.

The space here highlights a serious issue – my ML Johansson isn’t providing sufficient cover to my LB…he’s on a winger-attack role so that explains it…but Im alarmed by this.

I thought we got boxed in during the game and our defenders had a poor match. Poor management from me to be so reactive and defensive.


Arsenal v Oxford United_ Overview Formations

I decided to go with 2 upfront but the match was decided early on with a red card for Gribbin on 41 minutes, and the floodgates opened in the second half. This could have been due to a lack of support in central midfield and a poor choice by me to give him a DLP-D role.

Arsenal on the right had several more shots and exploited the space on the flanks with the extra man.

Arsenal v Oxford United_ Analysis Teams-3

Look at their passing map after the red card on 41 minutes – loads of overloads in the AML/AMR positions with key passes focused down the right.

Arsenal v Oxford United_ Analysis Teams-5

A game to forget about certainly.


A very disappointing match again, as I had beaten them on the three previous occasions including last season’s Europa League final. However I certainly went into the match as underdogs.

This was a closer contest, although through the game it felt as though I was playing catch-up. Here are the line-ups and match stats.

I went with the 4123 as my tactics over the last few games weren’t working – I thought the midfield 3 would give me some additional protection to the malfunctioning back four.

In terms of SOT, the outcome was 4v5 but I made some good quality chances:

Oxford United v Chelsea_ Analysis Teams

Oxford on the left – all inside the area and some closes misses from distance. How was my passing?

Mine down the right hand side primarily, Chelsea focused down the left. However what concerned me, and this has persisted throughout the season, that my attacking should be shared down both flanks. This is borne out by the position map:

Oxford United v Chelsea_ Analysis Teams-4

The top-right of the pitch is barely touched, whereas the right sees much more activity. My full-back Christian Visser is currently out injured and has more attacking tendencies, and the replacement is a much younger player and is earmarked for the future. But this is something that I have to address when I look at the individual instructions and player statistics.

OK so let’s look at one goal – which is the problem highlighted above repeating itself – gaping spaces in the left-back area:

Oxford United v Chelsea_ Pitch Full
Look at that lovely space…
Oxford United v Chelsea_ Pitch Full-2
…all the time in the world to run into that lovely space…
Oxford United v Chelsea_ Pitch Full-4
and boom!

This is now something I have to address urgently. My options are:

  1. Put my ML on a support duty
  2. Change him to a wide midfielder
  3. Tell my ML to mark more/much more
  4. Change my LB to a defend role

However all of these will hurt the attacking side of the game, so as ever with FM, it’s a balancing act

So to sum up this game – I thought it was close and could have gone either way, but there are certainly ways to improve my attacking threat. But defensively I am also leaving gaping space in the left back area.

Now to look at the individual stats for the season to date.

I’ve been advised by the staff that my defender Yoon Yoon is looking jaded and is in need of a rest. Let’s take a look at the KPIs for my defenders:

def perf

Quite a few things concern me here, ringed in red:

  • Disappointing defensive stats for my DM, Acar
  • Yoon Yoon – a dire average rating, a lower tackle rate this year, 89% from 95% last season, a poor header won ratio, and low passes completed. Alarming.

cb strength

It definitely is time to take him out of the firing line. My CBs options are above..Landry Yao is excellent and can play at CB along with Rosania – but who looks the best option, as below:


I’m inclined to side with Rosania as the CB and Yao as the RB. Rosania has better positioning and heading skills, and I like the dynamism of Yao on the flanks.

Ok time to look at Acar – I player I have grown to love, he has developed into a superb £30m footballer, but he’s not having the best of seasons. He has played either as a CM-D in a 442, or as a Half Back when I have used a defensive midfielder.

Furkan Acar_ Overview Profile-3mf roles

I wanted to use his passing skills and vision in the Half Back role, but it clearly isn’t working. There’s definitely an argument to switch him to a defensive midfielder role with a support duty and rely on my central midfielders to provide more penetrative passing. Acar doesn’t have amazing physical skills to be an enforcer, so maybe it’s time for him to relinquish some of those duties.

Finally, time to review the attacking midfielders and forwards:

att perf

Holy f**k!!!! A 4% cross completion ratio for my wide left midfielder!!!! 0.09 assists per 90 too indicates that he really is burned out and due for a spell on the sidelines. Similarly, my new right midfielder Soumah hasn’t been covering himself in glory either.

I highlighted above how my play seems to be coming from the right, and Johansson has clearly been a passenger this season.

Super Stan’s 64% pass completion ratio also surprises me, this is something I have to keep an eye on. He fulfils several roles for the side, but my preference has been for him to occupy the CM-A role because of his finishing skills.

Reviewing stats is a very important thing to do, because they tease out where things might be going wrong.  So after this very long post, here are the things I’ve learned:

  • The left flank gaps – need to plug those urgently
  • Time to give Yoon Yoon and Johansson a break
  • Change Acar’s role to DM-S

Plenty to keep an eye on as I try desperately to rescue the season!

OK – something’s going wrong here…

OK here I am into the new season and things are very much going awry. Pre-season favs for the title along with Man Utd, and only one competitive victory to my name:

Oxford United Football Club_  Senior Fixtures

Three bizarre results – three consecutive 0-0s at home which for a side that scored freely last season is extremely disappointing. The fixture list has been quite generous to me at the start of the season, and I have already squandered it. Throw in the defeat at Sunderland and that makes for a disastrous start to the season – I may only have the CL to focus on which is next up.

I’ll recap on my transfer business over the Summer first – it was a much busier one than expected – but I managed to keep hold of Dewulf with no serious interest:

Oxford United Football Club_  Transfer History

Igor Knezevic_ Overview ProfileStian Engelskjøn_ Overview ProfileAliou Soumah_ Overview Profile

I wasn’t expecting to sell my keeper Maisonnial, but when a £10m bid from Barca came in, given his age of 29, I decided to cash in. I have a morbid fear of players aged 30 or over, I try to keep the squad as young as possible – this may be completely ridiculous! However I had to dig deep for 22yo Engelskon but thought he was worth it.

Soumah was an upgrade for my MR/AMR position, whereas Knezevic was a Bosman signing that suddenly became worth £31m. He lacks the bravery and work rate that I normally look for, but I’m hoping his determination will compensate.

OK I’m going to talk about the 3 goalless draws because they are causing me headaches. In chronological order they were against Middlesbrough, Stoke and Liverpool – none of which are top 6 teams.

I’ll discuss the post-match analysis that I usually do, but clearly there are some issues that I wasn’t detecting, therefore my in-game performance wasn’t good enough as I didn’t do enough to address them. This underlines the importance of in-game management, are you looking for the right things: what are you seeing versus what should you be seeing, and knowing what to do about it.


Here are the line-ups:


Oxford United v Middlesbrough_ Overview Formations

I went with a 442 with my new strikeforce combination, with Dewulf as a CM-A, Acar a DLP-D. Johansson on the left was a W-A and Soumah on the right was a W-S. The type of football I want to play is fast and aggressive with threats all over the pitch, giving it a multi-layered feel that the opposition should struggle to deal with. A reminder of my team instructions:

Oxford United Football Club_  Overview-3

Trying to win the ball back early, being expressive, working good opportunities through my technical players and dribbling with the ball are cornerstones of my approach.

OK so what happened in the match – match stats and the shots for the 2 teams:

Oxford United v Middlesbrough_ Stats Match Stats

Oxford United v Middlesbrough_ Analysis Teams-3

So, I restricted Boro to only 3 shots that were off target (left-hand side), but 4 of my 11 shots were outside the area leaving 7 reasonable opportunities – so this should have been enough to create a goal.

Time to look at the passing approach and average positions:

The overall passing map shows a slight concentration of the right hand side over the left – Dewulf is the right-sided CM and is supported by winger, Soumah. The heat map bears this out, with more activity down the right flank.

In terms of average positions, there is a good coverage with the two-pronged attack, not too far ahead of Dewulf, with Johansson providing nearly support on the left. So overall I’m not too unhappy with how things played out.

Finally the key passes map showed that although there weren’t too many penetrating the box, I was penetrating in the final third without too many problems. The question is, would the next match result in the same outcome?


Oxford United v Stoke_ Overview Formations

Oxford United v Stoke_ Stats Match Stats

So this was a much closer contest, with Stoke matching my shots on target – my preferred indicator to assess whether a formation is working or not. In this match, Stoke matched me. So this hints at deeper problems because I have a better squad and should be winning this match.

Let’s take a look at how my passing developed, and where the passes ultimately led to in terms of shots occurred:

Oxford United v Stoke_ Analysis Teams

Oxford United v Stoke_ Analysis Teams-4


Oxford on the right, Stoke on the left. Again some decent opportunities but none that are close and central to the opposition goal. My two centre-forwards are barely featuring here – here is another image to show the issue:

Oxford United v Stoke_ Analysis Players-5

One attempt each in 90 minutes! Dreadful. They are starved of service. But where are they receiving the ball?

Oxford United v Stoke_ Analysis Players-4

This shows that their activity is mainly outside the box. Troyansky is a DLF-S and Knezevic an Advanced Forward – two roles that should be complementary. However they are passengers in the game.

So who is supplying them? It should be the 2 wide players and Dewulf. How are they receiving the ball?

Oxford United v Stoke_ Analysis PlayersOxford United v Stoke_ Analysis Players-3

The top image shows where Dewulf receives the ball, and the bottom where my 2 wide players are receiving it. The latter seems fine, they are making forward runs and getting the ball in advanced positions to receive it.

However, the Dewulf image is concerning. Why is he so deep? Over half of his passes received are in my half.

Stoke had succeeded in shutting me down. Therefore there is a problem with Dewulf’s role. I’ll look to give him an AP-A role in future games – other solutions would be to play a wide playmaker, and change Dewulf to a CM-A.

But I had now been closed down in 2 winnable home games. What would happen in the third?


Dewulf had an injury and I decided on a formation change:

Oxford United v Liverpool_ Overview Formations

My thought process: I’m trying to be close the gap between the midfielders and strikers, in what is a very attacking formation. Gribbin was employed as a Trequartista, with Johansson a IF-S and Soumah a W-A. Stolic was a DLP-S and Acar a CM-D. The team instructions are:

Oxford United Football Club_  Overview-4

Since this is quite an aggressive formation, I removed the “be more expressive” instruction. Otherwise, the instructions are quite benign, instructing to close down. The mentality is Standard with a Flexible team shape

But how did the match play out?

Oxford United v Liverpool_ Stats Match Stats

Even worse. Zero clear cut chances and I lost 3-1 on the ‘shots on target’ metric. Terrible. Something is not right here.

Oxford United v Liverpool_ Analysis Teams-5

OK this is the average position ‘with the ball’ map overlaid with the heat map. I’m happy with these positions because there is nobody isolated. The heat map again shows a slight tendency towards the right over the left but this isn’t a major issue.

How good was my passing?

Oxford United v Liverpool_ Analysis Teams-3

Again lots of key passes in and around the box but only one penetrating the box.

What about my shots?

Oxford United v Liverpool_ Analysis Teams-6

I’m on the right, Liverpool on the left. This is a major problem. I was being closed down again and not getting shots away; only one was saved. Liverpool didn’t fare much better but they still got more shots away.

I certainly have plenty of food for thought with the new season barely underway. To summarise my learnings from the three matches:

  • Review player instructions
  • Focus on getting enough support in the final third from central midfield
  • Review the two striker roles when playing two up front

Any comments or suggestions welcome!

Succession Planning: Identifying areas for squad improvement

One of the tasks that I enjoy doing during pre-season is working out where the holes in my squad may lie and what I can do to improve the squad.

Once the task of renewing staff contracts and speaking (or begging) to the Board for club improvements are done, it is time to take a look at the squad to enable you to plan properly for the forthcoming season. I use this tool for each position and then delve deeper into the stats for the full season. Combining both allows you to judge exactly where you are strong and also where

This can be done a number of ways, but I always start by looking at the Squad > Squad Depth > By Position screen:

Oxford United_ Squad Depth By Position

I talked about the type of player that I search for in part 2 which included the physical but more importantly the mental attributes that I require. I also have a problem with spending significant amounts on players over 25 because of their lack of resale value. The above image for the M (C) position reflects this – most of the players have Potential Ability higher than their Current Ability.

For this position I’m looking at, I’m well covered but the legendary Dewulf doesn’t always play here but when he does, it tends to be as a  CM(A). Gribbin and Stolic are also creative players whereas Acar tends to play at DM as a Half Back. Van Dommelen is being trained as the understudy to Acar, although he has made grumbling noises about lack of first team football.

Steven van Dommelen_ Overview ProfileFurkan Acar_ Overview Profile-2

So I’m well covered in central midfield – I also have Paul Murray out on loan who is a defensive midfielder, as well as Jan Koubek who is another creative option.

The next step is to review the stats for the previous season. Let’s focus on those that I use to assess performance for midfielders:

This is a custom view that I created for attacking and central midfielders  – I have another custom view for defenders and defensive midfielders.

There are many stats available but I find that custom views are a great way of focusing on exactly what you should be looking at. I include minutes because this allows you to focus on those who’ve made a significant contribution over the season.

Key Passes – these are passes that lead to an Assist or a Shot on Goal. Absolutely the number one stat for your creative midfielders.

Passes Completed % – Self explanatory but shows how accurate a player’s passing is

Cross Completion – important to assess the impact of wide players

Assists (and per 90) – per 90 I find more useful because it is a fairer comparison. How much is each player contributing to my attacks?

Shots (and per 90) – for AM and strikers

Goals (and per 90) – a good way to compare the ultimate metric.

Looking at the above image which is ranked by Key Passes, it shows why Dewulf is so important to the side. Johansson, Gribbin, Stolic and Jankovic (my CMs and wide players) also perform well for this metric.

However Jankovic is on loan. So although I was well covered at CM, I had work to do in the AMR position:

Oxford United_ Squad Depth By Position-2

Of course Dewulf can play anywhere but I prefer to keep him centrally.  With Jankovic not returning next season, I only had van der Struis in this position. I had been scouring the market for years looking for a permanent solution to this. I finally arrived at what I hope is a great solution:

Danny Laratta_ Overview Profile

I love his work rate, stamina, pace and bravery. He came at a very reasonable £7.5m and covers a position that I’ve had trouble filling with a permanent signing.

Another reason why Succession Planning is so important is to get players on board that you trust so that a first-choice player suffers an injury, your form doesn’t suffer as a result.

Unfortunately this happened to me when this guy got injured – a fantastic South Korean CB:

Yoon Yoon_ Overview Profile

My results took a turn for the worse when he got injured – look at the start I’d made before he got injured in late December:

Oxford United_  Senior Fixtures-2

You could argue that I didn’t do my job properly – the defensive cover I had in place wasn’t good enough. Let’s also look at his stats for the season:

Oxford United_ Players Players-5

The table is ranked by Tackles Completed % – for my money the most important for a defender. Yoon Yoon did make the most mistakes leading to goal, but his tackle % of 92% is very impressive, but you would expect this for someone with a 19 Tacking attribute. He is only 5″11 however, not ideal for a CB. I spent around £30m on Jonah Hodgkinson and again his quality came through with the same tackle completion ratio as Yoon.

So that’s my theory on Succession Planning – repeat the same exercise for every position on the pitch and remember that the tar ratings are not absolute values – they are relative to the strength of your squad. It’s impossible to have many five star players in your ranks.

Super Stan

Some highlights of Stan Dewulf’s (aka Super Stan) goals against Liverpool.

Match stats:

Oxford v Liverpool_ Analysis TeamsOxford v Liverpool_ Stats Match Stats

I stormed to a 3-0 lead after 25 minutes, and coasted through the rest of the first half. However Liverpool replied with two quickfire goals in the second half, but as you can see from the shots and match stats, I very much bossed the game. I was pleased that my shots on target were three times that of Liverpool – one of the most important stats in my opinion for determining the success of a tactic.

Dewulf showed immense finishing power to get 2 goals against the Reds. With the season now heating up and Oxford still in three competitions, this was a very important win.

Leaving me to consolidate second with 8 games left to play:

English Premier Division_ Overview Profile-2