After a convincing title win and promotion last season, we headed into Season 2 with high spirits and – at least on my part – high expectations. To have had as successful a season as we did last season using the 442 and soaking up pressure to hit teams on the break, I was hopeful that we could carry that ‘shithouse’ energy into Season Two, and surprise the league.
It’s often said that in a league, there is a ‘magic number’ of points, which theoretically sees a team secure safety, avoiding the drop. For us, that magic number was 45: 45 Points to (hopefully) secure our future in the Segunda.
We started strongly, with 3 wins in our first 5 games in the league seeing us lurking around the Top 6. Unfortunately, we then crumbled to 3 wins in the next 13 games, as we entered freefall through the league standings, finishing the first half of the season 14th on 22 points. Breaking point came in the first round of the Spanish Cup against Marino, a team from the division below. We shipped two early, sloppy goals, and went in at half-time facing the wrong end of an upset.
Throwing caution to the wind at Half-time in a cup game might not be the brightest idea i’ve ever had, but switching to a 4-2-3-1 and focusing on bringing the game to the opposition by pressing them high and fast salvaged a result, as we ran out 4-2 winners in Extra Time.
A more permanent switch to the 4-2-3-1 allowed us to fit in more of the summer signings we made, including Norwegian starlet Sigurd Gronli, who had previously been forced into an unsuitable DLP role for half of the season: a shift into CAM and the Advanced Playmaker role turned him into more of a focal point for a team who increasingly displayed a willingness to take on opponents and play aggressively in a bid to rescue our form.
I would love to be able to tell you that the tactical change was a masterstroke, and that we started dominating teams after the mid-season break, but that just fundamentally isn’t true. We battled our way to the third round of the Spanish Cup, where we lost on penalties to Real Sociedad. Sure, I can placate myself with “oh well, penalties is a lottery, we took them all the way” and other football clichés, but the fact is we should have put the game to bed with the number of chances we were creating.
In the end, the season became a real mix of tactical styles – I used the 4231 at home and against the weaker sides in the league, while persisting with the 442 to try to scrape results either away from home or against bigger teams. We hit our 45-point marker with 7 games to spare, as we sat 14th and 20 points above the drop zone after 35 games of our 42-game season.
While the season is not yet finished, our over-achievement has been drawing the eye from other clubs, with Vitesse the first to offer me an interview, followed closely by Marseille, after Vitesse chose another manager.