Metalist – Once more unto the breach….
The last couple of Metalist articles have hopefully helped to familiarise you with the framework we will be using throughout this save. This post however is going to serve as an update of season two. We were optimistic going in to the second season. We were hopeful of building on last year’s league title and the semi final run in the Europa league. This season we hoped to defend our title cementing ourselves as a dominant force in Ukraine. We would also compete in the Champions league for the first time since taking charge of the club.
I have already discussed at length the financial constraint Metalist has compared to clubs from larger European leagues. In one of the previous posts we identified our 3 year plan. This plan meant reducing the wages paid to fit within a sponsorship/wage relationship and because of this the preseason was incredibly busy. We needed to move players on, re-negotiate contracts and in general attempt to “force the square peg through the round hole”. I am not going to focus on all the business of this window but I will discuss the larger transactions in the transfer market.
Sharpar had played a large role in bringing the title to the Oblast Arena playing 15(2) and also starting 6 Europa league games. Although not considered first name on the team sheet he often made his way on to the pitch within the first 11. He isn’t an outstanding player but does deserve mention for being capable of rotating between deep playmaker and destroyer.
Sharpar was valued at £3.8m but was allowed to leave for £300k to Dresden in Germany. His £10k per week contract was running out at the end of the year, his role was diminishing, he was soliciting for higher wages and the emergence of Andrie meant that it was time for him to move on. A further nail was hammered into Sharpar’s coffin with the arrival of a player who would play in the defensive midfield slot.
Tymoschuk joined Metalist after being released by Bayern. He may not be everyone’s ideal signing but for me he represents a great piece of business. Tymoschuk was offered a 1 year deal in line with Arsene Wenger’s over 30s contract policy, which we are roughly following (I am applying this to players over 32). He was after 15k per week in wages and 1.4k after every appearance. With a little negotiating we managed to reduce his basic wage down to 9.75k per week by increasing his appearance bonus to 2.5k. This works out at approximately a 320k per annum saving on his original contract request but the more games he plays, the more expensive he will become. In this scenario I have worked out that he will have to play more than 53 games before he becomes more expensive than his original demands. At the point of signing I envisaged that he would play no more than 25 games this year (mainly as cover for starter Torres). Anatoliy isn’t getting any younger and has primarily been brought in to tutor the next generation. However I am hopeful that he will also be able to offer something on the pitch. He may have lost his pace but he still has the fitness to compete. I am interested to find out if his outstanding anticipation, concentration and positioning can make up for his dwindling speed.
Marlos had predominantly been used as a wide player. He combined blistering pace and agility with strong technical attributes. However he wasn’t really mentally capable at this level. Deportivo came knocking and put together a £6m offer to take him, which we happily snapped up.
Budkivskyi joined last March so isn’t strictly a summer signing. However I haven’t mentioned him in any of my previous updates. Buddy (as I affectionately have dubbed him) doesn’t look much and at £2.5m would seem to be a comparably expensive mistake.
He joins Metalist chiefly because of his nationality and low wages. As I have mentioned before, the Ukrainian league has small restrictions on the number of foreign players allowed in their starting line-up for domestic games, but Buddy was also brought in because of his size – at 6’4” Buddy is vastly different to last season’s main strikers Cristaldo and Mehmedi. He has quite a lot of development to go but he gives us an inexpensive tall plan B.
The only other signings of note are some developmental players:
Ivanyts’kyi looks like he has the ability to become a really strong defensive midfielder. He has good starting attributes and I am hopeful that he will be able to take over from Torres when it is time for him to move on.
Kutsenko is a player that we have taken a little bit of a punt on. Hopefully his attributes will move on enough for him to become a good AMC
Demirci is a signing I couldn’t resist, especially as he was available on a free after being released by Besiktas. I have wanted to sign him since FM12 however I never got round to it. If he develops anything like his FM12 counterpart we have a very good trequartista. I am not sure if a trequartista fits into our tactical setup but this transfer is low risk. If things don’t work out we would at least make a decent enough profit.
Excluding last season’s signing Buddy, a total of 8 players joined for combined fees of 825k whilst 20 players left bringing in £8.25m.
Pre winter break
At roughly the halfway stage we could be pleased with our record of 8-3-3. The big 4 were separated by 4 points. Dnipro were looking particularly ominous and had at this stage of the season amassed 34 goals, which is a record of 2.4 goals a game, something certainly not to be sniffed at. Shakhtar and Dynamo had conceded less than a goal a game. So the season was shaping into a very competitive one.
So far Gueye, Rebenok and Blanco had been our standout players. Gueye had been the archetypical rock at the back, with the fourth highest rating in the league, completing 4.23 tackles per game. Rebenok had a direct involvement in 10 of our 24 league goals, scoring 3 and assisting 7. Blanco had made the most key passes in the league with 22. Blanco was on loan last season with Velez so his return was almost like a new signing. Bringing him back was also of utmost importance with Adryan disappointingly out with a torn hamstring for 3 months.
Tymoschuk rolled back the years whilst filling in for the injured Torres. He completed a superb 8 tackles per game and provided 4 assists from his 8 starts.
Our optimism of mixing it with the big boys finally disappeared once the draw was made. Our group consisted of Legia and the equally daunting challenge of Real Madrid and Dortmund. The group looked overly difficult and third place had to be our best realistic expectation.
We approached the first game away to Dortmund with great apprehension. We were well aware that Dortmund would enjoy long spells of possession and look to get their full backs forward to support their attack. I decided that our best approach would be to try to pin the fullbacks back and aggressively mark their deep lying playmaker. This hopefully would mean that Dortmund’s advanced players had less supply and passing options. The approach worked a treat. Dortmund as predicted had a lot of the ball but only mustered 1 shot on target all match. Despite our lower possession, we played much more direct than Dortmund, managing 17 shots with 10 on target but more importantly scoring 3 goals. A 3-0 victory against Dortmund was very pleasing, especially considering the two clubs’ relative standings. Legia at home was next and having been spurred on by the confidence from the Dortmund game I decided that this would be a good game to blood some youngsters. However this backfired on us and we ended the game 1-0 down. Any feelings of potential group qualifications acquired throughout the first game were well and truly quashed after this result. Next up was a game against Mourinho’s Madrid. Madrid have so many good players throughout their team that this was a seemingly impossible game. However in the first 15 minutes we scored a goal with surprising ease and this lead remained until the 62nd minute when Goryainov made a horrendous error from a Ronaldo pile driver. In the 66th minute Madrid ended any hope of a point by scoring from a corner.
We approached our second tie against Madrid without fear attacking from the first whistle. Taison, one of last season’s standout players, returned after a three month absence with a calf strain. The hope was to utilise his pace on the counter attack. The game ended with a superb away 0-0 draw although in truth we were very lucky to come away with any points as Real completely dominated the match hitting the woodwork on two occasions when it appeared easier to score.
The second match against Dortmund was met with confidence because of our 3-0 away day victory. We looked to take the game to Dortmund and after an end to end game where the philosophy seemed to be ‘we will score one more than you’, we ended up besting Dortmund 3-2. This result meant that we would qualify from our group if we didn’t lose against Legia due to superior goal difference. Conscious of the embarrassment in our home game versus Legia we put out a strong team. Legia were difficult to break down but in the 90th minute Mehmedi popped up with the winner thus qualifying us in second place.
The winter break
The winter break saw a few more transfers.
We completed a free transfer of Eugene Tkachuk from Vorskla. Tkachuk on the face of things doesn’t seem to be that remarkable and in many ways he isn’t. However he has two characteristics that made him a desirable transfer for us. At Metalist we tend to prefer playing an aggressively high line. Whilst Tkachuk doesn’t possess outstanding mental attributes, his height and pace together are a hard combination to find within our price range. These characteristics for me make him an ideal player for our tactical setup as his pace will negate some of the risks of balls being played into any gap left by our high defensive line.
At this stage of the season 38 year old goal keeper Goyainov announced he was due to retire at the end of the season, despite his impressive form and 10 clean sheets from 24 starts. I had hoped his form would have given us another season of his service. His retirement meant a replacement would need to be found. Disljenkovic our current backup didn’t fill me with a lot of confidence. Denchuk who is currently out on loan is a potential replacement. The young keeper however would need competition and a player capable of stepping in if he didn’t make the grade.
Lee was bought from Atletico Mineiro for £375k. Although Lee isn’t ever going to be a world class Keeper he is a very well rounded Keeper who will serve us well. He has a Fairly Determined personality so could be utilised as a tutor. I would have preferred a resolute personality but for this small a fee you can’t have everything.
Quintero joined on a free transfer after being released from Atletico Nacional. He was a player who we had been tracking for a while. He joined the team when we have quite a bit of strength in his preferred AMC position. We would not normally have made this signing but the fact that his contract expired forced our hand. He has too many good qualities to allow someone else to pick him up for nothing.
Willian left the club to join Salzburg. Willian was a great disappointment to me throughout our time together. I saw him as a player who we could use to get in behind the opposition defence and use as a strong poacher. However his refusal to un-learn the PPM of “comes deep to get the ball” ruined his ability in this area, far too often he was running back towards the midfield rather than beating the offside trap.
With seemingly no clubs interested in taking Taison permanently he was allowed to make a season long loan switch to Gremio after they offered to pay a £100k monthly fee. This was an excellent piece of business and will contribute £1.2m to our coffers. Taison’s injury had taken its toll and his electric pace had diminished. This was his key characteristic and without this he was going to be little more than a squad player.
Post winter break
The Champions League was the first competition to return. The draw for the 1st knockout round was kind, where we were paired with a CSKA side that had topped a group of Chelsea, Fenerbahce and Sporting. In the first leg we put in a fantastic performance, winning 4-1. This made the return leg a formality and a 1-1 draw secured our passage to the next round.
The quarter final pitted us against Juventus. This was probably the second easiest possible draw but there are no easy matches at this stage of the competition. The first leg was a tight edgy affair which ended 0-0. In the second leg we were 1-0 down within 20 minutes. Asamoah’s powerful running had caused us problems in the first leg and in the second leg he got his reward. We hit back immediately from a beautiful bit of play ending in wing back Villagra marauding into the penalty area and finishing powerfully. We held them at 1-1 all the way to the last minute of the match when we conceded a penalty. Vidal dispatched this with consummate ease and that was that, our run in the 2013-2014 Champions League had ended. If at the start of the season you had said that we would have been knocked out in the quarter final beating Dortmund twice on the way we would have laughed in your face.
We burst into the second half of the Premier League with 4 straight victories that included a very significant 2-0 victory over Dynamo. We then lost to Shakhtar to another injury time penalty. The league was still particularly tight with any of the big 4 capable of taking the title. After this defeat we were joint top with Dynamo, 2 points clear of Shakhtar and 4 points ahead of Dnipro. In our remaining 7 fixtures we won 6 and drew 1. Shakhtar and Dnipro couldn’t catch up but Dynamo matched our results in the last 7 games. In the Ukrainian Premier League if you tie on points, the league is decided by a playoff. This was our second title deciding playoff in two years. We stepped out against Dynamo confident of getting a result. Dynamo’s team had been depleted due to the world cup call ups, with Yarmolenko the most notable absence. We ourselves were missing Mehmedi, who had been called up by Switzerland. Buddy played in his place producing a superb hat trick performance, winning us the title for a second consecutive year.
The board deem this competition as a mere distraction, so we used it to blood a few young players and progressed to the final effortlessly only to lose to Shakhtar in the final minute of extra time. We also used this competition to experiment with the trequartista Demirci and he came alive with some superb play, scoring 2 goals en route to the final.
All in all this was a great season for Metalist. We won a title and progressed further than we could have imagined in the Champions League.
Papa Gueye was our star performer throughout the season and averaged a 7.71 rating across all competitions. He is a towering beast of a man standing at 6’4” with good pace. He has been the rock in our defence for the last 2 seasons with his physical style.
Cleiton Xavier continued to be a key player to the side. He scored 7 goals and laid on 11 goals for his team mates. His positional versatility has been key for me and he was missed during his 2 month lay off with a torn hamstring. He is capable of playing on the flanks in advanced and deep midfield. His contract is expiring at the end of next year and as our current highest earner may be difficult to keep.
Andrie continued his development whilst playing a key role. This year he started 28 games and was impressive breaking up play and starting new moves. He completed 90% of his passes and averaged 6.43 tackles per game. Andrie is fast becoming the engine of the team. He still has some way to develop and this season has gained a further 21 attribute points. Key to his role, he has developed his defensive game whilst training on an anchorman schedule. He still needs to increase these attributes and stamina but he is well on his way to being a very good player for us. Andrie has roughly 1.5 stars of development left and once he reaches this potential I envisage that the larger leagues may come knocking.
Mehmedi makes this list for different reasons. With Cristaldo being pushed wide this season, Mehmedi was tasked with leading the line. This was supposed to be his breakout season but he only managed 12 goals in all competitions. 5 goals in 23 league starts is hardly championship calibre. His scoring record in Europe of 5 in 8 was impressive and it appears that Mehmedi is one for the big occasion. He is still an outstanding link up striker but we need more goals domestically to really dominate the league.
In the league campaign we managed 49 goals in 30 games. By contrast, Dnipro who finished 4th scored an impressive 70, Shakhtar in 3rd managed 64 and Dynamo managed 55. Our lack of domestic goals started us off planning a new signing at centre forward. We were looking for a player who was more adept at running in behind the defence rather than Mehmedi’s penchant for dropping deep and being a more creative weapon.
We came up with 3 targets that potentially fitted the criteria.
Ferreyra is an outstanding poacher who has superb strength, pace and agility, plus he has outstanding goal scoring ability. His availability was good and a £4.3m deal on 17k per week was agreed in principle until Flamengo came in and put the kybosh on the deal.
Atletico Mineiro’s Andre was the next object of my affection and although he doesn’t quite have the required pace, his technical and mental abilities mean he is a real predator in the box. However Mineiro want an insurmountable £19.5m which meant this player was well out of reach.
Luis Arturo Peralta is a striker that I have umm’d and ahh’d over for almost a week! He is 21 years old and has some development left. He is lightning quick and has high stamina and work rate. He is reasonably good off the ball, a good finisher and is also good in the air. However he has his glaring flaws. He would be available at approximately £4.5m on relatively low wages. My issue is that to sign him we would be taking quite a leap of faith. In Argentina he has managed 27 goals in 50 games but would I be able to develop him far enough to get this return in Europe? Also, at Metalist we are always looking at the resale value of the players we buy, so could we get a good return on our investment?
The main reasons for my procrastinations are the development of 2 players already at our club.
Buddy who didn’t look like much at the start of the season has developed remarkably and if his displays at the tail end of the season are anything to go by he could be a real goal threat. Buddy managed 8 goals in 11(11). He has developed 49 attribute points distributed relatively evenly across all areas.
Boychuk is a player I have admired since joining the club. He is still very raw and needs game time but is developing some outstanding attributes for a poacher. He spent the season on loan in the Ukrainian Premier League at Tavria and despite being injured for a sustained period managed 5 goals in his 8 appearances.
I’m not one for buying players for the sake of buying and am currently weighing up whether Mehmedi and these two can provide the variety in attack we require whilst improving our cutting edge.
Financially we are doing rather well. We aren’t quite in our framework yet and are still spending slightly more on wages than planned but we are trying to run a squad for less than Anji had been paying Eto’o alone.
We have been particularly prudent and kept back money in reserve to bridge the gap between our planned and actual wage spend. With 16 players leaving after their contracts expire, we should be in a better position this year than last but we either need to increase revenue streams or continue with our commitment of lowering costs.
Our sponsorship for the coming season remained the same, alleviating some of the worry that we would require even larger reductions to our budgets. This is good news, particularly with a number of player and staff contracts expiring.
The most notable are Xavier and Torres. As previously mentioned, Xavier may be moved on to alleviate some of the wage pressure, however Torres will definitely be offered a new deal or allowed to run his contract down. The reason for this is that he is a solid player but mainly because he is 98% third party owned and offers little resale value.
Adryan is a key player to get tied down to a new contract. Adryan came into the side last season and offers Metalist the potential of having a genuine world class player. I would be disappointed to have to let him move on without seeing him realise some of this potential.
Tymoschuk was given another year contract. He rolled back the decades playing 28 times and was often brilliant with his outstanding mental attributes making up for his dwindling physical ability. He also continues to offer the club an excellent tutor and to me his 9k per week wages represents great value for money.
Last season our prize money totalled £17m. Within our framework we have defined that the previous year’s prize money can be put forward as transfer funds for the following year. This gives us a good budget to bring in new players.
Other than Buddy and Boychuk we have a number of players that we want to give more playing time.
Denchuk has spent the last 2 seasons out on loan at Zorya and will be competing with Lee to take over from the retired Goryainov. Lee has a head start on Denchuk after winning the starting spot at the tail end of last season but Denchuk is quicker and may fit into our system better if we move to a sweeper keeper.
Sergiy Syzyi and Yuriy Golubka are two players I have ear marked for the deep lying playmaker role as backup to Andrie or in the event he needs replacing. Syzyi is the most developed but both have a lot of potential to fulfil and need a sustained run in the first team.
Artem Radchenko comes back to the club after his impressive loan spell at fellow premier league side Kryvbas. Radchenko scored 7 goals and laid on 5 for a struggling Kryvbas averaging a 7.12 rating. This year will be his first as part of the Metalist first team. I am expecting him to play in around 20 games, where we can get a good look at him and see if he is good enough to stay at this club.
With Tymoschuk ageing and Torres potentially moving on, the progress of summer signing Ivanyts’kyi is vastly important. In his short time at Metalist he has sharpened his skills. I think this season we will be looking for him to be involved in as many games as possible in the hope that he can come into the first team in season 4 as a starter. We will also be having a look at another youngster Protsevskyi who hasn’t developed as well as Ivanyts’kyi but could become a valuable back up.
These are just a few of the players we will be looking to introduce to first team football this year. However there are several others who could make sustained appearances such as Demirci, Osman, Lanchava, Kuksenko and Zot’ko.
Based on the potential young players coming through the ranks at Metalist, it will take someone special or a lack of depth discovered in preseason to spend the majority of our transfer funds. Having said that though we have been tracking two young Ukrainians over the past year and if the price is right we may add them to our squad.
Sobol is a player who I see as being able to replace Rebenok in his defensive winger role. He would also provide valuable cover for Barvinko at left back. I would prefer to bring in Sobol now so that he can be moulded to fit our philosophy but if the cost is prohibitive Sobol’s contract is expiring at the end of the coming season.
Ostapenko is a centre forward we noticed immediately. He is incredibly raw but reminds me a little bit of Bayern‘s Mandzukic and in the coming seasons would fit in nicely! Ostapenko’s work rate and teamwork would be ideal for implementing the high block that we would like to add to our game as part of our future tactical evolution (more on that next time). In the meantime I recommend you read this article about the high block by @fmanalysis
Dynamo have just sold Yarmolenko to Man Utd for £32m. I really hope they use the money wisely and strengthen effectively. This represents a huge loss for Dynamo and it would take some of the gloss off the save if they had a drastic drop in quality now.
Anyway I have rambled on enough and I would be surprised if you have made it this far, thanks for reading