And we are back! Time to see how my mission to succeed at Liverpool with only British players is faring. We left last time only a few games into the season after a mixed transfer window. Now we are in January, it is time to look back at the first half of the season, see how the results have gone and check the progress of some of the new signings.

The first thing to tell you is that I made one last signing in the first transfer window. James Ward Prowse.

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I wanted a midfielder that offered something slightly different and paid big money to get this guy in (£23m to be precise). In the first few games I noticed a lack of quality from set pieces and my central midfielders seemed to lack the final ball on occasions to get the attackers into the right positions. And I signed JWP to fix this. He is only 21 and surely will progress to become my captain and an England starter. I didn’t want to tempt fate but I may have given him the number 8 shirt…

 

Premier League…

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We are so inconsistent. Painfully. After counter attacking so well against Man United in the second game, we hosted Sunderland and can’t kill them off. Cattermole scored an absolute wonder goal, as per usual, and we had the bulk of the possession but couldn’t score the goals we deserved. Arsenal and Chelsea showed our vulnerability in defence, with both correctly picking Robertson as my weak spot.

Before the West Brow game, I added a new tactic in a bid to change our fortunes and to get Wilson into the box even more so. We went 4411 with a Shadow Striker playing behind a Complete Forward. And against Pulis’ men it worked. Wilson got both and looked a real threat. If we compare Wilson’s heat map from the first Swansea game and this West Brow one, we seemed to find a way to get him where he is most dangerous, central and in the box.

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The City game hurt. We lost 2-0 away from home, which for a team with Europa League hopes isn’t too bad, but we played so well for the majority of the match that it felt a lot worse than it was. But City’s stars made me pay for my weak and inexperienced defence. Mistake #1 belonged to Keane who left the back line to press Aguero, but instead gifted Sterling an acre of space to float into and punish us from. For me, I would put this down to inexperience rather than a tactical issue as it really isn’t something he has done before or since for that matter. Mistake #2 belonged to Robertson, my only left back. He had stuck to Nasri like glue all game but in one moment decided he would stand still and allow the Frenchman to run unmarked into the back post for a tap in. This game really has bugged me as we deserved to get something from this game, bar those two mistakes. This however is the difference between us and City. They can make teams pay for their errors whereas we seem unable to finish teams off consistently.

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After this game our form has been OK, dropping 11 points in the last 10 games. The only tough result for me was the Bournemouth game were we conceded from a set piece in the last play of the game. But where does this leave us in the league? Clearly way off the top 2 places, with City and our local rivals Everton, surprisingly, running away from the pack. But we are only 4 points from United and Spurs, and Watford presuming they keep up their form and win their game in hand. We are still in the running and in with a shout of getting the European qualification I will ultimately need to keep my job and carry on this experiment. I am not too concerned so far by our position. Yes, a few bad results to could see us slip away, but we only have to go away to Spurs and Chelsea, leaving some big home games that could help seal our fate.

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Europa League…

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For a competition that I have used to rest key players and try some younger ones, we have done very well so far.

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Again, we haven’t scored too many but six games in and we are yet to concede. Now I don’t see this competition as the Board expect us to qualify for Europe from our Premier League position. Sampdoria in the next round is not the worst draw, especially with an away draw in the first leg. The next round would see us face AZ or Athletic Bilbao, and I’m unsure whether we would have enough to get past that leg.

 

Capital One Cup…

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Annoyingly, this is not a tournament the board cares about, but one we have done well in nonetheless.  And against some tough opposition. United in the first round is not the draw we would have wanted, but after Lallana scored inside the first minute I knew we could beat them and we did. It was Redmond however who got the winner only a few minutes after coming off the bench. Playing in a new role for that game, as a Shadow Striker, he got the winner ten minutes before time. United only scored once from their 30 shots on goal.

West Ham were dispatched comfortably, not that the score line shows this and the Everton result was brilliant as they were, and still are, top of the league at the time. A last minute Sturridge winner has given us a good lead in the semi final and we will be hoping to finish the job in style at the end of this month. It would be nice to win a trophy, but with a second leg against a good side and with the prospect of facing Chelsea or Arsenal, who have a 2-0 lead, it may be tough.

A side note about the FA Cup. One round in and we dispatched Villa 3-1. The Board expect us to get to the semi finals but I feel that I may focus more on the league and Europa league further down the line.

 

Players…

Firstly, I want to talk about my most frustrating player. Andrew Robertson. As it stands, in January 2016, he has seen no attribute change at all. None. He starts every game as he is my only left sided full back and I really would have hoped to see progress. In my viewing of the games, he makes far too many mistakes and is at fault for far too many goals. There are no suitable tutors for him at the club because he is my only left back. Below are his attributes, which convinced me he would be worth the £15m I paid for him, but by the looks of it he will be a slow developer. I will try to sign a left back this window, preferably an older player who can tutor Robertson and provide good competition for his place but none seem available for a realistic price. Aaron Cresswell appears to be available for somewhere in the region of £15m, but other options are slim. With only £3m in the bank, I really need someone to take Firmino and Benteke from us to give us some transfer funds.

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My top goal scorer so far is Wilson. He has played far more games than Sturridge, who was obviously injured for most of the save so far, but nevertheless he has got 11 goals and 3 assists so far this season with a decent average rating to match. I’m hoping that he can push on and force me to stick with him as my first choice, as Sturridge comes back from injury.

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What is pleasing is that a fair few players have scored so far this season. Normally on FM, my teams tend to have two or three main goal scorers but this Liverpool side sees goals come from a large number of players. Lallana has scored 3 after returning from long injuries and JWP has scored three goals that have all been match winners. Hopefully this is something we can keep up. Another pleasing result for me is that Dann and Redmond have made their England debuts and JWP is already in the squad and playing more regular for the senior side. How nice would be it to see Liverpool win the league and the World Cup? If only…

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What next…

Transfers. I need to get rid of Firmino and Benteke. They are scoring for fun in my U21s but no one is interested. Ultimately I will be selling them for a ridiculously low fee just to get them and their massive wages off the books. That money needs to be invested into another left back and potentially another centre back, someone with a bit of wisdom to nurture Keane, Gomez and Holding.

In the next 6 league games I will play Man United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Watford, all teams above me. This spell will probably dictate where I finish the season. If I cannot pick up points against these teams, I suspect that I could be set to finish in mid table and be looking for a new team to manage next season. And not only are those 6 games vital, but within this period I have the second leg of the Leicester semi final, an FA Cup 4th round tie and both legs of the Sampdoria draw. I honestly feel that if this spell doesn’t go to plan, the project may be over. It is at this point that I wish I started this challenged with a club with slightly lower expectations as it clearly won’t be a quick win.

And I’m still looking for a tactic that allows me to kill off the smaller teams whilst remaining solid at the back and I’m hoping this will come soon. However, I am not sure whether the time to test out new ideas is the next few games. Some brave choices will have to be made.

Join me next time to see if I survived the next few weeks, if I managed to sign a left back and to conclude on the season and the challenge at hand, if I am still in a job…

 

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