Storming the Crystal Palace: summarising three seasons of Football Manager action at Selhurst Park

After months of talking about it on the Deep Lying Podcast, my time at Crystal Palace has finally come to an end.

I’ve taken the team from a relegation threatened bunch of mediocrities to Premier League solidity and two cup semi finals. I bought in a bunch of talented youngsters – including Kasper Dolberg, Franck Kessie and Charlie Taylor – that the team can be based around for years and I’ve left the club in a better place than when I’ve started.

Of course, it would have been nice to continue. I turned down a contract from the board in the autumn of the third season and never received another one. And while I know I could have added another version of me to the game and carried on, I decided to do what I thought my in game character would do and take an ambitious job abroad to further my career.

Still, despite departing for the bright lights of Hoffenheim, there’s been plenty to look back on. So here’s my summary of my three seasons in charge of Crystal Palace which have, to be fair, been some of the most enjoyable I’ve had in the recent version of Football Manager.

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The Deep Lying Patreon: Why we’re running one and how you can help support it

The Deep Lying Podcast is about to turn two years old. Since we recorded our first episode way back in April 2015, we’ve managed to produce over 90 episodes crammed with FM chatter and some top guests from the FM Community and the wider football world.

But there’s so much more we want to do with the podcast. We want to record different types of podcasts – like phone ins, documentaries and other exclusive behind the scenes interviews – as well as have a bit more time to organise events or set up a Youtube channel.

That’s why we’ve decided – Ed and George together – to set up a Patreon. Now, I know what you’re thinking: an FM Patreon? We’ve seen those before. And you’re right, plenty of people have put them up before with varying levels of success.

But we think a Patreon is perfect for the Deep Lying Podcast for three reasons.

First, if we hit our targets, it allows us to keep the weekly podcast going completely free of adverts. This means that we don’t need to worry about finding money down the back of the sofa to pay our running costs or rely on a business to bail us out in the future.

Second, we think Patreon works really well for us because we can offer you what is essentially a subscription service. The three backer tiers that we’ve created will get you different perks and benefits, but the long and short of it is we will be providing at least an extra podcast, two newsletters and a games night every month when we hit target. By doing so, we hope you’ll feel as if backing us is worth it for you personally.

Third, and most importantly, a Patreon means the show is paid for by our fans rather than anyone else. This means we can double down on supporting the community in the show and start supporting people like FM Samo – who helps keep the community ticking over – and FM Pressure – who helps us to produce the podcast. Helping the broader FM Community is a big part of why we do the show and we’d love it if our Patreon could share the love around too.

So what happens now is simple:

  • The Patreon page is open for subscriptions here. We’ve put as much detail as possible onto the page regarding how it all works, what you get for your money and how to sign up, so hopefully it’s all straight forward. But just in case it isn’t, the main thing is that the moment we hit $30 a month then we’ll get started on backer rewards.
  • Once we hit our first goal, we’ll then begin to email our Patrons with details of their rewards and how/when they will be arriving in your inboxes. In particular, we’ll be giving you details of when we expect to release the Patreon bonus podcast each month, when the newsletter will start hitting inboxes and (for top backers) when to expect game nights.
  • As we expand and (hopefully) get more support for the podcast, we’ll keep you regularly updated with how things are going and work out how we can reinvest our returns back into the community.
  • Oh and one last thing. Just to make it crystal clear, the main podcast will always be free for everyone to listen to on a Friday morning. Patreon subscribers will get exclusive extras in return for their backing, but the main DLP will always be available to everyone without charge. So no need to worry about that at all.

That’s it for now. We’ve massively enjoyed running the podcast over the past two years, but we really want to take it to the next level. So please consider backing us on Patreon to help us make the DLP go larger than it ever has before.

P.S. If you want to hear more about it, then listen to the latest episode of the podcast below.

Stop the slump – a guide to getting out of trouble in Football Manager 2017

It’s rare to find any Football Manager player who has never experienced a slump in form. Whether they’ve been hampered because of injuries, had their squad blown apart by transfer dealings or simply been found wanting tactically, most managers will have experienced the gut drop moment where it’s clear things aren’t working.

I had precisely that feeling in a coffee shop a couple of weeks ago. My Crystal Palace team were sitting pretty in the top half of the Premier League table in early December 2016. Things were going well, we looked set for a solid mid table finish and should have been looking to prepare for a proper assault of the top half. But by the end of January – and after an increasingly desperate number of consolatory flat whites – we found ourselves dragged into a relegation battle after a run of eight games without a win.

Still, despite those problems, I did eventually pull us out of the death spiral. Though we finished the season in 15th, our final 12 games of the season yielded six clean sheets and 13 points – not sublime form, but considering that four of those matches were against Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United I was desperately relieved that we avoided the job.

How did I do it though? What follows is a little insight into how I stopped this particular slump just in time and what I hope you can learn from it. To help speed things along, I’ve broken the piece into four numbered sections – each one should help you get into my way of thinking as quickly as possible.

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A Vintage Year: Why Football Manager 2016 Delivered The Goods This Year

We’ve reached the point where the majority of us have said our goodbyes to Football Manager 2016. Across the community, players are signing off their saves and leaving their final thoughts on an FM that has – for the most part – been considered a bit of a vintage for the series.

As someone who loves clambering on a good bandwagon, I could hardly resist the opportunity to join in the reflective fun. So here are my thoughts on FM16 and why I developed a particularly soft spot for it this year.

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Being Benfica – Season 1 And 2 Update

Soooooo, you know when I said I’d blog every week about my Benfica save? That has, unfortunately, failed to happen. Barely two months into the season, I realised that I didn’t have the time to play it regularly – let alone write up everything that was going on.

Now that I’m two seasons in though, it feels like time for a quick update. By plugging you quickly back into the narrative of the first two seasons, I hope it’ll make it much easier to keep up with the save for readers and writers.

So here’s what’s been going down in my Benfica save over the past two years and a quick note on where it’s going next.

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Being Benfica – Pre-season, 2015/2016

Following the epic 100 hour plus save that I kickstarted Football Manager 2016 with, I’ve struggled to find the motivation to find managerial pastures new. An ill guided attempt to turn Sevilla into a strikerless force aside, it’s proven tricky to find a team I’m interested in investing my time into.

However, a suggestion from Occasional FM to look into ending the Gutmann curse at Benfica piqued my interest. So, after studying the league and the players I potentially had available to me, I decided to dive in headfirst and attempt to end years of European heartbreak.

Initial Analysis

Benfica is a bit of a dream team for most Football Manager players. Boasting a relatively decent squad filled with talented youngsters, there was enough from an initial scan of the first eleven to suggest there is a decent project at hand here.

After examining the side, I decided that I wanted to play a 4-3-3 with two out and out wingers. These are the reasons why:

  • Benfica has four decent quality wingers available at the start of the save. Nicolas Gaitan on the left and Pizzi on the right are both instant starters, while 18 year old Goncalo Guedes and 20 year old Nuno Santos (promoted from Benfica B) both look likely to develop into class talents.
  • The core of the side suits playing a trio in midfield with one as a DM. Almeida, Fejsa and Samarris are all capable of playing the role well, while the youthful talent of Renato Sanches suggested there was somebody worth building a side around.
  • Having looked at my striking options of Raul Jimenez, Jorge and Kostas Mitroglou, I felt that wingers would suit the relatively rudimentary skills of this slightly underwhelming strike force and that a runner or two from midfield might prove more effective at goal getting.

Shaping our tactics

So to begin with, I set the side up in the most basic shape I possible could. The back four featured two regulation centre backs, a right full back with a support duty and a left wing back with a defend duty. The midfield featured a Ball Winning Midfielder in the DM role, a box to box midfielder and a centre midfielder on support. And the front line consisted of a right winger with a support duty, a left winger with attack duty and a target man on support.

In the opening fixtures of pre-season, I set up no tactical instructions or set piece instructions. The reason for this is that I like to see how my tactic performs in the purest sense possible before fine tuning it, to ensure I’m not building a tactical approach which rests on uneasy foundations.

The early fixtures in pre-season were far from challenging. In each of the first three fixtures of the season, against my reserves and two lower league sides, we recorded over 22 shots in each of them.

However, in two of the games where we generated over 30 shots we only created one clear cut chance – the 2-0 win over Benfica under 19s and the 3-0 win against.

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Unimpressive number of clear cut chances prompted a change



The first change I made, therefore, was changing the left sided centre mid support role to advanced playmaker and brought in Talisca alongside Renato Sanches; a move that resulted in four clear cut chances in the next game from 22 shows.

Three games into the season and I still hadn’t given any tactical instructions for my side. We were still playing a 4-3-3 with mentality set to standard and a flexible team structure.

The next two games, however, changed that. The first game was the only real measure of the quality of the side through pre-season, which was a 1-1 draw against Napoli. I had been watching the games on extended highlights until this one, but I switched to comprehensive because I felt that I’d get a much better measure of what my tactic was like in this match.

In the game, a few things stood out:

  • Our distribution from the keeper and centre backs was causing us enormous problems when it came to retaining possession. Both Julio Cesar and my centre backs (Luisao and Lisandro Lopez) tended to punt long, conceding possession unnecessarily.
  • The target man role didn’t appear to be working. There simply wasn’t enough to Mitroglou’s all round game to open up space for the rest of the side and Raul Jimenez, despite his poor finishing and composure stats, showed in a defensive forward role that a bustling mobile presence worked better for us.
  • With Talisca injured, I switched the 17 year old Sanches to the left as a roaming playmaker and brought in the back up box to box midfielder, a 20 year old Brazilian called Lucas Otavio, into the side. Though this game was tough, the partnership proved complementary.

Backed up further by an unimpressive 2-0 win against Benfica B in the following match, where a midfield without Sanches and Otavio struggled to create anything of note in the first half, I made a few further shifts to the tactic including: changing the target man support role to a complete forward support role; instructing the centre backs and keeper to play it short out of the back; to change the advanced playmaker to a roaming playmaker; to instruct Otavio as a box to box midfielder to dribble and shoot more in an effort to punch through the opposition ranks.

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Though he needs to improve his composure, Otavio will hopefully be able to develop into a fine goalscorer


Allied to an increased focus on creating attacking set pieces, which suits this current Benfica side due to the quality of their centre backs in the air, we rounded off pre-season by thumping Athletico CP 5-0.

Looking ahead

So at the end of pre-season, and just ahead of a super cup tie against Sporting Lisbon, this is how my side will be lining up tactically.

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 12.50.19

And though I’m not really sure how it’ll perform when we play quality opposition, there are a few things I’m looking out for in the coming weeks:

  • The performance of my strikers. When I was back managing Leeds, one of the factors behind my derailed first season promotion push was a dearth of ruthlessness from my centre forwards. If my forwards flounder, I’ll be raising some additional funds to find someone who can do the business.
  • The performance of my new signings. Lucas Otavio, the BBM, looks like a potentially important player for us, but 22 year old left back Nicolas Tagliafico is also going to go toe to toe with Alex Grimaldo and I’m interested to see who wins.
  • Renato Sanches. He’s 17 but is already the best central midfielder we’ve got to hand and has performed superbly in pre-season. The questions for me will be whether he can play well when it counts and how I can manage him when he’s still developing.
  • How the tactic works in competitive situations. We’ve beaten a lot of poorer sides in pre-season, without needing much possession and with lots of shots on target. I’m intrigued to see what happens in our first month of fixtures when the pressure is on
Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 12.42.49

The great hope for Benfica’s future


That’s it from this update. Stay tuned for another update when I’m a month or two into the season to see how things go.

#WeAreTheCommunity FAQ

So on Friday morning, we, along with FM Central, Guido Merry, Chris Darwin and more, launched the #WeAreTheCommunity to try and help FM content creators promote, discover and easily share each others work.

And we have had some really great responses to it. Already, we’ve been seeing lots of people using the tag and getting involved. But we’ve also had some questions, queries and quizzical tweets that have shown us that keeping the thrust of the launch to podcasts alone was pretty dumb of us.

So here’s a quick FAQ which explains what we’re doing with #WeAreTheCommunity a bit more and hopes to answer those questions a bit better.

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Football Podcasts: Six of the best listens for Football Manager fans


After a really nice reception to my post about football books for FM fans about, ooo, two or three months ago, I felt it was time to dip back into recommendation mode once again.

And as I spend the best part of a day a week recording and producing the podcast, I thought that giving you a little look at my favourite football podcasts might be a nice thing to do.

So here are my six of my favourite football podcasts that I think will prove relevant to all of you FM fans out there.

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The Football Manager Guide To Football Management Review


Have you ever thought of what it’d be like to learn to play Football Manager nowadays? For those of us who’ve played for decade/decades, can you imagine what starting the full career mode as a newbie must feel like? Probably like being given the Sunderland job after applying to work there as a work experience kid, I bet.

So it makes a lot of sense for Sports Interactive and Sega to release The Football Manager Guide To Football Management. Despite it being light on actual advice on how to play the game, Iain Macintosh’s eighth book (and second about Football Manager, the lucky bugger) acts as a cheery Ghost of Football Present to helpfully inspire your management efforts from the training pitch upwards.

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