The Empoleonic Era Part II: Slumps, Injuries and Penalties

So the first few games of the season were tough. We got off to the best possible start with an easy 2-0 win over Atalanta in the first game of the season. This was using the 4-2-3-1 formation because we were at home against a team I deem to be relatively similar to us.

Annoyingly this left me in quite a difficult situation because our next game was against Frosinone, a newly promoted side. My initial instinct was to go with this formation again because even though we were away from home we were so good in the first game it made sense to stick with it. In the end my head won out and we went back to the three at the back formation and my plan was to keep things tight and maybe nick a win. This was working splendidly with the score at 1-1 right up until the 92nd and 94th minutes of the game, when my team decided to implode and give away two cheap goals. For the next game against Udinese we went back to the 4-2-3-1 and although we went down 2-0 we actually played pretty well. Antonio Di Natale (volley) and Francesco Lodi (free-kick) produced two moments of magic and we were just unlucky with not taking our chances. The big news out of this game though was Saponara picking up an eight week injury, the Oxford dictionary definition of a disaster.

Saponara injury

Little did I know at the time that this would be the start of my most difficult run in Football Manager 2016, and one of the trickiest in the past couple of editions. Including the results against Frosinone and Udinese we lost eight games in all. Now admittedly some of these games were against the likes of Napoli, Roma, Milan and Juventus but even still there are some very frustrating results in this run.

In fact against Napoli and Roma we only lost by a single goal and although we were dominated in both games we defended well and we would have got the draw had we not had one momentary lapse of concentration.

The Chievo and Sampdoria results were more annoying because as you can see we had more shots in both but we just couldn’t put away our chances, which personally I felt were better than our opponents. We also missed a penalty against the former just minutes after we had gone behind, a recurring problem as we missed one against Milan when the score was still 0-0, before going on to lost 3-0.Chievo 1-0 Empoli Empoli 2-0 Sampdoria

What perhaps made this more difficult is this wasn’t a team where we I necessarily expected to struggle. When you’re taking a Conference North/South side up the divisions there are going to be tough periods, that is only to be expected, on paper Empoli don’t have that bad a side. I didn’t have any real aims for this season as I wasn’t entirely sure of what the squad would be capable of, particularly with the option for no transfer budget ticked to ensure a greater sense of reality, but I still felt that we wouldn’t be this far into relegation problems.

During this run I moved the 4-2-3-1 around a bit so the central midfielders dropped into defensive midfield, which in theory would allow greater defensive protection. I also regularly swapped between this formation and the three at the back, although looking back I realise I might have been better served actually sticking to one and allowing my players to settle. I certainly suffered a knee-jerk reaction to Saponara’s injury, deciding to go with just one AM or even none, choosing at times to play with two STs.

4-2-3-1 Empoli

In this run I could already see where we could get out of it, and the Palermo game first up was crucial. We didn’t play particularly well or deserve to win, but we more importantly WE DID WIN and Maccarone finally got on the score sheet with a tidy finish inside the area. In other games my focus had been to try and keep things tight at the back, and catch teams on the counter but against Palermo I felt I had to do something a little bit different. I reduced the number of instructions and told the team to be more bold in their approach, giving them my trust. It was a risk but my message to the team (in theory at least) was that if we’re going down we’re going down fighting, and it clearly worked.

Empoli 1-0 Palermo

Empoli 4-2-3-1 attacking

Bologna came just a few days after the Palermo victory and despite a few tired legs the only change I made saw youngster Tommaso Fantacci come in for Piotr Zielinski, who has been very disappointing so far. Bologna boasted Euro 2016 hero Emanuele Giaccherini and the dangerous Mattia Destro but we defended really well yet again and it finished 0-0. In the end they had a man sent off and we could have snatched it late on but back to back clean sheets is a first for the season so we have to be happy with that.

Next up was a huge game, the only team in the division lower than us, Carpi. This was the game that saw Saponara finally return to the starting XI, after six games out. The first half an hour we just didn’t get going, we couldn’t string a pass together and we were making Carpi look like Barcelona. Things went from bad to worse when Mario Rui was booked and then Lorenzo Tonelli gave away a penalty from the resulting free-kick.

Thankfully Jonathan De Guzman’s penalty was well saved, which actually brings me onto a separate point, has anyone else noticed how many penalties are missed in this year’s edition? It might just be me but it feels like there is a lot of failed spot-kicks. Anyway De Guzman’s miss proved costly when Rui broke through and scored his first goal of the season.

Weirdly there were probably about seven shots in the game overall and I don’t think that either keeper had to make a save in the second-half. Nevertheless it was a second win in three and a third clean sheet. We’re not out of the woods but at this stage we’re a win away from getting out of the relegation zone, whilst Carpi are five points adrift from us.

Serie A table pre FIorentina


In amongst this I picked up young Argentine striker Nicolas Rios on a free, he looks like a decent acquisition and at this rate he could find himself in the first team before too long. Jose Valencia arrives on trial as well as we look to bolster the striking options. USA midfielder Jermaine Jones is also on trial, I want him more than Valencia but his wages are a bit trickier on our budget.

Empoli Nicolas Rios Empoli Jose Valencia

Just before the Fiorentina game this message popped up and I didn’t look at it at first because I didn’t think we’d be relevant. Chuffed to find out we’re fourth, hopefully we can carry that on as we go forward.

Empoli leading clubs development

So as I mentioned in the first post Fiorentina are the big cheese in this area, they’re the dominant side in Tuscany and it’s my job to try and stop them. For this game I went back to the three at the back formation, wary that we could leave ourselves too open. As usual with Empoli we defended extremely well, we limited Fiorentina to pot shots, it was just slightly unfortunate that one of those pot shots went rocketing into the top corner off the boot of Mati Fernandez (I swear he always scores against me). The lack of chances created again is a worry and I’m still not happy with how this formation is working, it’s something I’ll be working on between now and the next post. I’m now wondering whether I should build a standard 4-3-3 to become my counter-attacking tactic away from home, I could use Saponara as a wide playmaker with more industrious players in the middle of the park, certainly something to ponder.

My conclusions from this period are two fold, firstly we are worryingly reliant on Saponara, even more so than I first feared. The most striking thing of that tough run was just how few chances we were creating, everything before and after that was going through Saponara, and Zielinski in particular has been a major disappointment. The second big point was that even when we were creating chances we simply weren’t putting them away, I love Maccarone but it’s abundantly clear that we need to try and find a striker who can work on his own sooner rather than later. The latter will probably have to be solved in the transfer window but between now and the next update I imagine there will be some more toying with formations and tactics, as I’m still not entirely satisfied, how can you be when you’re team is 19th!

The Empoleonic Era: An Introduction

Picking a final save for Football Manager before the new iteration of the game comes out can be a very tricky affair, believe me the amount of saves I’ve started between May and September over the years is too large to contemplate.

For those of us who aren’t lucky enough to have a save where they take Harrow to the Champions League or turn the Slovakian League into the best in the world these few months can be tricky. You’re wary of starting a save that is too long term but also of one that is too easy and over too quickly.

This is the issue that I found myself facing when picking a save for the summer and after much soul searching I decided on Serie A side Empoli. I’m not sure if I’m alone in this but when I pick a club I like there to be something that stands out. Something quirky about the club or something that makes them an interesting project.

Competition reviews


With Empoli the attraction was two-fold. Firstly they are based in Tuscany, an incredibly beautiful part of the world and within that region they are constantly overshadowed by Fiorentina. This sort of save is always attractive, where there is a bigger, more established club in the local vicinity and you have to try and topple them.

Secondly they are a club who tend to lose their best players every summer and have already lost one key player, as well as some of those who were at the club on loan. The Empoli squad is one that constantly refreshes year on year and this iteration feels too good to ignore, as there are some very good players there. The aims for this save are clear; become the biggest club in Tuscany, win a trophy, win the league and produce some good young players. There’s no time frame for this, let’s just have some fun and see where it goes!

Before we jump in I’m aware that some of you reading this will be in the same situation I found myself in so I’d like to share a few of the other clubs I considered as they may pique your interest!

Eibar – Wonderful story of a plucky little club massively punching above its weight. It’s really tricky to establish yourself in Spain but if you’re prepared for hard work and graft it could be perfect.

Hadjuk Split – One for those who like developing players for big sales, Split are constantly in the shadow of Dinamo Zagreb but they do have some really talented youngsters. Of course the long term is to succeed in Europe.

Carpi – A slightly smaller team than Empoli with a slightly weaker squad. They’re a great challenge and of course they have the wonderfully named Kevin Lasagne.

Partizan – Similar to Hadjuk in the sense that they are in a league typically dominated by just two or three teams. You’ll struggle to keep hold of FM favourite Andrija Zivkovic but the Partizan academy will keep churning out gems for you to use against rivals Red Star.

Lens – Lens have one of the best groups of players outside a top division in my opinion. There are a couple of players who could truly go on to become world class and with Lens you know you are getting quality, they’re the club who produced Raphael Varane amongst others.

Rayo Vallecano – Sadly relegated in real life Rayo have an incredible fan base and their former manager Paco Jemez was famous for always wanting to attack. A really fun little project and if you need inspiring, just watch this video!

Hoping that helped, let’s meet the squad.

The big names:

Lorenzo Tonelli:

In real life Tonelli has secured a transfer to Napoli and looking at his stats it’s easy to see why. Tonelli is tough and non-compromising, everything you would expect from a classic Italian defender. He’s great in the air and deceptively quick for a centre-back, he will be the leader of my defence and the real challenge is going to ensure we don’t lose him too quickly.


Riccardo Saponara:

The star of the show, in the game he was only just signed permanently so we should have him for the first season at least. In the formations I’ve picked it’s all about getting the best out of Saponara with his creativity, he’s going to be the one who will unlock defences and fashion out chances. My worry at the moment is that he is already our highest earner with three years left on his deal, if we try to renegotiate we may just have to accept selling him, but that’ll be further down the line hopefully.


Massimo Maccarone:

The man, the myth, the legend. The Big Mac is back at Empoli after a career that has seen him play for Middlesbrough, Parma, Siena, Palermo and Sampdoria. He remains one of the few players to be called up to the Italian national team whilst playing in Serie B and even though he’s in his mid 30s he will be the man leading the line.


The young guns

Assane Diousse:

The jewel in Empoli crown. Diousse is only 17 but he’s already ready for the first team as far as I’m concerned, and I’ll be training him to make him a natural as a central midfielder as well as defensive. He’s been offered new contract so hopefully he accepts and that will make it easier to ward off interest, of which there already is plenty.


Diego Borghini:

Originally my plan was to send Borghini out on loan but in pre-season one of my right-backs, Marco Zambelli picked up a three month injury. That means that Borghini will stay with the club as the back-up right-back and I’m hoping that eventually he can push to become the first choice. He has a nice range of stats, but that crossing figure of 4 is pretty alarming, hopefully we can get that up.



Originally I set my team up with this 3-5-2 formation (I know it’s not technically a 3-5-2 but it makes things easier!) built to try and absorb pressure to make use of the full-backs and as mentioned the skills of Saponara. The back three and Diousse will focus on keeping things tight and then get the ball to the wing-backs or our No.10 as quickly as possible.

3-5-2 Empoli tactics

The thinking behind this is that we will spend a lot of our games defending and without real wingers this formation is the best way to get as much width as possible. I could have gone with two strikers but Saponara is key and I also wanted the defensive midfielder for added cover.

However the vast majority of the pre-season fixtures were against teams poorer than us so I decided to build a more offensive formation. The three attacking midfielders behind Maccarone are given the freedom to move around how they want with the two players behind them sitting deeper to protect the defence.

4-2-3-1 narrow Empli

This formation will be used when we play smaller teams and of course as we develop into a better team we can use it more. In pre-season as you can see from the results below it was highly impressive. The team were pretty dominant and they created a load of chances. Of course by the same degree we were mostly playing lower league teams but regardless I’m pretty happy with how it went.

Empoli pre season results

If there’s anything you would like to see or for me to explain in my next post then please do let me know either in the comments or on Twitter.

In the next post we’ll be rounding up the first few months of the season, hope to see you then!