This is the second chapter of a series written by guest writer @Footy Asian
THE DIARY OF NIGEL MARTYN
A LEEDS UNITED FM18 SAVE
The joy from last season’s success did not last long as I had to get back down to work early to ensure that our squad was ready for our first season back in top flight. Despite loving most of my players to bits, I knew I had to make wholesale changes to the squad as most of them weren’t Premier League quality players. Jansson, Vieira, Saiz, Alioski and our goalkeeper (Wiedwald) would definitely stay and get the chance to impress in the Premier League. I couldn’t guarantee the same for the rest of our squad.
A massive 17 players were released/sold/went out on loan in the summer. Notable departures include Stuart Dallas, Eunan O’Kane, Laurens De Bock and Luke Murphy, and a total of 19 million pounds was raised for our signings. We splashed 66 million pounds on twelve players in the summer to bolster the squad. Jadon Sancho was the first of our arrivals and I was more than happy to take a player of his quality on loan from Dortmund on a mere 9.75k pounds p/w wages. I was also ecstatic to find Nikola Maksimovic on the loan market and he was brought in without hesitation to partner Jansson in our central defense. A cheeky optional future fee of 8.25 million pounds was also included in the loan deal. Odsonne Edouard and Marko Grujic were our other loan signings.
Paul Dummett was signed for 6 million pounds from relegated Newcastle and he went straight into our starting 11 to replace the outgoing De Bock. Juan Fuentes would be our second choice left-back after signing for 3 million pounds from Nottingham Forest. Liam Moore and Jordi Amat were brought in for 6 and 2.4 million pounds respectively and they would compete for the very important midfield anchorman role. I decided to risk 17.25 million pounds on Helder Costa as he could be our game changer in the upcoming campaign. Benik Afobe was signed from Bournemouth for 12.75 million pounds and he was expected to get lots of game time in the Advanced Forward role. Moise Kean was also brought in on loan in January to further strengthen our striking options but he did not manage a single appearance in his time here thus far.
I managed to convince Frederico Venancio to join us from Vit. Setubal for 600k pounds and he would provide some much-needed cover in our central defense. With around 20 million pounds left in our transfer war chest, I decided to take the plunge and sign Chancel Mbemba from Newcastle in our most expensive deal in the summer transfer window. He was our second signing from Newcastle and he would start at right-back ahead of club Vice-Captain Ayling.
We survived! Things did not get off to a good start and we were hovering around the relegation places in the first few months of the campaign. Thankfully, the players gelled with time and we managed to climb up the table when our results improved. We finished 13th eventually and I was just relieved that we managed to stay in the league with a squad still filled with Championship players. Man United managed to wrestle the Premier League title back from Man City’s grasp and finished on 81 points, 4 points ahead of Spurs. Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool completed a familiar looking top 6 while Arsenal dropped to 7th below Leicester.
We adopted a conservative, possession-based style in our first season back in the Premier League and I was proud to see us finish top of the average possession standings. We finished with an average possession of 59.97%, ahead of Spurs (56.18%) and Man City (53.84%). Our ability to keep the ball went a long way to help us to a very impressive defensive record despite our position in the league. We conceded 30 goals throughout the campaign and only Chelsea (25) and Spurs (28) conceded less than us. We were also good in the air, winning 71% of our headers and this is higher than the rest of the teams in the league.
However, we were very bad offensively and finished as the league’s lowest scorers with a mere 25 goals scored. The goal-scoring droughts of Afobe and Edouard did not help and we failed to score a single goal from corners. We also created the least number of chances and has the worst Shots on target ratio out of all the teams in the league. We definitely need better strikers in the upcoming campaign if we want to continue to progress up the table.
We have had decent cup runs despite not playing our strongest 11 in a few of the cup ties. The lads managed to knock out Oldham and Middlesbrough in the 2nd and 3rd rounds of the Carabao Cup before a weakened 11 suffered a demoralizing 0-4 defeat at the City of Manchester Stadium. We went all the way to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup after beating the likes of MK Dons, Scunthorpe and Bournemouth along the way. Man City was our nemesis again as we suffered a narrow 0-1 defeat away in Manchester. All in all, the boys performed up to the board’s expectations and certainly did not let our fans down in the cup competitions this season.
The Players’ Performance
Wiedwald surprised me a lot and made the step up to the Premier League with ease as he finished in second place behind Thibaut Courtois in the league’s Golden Glove award. Jansson and Maksimovic formed a decent partnership in central defense and the former won the Fans’ Player of the Season award with 34% of the votes. Mbemba was awarded the Signing of the Season at our annual end of season awards and I was relieved that the 17.5 million pounds spent proved to be worthwhile. On the opposite side, Dummett was very consistent at left-back and the Welsh defender played a huge role in our very good defensive record this campaign.
Moore had a solid season playing in our midfield anchor role and managed 35 appearances. Amat proved to be a capable replacement when Moore was unavailable through injuries and suspensions. Vieira continued to improve on his game and now look a solid Premier League central midfielder. He played 36 times throughout the season. Grujic was our shining light offensively as he finished with 6 goals and 4 assists from the AMC position. Sancho was my signing of the season (zero playing and unused monthly fee, 9.75k pounds p/w wages) as he managed to bag 6 goals and 3 assists in 27 starts. Afobe was very poor in front of goal and finished with only 7 goals but he was in our starting 11 for the majority of our season due to his overall play. He created 6 goals for his team-mates. In a nutshell, we were very good in defense but very, very poor in attack. Let’s hope that the media do not blame this on the fact that their manager is a former goalkeeper.
The future is bright as I’ve just been informed by the board that we will have 60 million pounds to spend in the summer 😉 I will certainly be looking to strengthen our striking options after our struggles offensively last season. I am also very excited about the development of our two most promising academy graduates. Steve Hamilton is a very pacey left-back but still needs some work on his technique before he is ready for top flight football. On the contrary, Martin Jeffs is already very good technically for his age but needs more work on his acceleration. Let’s hope that our two best youth prospects can continue to grow and we can consolidate our position in the Premier League. Wish me luck!