We’re back with the second half of the 2023/2024 season. If you’ve yet to catch up, feel free to take a look at the previous posts.
Last time you were here, we sat comfortably in first place in the league table and we were knocked down to the Europa League from the Champions League. Let’s see how we finished the season.
We entered the competition in the third round against Empoli. Our b-team was good enough for a (3-0) win to take us to the quarterfinals against Atalanta. Our journey ended here, after a (1-2) defeat against the Bergamo club.
We were sent to the Europa Leauge after finishing in the third place in the Champions League group stages. We would travel to London to face Tottenham in the first knock out round. Our trip to London ended how I expected, in a loss (2-1), although there were glimpses we were no match. With barely any hope, we somehow managed to keep a clean-sheet in the return fixture. Lorenzo Lucca would send us to the next round with a 86 minute penalty.
In the second round, we faced Basque giants, Athletic Bilbao. They gave us hard time over the two legs, we only managed to have 3 shots on goal in 180 minutes. Fortunately for us one of those shots went in, we scrapped by (1-0) on aggregate. Hoffenheim were next, these two matches were the opposite of the previous two. We came back from behind in both legs finishing (5-3) on aggregate to qualify us to the next round.
We were back in London, this time we visited Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea. In the away match, Chelsea brushed us aside (3-1), even though we were the first to strike first it would be the last time we had a shot on goal. They passed the ball around almost 900 times and had 15+ shots on target. That away goal would come in handy in the second leg. Back in Italy, Lorenzo Lucca and Alfredo Donnarumma would get on the scoresheet in the first half, their goals helped us tie the match (3-3). After extra time, it was time for penalties where Goalkeeper Titas Krapitas would be the hero, stopping two penalties to take us to the Europe League final against Young Boys.
Our first European final would be my favorite match of the 2023/2024 season, it was a beautiful shit-show. By the end of the first half, we were down by three goals thanks to hat-trick by Young Boys’ Jean-Pierre Nsamé. We’ve been pushing our luck ever since the matches against Spurs, the luck continued a bit as we pushed through and managed to scored three goals in the second half to take the match to extra-time and once again, penalties. The luck would end up running out as our fifth taker, Ben Brereton Diaz, hit the ball over the bar. Congrats to Young Boys.
By the time the second half of the season started we were 20 games unbeaten in the league, a number that extended to last year. It all felt like a dream that was too good to be true and indeed it was. Our unbeaten streak quickly came to end against Napoli (1-0) in the first match back from winter break. We would go on to win four, tie three and lost one out of the next eight matches. We dropped points but we were still top of the league.
Matches started to accumulate as were deep in the Europa League. Players were getting injured left and right, and instead of focusing my efforts on the league, I rotated heavily in favor of the Europa League. Making that choice would come to bite me in the ass.
We continued our decent form with two more wins, Cagliari (3-1) and Bologna (1-3) and one lost, Sampdoria (1-0) we still sat in first place. The next match was against Lazio. By the time we played them, they sat in second place one point behind us. That would be the last time that we would sit on top of the mountain as we lost the match (3-2). The lost to Lazio would be followed by another one to Juventus (4-1), as we began to slide down the table to 4th place.
Torino gave us a false sense of hope after beating them at home (3-1) and took us to 2nd place. We dropped five more points against Milan (3-2) and Inter (3-3) bring us back to 4th place. We visited Cittadella (1-2) taking the three points but with no effect to the league table. The inconsistency continued when we as again dropped five points against Napoli (2-2) and first home in almost two years to Udinese (2-3).
By now we were down in 6th place and it would take a miracle for us to qualify to the Champions League. All we could to do is win the next two matches and hope that several results could go our way. In the second to last match of the season, we beat Fiorentina (1-3). Although still in 6th place we were now just 1 point behind AC Milan and 2 points behind Inter.
The last match of the season felt like a Champions League final. Our only option was to win against Hellas Verona and hope that both Milano teams lost. We took the lead four minutes in to the match after a volley by Ben Brereton Diaz. In the 30th minute, Carles Perez tie the match. If the match continued we would end up in the Europa League. We continued to put pressure on Verona time and time again but we kept missing our chances. It wasn’t until the 90th minute when goalkeeper Titas rolled the ball to Park Yi-Young, who passed the ball to Andrea Colpani who then lobbed the ball over the defensive line to Matteo De Rossi who ended up rounding the keeper to give us the lead and the eventual win.
After the match, we noticed that a miracle had happened both Milano teams lost their matches for us to qualify for the Champions League!
Player of the Year
Lorenzo Lucca was the star signing that we needed in order to push higher up the league table. The towering forward had a superb season winning Serie A and Europa League player of year as well as forward of year. The guy was unstoppable.
He finished the season with 44 goals (outperforming his xG by 13!) and 14 assists in 46 (5) matches with a 7.70 average rating.
Due to his superb form he’s wanted by several top clubs. It will be nearly impossible to keep him around for much longer. Luckily, we have a £75m release clause in his contract, if activated, we’re looking at a £72m profit.
As expected, Lorenzo Lucca made it to the Serie A Team of the Year. He lead the team in both goals (44) and assists (14). Even though we didn’t feature any more players in the TotY, we have several players that performed excellently. Instead of boring you with words, I’ve enlisted the help from @FMstag for some #spreadsheetFM.
The graph below is something Adam used a lot during his “La Sombra” – Rayo Vallecano save in FM21, I felt like it incorporated everything that one needed to know about the performance of every player. Whether you had a complete player, great in both defense and offense, a solid defender, a strong attacker or simply someone who wasn’t particularly performing well at all.
It’s quite clear from the graph who were the stand out players. There were two players that stood out for the wrong reasons. Finn Becker has been a disappointment through the season and ended up losing his place to Ilias Koutsoupias. I didn’t need the graph to tell me that his place on the team will be coming to an end. The other player, Park Yi-Young, was a complete surprise. He had an avg rating of 7.18 but looking at the graph he didn’t really contribute much to the team. He will stay for another season.
I’ve normally highlighted a small group of players doing the intake but this time around we have eleven players that are part of our first “Golden Generation.” The combination of a new Head of Youth Development – Esteban Diaz, superb youth facilities, exceptional academy coaching and youth recruitment has truly paid off. We have a very diverse group of players coming in – Canadian, Finnish, Slovak, and Slovenian. Not only are these kids from all over, but they’re also giants, with 7 players above 6’1″ tall.
This season we played the most under-23 players in the first team. Not all performed well but they’ve getting the experience needed. A handful of players were promoted from the U20s squad through the season, as we could needed to cope with injuries and tired legs.
U18s & U20s
We had another successful year for the youth teams. The U20s won the Coppa Italia Primavera as well as the league. The U18s once again won the youth league and the Super Coppa. To top the season off, one of our U20 players, Gerardo González was named in the NxG landing in the 34th place.
As always, I always try and give kids a chance when needed. Here are the few players who either got their debuts or continued to progress.
Finances & Infrastructure
Finances – The combination of a successful transfer window earning us £32.5m and another year of European competitions helped us finished the season with £86m in the bank.
Facilities – We are close to maxing out our facilities. We’ve invested over £10m in both the training and youth facilities both now regarded as Superb. Our Junior coaching and youth recruitment are now maxed out at Exceptional. There’s no updates on that new stadium that I mentioned at the end of last year.
This season was a fun one, top of the table by Christmas and fighting for Champions League qualification on the last day. I’m ready for the summer transfer window as there will be a lot of movements in the first team.
The next post will be about the summer business, first half of the season and taking a look at some of the youth players that have been promoted to the first team.
Once again, thanks for making it all the way down here. As usual, feel free to message me on Twitter or Slack.