FM21 – A Blaugrana Tale, Chapter 3: September 2020

This guest series is written by my good friend Harry, who has chosen to make himself miserable for your enjoyment. This is Chapter 3. For previous chapters, see Chapter 1 and Chapter 2. -Isaiah

Paulo Gazzaniga comes in on an emergency loan basically because he (a) speaks Spanish and (b) is willing to come. With any luck I can let him go around Christmas when both Neto and MATS are back and we can put this whole horrible business behind us. 

September is a short month, where we play Valencia and then Osasuna basically as warm ups for the first Clasico of the season on the 28th. So no pressure then. 

Valencia are one of those teams who always seem to have one good season and one bad season. They finished 9th last season so my flawless analytics brain tells me that they will be rubbish this season. But I’m not taking any chances. It’s the Cruyff. It’s basically my first choice XI (minus MATS and Pique). Let’s not fuck around with this.

We start the game on top, including a bizarre moment in the 4th minute where Cillesson’s poor kick goes straight to De Jong, whose volley from the edge of the centre circle hits the bar. Only four minutes later, Fati cuts inside and plays a ball out to an overlapping Jordi Alba, who darts into the box. Gabriel Paulista comes across and… 

Oh baby. 

Messi dispatches the penalty and we’re on our way. Two minutes later good combination play on the left leads to Coutinho playing a lovely cross that Messi heads in at the back post. I think the players thought they were playing the Basset at that point but I’ll take it. Griezmann nods in from a corner and Gabriel Paulista boots it into his own net to make it 4-0 at half time. 

In the second half we close it down but keep control. Valencia don’t have a shot on target until the 70th minute. This management lark is easy. 

Also, apparently there are crowds in this world. So I guess Al Gore became president in 2000 or something… 

The players look delighted in the dressing room. “Do you think Xavi noticed?” Griezmann asks me. 

I arrive at the training ground the next day, a spring in my step. The grass is looking fresher, the air sweeter. The players are looking intense in training. Perhaps, I wonder, a little too intense… 

Right. 

I’m going to be honest, this may not be the worst news in the world. Busquets had been benched for the first game and this gives me an excuse to blood De Jong in the regista role without getting senior players pissed off. 

I call Busquets into my office and tell him that I hope he gets well soon. 

“Thanks Xavi-placeholder, I appreciate that,” he says, using the nickname the players gave me to show how close we are. “But why are you googling nearby glue factories on your laptop? And is that Frenkie purring on your lap?” 

I usher him out. 

Moving on to the Osasuna game. I stick with a similar team, rotating out Fati and Alba for Gaya and Dembele. All I can ask for is the same again. 

Hmmm, that didn’t quite go as planned. Osasuna took the lead twice in the first half hour, once from a deep free kick headed in by Calleri and then from a nice finish by Gallego. Messi briefly equalised but I’m still vaguely confident until the hour mark. 

“Did Messi pull up?” says the computer. 

Fuck. 

In possibly the most bathetic substitution of all time, Messi limps off to be replaced by Martin Braithwaite. Old Marty-B doesn’t acquit himself badly to be fair: he hits the bar once and equalises with a nice shot from the inside left position. My real fury should go to Trincao, who somehow balloons over from 6 years out in the 94th minute. 

But I can’t concentrate right now. Messi is out. It’s not as bad as first feared because two of those weeks will be taken up by an international break but he’s going to miss the Clasico and at least two European games. 

I’m up late at night at the training ground, pacing around my office. There must be something, there must be something. Maybe Pep left an emergency plan somewhere in the office. Not that I can find. But then, when I’ve crawled inside the drinks cabinet because it’s warm and makes me feel safe, I discover peace. 

We’re going to go with the Basset. Braithwaite and Griezmann will press mindlessly, Fati will seamlessly replace Messi, Coutinho will orchestrate from the wing, Sergi Roberto will work hard and we’ll break from the back with Dest and Alba. What could go wrong? 

Turns out, quite a lot. After 69 seconds Modric and Kroos pass around our midfield to set up Hazard to crack home. I’m already hiding. Maybe I should just call Xavi myself? 

De Jong equalises by poking in after a scramble from a corner and we go into half time all square. We’re growing into the match. This lot doesn’t scare us. Well, it turns out that what does scare Paulo Gazzaniga is high corners into the box. He paws one away to Isco on the edge of the box, who volleys home from 25 yards. 

Time for serious change. I throw on Pjanic and Riqui Puig and move to the Cruyff. We can’t mess around. And we don’t. Five minutes after coming on, Pjanic decides to take matters into his own hands, beating two players to equalise. A minute later Fati misses a one-on-one and from then on we’re hammering on the door. 

In the 83rd minute, Trincao redeems his miss in the last game by taking out the entire Madrid back line with a through ball to give Griezmann an easy finish. I immediately shut the game down. We move to Ultra Cautious, change all player attributes to defensive. I’m not here to entertain you. 

And yes, by God yes, we manage to make it through. 

We deserve it. No doubt. 

When I emerge, hungover, at the training ground the next morning I am forced to confront the possibility that these players really hate each other. 

I mean, what are they doing to one another? 

But, no matter, I scout around for a quick fix. You know, a competent midfielder who can reliably play 10-15 games a season and then bugger off after a year. And who did I spot? 

Stop your tittering at the back! What would Xavi think? 

Next: October 2020

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.