FM21 – A Blaugrana Tale, Chapter 4: October 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, Chapter 2, and Chapter 3. -Isaiah

At the beginning of a tough looking month it’s nice to get some recognition. My players may be hacking each other to bits on the training pitch but I’ll always have the September 2020 La Liga Manager of the Month. So there’s that. 

We begin October against Cadiz, who’ve had a poor start to the season and are just outside the relegation zone. I move back to the Cruyff and pick probably our best available team. Let’s not fuck about here lads. 

Well, it doesn’t go quite to plan. We huff and puff a lot and are undoubtedly the better team but I think that’s probably because Cadiz came with absolutely no intention of attacking in the first place. Seriously, I don’t remember a highlight which involved them attacking. The closest I remember is them having a corner but that ended up with us breaking and Fati hitting his shot straight at the keeper. 

We finally take the lead when Griezmann loses his marker from a corner to nod in. I’m liking our work from attacking corners so far this season, although because the game’s AI has improved so much in recent versions all that means is that they’ll get wise to it and I’ll have to rejig everything in a month or so. But after that there isn’t much to report. On 70 minutes I make four subs to just shut the game down. Let’s get out of here and forget all about this, eh? 

In the 94th minute Braithwaite is put clean through on goal. He misses. 

After this we have an international break, during which nothing much happens apart from Jose Gaya coming to me to complain I haven’t strengthened the defence enough. Fuck him. Which idiot signed him anyway? 

Valladolid are up next. With our first European game in midweek, I’m going to shake things up a bit. Aleñá and Puig come into midfield while Fati drops to the bench for Trincão. I also bring in Gaya for Alba because I like a guy who stands up for himself. 

Nice morale-boosting win ahead of the Marseille game, please, I say to the lads. 

Argh! 

No morale was boosted here. We batter them, we really do. But their keeper plays brilliantly and we can’t find a way through. Pjanic’s 16th minute penalty is poor, low and slow to the keeper’s right and, although we take the lead through a nice Coutinho finish soon after, we never put the game beyond them. When Sergi Guardiola (no relation – I looked it up) gives Upamecano the slip to equalise just before half time, I could sense there’d be no goals after that and I was right. 

I don’t get angry at the players. I don’t kick bottles around. No, they already respect me too little for that. 

Besides, we need to be on our game for our first Champions’ League game, away at Marseille. Dembele and Fati come in as our wide forwards and De Jong picks up a knock so Wilshere is going to make his first start. 

Well we start poorly and it doesn’t get much better. We have most of the possession but Marseille threaten more. The only comfort is that Marseille look just as blunt as we do and most of their chances come from long range, including a Dimitri Payet shot that hits the post with Gazzaniga well beaten. 

I bring on Pedri and Trincão and move to a 4-2-3-1 in an attempt to spark some more creativity. We have our first chance in the 74th minute, when a Trincão snapshot flies wide. Carles Aleñá then sends a shot wide before Trincão’s cross is partially cleared and his shot from the rebound hits the bar. 

We’re maybe the better team on the stats but not by nearly as much as I’d hope. I’m preparing to settle for the draw in the 93rd minute, when we clear a Marseille corner. We’re passing it around until Aleñá decides “fuck it” and starts dribbling forward. He beats one player. He beats another. And another. And another! HE’S CLEAN THROUGH!!! 

Hits it straight at the keeper. 

Next up is Eibar. What is an Eibar? A speck of dust on my boot that’s what. Messi is still not fit but is available for the bench so that’s where he goes. Other than that it’s pretty much the first choice team. Let’s smash these guys to finish the month. 

I bring you this match report from the inside of the drinks cabinet. I have battened my way in here, fighting off the hordes of outraged fans using my September Manager of the Month award. I’m now cradling it and a bottle of whisky that I’d swear was fuller half an hour ago. 

We started badly, with Kike beating Upamecano to a ball over the top to slot home in the 3rd minute. Ten minutes later Lenglet misses a routine interception to allow Julian Korb to double their lead. We don’t get a shot until the half hour, when Griezmann latches onto a long goal kick but shoots wide. Ten minutes before half time, Lenglet misplaces a pass to Alejandro Pozo and he dribbles thirty yards and slams home and the game’s over. 

In the second half we have all of the possession but can’t craft a chance. The best chance falls to Sergi Enrich, who nods over from 6 yards. At this point I shout “screw it” and throw on Messi while I have a good hard think about my life choices. Four minutes later he pulls one back after being put through by Griezmann. Is that it? Is that hope I smell? 

I immediately go to the tactics board to change things. Lets give this a shot. I confirm my changes and look back at the pitch. Eibar have scored again. I don’t have the strength to check what the goal was like. 

Oh yeah, ten minutes later Messi aggravates his injury and will be out for a further two weeks. 

There’s a knock on the drinks cabinet. How long have I been here? I can’t remember the last time I saw another person. The door opens: the light is blinding but gradually a human shape appears. An enormous, hulking face. With a mass of curly hair. 

“Get up you,” says Carles Puyol. 

“Carles,” I say. “Are you the boss now? Can I go home?” 

“No, I wouldn’t take this job. I’m not crazy. And Xavi’s not answering his phone.” He heaves me to my feet. “So you’ve got to get the boys ready for Olympiakos at home. Trust me, I don’t like this any more than you.” 

Ansu Fati is back and I decide to start Trincão because he’s impressed me this season. Pedri has also impressed so starts in the continued absence of De Jong. The final change is the return of Pique from injury. The players don’t meet my eye as I send them out. 

We have two goals disallowed within the first half an hour, both by VAR, both because Griezmann was standing in an offside position obstructing the keeper’s view. We’re the better team in the first half so I stick with the players and try to encourage them. It pays off in the second half as a good move down the left ends with Alba cutting back for Fati to finish at the near post. 

We play pretty well in the second half but the same problems of a lack of penetration stop us adding to our lead. With fifteen minutes left I decide to shut up shop, bringing on Ronald Araujo to kick people and Martin Braithwaite to mindlessly pressure the opposing centre backs. In the 91st minute Araujo wins the ball and gets rid. The ball falls to Braithwaite who hoofs it into the net. 2-0! Eat your heart out Alex Ferguson. 

I collect myself. Maybe we’re not looking too bad. The defence is looking tight and Pique’s return looks timely. We’ve got Elche at the weekend and then Liverpool at Anfield in the week after that. To nobody’s surprise, Wilshere has injured himself and will be out for two weeks. I suppose we’ll find a way to survive. 

Puig and Aleñá can play in the middle with De Jong back. Gaya and Dest start at full back to give Roberto and Alba a rest ahead of Anfield. I decide to give Braithwaite a chance after his goal last time out, while Dembele comes back in and Griezmann moves out left. 

We dominate them. We batter them. But we can’t score. Braithwaite and Griezmann force good saves in the first half and Dembele has a shot tipped round early in the second half. It’s not even as if we’re sterile possession, our xG is blowing them away. 

In the 75th minute I throw everything I can at it, bringing on Pedri and Fati and moving to a 4-2-4. Finally, finally, in the 90th minute a beautiful through ball by Pedri sends in Trincão, who holds off his marker to dink over the keeper. A minute later, Pedri again grabs the game by the collar, dribbling from his own half to the opposition area, laying it off for Fati to shoot home across the keeper. 

2-0. Thank God. 

You know, if the players had just pulled their fingers out and scored those goals twenty minutes earlier then I’d say that it was a pretty good game all round. But, you know, my blood pressure enjoys a workout. 

Next up is an important November involving two games against Liverpool and tough league trips to Granada and Real Sociedad. I’m not exaggerating to say that these four games could set the tone for the rest of the season. 

Next: November 2020 

By Isaiah

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.