Pre-Season AspectsPre-Season is purely about the following:
- Team Cohesion
- Match Fitness
- Player Morale
- Tactical Familiarity
The first of those is sorted by a specific General Training setting. The next 2 are done through (usually) playing Friendly matches (West Ham in season one are slightly different due to early Europa League qualifying rounds). Tactical Familiarity also requires a specific General Training setting as well as playing matches.
Arranging Friendly MatchesIdeally you will arrange a Home friendly match every 3 or 4 days, against very low quality opposition. If managing a small club, it can also prove financially attractive to arrange a friendly against a large club, however be careful of the fees these clubs command and your expected income. Sometimes you will actually receive a larger profit by playing a friendly against a slightly smaller club as their fees will be lower but you should still attract a large crowd.
Playing Friendlies is the only way to improve player Match Fitness before competitive matches start. There is a bit of a myth that setting General Training to "Fitness" will also help here. It doesn't. Fitness General Training will attempt to develop your players' physical attributes (eg., stamina, strength, pace and so on) and so has absolutely nothing to do with Match Fitness.
The reason to pick low quality opposition for opponents in Friendlies is so that you are pretty much guaranteed a win. Winning matches improves morale, and happy players with good morale at the start of the season can help get you off to a flier.
Team CohesionDuring Pre-Season, General Training should be set to Team Cohesion. The intensity level should be at least Medium - High if you think your players can handle it. Team Cohesion is important at the start of each season to help players blend together well. New faces from either promoted Youth team players and/or transfers can rapidly destroy cohesion, so it's important to get it back up. Players who are unfamiliar with each other won't perform as well on the pitch.
You can check on your squad cohesion by looking at your Assistant Manager's Team Talk Feedback Report. Here is mine at the start of the season:
Not very good, so I'll set Team Cohesion in General Training and leave it on that until such time as this report improves (generally 4-6 weeks). I'll have to check it periodically.
Tactical FamiliarityOnce you have created (or downloaded) tactics, your players need to learn them. Playing with an unfamiliar tactic isn't the worst thing in the world, but it can certainly help kick start your season.
To maximise the speed at which your team becomes familiar with your tactics, you need to set your Match Preparation in your Training screen to Match Tactics. Note that the more tactics you have set up (maximum three), the longer familiarity will take. You also need to maximise the amount of time your team spend at the training ground practising your tactics. This is done using the Scheduling slider at the top centre of the screen to set "More Match Training".
You should also not allow any rest before or after matches, as this will impact on the amount of time your team spend studying their tactics.
Putting it all TogetherThis is how West Ham's Pre-Season Training and match schedule looks.
You can see:
- Team Cohesion is being worked on;
- Easy Friendly matches have been arranged;
- Match Preparation is set to tactics (although I haven't actually created any tactics yet);
- Scheduling has been increased to maximize time spent preparing Match Tactics.
This also shows why I mentioned way back at the start of this article why I set the season to start with Germany 26/6/2015, instead of England 1/7/2015. If I had left it until 1/7/2015, I'd be missing out on a few days of training and a Friendly match - I'd be launching straight into my first Europa League qualifying match against Lusitans.
Speaking of this, I'm treating these Europa League matches as additional Friendly matches. I really should be winning these games with some ease, so they take the place of some Friendlies. You'll notice that after the Canterbury match there is a gap - assuming I beat Lusitans, the next round of qualifying will appear here. If I fail to beat Lusitans I can simply arrange a Friendly in this place. And then uninstall the game.
FinancesAt first glance, West Ham's finances are in a bit of a mess:
Net debt of £105m is a bit eye watering. However, on closer inspection, roughly half of the existing debt will be gone by the end of the season. Add on the new TV deal money that'll take effect soon and it's actually looking fairly rosey.
However, I don't want to go overboard with my own spending. I have a Board condition to develop my own youth players, so I want to be able to channel a lot of money into developing my facilities rather than spending huge amounts on transfer fees, agent fees and player wages. For the time being, I'm therefore going to give myself some self-imposed salary caps.
To do that, I need to take a first look at my senior squad:
This is a custom view I've created, which gives me a great general overview of my players. I can see how much they earn, their personality, squad status, home-grown status and so on.
I can immediately see I only have one senior player earning over £100k a week - Alex Song who is on loan from Barcelona - and he's earning double the next best paid player. Pretty ridiculous really, and I may not keep him beyond the January transfer window (assuming I can cancel his loan, which I may not be able to).
Looking at my next best paid players (Payet and Carroll), they earn £70k a week + £10k appearance fee and £10k goal bonus (Payet) / £7k goal bonus (Carroll).
Working out percentages, I'm leaning towards a wage structure of up to £100k a week for a key player + up to 30% in bonuses.
£75k a week for a First Team status; £40k a week for Rotation; £25k a week for back up are nothing more than arbitrary numbers but sound at least plausible to me, and don't seem to rock the boat too much in terms of my existing squad.
We'll see how it goes, but there's my line in the sand for now.
Meet the Players and Initial Tactical MusingsSo far, I've checked out my staff, set up Pre-Season and even dabbled with some Finances. It really is about time I did something with my players.
I'll make a confession here. I'm writing about a new save I'm starting in June 2016, a year ahead of the game's actual start date. The last thing I want to be doing is messing around with player injuries which healed many months ago in real life. That just isn't fun for me at this particular point in time, so I've edited them out. If I had started this save much nearer the game start date then not a problem, everything would be left untouched. But 12 months after the fact? That's just an inconvenience to me now. Obviously any injuries that players pick up from here on in will remain, as that's now part of the game world.
Where Do I Start?To an extent this is going to depend on your own knowledge of the club. I'm already pretty familiar with West Ham, and I already have some ideas of the direction I want to go in, but what if I didn't have any knowledge? How do I start to familiarize myself with my squad of players? What are the strengths and weaknesses? What type of tactical system should I adopt? How do I tell if my players are even capable of playing in the manner in which I want them to?
That's a lot of questions, and questions not exactly uncommon on these forums either.
And the answers to those questions can be quite varied. The thing to remember is there is no right or wrong answer - just the way in which you feel most comfortable with and adds to your game experience.
So, onto some examples to illustrate the point.
Some people recommend starting with the Team Report screens, comparing how your new club compares with other clubs in your division to help assess your strengths and weaknesses:
I have no idea how West Ham are first for Finishing.
Perhaps your midfield are particularly good passers, in which case a possession oriented game may be wise. On the other hand perhaps you have big strong strikers, so a long ball tactic might more up your street. There are all manner of ways in which these reports can be analysed, which many people find very useful as a starting point.
Others will go straight to the Squad screen (or will move onto the squad screen after their initial assessment in the Team Report screens above) and get stuck straight into player attribute analysis. For example, here is the West Ham squads' Technical attributes sorted by Crossing ability:
Any number of attributes can be listed for you to analyse with the ability to sort players by relevant attributes to help you decide whether your team are actually capable of playing in the manner in which you wish. You can also create your own custom lists to show even more information that you may be interested in all in one place.
So for example, if you want to play with Wingers and use them to cross the ball into the box for your strikers to get on the end of, are your wingers actually capable of crossing the ball? These screens can tell you that. From there, you can then start to shape your tactical system and/or your transfer requirements. Following through that example, if you want to play with wingers, but the ones you have can't cross a ball, there's a possible transfer target for you. Alternatively, they may not be able to cross the ball, but perhaps they can dribble, shoot and pass, so an Inside Forward instead could be a good starting point.
Until you are used to looking at such reports, it takes time. If you just go crashing in, giving your players any old role without much thought, don't be surprised if things go awry when you start playing matches.
A third view is to just go straight to the Tactics screen, set your tactic up according to how you want and then try to fit players into it. Just bear in mind that it can help if you have an idea of how you want to play before you go down this road. Sometimes when you see players actually in a formation, it can help you to visualise where you may be weak or strong and lead you to little tweaks and adjustments - or even if your idea of how to play is just a complete non-starter for now and should therefore become your long term plan instead:
Just for demonstration purposes, all I've done here is select a formation and get the AI to fill in the players. Straight away this can give you a very visual idea of how players may be able to fit in, and areas you may need to change. For example, I can easily now click on each player in that formation and, based on my understanding of what the role does, see if the player is suitable. So, is Dmitri Payet (for example) going to be ok as a winger?
Well he's not going to be bad, but with those attributes and PPMs I'd perhaps think about playing him as an Inside Forward or Advanced playmaker - assuming I was going to leave him out on the wing. Alternatively I could move him to a different position if I thought he suited that better instead or, if I like the winger role, replace him with someone more suitable (assuming there is someone).
However, while doing this for each player, you still need to be aware of your other players and their roles. We're starting to stray into actually creating a tactic now, which I'll be covering later, but suffice to say for now that all roles will have an impact on all other roles, so don't ignore everything else you are doing.
Now, if you are really really struggling to start a tactic and really don't know even what formation your players may be capable of playing, then honestly at this point you really should spend a little time getting to know your players. If you still can't and are just confused by the whole thing, there are two other options you can try.
Now, I do not recommend doing this, but I know sometimes people just want a little starting point.
So option 1) - Go to your tactics screen and when you see the following, click on "Skip Tactics Creator":
The game will then pick a formation for you that it thinks is ok based on the players at your disposal. This is what it gave me for West Ham:
Now, some of the roles and duties in there are a bit suspect (I wouldn't use "Auto" duties, and that AF may get a bit isolated), but it's a starting point. Really this is a properly last resort option, but it can help you visually - and sometimes that's the start a few of us need.
The second option you can try involves relying on the game to set things up for you. Go to your Squad screen and from the tabs at the top select Squad Depth > Best XI:
Then simply select a formation from the drop down box highlighted (I've selected 4-2-3-1) and have your Assistant Manager select player roles/duties and the players themselves. And straight away you have another starting point. Now it doesn't select tactical settings for you, and neither can you just switch to your Tactics screen and see this newly created formation appear there, so you'll need to take some notes. But you've now created something that at least makes some sense and gives you a platform to build on.
It'll never replace your own time spent studying your team and getting to know your strengths and weaknesses, but not everyone finds that fun.
Sorting out the Squads
Senior SquadFor me, it's important to sort out the squad status of all of my senior squad players at the start of the season.
If I leave it for a few months I run the risk of players moaning about having their status reduced. It may still happen now, but from what I've seen previously it's less likely to happen.
Here's the senior squad sorted by squad status. I've picked my "best" starting eleven, so they should be the ones who'll play the most:
That's an awful lot of players with First Team status. Which means that's an awful lot of players who will expect to play in a large majority of games, and if they don't they'll come moaning to me. Bless.
My personal preference is not to have more than a couple of "Key Players", with 5 or 6 given a status of "First Team". It'll save my wage bill as well.
Here are the changes I've made:
Pretty harsh, and some of the choices may surprise you. But then I am supposed to be in charge. My reasoning is:
- I don't like having loanees with a squad status higher than Rotation. Song, Lanzini and Jenks may all get starting places in the team, but I'd rather manage expectations of my actual players first,before pandering to someone who'll leave the club soon anyway.
- The more players you have as Backup or Rotation, the less likely they are to moan about lack of playing time.
- It gives me an idea of which players fall outside of my new wage structure.
- It allows me to see who I can loan out or get rid of. Emenike is superfluous to my needs and will have his loan terminated. Henry will be loaned out when the game allows (I cancelled first transfer window moves if you remember).
Note: I haven't negotiated any contracts yet, just changed the squad status.
Unless a player is coming towards the end of his career, it's unlikely a player would take a wage cut for me to keep him within my wage structure, so I'll probably need to sell at some point.
I sort my Youth teams by Potential.
Now, you have to take star ratings with a bit of a pinch of salt. They can be misleading so treat them as a guideline only. Star ratings are reliant on how well your Assistant Manager knows your squads and how well they can judge player potential. We've already met my Assistant Manager, and know he's pretty rubbish.
So, some decent prospects to keep an eye on, although most are away on loan. I may recall Reece Burke (if I can) as I don't like having my main hot prospects away from the club - I lose all development control if they are away on loan.
You'll notice that I also have Personality and Determination listed. I use this to help decide on my Tutoring targets (more on that later).
3 or 4 decent looking prospects there (pinch of salt at the ready).
One or two of these were in the U21s squad for some reason, so I moved them back to the U18s. Again, try and do this at the start of the season as it can upset players.
I moved them back to the U18s as I like to have a set progression without moving players into higher squads too quickly (unless I have a real superstar on my hands).
I'm again looking at Tutoring targets but also any hot prospects still on Youth contracts (noted with a "YTH" symbol). Anyone I want to develop I'll look to sign immediately onto a full time professional contract - if I don't I'll run the risk of another club coming in under the radar and signing them from under my nose.