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Rio Ave - Road to Primeira Liga Champions

Year 1 in my attempt to get lowly Rio Ave to win the league with only teenagers as new signings.
Started on 21 July 2019 by DesmondTheCat / First Post
Latest Reply on 13 October 2019 by DesmondTheCat / Last Post
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Welcome all - my name is Desmond, and for the first time in my long career as a dedicated FM player, I have decided to create a story. My plan was to take over Rio Ave and create a long legacy as the dominant team in Portugal. I picked them as I wanted to be a team that will destroy Porto, Benfica and Sporting, as they have won all but 2 titles in the history of the Primeira Liga.

I also was going to set a challenge for myself in another season in which I was to only sign teenagers, and decided I would do that here instead. I realised that this might be a good idea for a story, as this challenge may last a very long time due to the standing of my team against the "Big 3" and the quality of players I would be able to bring in. Unfortunately, being a fool, I realised this after I had completed a full season with this team, so here is a summary of how my season went, starting in July with my friendlies and Europa League qualifying rounds, all the way to where I am now.

Pre-season friendlies and transfers

Started the season with a very small budget of £200k and a wage bill of £68k per week, with only £3k available for new players. With that, I signed Gustav Isaksen from Midtjylland, who I am hoping may become a regular name in a couple of seasons time. Also signed were Stefan Dafovski and Andre Luiz on free transfers - both went into my under 19s team whilst Isaksen went into our under 23s, despite being the youngest of the trio.

Friendlies went well, losing to Monaco but winning against lower teams and also beating Krasnodar and Club Brugge, who were regarded as our equals when organising the friendlies. In total, we played 8 friendlies, of which we drew 1, lost 1 and won 6.

Primeira Liga

Started the season as 6th favourites for the title, with Vit. Guimaraes as 5th favourites - my opening day opponents. A dominant 5-0 win was followed by victories over 4th favourites Braga and lowly Santa Clara before the September international break. Unfortunately this is where things started to go downhill, with only 2 wins from my next 7, leaving me 5th after 10 games. Then December came and things went very well in all competitions (more on the cups later). 4 wins in 4 gave me my first Manager of the Month award, including a 3-2 win at home to leaders, and at that point unbeaten, Porto, despite being 2-0 down at half time. Another positive was the poor form of Sporting Lisbon, who after the turmoil that happened in the real life pre-season, had found themselves in midtable at the halfway point, whilst my Rio Ave took 3rd spot.

The new year did not carry on from the success of December, as i failed to win any league game in January. February improved with a 5-1 win away at Vit. Guimaraes, who must have been delighted that they didn't have to play me again after 2 demolitions. A fantastic league run started from that game where we didn't lose a single game between February and April, with 8 wins and 4 draws in those 12 league games.

May started with a defeat at already champions Porto, which followed by us consolidating 3rd spot with a win at home to Boavista. A draw and a defeat at Portimonense and Sporting completed a very successful league season where we finished 3 ahead of 4th but 18 behind 2nd placed Benfica. As a reward, we will go straight into the group stage of the Europa League next season without needing any qualifying rounds.

Europa League

Europa League campaign started at the end of July in the Best Placed 2nd Qualifying Round against Hacken. After comfortable wins in both legs, we were drawn against another Scandinavian side, Brondby, in the 3rd round. Despite being regarded as narrow outsiders for this tie, we went to the Brondby ground and put 7 past them in a hectic match in which it was only 2-0 at half time. This put us into the 4th and final qualifying round against Romanian side U Craiova. A pair of 2-0 wins were enough to put us into the Europa League group stage.

The draw for the groups were extremely unkind, as we were made to face Frankfurt, Besiktas and Milan due to our 4th seeding. Expecting a painful run, especially after a 3-0 home defeat to Frankfurt, we were surprised to win 4-2 away in Besiktas, after spending the vast majority of our game camped out inside our defensive third. A defeat in Milan was overturned with a 2-1 win at home to put us both level on 6 points with 2 games to go with only 1 space remaining to qualify for the knockout rounds due to Frankfurt winning all 4 and Besiktas losing all 4 at that point.

Another heavy defeat to Frankfurt was lifted by Milan failing to defeat Besiktas, leaving us again level with just 1 game to go. To continue our December form from the league, in the game of the season we came from behind to win 5-3 at home to Besiktas, and with Milan failing to win again, we finished in 2nd spot to go into the 1st knockout round of the Europa League for the first time in our history - this is where our run ends, however, as we were drawn against Chelsea, who defeated us by 1 goal in each leg. No complaints though, and hopefully we'll be drawn as 3rd seed next season.

Domestic Cups

Not much to say about the Taca de Portugal, except we were defeated on penalties in the first match we had by 2nd Division side Arouca. Poor performance in a poor run of form at that point, leaving us wonder what could have been.

The League Cup went much better, as a win in the 2nd Phase vs Mafra put us into the 3rd Phase which is a group stage for some reason. We were given another tricky group draw, as we had to face Moreirense, Nacional and Benfica. A defeat at Moreirense started the group, before a demolition of Nacional left us needing a win against Benfica to progress into the semi final stage. Our outstanding December form, which ended with 7 wins in 7 games in total, lead to us defeating Benfica 1-0 and putting us into the semi finals.

A nervy penalty shootout win over Braga in the semi finals put us into the final against Porto, where a 1-0 win meant we were able to lift our first trophy since the Segunda Liga title in 2003. This also meant we inflicted 2 defeats on Porto, who finished as title winners and Taca de Portugal winners - only Benfica were also able to defeat Porto in the domestic competitions, and they did so only after the title had already been decided.

All in all, a fantastic season, and we will start next season with a transfer budget of £3.56m and a weekly wage budget of £86k. One rather annoying blip is that due to the league coefficients of the Primeira Liga improving against the Russian Premier League, is that from next season, the 3rd placed team in Portugal will gain a Champions League qualifying spot....but only from the 3rd placed team next season, so we still have to play in the Europa League. We will see Rio Ave in the Champions League at some point - but not yet.

Top performers this season were striker Gelson Dala with 22 goals, with Galeno and Diego Lopes scoring 27 between them whilst also creating 23 goals from the wing positions. Also worthy of a mention were my outstanding defensive setup - goalkeeper Leo Jardim, protected by a mighty defence of Junio Rocha, Messias, Ruben Semedo and the legendary Fabio Coentrao. But anyone hoping of a repeat season might have to think again - of those 8 players above, only Coentrao and Lopes remain, as the other 6 return to their clubs on loan. And with none of them being teenagers anymore, we won't be trying to get them back.

Plenty of youth signings have come in, with Marvin (Real Madrid), Rui Rua (Academica) and Marko Bulat (Sibenik) as the most promising. From now on, I will try to update this monthly so there will be more detail but much fewer words hopefully. Plan next season is to finish in the Europa League spots, and hopefully we'll be able to replace the loanees that departed successfully enough to do that. Thanks for reading.
Welcome to FM Scout and the Stories section, first of all. Secondly, congratulations on a magnificent first season in charge at Rio Ave. You have already worked your way into the top three, toppling Sporting from their perch, which is a great achievement in your first season. Working your way through a difficult group and only narrowly losing against Chelsea - a side far greater than your own - continues to show some stellar work on the pitch. After such great work domestically and in Europe, you fully deserve to lift the League Cup, so well done on achieving that. Whilst it must be frustrating to not qualify for the UEFA Champions League, at least if you match - or even better your performance next season - you will find yourself in that spot. It seems breaking the dominance of Benfica and Porto will be a huge challenge given the gulf in points between yourself, but I'm looking forward to seeing the progression!
An interesting challenge that I look forward to seeing develop. The first year domestically is a great success with getting in to that 3rd spot, however, finishing 18 points behind Benfica certainly shows the challenge ahead. Again an impressive job to qualify from the Europa League group which saw some tough challenges, with Chelsea being that one step to much.

Looking forward to what you can do next season and I am excited to see how this story goes.
Evening all

Thanks for the feedback - it's nice to see that people have taken an interest in this story (however one deleted message hinted that I could be doing something better with my time - as they claimed they were making $13,000 a month working from home). I will try to keep this shorter than my previous post, as I will take this up to the first international window at the start of September.

I started the window as 6th favourite for the title, the same as last season, but with my odds going from 35/1 last season to 8/1 here. Seems the "pundits" are expecting a close season, but I feel the 18 point gap between 2nd and 3rd last season will not be closed quite so heavily this time around. Board have told me they are expecting a Europa League position this season, which is currently 4th to 6th, depending on eventual cup results. They have told me to reach the semi finals of both the Taca de Portugal and the League Cup, whilst also telling me that they do not expect to get through the Europa League group stage. All definitely achievable aims, but I'll definitely be trying my hardest to beat their Europa League expectations.

Transfers

Transfers galore this summer - 24 players were signed, with a further 7 on trial awaiting their 18th birthdays before being able to sign contracts. 8 players departed on transfers, and a further 5 departing on loan for the season. Also departing were 6 players whose loans ended at the end of June and we will greatly miss all of them - we'd have not achieved so much if they were not around, and replacing them adequately was by far the most difficult task I had to do this summer.

Of the 24 transfers, only 7 were moved into the first team squad, with the remaining 17 (including Ryan Glover from Bournemouth and George Tanner from Man Utd) were moved into the under 23s, the under 19s, the B team, and the under 19s B team to aid their development - hopefully we will see these players in the first team in the coming seasons. Of the 7 that were signed for the first team, 2 were full transfers - striker Leo Chu from Gremio for £77k to be backup to my main striker (more on that later).

My other full transfer is Miguel Silvestre - a 16 year old regen from Vitoria Guimaraes for £500k. I signed him with the hope he will eventually become my first choice right winger in a couple of years - but what I didn't expect is that he would already be a Primeira Liga standard winger despite his young age, with my coaches of the opinion that there are only 2 players better at this point than him in my entire squad. With good speed, good determination and some very impressive technical skills - as someone who has played on the FM series for a very long time racking up tens of thousands of hours, I can honestly say that I have rarely seen a player as good as this for his age group. My hope is that I can keep hold of him long enough to profit well off his eventual departure as he is destined to go right to the very top.

5 incoming transfers were loan transfers, which I will try to sum up quite quickly, as I am sure many of you will be fully aware of most of these. Bayern Munich's Christian Fruchtl comes in as my first choice keeper - this proved to be my hardest spot to adequately fill, as I must have looked at at least 20 keepers before ending up with Frutchl. Also joining me from Bayern is striker Joshua Zirkzee, who has been a reliable penalty taker in pre-season, something which I lacked last season. Chelsea defenders Reece James and Ethan Ampadu joined as well - I had the 3rd best defence in the league last season and I am hoping these 2 go a long way to repeating that. My final loan signing is Shakhtar midfielder Marcos Bahia (more commonly known as Marcos Antonio) - he is regarded as my best player in both the central and defensive midfield positions despite being on the smaller side.

Results

9 friendlies were arranged in total, winning 6 and drawing 3. The highlights were dominant wins over Schalke and River Plate. My idea behind having so many friendlies is to get everyone fit and ready for the competitive games - unfortunately this didn't quite occur. A dominant performance away at Moreirense finished goalless, and the following week I led Vitoria Guimareas 2-0 at half time, only for my concentration to slip and to draw 2-2 late on. Things improved after that, with a comfortable 2-0 win at home to Feirense and a narrow 1-0 defeat away at holders Porto, in which I matched their performance and only eventually conceded in the 85th minute thanks to a slightly dubious penalty call. Stuck in midtable after only 4 games isn't great, but there is still plenty of time to make amends.

Cup draws

The end of August brought the Europa League and League Cup group draws, with the Taca de Portugal draw still a month away. Due to my high league finish, I was seeded 1st in the League Cup draw, where I face Belenenses, Estoril and Segunda Liga side Academico de Viseu - definitely a favourable draw and a failure to get through would be disappointing.

Despite my run to the knockout stage last season, I was still drawn as a 4th seed in the Europa League group stage, where I will face CSKA Moscow, PSV Eindhoven, and FC Steaua Bucharest. On paper, far easier than last season, but far from being easy - topping the group might be ambitious but I don't think is beyond our capabilities.

Next update will be after we reach the October international break - Sporting, Braga, PSV and Steaua Bucharest amongst our hardest games - we will see the Taca de Portugal draw during that time too. Hopefully we will be able to find ourselves rising up the table and getting a win or 2 in the cups. From now on, updates will be more frequent and hopefully much shorter. Thanks for reading.
Interesting to see the large amount of players coming in, but hopefully the youngsters all develop how you want them to. Miguel Silvestre sounds an interesting prospect and seems a player you could potentially give some game time so early in his career.

In terms of results, it's not the start you would of liked, but as you said, there is plenty of time to go yet. The cup draws are favorable for sure and I believe you will progress through both competitions with very little problems.
A lot of players brought in, but I can see the idea behind it is to have a number of young players ready to progress into the first-team within the next few seasons. Very forward-thinking. The loanees brought in will significantly bolster the options you have within the squad, with each being very highly-rated by their parent clubs.

A steady start to life in Liga NOS this season means there's work to be done if you want to match, or even improve, on your position from last season. The Europa League group is challenging, but we've already witnessed the miracles you can work in this competition last time out. Best of luck and hopefully you can report back with some good news in your next update.
Evening all

I mentioned last time that my next update will cover the games between the September and October international break, but as there were only 6 games, I have extended this to include the games up until the November break too. With feedback (cheers again) mentioning the large number of transfers made in the summer, I thought it was a good idea to put in as many players in my reserve/youth setup as I could, seeing as I had 4 teams worth of players fighting for a spot in the first team squad.

A small side plan I have for these players is that, due to Rio Ave's small standing in the game and the likelihood of any quality player eventually figuring out their ability would outgrow the club, my plan is to continue to keep track of these players, with the hope that if I am still continuing this game in 10-15 seasons time, there would be a large group of my former players who are playing at the highest level, and possibly even competing for the World Footballer/Player of the Year award. At least if they aren't able to reach their potential here, we still played a part in their development to get to that stage. If I am still at the club in 10-15 seasons, and still doing updates here, I might start doing sections as to how some of these former players are doing.

Primeira Liga

Onto the games now. Only 5 league games during this period, due to the domestic cups taking up many of the weekends and Europa League many of the midweek, but a relatively successful set of games. An issue with my team is the lack of goals from the solo centre forward - Gelson Dala was scoring with a record of a goal every 2 games last season, but Zirkzee and Leo Chu have struggled more, having only scored once in the league between them up to the November international break. Thankfully, loanees Murilo and Marcos Bahia have managed to score plenty between them, from the wing and from central midfield.

A 1-1 draw that very much flattered 4th favourites Braga gave Ethan Ampadu his first goal in professional football, which was shortly followed by a narrow 1-0 win over Portimonense thanks to a wonderful strike from range by Marcos Bahia. Following that was a home game vs Sporting, who despite last season's troubles, were the only team to beat me home and away in the league. History was not about to repeat itself however, as despite having less of the ball and the chances, a hat trick from Murilo and another from Marcos Bahia gave us a 4-0 win in arguably our most impressive league performance of my time here.

A 3-1 defeat at Arouca followed that 5 weeks later (with no other league game during that time), in possibly our least impressive league performance, before a 2-0 win at home to Boavista put us 9th in the league going into the international break. It is difficult to tell how we are performing, due to us having so many games in hand at this point on some teams - there are some instances so early in this season where some teams have as many as 4 games in hand on others. Our current position means we have the possibility of moving to 4th if we win our games in hand, but many of these games won't be played until very late into the season - we currently have 4 games scheduled in the last 7 days of the season. Hopefully we won't be desperate for points at that point as I imagine the players will struggle to cope with the workload.

Domestic Cups

My relatively favourable League Cup group started well, with a comfortable 2-0 win over Estoril before another 2-0 win over Segunda Liga side Academico Viseu leaves us requiring only a draw, or at worst a narrow defeat, away at Belenenses at the end of December for a spot in the final 4.

Just the 1 Taca de Portugal game this update, and after losing in the 3rd round last season, we have already managed to beat that this season with a 5-1 win over 3rd tier side Pinhalnovense, giving us an away tie at Aves on our first game back from the international break. The board are expecting a long run in both cup competitions, and I see no reason why we can't do this providing we avoid the "Big 3" before the semi finals in the Taca de Portugal.

Europa League

The Europa League campaign started in Bucharest, with a very polished 4-1 win getting us to the best possible start to the group. This was unfortunately followed by 2-1 defeats at home to PSV and away at CSKA Moscow - both games in which we were dominant and deserved at least a draw but poor finishing let us down in the big moments. A 2-1 win at home in the reverse game against Moscow has put us back in with a good chance of qualification, but due to the equal scoring in our 2 fixtures, we will have to rely on other teams helping us out as we will be unable to finish above them solely on the head-to-head rule. With PSV 6 ahead of both of us and Steaua 6 behind us, we are both fighting for the sole remaining spot for the last 32 of the competition.

Next update will take us to the end of 2019 where we will find out our cup fates and see if we can repeat last seasons December form, where we managed to win every single game. Our trickiest game will be the away game at PSV - with an undeserved defeat at home to them before, it would be a perfect time to get revenge. With the January window coming up, we are likely to be attempting some free transfers, though I would be surprised if there were big names available to us. Thanks for reading.
Having games in-hand means it's difficult to establish your *actual* league position, as there are no guarantees with how many points you'll pick up from the games you have at your disposal. Hopefully, though, you'll be able to get as many as possible to improve your position in the table. I'm pleased to hear of your exploits in the cup competitions and hopefully you'll be able to extend these runs further next update. A piece of silverware, wherever it comes from, is always welcome. The Europa League campaign is exceptionally tight, so I have my fingers crossed that you can pull off what you need in-order to pip CSKA to the post for second.
An interesting few months of football there going in to the break. Having so many games in hand, as you and Scott have both said, makes it tough to see where you really are in the league. Europa qualification is very tight, and having to play PSV again will make it difficult. But seeing as you dominated the previous game, hopefully this time you can find your scoring boots!
Evening all

Thanks for all the feedback again. It's great to see interest in this story, so apologies to all that it has been a while since I updated this, but this is due to me not playing FM at all rather than losing interest in updating the story. This update will take us up to the end of 2019, and to see whether we can still be in with a chance of success in all 4 competitions as 2020 turns up.

Primeira Liga

Onto the matches. We started December with 3 league games in 8 days, after a pair of cup games the previous week, pushing my players to their limits after the international break. A brace from Nuno Santos salvaged a draw after twice going behind away at Tondela, a result we were fortunate to get. Nuno Santos then set up an equaliser for Joshua Zirkzee 3 days later at home to Belenenses before grabbing the winner himself - both goals were inside the final 15 minutes of the game. Murilo's long range strike was the only goal of the game away at Gil Vicente to round off a very successful week.

Estoril away was the last league game of the month - Marcos Bahia opened the scoring with a wonderful solo strike before they managed an undeserved equaliser, but with time running out, Joshua Zirkzee was fouled in the box and converted the penalty to go into the winter break in 7th position (which still doesn't mean much with all the games in hand) but we are optimistic that we can still aim for that 3rd spot with Sporting having another poor start

Europa League

Europa League job was simple - the only way to guarantee a spot in the knockout stage was to win both my remaining group games. Zirkzee and the wonderkid Miguel Silvestre each scoring early to record a comfortable win over Bucharest, whilst PSV and CSKA drew. This left us 2 clear of CSKA going into the final game, but with CSKA visiting Bucharest (who were unable to finish anywhere other than bottom) and us visiting PSV (who were unable to finish anywhere other than top), the odds were not quite in our favour.

A first half onslaught at the PSV keeper was rewarded with a Leo Chu header deflecting off Marvin Zeegelaar for an own goal to put us ahead. With CSKA racing into an early 3-0 lead, it meant that only a win would put us through to the next round. Despite defensive errors late on, PSV were unable to capitalise with the chance they were gifted, and the score stayed 1-0, putting us into the last 32, where we were drawn against Inter Milan. The run should be very helpful to our coefficients ranking for next season, but we will push on to see if we can cause another upset against a Milan side as we did last season

Domestic Cups

Our first game back from the international break was a trip to 2nd division side Aves in the 4th round of the Taca de Portugal. Despite us taking an early lead through Marcos Bahia, Aves dominated much of the game, equalising and then taking an 81st minute lead before Bahia struck again in the 85th minute to take us to extra time - not something we particularly needed with the run of games coming up. Gabrielzinho came back from a long injury to score in the 106th minute to avoid the upset and put us into the 5th round away at Belenenses.

We went behind only 4 minutes in, with a frustrating 70 minutes to follow as chance after chance would not go in. 18 year old Marko Bulat came on to score his first ever Rio Ave goal to equalise, and then assisted Murilo with 10 minutes to go to record a fantastic comeback and put us into the 6th round to face Porto next month.

One would think that Belenenses would have been irritated to meet us twice in December and losing both times, but with a League Cup group game against them left to round off the month, a Zirkzee brace made it a hat trick of wins over them for the month. We are very much looking forward to meeting them again in the league in April.

An outstanding few weeks, finishing this period unbeaten with 1 draw and 8 wins (plus a friendly win vs our B team), and still on course to achieve expectations in all 4 tournaments, it's almost a shame there had to be a break to halt our momentum. But the players will be grateful for the much needed rest and hopefully this form can continue in the new year. The next update will take us to the March international break - won't have to wait a month for this one. Thanks for reading.
A great month there! A hat-trick over Belenenses is excellent reading; but less so than the results over Steaua and PSV to ensure your progression in the Europa League. That's a fantastic achievement given the quality within the group. A tricky tie ahead, but you can be proud of your exploits in the competition! Porto await in the cup which is bound to be tough, but we will see. Looking forward to the next update - I really enjoy reading this!
Evening all - lots to get through, with the continuation of all 4 competitions. This update will take us up to the middle of March, with plenty of games during this period.

Transfers

With January came the transfer window, and whilst we did not make any important transfers, we continue to bulk up our reserve and youth team numbers with cheap youngsters. Chances are slim that most of these players will be breaking into the first team in the next few years but I plan to give them the best possible chance of doing so. In hindsight, this might not have been the best decision, as Reece James and Nikola Jambor both received season ending injuries not long after the window closed.

Unfortunately we had to say goodbye to 16 year old centre back Bruno Amaral. Despite his young age, he had the ability to be in the first team squad and he was definitely going to be included next year. But Spurs had shown interest in him, and it was always going to be difficult for a club like Rio Ave to stop a youth player going to a club as big (well, comparatively) as Spurs. Definitely going to keep an eye on him to track his career, as he could go far.

League Cup

Starting with the League Cup this time - a semi final vs Braga at a neutral ground. Despite not being favourites for the tie, we took a 3-0 lead before half time with goals from Zirkzee, continuing his good form, Bulat and Nuno Santos. A consolation goal from Braga gave us a 3-1 win, meaning a final against Sporting to come just 3 days afterwards. Unfortunately we were unable to pull out a similar performance - they took an early lead and despite our best efforts to try and get back into the game, Sporting scored twice more in stoppage time to lift the trophy at our expense.

Primeira Liga

To the league. We finished 2019 with 5 league wins in a row, and 2020 continued that good form. A 3-1 win over Nacional kicked off the year, with Silvestre, Murilo and Leandrinho sealing the points after just 33 minutes. A 0-0 draw vs Maritimo followed, with us taking 32 shots but failing to score any of them, which was very frustrating. But our frustration did not last long - a tricky 1-0 win at Vit. Guimaraes thanks to an early header from Leo Chu put us above them into 4th, followed by a 2-1 win in Santa Clara gave us a bit of breathing room, so we could focus more on teams above us rather than below.

Speaking of the team above us - another match against Braga came, and with it another win. Joshua Zirkzee with the only goal of the game on 59 mins, putting us within 6 points of them but with many games in hand. A 3-1 win over Portimonense followed, but with the injury list adding up, our unbeaten league run ended at home to Benfica, before a further defeat to Sporting just 3 days later. Thankfully, the league portion of the update ends where it starts - with another victory against Nacional, albeit away from home this time. We enter the March international break in 5th spot - 8 behind Braga in 3rd and 2 behind Vit. Guimaraes in 4th, but with 4 games in hand over both teams. Whilst it is always useful to have games in hand, the lack of rest at the end of the season is likely to work against us.

Europa League

Our 2nd consecutive year in the knockout stages of the Europa League started with a home game at Inter Milan, as heavy underdogs. Inter took the lead before half time, but then a magical 6 minutes occurred where a brace from Leandrinho and a penalty from Leo Chu put us 3-1 up after 62 mins after being behind on 55 minutes. Nikola Jambor (before his injury) made it 4-1 in stoppage time, before Inter added a later goal for a 4-2 win. A near perfect performance, but that 94th minute goal from Vecino proved costly - Inter dominated the 2nd leg, leading 1-0 for most of the game, before an 87th minute goal from Pulisic put us out on away goals. A cruel end to the Europa League campaign, but only being defeated on away goals to a team the size of Inter Milan has its positives.

Taca de Portugal

A quarter final cup tie vs Porto was about as hard as we could have had - but with the form we were in going into the game, anything could happen. An early goal from Zirkzee put us ahead, but was soon followed by an equaliser. On 68 minutes, Dabbur put Porto into the lead, with Nuno Santos equalising 10 minutes later. But with time running out, super-sub Murilo arrived late into the box, and late in the game in the 93rd minute, to put us back in front to knock out the favourites and put us into the semi finals. One of the best performances we've had as a team.

Braga came next, away from home, in the semi final. Had a good month or so against them, beating them in the league cup and the league, but this game did not go the same way. With defeats to Inter, Benfica and Sporting in other competitions in the previous 4 games, Braga continued our poor form by beating us 2-0. A difficult tie to come back from, with the 2nd leg at home to go next month, but I am always confident with these players.

A great start but a trickier end to this session. Hopefully the well earned rest over the international break can put us into a good position to take advantage of our favourable run of fixtures upon our return. The next update will finish the season off, with the remaining 12 league games as well as the 2nd leg of the semi final against Braga to come, and hopefully a final at the end of it. The fixture list is a concern, however - our final 4 games are in the last 7 days of the season, with 1 day gaps between each game. Going to be very tough on the legs but hopefully we can be in a good position in the table before those games get played. With 3rd place getting a Champions League qualifying spot next season, it would be a huge achievement to make it for the first time. Thanks for reading.
Starting from the top, a few pieces of bad news which is never welcome. Losing two players to injury is always a huge disappointment, as is losing a talented young player. Spurs have the attraction value - with a top manager and Premier League and Champions League football - something which you just cannot contend with at this present moment in time, unfortunately.

You did excellently to work your way into the final. To come up short in such a manner must be disappointing, but Sporting have the experience and quality that you don't possess just yet. Again, something which will be cut down in the future! The four games in-hand at your disposal is excellent on paper, but they don't guarantee you three points and I'm glad you have that in mind. If you do manage to record three wins from four, or dare I say it, four from four, then you have a fantastic opportunity.

A cruel way to end your Europa League campaign. It was a truly magical first-leg, but away goals are vitally important and that second one conceded so late on proved to be costly. You can certainly take huge positives from your exploits though. Losing to a side of Inter's quality on away goals is nothing to be too upset about.

A first-leg defeat leaves work to be done in order to progress to the final, but it's possible. The schedule is very demanding for you and I'm slightly concerned it could be too much for the players. Hopefully I am proven wrong and somehow, the players manage to achieve the necessary results to end the season on a high. Best of luck!
Evening all - I did actually attempt to do this update last week but for whatever reason, the site appeared to crash and so it was not saved. Considering the number of words I tend to use in my updates, I was not in a huge rush to try it again. But alas, here we go again....

Taca de Portugal

We start this update with the 2nd leg of our semi final tie with Braga, and sadly, this is where our cup campaign ends, with a 2-1 home defeat. Still slightly baffling that the 1st and 2nd leg ties were 7 weeks apart, but it is no excuse. Would have liked to go to the final as we got to this stage having knocked out Porto, but can have very few complaints.

Primeira Liga

A trip to Feirense on our return to the international break, and it seems many were still on their holidays. An unimpressive performance heading for defeat until a 92nd minute equaliser from Marcos Bahia saved us. Having lost 4 of our previous 6 games, we were not on the best run going into a period in which we needed to be at our best. We very much needed a more positive response, and quickly.

Right on schedule - a home game to Moreirense ended in a superb 4-0 win, with goals from wonderkids Miguel Silvestre and Joshua Zirkzee gave us an early lead before Lopes and Leandrinho finished it off. This was followed by a 2-0 win at Boavista, with Marcos Bahia and, again, Zirkzee putting us ahead early in a comfortable win. A meeting with our favourite opponents Belenenses was next, with us winning all 5 meetings since taking over. This turned into 6 wins, with goals from Tarantini, Lopes and Leandrinho giving us a 3-1 win. If only we had more games left this season against them.

With 3 wins in a row, our form had returned with a vengeance. Santa Clara were our next opponents, and despite them going ahead early, we came back to dominate with a 5-2 win. Goals from Lopes and Leandrinho were outshone by a hat trick from Joshua Zirkzee, showing some mightily impressive form at the right time of the season. He scored again in a 4-2 win over Gil Vicente to end April with 7 goals in 6 games.

May started with a difficult trip to Benfica, needing just 2 points from their final 3 games to lift the title. Under immense pressure, Marcos Bahia managed to open the scoring on the hour mark with a wonderful solo effort. They outclassed us from the first minute to the last, but Frutchl refused to be beaten, and we took (stole) a massive 1-0 win at the home of the eventual champions. 6 league wins in a row, and we had truly recovered from our form that ended the last international break. Although our happiness was slightly dampened by a tame 0-0 draw at home to Tondela shortly afterwards.

The Final Week

4 games to go. 7 days to play them. We had taken a slight 2 point lead over Braga and 3 points ahead Sporting going into these 4 games, with 2 games in hand over Braga but just 1 over Sporting. A heavily rotated team on Monday hosted Estoril, and the freshness of the team proved to be key - a brace from both Leo Chu and Marko Bulat helped us to a 5-0 win. With our first choice players back on Wednesday, we hosted Porto, whose season had already ended with little to play for. Much like our trip to Benfica, we were outclassed, and, again like the Benfica game, we again scored the only goal of the game close to the hour mark, with Joshua Zirkzee using his immense size to beat the defender to a header for his 18th of the season. Our 3rd place spot was sealed on the Friday, with the rotated team scoring 3 quick goals to win 3-1 at home to Arouca. Leo Chu, Diego Lopes and Nuno Santos all proving to be too difficult for them. A 0-0 draw at Maritimo sealed the season with our highest ever finish.

A third place finish, and a Champions League 3rd qualifying round spot for the first time. Still much to do to get into the proper tournament, but a fantastic achievement nonetheless, finishing 4 behind 2nd placed Porto and 7 ahead of 4th placed Sporting really showing how we closed the gap on the big teams - we finished 18 behind 2nd and 3 ahead of 4th last season. The domestic cup campaigns went far, but we enjoyed both runs even if we were unable to lift a trophy this time. An unfortunate exit in the Europa League was difficult to take, but with Inter Milan lifting the trophy at the end of the season, we could not complain at all.

Unfortunately we must say goodbye to our loanees, who all made vital impacts for long portions of the season, and will be very difficult to replace, especially the 13 goals from Marcos Bahia and the 18 goals from Joshua Zirkzee. Reece James, Ethan Ampadu and Frutchl all impressed as a solid defensive back line as we only conceded 23 from 34 league games. But we march on, and next season comes with a new challenge - to get into the main draw of the Champions League. Thanks for reading.
Evening all

Small announcement to start off - I have decided that I will not be updating this story past the end of this current season. It's been great to update this over the last couple of months and I've had far more views than I expected I would get. Unfortunately I don't play FM enough enough to justify keeping this story up, especially with my rather lengthy updates. It isn't set in stone and I may change my mind if I have a successful year, but at this point, this will be the final season.

There is a good chance that I will return with a new story when FM 2020 comes out - I am always up for a FM challenge, whether it is a specific team to take over or a specific transfer philosophy, so if anyone wants to suggest anything new, feel free to do so below and I will definitely attempt something.

Objectives

The board were understandably delighted with another 3rd place finish, but seemingly aren't expecting us to do it a 3rd year in a row - with qualification to the Europa League the minimum expectation. The season preview suggests a similar finish - 6-1 odds to win the league as the 5th favourite. Not quite sure that the odds should be that high for a 5th favourite team but we'll still be attempting to finish as high as possible. We are expected to make the semi finals in both the Taca de Portugal and the League Cup, which we were able to do last season, though a horrible draw might be the only thing to stop that.

The board expectation for the Champions League campaign was slightly relaxed - with us needing to get through 2 separate qualifying rounds to reach the group stage, the board were happy for us to just get past 1 of those rounds, so qualifying for the group stages would be seen as exceeding expectations. All 4 expectations are definitely achieveable - and if anything, I would be disappointed if we weren't able to exceed any of them.

Transfers

Plenty of transfer movement this summer, with 19 players incoming and a few departures. Many players were loaned out or released on a free agent, which is to be expected. But our only key departure this summer was Marko Bulat - a centre midfielder we had only signed for £61k a season before. He proved to be very important towards the end of last season whilst we were chasing 3rd spot. Anyone strapped for cash in a weaker league should look to him, as I found out only recently that he was in fact real and not a regen. But it shows his ability in not only that we were able to get £4.7m for him, but that it was a team of the calibre of PSG who were the ones who wanted to sign him. Definitely a major step up from Rio Ave to PSG, and we wish him all the best.

We went into the summer with the main goal of replacing our loanees whilst still keeping to our philosophy of only signing teenagers. All of Fruchtl, Ampadu, James, Marcos Bahia and Joshua Zirkzee had proved to be very key during the season, and aside from Reece James due to injury, all were vital in match winning performances during the hectic final week of the season. Replacing Joshua Zirkzee was always going to be the most important task, but proved to be the easiest - with him still being 19 at the start of the season, we went in to see if we could get him for another season, and both Bayern and Zirkzee accepted. Already starting to be a successful window, as he finished last season far stronger than he started.

We had varying degrees of success in replacing the other loanees - regens Sergio Valencia and Juan Pablo Mora were signed for a combined £1m from clubs in Colombia. Coach reports had Mora as my best right back, whilst Valencia is currently our best central midfielder, but he is still some way off the ability of Marcos Bahia. Man City's Alex Garcia came in on loan after an attempt to resign Ampadu was unfortunately rejected, whilst Garcia's teammate Gavin Bazunu joined as first choice keeper after numerous attempts to sign other keepers were rejected. Neither were first choice signings, but I don't feel we are much weaker off than last season. Midfielders Kevin Ackermann and Brando Sami also joined on loan, with the latter slotting in as first choice DM for the season. Regen centre back Carlos Junio joined on deadline day to round off a mostly successful transfer window.

Champions League qualifying

Before our league season even started, we were drawn in the Best Placed 3rd quals round against Basel. With the first leg away from home, we were regarded as heavy underdogs, but Zirkzee broke free for a shock lead early in the 1st half to make things interesting. Basel hit back shortly after before a wondergoal on his debut from Sergio Valencia put us back in front. Basel hit back with another before half time, but they were unable to stop the masterclass of Joshua Zirkzee, who added his 2nd before half time, and then scored his 3rd and 4th of the game during the 2nd half. To compare to last season - Zirkzee entered December having scored only 2 goals, and he'd already doubled that here just in the first game. A rotated team for the home leg fell to a 2-1 defeat, but a 6-4 aggregate win was enough to take us into the Best Placed playoff round against Dynamo Kyiv for a spot in the group stage.

With the away leg, again, first up we were, also again, regarded as heavy underdogs. A dominant performance arguably more controlling than the one in Basel was not as rewarding at the final whistle, with Nikola Jambors strike on the hour mark cancelled out with 3 minutes of normal time to go for a 1-1 draw. Not a bad position, but a repeat home performance from the first leg would not be acceptable. The 2nd started incredibly quickly, with both Kyiv's Morozyuk and Rio Ave's Brando Sami both managing to score in the 3rd minute of the match. Kyiv scored again in the 11th minute to take a 1 goal lead as well as taking an away goal advantage into half time.

A perfect 2nd half performance followed - 2-1 down at half time turned into 4-2 up on 66 mins, with Sami adding another, Leandrinho scoring from range, and Miguel Magalhaes scoring his first ever Rio Ave goal after being promoted into the first team for the first time this summer. Nikola Jambor's stoppage time goal sealed an outstanding 5-2 win, with 31 shots showing our sheer dominance of the match, and putting us into the group stage of the Champions League for the first time in our history.

Primeira Liga

With our eyes focused on the Champions League qualifiers, our start to the league season was not as impressive. A poor performance away at newly promoted Oliveirense on the opening day was salvaged by an 88th minute equaliser by Joshua Zirkzee, for a 1-1 draw. This was followed by a lacklustre performance at home to Nacional the following week, where Diego Lopes had to save us by scoring the only goal of the game with only 10 minutes to go. 4 points wasn't what we deserved but we will take it.

We finished off the month with a trip to Braga, and with the hectic 2nd half against Kyiv fresh in our memories, we continued our explosive attacking and careless defending, with Magalhaes and Valencia scoring either side of 2 quick Braga goals, with the game at 2-2 after just 31 minutes. The rest of the game did not stay as hectic, with little to speak of happening until the 76th minute, when Joshua Zirkzee used his height to put us back into the lead, and then doubling it just 2 minutes later for a 4-2 win and a fantastic end to the first set of games before the first international break. Not only were we able to get revenge on Braga beating us in the cup last year, we were also able to win away at a team predicted to finish above us this season after only 3 games.

Cup draws

With no domestic cup action in August, all that was worth speaking of was the draws for the next round. 3rd tier side Mondinense will be our 3rd round opponents in the Taca de Portugal, whilst our League Cup group stage opponents will be Aves, Moreirense and Viseu - our high seeding working in our favour in the latter.

Unfortunately our Champions League group seeding was not as high, as our excitement at being in this competition for the first time started to die down when we saw we were drawn against Arsenal, Inter Milan and Bayer Leverkusen. Was definitely one of the hardest groups we could have been drawn in, but it was never going to be easy, and we are happy to rise to the challenge.

An almost perfect month or 2. Very happy with our signings, very happy with getting through to the Champions League group stage and very happy with our league positioning, even if the performances were slightly iffy in the latter. It's also very nice to see new players adapting very quickly, with Valencia, Magalhaes and Sami all scoring twice in August, with Zirkzee scoring 7 (if we are allowed to regard him as a new signing).

Thanks for reading - again if anyone reading wants to suggest a challenge for a potential future story, you are most welcome to.

You are reading "Rio Ave - Road to Primeira Liga Champions".

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