There’s a new cat in town and it goes by the name of Germany.
In the latest edition of The Football Manager Football Show, we’re getting set to head to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
It’s a little bit world-breaking in terms of where we are in the podcast and might even come a season or two too soon, but with the Euros running at the minute and the fact that our timing just so happened to bring us up to November AND coincide with the Euros, we’ve bitten the proverbial bullet and jumped in with a decent shout of winning.
When I asked the question about who we should pick, the words were barely out of my mouth before Shane (Wolves, @sirsok1) yelled “France”.
Figuring it’s a case of breaking out the big guns, it’s off to Germany for me.
I fancied a crack at Italy given the depth of talent they have and the grá for Italian football still hanging on in the wake of my adventures with Pisa in FM20, but it’s off o the 2014 World Cup champions I go, joining a group that includes Egypt, Mexico and Denmark.
And that’s just the preamble. Here’s a run down on how things went this week and how I’m getting on at Leicester with four games to go before the biggest international break to date and our first winter World Cup.
Linking up with Germany
2021 was a busy year for the Germans.
World Cup qualification got underway in March of that year while we were still working our way through the Argentinian adventure.
In a group that comprised Scotland, Albania, Wales and Lithuania, Jogi Lowe’s side topped the table, only dropping points in a late draw to Scotland.
Then came Euro 2020, running as in real-life in June 2021.Lowe’s side finished second in Group F, behind Turkey, picking up just one win from three, including a heavy 3-0 defeat by Finland. They sent England home with a 2-0 win in Dublin before getting dumped out at the quarter-final stages by France, coming out the wrong side of a 4-2 scoreline.
Lowe gets his marching orders n October 2022 and I take up the mantle with two games left in the Nations League A Group 2.
Not one to ruffle much by way of feathers or squad selection, I jump in as we’re level on points with Portugal and left with Romania and Slovakia to play.
V Romania (4-3)
What this fixture lacked in ease, it made up for in thrills as Romania proved they were no pushovers. While we dominated possession using a similar 4-2-3-1 setup that I’ve been using in the league, we were torn apart on the counter and left with some sizeable gaps as I tried a much higher line of engagement.
The star of the show though is young Karim Adeyemi. He’s got six in ten league games for RB Salzburg this season and I give him the nod ahead of Timo Werner up top. It’s only his third time representing Germany too but he needs only 19 seconds to repay the start, getting on the end of a long ball to rattle the net and set a new UEFA Nationals League A record for fastest goal in a game.
He grabs a second after 30 minutes before Romania pull one back through their right back Cristian Manea.
Jump into the second half and all of a sudden we’re down 3-2, horribly exposed for two great goals from Mitrita and Man before Niklas Stark gets under a Tony Kroos corner midway through the second half to level the game. Adeyemi seals a hat-trick on 68 to finish the scoring for the day and we run out 4-3 winners.
V Slovakia (3-0)
Against Slovakia, things are a little more straight-forward, though they obviously weren’t watching what happened in the Romania game as Adeyemi puts the ball in the back of the net after just 16 seconds, breaking the record he had only set in the previous game.
He’s got a second ruled out (12) but we find it through Leon Goretzka who’s starting in midfield alongside Kroos.
Again, we dominate possession playing a high tempo game but pick up a few yellow cards along the way. Kai Havertz gets his eighth goal in German colours to cap off the scoring and we head to the dressing room riding a comfortable 3-0 win.
The squad departs in decent form and it’s back to Leicester to take on Blackburn, Leeds, Sheffield United and Norwich.
V Blackburn (2-0)
Last seasons we played two barn-burners of games. The first time out, I went four-nil down to Blackburn before clawing things back in the second half to 4-4 only to piss it away at the death 5-4. On the return leg I’m pretty sure we creased them 5-0 before sealing promotion back to the Premier League.
This time out, I’ve no Gouiri (injured) and (secondary to all this) I find out former Irish goalkeeping stalwart Gerry Peyton is retiring end of season.
There are four changes to the starting eleven; Milner in to start at left-back, Justin on the right as Castagne is wrecked after the Belgian games. Iheanacho is the same so Troy Parrott starts as Jones and Harrison start on the flanks.
Blackburn are in a spot of trouble, 19th in the table, 18th in terms of form and heading into this clash they’ve got the lowest goals scored after nine games, and it’s pissing rain. 12 minutes in we start playing for set pieces. 25 minutes in, I’ve abandoned the wings in favour of running things through the middle.
Maddison wins a corner on the half-hour mark and after spending the previous 29 minutes cursing Benkovic, he gets under the corner and pops it in the back of the net to make it 1-0.
Demir needs to come off at halftime, having run out of steam. At the break, I swap Harrisson to the left, Jones to the middle and bring on Minamino for the second half. The switch pays off as Harrison gets on the end of a well-worked ball through from Justin, 10 yards out and lets fly on 47 to make it 2-0.
Parrott is off (66) for Barnes and we’ve slowed things right down at this stage but Rovers starting to press a bit more. Barnes gets a golden one-on-one within minutes of coming on but fluffs it. Vera comes on for Ndidi for the last 10 minutes and Curtis Jones sits out the final whistle with a bruised shoulder at the death.
It’s another clean sheet for the Dragon, three points on the board and we ahead of Wolves. City win, so we’re up to second, behind on goal difference by six already,
Germany Squad Selection
You can’t go to the World Cup without a squad but I’m not ruffling too many feathers here or looking to pull a Rooney or Walcott heading to Qatar.
I left out Julian Draxler; not really performing, was long dropped by Lowe. Also staying at home is Marco Reus at 33 on left midfield. He’d been dropped early in 2022, hasn’t featured since, though if there’s an injury he’ll come along.
Davie Selke hasn’t featured for Germany yet and is disappointed not t get a call up. I had tried to sign him last season but not a hope would he come to the Championship.
No room for Gotze, moved to Spurs, isn’t playing much in the Premier League, the games he’s getting on he’s not up to much either. Bernd Leno (GK, Arsenal), Hertha’s Julian Weigl, all out.
Croatia – as it happens – have failed to win a single game since Benkovic was from the squad, and he’s not going to Qatar either despite turning in solid performances week in and out for Leicester. No Grealish for England but Maddison, Justin (could make first cap), Schmeichel, Castagne, Minamino, Ndidi, Iheanacho, Berahino are all off.
V Leeds (0-0)
Pre-game, I lose Fausto Vera for two months with a torn thigh muscle. I was going to drop Ndidi for a game or two there and slide Ndidi in, but looks like it will be Pherai or Milner getting the break.
On the German front, Adeyimi injured now as well, out for 5 weeks, likely misses the world cup after bagging a load in the last two Nations League games.
Three changes before kick off – Castagne back in, so Justin reverts to LB. Milner off, Jones, Parrott off as Barnes and Iheanacho start.
Christ on a bike. They told me pre match that Leeds would park the bus and park the bus they did.
Check out the end-game xG difference: 4.15 to 0.3. Look at all the efforts in and around the box. Zip. Nada. Nothing. City gain ground with a win, Ndidi needs another rest and it’s starting to feel like last season again.
V Sheffield United (2-1)
For Sheffield, I’ve got to change the top four. Iheanacho makes way for Demir to start as a striker; Grealish is back having missed Blackburn and Leeds through suspension so he drops into AMC. Jones on the left, Demir on the right.
It’s a slow start to the game and I’ve changed up Milner’s passing, getting him going a little more direct from the middle of the park as he’s replaced Ndidi.
Curtis Jones opens the scoring on 17 minutes with what’s becoming a typical effort from him. We slow the play down on the half-hour, try go up through the middle. Jones nearly gets a second but Gouiri being isolated a bit up top. He wasn’t bought to play as a lone striker so it might take some working on.
Mousset bags rocket of a goal for United on 41, gettings the breakaway for only their third effort of the half. He’d threatened earlier but made up for it this time -bags of pace, raced clear and smashed home from 20 yards.
Swap Grealish for Jones (left to centre) at the break), bring Minamino on for Demir 50) with Barnes and Parrott on for the last 15. With 10 minutes to play, we get a VAR decision going our way with a penalty at Bramall Lane. Maddison steps up for his first goal of the season and we’re away home with a 2-1 win.
V Norwich (3-0)
For the last league game before the World Cup break, we’re off to Norwich. The last two games have been close but I’m sticking with the 4-2-3-1 and making two changes; Ndidi and Iheanacho in, Milner and Gouiri out.
It’s a fiery opening 10 minutes with a handful of chances for both sides, tactically we’re very similar. But, Castagne gets a chance to pick up Curtis Jones on the break, bounces one into the box to be swept home on the counter and it’s 1-0 on 6 minutes.
Demir sets up Grealish on the half hour mark. He might not be familiar with the tactic but he’s finding the back of the net and that’s what counts at the minute.
Into the second half, I pull the passing, look to focus play down the right to give Jones a break. He’d picked up a knock in the first half and is still set on running things off but if I can get Demir more involved, happy days. He (Demir) is already on a yellow though but he wins another penalty after VAR, Maddison with no bother sticking it away. 3-0 with 54 gone.
Pukki seems a goal ruled out from VAR on 75 and the final kick of the game goes to James Milner, picking up a straight red on 93 minutes for an absolute horror challenge. I’ll hazard there’s a three game ban coming off the back of it.
We’re heading into the international break, second in the table, level on points with City and Chelsea (3) and one ahead of Wolves (4).
World Cup Duty Begins
With one warmup to go, it’s time to hold a team meeting – the overall atmosphere is slightly positive. Can we win the World Cup? Yes! The boys know the craic, the experience and drive is there.
I get a little over-zealous, pump the fists, try and keep the fire going and make a balls of it. Everyone leaves downcast and disappointed. Great start.
Adeyimi’s injury turned out to be a hernia and he’s looking at at least two weeks out. We’ve got just about that before the World Cup kicks off so it could be touch-and-go. Klostermann has a few more weeks to go and he’s likely to miss at least the first game if not the first two group games.
V Chile (2-1)
For our World Cup warmup, it’s a bit of a vintage display; slow going for Germany. Werner should just work up front on his own – pace 18, acceleration 18, finishing 16.
Deputising for Adeyimi, he got us ahead with a great strike in the bottom right corner on 21 minutes. Carlos Palacios equalises for Chile on the 52nd with a near carbon-copy goal, pure solo run, and we’ve got ourselves a ding-dong second half.
Trust the defence to come to the rescue, Niklas Sule clinches the late winner for us on 85 minutes straight off a Tony Kroos corner to head home (it’s going to become a habit) and make it 2-1. It’s his 2nd german goal in 40 caps. Kroos was the engine in midfield. 32, covering all the bases, posts an 8.2, 14 key passes.
He’s in good club form too which bodes well for a midfield general coming into the biggest competition of them all.
Next week, we’re starting the journey.
Want to hear more and see how it plays out for Shane as part of our ongoing podcast network save? Listen on…
Keep up with game-play during the week. We give over Wednesday and Thursday nights to this journey for The Football Manager Football Show. You can follow the live updates on Twitter at @fmfshow or you can find me there as @kenmc056 (gaming) or @kenmcguire (business). You can follow the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts, with new episodes dropping weekly.