Football Manager 2021 is finally here, which means we’re all busy digging into the Beta version of the game. And, I’m not sure about you, but my first impressions are that this is a pretty damn good FM version.
My Beta FM21 save sees me begin the new game in Italy’s Serie A with sleeping giants AC Milan. Despite winning 18 Italian titles, the club only has two since 1999. It also has seven European Cup titles to its name, but none since 2007. And it only has one cup win since 2011. So there’s plenty of space to restore glory to Milan.
That said, we’re up against it with the power of Juventus and a decent Inter side, as well as the likes of Lazio being on the up. So I think this has the makings of an interesting save.
We are, of course, going to build this team around a certain Zlatan Ibrahmovic, who looks like an absolute monster on this game.
Other key players are winger Samu Castillejo, young goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, midfielder Franck Kessié, and a couple of decent full-backs in Theo Hernández and Davide Calabria. While we have a few decent prospects in midfielder Sandro Tonali, who’s only on loan for now, winger Alexis Saelemakers and attacker Rafael Leao.
We start the game with zero money – cheers Covid – and we have a solid enough side that’s on the right side of things age-wise, with the exception of old boy Zlatan. But, that led to me not signing a single player during the first transfer window!
And, this is how I went about lining the side up tactically to begin with:
FM21 kicks off in Serie A!
Zlatan scored a penalty inside the second minute of our first friendly then nodded home a header on 15 minutes in our first friendly at Ravenna. Then loads of players went off on international duty, which was helpful.
The season kicked off at home to Sassuolo, and Ismael Bennacer got us off to a flyer with a wonderful chip from 20 yards out. That man Zlatan added a second to ease us to a solid 2-0 start. And he was on target again, along with Brahim Diaz’s first for the club, as we enjoyed the best of a six-goal thriller at Fiorentina.
Zlatan bagged a brace the day after his 39th birthday as we eased to a 3-0 win at home to Benevento. We then went behind early at Napoli but a brilliant outside of the foot finish from Castillejo got us level, he then teed up Ante Rebic to smash home from 30 yards and bagged a second to put us 3-1 up at half-time. He carried on the good times by teeing up a Hakan Calhanoglu screamer 18 seconds into the second half, and his 9.6 effort offered an early contender for performance of the year!
The worst football match of all time followed at Roma but we’ll take the 0-0 draw, then another terrible game saw us draw 1-1 at home to Inter but miss a hatful of chances. I switched up the team a little by bringing Kessié, who’d been terrible playing as the DM, up to central midfield and he rewarded me with the opener in a 2-1 win at Torino.
We somehow allowed Parma to score with their only two shots as Zlatan ended a 10-hour goal drought to rescue a 2-2 draw. Then two more draws with Cagliari and Udinese were followed by a lucky 1-0 win at third-placed Atalanta.
Atalanta followed that up by scoring four goals in 12 second half minutes to win 4-2 AT Juventus, while we were dire as we edged past whipping boys Spezia 1-0. Then yet another draw sent us into 2021 having only lost once in 16 league games, although we’d drawn eight and won seven.
Europa League progress
We breezed through the qualification rounds for the Europa League against AGF, Charleroi and Rapid Vienna. But, due to knackered squad, lost at Arsenal and Lille then drew at home to Young Boys. However, we won our last three games including thumping Lille 4-0 at home thanks to a Zlatan hat-trick to qualify!
A key issue with Milan is that several of our players’ contracts expire at the end of the first season and we have no money, so we can’t meet their wage demands. That saw Calhanoglu decide to sign for Chelsea, and we managed to £7 million buy ‘selling now.’ While Zlatan and Donnarumma’s contracts are still up in the air and they want outrageous amounts of money, with the latter in particular demanding £250k a week.
I also flogged some deadwood in the appalling Rebic going to CSKA Moscow for £5 million and Andrea Conti going to Sevilla for £3 million. But added bodies in the form of loanees Brandon Williams from Man United and Carlos Alena from Barca, which helped us with a total lack of midfield backup.
We came into the new year firing, with Castillejo and Zlatan continuing to carry us by trading braces in 3-1 wins at home to Crotone and at high-flying Bologna. But then threw that away with a poor performance at Sassuolo, losing 2-1. And that leaves us fifth at the half-way point in Serie A with 35 points from 19 games.
Join us next time as we push on into the second half of our first season in FM21 with AC Milan!