Rossoneri: Part 2 – Zlatan’s Final Swansong

Our reign in Milan had gotten off to a solid yet unspectacular start in which we we were seriously lacking goals in the first 30 or so games in Football Manager 2021. Our main source of goals, however, was the 39-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic!

And the evergreen striker continued his strong form by bagging his 15th goal of the season to earn us a totally undeserved 1-1 draw at Juventus, which moved us into the top four in February 2021. We took that into a 3-0 win over Fiorentina, in which Zlatan bagged again, which is up there with our best all-round performances of the season.

Zlatan then bagged his 20th of the season as he opened the scoring early on at home to Roma and we “did an Italian” to win 1-0. But we then threw away a lead to lose the big Milan derby at Inter 2-1 and did the same in a dire 1-1 draw against Torino. But we got back to winning ways with a come from behind 2-1 success at Parma inspired by Rafael Leao, who’s showing decent progress.

Inter, meanwhile, were lurking in 10th place and sacked Antonio Conte then brought Walter Zenga back to the club some 38 years after he stopped playing for them.

This saw us climb up to third in the table, which gave us the foundations to FINALLY give Gianluigi Donnarumma a new five-year contract at an outrageous £200k-a-week – but luckily, he’d dropped his demands for a £60 million release fee.

However, the league form slipped a little as we battled on domestic and European fronts (see below) with a minimal squad. We lost against fellow Champions League challengers Atalanta and Lazio, only drew at the awful Spezia, and lost at Udinese. But that ended with young academy product Lorenzo Colombo bagging his first-ever league goal to defeat Verona 1-0.

Juventus wrapped up the title the next day and, wouldn’t you know it, we hosted them next. They’d clearly been partying all week as we raced into a 3-0 lead inside 20 minutes, madness! They had a few good chances after the break that we repelled that Zlatan bagged a late fourth! Incidentally, that took Zlatan to 399 career league goals.

Another late goal conceded at Crotone threw away a win to tee up a Champions League qualification decider with Bologna, who were top of the form table. We led early on but they scored straight away after half-time, which sealed our 4th place finish – which bests their 6th-place finish last season. Annoyingly, we only earned a pathetic £3.47 million, then paid out £4.9 million in bonuses!

Europa League knockout stages

We drew Hoffenheim in the first round and Kessié got us off to a flyer with two screamers in the first half of the first leg. Castillejo and Busquets’ first for the club in a 5-1 thumping. I rotated for the second leg and we snuck a 1-0 win through young striker Colombo’s first senior goal.

Next up was Arsenal, who we’d played in the group, and the screamer machine Kessié did it again early on before Zlatan bagged a brace and Castillejo added a late fourth in a brilliant performance. And we again won 1-0 with a Colombo goal in the second leg to progress to the last eight.

Another English opponent followed and we ran riot on Leicester with goals from Zlatan, Rafael Leao and Samu Castillejo at home, but they got an annoying late consolation from Jamie Vardy. And we eased through to the semis with a 1-1 draw in Leicester.

In the semis, there’s a nice little feature where the teams are introduced to you before kick-off. We faced a trip to Germany this time up against Bayer Leverkusen, and started poorly by conceding after 17 minutes. But Zlatan grabbed us an away goal 10 minutes after the break then Leao put us ahead with a screamer 10 minutes later to seal a great 2-1 win.

Leao stepped up again to put us ahead 16 minutes into the second leg then teed up Zlatan to wrap things up with his 25th of the season. And that saw us through to the Europa League Final!

Europa League Final

Our opponents in the Europa League Final were, somewhat surprisingly, Granada, who had the tournament’s top scorer Luis Suárez (not that one). Right-back Davide Calabria was injured and the in-form Leao was ridiculously called up for Portugal Under 21s, so I brought in Brandon Williams and Brahim Diaz.

The game was played at Energa Gdansk in Poland, and it also did the cool little graphics with the stating lineups.

We started on the front foot and Zlatan hit the post on 24 minutes, then made up for it 4 minutes later with a lovely near-post finish. We wasted two decent chances through Castillejo and Franck Kessié but went in 1-0 up after a dominant performance in which we had 11 shots to their one.

The second half began quietly with little happening other than an injury to Theo Hernández. That was until Diaz was tripped in the box and Zlatan stepped up to smash home his and our second. They then had a player sent off just to further seal the deal.

AC Milan were Europa League champions! And that is, of course, my first trophy of FM21!

Season 1 Review

A cool new feature of FM21 is the end of season review section so, rather than writing a long review article, we can just chuck it in a slideshow below! Highlights include Hernández being our key player, Zlatan getting the most goals and assists and winning Europa League player of the season.

But the key man for me has to be Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He racked up 29 goals and 11 assists in 51 appearances, including 18 league goals that saw him finish 4th in the Serie A top goalscorer award – at the age of 39! However, he’s apparently unhappy so won’t sign a new contract yet…

Other key men were Castillejo with 19 goals and 12 assists and Donnarumma, who racked up a club record 28 clean sheets that beat the previous record of 21 set by the legendary Sebastiano Rossi in 1993, and Hernández, who won the Serie A Defender of the Season.

So all in all a good season in which we delighted the board by finishing in the top four, won the club’s first major trophy since 2011, and boosted its finances.

Join us next time to see if we can hold on to Zlatan into his 40s and as we look to rebuild for season 2 of FM21!

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