Season one in Football Manager 2021 began slowly but gradually crescendoed to Champions League qualification and lifting the Europa League with AC Milan. However, plenty of work was required in the summer of 2021 as we had a pretty threadbare squad that wasn’t ready for the Champions League.
That wasn’t helped by the summer beginning with a club record £60 million sale of left-back Theo Hernández, whose excellent form earned him a chance to get ruined by Man City. And that was followed by top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic refusing to sign a new contract and leaving the club on a free transfer!
Strengthening the squad
However, we did add faces at the same time, with Sandro Tonali completing a permanent move for £13.5 million following last year’s loan and Man City defender Eric Garcia coming on a free as we’d snapped him up on a pre-contract deal.
We set about rebuilding the squad pronto and I think we’ve done a decent job of replacing the players who’d left. First up, replacing Zlatan is Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who arrives for £20 million upfront and a potential £41 million after scoring 18 league goals for Everton last season. He’s joined by Alphonso Davies, who comes in for just £15 million, which could rise to £35 million, from Bayern, who I’m slightly concerned isn’t that great defensively. But I soon realised that both of these players were non-EU and we could only register one, so I sent Davies out on loan tom Lyon for a year.
The next task was a little more creativity in midfield, which I think we’ve done well to add in Dani Ceballos, who comes in for £13.25 million rising to £28 million from Real Madrid after a decent season at Arsenal. We then snapped up Layvin Kurzawa from PSG for £5.75 million to fill Davies’ role.
Then, towards the end of the transfer window, we bagged ourselves a bit of a bargain by snapping up Andrea Belotti to provide some competition up front. He scored 23 in 34 for Torino last season, finishing second in Serie A’s top goalscorer award, and cost us just £12.5 million.
I’ve also tweaked the formation a little as I felt the holding midfielder seemed a little pointless, so I pushed it up to a midfield three.
Super Cup loss
The season began with the European Super Cup up against champions of Europe, Manchester United. A quiet first half ensued, we took the lead through Alexis Saelemaekers, who’s progressed to first-choice right winger, then conceded three goals in nine minutes. Calvert-Lewin scored a late consolation but we lost out 3-2.
A flying start and sudden slump
The new Serie A season began with a trip to last season’s Serie B champions Brescia. It started very slowly until Saelemaekers made it two in two after 35 minutes. And that sparked the lads into life as three goals in six minutes from Rafael Leao then an Ismael Bennacer pair of screamers made it 4-0 at half-time. And… we won 4-0. Bennacer’s brace, by the way, equalled his entire league goal tally of last season!
We then entertained another promoted side Cittadella and got off to a flyer with Tonali and winger Jens Petter Hauge both scoring their first goals for the club in the first 16 minutes. Calvert-Lewin doubled his tally for the campaign just before the break then Ceballos got his first Milan goal with a 30-yarder just after it. Hauge then bagged another on 79 minutes to wrap up the biggest win of the save thus far.
Next was Hellas Verona away, and Calvert-Lewin continued his fine style to life in Italy by bagging a brace inside 26 minutes, taking him to six goals in five games. Samu Castillejo returned from injury to score off the bench and make it three wins out of three with 12 goals scored and none conceded.
The defensive strength continued in a tight 0-0 at home to Lazio, in which they were the better side. And, unsurprisingly, a real slump in form followed with five games without a win. But we bounced back with Castillejo, who’d started this season slowly after an injury, and Belotti bagging braces in a 4-0 home win over Empoli.
That win spurred the boys on to break the club record of 10 consecutive wins in all competitions. This included a 2-1 win over struggling Roma, who were lingering in the relegation zone, and a 2-0 win at home to Inter, who’d started strongly but dropped down to seventh with a slump in form. New striker Belotti’s form was key to our upsurge, coming in for the injured Calvert-Lewin and usurping him in the first-team with performances like braces against Udinese and Parma.
We extended that form to 12 consecutive wins, which saw us to jump up to second in Serie A heading into January 2021. We only trailed the still unbeaten Zebras by three points but with a much better goal difference.
Back in the Champions League
Last season’s exploits saw us placed in pot one of the Champions League draw, which put us up against LASK, Dynamo Kyiv and Barcelona. First up was a home game with LASK, for which we had no fewer than 11 players injured! But we eased past them with Calvert-Lewin’s first-half brace sealing a 2-0 win.
We got battered by Barca but then Castillejo bagged a perfect hat-trick in the first-half at home to Kyiv and a sensational fourth just after the break to seal a 5-2 win. And we secured qualification with 3-0 wins in Kyiv and a 4-1 win at LASK, in which Kessié scored twice.
We managed to win the group with a 1-0 home at Barcelona, decided by Calvert-Lewin’s second half goal. But that didn’t give us much of an advantage as we were drawn against Real Madrid in the first knockout round, while Barcelona got Benfica.
Join us next time as we push into the final stages of the second season of FM21!