Trotters Talent: Part 36 – Bolton vs. Barcelona

A maiden Premier League title defence hadn’t started overly well but a strong end to 2036 saw Bolton Wanderers slash the gap to early pacesetters Arsenal and Tottenham. That had been largely inspired by Under 21 World Player of the Year, Jan Neuberg, who scored more than a goal a game after star striker Guilherme had been sent to the naughty step.

The January transfer window saw two more academy products leave for decent money. Long-term goalkeeper David Roberts, now 27, had been usurped by Tim Marshall and his quality was dwindling. He joined fellow hero of the save Nana Martin at Rangers for a decent £7.5 million after 292 league appearances since coming through our academy in 2024. Midfielder Ray Johnston, who was good but pretty inconsistent since coming through the academy in 2029, wanted huge wages so we moved him on for an impressive £21.5 million to Galatasaray. We also moved on midfielder Jonathan, who had great attributes but ultimately didn’t deliver, to Lille for a tasty £30 million that took the bank balance past £600 million.

He was immediately replaced by exciting 18-year-old Colombian stopper Daniel Ibarguen, who comes in for £1.5 million from Independiente Santa Fe. We also snapped up another exciting 18-year-old in midfielder Tarik El Alami, who joins for £1.3 million from Ajax. They were joined by striker Darío Bordaberry, whose loan spell away from the club was cut short.

Lots of our players were accruing interest from big teams around Europe. That included midfielder Mathias Hansen, who was worth £46.5 million but attracted a pathetic £28 million bid from Bayern. That figure was blown out of the water as Real Madrid came in with a huge £77 million offer, which I tried to negotiate and they unusually refused. And that meant we kept hold of our better players until at least the summer.

Title defence continues

The new year began with a trip to Fulham on New Year’s Day and a stern half-time team talk brought the boys to life as Guilherme opened the scoring. We then had two goals disallowed, they had a late equaliser disallowed, but we held on for an edgy 1-0 win. Torrential rain welcomed our bogey side Everton to Eddie Davies Arena and, despite a very open game, a 10th minute penalty by Guilherme was the only goal of the game. A third successive 1-0 win followed at home to West Brom, with Neuberg’s first goal of the new year deciding it.

Two much tougher tests soon followed, beginning with a trip to Man City. We got off to a flyer as Bordaberry latched onto a long ball to get his first goal back at the club. City struck back with a brace from superstar winger Danilo Pisani and looked to be cruising to a 2-1 win. But a tactical tweak that involved El Alami coming on for a league debut as a makeshift striker saw him equalise then tee up a dramatic winner for Bordaberry. A massive win temporarily took us top of the league for the first time this season.

That teed up a huge top of the table clash as we hosted leaders Arsenal. A pretty poor game saw both sides miss chances until Neuberg was sent through by left-back Luiz Antonio’s acrobatic hoof to score a massive late winner. That took us to 11 games unbeaten and top of the league.

As a result of our great form, the Bolton board offered me a huge new contract worth £200,000-per-week until 2041, which nearly doubled my previous wage of £110,000-per-week.

We immediately threw away the advantage over Arsenal by drawing at struggling Leicester, now managed by Bernardo Silva. Star midfielder Germán Martínez, who’s now become known as a world-class midfielder, scored just his second goal of the season with a brilliant free-kick after 16 minutes at Bournemouth. His fellow Argentinian Bordaberry doubled the tally three minutes later and club captain Lasse Hermansen headed home a Martínez corner to make it comfortable just before the break. Last season, Bordaberry scored one goal in 12 league games, but since returning he already has four in five!

Guilherme’s return to the first-team had seen him withdraw his transfer request, which he celebrated with the opener at home to Norwich. The visitors then got two red cards and we took control to win 3-0 with goals from Sean Caldwell and young academy product striker Dylan Smart. Arsenal lost a crunch London derby at Chelsea, which handed us an opportunity with a trip to Southampton. A brilliant pass from Edmundo Júnior teed up fellow Brazilian only for the hosts to equalise and frustrate us. But we again left it late to nick a winner courtesy of vice-captain Hansen.

Bolton vs. Barcelona

Our progression to the knockout stages of the Champions League took us into the club’s first-ever meetings with Spanish giants Barcelona. First up, Barca made the trip to Bolton kitted out in an interesting pink kit. They scored early on and, despite us out-shooting them 14 to 10, they held on for a 1-0 win.

That left us with a tough ask heading to the Nou Camp. Barca doubled their lead with a total fluke that saw a cross fly into the far corner. But we remained resilient, fought hard and found an equaliser on the night through young midfielder Riki Kristoffersen’s first goal for the club. But, despite throwing everything at it, we couldn’t find a crucial second and narrowly lost 2-1. And that’s an outrageously impressive effort from this young team.

Final 10 games of the season

With 10 games remaining, we had a great chance of defending our Premier League title. A 14-match unbeaten run had taken us top of the league, five points clear of Spurs, six clear of Arsenal, Chelsea and Man United, and eight clear of Liverpool.

The countdown began at home to Liverpool, against whom we’d lost four in a row, which became five as we lost our first home game of the season 2-1. A tough run of games continued with a trip to third-place and in-form Chelsea which, along with the Liverpool game, sandwiched the two Barca clashes.

I threw a tactical gamble with a largely untested, more cautious 4-4-2 and we started well as Smart opened the scoring after 13 minutes. Chelsea scored a screamer to equalise just before half-time but Bordaberry broke away from our corner to score an excellent solo goal. Chelsea went for it and we just about held firm to deny them and come away with a massive win. Arsenal drew 3-3 at United on the same day to move us five points clear.

Bottom of the form table Villa came to town next and Bordaberry bagged a brilliant first-half hat-trick to inspire a comfortable 3-0 win. Two tougher games followed, starting with a 0-0 at home to Spurs after Hansen was sent off for a shocking two-footed challenge. We then faced a trip to Old Trafford, where we’ve yet to win in five attempts, which continued as, despite taking the lead through a Guilherme penalty, we fell to a 2-1 defeat.

A tight title battle

Our lead at the top had been slashed to two points with five games remaining and were just five points separating us and sixth-place Liverpool. Us and Arsenal had favourable run-ins, while the other four all have games against other sides in the top six.

We started the run-in at bottom of the league Middlesbrough, who were already all-but relegated. But we made hard work of it, raining in 17 shots and only a Guilherme penalty bailed us out to nick a 1-0 win. Next was a home game against 19th-place Brighton and we came out flying with six shots in the first seven minutes, which told as Caldwell headed home after Guilherme hit the post. But we were so wasteful that I changed both strikers at half-time, which instantly worked as Smart ticked home a Caldwell cross. They got one back with a ridiculous own goal and, despite 27 shots to their six, we just hung on for a 2-1 win. However, Arsenal threw away a lead in the last 15 minutes at home to Watford to lose 2-1, which moved us five points clear again.

Another struggler followed as we went to 17th-place Palace. We came out and dominated and grabbed an early lead through centre-back Gonzalo Pereyra’s header but didn’t kill it off until Luke Johnson, who’s having his best season yet for us, smashed home a penalty on the hour mark. Arsenal also won to take us one point away from the title with two games remaining.

Our first chance to wrap it up came at home to 15th-place Watford. A cagey start was blown wide open as Johnson teed up Hansen to smash home a delicious 25-yarder after 39 minutes. Four minutes later, Smart’s shot was cleared off the line by a defender but only into his own goalkeeper and it rebounded in to double our lead at half-time. Any doubts of where the result was going were dashed by a superb strike by Jhonatan González, despite a late consolation.

Bolton Wanderers defended their Premier League title in 2036/37!!

The season concluded with a trip to Leeds, who scored with their first shot but Caldwell and Smart turned things around either side of half-time. Smart added a second and we snuck a 3-2 win, which ended up relegating Leeds!

That saw us finish on 85 points, with 26 wins, five defeats and seven draws, five clear of Liverpool and ten ahead of Arsenal, who capitulated at the end of the season. We scored 71 goals, which was nowhere near the 93 scored by Arsenal, and conceded 33, which was two more than Liverpool. Arsenal’s Tshibuabua finished the season with an impressive 32 league goals in 32 games. But none of our players topped any of the individual categories, showing this was very much a team effort.

Season Review

The main man for most of this season was striker Neuberg, but he didn’t add to his tally of 23 goals in 13 games after mid-January. Guilherme scored 18 goals but looks like leaving the club in the summer after his previous meltdown. Academy product Smart scored 10 and got nine assists in 38 games, of which just 20 were starts.

But the pivotal player in this squad has to be midfielder Martínez, who got a club record 15 assists alongside two goals and a 7.2 average rating. He’s worryingly wanted by Real Madrid and we may need to break the bank to renew his contract in the summer. Vice-captain Hansen also impressed with 11 assists and four goals. While holding midfielder Johnson popped up with five goals, two assists and a 7.1 average rating.

Martínez won the fans’ player and young player of the season, Neuberg, El Alami was signing of the season, Bordaberry won goal of the season, neuberg got the most player of the match awards (8) and Kristoffersen had the best passes completed ratio. Edmundo Júnior, Caldwell, Martínez and Neuberg were named in the league’s team of the year. And I won the Premier League Manager of the Year award.

Hermansen entered our overall best 11, sliding in alongside Pereyra in defence, and Neuberg made it onto the bench. Current players Hansen, Caldwell and Guilherme are all included in the lineup.

Trotter Talents update

Despite a raft of our homegrown players continuing to be sold for major profits, the first-team squad does still have five players that came through our academy. Goalkeeper Tim Marshall and holding midfielder are first choice starters, while striker Smart has played a bigger role this season.

There are several more players with potential coming through the ranks, including striker Luca Godden, full-backs Aiden Main, Logan Holtz and Jack Barlow, and midfielders Stewart Allen and Craig Radcliffe. We also had another solid youth intake, from which the pick of the players were probably strikers Jack Bickley, who’s already wanted by Liverpool and Chelsea, and Ken Cooper and defender Ben Halliwell, as well as bringing through Brazilian defender Felisberto, who’s not very good but it was fun to get a Brazilian youngster!

A look around England

Leeds, Brighton and Middlesbrough were relegated, the latter only getting 21 points. West Ham won the Championship to return to the top tier for the first time in seven years with Newcastle and Derby coming back up with them. Birmingham, Preston and Rochdale were relegated, which meant both our feeder club Oldham and Leyton Orient survived.

Luton won League 1 with Sunderland and Bristol Rovers going up, while Chesterfield, Forest Green, Crewe and Southend went down. Fleetwood won League 2 and Coventry, Burton and Bradford went up with them. Accrington and Stockport dropped out of the league with Wycombe just about surviving. Tranmere won the National League and Northampton came up with them, with Ebbsfleet, Blyth Spartans, Dagenham & Redbridge and Maidenhead going down. They’ll be replaced by Spennymoor, Halifax, Maidstone and Salisbury, with Grantham, Curzon Ashton, Rushall Olympic, Hednesford Town, Welling, Naskingstoke, Lewes and Hastings dropping out of the system.

Man United beat Everton 1-0 to win the FA Cup and Arsenal, strangely, beat Everton 6-1 after extra-time to win the Carabao Cup. Arsenal also won their first-ever Champions League, beating Liverpool 2-1 in the final, while Everton beat Bilbao on penalties to win the Europa League. The English league is massively dominant on this game now, having won the last five Europa Leagues and five of the last nine Champions Leagues.

Join us next time to see how we go about rebuilding for a second Bolton Wanderers title defence and attempting to improve our Champions League exploits.

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