FM22: Managing Newcastle United on Football Manager (Part 55)

We asked Iain Macintosh to manage Newcastle United on Football Manager 2022 and six months later, he’s still at it. It’s quite sad really, but hey, we’re not here to judge him. 

Episode 1 (with links to Episodes 1-10)
Episode 11 (with links to Episodes 11-20)
Episode 21 (with links to Episodes 21-30)
Episode 31 (with links to Episodes 31-40)
Episode 41 (with links to Episodes 41-50)
Episode 51
Episode 52
Episode 53
Episode 54

After an extremely busy summer, we’re ready to start our fourth full campaign on Tyneside. We’ve finished seventh, fourth and fourth, we’ve won the FA Cup and the League Cup and we’ve made it to the last eight of the Champions League. We’ve done it all on what is still only the seventh largest wage bill in the division. By any reasonable standard, Steve Bould and I have performed well.

And yet I am aware of the simmering discontent among the fanbase. There was a mixed response to our transfer dealings and even a demand for Andrea Belotti to be sold. Over my dead body.

But even if I’m right and they’re all wrong, it’s clear that this is the season in which we have to kick on and start to challenge for major prizes. And we open the campaign away at Southampton.

We are full strength and, of our two reversible formations, we’re going to focus on the left flank today. Kieran Tierney gets the licence to thrill, Ademola Lookman will make the room for him and let’s see how Big Benji Sesko gets on as an advanced forward.

We start very brightly, finding ourselves with lots of room on the left flank, but wasting the space. Tierney fires in a series of piss-poor crosses before Southampton find their feet and start causing us problems down that flank. Kyle Walker-Peters suddenly looks like Cafu and it isn’t long before I’m back on the touchline, berating my players as if the summer of optimism never happened.

I shift the focus to the right flank at the break and withdraw Tierney and Lookman. Again, we start the half well, make and squander some chances and then retreat into our shells. With no one playing particularly well, I wheel out the old master, Andrea Belotti, and it turns out to be just in time. Referee Jon Moss spots a handball at a corner and gives us a penalty. Belotti sends the goalkeeper the wrong way. My king.

You might think that the goal would settle us down, but if anything it only grants succour to the Saints. The last 10 minutes are spent playing keep-ball, failing and watching our opponents smashing the ball over the crossbar. All in all, it wasn’t very impressive at all. We’ll have to be better than this.

Arsenal are the first visitors to St James’ Park and I’d imagine they’ll be out for revenge, given that we swiped their Champions League spot off them on the final day of last season. They’re still led by Mikel Arteta and it looks like their plan is very similar to ours; they want to rip us open on the left. It seems logical therefore to play in the same shape again, leaving a man back to guard against Gabriel Martinelli. And that man will be Merih Demiral, a chap far more suited to defending than Wilfried Singo, who loves to run. We’ll also put Allan Saint-Maximin back into the side on the off chance that he deigns to turn up.

We are far more composed this time out, comfortably squashing Arsenal’s ambitions. Demiral picks up Emile Smith Rowe by the collar of his shirt and puts him in his pocket where he stays all afternoon. We make a string of chances and it’s no surprise at all when Leon Bailey finds Sesko with a big ball over the top and the big Slovenian makes no mistake. 1-0.

But we lose our way again after the goal. Houssem Aouar is withdrawn with a minor injury, Ivan Ilic replaces him, but the chances suddenly dry up. Worse still, Arsenal suddenly kick back into gear on the hour. We’ve blocked up the right flank with Demiral, but we can’t seem to shut down Martin Odegaard in the middle. He makes two big chances for Dusan Vlahovic, one of which is twatted into the lower stratosphere, the other turned around the post by Ugurcan Cakir.   

We look tired and leggy, which is astonishing given that this is only the second match of the season. With Demiral and Axel Disasi doing so well with Arsenal’s dangermen, I don’t want to swap the flanks. So we just throttle back, kill the spectacle and win another game in which a draw probably would have been a fairer result. I do hope we start to perform soon; this is all a bit sub-par.

“If it’s not working out, it’s because we’re not out working,” says Bouldy, in what sounds suspiciously like something he read on a motivational poster. But I think it’s a fair point. Triple sessions all the way this week as we strive to adjust to the new tactics. We work specifically on attacking overlaps, but we also make time for the last refuge of the scoundrel: the attacking set pieces sessions.

Everton appear to get forward on the right through the brilliant Marcus Edwards, so we’ll bring in Joao Cancelo for his full debut in an effort to lock him down. There are widespread changes elsewhere too. Nicolo Barella has only shown flashes of his talent so far, so I’ll give him more freedom and bring in Ivan Ilic to support him. Anthony Elanga will play off the right and, while Jools Weigl has been very good so far, I’ll freshen up the back of the midfield with a more conservative Sean Longstaff.

Now we’re playing football! In the first 10 minutes alone, Singo and Elanga link up three times, dovetailing on the right flank impressively. We can’t capitalise, but it bodes well for the rest of the game, or at least it does right up until Alejandro Grimaldo tosses a deep cross into our box, 5ft 9in Marcus Edwards beats 6ft Cancelo in the air and Dominic Calvert-Lewin is there to finish. Typical. We play poorly for two games, win two games and on the one afternoon when we look good, we concede at the first time of asking.

But we react well; we continue to make chances on the right and we get our reward right before the break when Singo chucks a long throw into the box, Sesko nods it down and the last Longstaff standing smashes it into the top corner.

It’s the perfect time to score, but then we throw away the mental advantage when Barella cuts Calvert-Lewin in half immediately after the break and sees red.

We make the appropriate changes, switching to the throttle back formation and trying to use Weigl and Longstaff to block up the midfield. Tierney comes on for the disappointing Cancelo to give us an outlet on the left. We can’t drop off completely — we’re not good enough to defend for 44 minutes.

Our ambition pays off. Sesko finds Bailey on the left and then clatters upfield for the return ball. 2-1. But just as we seem to have contained them, the irrepressible Edwards gets behind Tierney and goes down in the box. It’s a penalty and Edwards wants it for himself. Once again we are indebted to Cakir, who makes a full-length dive to his left to stop him.

But now we’ve gone to pieces. I tell Tierney to play like a no-nonsense full-back, but he keeps allowing Edwards behind him. I beg Cakir to stop smashing the ball long every time it comes near him, but he doesn’t seem to hear me. I plead with them to slow the game down, to pass the ball short, to play out of defence and, should we get past the halfway line, work the ball into the box. But every time they complete four or five passes, someone looks up and hits a 50-yard ball to no one. It’s killing me.

Everton make chance after chance after chance, but the 10 men somehow hold out. It’s a strange feeling. We unlocked the potential of the overlap on the right, we saw a fine performance from Elanga, Longstaff was a giant and Sesko scored again. But Demiral was all over the place and Barella’s quiet start to the season turned to disaster. We’re top, with three wins from three, but we haven’t really deserved any of them.

The Champions League draw pits our relatively meagre resources against the current holders Paris Saint-Germain, (now that’s how you sportswash — you wouldn’t catch that nation state/football club limiting their manager to £100 million net spend a year), Sevilla and Shakhtar — overall, that could have gone a lot worse. Unfortunately, our run of always getting tough domestic cup draws continues with another game against our bogey side, Stoke City. We need to click or we’ll be out of the competition at the first hurdle again.

Still, it could be worse. We could have started like Liverpool…

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Want more on FM from Iain and his team? Why not check out his podcast — The Football Manager Show sponsored by Livescore — free on Apple, Spotify and all the usual podcast platforms, and of course ad-free on The Athletic.


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