Long post, but I wanted to sum up how things are going and thought someone may be interested...
I'm managing Liverpool and coming up to the end of my second season. I'm in a good position to win the league and, for about the first time, confident of doing so. I somehow managed to finish the first season as champions and quite convincingly but I'm not sure how - Man City lost 7 times with Arsenal and Man Utd both losing 11 matches. I consider myself lucky in that.
This year I know what's going right, what few things went wrong and how I influenced things. With four games left to play I'm four points clear of Arsenal (I have to play them in the league and in the FA cup final), five clear of Man City (who have a game in hand). Until recently the top four were pretty much inseparable, with Man Utd alongside. On any given day goal difference could make the difference between top and fourth. They've only lost twice and drawn twice since that time, but it's been fatal to their hopes.
Each of those top teams strengthened considerably between the first and second seasons with Man Utd buying Neymar (£42m), Andre Ayew and Martin Skrtel (from a relegated Newcastle where I'd sold him). Man City spent £100m including on Thiago Silva and Marek Hamsik. Arsenal have spent £44m including on Ashley Young and Micah Richards. All three have a huge net spend. Mine is -£1.65m (bottom of the league), although I did spend £33m mostly on young players with Koke (at £13m - a bargain due to the release clause) the only one regularly in the first team this season.
Total salary bill is £69m per year, 6th in the league. Man City, by comparison have £150m, Chelsea £103, Man Utd £89 and Arsenal £84. I'm still paying half of Joe Cole's wage and Carroll is out on loan (this season at Celtic) with a 50% contribution. Despite a good financial management so far I've learnt one important thing about cash flow - I have a negative bank balance which is mostly because my transfers in are paid in full up front, and many of those out (that net spend) are paid monthly. I'll be using more of those clauses in future. The lack of finance stymied my attempts to get the training facilities upgraded previously. I'm also still losing more money than I'd like - I don't think there's a lot I can do about that except win games and not spend much! Even with a negative balance I've still got a lot of leeway in salary (£630k/week) and transfers (£11m) - I think the board are irresponsible setting that!
On the pitch I've also learnt some lessons about tactics and game control. Following some great advice I've just used the tactics wizard - I play a 4-2-3-1 (or 4-3-3 as it's called in game) balanced, control with a high line and always pressing. Two centre-backs set to defend, full backs set to attack. A DLP/D and BWM/S with an AP/S ahead. Two IFs and a DLF. Mid-season I was in a slump, still winning games, but without ever being confident - three important changes to the tactics changed things. Setting the FBs to attack has given me a better balance, I was being too conservative with them before. Changing my striker to a DLF (instead of the previous CF, AF or poacher) has resulted in Suarez hitting form. I've also tweaked every player to stop the long shots. Results have been good - I'm conceding rather more than I'd like, but scoring and have had some memorable games - beating Man City 4-0 in the cup 6th round and then 6-1 at home two weeks later and a 6-4 win over Man Utd in the cup semi final. The team is keeping possession better and only two outfield players have less than 80% pass completion in the league (Shawcross and Suarez). Suarez and Borini have scored 24 each this season with Gerrard adding 15 and Sterling 9.
One issue I do have is tiredness - a small squad with only 3 regular CBs (Shawcross, Wilson and Coates) when my style of play leaves them tired is a challenge, but I've got through so far and adjusted the training intensity to get them through. My team is young with Sterling a regular at IF R and once I realised that Suso was better as the AP rather than IF he's playing more as back up to Gerrard (although Shelvey also has 35 total appearances mostly in that position). I've also promoted Jordan Ibe to the senior team (after I sold Assaidi in January). He's done well with 4 goals and 3 assists in 22 senior games this season. I've been lucky with injuries mostly - a recent injury to both Suarez, Destro and Borini meant I had to promote a 4.5 star potential, 17 year old regen striker (bought for £475k from Dundee) earlier than I'd have liked - he's played 4 games and scored once in that time and will likely stay in the 1st team for next season.
I've already managed to pack my U18s team with potential - another 7 players are currently rated at 4.5 stars with a further 11 at 4 stars. Some are ready to take the step up for next season, others may go out on loan once they're too old. I have a fairly strict policy of not having more than 3 senior players for each position so some will also be sold. I have no players except those on loan in the reserves and two players per position in the U18 so they play a lot of football with reserves, U18 and NextGen. The future looks good and I've been able to get a few more youngsters signed (ranging from 14 to 16) to slot into the U18s for next year although once players are promoted I'll also need some more.
This off season I'm hoping to finally sell Carroll and I stop paying Cole and a few others, reducing the salary bill further. Carragher is also likely to retire. The only real weak spots in the team are at LB (I'm not convinced by Robinson and Figueroa is getting old) and AM (Gerrard's legs will go at some point) so I'll be looking out for players to bring in (I've still got my eye on Santon in particular). Every other player should be improving or coming into their prime and a couple of outside signings will help without disrupting things too much. If any top players or true bargains are available I'll consider them, but intend not to sign much more than that for the first team - I should have enough transfer budget to have that flexibility. I'm also prepared to listen to offers for just about any player and have made sure I have suitable targets should anyone want to leave.
Thoughts, comments, suggestions?