La Libération de Caen #4: The Prep Effect

Preparing for the first game of the season should be easy. In fact, when you think about it should be your most perfectly-prepped game of the whole year given the time you have to do it, with all the following boxes ticked:

  • Squad fit and rested
  • Morale high, from that run of big friendly wins against pub teams
  • Tactic finely honed, possibly against the odd same level or slightly higher opposition for that final test of its prowess
  • All fans up for it, believing with absolute certainty that THIS is your year
  • The chairman lighting your cigar as he pats you on the back in the tunnel of that first game
  • Shiny and sparkling new boots and kit (that is an FM factor, right?)

All in all, pretty easy yeah?

But then contrast this with a mid-season game in a packed fixture list when you are either a) smashing it and hammering the space bar knowing without even looking at the opposition that the tactic is going to work or b) when you’ve been so bad that when you walk in the canteen before training even Alice the grub lady nudges her mate and says ‘told you, he’s lost the fucking room’ as the whole team stares down into their crunchy nuts.

That said, I thought it might be good in this blog to outline the way I have changed the way I prep for games in this save. The method is not massively detailed but tbh it has added a lot of fun to the save that you may find interesting and possibly even useful in your own saves.

1) SpreadsheetsSchmedsheets

It would be fair to say that the extreme depth that I went into with my last Newton Heath save, ‘Heathens Global’ was pretty extreme.(catchup on the summary of that here, or if you’re in for the long haul, the first one of the series here). If you don’t fancy skipping back, let me give you a quick summary as follows: basically the save was me using a City group/Red Bull model to create a massive network of affiliates across the globe with the aim of making them all successful. Predictably, this involved massive amounts of data crunching and loanee tracking that meant I had to use many spreadsheets, which became an absolute norm for me during the save, with me keeping them open on one screen while playing or blogging on the other.

That being the case and although I absolutely loved it most of the time, I wasn’t keen on doing the same for this SM Caen save as it was just waaaaayyyy too much work that did at times threaten my enjoyment of the save.

Old habits die hard though and by the start of the second season I was getting that spreadsheet itch again. We had just been promoted by the width of a gnat’s ball hair in the playoff final and this was more than enough to convince me that if we were going to survive in Ligue 1 then I had to step up my preparation game. Thus it wasn’t long though before I found myself creating this little baby in google sheets to have open in a tab alongside FM ..

Addressing a massive weakness in my FM gameplay, namely match preparation of any kind (until now I had basically marked up and gone wide if they were narrow and narrow if they were wide), I thought it would be a good way to focus more on each game as if it was a real life fixture and maybe even give me the edge in surviving the sack in this edition, which with the new club vision feature suddenly seems much more likely. With all that in mind, I had to decide on the column headings and came up with these:

  1. OPPOSITION
  2. H or A?
  3. US: in other words our current fitness, normally expressed as just the days gap in between fixtures
  4. THEM: where they were in the league in relation to us)
  5. PREP. NOTES: any observations for watching games or the opposition scouting
  6. ACTIONS: Doh, the actions I was going to take going into the game
  7. PREDICTED RESULT
  8. PRED. POINTS
  9. PRED. POINTS TOTAL
  10. ACTUAL RESULT
  11. ACT. PTS
  12. ACT. POINTS TOTAL
  13. ACT PTS AWAY FROM THE PREDICTED 44 PTS SAFETY

This is what it ended up looking like in the browser, with conditional formatting in the ‘result’ boxes which you can’t see here but that turns red, green or orange dependent on the result (click to enlarge):

2) The process

As per all creative processes, it was one thing having the initial inspiration but another to turn it into something useful that I could apply to the game. For example, in the urge to fill boxes when I started I was prepping way too far ahead, sometimes watching the opposition 2 or 3 times weeks before we played, but I soon realised that I couldn’t make predictions too far ahead as the opposition form, tactics and league position varied so much just like in real life.

That said, though I still watch or read reports of past opposition fixtures as time went on I have found myself waiting right until the last moment before choosing those final actions and predictions. I also started to get a lot shorter in my prep notes and actions as the process became more fluid. Here’s an example of what I mean, where you can see my notes getting more efficient across three games close together:

So how did it work? Let’s have a look with good and bad examples ..

3) GOOD: 2 nil home win vs Marseille
(predicted result = LOSS)

We went into this home game against Marseille on the back of a well annoying 2-2 away draw with FC Lorient, where I had prepped well and predicted a win only for us to be foiled in the 89th minute from a tap in by their striker Hwang Ui-Jo:

That said, and on a bad run of three losses previous to this point, we desperately needed a win so I decided to use this new tool to its full advantage, leaving it looking like this going into this Marseille game, predicting a loss that made me more aware of our weaknesses which I could hopefully overturn with the actions:

At the risk of repeating myself if you’ve already clicked the picture, the actions were as follows:

“book a morale friendly in between, 2nd in league behind PSG need to sit back and try and steal one at the end”

Come the actual game, just a week after a 5 nil friendly win against 7th tier Bayeux FC. we won 2-0, which, though they had a player sent off, was in no small part due to Jessy Pi sealing the deal in the very last minute of the game, thus proving both the actions I had taken had worked. 🙂

Ok, so I know this isn’t FM rocket science and you could say that many of us would have done these things anyway, but how many times do we skip prep to this depth? I know I have, many times and to my cost in the game. The point is with this method is that having it open alongside the game reminds me to do it!

4) BAD: 1 nil home loss vs Stade Brestois (predicted result = BIG WIN)

Now this one was goddam frustrating, like it really, really pissed me off.

Basically I was complacent given they were the bottom of the league without a SINGLE win all season and also going into the PSG game to follow. That said, my actions to “Rotate, rest key players for PSG for 1 day, tighten up at back, don’t be too cautious” seriously bit me on the arse in the same it does for real life managers, when they throw the kids in for a mid week game only to act surprised when they get hammered. Also, the decision to ‘don’t be too cautious’ did not fit with the team I had out out, meaning I led them to the slaughter (Astana vs Utd in the Europa league anyone?).

All in all, this seems obvious now, but we live and learn 😦

4) SUMMARY

In summary, this is how the sheet has performed with the actual results vs the predictions I made (some predictions 4 or 5 games before, some just on match day):

GAMES PLAYED SINCE START OF SHEET: 14

PREDICTED WINS / ACTUAL WINS: 6 / 4

PREDICTED DRAWS / ACTUAL DRAWS: 4 / 6

PREDICTED LOSSES / ACTUAL LOSSES: 4 / 4

PREDICTED PTS / ACTUAL PTS: 26 / 22

As you can see, I wasn’t far off and given that we’re on 22 pts, which is exactly half of the 44 we need for survival at this halfway point, I’ll happily take it and keep on tweaking and improving the system.

So there you go chaps, my little spreadsheet obsession explained which I hope you find interesting (or maybe even useful).

Thanks for reading and see you soon.

Daz aka @fmheathen

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