As I started my third season managing Southampton, I faced the task of managing a charge on 3 fronts, Premier League, FA Cup and Europa League. As it was my first, and hopefully only, year in the Europa League I decided to take it seriously. To strengthen the squad, I spent about £25m on new players. First in was Ezequiel Cirigliano, a defensive midfielder from Argentina, so he would hopefully add some South American flair to my dynamic midfield. Next, I signed £13m Italian striker Mattia Destro. He is a young striker with bags of potential and an eye for a goal. I also brought in a few youngsters in, Rafinha, a Barcelona promising attacking midfielder, Manuel Mancini, a Right back with 4.5* potential. Mbaye Niang came in on loan from AC Milan, to add depth and a bit of continental experience.
For the first time in the save, I started the season with the community shield, what a waste of time. Man united went 2-0 up in the first 25 minutes, with goals from Neymar and Baines (pen). Mayuka pulled one back in the second half, however it wasn’t enough and we struggled to a 2-1 loss.
The Premier League opened in controversial circumstances, as we travelled to Wolves. A wonderfully struck Ramirez 30 yard free kick gave us a half time lead, however Ebanks-Blake slotted past Forster, despite being at least 2 yards offside. Fully expecting a ticking off from the FA, I went mad in the post-match press conference, but the FA were silent over the matter. 2 points cheated away from me by the game!!! The first signs of a league push was on show against Chelsea, as we dominated from start to finish. James Tomkins headed home on 8 minutes from a corner. For all the chances, we couldn’t add a second goal, and Chelsea punished us, with Juan Mata equalising. But none other than Emmanuel Mayuka popped up to score a well-deserved 88th minute winner. After a few more games unbeaten, we travelled for a real thriller at Everton. It was a real ding-dong affair, as Ramirez opened the scoring, but immediately Nikolas Bendtner (I know-how unrealistic!!!) levelled. Mattia Destro then scored 2 in 10 minutes to put us 3-1 up. Anichebe pulled one back just before half time. Destro completed his hat-trick on 51 minutes and quickly added a 4th, and our 5th. However the lack of realism continued as Bedtner score again to make it 5-3. Youngster Ross Barkley scored in the 84th minute to make a tense end. But then, in the 91st minute Nikolas bloody Bedtner scored his hat-trick for a 5-5 draw. Mad.
In the consecutive games against the Manchester clubs, we beat United 2-0, but were dicked 5-1 by City. We the beat Arsenal and drew with Spurs in an extraordinary run of tough games. A run of 12 consecutive wins saw us climb up to 2nd in the table, before a draw with Everton and defeat to United saw us drop to 3rd. Although only winning 7 out of the last 15 games, our good start of the season saw us hold off Spurs by 6 points to 3rd place. Included in that were shock losses against Stoke (2-0), Brighton (1-0), West Brom (5-3) and Newcastle (3-1).
In terms of the cups, it was an uneventful year. In the COC, we conquered Fulham (3-1), Swindon (3-0) and Liverpool (2-1 aet) before a 1-0 aggregate defeat at the hands of Man United. Our FA Cup run ended abruptly in the 6th round with a 3-0 loss to Spurs, after beating Sheffield Wednesday (2-2; 4-1), Blackpool (3-1) and Wolves (4-0).
Contrary to popular consensus, I wanted to take the Europa League seriously, as I hoped that this would be the only time we entered it. Our group consisted of Sparta Prague, Wolfsburg and AZ. After a strong start, a 2-0 win at home to Sparta, we slumped to draws with Wolfsburg (2-2) and AZ (3-3). Wins against AZ and Sparta saw us top on goal difference over Wolfsburg, both qualifying with a game to go. That game, against Wolfsburg, was a typical dead rubber game, a dull 1-1 draw. Round 1 saw us play Dortmund, after last years CL the most popular team in the world. A tough draw, but Mattia Destro took only 3 minutes to find a way through their defence and net an away goal. Kevin Mirrallas scored a second before Robert Lewandowski (who I discovered on FM 2007) scored. But to my amazement, Mirrallas scored a 2 minute brace to make it 4-1 at half time. Morgan Schneiderlin added a 5th just before the hour before Destro rounded off the scoring to make it 6-1. BOOM! For the second leg I made a few changes, but vitally I kept our star signing Destro in the team, as he took even less time to net at home, just 2 minutes. J-Rod added a 2nd, before Gundogan and Subotic levelled it up on the night. Calum Chambers put us ahead at the break, before we wrapped it up in the second half with goals from Lambert, Ivanschitz and Ramirez made it 6-2 on the night, 12-3 on aggregate. The next round was just as mad, as we played Lille. I was in complete shock as we went 2-0 down at home within 3 minutes. Destro pulled one back on 5 minutes but Lille scored 2 more. J-Rod pulled another back on 22 minutes, but Lille added another before Ramirez scored a third for us to make it 3-4 at half time. But Lille must have had a kick up the arse at half time, as they came out the blocks scoring 4 in 20 minutes, leaving the score 3-8 after our home leg. My computer let me down in the second leg, as I set up in a 3-2-2-3 formation, and we hit the ground running. 4 quick goals was too much for my laptop, as it crashed with the score at 7-8 on aggregate. The rebooted game was a lot more uneventful, even though I lined up in the same adventurous formation. Destro and Niang scored early on, but we tired and Lille scored twice in the second half to send us out 10-5 on aggregate.
So there we are, a positive season on the whole and Champions League next year. Can we win it? Can we win the Prem? Hopefully it will be our year next season.