AC Le Havre 2021-22 Mid-Season Update

HAC Foot Steps

Having been promoted to Ligue 1 ahead of schedule, and having spent only around £4m in improving the squad, the bookmakers had us in the bottom five of the league after we made our additions to the squad. The Board and the players weren’t holding out too much hope when it came to avoiding the drop either, with the expectations largely to fight bravely against relegation. Understandable when our wage expenditure was a Ligue 1 low of £9.63m (see later graphic for more on this).

Being overpowered by our fellow competitors in the Ligue 1 labour market is all well and good, but with an encouraging pre-season behind us, spirits are high. If we can remain tactically solid, then we stand half-a-chance against some of our opponents.

Tactical analysis

The defensive set-up is the most obvious place to start in analysing how HAC Foot are going to go about trying to survive in Ligue 1.

A traditional back five, sees a sweeper ‘keeper with clear guidance to distributor the ball out to those directly in front of him in order to maintain possession, with our aim for purposeful and considered build up. With a more aggressive left wing back and a right back playing as a full back on support provides width in attack but also tactical solidity out of possession because of the instinct of the right back to return back to his defensive position as possession is lost.

Since none of the options at centre back are especially gifted with the ball at their feet, they’re told to play it simple when passing. If they can reduce the risk of turning the ball over to the opposition, they cut the likelihood of the opponent being able to score should they win the possession with only a solitary defender or two between them and the goal. José Mourinho riled against possession statistics after defeat to Liverpool, “It is a little bit like the efficiency of players and sometimes you say: ‘The stats say Player B had 92% of efficiency in his passing.’ But the stats don’t say that player only made passes of two metres, they don’t say that the player was a centre-back who only passed to the other centre-back”. Whilst he has a point, I am still more comfortable with a centre back who can repeatedly make that pass, potentially away from the press, than one who is like a panicked chicken with a fox bearing down on him. This approach has seen us average 57% possession in our games up to the half way point – second only to PSG.

To provide some defensive rigidity, a defensive midfielder operates as a single pivot. However, the role varies depending upon those entrusted with their name in the playing eleven. If either of the HAC Foot stalwarts, Lekdal or Fontaine play, then they act as a deep lying playmaker, looking to recycle possession and keep the ball moving as we methodically look to pick our way through an opponent’s defence. Should we pick youth team graduate, Sébastien Briand, then he plays in his more natural role of a ball-winning midfielder, acting as a combatant, utilising his bravery, teamwork and aggression.

The remaining central midfielders are more set in their roles, a mezalla on the left and an advanced playmaker on the right. The latter has been rotated between another youth graduate, Abdelli, and loanee Hannibal, whilst Scott Fraser has been assigned the mezalla role he was signed for. When on song, Hannibal can take a game by the scruff of the neck and dictate play, looking head and shoulders over anyone else on the pitch. He is only young, but if he can improve his consistency, Manchester United could have a world beater on their books.

Down the left flank, on loan Nordin plays as a winger, utilising his pace and dribbling ability to stretch opposition defences. Dia has taken well to the inside forward role on the right, cutting inside with regularity, either to meet a cross or with the ball at his feet driving at the defence.

This leaves lone front man, Ali Akman, playing almost as a hybrid false nine. His desire to push the boundaries with offside sees him more advanced than a typical false nine, but he will still often drop back into the hole between the defence and midfield of the other side to link up play with, Hannibal, Nordin or Dia. Constantly busy, his off the ball movement and anticipation has aided our style of play.

So far, by and large, it’s a system that it seems is working.

Half-season break results

As you can see from the results and our current League position, things have been going much better than anyone outside and even inside the Club would have initially expected. With the defeats, all but three (Angers, Dijon & Lens) were anticipated and of those, all of those losses were away. Further still, bar the Monaco loss, in none of the matches were we trounced. Not even away against PSG – though admittedly we were playing for the 0-0 and hardly registered a shot, never mind one on target. We were undefeated at home until Lille turned up in November, something I don’t think anyone could have dreamed about.

It’s worth revisiting the start of this review post at this point. Our wage expenditure is just £9.63m for the entire squad, yet we find ourselves 8th.

Having a strong start to the opening fixtures certainly helped bring a feeling of belonging in the top tier of French football. The new signings were clicking well. Hannibal had a goal contribution of five – or one every 198.8 minutes if you prefer; Ali Akman was performing well in the false nine role, with seven goals from fifteen appearances, and Boulaye Dia had also made fast start to life a HAC Foot, with a goal contribution of eleven (six goals and five assists) – registering a goal or an assist every 110 minutes.

This gave the recruitment team the confidence in their talent spotting abilities, with so many of the Summer transfers having seen substantial first team action and doing well. Six of those signed in the Summer had been involved in at least 80% of potential minutes thus far.

Window shopping

Their talents were to be put into action again in the January window. Prior to the closing of the Summer transfer window, Ertuğrul Ersoy demanded to leave because he felt that there was too much competition for places at centre back, presumably threatened by Vaclav Jemelka’s arrival and starting berth. He left for Kasımpaşa for £925k. Without the necessary time to replace him, the decision was made to wait until January and spend the first few months of the season identifying a series of potential candidates within the allotted wage and transfer budget. The situation was exacerbated further still when Yanga-Mbiwa was unsettled by his lack of first team action after his physical attributes taking a downturn after his lengthy last off in the previous season. He asked to be sold – with his contract expiring at the end of the season, an offer of £205k from Auxerre was gladly accepted.

Since the Board were keen to sign and develop youngsters, a number of scouts were given the remit of finding central defenders who were at most 23 years old, not paid in excess of £12k/week and valued at no more than £2m. Below are the profiles that made the final shortlist:

Elias Mesonero: Pros – Top-ranked by averaged percentiles across defensive metrics for those of whom the club had knowledge and who were interested in signing for the club, considered a leader, driven in pursuit of goals, high level of determination, anticipates situations well, likely to be a good fit with the squad, fluent French speaker, 4 U21 caps. Cons – none.


Emin Bayram: Pros – Impressive jumping reach, balanced/normal personality, fairly consistent performer, good in the air, 9 U21 caps. Cons – needs to work on first touch, won’t fit in easily to any social group, would need to learn French and Galatasaray aren’t willing to listen to any offers, whilst he wins a lot of tackles and interceptions, his tackle success rate is <80% and a good deal lower than other potential signings.


Dimitris Nikolaou: Pros – No problems adapting to another country, very brave, balanced/normal personality, enjoys big matches, fairly consistent performer, good in the air, 1 senior cap (20 U21 caps). Cons – high agent fee, poor first touch, won’t fit in easily to social group, would need to learn French, appears to give the ball away too frequently judging by passing efficiency.


Kamil Piątkowski: Pros – Strong player, fairly determined attitude, good stamina, 17 U21 caps. Cons – peripheral figure in social group, would need to learn French, looks pretty solid statistically but falls outside our transfer budget with Raków demanding his minimum release fee be paid up front for permission to speak with him.


Jan Sobociński: Pros – Model citizen, adaptable to living in new country, enjoys big matches, good in the air, good at marking, 12 U21 caps for Poland. Cons – demonstrates a lack of composure, has a competitive streak, would need to learn French and likely a peripheral figure in social group, makes almost as many fouls as he does tackles – likely to be booked frequently and be suspended/cost the team goals from free kicks when matched with his competitive streak.


As you can see, detailed player profiled were put together for each potential signing. Everything from their personality, recurring injuries, likely wage demands to details on their existing contract were assessed, beyond simply their player data – both attributes and metrics.

The stand out from the above and primary target was Elias Mesonero. Mesonero’s metrics shone – with the highest average percentile across all the key defensive statistics considered of not just the shortlisted players but of all players aged 23 or less with 250+ minutes. Other things that were looked upon favourably when evaluating Mesonero was that he had the second best average rating in the Swiss Challenge League and led the league for blocks, indicating his eye for reading the development of play. A bid was tabled, structuring the deal over three seasons to alleviate any cash flow concerns that were brewing, with Grasshoppers Zurich for £1.1m. rising to £1.4m. He joined after agreeing a contract over four and a half year for £5,750/week.

The second part of the process was to agree never to face a situation where a first team squad member was to leave and not have an identified target – either a youth team player to promote or a new player to come in from outside the club. This led to the establishment of a shortlist of players who were added to the ‘back up squad’ list. Players added to this list were deemed of sufficient quality to at least match the existing first eleven, or could have the potential to do so in the very near future. Scouts who were not assigned the duty of finding a replacement centre back were asked to monitor Central and Eastern Europe, as well as Scandinavia and Africa for information gathering with a broad net. Anyone who was highly thought of would then be monitored by the Director of Football, Jean-Michel Vandamme. His overview would help to determine whether or not they were the kind of player HAC Foot would possibly look to potentially sign.

Whilst the Club laid out their desire for young signings, older players weren’t ruled out of being shortlisted, but they had to come in under budget and be a clear and obvious improvement in the current player in possession of the shirt. It was also agreed that the shortlist was to be reviews on a six monthly basis, prior to the opening of both transfer windows so that those deemed not to be of a good fit for HAC Foot would be delisted and new additions brought on following recommendations from the scouting reports.


The next blog post will be the end of 2021-22 season. Will HAC Foot’s season continue on the right path and will Mesonero settle in to life on the French coast? Time will tell.

AC Le Havre 2020-21 – La joie de vivre

Ligue 2 – Fais toujours de ton mieux même si personne ne regarde

After the change in formation to the 433DM Wide, rolling goals against, i.e. average goals conceded over a rolling period of 10 games, plummeted to well below 0.5 goals per game. In part, it was this up-tick in the number of clean sheets which went a long way towards HAC Foot’s rise in the table from a low of 12th to the summit of Ligue 2. It is there that we stayed for a total of eight game weeks, winning Ligue 2.

It’s true that the increased frequency of goals scored meant that we were winning games relatively comfortably, but it’s clean sheets that helped deliver the wins too. In truth, as you can see from the comparison between the rolling G v xG, we considerably overachieved against the number of goals that we should have scored. This overperformance isn’t particularly concerning now. After all, promotion to Ligue 1 when we were only meant to finish 5th is fantastic. HAC Foot’s Board duly offering me a new contract, which I gratefully accept, even putting in a relegation clause that lowers my salary should we be relegated, to ensure the financial security of the club.

The most pleasing aspect of the below radar is oddly probably the pass completion. Setting the team up to retain control of the ball so that we could facilitate chance creation has yielded winning results, off the back of a high shot frequency and positive gap between xG and xGA.

On a game-by-game basis, the difference between cumulative G-xG rose to the extent that the goals we were scored at the back end of the season overcame the deficit that had been created at the half-way stage. This big upswing over and above goals we were expected to score evidentially helped our rise in fortunes. When you combine this with keeping GA under control, then this highlights the secret to success for the side.

The self-calculated xPts rose to over four points above what we should otherwise expected to have achieved. The in-game analysts agreed that we overperformed but their xPts still had us top (72.1 xPts – +4). We were truly the best team in Ligue 2 and deserved winners of the title.

Squad analysis

Taking a look at the squad profile using the number of minutes played gives the chance to review progress in utilising the club’s academy prospects.

The opportunity to blood more home grown youngsters increased as the season went on and rotation options were needed. The change in formation suited one in particular – Himad Abdelli. He became the first choice in the advanced playmaker role on the right hand side of the central midfield pairing. He was on the pitch for a total of 1,621 minutes, and contributed six goals and five assists. Given that HAC Foot have a history of naming youth academy graduates in their captaincy roles, with Fontaine currently the captain and Lekhal the vice-captain, perhaps Abdelli is future captain material?

Planning for Ligue 1

Promotion secured, and news of an £11.53m share of TV revenue from Ligue 1 to come our way over the course of the next season, the Board made a £3m transfer budget available.

With numerous first team contracts expiring on players who weren’t going to make the grade at the higher level (shaded light blue in the above graphic), this was an opportunity to free up the wage budget. This included players like Bonnet who had had his testimonial at the start of the season after 12 years of service. The alleviated expenditure on wages could then be reallocated towards new recruits to come in who would improve the quality and possibly depth of the squad. With Ba and Meddah seeing some minutes as indicated above, but far from ready for Ligue 1 football, they too were placed on the loan list. After assessing the situation with the squad and discussing about the future and the quality of the squad, it was clear recruitment was needed.

Under Chief Scout, Bernard Pascual, the recruitment team have been out looking for possible player acquisition targets and these missions yielded some recommendations that were favourably looked upon.

Four deals had already been agreed prior to the transfer window opening and before it became clear that we were to be promoted – those shaded in purple. Two of the three signings were from Africa, in particular Côte d’Ivoire – Jean N’Guessan and Ibrahima Ouattara – both prospects signed for their release fees of £275k each from RC Abidjan. Both will be added to the development list with the newly hired Loan Manager tasked to find them appropriate playing time at another club to aid their development. The third deal was one that was probably actioned too soon. Matthieu Saunier was signed to provide depth at centre back but does not look good enough to be back up at a Ligue 1 side. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. The remaining deals were going to have to be both shrewd and more considered.

The other pre-agreed deals that comes under that category was for Lionel Carole, who joined from Strasbourg. He came in to provide competition in the left back role for Meraş, who was largely unimpressive following an injury hit year. The 30-year old French former youth international signed a two-year deal after his contract expired. A well-rounded player with no real weakness to his technical, mental or physical attributes, Carole adds experience to the youth that’s already been added to the side.

A deal was struck with Manchester United to bring in 18-year old French midfielder, Hannibal. The French U20 player will slot straight into the advanced playmaker role as an upgrade on Abdelli, with ratings of 15 for a lot important attributes. Paying only £5k of his wages seems like a bargain for a player of his talents. His technical attributes make him stand out from the rest of the squad – his ambitious mentality and consistency should hopefully provide him with the drive to succeed at HAC Foot.

With Romain Basque the main option in the mezzala role, Scott Fraser was brought in on another free transfer to step into the starting eleven. Being post-Brexit, Fraser counts as a non-EU player (something that’s quite that’s difficult to achieve when you look at the list of countries that are treated as EU citizens by the French). The left-footed Scot offers flexibility in playing positions given his versatility, but it’s hoped he will form a good relationship with Hannibal and either Lekdal or Fontaine in behind. Whilst not blessed with acceleration, his willingness to try high risk/reward passes and penchant for arriving late into the opponents box mark him out as a good fit for a mezzala.

Ali Akman is another teenager brought in to strengthen the first team. As previously stated, the Club is seeking to exploit transfer markets where there are ‘wrinkles’, and Turkish scout, Burul, highlighted Ali. Goals from the front man during the previous season were hard earned, and even when they did come, they came from on-loan striker Simon Banza (whose loan was renegotiated for another year as a precaution, after some initial reflectance from his parent club). Therefore, a player with not only a higher ceiling but also an improved ability in front of goal was sought. Signing on a free transfer, after being not agreeing a contract renewal with Buraspor, 19-year old Ali has the ability to play as a false nine, which could be a pivotal change in HAC’s approach play, enabling Ali to drop into space in front of the opposition back line whilst the two attacking wide players push on beyond him. Despite his young age, he looks a talent destined for bigger things than here at HAC Foot.

Speaking of wide players, new recruits were added here too. On the left, Arnaud Nordin was signed on season-long loan from Saint Étienne to provide competition for Pité who may be moved across to cater for the other attacking acquisition – more on him soon. Nordin is relatively quick and a good dribbler and although he will start out in the winger role, he will look to cut inside towards goal. Given the switch to a false nine, this should increase the threat upon goal beyond the traditional wide man. His fear of big matches is a concern, but overall consistency and relatively low cost of only £6k/week mean that he will be a valuable acquisition for the team.

The other attacking player signed is none other than Boulaye Dia. Signed from Reims for a bargain fee of just £900k, Dia hits the club’s ambition to sign players under the age of 23. Heavily backed to do well in real life, Dia looks like a good player in the making. Rather than playing up front through the middle, he will be trained to play as a right-sided inside forward. His pace, strength and finishing ability should enable him to score goals at this level.

At right back, improving the quality of options was more important. With transfer fees limited as previously stated, the search turned to more unfancied markets, in this case, Scandinavia. BK Häcken’s Nigerian defender, Godswill Ekpolo had caught the eye of scouts with his solid defending ability, work rate and physicality. The most expensive deal done over the summer window, Ekpolo arrived on a 5-year deal for £1.5m, rising to £1.7m after appearances, broken up in a series of payments over the next four years.

A left-footed centre back was missing from the first team squad and a player search using attributes for a central defender. One of the players who cropped up within budget was 26-year old Vaclav Jemelka. A naturally fit and physically strong player, with good positional sense and tackling, the Czechian was signed for £975k, rising to £1.2m, from SK Sigma Olomouc. He is somewhat limited with regards to his mental attributes, fingers crossed he won’t be exposed too often due to his poor decision-making and anticipation of what is going on around him.

After a busy transfer window with no fewer than eight additions to the first team, and more to the wider squad/HAC 2s, the squad looked like this as the season began.

Using some relatively basic accounting principles, using amortisation to divide the cost of the transfer over the duration of the contract, the total basic expenditure, before player agent fees, loyalty bonuses and player performance/appearance bonuses, all of the players brought in cost in the region of £4.6m for the first (or only) year of their contract. Less than £5m spent on, hopefully, improving the team for Ligue 1. Thanks to spreading the payments over several years, this still left some funds in the transfer budget of the original £3m for the January window, should we need it. Think on this when PSG have signed Harry Kane.


The next blog will review the half-way point of the Ligue 1 2021-22 season – time will only tell if HAC Foot have managed to get themselves in through the door of the top league in France.

AC Le Havre – Youth Intake 2020-21

Youth Intake 2021 – A golden generation…?

As you see from the image below, there appears to be at least one incredible stand out player from this year’s youth intake. Sébastien Briand is a versatile, tough 15-year-old who looks set for the big time, if not with HAC Foot, then with a big team in one of the big leagues. The rest of the players in the youth candidates are suggested to show high potential, but it’s Briand that everyone is talking about.

The robust defensive midfielder can also play in central defence and at right back, providing options for different positions should he find his pathway blocked when coming up through the ranks. After agreeing terms for a senior contract at HAC Foot, he was promoted straight into the Second Team, with U19 football being deemed to be below his level.

If you’re good enough, you’re old enough… When you’re old enough!

His ambitious character is backed up by his hard work rate and teamwork. His reading of the game with regards to his anticipation and marking of opponents belies his tender age, as does his remarkable strength. He truly looks to be incroyable et formidable. Already operating at Ligue 2 level – despite not yet being able to be registered until after his 16th birthday, which comes after the 2021 season has ended – indicates that the future for Briand is likely to be fruitful. The one dark spot against his name is his passing. As such, he was immediately given a personalised training plan to boost his abilities with the ball, in an attempt to make him not just a destroyer but also more of a creator. This will hopefully stand him in good stead when he is able to make his début for the First Team, very possibly in the 2021-22 season.

It is not anticipated that he will be with the club long, and if/when the right offer comes along it will be accepted. In the mean time, everything will be done to ensure the progress of Briand is as smooth as can be. Given his call up to the U20 World Cup not long after signing a professional deal for HAC Foot, I’d like to think this is going to be rather plain sailing.

Time will only tell how he progresses and how fast, but the early signs are very positive for a youth player that could see First Team action very quickly thanks to HAC Foot’s famous academy. It will be fascinating to watch his development as this save plays out.

The below are the other youth academy graduates. I would suggest that there is much promise, but doubt that any of them will deliver upon their potential ability given their current ability judging by their attributes.


The next blog post will be an end of season review of the 2020-21 season.

AC Le Havre 2020-21 Mid-Season Update

This mid-season update sees a review of the transfers that were made in the opening transfer window and how the season has progressed thus far at HAC Foot. There’s also a sneak peak at the youth intake.

Transfer Methodology & Practice

With a limited budget and no room in the wage budget, the available transfer funds were reallocated towards wage spending. A clear focus on transfer dealings was needed – no spare cash means next to no mistakes can afford to be made. As such, free transfers and loans would be the chosen methods of bringing players in and bids would be considered for players who were considered surplus to requirements.

As shown on the previous blog, HAC’s squad is a relatively young one, with players who have come up through their youth academy being given the chance to play first team football. The identified youth prospects that are in the wider squad don’t yet look ready for first team minutes. Only Meddah and Fofana have played any minutes this far, with Fofana seeing action in an opening day 3-1 defeat to Châteauroux. The youth prospects will be kept in the reserves to play together or given the chance out on loan to learn from first team action where possible.

With some hope that these players will be ready to represent HAC in the future, the best option is to bring in players on relatively short-term contracts, which have the added bonus of protecting the club if the recruitment were to fail. Accordingly, where possible, incoming players will be given a two year deal maximum. With gaps in terms of the level of experience in the side, older players are not automatically ruled out given the increased likelihood of these players being without a club.

Some additions have been made to the squad in line with the above restrictions that were self-imposed. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Dorian Dervite were both added to the squad to provide a challenge to Mayembo and Ersoy. As the only two centre backs in the squad and with no youth prospects to promote in this position, depth was required. Neither player wanted eye watering contracts and appeared better than other options available after Simunovic turned the club down. Fans of Newcastle United, Roma or Lyon should recognise Yanga-Mbiwa’s name – sadly, he broke a leg during one of his first games for the club and is yet to regain his fitness. Dorian Dervite’s name may be familiar to Tottenham supporters as he came up through their youth team and earned caps for France’s youth teams. However, it’s likely that Bolton Wanderers fans will be more familiar the Frenchman. Dervite’s time thus far at HAC has proved to be less than successful as the centre half has made a number of mistakes and has found himself on the bench more often than in the starting eleven as a result. As stated earlier, mistakes cannot afford to be made with transfers so time will only tell how costly these ‘misses’ will be.

The best ‘hit’ signing in terms of output would have to go to Pité. Picked up on a free, the Portuguese player wanted £11k/week, which is more than any other HAC player. However, his qualities have shone through and are seemingly more than justifying this outlay. With six goals and four assists, he has been a big upgrade on any wide player already at the club. As his minutes played demonstrate, he’s already become one of the first names on the team sheet. A versatile player, he has been playing as an inside forward on the right wing, cutting in on his favoured left foot and appearing at the back post to finish crosses from the left. His conversion rate of 12% is pretty good, and bested only by two of the other forward players in the squad.

Yannis N’Gakoutou is the other permanent addition to the side, again being picked up on a free transfer. Whilst initially unfancied by the coaching staff, his attributes appear well suited to the wing back role on attack, at least if you ignore his lack of natural fitness. He’s so far contributed a number of useful crosses, taking advantage of the space in front of him created by Pité cutting inside and dragging the opposing defender with him.

Goals were seemingly impossible to come by for HAC in the early part of the season for striker Thiaré. With an xG of only 2.68 in 901 minutes and no goals scored, Simon Banza was brought in on loan from RC Lens after impressing off the bench with three goals in three substitute appearances. Banza has added more dynamism to the front line with more movement off the ball and has been instrumental to a change in fortunes at HAC since his arrival (more on this later). Within 487 Ligue 2 minutes, he’s already scored five goals, with an xG of 3.31 – 0.78 goals/90. His goal conversion rate of 30% is exceptional – scoring his goals from just fourteen shots. Fingers crossed Banza’s performance can be maintained over the rest of the season.

£215k was raised from player sales, the bulk of which came from Khalid Boutaïb (£95k – KV Oostende) Ayman Ben Mohamed (£76k – AC Ajaccio) and Abdelwahed Wahib (30k – Châteauroux). All of these players were adjudged to be surplus to requirements due to better players being available in their respective positions.

League Table – on the right track?

As you can see from the graphic below, it hasn’t always been plain sailing for HAC over the first half of the season. With intermittent form, a loss against Guingamp saw HAC slip to 12th in Ligue 2 – well off the target of play-offs.

The gap between the rolling number of goals for and against, both in terms of actual and xG/xGA, was narrowing quickly and so a tactical switch was implemented. Shifting away from the 4-2-3-1 to a slightly more considered 4-1-2-2-1/4-3-3 DM Wide saw a rise in the number of chances being created. With the ball being retained more easily, with wide and advanced players having the safe go to option to play back to the defensive midfielder to re-establish an attack, fewer balls were being forced and lost, leading to fewer turnovers and counter-attacks from opposition sides. If you take a look at the below graphic, the 4-2-3-1 was actually hurting the side, with opponents creating more clear cut chances per 90 than we were creating for ourselves. The bottom right part of the graphic shows the last five games under the 4-3-3 DM Wide – only one goal conceded in the last five games with an xG of just 2.55 – a significant improvement in both the quality and quantity of chances being created against us has improved our standing in Ligue 2 no end.

This adjustment might look defensive, taking a player out of the attacking central strata, but it actually added to the attacking fluidity of the team because there was now more space ahead of them to run into and meant that the opposition defenders now had to mark players that were running at them rather than those trying to find pockets of space. Given that many teams were sitting catenaccio-type approach against HAC, space within this area was at a premium. This also helps to explain why Thiaré has such a low xG, the players around him were struggling to progress the ball through to him to take advantage of his elite speed and put him through on goal. The under performance against xG is also explained in the below radar graphic demonstrating our performance against the Ligue 2 average. Clearly we’re above average (in a good way), which of course is explained through our league position. Our xG/Game to Goals/Goals drop off is a concern though.

Indeed, using the in-game graphics, our analysts have us down as being shot happy but wasteful, which is curious given our tactical instruction to work the ball into the box. Perhaps our players grow frustrated by the defensive low block in front of them and then shoot front distance. Yet when we do score, it’s from within the box, with just two exceptions (see the bottom right of the graphic). You can also see how important the right hand side and central parts of the pitch are to our build up with the frequency of assists from these areas (see top left of the graphic).

As part of the move to 4-1-2-2-3/4-3-3 DM Wide, some player roles were also changed, with the deep-lying playmaker who previous sat on the right side of central midfield switching to an attacking playmaker on attack, and the advanced forward changing to a pressing forward to reduce the gap between attack and midfield. This helped to avoid the forward becoming isolated in the build-up play, linking up a little more with those around him, as well as pressing opposition defenders to stop them lumping long balls for their attackers to run onto over our high defensive line.

Whether playing 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 DM Wide, we haven’t faced many shots per game, but have seen opposition forwards score at a rate of just shy of 14 shots per 100 taken. This may not sound bad, but that’s the second worst in Ligue 2. The fact that we don’t face many shots is therefore a blessing. Our mantra of keeping hold of the ball in possession is clearly a necessity to reducing the frequency of shots faced. Through balls and set pieces account for 63% of the goals conceded – fingers crossed the changes made to the tactic help minimise the regularity of both, with an extra player in the defensive midfield pivot.

Despite this, the gap between the xG and the actual number of goals scored is somewhat of a concern. Hopefully, as players adjust to this tweak to the system and adapt to their new roles, the frequency of goals will rise and the under performance against the xG will disappear.

You would also think that having seen fortunes seemingly improve following the change in tactic that the expected points (xPts) would be broadly in line with actual points, and to a degree, you’d be right. Mikel Arteta would be relatively pleased. Yet according to some calculations taking from here, using both xG and xGA then looking at the difference between the two across each game, there is still some improvement to be had from this HAC side. The change in tactic does appear to have steadied things from the precipice that they were headed down following the defeat to Guingamp, but the side are still light around three points from where xPts has them at the half way point in the season. Only an over-performance against both xG and xGA will see that gap disappear. With both on the ‘wrong side’ thus far on a cumulative basis, this does not look likely to be eradicated any time soon.

Indeed if we take things a step further and look at cumulative G-xG and GA-xGA then we see a chronic under-performance in terms of goals scored against what the metrics tell us that HAC should have scored. Around six goals more should have been scored. Additionally, the team has conceded two extra goals than they ought to have done given the probabilities. A swing of eight goals over a nineteen game period could have had a dramatic impact upon HAC’s fortunes over the season so far. If they are to reach their goals of teaching the play-offs, it’s likely that they will need to rectify their relative waywardness in front of goal and look to be more clinical.

Youth intake – first glance

Looks promising given that this is rather the point of the save. Let’s hope it’s as good when it comes to March.


The next blog post will focus on the above youth intake.

Football Manager 2021 – AC Le Havre

For Football Manager 2021, I’ve decided upon AC Le Havre. Given the addition of xG to the Football Manager series, this save and indeed this blog was going to continue the focus on team and player metrics as per the approach I adopted for FM20. However, as FM Stag has documented in FM Slack, metrics appear to be very much broken to the point of being rendered useless when comparing against players against leagues without human managers. Even within human manager leagues, data is wrong with tackles attempted and key tackles not being registered across any games whatsoever.

I will likely still use some metrics to compare across the league that I manage in, largely relying upon the player radars that are in game, but beyond that it’s going to be impossible to use metrics for recruitment purposes. This does rather makes you wonder what the point is for recruitment analysts in the game if SI can’t get the metrics to be simulated properly.

Why AC Le Havre?

My reasoning for choosing AC Le Havre was because of their famed youth academy. There are a number of high profile past academy graduates that have come through and out of Le Havre – including but not limited to Paul Pogba, Lassana Diarra, Dimitri Payet, and current Manchester City pairing Riyad Mahrez and Benjamin Mendy. Throughout FM20, I did not see any youth graduates come through that were even close to ever pushing for first team football despite playing for over a combined ten seasons at both AC Milan and Liverpool. My hope is that by taking over at Le Havre, their patience towards demands for promotion to Ligue 1 and their youth academy should enable me to develop youth prospects from their youth academy.

As you can see from the above screenshot, the youth facilities are listed as ‘great’, as is the training facilities. This should, with a lot of luck, see high quality youth prospects being generated through our youth recruitment. Fingers crossed they will be prospects that will find themselves in the first team in coming years.

AC Le Havre start the game with some youth prospects in their youth squad with Daylam Meddah, Josué Casimir, Ylan Gomes and Abdoullah Ba. Back-up goalkeeper Yahia Fofana also looks to be a player with reasonable potential. Their training will be bespoke, rather than left to the AI and their progress monitored throughout the season. Ba and Meddah are shown for your own viewing.

Squad analysis

Taking data from transfermarkt.com on the minutes played by AC Le Havre players during the Ligue 2 2019-20 season, we also see that AC Le Havre aren’t afraid to play youth players, with a number of them playing more than 50% of the minutes available over the course of the league season. It’s noticeable how few ‘prime’ age players played considerable minutes for the team – this is likely because these types of players are either fully developed and asking for wages above a level that AC Le Havre can afford, or because they have been replaced by younger options that the club could develop. The latter definitely appears to be the case at Le Havre, with the former being more difficult to prove.

The issue in taking on this team? Only three of the six youth prospects remain. In truth, the club only owned four of the players that played more than 50% of the available minutes. Both Éric Ebimbe and Tino Kadewere have returned to their parent clubs following loans. The bigger problem is the departure of players like Pape Gueye, who left on a free transfer to Olympique Marseille. In fact, AC Le Havre recouped exactly zero euros from transfer fees in the off-season. Of course, this is entirely unsurprising given the financial impact of the pandemic, but this is also something to take into consideration given AC Le Havre’s business model evolves around developing younger players and selling them on to fund the running of club. Without the incoming transfer fees; no prize money on offer in Ligue 2; only £2.5m being generated in sponsorship money by the club and French football in a financial crisis following the collapse of the MediaPro TV deal, finances are going to tight in the extreme. Therefore, development of the youth prospects is going to be crucial if the club is going to make any money going forwards. Equally, any incomings are likely to do so on free transfer only – the club isn’t in a position to be spending money on transfer fees.

Note that the club also released players who did to play many minutes – this shows a ruthlessness to the club and an inability in the current situation to carry any excess wage. Ayman Ben Mohamed looks to have failed in terms of the number of minutes played – as such, his ability will be reviewed upon taking over. With regards to Victor Lekhal, he had a long-term injury, which explains his lack of minutes. The other problem that crops up from the above graphic – Tino Kadawere scored 20 goals over last season, with Jamal Thiaré scoring 8 goals from a not dissimilar number of minutes. Time will tell if Thiaré can up his scoring efforts.

Staff Recruitment

Under the previous managerial incumbent, Paul Le Guen, Le Havre have sought to utilise markets beyond France to bring players in at a transfer fee below the levels expected from teams in Ligue 1 and Ligue 2. Using Le Guen’s contacts from his time in Turkey, two Turkish players have previously been brought into Le Havre – Umut Meraş and Ertugrul Ersoy. Given the link, Yilmaz Burul was recruited to help fill the gaps in the recruitment team, which were considerable given AC Le Havre start with only a Chief Scout. It helps that Burul has some excellent scouting attributes, although he is a more than little blinkered to Turkey, so he won’t significantly increase our world knowledge when it comes to player knowledge. Hopefully his fantastic adaptability rating will help him to adjust to other countries when assigned scouting assignments by Chief Scout, Bernard Pascual.

To supplement Burul’s appointment, a Director of Football, Jean-Michel Vandamme was brought in. Formerly at Lille, his experience at a top Ligue 1 club should help the club to progress. Jeannot, Brisson and N’Kongue have also signed contracts as scouts to expand the recruitment team, alongside two recruitment analysts.

Decisions with regards to recruitment cannot be taken lightly given the lack of funds to spend on players, so it’s important that mistakes are minimised. Data on player personality, past injuries and naturally their player ability will all be gathered and analysed when potential incomings are reviewed.

Tactical set-up

With regards to tactical set up, a 4-2-3-1 will be the formation of choosing, with a focus on dominating possession. With the aim of breaking teams down slowly, distribution from the goalkeeper assigned to be given to the defenders to build up the attack. Shorter passing will be adopted, instructions to dribble less and playing at a low tempo are all designed to maintain control of the ball and limit the frequency of opposition attacks. The players will hold shape if the ball is won back, but counter-press when the ball is lost, with a more urgent approach towards pressing intensity. The team is well-balanced when it comes to right and left-footed, which means that even in central midfield, left-footed Basque can play on the left hand-side of the midfield slot. Player recruitment will be required to provide more options for this shape, but as explained earlier, these will need to be constrained to free transfers only.


The next update will come at the half-way point to the season – with a focus on player trading and progress of the team with regards to results and expected points.

FM21 Is Coming

For those that followed my AC Milan save in Football Manager 2020, you may have been wondering who I’ve chosen for Football Manager 2021. Keep reading to find out what I have decided.

Data Analysis within Football Manager 2021

Given new data available in FM21 compared to previous editions, I am keen to further integrate this into my writing and review of my save game. Those that read through my FM20 save with AC Milan will know that I took a deep dive into the data analytics around player recruitment, squad performance, but also within a tactic and across the league in general.

The new staff analysis roles, especially the Head of Performance Analysis, pretty much mirrored the approach I adopted with my writing and this year promises to be different only by the level of data available to me. We know that xG is in FM21 and of course I will be including that into my analysis of strikers/wide forwards when recruiting players and analysing my own players. It’s great that the conversion rate (the goals/shots as a percentage) is in there too as this is something that I had to calculate within Excel myself. I may also look to use this to try computing the difference between Expected Goals from Shots on Target and Goals conceded to assess goalkeepers. The below radar graphic is certainly appealing and a fantastic addition to the game, but as yet, doesn’t fully cover all the data that I would like to be available.

The shot map is also an encouraging edition to the game and I’m also keen to see whether these will be available just on a game by game basis or whether we will be able to map multiple games onto the same shot map to assess a team’s shot quality over a multitude of games.

I do have a mental list of different metrics that I’d like to be in the game, and it’s good that Sports Interactive have disclosed that there will be additional data included, such as clearances for defenders on their FMFC site. Yet there’s no mention of xA (Expected Assists), which is somewhat curious and disappointing at the same time. Hopefully, if it’s not included in this edition of the game, it will be in the future editions (during the live stream on Twitch, Miles did say that they were looking to fold in more metrics going forwards).

As such, I do expect to be producing my own data analysis from within the game to create a method of analysing player performance, team performance and tactical analysis once more. This has helped to improve my use of Excel and PowerPoint no end, so it’s been pleasing to develop my own skill level as well as becoming a FM content creator. So you can expect more graphics like the ones I created below:

The last graphic in particular is one that I’m keen adapt to utilise the xG in some way, perhaps to assess the xG differential between the two teams as a crude method of xP.

With all this in mind, I presumably have to be at a club that has a good history with regards to data analytics to ensure that the analytics facilities and staff are up to scratch. With AC Milan I did manage a fallen giant within the European game, and I’m not against that idea again, but I’m looking for metrics to play an even greater role in my save than it did in FM20.

With the beta, I’m tempted by a save with Brentford for fairly obvious reasons – their analytics team have unearthed a number of ‘low hanging fruit’ players via metric analysis and highly detailed scouting, offering the players a clear pathway and acknowledging that they will be willing to sell players if the offers for them are to the benefit of the club. Equally, I’m tempted by a quick save with AS Roma or Fiorentina as a number of their players were regular transfers I picked up in FM20, so it would be good to manage them ‘at source’, whilst learning about the new metric analysis and how to integrate that into my playing and writing style.

With regards to my ‘full save’, I’m going to dig around a bit more and see what smaller teams in non-English (or indeed most likely non-UK) have good data analytics, or at least enough cash in the bank to improve these facilities. Cash may of course be hard to come by for many clubs, with the impact that Covid-19 will have had upon the cash flows of most teams that aren’t in the very elite leagues. Therefore, I intend to be very selective and take my time upon making my decision. I don’t mind saying I’ve considered teams in Italy, Spain, Austria and France – time will only tell if I choose one of those nations to manage in.

I would not expect to be able to progress too far into a save game – being a teacher and my ability to play the game is very much dependent upon how heavy my workload is. Only teaching exam groups and having to manage balancing teaching pupils both in and out of school at the same time has doubled my workload, so I can’t expect to be progressing twenty to thirty years into the future. The SI guys on the first look stream did say that the game processes much faster now, and Miles has said something similar on Twitter, but I don’t expect that will make much difference to me.

That said, I would like to be able to have some good youth prospects come through my academy this year that I can actually develop and then use. In FM20, I only had one newgen player who was nearly good enough for the first team, not with AC Milan but with a Liverpool save I started after my AC Milan save ended. With around 10 years played in game across two saves, this was a big disappointment. However, ultimately he never displaced Alisson from the starting eleven. So a club with good youth facilities and at a level where it’s easy/easier to bring them through would be high on my list too. Therefore, I expect to spend some time researching around different leagues and seeing what I can find that fits with what I want to do.

Equally, I have a moral compass. So, for instance, I will never manage Lazio – their far right fans do not sit with my political view points and so I can rule out quite a number of clubs or fans who follow similar political standpoints.

In other words, yes – I’ll be blogging Football Manager 2021, but as of yet, I don’t know who I’ll be managing or when my blog will launch with a true save reveal. Keep your eyes out around December/January is my best guess – sorry it won’t be before then!