What I think started as @KingOfTheRooks and @CM9798 taking on a Man Utd treble challenge as part of CM3 week for Champmanfans.co.uk soon ended with the majority of the blog squad having a go. So here is my attempt.
Part 1: Preseason and the Charity Shield
I started by coming up with formations like this one based on my CM01/02 experience, thinking that the match engines might have some similarities. I decided that I wasn’t going to use the WIBWOB feature or get the SC to man mark the keeper, I’m not judging anyone who does this, play the game how you enjoy it, it just isn’t for me.
The general idea of these tactics seemed to go ok in preseason, so I settled on this for the Charity Shield.
I was creating chances but not converting them losing the match and the first opportunity at a trophy. Never mind, Utd didn’t win this match in 1998, in fact they lost 3-0, so I’m already one goal better off than Fergie at this stage and he went on to win the treble so this can only be a good omen.
Part 2: The League Cup
I decided to give Fergie’s fledglings, Sheringham and May, a run out in this competition so that I could save the first team for the big three competitions. They clearly weren’t interested in taking part in this and with a bit of self-sabotage from DM our League Cup campaign began and ended on the 28th of October in Nottingham. This was the only game I let DM play all season.
Part 3: The FA Cup
It should be noted that prior to the FA Cup beginning in January, but after our October exit to Forest in the League Cup we moved to a flat 3-4-3 formation a bit like the one below. I spend most of the rest of the season adding, removing and changing arrows and also tweaking the instructions here and there but the basic shaped never changed. I have to thank the BLOG Squad chat for suggesting the three-up top as a way of actually scoring more than one goal in a match.
The 3rd round match in the FA Cup was a nice tie, home to Lincoln, not many came to watch the 7-1 routing of lower league Lincoln, I think they were put off by the cold drizzle.
The 4th round was another relatively straight forward affaire, despite Scholes, who was one of the biggest disappointments during the challenge (he just never seemed to do anything) getting himself sent off we put three past Wigan to advance, a few more showed up this time despite another cold wet day.
The 5th round and our first match in the competition away from home was against Premier League opposition. The conditions were again perfect for us, wet and cold, as we moved into the Quarter Finals with a solid away performance.
It was back to Old Trafford for a Quarter Final match against rivals Leeds. In one of the most frustrating games I’ve watched, we couldn’t make our dominance count and despite an early lead Danny Granville, of all people, scored a brace to knock us out of the competition, ruining our chances of replicating the Treble season of 98/99. I think it must have been the weather that did for us, clearly mild and dry are not our preferred goal scoring conditions.
Part 4: The Champions League
Our campaign started in the qualifying round with a trip to Geneva to play Servette. Despite this match being at the beginning of the season, where we were still trying odd CM01/02 tactics, that clearly didn’t work on this earlier version of the game, we managed to put six past Servette across the two legs and make it to the group stage proper.
Our Group B opponents are Rosenborg, Lens and Real Madrid, not too bad a group all things considered and I’m hoping at worst we make it into 2nd place and qualify as one of the best two runners up. The first three matches go really well despite only scoring four goals, (It was so hard to score goals early on in the season before the move to 3‑4-3) as we take seven points from the nine available.
Another seven points from the three reverse fixtures, including a nice 1-0 victory against Real Madrid see us qualify top of the group and get me thinking that we can mix it up in the knock-out stages, especially if we can handle Real.
The Quarter Final couldn’t have given us a harder draw as we are tasked with taking on Barcelona, the first leg is away at the Nou Camp. I think I favour an away tie first in a two-legged affaire, my feeling is that it gives you an advantage being at home in the second leg, I have no evidence to back this up, just a seasoned CM players gut feeling.
The two legs are very tight with both teams having a total of six shots on target. It goalless after 180 minutes of football as we head into extra time at Old Trafford. I feel like we have the advantage going into extra time, but as seems to be the way in a big match we don’t really produce our best football and eventually CM9798 favourite Enrico Chiesa and Portuguese turn coat Figo put us out. Another disappointing cup exit, I thought we were going to win this and go all the way, another gut feeling, might need to get that checked.
With this result coming a couple of weeks after the FA Cup exit March was not a good month for me challenge wise, all I could do now was focus on at the last remaining trophy, so how was the Premiership going?
Part 5: The Premier League
The answer to that question is, pretty good by March but initially not too well. Again, the change in League fortunes links directly to the change to a 3-4-3 formation and therefore scoring more than one goal in a game when you have had at least 10 shots on target.
The first five games were a bit of a disaster really.
9th place after five games, scoring five and conceding five is not the start anyone wants in a challenge where you need to win the League, the only positive being that despite the poor start I’m only four points off first place.
The next five games start in equally poorly, an away loss to Derby, however some formation tweaking, moving to three up front, but not the finally settled upon 3-4-3, meant that after the Derby match, we won the next four games on the bounce to rise up the table, only a point off first place.
The next nine games take us through to the half-way point of the season, we win seven, draw one and lose one. At some point during this little run, we finally shift to the flat 3-4-3. A few wins of note in this stint against Leeds, Leicester, Spurs, Chelsea and Blackburn. The loss was to away to Everton and the draw away to West Ham. Andy Cole was on fire scoring ten goals in nine games. This means that at the halfway point we are one point ahead of Arsenal but with a slightly worse goal difference 23, compared to their 26. An exciting a close second half of the season awaits.
In the next nine games we are near unbeatable with this 3-4-3, I say near because we had to play Arsenal, we just can’t seem to get the better of them, a single goal from Capt. Unhappy Nicolas Anelka is the difference between the two sides. It does seem that when the chips are down in a big game it is tough to get a result. Despite the fact we can’t get any points off Arsenal others can, they lose one and draw three, dropping seven points to our three, meaning we are five points ahead with ten to play. Super Andy Cole with another ten goals in nine games, the guy is a boss and back to the form he showed at Newcastle in 1993/94. As a Newcastle fan I still dream about that goal he scored against Chelsea in 1994 so it is really enjoyable to see him playing so well. Some wins of note against Villa, Liverpool, Newcastle and Forest.
We win three of the next five, draw one away against Leeds and lose one away at Spurs. Fortunately, Arsenal also only win three, drawing the other two so we only drop one point. It’s a four-point game with five to play and I finally start to believe we can win it. Cole got injured in this little period and the goals dried up a bit. We still managed to put three past West Ham and Leicester. Yorke, Solskjaer and Luke Chadwick helping out in Cole’s absence.
With only four points in it we need a strong final run of games, Cole is back and thanks to his four goals in three games and no goals conceded we get nine points out of nine. Arsenal fall foul of a Champ-Manning at the hands of Coventry (good to know it happens to AI teams too) and those three points dropped means we lift the Premier League trophy with two games left to play.
We win the final two games of the season, a nice little final day victory away to Chelsea despite Keane seeing the need to get sent off for trying to kill Zola.
Compared to the real Man Utd we stormed the League with 91 points compared to their 79. We lost two more games but won seven more, scored a few more and conceded a few less. Granted we didn’t win anything else so despite winning the league I feel we could have done more. Top performances from Stam, Yorke and Cole. Andy’s 37 goals meant I didn’t really realise that Dwight had scored 25. Wide players Beckham and Giggs with the assists.
So that’s all. One out of three not great but at least we won something. I had way more fun than I thought I would, it’s a tough game but keeps you interested, not winning everything straight away but enough to keep you entertained. I love that a standard 3‑4‑3 seems to be the best formation. I’m definitely going to play some more but not with Man Utd.
You can follow Rob on Twitter: @Taitanator