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Little By Little Grow The Bananas

FK Partizan / Côte d’Ivoire – 2035/36 Open Thread

October 2035.

Time flies when you’re having fun…or when you’re busy doing 20 things at once and don’t get around to posting the next Open Thread.

Here we are. I’m not saying it is anyone’s fault.

But it is 110%Zlatan’s fault. No, I can’t prove it. But let’s be honest. It’s his fault.

As I noted in the Cup of Nations Open Thread, the Super Liga campaign kicked off less than 24 hours after the final in Tunisia, followed by an immediate jaunt to Sweden for a Champions League qualifier. No rest for the wicked…

Suffice to say that our form thus far has been underwhelming. Domestically, we’ve faced teams who are stacking 10 men behind the ball at all times, with a cautious/defensive mentality. The Swedes adopted the same approach. Fair play. We dominate matches, but have struggled to break through in the final third. Our finishing has been horrid. When you look at the chances created, we should be smashing teams…but we’re in a funk.

It is like someone flipped the switch to “Heskey” mode in mid-July.

One cannot express in words the existential pain that comes with opening the Belgrade campus of the Emile Heskey School of Finishing. Only mime will suffice.

Mind you, we’re still top of the Super Liga after 12 matches, with only 4 goals conceded. The problem being that we’ve only scored 19, and have drawn 4 matches along the way.

We also took a shock kicking in Sweden, losing the first leg of the Champions League qualifier, 2-nil. We managed to turn that one around back in Belgrade, but our Champions League qualification form remained patchy, as we needed penalties to advance past AZ.

In the Group Stage, our run of mixed form has continued. We curb-stomped Osijek in every catgory save goals-scored, a 1-0 win far more laborious than we’d ever like. A creditable 3-2 loss away to Sevilla followed, but that was just a false dawn.

On matchday 3, though, was the big one — hosting Julian Nagelsmann’s Gladbach in Belgrade. This would be the first time that I would face my former side, who have won 5 of the last 6 Bundesliga titles. I also had some extra motivation since our PM Haaienbek tactic is inspired by Nagelsmann’s tactics at Leipzig and Hoffenheim. A 5th minute red card for ze Germans had me dreaming, especially when Godwin scored moments later. But we then proceeded to step on our ****s for 80 minutes, conceding a late equalizer to Zappasodi.

In the end, a 1-1 draw at home, against 10-man Gladbach, cannot be seen as anything other than a missed opportunity. They’re a world-class side. If we were going to take 3 points off of them, this year, this was the chance.

I don’t care what you like, Emmanuel. You will keep wearing the Cone of Shame until your finishing improves.

There are 3 matches left to play, but we need results to go our way if we want to be playing Champions League football after the winter break. Perhaps we would be better served by a lengthy run in the Europa League, but as last year and this year are (generally) showing, we aren’t that far off from being able to compete with Europe’s best.

The 22-man squad is in great shape. I spent the summer renewing contracts and rejecting transfer bids, so little has changed in terms of personnel (save for the long-awaited arrivals of Zoob and Didier Kone, both of whom are in the 2nd XI). Our wage budget has more than doubled to $316k/week, but that’s more a function of how low our wages have been.

Should I really be complaining, though? At the end of the day, we’re top of the league with a shout to progress in Europe:

Finally, a word about the Ivorians…we haven’t played a competitive match since the AFCON final, but have steamrolled our way through 4 friendlies. World Cup qualifying kicks off in November, though, with a 2-legged tie against Somalia.

October 2035.

Uhh…is there something you need to share with us, Ousmane?

November 2035.

Now that is more like it, lads. The question now is whether Gladbach can give us a little help on matchday 5, which would leave us in position to overtake Sevilla on the final matchday, in Belgrade…assuming, of course, that we take care of business against the Croatians.

November 2035.

The Ivory Coast finish the year in style, smashing Somalia 10-nil in Mogadishu, before a 5-nil win back in Abidjan.

Nothing less than we deserved over the course of 90 minutes.

A brutal draw, though, as we’re grouped with Ghana in the Third Round. The top team in each group will advance to the World Cup. From among the second place teams, the top 2 advance straight to the World Cup, whereas the third and fourth place teams will face another round of playoffs.

The next round of World Cup qualifiers will kick off in October 2036, after the conclusion the 2037 Cup of Nations qualifiers (which should be a rather straightforward series of matches).

November 2035.

We seem to have found our shooting boots, and run rampant on our visit to Croatia.

So much for Gladbach doing us any favors…an utter capitulation in Spain. We’re level with Gladbach after 5 matches, with Sevilla having won the Group. We’ll face the Spaniards in Belgrade, needing a miracle as Gladbach host Osijek. It isn’t going to happen.

This is where our failure to win on matchday 2 — after Gladbach were reduced to 10 men — comes back to haunt us.

December 2035.

A massive win over Sevilla, but ze Germans take care of business, too.

We drop to the Europa League, but have to be proud of how we’ve stood up to: (1) the behemoth that is Gladbach; and (2) Sevilla, who won the 2028 Champions League and continue to be a force in Spain.

I keep coming back to it…but the draw on matchday 2 in Belgrade…if only we’d won. We would have topped the Group. That’s how thin the margins were.

December 2035.

We’ll face Bordeaux in the Europa League 1st Knockout Round.

This is not the easiest draw we could have received, but it isn’t the worst either:

January 2036.

The winter break is always lovely in Belgrade. Opportunities to rest, rejuvenate for the stretch run, scout young players…and spend some downtime with Stana.

It has been more than a year since Selene appeared — and then disappeared — so suddenly.

For a time, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, for her to appear out of the blue at an inconvenient moment, when my failure to tell Stana would come back to bite me. But the other shoe has not dropped. And for all the times I thought I saw her out of the corner of my eye, our paths haven’t crossed.

Until tonight. Stana and I were out for a nice dinner, and there she was. Unmistakable. Sitting 2 tables over, alone. Watching us, a wry smile on her face as our eyes met. A soft chuckle and a knowing wink.

That sinking feeling in my gut returns… This cannot end well.

When in Serbia, the winter break always is a good time to reflect. The squad is generally in great shape, and there isn’t much we could do to improve it (at least in the near term), without spending money I’m not willing to spend.

Domestically, we’re unbeaten for more than 2.5 years — our last loss in the Super Liga or Kup Srbije was in July 2033, against Vojvodina, a run of 114 games (93 in the Super Lige, 21 in the Kup). Although our attack is off the boil somewhat (42 league goals, 1 behind Cukaricki), our defense remains ridiculously solid (only 4 goals against in 21 league matches).

We just need to take our domestic dominance to the next level by being more ruthless in front of goal, and crack Europe.

February 2036.

My frustrations with our attack continue, but we eliminate Bordeaux 3-0 on aggregate, after a comprehensive 2-nil away win and equally dominant 1-nil win in Belgrade. We’re going to Bilbao, next, to face Roque Mesa’s Athletic.

March 2036.

A massive win over the Basques in the 1st leg, 3-0 in Belgrade. We were less impressive in the 2nd leg, losing 2-1, but we’re through. We’ll face Timothy Derijck’s Olympiacos in the quarterfinals.

We’re in the midst of a frustrating run of form, though, with a loss away to Cu**aricki and draw against Vojvodina. It’s not the end of the world, but we need to improve.

April 2036.

Thankfully, Partizan’s wobble in form has passed. It required an extra shipment of aspargus for Zlatan, but we’re back in scoring form again as we hit the business side of the season.

A solid 1-1 draw in Athens meant that we could play our game back in Belgrade, which saw us run away with a 4-0 win to ensure passage through to the semifinals. Unai Emery and Milan await, although their current form is less than impressive.

African Cup of Nations qualifying has been smooth, thanks to a 12-nil win over Malawi and a 5-nil win away to Kenya. We’re very much on course to qualify, with only Sudan in the way…so to speak.

We’re starting to tinker again, tactically. Once this season is over, I’m going to start working on a new tactical concept that Guido and I are discussing — using the PM Haaienbek tactic for the most part, but kicking off initial developmental stages of a new strikerless setup.

I should also note that I am no longer playing on the “public beta.” My only critique is the Emile Heskey syndrome I joked about above — our shots on target and goals scored numbers dropping off precipitously (to be fair, the AI seemed to suffer the same problem, as our defense was unrealistically ridiculous). I couldn’t see any reason for this in our in-game gameplay (e.g., poor shot selection or few good chances being created). It turns out that others have noticed similar issues, such that the issue is “under review” according to the official SI subforum for identifying/addressing possible bugs in the public beta. The moment I changed back to the non-beta ME…those metrics reverted back to “normal.”

May 2036.

We’ve recovered our stride. The 4-1 annihilation of Unai Emery’s Milan was a comprehensive display of what we’re capable of. He left with his head bowed, to our supporters’ songs about his status as an Arsenal legend. Our dominance continued in the 2nd leg, where we twisted the knife, securing a 2-2 draw.

We’re through to the final in Vienna, to face Georg Margreitter’s Schalke, who defeated Baptiste Santamaria’s Lille in the other semifinal, 2-1 (aggregate).

The Super Liga title is ours. Can we take the next step?

Partizan’s only European trophy is the 1978 Mitropa Cup, which some say does not count… But that debate is for another time. Another era. This is our moment. 90 minutes from glory.

To be continued

If you’ve stumbled upon this post and are finding yourself a bit confused… Don’t worry.  The basic concept behind the Nearly Men save is explained here.  Just need to catch up? Each installment in Nicolaj Bur’s story can be accessed through the Nearly Men Archive.

And if you just can’t get enough…join us for The Ballad of Toothless Bob, a series that explores the world of Nicolaj Bur, away from the pitch. What is Project Arcturus? What lies beyond the twisted redstone door, deep in the bowels of the Santiago Bernabéu?

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