Going Dutch with Sparta Rotterdam

After selling 2 key players in January, it was always going to be interesting to see how we reacted…
Turns out that we reacted quite well and February was an almost perfect month for us!

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Mo Sankoh scoring a hattrick against NAC to then later get injured pretty much sums him up...

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He never lets us down but is injured far too often, which means he is now just a rotation option for us after 6 seasons of being first choice.

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That aside - it has been a very good month or so for us and we even got to the semi-finals of the cup for the first time in about 5 years. Despite winning the Eredivisie 4 times, we’ve only won the cup once so it would be nice to add to that!

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The huge test for us came when we faced Ajax and Liverpool in the space of 4 days.

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We needed to avoid defeat to Ajax to realistically stand any chance of winning the Eredivisie for the 3rd year in a row

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We put in a solid performance to get a credible point in Amsterdam, but we should not have drawn the game after taking the lead in the 87th minute.

So I was not very confident heading into the first leg of the Champions League knockout round against current Premier League holders Liverpool.

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But we absolutely battered them 4-0 - it was a performance that came out of absolutely nowhere!

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That emphatic win seems to have turned our season around and put some belief in the squad. Despite the many blips this season, we are level on points with Ajax with 8 games remaining as they’re making a habit of losing key matches.

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Surely we’ll qualify for the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the second season in a row?
What’s Liverpool’s squad like now?
Massive result against Liverpool, fingers crossed this can be your best CL season to date!

Not that it seemed to impact your performance (beating Liverpool 4-0), but you may want to look at your training schedule, especially when you have 2 big games back to back. I've started doing it a lot more on this FM, adding rest days or match preparation stuff instead of general/overall training as it is much less fatiguing on the players when you have a short turn around. Possibly something to look at, but as I say it didn't seem to impact your performance one bit!

I've honestly never even looked at training before, just left it to the assistant manager so might be something to look at in the future - especially given the Liverpool result in the second leg...

What’s Liverpool’s squad like now?

Their squad is ridiculous - here’s the non-regen players (not too many of them now that we’re nearly 10 years into the save)

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Their best player is this guy but they have world-class players in every position.

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A 5-0 thumping of Willem II means that we’re into the final of the Dutch Cup for the first time in 6 years!

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We’ve only won the competition once in the save and we’ll play Ajax (who else?) in the final.

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They’ll be favourites but are again making a terrible effort of beating us to the Eredivisie title. An incredible set of results saw them lose 4-1 against mid-table Vitesse!

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That put us 3 points clear with 6 games remaining, the only thing scaring me is Ajax’s superior goal difference.

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Ahead of the second leg of the Champions League Knockout Round clash against Liverpool, our fans were apparently ‘confident’ of us progressing - which you would expect when we were already 4-0 up from the first leg.

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So it was fair to say the confidence had gone when we were 3 down in 25 minutes!!

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As has been typical this season, our opponents scored with literally every shot on target they had. I was absolutely fuming.

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Sure enough, Liverpool went 4 up in the second half and I was prepared to throw my laptop out of the window if a fifth came.

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We actually managed to take things to extra time - but I still could not believe we had completely blown a 4-0 lead from the first leg!

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Yet an away goal would change everything and all we needed was one goal in extra time to completely change things.

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And that came from recent signing Ginatto, whose wonder goal looked to have spared our blushes… until Liverpool scored about 2 mins after!

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For some reason, we just cannot defend!

But with Liverpool going all out attack there were opportunities for us on the break.

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2 away goals for us! Surely now we were going through with Liverpool needing 2 more themselves?

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Of course not.

The match was honestly ridiculous - at 6-2 down we were going through on away goals but all Liverpool needed was one more.

Our defending was so shocking that I expected us to concede again, but we didn’t!

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What a ridiculous match. We lost 6-2 but somehow we are into the Champions League quarter finals.

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It means we have a very interesting quarter-final clash against Italian giants Juventus.

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We're going to need to defend much better against them!
What a game against Liverpool and its well deserved after being 4 up after the first Leg
What a game against Liverpool and its well deserved after being 4 up after the first Leg

Unbelievable match, I'm just glad we went through cause I honestly couldn't believe us conceding from every shot!
Ajax’s ability to bottle the Eredivisie title season after season is amazing. They have genuine world-class talents all over the pitch but their implosion means that we’re on course to win the league for the 5th time in 6 seasons

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What truly sealed it was another loss to Groningen, made sweeter by the fact the goal was scored by on loan Sparta player Anwar van Kesteren

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It’s inevitable that we’ll win the Eredivisie from here, although we did draw 0-0 away against NAC to halt the celebrations.

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But we’ve just 3 games remaining, we’re 8 points ahead of second place. Ajax have been so poor that they’ve now dropped to 3rd!

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So with things wrapped up in Holland, our focus was on the Champions League.

Our opponents were on course to win Serie A, but had not got to the semi finals of the competition in 6 years.

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After a ridiculous game last time out against Liverpool, it was typical that there were very few highlights in the first leg against Juventus. A mistake from normally reliable keeper Maarten Paes cost us, which was particularly annoying as we weren’t that bad!

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What was costlier was an injury to key player Damian Crossa, who would not recover in time for the second leg eight days afterwards

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After a decent performance in Italy, I was interested to see what we could do in the quarter-final second leg but it just wasn’t to be…

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Juve were too good for us and although we’re a team capable of getting to the Champions League quarter-finals, we do not have enough depth like the huge teams in Europe do.

It was gutting to go out but our attention now turns to Ajax in the final of the cup.

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We’ve only won the competition once but with the form that Ajax are in, we are probably favourites going into the game
I may have got slightly carried away with the Euros., which is why the posts have slowed down in the last few weeks...

After our meek exit from the Champions League quarter-final against Juventus, we very much needed to get one over Ajax and win the KNVB Cup.

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And that’s exactly what we did! It’s only the second time we’ve won the competition despite how successful we’ve been in the last few years.

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January signing Ginatto scored the winning goal and although he’s been inconsistent, he is surely going to be a huge player for us in the next few years.

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Ajax have been surprisingly poor this season and we’ve not really had a title challenge. We needed just one point from three games to secure the Eredivisie, so the inevitable moment came in our next game.

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Emaunel Emegha, a true legend and undoubtedly the player of the save, decided to score 4 goals in the match which almost made up for a mediocre season from him.

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He ended the season with 15 league goals, which is his lowest ever league haul.

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But it was another season where he won the league as we ended up finishing 8 points clear of Ajax in the end.

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A 5th Eredivisie title, a Dutch Cup win and a Champions League quarter-final for the 2nd season in a row - I suppose it hasn’t been that bad of a season.
It’s taken 10 seasons but for the first time we’ve won the double of the Eredivisie and the Dutch cup. We also got to the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the second successive season.

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Juventus, who beat us in the quarter final, went on to get smashed by Man City in the final.

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That’s a Man City side that still contains Dominique Maysonnave, who we sold to them for £140m 4 years ago.


We’ve now won 5 of the last 6 Eredivisie titles and are really becoming the dominant Dutch side despite the strength of Ajax.

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Since Holland is amongst the best leagues in Europe, we have 4 teams that go straight to the Champions League group stage. It also means that 7th-10th take part in a playoff for the European Conference League spot, which Vitesse won this year. Their victory shows that you can finish 9th in a league of 18 teams and still qualify for Europe!

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It was quite a weird season for us in terms of goalscoring. We normally have one or two players who score nearly every game yet no player got more than 20 goals this season.

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That stat shows how it’s been a transitional year as we’re starting to develop non-Dutch players, but it’s been the existing Dutch players who have been a bit mediocre this campaign.

Firstly, Roland Leidelmeijer was signed for £55m from PSV two seasons ago and even though he scored 18 goals, only averaged 6.99 which is poor for a team that wins most of their games.

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Another underperformer was Tyrell Malacia who is still our first choice left-back and is more than capable in the Eredivisie, but not the kind of player who should be starting in the Champions League quarter-final.

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Sepp van den Berg completed his 9th season at the club and has made 298 appearances in total for us. He’s been a great servant but we need to upgrade on him if we’re going to seriously challenge in Europe.

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So when he said he wanted to leave for a fresh challenge, I was not going to get in his way.

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Not that we need the money - we have £174m in the bank and extremely good facilities all round!

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We have the resources to turn this club into a European elite, it is just a question of how long will it take.
Over the summer, centre back Micky van de Ven played a part as Holland lost to France on penalties in the World Cup semi-final. Former Sparta player Ernst Poku also scored Holland’s goal in the match and France eventually went on to win the competition

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In terms of summer transfers, a lot has happened. We’ve had a bit of a clear out with 5 first team players leaving and have replaced all of them with top quality teenagers who are only going to get better.

First up was Mo Sankoh, who has joined PSG for £31m

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I wasn’t going to accept the bid until he picked up yet another injury. He’s been brilliant for us but is just far too injury prone.

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Another sad departure was Abdou Harroui, captain and Sparta legend, who has gone to end his career in America.

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He was our star player in the first few seasons and has been at the club his entire career, winning the Eredivisie 4 times.

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Tyrell Malacia has joined Valencia for £10m - the board weren’t happy with the deal but he’s 30 years old and always performed poorly in the Champions League, so I was happy to get the money with just 1 year left on his contract anyway.

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Valencia also signed our goalkeeper Maarten Paes for £15m. Just like with Malacia it was let him go for free at the end of the season or cash in now, so £15m seemed a good price.

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And finally, as mentioned in the last update, Sepp van den Berg has joined Celta Vigo for £12.5m as our vice captain wanted a new challenge

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So, that brings us to the transfers in. As per the tweaked rules of the save, I’ve started signing any player under the age of 20 to spice things up.

Transfers In

First into the club was Giuliano Concina for £15m from AC Milan - he’s one for the future but could still play a big part in the first team this season

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The signing I’m most excited about is Luis Eduardo Padilla from Mexico. He cost us £19m but could turn into a really special player.

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We’ve signed a replacement goalkeeper in Walmir for £15m from Flamengo in Brazil. We agreed the transfer before he turned 20 and I’m hoping he can turn into the world class keeper we have needed.

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To fill the gap at left back after Malacia’s departure, we have signed Serbian left back Perica Miovic for £6m.

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Vasile Grăjdan cost us just £5.5m and again was a transfer we agreed last year before he turned 20. I cannot believe no other club came in for him earlier - some of his stats are amazing!

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And finally, we’ve actually signed an experienced player as well. Rick van Drongelen joins us from Hertha Berlin for £9.5m

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He actually started his career at Sparta and is one of the best Dutch centre backs around despite being 31 years old.

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So after a hectic summer, we’ve definitely improved our squad and are predicted to finish 2nd with 5 players in the media dream XI.

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I’m desperate to win the Champions League in this save. We’ve got to the quarter finals twice so it will be interesting to see if our young side can do better than that this campaign.
We’re now over 10 years into the save and one really interesting thing is that 51 Sparta trained players are currently playing in the top 5 divisions in Europe. I’m not sure what the criteria is - and it helps that Holland is classed as one of the elite divisions in Europe - but it's still a really cool stat.

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Our Champions League group this season paired us with Liverpool - who we knocked out of the competition last season after smashing them 4-0 last at home only to then lose 6-2 at Anfield.

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We’ve played our first 3 group games and played brilliantly against Salzburg, yet only scored one goal

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Despite losing to Liverpool at Anfield we look like we’ll go through to the knockouts quite comfortably for the 4th season in a row.

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Things are going even better in the Eredivisie, which is why this first update of the season is coming after 12 league matches… we’re already 10 points clear!

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The result of the season so far was away against Ajax, where Roland Leidelmeijer won the game single-handedly.

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Despite his performance in that game, our top 2 players this season have been Damian Crossa and Bram van den Berg

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Crossa is one of the highest scorers in the league despite being injured for the past month.

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And Van den Berg is top scorer in the Eredivisie playing as a shadow striker... yet he still can't get a callup for Holland!

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We’re already looking comfortable this season - the real test will come in the next few months when we enter the Champions League knockout phase.
A brilliant 3-1 win over Liverpool ensured that we finished top of our Champions League group courtesy of our head-to-head record

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It meant that in theory we’d have an easier draw in the knockouts but our opponents will be AC Milan - a tough test but we beat them twice in the group stage last season

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The January transfer window has been and gone and we have been involved in just 2 deals. The first saw Philippe Middlkoop join Nuremberg for £25m.

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£25m seemed very good money for a player that was a rotation option for us.

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As a replacement we have signed the excellently named Titi for £14m from Brazil as he fits with our policy of signing under 20s. He’s a striker but I plan to train him as a number 10.

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Our form so far this season has been almost perfect and we’re on our longest ever unbeaten run.

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We’ve now played 24 Eredivisie matches and have won 22 of them! Normally there’s a title fight between us and Ajax but we’re walking away with it this season.

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Our success has been built on a solid defence and our goalkeeper Walmir has kept 19 clean sheets in 24 league matches!

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But the real test now comes against AC Milan in the Champions League 1st Knockout Round, who are top of Serie A.

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We’ve proved we’re the best in Holland, the challenge now is to get to the latter stages of the Champions League.
A brilliant 3-1 win over Liverpool ensured that we finished top of our Champions League group courtesy of our head-to-head record

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It meant that in theory we’d have an easier draw in the knockouts but our opponents will be AC Milan - a tough test but we beat them twice in the group stage last season

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The January transfer window has been and gone and we have been involved in just 2 deals. The first saw Philippe Middlkoop join Nuremberg for £25m.

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£25m seemed very good money for a player that was a rotation option for us.

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As a replacement we have signed the excellently named Titi for £14m from Brazil as he fits with our policy of signing under 20s. He’s a striker but I plan to train him as a number 10.

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Our form so far this season has been almost perfect and we’re on our longest ever unbeaten run.

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We’ve now played 24 Eredivisie matches and have won 22 of them! Normally there’s a title fight between us and Ajax but we’re walking away with it this season.

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Our success has been built on a solid defence and our goalkeeper Walmir has kept 19 clean sheets in 24 league matches!

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But the real test now comes against AC Milan in the Champions League 1st Knockout Round, who are top of Serie A.

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We’ve proved we’re the best in Holland, the challenge now is to get to the latter stages of the Champions League.
When will the next update be in terms of continuing this journey
When will the next update be in terms of continuing this journey

Today! I'm slowly but surely getting there with the updates - I'm a few months ahead in the save so they'll be a couple more posts over the weekend
We’ve lost one game all season and have never looked like conceding... so of course that would all change in our most important game of the season so far.

A 2-1 loss when we were the better team coupled with an injury to our star striker was very tough to take

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And it was made worse by a defeat to Ajax in the cup semi final, meaning there will be no domestic double this season.

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Despite the utter dominance we’ve had all season, we’re struggling slightly at the moment and lots of players are out of form.

That form could not be more apparent when we played Venlo at home. A rotated side was put out, but it’s unheard of for Sparta to go 3 goals down... yet we still managed to win the game thanks to Emanuel Emegha!

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So to say our form was patchy was an understatement going into the second leg against AC Milan.

But we put in a brilliant performance under pressure, overturning the first leg deficit to progress to the Champions League quarter finals.

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We’ve not got past the quarter-final stage yet and all the remaining teams in the competition were daunting. Our opponents in the quarter-final will be Real Madrid.

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They’re the team that beat us at the same stage 2 seasons ago when we had an entire Dutch XI

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In the Eredivisie, we’re also on for an unbeaten season, although that probably won’t happen with all the squad rotation that will happen in the next few weeks

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This is the third time we’ve got to the Champions League quarter-final in a row. We’re underdogs but really need to beat Madrid in order to convince me that we’re making progress in this save!
After keeping clean sheets for fun all season, I’m struggling to comprehend how we are now conceding from virtually every shot we face. Case and point AZ away.

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I seriously don’t get how we can concede 7 goals in 26 games. Then 7 goals in our next 2 matches! It’s an infuriating way to lose your first league game of the season!

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The international break provided a well needed halt to the season… until our goalkeeper Walmir got injured whilst making his debut for Brazil - you couldn't make it up!

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It meant that back-up Ricky Rutten would be starting in both legs of the Champions League quarter final against Real Madrid. He’s had 4 seasons as our cup goalkeeper and was now getting thrust into the limelight on the biggest stage of them all.

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We faced Ajax in the league before the first leg and a rotated side was desperately unlucky to lose against them. But it meant we went into the match against Real Madrid in patchy form with injuries to a number of key players.

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Given all those factors, limiting Real Madrid to 5 shots was incredible, we just could not get a result yet again!

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We did manage to get some positive news before the second leg though. Various results meant that we won our 6th Eredivisie title, which was probably our easiest yet despite the recent poor form.

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But all that mattered was the second leg of the quarter final at the Bernabeu. For a brief moment, we were going through to the semi finals.

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But Madrid scoring the winner to send them through in the last minute of added time pretty much sums up our luck (and sums up the save)

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That’s 3 seasons in a row we have exited the Champions League at the quarter-final stage.

Despite going from 100% Dutch players to signing anybody under the age of 20, we just cannot seem to beat the elite clubs in Europe.


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Our 11th season in charge of Sparta saw us win our 6th Eredivisie with 92 points, which is the most we’ve ever had, and we were 1 minute away from taking Real Madrid to extra time in the Champions League.

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Real Madrid eventually went on to win the Champions League, showing how close we are to the best teams in Europe.

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It’s frustrating to get knocked out in the quarter finals 3 seasons in a row but we are still a work in progress. Our squad is extremely young and we only have 6 first team players over the age of 25.

In 2 or 3 years we’re going to have a number of world class players, which is the main reason why I’m continuing with the save (plus I started this save back in December 2020 and have not had another save, so I feel I have a mission to complete)

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Romanian striker Grajdan was one of the highest scorers in the Champions League this season but could hardly get a goal in the Eredivisie. He also broke his ankle in our last game of the season so will be out for a number of months.

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Marcio Ginatto similarly performed well in the Champions League with 6 assists but, just like Grajdan, was poor in the league for us.

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A player of his class should not be averaging 6.91 in 29 Eredivisie matches, especially as we’re expected to win the vast majority of them.

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Then we have the 2 Uruguayans Crossa and Martinez, both of whom might push for a move in the summer given their quality.

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Holland is still comfortably 3rd in the coefficients table, meaning that we get 4 clubs that go straight into the Champions League group stage every season.

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And despite our dominance, we’re still spending less on wages than Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven.

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I feel like I’ve invested too much time in the save to give up now so will be carrying on for next season as we desperately try to get further than the Champions League quarter-finals!

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The updates might slow down but we shall see where the next season takes us!
It’s been a relatively quiet summer for us - We’ve made 2 first team additions but, more importantly, have kept hold of all of our wonderkids.

Our biggest transfer was that of Frederik Samyn for £42m from Club Brugge. He was wanted by Man United and Juventus and I decided to spend big so that we have depth in attacking positions

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João Vítor has also joined for £15m to be our back up left back but will surely soon be too good to leave out of the starting lineup

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After playing the same formation year after year, I have decided to go with a different tactic this season... with 2 strikers.

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It worked well in our first competitive game against Ajax in the Johan Cruijff Schaal - let’s just hope it wasn’t a fluke result!

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Ginatto scored twice in that game and after 18 relatively mediocre months at Sparta, I’m expecting big things from him this season.

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Interestingly, Ajax are slight favourites to win the league which shows just how strong the Eredivisie is.

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We should also be getting through our Champions League group with ease and it will be between us and Man United as to who wins the group.

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I’m hoping for lots of goals this season… and we’ll worry about making it past the quarter finals of the Champions League once we get there!
It’s been an action-packed start to the season for us and results like the 3-1 win over Ajax mean that we’re dominant in the league already.

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Feyenoord have not finished above 3rd in 10 seasons, so I expect us to win Eredivisie number 7 this season even at this early stage.

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It’s looking equally promising in the Champions League too at the halfway mark in the group stage thanks to a 2-1 win over Man United

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But the most ridiculous win came over Krasnodar in the Champions League, where we thumped them 10-1!

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They were shocking but everything just went right for us in the game and it shows just how capable we are when our players on form

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I thought it’d be our record win but turns out that Sparta won 12-1 back in 2010!

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In true Sparta style though, we still managed to concede in that match and our defensive record has been the only downside to the start of the season.

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But that is more than made up by us scoring plenty of goals! Roland Leidelmeijer leads the way with 12 in all competitions but others are not far behind.

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I have to be honest, I really don’t mind us conceding goals - I’d rather us win 4-1 than 1-0.

So, providing a drastic change in form, we look to be heading to the last 16 of the Champions League which is when the season really gets into action!
A rather undeserved 2-2 draw with Man United was enough to ensure that we finished top of our Champions League group this season

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We ended up comfortably on top of Group E where we scored an incredible 27 goals in 6 matches!

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So that meant we were seeded 1st in the knockout draw and would face a team that finished 2nd in their group. There was only one team I did not want to be drawn against...

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You have got to be kidding me!

We could’ve got Club Brugges but instead we get Man City!

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How do we always get drawn against the strongest team at the First Knockout Round stage?! It really does look like we’ve used up all our luck before the knockout rounds

The misery was compounded by our first loss of the season against local rivals Feyenoord. An unbeatable Eredivisie season still eludes us!

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However that loss makes little difference in the grand scheme of things as the Eredivisie is looking like a formality this season.

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Various Sparta players have also won individual awards. Mourad Soufiani was named Golden Boy and Damian Crossa best u21 player.

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I’m not really sure what the difference in the awards is but it shows just how good our young players are. Soufiani was produced in our academy too!

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A few players are wanted by the big clubs with the January transfer window looming, but we have managed to tie down our player of the season Ginatto to a long term contract on £88,000 a week!

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I don't want to sell anybody so we may have some unhappy players by the end of the January transfer window!
The January transfer window has been and gone and the only sale was Rick van Drongelen to Sevilla for £9.75m. I could not turn down that fee for our 5th choice centre back and it was also handy to get his big wage off the books

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We’ve kept our best players at the club despite Chelsea bidding £80m for Ricardo Martínez...

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And Man United bidding £60m for Giuliano Concina

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So it was full strength for the first leg against Man City.

Throughout the season we’ve gone with an attacking 4-4-2 but it made no sense to do that at the Etihad. So for the first leg we went with a 3 man midfield, deploying Diaz as an anchorman for the very first time.

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It had the desired impact of making the game hugely uneventful and we were undone by a first-half penalty

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Our star player Marcio Ginatto, who cannot stop scoring and assisting this season, dropped a 5.8 in the game. When the premise of the save is to do well in the Champions League, the fact that our star player performs like that in such a big match is infuriating.

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Things got worse 4 days later as we lost to city rivals Feyenoord in the Dutch cup semi final, meaning that we have still only won the competition twice in 11 seasons!

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That result also made it 3 losses in a row in all competitions.

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And to top it all off, key midfielder Padilla was ruled out of the second leg against City

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Our season was beginning to have a familiar feel - we’re invincible until about February when it gets to the crucial games, then we just crumble away and get injuries to key players.

So, for the second leg against City, I decided to go for it. If we were going to lose, we were going to lose in style.

But instead, a strange thing happened...

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Have some of that! We somehow overturned a first leg deficit against one of the strongest teams in Europe and demolished Man City 4-0 in the second leg!

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We’ll face another English opponent in the quarter finals as the draw paired us with Chelsea, who we have never faced before.

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They’re one point ahead of City in the league so it is as tough an opponent as we could’ve got.. Again!

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After undoubtedly our greatest result of the save, surely we won’t get knocked out of the quarter-finals for the 4th successive season?