Unbeatable (Episode 16 – Shep: Managerial Globetrotter)

Dare I say, we might just be back to old Bucaramanga again.

Sitting in the dark, TV in the background while I browse the Internet on my outdated laptop. I haven’t done this since my initial interview with Bucaramanga but luckily, things are much better now. Living hours and hours away from Europe, it’s harder than ever to keep up with European football and transfers. Whilst there’s a few ‘big’ deals happening in South America, there’s some seriously crazy shit going on overseas that overshadows any deal over here. Even my Pelle and Mascherano steals.

Dortmund sign Watford midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure for £35’300’000 and I think he’ll slot into that Dortmund side as the perfect box-to-box midfielder. The big transfer however is the Serbian centre-mid Sergej Milinkovic-Savic joining French giants PSG for £79’400’000. Him and Veratti behind Cavani, Mbappe and Neymar is surely enough to get them closer to the Champions League final that’s eluded them in recent years.

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I’ve spoke previously about our schedule this month being a flattering one as we play a lot of games in a short period of time but avoid any of the bigger sides like Junior or Apetura champions Nacional. Our next three games are away to Envigado, who finished 19th a few months back, followed by two home games against both Boyaca sides (Patriotas and Boyaco Chico.) With our recent performances, I’m expecting another nine points from those games. There’s been some speculation within the media that we could go all of August unbeaten but  it’s way too early to be throwing those statements around willy-nilly. I do believe that this side is capable of that however and if we managed to do that, it would set us up nicely for the rest of Clasura and give us a great chance of another top eight finish.

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Now, for the Envigado game. Delgado comes in for the first time in the Clasura with Rodriguez also coming in on the right of defence. Considering Fabio was adamant he could only play on the left hand side, he’s done a good job whenever I’ve played him on the right. Jeferson Torres keeps his place with Gabby replacing Cardenas further forward. Morison and Neumann are the strikers today.

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4 minutes in, Cufre cuts inside of a defender and knocks it inside to Morison. He passes to Neumann who plays a great ball on the spin for Rodriguez to run onto. He hits it with the inside of his right foot which means that even though he beats the keeper, it’s always curling away from goal. I catch his eye with a puzzled look on my face as he’s left footed. If he opened up his body and used his stronger foot, it might have clipped in off the post and there’s no reason for him to use his right there. Strange decision from an otherwise solid player.

We are made to pay for his choice about twenty minutes later when Envigado launch a corner into our box which is headed out by Quintero then again by Morison. It falls to fellow Englishman George Saunders who sprays a lovely ball to the near side where Arrieta is waiting to put a low cross to the back post. We’re caught out as we tried to push forward too quickly, leaving Michael Lopez open to volley home from close range. 1-0 down to the first goal we’ve conceded so far. It’ll be interesting to see how we react after having it all our own way up to now.

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We react pretty damn well. In the 31st minute, Cufre plays it down the left to Morison who cuts it back to Salazar. Our standout player hits an outstanding first time ball over for Neumann. It’s controlled well and hit with power on the half volley. It’s just as well he got a good connection as it’s just above the keepers head but Londono can’t react quick enough as it merely bounces off his glove into his own net. Level pegging and Salazar is the man again shining.

But we’re not done there. Only six minutes later, we win a corner after a defesnive mix up from Envigado. Salazar comes short to collect, nutmegs his man and puts a pinpoint cross into the six yard box for an unmarked Quintero to power home our second and complete the turnaround. The Bucaramanga fans are chanting a Spanish variation of an English classic, revolving around fucking up a one goal lead. We come in 2-1 up at half time and I heap praise on the lads for their response to going 1-0 down. Jeferson has really been impressing me as he’s been bullying their midfield and throwing his weight about as a good holding man should.

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10 minutes into the second half, a Londono goal kick is headed forward by Rodriguez. Neumann shields the ball well and sneaks a reverse ball past for Quintero. His early cross is a difficult one for Steve but he backs into his marker and directs a curling header into the back of the net. Londono definitely could have done better as it came pretty central for him but no discredit to the man who I am running out of superlatives to describe. I bring on Rovira and Asprilla for Gabby Gomez and Salazar, who gets a warm reception from the away following.

Both subs are involved in a move within five minutes as Rovira releases Cufre down the left wing. He deceives the defender with a fake shot and gives it to Neumann. He flashes past his man and drills a shot goalwards which the keeper parries out to Asprilla but he can only hit the side netting from a very tight angle.

I bring on Harold for Rodriguez in the last ten minutes but the game closes with a 3-1 scoreline. It’s a positive result, bouncing back from 1-0 down away from home and scoring three goals in the process.  Dare I say, we might just be back to old Bucaramanga again.

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The next few days fly by and the camp is really pumped. We just want a team to line up in front of us so we can tear them apart. Unfortunately for them, the next team to face us is Patriotas Boyaca.

Ramos is back in goal as I feel like this lot are the team most likely to cause us issues at the back. They scored 34 goals in the Apetura but they also conceded 39 at a rate of over 2 goals per game. While they know where the goal is, they seemingly forget about their own. Quinones and Torres are the centre back partnership and Jeferson remains for his third start in a row after really proving his worth in the last couple games. Cardenas and Jaimes are behind the suddenly godlike Salazar with Romero and Rangel combining as Rolls Royce up front. It’s started to stick around the changing room much more over the last couple months and they’ve actually had a bit of a bromance blossom over the summer. I would love a fifth consecutive victory here today and those two lovebirds can contribute to that, it would be a big help.

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This game is being televised nationally so there’s cameras all over the Alfonso Lopez. It feels strange watching them shake hands, cameraman intently following as my boys make their way down the line. This is a game that last season would have been put to the side but with our perfect start and Patriotas’ manager stating he’s going to ‘spoil the party’, it seems to have been snapped up for eager eyes. Let’s hope we give them a show.

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It looks set to be a feisty affair as Rangel and Harold are both booked for late challenges within the first 10 minutes. I get my command for calm and cool heads out and we fall back into a more disciplined state to avoid any more silly bookings. The first chance is actually a Patriotas one that comes from a corner in the 28th minute. It’s pinged to the edge of the box and a few more short passes take it into the area. Echavarria has half a yard to shoot and does so but Torres and Quinones throw themselves in the way in a joint effort to deflect it over for another corner. It’s on the other side but they use the same tactic with Osorio being the man free to shoot. He strikes it with venom through bodies but Ramos does brilliantly to catch it after seeing it late.

Straight from his kick upfield, Rangel is holding it up on the far side waiting for teammates to get forward in support. He manages to get a deep cross into the box which Jaimes heads back across goal. Romero arrives and mistimes his shot, hitting it down into the ground but Martinez had already dove across goal in a starfish shape, anticipating a better shot. The ball bounces up and over his waist and into the goal for 1-0. It’s a goal tainted with luck but Romero will happily take it as the goal that gets his Clasura campaign underway. He scored twelve in the Apetura so if this spurs him on to replicate that form, we’re in business. Plus, it’s nice to see him with a smile on his face again.

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There’s space for one more chance in added time when Cardenas produces a cheeky bit of skill in the centre circle to beat the defender before kicking it up to Jeferson Torres. He looks up and puts the ball into a huge gap for Rangel to run onto. He attempts a finesse round the defender but it’s blocked and falls for Jeferson to volley but he opts for power over accuracy as it sails a  couple yards wide of the goalposts.

The second half doesn’t carry the late intensity of the first with the first shot all half coming in the 67th minute. A Rangel shot is parried over the bar giving us a corner. Straight from the training ground, Salazar fakes coming short leaving a big space for Cardenas to aim his cross into. Romero runs in from the back post and twats a volleys towards the keeper. Martinez palms it onto Monsalve from point blank range and it rolls into the goal for our second of the day. It’s another unattractive goal but it was on target meaning Romero can claim his brace. I bring on Nunez and Rovira on for Jeferson and Salazar and give the former a big pat on the back. He’s really stating his case for a first team spot.

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With fifteen minutes left, I bring Palacios on for Jaimes in a holding midfield role and he fairs pretty well until the final whistle confirms a 2-0 victory. I’m happy to see Romero back in the goals but Harold gets a special mention from me in the post-game talk. He was cautioned for almost the entire 90 minutes and while his original challenge was a tad reckless, he controlled the right hand side and didn’t put a foot wrong afterwards. Plenty of positives to take from yet another promising display.

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Asprilla and Jaimes are both in my office at 9:01am with issues relating to their game time. Jose is very happy with his recent involvement and just wanted to pop his head in to say thanks. Yuber on the other hand, feels his contract promises are not being fulfilled and he wants more game time. I have to admit he doesn’t get into this team often but who can he displace? Salazar is a rejuvenated player, Neumann is the future of the team, Nunez is a more talented player. I promise to give him a start against Boyaco Chico in a few days and tell him that once fixtures cool down, I might try some experiments with wide formations where he’ll get the nod. That seems to be enough for him for now but I don’t really want to be dealing with my rotation and squad players pestering me for more game time.

Speaking of pests, our arch-nemisis of a football club up in Barranquilla are stealing our limelight. Junior are the only other team with a perfect record and even though it’s early days, they are looking like our main competitors for the number one spot. As villainous as this sounds; they will not get in my way this time around.

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