I haven’t done these reviews in a while, so I may a bit rusty, but per special request, I have dug out my scalpel to dissect a tactic, see what makes it tick, see what works and see what needs improving. I’m not sure if this is going to be a regular feature for my blog, but if it’s fun enough to do, who knows what the future holds… For now though, don’t ask me to review your tactic, because it takes me roughly 8 hours to play the games, analyse what I see, get the match clips and write up my thoughts.
Right, let’s start with the basics. The tactic is full-blown tactical hipster, formation-wise anyway.
Strikerless (dhuh, why else would I be reviewing it…) and a libero? Hipster overload… Anyway, what’s more interesting than the formation outlined above is how they actually appear to be playing on the pitch. As I have mentioned before, the concept of an absolute formation does not exist. It’s a myth, crammed into our heads by analysts and newspapers, oversimpliying things.
What we can see is a 3-4-1-2-esque shape. The libero pushes up a bit, as is to be expected, whilst the wing-backs maintain a wide position further forward than you might expect from the initial formation. Upfront, the players appear to be clustered closely together, with the staggering explained by the Support duty from the left Attacking Midfielder. Apart from the clustering upfront, there are no real problems I can see with the basic positioning, on first glance.
When we examine the team’s style, there aren’t a lot of surprises there. A Very Fluid style of play makes sense for a strikerless formation, what with the attacking and defending as a team and such. The rest appear to be personal preferences into a certain style and need to be seen in action before I can comment on those at all.
To summarise, at a first glance, we have stumbled upon a theoretically feasible project, with no inherent flaws in the design that would doom the tactic right from the start. That’s nice, but it will make the dissection process a wee bit more difficult, because there will little or no glaring errors to whinge about. In order to make up some sort of review, I’ll have to resort to nit-picking.
Excellent for counter-attacks due to well set-up verticality
The idea of verticality is ideal for a strikerless formation like this one. If you can win the ball, you open up the opposing defence with one or two passes towards your advanced players, whilst if your opponent drops back, they basically give up half the pitch to you, allowing you the time to provoke opposing players out of position, before exploiting the space that is opened up.
Ideally, you want to create a situation where players have to move out of their preferred defensive zones to combat a threat, preferably in a way that makes them face their own goal. The first part of this concept means that either the entire team has to shift along to prevent space from opening up, which basically never happens. The second part of this concept means that opposing players are less quick to transition from defence to attack when you do lose the ball, you are minimising the risk of a counter-attack whilst increasing the possibility of a successful challenge for the ball.
In layman’s terms, just get the ball forward quickly to exploit space before the other team manages to re-group. In FM, this tactic has managed to exactly that. Just look at the match-clip.
Tremendous hipster potential
I briefly touched upon this subject earlier, but when your tactic is strikerless and using a libero and you can throw around a term like verticality to describe what you’re doing, the hipster potential is going through the roof. Just throw in some counter-pressing and you’re all set.
The offence seems to favour a central attack, but lack penetration at times
The results in my test-case were pretty darn good, but then again, we were playing lower league sides in pre-season. What I did notice was that almost all my attacks are based on attacks through the centre of the pitch, which usually end with shots from the edge of the box.
We barely score any goals from the flanks, it’s mostly the forward three midfielders setting up and finishing the attacks. Whilst there is absolutely nothing wrong with not using the flanks, the team lacks penetration into the opposing box. I know that sounds like a cheesy line from a porn movie, but allow me to show you what I mean.
In this case, the most advanced midfielder receives the ball. Now in my eyes, he has two possible passing options. On the left, the wing-back could and should make a run into space, for there is space to exploit with a simple through-ball. Just behind the man in possession, another midfielder could move into the space on the right. This option is less easy, but still a valid option.
In a strikerless formation, you lack a focal point upfront, so you are heavily reliant on the runs into space by your midfield players. This does mean that your players should be making runs. In this tactic however, I miss the runners, I miss the penetration into the box, which sort of limits the passing options and makes the formation relatively easy to defend against. Let’s look at how the situation detailed above ends.
Neither player actually makes a run, which makes the pass an exercition in futility. This wasn’t an isolated incident unfortunately, or I wouldn’t mention it here. Whilst the tactic certainly yielded some lovely attacks, they were mostly quick breaks, transitioning from defence quickly and exploiting the disarray in the opposing defence to get some goals in. With this lack of width and penetrating runs, breaking down a well-organised and compact defence would be hard.
The build-up from the back seems flawed at times
The team instructions ask to play higher up the pitch as a defensive line, yet asking for a patient build-up from the back as well. I think these two don’t always mix well, as this restricts the space the defenders have to control the ball and pass it along to a midfielder or forward. Allow me to show you.
The goalkeeper generally tries to stick to the instructions and instead of hoofing it forward, he distributes the ball to a defender. However, because of their positioning high up the field, they are automatically closer to an opposing player, as well as having most of their passing routes blocked off by other opposing players. By playing so far up the pitch, yet opting for a patient build-up, you are either forcing the goalie to just hoof it forward or you are making it very easy for the other side to defend as a compact block.
The defence seems vulnerable to direct attacks
The team plays with a high defensive line, per the instructions given to the team. Combine this with the libero, who by definition drops back to sweep up behind the defenders, and there’s a recipe for disaster. We’ve played mostly lower league Maltese sides, but even they managed to break through our defence quite a few times.
Those are three situations from the same match. I’ve selected all three for different purposes. The first situation is straight from kick-off and it’s just to high-light the offensive positioning and possible vulnerability during the transition from attack to defence.
That’s how the team sets up when attacking. You can see how the defence fans out, spreads to cover the flanks. Imagine what where to happen if the team lost the ball and were subjected to a quick counter-attack? If the players maintain that wide position, they allow the opposition to slip right through. If they maintain a more narrow shape, they automatically open themselves up to an attack down the sides, with the presence of a libero negating the possibility of an off-side trap.
The second situation highlights such a scenario. Again, let me show you what I mean in case the match clip was unclear.
In this scenario, the defence has maintained a more narrow shape, but with the wing-backs moving forward, the flanks are left exposed. One of the opposing forwards has made use of this space by moving wide to receive the long ball, relatively unpressured by any defensive players. The second forward has occupied the space behind the Regista and is wide open to receive a pass.
As I predicted, the wide forward passes it back to the centre, before occupying the space behind the defence. The backward movement of the libero make an effective off-side trap impossible and with the defence stretched to cover the wide player, there is a tremendous amount of space to exploit. In the end, the forward botches up the chance and needs the help of a defender to score the goal, but there were several similar attacks like that in every match I have seen.
In the first bit, you can see a forward occupying the space behind the defensive line, latching onto a long ball. This isn’t an off-side position, as he was level with the libero at the time the pass was sent forward. Again, it shows the vulnerability of pushing up a defensive line but fielding a libero as well.