In response to my previous article on aggressive pressing being a prerequisite to a strikerless formation, people were wondering how I actually achieved such pressing in the current ME of FM14. I promised an answer and I will try to deliver on that promise by explaining what I did, why I did it, showing the instructions I used and even uploading the tactics I have used, so people can dissect the tactics for themselves, in case I failed to explain an aspect properly.
First of all, let me define what I hoped to achieve in terms of counter-pressing. Counter-pressing basically means that you try to win back the ball as soon as you lose posession, transitioning back and forth between attack and defence quite fast. The pressing is extreme and aggressive and starts deep in the opponents half. The pressing is not random and wild, but well-organised, and the whole team moves as a cohesive unit to squeeze the play and place a strangle-hold on an opponent. One player will press the player on the ball, whilst others look to cut off any available passes, and the defence will move up in unison with the pressers to make the pitch compact. As more players are higher up the pitch as a result of the pressing positions, a quick attack with numerous players can occur, which is always a danger.
Now for the actual explanation of what I do and why. First of all, let me start by reminding you that this aggressive pressing is not achieved by simply ticking or unticking a few boxes. It’s a combination of various team settings and instructions inter-acting, locking into each other and complementing each other. Merely ticking every box under team instructions in regards to pressing does nothing to actually achieve what I have shown in the previous post.
I will continue by simply showing you the instructions and settings I use for my strikerless style, before explaining each choice I have made.
I opted for the Very Fluid approach because I want the team to act as a cohesive unit. I am going to sound like a proper hipster prick for referencing famous real life managers, but bear with me on this one. People like Michels, Cruyff, Lobanovskiy and Sacchi strived for universality, where every player on the pitch takes a collective responsebility for each aspect of the game. Not in the sense that the forward is now tracking back to help with the off-side trap, but more in the sense of for example a forward pressing an opposing defender on the ball, allowing his team-mates either time to link up and help or fall back to take up a more reliable defensive stance.
Anyway, since universality is closely associated with Total Football, it’s becoming a sort of buzz-word. In a way, universality is part of some mythical style of play, which combines the aesthetics of short and intricate passing, aggressive pressing, fluid movement on and off the ball and positional interchangeability with the results that deliver trophies.
That really isn’t what I’m after. I want all players to take equal creative and defensive responsebility during all stages and phases of the game, resulting in a very fluid style of play. Because of this style of play and by pushing up the defensive line, I try to keep the lines compact. This means the players can press without being too concerned about leaving huge gaps behind them. So in my eyes, a Very Fluid setting is a necessity if I want to keep a tight and cohesive formation through-out the match, because the defenders have to think of their positioning when attacking and the forwards have to contribute defensively by pressing.
If you want to press aggressively, you have to have players high up the pitch to actually achieve this. Look at the description. Look at what it says on the tin. “Win and … dominate possession in your opponents half.” It would make no sense what-so-ever to maintain a more cautious approach, when this is the kind of pressing you hope to achieve. If you want to counter-press, you need to get men high up the pitch and I do believe Attacking is the best Mentality setting to do so without compromising defensive stability.
I suppose a Control setting could work as well, but the pressing will start slightly deeper and it does allow an opposing team slightly more time on the ball to build their attacks. This could be useful when you are playing a superior opponent, because all-out pressing gone wrong could end in disaster, in which case it might be smart to start the pressing slightly deeper, more in the proximity of the half-way line.
The Overload setting generates an even more aggressive form of pressing, but with most players flooding forward to join in, you become very vulnerable to opponents who employ a more direct style of play. If you play the Tony Pulis-style AI managers, this kind of pressing becomes useless. Why bother pressing the defenders into giving a long ball, when it’s their intention to do so anyway? Sending too many men forward will leave you exposed at the back against opponents who are not only able but very willing to go head-to-head (pardon the poor pun) with your defenders in aerial duels for the ball.
Not all of the above instructions are linked with the pressing. Obviously, the Hassle Opponents one does. I do want my players to harass the opposition where-ever possible and in terms of sliders (I am old skool like that), this instruction would increase the amount of Closing Down my players do. I want them to seek out opposing players to win back the ball, cut off passing options or simply allow others time to re-group.
The Use Tighter Marking instruction pretty much re-inforces the previous instruction. I want my players to get up close and personal and stay with their markers, especially in defence and midfield. Don’t give them time on the ball, don’t give them time to pick out a pass. I want my players to aggressively assault who-ever is in possession, whilst others (Very Fluid setting kicking in) join in by cutting off passing options.
To further enhance those Very Fluid settings, I have also opted to tick the Roam From Positions box, which allows players the freedom to move beyond the boundaries the formation usually sets for them and allows them to seek out players that would otherwise have been allowed time on the ball to start an attack. We don’t want that, so some freedom has to be given to players to take their own responsebility in preventing an opponent from having time on the ball. I am aware that you need quite talented players to pull this off, so when looking to replicate this style with a smaller side, you may have to consider not using this instruction, because less talented players tend to make the wrong choices from time to time.
The Push Higher Up shout makes sense in backing up the Attacking mentality and Very Fluid settings. Players can close down and press more effectively when there aren’t huge gaps behind them, so the team has to be packed closely together. Pushing the defenders forward to around 10 metres behind the halfway line makes for a fairly compact squad and allows my team enough confidence to aggressively counter-press whenever possession is lost.
Finally, we look at the Stay On Feet instruction. I must admit that it may sound counter-intuitive to use this one instead of the Get Stuck In shout, but I assure you it makes perfect sense when you think about it. A player who slides in for the challenge takes two risks, in my eyes. When he mistimes his challenge, he’s down on the floor and will need time to get back and get involved in the game again. That’s precious seconds lost in terms of counter-pressing. Secondly, and that’s speaking from experience here, offensive players are not the most accomplished of tacklers. To have them slide in like maniacs generally generates a fair amount of bookings and injuries to my own players. I’ll have less of that, thank-you-very-much.
Because I like to visualise my concepts, allow me to show all of this in action with another match clip.
It looks like a fairly simple goal. A defender sees no passing option, passes it back, his team-mate dallies on the ball and is punished for it. Now let’s look at that goal from a different perspective.
In the initial phase of the attack, the MVV left wing-back receives possession. At the start of the attack, you can see my defenders have already taken up positions high up the pitch, just behind the halfway line. This automatically pushes the other lines further forward as well. The long ball scenario is well covered, with the main MVV players upfront being either directly marked by one of mine or in a position where they can be pressured within seconds of receiving the ball. Fast forward a few seconds.
The only realistic outlets forward would be the MVV winger left, who can be closed down easily by both a central midfielder and my own right wing-back. The MVV player will also notice that my own forward, Sogliano, is now closing in on him to see if he can win the ball. The defender tries to do the right thing and keep possession, so he passes it back to his team-mate, who, being in a more central position, would have more realistic passing options available to him, as my players have cut off most passing options.
This would be a bit of a make-or-break moment for the opposition. Pijpers, the MVV central defender, would have a realistic passing option slightly higher up the pitch in the form of his own midfielder. The left winger option would be difficult with Sogliano charging forward from the direction the ball needed to be passed to and my own wing-back in close proximity of the intended recipient of the ball. No, the central midfielder would have been a good and realistic option, had the defender been confident on the ball and quick on his feet, because he doesn’t have much time to pass the ball with Sogliano charging in.
The very moment the ball is won. The only possible passing option is now directly marked, so had Sogliano not won the ball, the recipient of the pass would have little time to pass it on to a team-mate. Relentless pressing. The MVV wing-back meanwhile does what any good wing-back would do and drops wide to offer an alternative passing option, thus making it easier for Sogliano to finish, but the this match clip really shows you how the counter-pressing I want to use works in the current Match Engine for FM14.
As promised, I am also sharing the two tactics-version I use myself right now. Both are set up as described in this post, so both can be used to check out how the pressing works in-game.
Tactic 1; a wide strikerless formation with two Inside Forwards.
I hope this helps in explaining what I mean by counter-pressing, how I use it within the context of the FM14 Match Engine and which settings I use to make it work. If you still have questions, feel free to ask them in the comments and I will try to anser them as best I can.