One of the downsides of the strikerless style is the amount of space you give away. Because I want the team to play compact, I want them to push forward. Naturally, this means you tend to concede the odd goal when a cross or direct pass finds space behind the defensive line for a forward to run onto. It’s an inherent risk you take when using this style. The goals you tend to concede look like this.
The fact that we were liable to concede goals like this was the main reason why I developed the counter-pressing concept I have in place right now. The best defence is an aggressive offence. If the opposing team is allowed no time on the ball, there’s less chance of a through ball and more time for the defence to reorganise.
One of the side effects I have noticed to the whole counter-pressing concept is the added risk of my players making tactical fouls. A tactical foul is a foul where the offending player knows he will pick up a card and is happy to collect it to prevent the opposition breaking quickly. His side can get back into a good defensive position, and the attacking side has been robbed of a potentially crucial situation. By committing a foul, the defensive side is better off.
In the clip above, you can see Barcelona applying the concept in real life. In the moment they fear a forward is going to flick the ball on in a way that may jeopardise the defensive line, they barge him in the back, committing a tactical foul and allowing the defence time to re-group. Naturally, FM has always featured tactical fouls in a classic sense.
What we see there is a more classic tactical, not all that different from the real life Barcelona example I have shown earlier. The opposition plays in a winger, who manages to skip past the wing-back and could dribble into space, seriously threatening the defence. The wing-back tugs the shirt and barges him in the back, regaining control of the situation at the cost of a foul.
The foul made by Walpurgis, the right wing-back, was crucial to protect the defensive integrity. As you can see in the picture above, a run past the wing-back could see him run into space with the time to either pick out a pass or maybe take on a central defender as well. The tactical foul protected the defensive line.
Now as I mentioned earlier, my strikerless style relies on pressing high in the opponent’s half. The worrying side-effect is that the team is leaving lots of space behind them. Now, a foul, some will argue, is covered by the rules, meaning that it is a resource of the game to be used at opportune moments. The very same team and individual instructions that make counter-pressing possible create some extra tactical fouls as well, which means some of my forwards commit more fouls than the defenders.
In the current context, this means that when we lose possession, the attacking midfield trio have to take on the responsibility of being the first line of defence. Part of their role is to slow down or halt the opposing counter-attack, preferably by winning the ball close to goal but if their attempts to win possession end in a foul, so be it.
The difference between a more traditional tactical foul and the tactical fouls in the strikerless formations is the location where the fouls take place. Just look at where the tactical foul takes place, it’s on the edge of the oppositions penalty area. The more traditional tactical foul tends to take place near the half-way line, mine take place deeper inside the oppositions half to stop potential counter-attacks.
With two defenders against one very fast forward, the foul on the edge of the box was a clever option to prevent the direct pass from being played, thus preventing a situation where one of the defenders has to lunge in for a foul near the half-way line. The same instructions that make counter-pressing possible lead to a smart tactical foul in this situation.