This was without a doubt my favourite save on FM14. I wouldn’t necessarily say it was my best, because I only won one trophy and the save itself only lasted one season, but it is certainly my favourite. At a lull point in FM14 midway through my Salzburg save, I began to search around. I’d recently read Guido’s article on his narrow 4-1-2-3-0, and decided that I wanted to use the same formation, and incorporate the Central Winger, which I had just released an article about.
Just to give you a bit of context, when I joined them, Mjallby were predicted to finish 12th in the Swedish League and were a largely average team, nowhere near the level of Elfsborg, Malmö and Helsingsborgs. Starting the save, I put the players into the narrow 4-1-2-3-0 and happily decided that a mid-table finish would do me fine. Well, that didn’t end up happening. For anyone who was following me on Twitter at the time, you’ll have seen what happened. We challenged for the title, joining the race with about a month and a half to go, and won the title on the last day, needing a win to confirm ourselves as champions.
What’s more, it’s not as if Mjallby were one of those teams with good players that FM underrates (like Southampton) that are more than capable of winning the league. Mjallby’s players are mid table standard at best. The title win also wasn’t due to my (usually terrible) man management. No, the title win was entirely due to one thing, the Mjallby 4-1-2-3-0 (Mjallby Mjölnir for Guido).
Here it is to the right. A narrow 4-1-2-3-0 shape, flooding the centre of the pitch. In goal there’s a Sweeper Keeper, due to the fact that we use a high line. The SK’s only on defend though, as I don’t want him being overly aggressive, and I rarely notice a different if I’m honest. In central defence I went for a very standard ‘defend’ and ‘cover’ combo. Ideally, I’d have the cover defender as a Ball Playing Defender, but the defenders available to me simply weren’t capable of playing that role. To the left and right of them, I went for two CWB’s. With such a narrow formation, we’re going to need natural width, and therefore CWB’s are the only option at RB and LB. In front of the defence is the Half Back. I won’t go into detail here (Guido has done some fantastic work on the Half Back), but the HB really is the unsung hero of this tactic. Considering how many men we throw forward, we need the HB to help keep our shape and defensive solidity. Ahead of him, is an Advanced Playmaker on ‘support’ who I ask to roam from position. Usually, he’s the last layer in the attack, but does bag goals. Beside him is the Central Winger, who is fantastic in this formation. He’s usually the second wave of attack and is just devastating, creating more vertical runs that just bamboozles the defence. Up until this point, this is the same setup that I used at Salzburg, apart from PI’s. Ahead of this, we’ve got an Enganche, who I asked to press more, and generally be more of a physical presence ‘upfront’. It never quite worked how I wanted it to, but the role was still effective. Beside him are two Shadow Strikers, who are basically that, Strikers from deep. I need them to break beyond the Enganche, and collect his through balls, and if need be, make layoffs to the Central Winger.
I actually created this tactic within a ‘standard’ mentality. It was never actually meant to be as attacking as it ended up, but it was so beautiful to watch I didn’t want to change anything. If anyone has any questions about instructions etc. then feel free to ask me here or on Twitter (@JLAspey), but I don’t feel that just simply unveiling the tactic itself does anyone any good. What’s more is there’s a lot of team and player instructions to this tactic, and listing them out would make for a rather boring article. However, what I can do is show you what developed as a result of the tactic, and hopefully inspire some ideas in others, at least in the last days of FM14.
At it’s most basic, what this tactic does so well is throw bodies forward. When you look at the roles I’ve used here, they’re all fairly attacking, except the Half Back and Central Defenders. That’s 7 willing runners at all times. Running through the centre, that’s going to be tough for any defence to handle.
Above, you can see the kind of scenario I used to see all the time, and this isn’t even an extreme example. There’s been times when we’ve got 3 central runners going through against one lone defender just from our ball movement and vertical movement. Anyway, I digress. The Central Winger (circled in blue) has the ball here as we march towards the Elfsborg defence, and he has no less than 4 options, all dangerous, and all likely to result in a goal, or a CCC at the very least. We’ve got plenty of runners, but it’s also worth noting that we’ve got 5 men back, and the HB is doing his job screening the defence. In no way are we open to a counter attack here. This is my idea of short, vertical football at it’s finest. Moving forward at the right times, making short sharp passes and breaking through the opposition defence.
Here’s another example of our narrow vertical movement. Yet again, the CW has the ball (circled in yellow) and has 4 vertical runners going through the middle. In addition to that, he’s also got the CWB’s making runs down the flanks, providing support. As you can see, the Left CWB is in acres of space, as the opposition goes narrow to desperately try and fight the midfield battle. All it takes is one pass and we’re through on goal. Again, despite the CWB’s moving forward this time, we’re still not open to a counter attack, as the opposition is desperately throwing men back to stop us plowing through the middle.
All of these screenshots are when we’ve built up play to this point, starting with the defence. We are fast and vertical, but there’s also a possession element to our play, where we built up to the ‘front 3′, and then things get very aggressive. We’re not just constant counter attacks. That doesn’t mean we’re not absolutely deadly on the counter though….
Here, we’ve just won the ball from Elfsborg. The ball has been moved into Henderson (our left SS), and he’s looking to pass the ball into our CW who is breaking past the defender closing down Henderson. In the red arrows you can see all the men we have breaking forward, getting involved in the counter attack. The Half Back eventually stops and holds his position, but (along with the CWB’s), that’s still 5 runs for the CW to look for when he receives the ball. This move eventually leads to a penalty, and our second goal in a 2-0 win. Considering with one pass, we break through their midfield, we’re in an amazing position to counter attack, and we do this so quickly. The ‘front 5′ (Enganche, SS’s, Central Winger and Advanced Playmaker) are quickly approaching the centre backs of Elfsborg, and 5 v 2 isn’t good for them.
A very fair criticism looking at the formation itself would be that it’s very narrow, and therefore must be extremely predictable in terms of attacking, and that teams can just clog up the centre of the pitch. This is a fair point, but we have far more width than the formation would suggest. I used the instructions ‘exploit the flanks’, ‘push wider’ and ‘look for overlap’ to encourage us to also look down the flanks, whilst still having that unbelievable central strength. Combine that with asking the SS’s to ‘move into channels’ and you can see that we actually use the whole width of the pitch, creating holes for our central vertical movement. If the AI clogs up the centre, we’ll go out wide and beat them there, and if they spread out, we’ll pass through the centre and the gaping holes they’ll leave.
Here, you can see how we use the flanks. The ball has moved into our SS out wide, but he is confronted by a defender. Rather than try and dribble round him, he makes the pass back to our left CWB. Noticing this, the CW bursts forward, moving into space that their Right Back and Centre Back have left trying to close our SS down. Our CWB makes the very difficult pass into the CW in the blue circle, who is then through on goal for a rather simple goal. Not only does that show our width, but it also shows everything you need to know about the Central Winger in a nutshell. Forward runs, defensive danger, and intelligent movement. You can see from the screenshot that our movement has dragged the opposition defence apart.
This tactic is also extremely proactive in terms of defending. I ask the side to ‘hassle opponents’ and ‘push higher up’ to both press the opposition, and compress the space available. I’m very much of the school that the ‘pitch’ should be as small as possible when the opposition has the ball.
Here’s an example of us without the ball. As you can see, we’ve compressed the space a lot. Due to our narrow shape, we’ve controlled the centre ground, and therefore there’s nowhere for them to pass through. The only real passes on are the blue ones, and they’re absolutely harmless. The red pass is a possibility, but the CW is moving backwards as this shot is taken, and covers that space. I’ve also highlighted our defensive line with the white line, and you can see how short the gap is from our back line to our front line, and the gaps are small in between our lines. Getting through is going to be nigh-on impossible for the opposition. Our pressing isn’t frantic, but it is constant, and we usually force a bad pass, rather than winning it back by tackling. Generally, interceptions are the main way we defend.
What’s also worth noticing from this screenshot is the strange 5-0-5 formation we’ve forced the opposition into, and they’re almost abandoning their midfield. This is the effect that the formation itself has, and the opposition becomes confused with how to deal with it. We have completely dominated the midfield, the most important aspect of the game in my opinion. It’s perhaps not as solid a defensive shape as my defensive 4-1-2-2-1, but then the tactic itself is very different, and with a tactic this attacking, you’re never going to have a perfect defence. I do feel however, that this side was good at defending, exhibited by the fact that our keeper broke the league record for clean sheets.
I’ve enjoyed going through this tactic, analysing it, and falling in love with it all over again. This tactic made the Mjallby save so fun for me, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it, and that my love for this tactic came across in my writing. Once again, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me here, or through my Twitter page.
A 24 year old aspiring football writer with a keen passion for football in Eastern Europe, and its relationship with politics. Particularly interested in the effect of Communism on football in the region, and the results of its collapse. Lover of Back 3's, Italian football and classic Number 10's. I also write about the Football Manager series of PC games on my own blog, The Tactical Annals. I am available on Twitter (@JLAspey).