Every year you get games where you absolutely dominate proceedings but end up bemused, bewildered and sometimes downright enraged. How on Earth did those pillocks you call your forward line, those descendants of a sordid love-affair between Emile Heskey and Fernando Torres, fail to put a ball past the opposing goalkeeper?! It’s not like he’s Superman with gloves and the size of the goal should be sufficient to see one or two balls go in instead of bouncing off the woodwork. Bloody hell, it’s statistically speaking more difficult to hit the woodwork then score!
Those games tend to look something like this. We’ve all played games like this, where we were frustrated enough to punch random objects or people around us or throw objects around the room. Some of us would even stoop so low as to restart the game and play the match again. So what can you do about it? Jonathon Aspey from The Tactical Annals, Diego Mendoza from Pass The Bloody Ball and yours truly try to answer this frustrating question.
If you go to the various communities all over the internet, there tend to be a few standardised responses that get your blood boiling in an actual worse way than the original match did. Let’s have a look at them and debunk them at the same time.
“It’s your tactics, mate.”
Errr… Possible, but probably not, I actually won the league using the same tactic, so I’m pretty sure the tactic works. Granted, the opposition may have adapted to counter my specific style of play somewhat, but that doesn’t mean you miss this many chances.
Seriously though, if the tactic was shit, we wouldn’t even be getting these chances, so the build-up play seems to be just fine, it’s just the physical act of finishing the chances we create that seems to be out of whack somehow.
“Mate, you need to buy better forwards.”
It’s a nothing answer and you can’t be buying new forwards every time you struggle to score. I refer you to the previous paragraphs. We won the title. I didn’t lose any important forwards, match exercise was good and since we won pretty much every game last season, morale is pretty bloody awesome as well. Seriously, that’s a shitty response to a genuine question.
If you are going to discuss the qualities of the forwards, mention other issues, such as a lack of composure, a dodgy PPM, maybe even a hidden stat that could be causing this. Just don’t throw out generic comments without asking for a context.
“Clear cut chances aren’t always easy, you’re overvaluing the statistics.”
Probably the most serious standardised answer you can get, even if it does imply that you’re not actually watching the game and are thus unable to judge the level of difficulty for a chance your team has created. Have a look at our three clear cut chances though.
Even Fernando Torres in Chelsea-form would have scored at least one of those chances. Or least put them between the posts. I know Neuer is a tremendous goalkeeper, but he wouldn’t have saved all those shots. No way, no how. That’s without even counting the half chances and the four times we hit the woodwork. So yeah, finishing chances can be a bit of a nuisance.
It’s not always limited to struggling to score against a decent goalkeeper either. Most of the poor finishing comes against lower opposition. In a recent match against Universitario Popayan, the team had the following chances to score and only won 2-1.
Like the examples before, some of the chances missed, bordered on stupid. In fact, Chris Iwelumo, Emile Heskey and Fernando Torres would claim they’d have scored these chances.
Whilst all these answers are incredibly lazy, there could be a core of truth in each remark, as long as we delve deeper. This leads us to the main question; what can we actually do about it? To find answers to this question, we have to determine what causes players to miss, the factors that contribute to their detriment inside the box. In our eyes, these various factors can be classed in three different categories:
- Tactical factors;
- Mental factors;
- Skill-related factors.
The tactical factors
The way we see it, there are a number of instances where tactics are actually the key to helping your strikers look less like poorly cloned versions of Chris Iwelumo and more like actual predators inside the box. In each case, we will try to analyse the problem, offer potential solutions and maybe even look at the risks and repercussions for these solutions.
The premature ejaculation of FM15. Instead of taking their time, players rush their shots, thus hitting the goalie or missing the target entirely. Also known as Iwelumo-itis. You do remember Iwelumo and his epic miss, right?
So what can you do to remedy this problem? There are actually several team instructions that could prove useful to either have or remove from your settings.
Shoot On Sight means your players will use every opportunity they can to take shots on goal. In some cases, it will lead to a fair few long shots, but it could also mean a player will rush his shots instead of taking his time to control the ball and slot it past the goalie. Turning off this instruction might improve their finishing.
The tempo related instructions are another option you can look at when trying to combat rushed shots. Playing in a lower tempo could help combat the rushed shots, though it impacts other factors of play as well, which might lead to slower passing or loss of intensity when pressing.
Parking the bus
Sometimes, teams go out and park the bus against you, which means they employ an ultra-defensive strategy, which involves defending with nearly their entire team. They will allow your team possession, in exchange for occupying almost all available space in their own defensive third, keeping your team from creating any real chances at goal, before countering as fast as they possibly can.
The screenshot above is taken from an FA Cup match between Sheffield Wednesday and Tottenham. Sheffield are doing a pretty decent job of parking the bus here, with all Sheffield players in their own half and all but one Sheffield players inside their own defensive third, with the lonely forward near the halfway line to start counter-attacks.
This style of play usually forces your team to take outside shots or simply lob crosses into the box, chances that don’t carry a good conversion rate. The few times you do manage to get a man free inside the box, there’s still a fairly decent chance he will hit a defender instead of the back of the net. The opposition is wary of your attacking prowess and therefore plays a deep defensive line with the midfield and defence playing as a cohesive block to keep your team out.
So what can you do? Try and stretch the opposing defensive lines. The premise of stretching a defence is as easy as it is effective. By stretching the defensive line, by drawing defenders out wide or keeping them central whilst another player overlaps, you are creating gaps between the lines, causing unrest and undermining the cohesion and organisation of the defenders.
In terms of team instructions, you want to exploit the flanks at the very least. You could look for overlapping players, maybe throw in some early crosses as well, but you definitely want to play down the flanks. The opposing defensive line is generally fairly compact, all players are maintaining their positions, there is no space for anyone to directly exploit, as the wing-backs are covered by the central defenders and even four defensive midfielders just ahead of the defensive line. What happens if you play wider?
This is another team parking the bus, as you can see the compact defence. Our players flooding forward have caused the opposing side to maintain a narrow stance, thus ceding the flanks. The blue square represents open space for the wide player to run into, before he can cross it into the box.
That’s a valid strategy, isn’t it? It’s also a bit simplistic. Lump the ball into the box, see it cleared, pick up the loose ball and try again, repeat ad infinitum. It’s possible that you can force in a goal that way, but it would be down to luck, sheer numbers of shots/headers or just physical strength if you scored a goal that way, not to mention the fact that a wider formation leads to your team being more vulnerable to counter-attacks.
The Plan B approach could be to just attack less. Whilst that sounds counter-intuitive, there’s method to this madness. By changing the team mentality to a less attacking one, you actually draw the opposition forward a bit. By allowing them space to set up their own attacking moves, they will invariably give away space behind their own defensive line, which allows your team to capitalise if they win the ball during the transition phase.
It takes too long to get inside the box
It’s basically the exact opposite from the first tactical issue we discussed. Instead of rushing their shots, your players take too much time on the ball, which allows the opposing team time to re-organise their defence or simply just dive in front of the ball to block it. Maybe it’s that one forward taking one step too many, lingering a second too long before taking the shot, hesitating before crossing the ball, thus allowing the defender to step in and win the ball or simply block it.
Shoot On Sight could help, as it means your players will use every opportunity they can to take shots on goal. In some cases, it will lead to a fair few long shots, but it could also mean a player will hurry up with his attempts to get a shot off. Turning on this instruction might improve their finishing.
The tempo related instructions are another option you can look at when trying to pick up the pace. Try playing in a higher tempo, giving your players less time on the ball and forcing them to act quicker. It should be noted that by increasing the tempo setting, we also increase the likelihood of making mistakes and giving the ball away before we even get to the opposition penalty area. This could then lead to more dangerous counters and us conceding more goals.
The mental factors
Now this can relate to both the players on the pitch but also the manager instructing them. Too often over the years I’ve blamed my lack of finishing chances down to my incompetent players on the pitch. As Guido mentioned in the introduction we’ve all compared our players at one point to Big Emile or poor Ade Akinbyi as we bang our heads against bricks walls in frustration. I think though the human manager is also often at fault for taking the wrong mental approaching the problem. We’ll look at both what you can do with your players but what you can also do with yourself.
When we mention these player mental factors, we’re actually referring to various forms of behavior that is not related to a players’ attributes in-game. The mental factors that can contribute to missed chances are, in our eyes, twofold:
- Loss of confidence.
I’ve split the human manager’s behaviour into two sections as well:
Complacency can manifest itsself in many ways. For starters, it can mean a lax attitude, which can lead them to be too cocky with their choice of shots and time on the ball making it easier for the goalkeeper and defender to adjust. This happens to the very best of strikers (and the very worst too!).
Good old Emile… He does everything right, well almost everything. He maneuvers himself into the right position, he gets rid of his marker, all he has to do is tap the ball in. Somehow, he gets cocky or just too casual and he squanders the chance.
Complacency can manifest itsself in other forms as well. Imagine your offensive players not putting in enough effort to get into a decent position or to get on the end of a rebound. That is complacent behavior as well. We don’t want that, we want players on top of their game.
The difficult part comes when you want to combat complacency. During the games, you can only do it during the half-time team-talk. You can try to motivate the forwards with the right team-talk, in which case we seriously recommend the sergeant Hartman school of teamtalks (movie reference alert!).
It basically means you’re going full on drill-sergeant on your players. Aggressively telling them they are no good tends to work out surprisingly well in FM15, though it can backfire on occassions.
During the game, you can also try to motivate the substitutes you bring on in a similar manner, though that does nothing to remedy the fact that your starting players are missing their chances.
After the game, you can have a more personal chat with the lads. You have the opportunity to criticise their performance in a more private setting, telling them to work harder and put more effort into their game.
Loss of confidence
Sometimes, players are proven goal-scorers, but they’re just not hitting the target. Take Fernando Torres as a prime example here. After his move from Liverpool to Chelsea and a few annoying injuries, his confidence was shot to shit and he was nothing like the lethal striker he used to be for Atlético Madrid and Liverpool.
It wasn’t complacency or lack of skill, he just seemed to lack that cutting edge he used to have. Most pundits, fans and analysts agree that this was due to a lack of confidence. Torres’ recent form for Atlético Madrid seems to underline this hypothesis.
In FM15, loss of confidence is, according to us, linked to morale and match fitness. Morale can be raised with the private chats we mentioned in the previous section. You can also try the more generic team meeting, where you address the entire team. There are no specific options that relate to missing chances, but you can try to raise a players morale this way.
Match fitness is a bit more tricky. The only way to improve this statistic is by letting your player play actual matches. It could be smart to give such a player the time to get back into the game by giving him time in reserves matches, but that really depends on how badly you need said player for first team duties.
I, like most FM players, crave perfection and I think sometimes here in lies the main cause of frustration with finishing chances. In your eyes you’ve achieved tactical perfection as you watch the beautiful build up play only to see it all go horribly wrong at the very last minute and the ball ends up in the keeper’s hands or wide of the post once more. Accepting that sometimes this is just the way it is, I still find the hardest thing for an FM player to do. This quest for perfection often leads to rash decision making and over tinkering which can actually make things better than worse.
Your team won the league and you know how it plays at its very best? Why change? I had a pretty tough couple of months with Deportivo Cali last season where we were consistently missing chances and drawing games we should have won.
This however was a team who I knew had plenty of goals in them and you can’t just lose that overnight. So having put all my thoughts down on paper I realised that actually I wasn’t doing much wrong, it was just one of those times in FM where luck isn’t on your side. I stuck with it and we turned the corner just in time for the playoffs.
Our turn in form reached its pinnacle in the second leg of the playoff final, which can be enjoyed below.
Stick to your guns and power through and you’ll be rewarded eventually.
When we mention these skill-related factors, we’re actually referring to behavior that is directly related to a players’ attributes in-game. The skill-related factors that can contribute to missed chances are, in our eyes, fourfold:
- Poor composure and decisions;
- Negative PPM’s;
- Technical skills;
- Physical traits.
Poor composure and decisions
With poor composure a player is less likely to react well to being under pressure from either a close centre back or on rushing goalkeeper and is more likely to miss one on one opportunities.
For those players with particularly bad composure set them to be on a specific training scheme to improve their composure. Please note that by focusing on a specific attribute you are potentially not improving other attributes that the player needs to be effective in build-up play as well as finishing chances. We need to ensure that we get the balance right between better composure and the players overall development.
A compromise could be to train a player in a specific role rather than just the single attribute as most offensive roles have composure listed as a key attribute, which is trained as part of the role-specific training.
Another attribute that can determine what a player does is one of the most important yet often overlooked attributes in the game; decisions. A player is constantly presented with options, and the decisions attribute controls if the player chooses the best option. It also controls how and when an option is performed. Decision is what, when and how will a player act. It can be trained and it can improve through tutoring.
PPM’s are, as you would probably know, player preferred moves. They are basically trademark actions for this specific player, they are actions that this player is likely to do during a match. Some players tend to have PPM’s that affect their finishing ability in a negative way.
You can teach your players a number of PPM’s regarding how they finish their chances. Each one has its merits and its dangers. The various options you have are listed in the screenshot above. As I said, each one has its merits but its flaws as well. Take the blast the ball option.
While a powerful shot is sometimes a good thing, it can be a negative asset as well. If the forward had not blasted the ball there, it would have gone in (most likely). Another negative PPM would be dwells on the ball.
Dwelling on the ball basically means the player has a tendency to spend too long with the ball before making a decision. The clip above is a nice example where the player just waits too long before deciding on an action.
So before asking your strikers to learn a specific way of finishing, see which version would suit your team and check if the player actually has the right attributes to make this PPM work. No use in asking a player to round the keeper when he’s slow and can’t dribble.
That brings us to the next part, the technical skills. Sometimes a player just isn’t upto scratch regarding his skills. Referring to his finishing skills alone is too easy, so we will mention this aspect, without really delving deeper into the matter. We will look at two other attributes that can influence the finishing.
The first of these is technique. The easiest way to describe technique is that it controls the width of the player’s technical range. The higher the attribute, the more the player can actually do with the ball. As an example; if a player wants to chip the ball like Bergkamp could, he has to have it in his repertoire, and that’s where the technique attribute comes in. The second attribute we want to mention is first touch. As soon as a player receives the ball, this attribute decides how well he controls the ball in order to do what he wants to do. Why are these attributes important?
I think the video is rather self explanatory. Whilst not an easy chance and probably a wee bit harsh on Lord Bendtner, it does showcase why a player needs decent technique and first touch in order put away his chances, especially when a player has to rebound or deal with a difficult cross or pass.
The whole physical traits aspect is mostly about an often overlooked attribute in the FM world; balance. This is an attribute that sometimes gets overlooked for attacking players however we feel it is very much an integral part of a player’s ability to finish. When facing a team who packs the penalty area your attacking players are going to be under pressure from all angles and would be very easy to lose his balance. How many times have you heard a commentator blame a miss on the player being off balance? The better his ability to keep his balance, the more chance he has to get his foot over the ball and hit a decent effort.
If your attacking players have poor balance then consider training schedules to improve it. Alternatively look to tweak their role slightly so that if the opposition is packing then penalty box then get the player to take more shots from outside the box. He’ll hopefully then have the time and space to take his shot without having to worry as much about a defender putting him off balance.
Finishing chances is probably the area that FM players often feel they have least control over, ourselves included, and thus this drives the most frustration both with their team and the match engine itself.
Hopefully though between the three of us we have managed to get people to think differently about how to approach this problem.
There are so many different variables that influence the result of a match and as such we won’t have covered every option but hopefully some regular small tweaks can help turn those misses into goals and either maintain the form you expect or take your team to the next level.
The sofa cushions can then rest easy again knowing that the number of frustrated punches they have received will be reducing.