The following article is something I do not often do; it’s a special request piece. People kept asking me if my tactics are plug & play and if they require any tweaking. The answer is yes, they do require tweaking, which is 90% common sense and 10% trial & error. Still, people kept asking me how I did it, so here we are. An article on how to spot the strengths and weaknesses of your own system, how to see what is wrong with your setup and, most importantly I suppose, how to fix whatever is not working.
Please note that the following ideas are by no means universal or a sure-fire way to fix whatever is not working, these are just my ideas on how to remedy shortcomings on the pitch.
1. Watch the bloody game
Tweaking your tactic seems so simple, but there are a few basic principles you need to adhere to in order to tweak and to know when to tweak. The first basic principe seems so obvious and simple that I initially opted not to mention it, but hey ho, here we are. You need to watch the game. Plain and simple. Watch the matches, as much of it as you can. I highly recommend you watch comprehensive highlights to see how the flow of play goes.
You need to develop a feel for the game, the match engine and the match you are in at the moment. Isolated incidents (which could be what you see when viewing key highlights) are not a reason to tweak the entire tactic, but you can only determine if something is a structural problem when you watch more of the game.
2. Use the game mechanics to your advantage
The game offers various useful tools to help you analyse the tactic and see what the hell goes wrong. That’s the first step in my eyes. If you can’t see what goes wrong (or potentially could go wrong), then you are clueless on how to tweak the tactic successfully. Now as I said earlier, the game mechanics can be most useful in this regard. The game offers various options to help you with the analysingprocess.
2a. The pause and rewind buttons
One of the advantages FM offers you over real-life managers is the option to pause the game and possibly rewind to analyse certain match situations, look at the positioning of players. Once you tweak certain settings, you can pause and rewind situations later in the game as well to look at differences. This can be quite time-consuming, but it’s a good way to get a feel for the game and the style of play you’re developing.
2b. The opposition team report and analysis
FM offers the possibility to receive pretty detailed scout reports on your opponents. Any manager worth his salt should look into these reports, because there is an abundance of information present which could help you with your decision to tweak elements of your tactic and if you should tweak elements of your tactic at all. These scout reports are for some reason called team reports in-game. Team reports on specific teams can be requested by clicking on a team name and simply asking for said report. For the sake of this article, I’ll look at the two semi-final Champions League games my Fortuna side will play against FC Bayern. This will give you an idea how to use the Team Report function.
The first impression screen shows us that Bayern is most likely to play in a 4-4-2 line-up. Bayerns wingers are noted as danger-men, with most of their goals coming from crosses and Bayerns assist-king being left winger Pereira. That makes sense, since most of us have probably noticed the effectiveness of crosses into the penalty area, with fumbling goalkeepers and static defenders.
One of the other elements of the Team Report that can be of interest is the team comparison tab. Your scouts will compare the opposing team’s squad with your own players, which can often tell you if there’s a need to adapt your tactics at all. The element that is most interesting and worrying here is the quality of our wing-backs compared to the quality of their wingers. Pereira, Brandt and Müller are far superior players compared to Pieters, Sari, Ter Avest and Kay. This will most likely prompt us to change our tactics slightly to contain the threat of the Bayern wide men.
On a more positive note, our central defenders and central midfielders look more than capable of competing against their Bayern counterparts, so a more centralised approach could be a useful approach. Our perceived weakness on the flanks is not really worrysome in midfield, since the strikerless formation employed does not use any wingers, so no specialists were signed for those positions and roles. As mentioned earlier, the main reason for concern are Bayerns wingers and our own weakness in the defensive wide department.
Another interesting aspect of the team report is the part where the report focusses on goal times. This can help you determine the style Bayern uses. They score a fair few of early goals, which means they will generally start out pretty offensive. This means they are also vulnerable on the break, which is highlighted by the amount of goals they concede. Once they score, the team appears to drop back to preserve the lead, which is something they are quite adapt at.
Personally, I feel that we need to be cautious not to concede a goal, because it will be quite difficult to break down the Bavarian defensive line, whilst not becoming too defensive, since inviting a team with the attacking prowess of Bayern onto your own half is also asking for trouble. A Control or Counter strategy would make sense, especially when combined with an aggressive pressing system, denying the Bavarians space and time on the ball.
When we analyse the type of goals the Germans have scored and conceded, there is also interesting information present. Bayern tend to score mostly from crosses, which is not surprising when their best players are located on the wings. What is more important is Bayerns perceived weakness in the air. They barely score from set pieces and do concede a fair few goals from corners, which could be something we could use to our advantage.
So all in all, we gained several pieces of valuable information from the Team Report.
- Bayern’s main strength lies on the flanks;
- Our main weakness lies on our defensive flanks;
- Bayern will most likely start out offensive;
- If the Bavarians go on the defensive, they generally don’t concede a great many goals;
- Bayern are vulnerable to set pieces.
2c. The Prozone statistics
The Prozone statistics can be used in two ways. The first one is that it shows you how your own team plays obviously, which is something you shouldn’t underestimate. During pre-season games and various other friendlies, I tend to experiment with different roles a lot to see how they impact the team-shape, passing patterns and overal movement. You can use the Prozone statistics for that and one option I absolutely adore is the heat map and average positions tab.
We can see our defence is spread fairly wide, whereas our midfield and offence are incredibly narrow, overloading the opposing central area. As you can see, the attacking midfield trio is clustered closely together, which automatically gives them a numerical advantage against most opponents. They then look to overload central areas to facilitate building up from the back and through the thirds. With a lack of forwards, outnumbered in the final third when the opposition is prepared, this then means that the trio looks to play in between the lines in the final third and that the remainder of the team should look to break forward to support. The emphasis is very much placed on positioning.
This basic shape does leave our wingbacks horribly exposed. They have to deal with wide threats on their own, which makes them rather susceptible to quick and direct passes into space behind them. This basically means I need to restrict their forward movement somewhat, whilst also adding some extra security into the mix somewhere. The position most suited for that would be the defensive midfield role.
During the match, you can use the Prozone statistics to zoom in on opposing dangermen or their basic shape when you notice things are not going to plan. This is a more reactive approach rather than the pre-game analysis. If you want to successfully tweak and improvise prior to a game you need to, and I cannot state this often enough, watch the bloody game. You can’t spot what goes wrong when you’re not watching the game.
3. Use some common sense, you numptie!
This is probably the hardest part I ever typed, but this is the part where countless hours of gaming should pay off. Don’t come up with elaborate ploys unless you know what the hell you’re doing, use some common sense. When your defender is as slow as Rio Ferdinand in the later stages of his career, don’t field him against a fast forward without providing him with some cover for example. It’s really something I can’t quite describe in words, but I’m going to try and list a few basic concepts.
- Be more cautious in away games, especially against stronger opposition. They will charge at you to impress the home crowd. Use that knowledge to your advantage;
- Don’t use too many opposition instructions or individual instructions to respond to an opposing team. If they change shape, formation or roles, your players will get dragged out of position rather easily;
- Know the qualities of your own players and the basic concept and shape of your own tactic. It really goes without saying, but you can’t tweak unless you know what players are capable of and what a specific role does;
- Acknowledge which positions are capable of changing the game around. In our case, it’s mostly the defensive midfielders and both wing-backs that need tweaking to counter-act an opposing manager’s ploys.
4. These ideas applied to the Bayern games
Like I mentioned earlier, I am going to use the double Bayern game as a showcase of what I mean.
4a. Fortuna Sittard vs FC Bayern
It’s our home-game versus Bayern. The Bavarians have a strong side, but my side is not that much worse. I’ve opted for a Control approach, because an all-out attack approach versus Bayern’s lethal wingers would probably end disastrous. The basic team-shape is left intact, but in order to counter-act the Bayern wide men threat, I have changed the roles of the wing-backs from Complete Wing Backs to normal Wing Backs, on a Support setting. This should pin them back more, without sacrificing too much width going forward.
The defensive midfielder is our main man here, his role determines the accents I want to impose on Bayern. I’ve opted for the Ball Winning Midfielder role on a Defend setting, which sees the midfielder sit in front of the defence, actively protecting the back-line, screening for opposing players, recycling possession without taking big risks in his passing. He is supposed to act as an extra security measure in front of our back-line. Should Bayern play without a striker who drops back or a midfielder who charges forward, which tends to happen, we can change the role from Ball Winning Midfielder to the role of Half-Back.
I did not feel the need to change the team-instructions or any of the player instructions. I also did not use opposition instructions. The game ended in a resounding 1-0. We could’ve won more convincingly if Asensio and Lemar had taken their chances. The Bayern chances mostly came from long range efforts.
4b. FC Bayern vs Fortuna Sittard
In the away-game versus Bayern, we’re defending a 1-0 lead. Bayern have to come at us, which means they will try to utilise their wingers to stretch our defence and launch a barrage of crosses. We could try to take them on in the central areas of the pitch, but that would also mean giving away space behind our own defensive line, which automatically makes any turn-over asking for trouble with Bayerns lethal wingers lurking versus our relatively weak wing-backs. I have therefore opted for a counter-approach against the German champions.
The wing-back roles are changed in the same manner as before. I want to use regular Wing Backs on a Support setting instead of Complete Wing Backs in order to effectively contain the threat of the Bayern wingers. The defensive midfielder role, usually a Regista in the league games, is changed as well. Instead of a Ball Winning Midfielder, I have opted for a Half Back. In the previous match, I noticed my defenders tracking Lewandowski and Müller as they dropped back, causing trouble for my defensive midfielder. By turning him into a Half-Back, I want to turn my defence in a back three when in possession, which should help snuff out counter-attacks, whilst the Half-Back acts as a regular defensive midfielder when we’ve successfully transitioned from attack to defence.
I have also slightly edited the team instructions here. I have asked my players to hit early crosses, anticipating my players to make runs behind the Bayern defensive line, which most likely will play rather high in order to combat the lurking, menacing presence of our attacking midfield triumvirate. It paid off quite well as Lemar picked up on a cross-pass, dribbled past his marker and flicked it back for Asensio to score with a bit of a lucky effort, as he had to dispossess Götze first, who had cheekily intercepted the ball.