Dealing With Crosses In The FM16 ME

Defending in football is not just about parking the bus á la Mourinho and placing as many players as possible in front of the goalie, forming a sort of human wall between the opposing offence and your own goal. Defending is too complicated and sophisticated to simplify it in terms as simple as stacking players in front of the goal. Normally, it’s a fairly decent strategy to force the opposition wide and rely on the strenght and power of your central defender to deal with those pesky crosses. In FM16, that may not be a smart move as your defenders turn into vampires, who petrify whenever a cross comes in.

My defenders' response whenever a cross comes in. Actual in-game images may look slightly different.

My defenders’ response whenever a cross comes in. Actual in-game images may look slightly different.

In Football Manager 2016, two observations regarding wide play are that the effectiveness of attacking play down the wing has greatly increased, often ending with cross and goal, as the striker (or anyone who receives it) easily slots the ball to the goal and secondly the rather appalling and overall ineffective closing down of the player who crosses the ball. The two bothering issues which oftenly cause negative impact on the defensive line. How then I set up the play to face against such issue, here we go.

Defending is absolutely not only waiting for crosses then hacking them away. It’s not only waiting on the deep area then get stuck in to the opponents with the ball on his feet. Defending is about all 11 players. Defending is about a unit of players. It is about collectivity. Defending is about understanding attacking tactic so you can overcome and beat it at the right moment and come out as the winner. It’s about nulify the opponent plan and break it.

Organisation of the defence is absolutely crucial

Any defence is only as solid and sturdy as the organisation that is supposed to be the glue between the individual components that make up the defence, those components being the players. Since we’re trying to deal with a wide threat, I am going to look at the more prevalent defensive choices and describe how I would organise the team to deal with the threat of wide players whipping in crosses.

Applied to a four-man-defence

A four-man defence. Straight-forward and simple, the preferred defensive setup for most managers. Two wing-backs or full-backs, two centre-backs. I’m not going into full detail regarding the roles, because these are based on balancing the team both defensively and offensively. I am going to focus on the Team Instructions and Player Instructions that should help me deal with the threat from the flanks.

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Now the aim of my defensive setup is to keep two players behind the ball and not to allow big gaps to appear or for players to get pulled out of position. If the wing-backs get awfully wide to challenge their man, space opens up between the lines which can be exploited with a cheeky pass inside or indeed, a cross towards a runner.

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Both wide men are highlighted out wide. The right-sided winger is making a run into space, which is forcing the opposing team to push a player out wide to oppose my wide player. This leaves a gap between their lines for one of my players to run into. The defensive winger can opt to take on his marker and cross it in or just flick the ball on into space for our runner to chase after, but the concept remains the same, by stretching the defence, space opens up for our mobile players. Incidentally, the AI does the exact same thing to your team if you give them half a chance.

The Team Instructions I find useful in this regard are Play Wider and Play Higher Up. The idea is to make our defensive line play higher and wider, which means they will actively challenge the opposing wingers without getting pulled too far out of position and thus sacrificing the integrity of the defensive line. Whilst this does mean that there is a fair amount of space behind our defensive line, most of that can be covered by the central defenders, provided they manage to position themselves properly and they can win an aerial duel. If you keep the opposition further away from your penalty area, those pesky crosses become a lot less dangerous. It’s pretty much common sense. If you know your defenders don’t defend well inside their own box versus incoming crosses, keep them the hell outside the penalty area.

Looking at the player instructions, there aren’t many I actually use. Only the wing-backs receive a few individual instructions. With the Control mentality the team uses, I noticed the wing-backs getting a bit too far away from the centre-backs, so I asked them to sit narrower. That’s pretty much it.

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Applied to a three-man-defence

Playing three central defenders isn’t wide-spread yet, but it’s slowly gaining popularity. This is a basic three man setup. The roles are tailored to the team we are working with and could probably be altered if needed. What makes this setup work is the Stopper – Cover – Stopper setting. Players on Stopper settings are generally encouraged to push ahead of the defensive line to close down potential threats and nullify them before they make their way inside the penalty area. The player on Cover will drop behind the defensive line to sweep up and cover the space behind his two more aggressive collegues.

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Again, the aim of my defensive setup is to keep the central players behind the ball and not to allow big gaps to appear or for players to get pulled out of position. This means that one of the defenders can challenge a winger, but he won’t go too far wide for risk of leaving his collegues exploited. With no wing-backs or full-backs in place though, the back three will spread fairly wide to cover the entire back-line.

The Team Instructions I find useful in this regard are Play Wider and Play Higher Up. The idea is to make our defensive line play higher and wider, which means they will actively challenge the opposing wingers without getting pulled too far out of position and thus sacrificing the integrity of the defensive line. Whilst this does mean that there is a fair amount of space behind our defensive line, most of that can be covered by the central defenders, provided they manage to position themselves properly and they can win an aerial duel. If you keep the opposition further away from your penalty area, those pesky crosses become a lot less dangerous. It’s pretty much common sense. If you know your defenders don’t defend well inside their own box versus incoming crosses, keep them the hell outside the penalty area.

Opposition instructions; what to do and what not to do

Is your Assistant Manager (or your good self) setting the instructions to “Show him onto weaker Foot”? If so, you’re inviting a cross and maybe that’s not the best idea in this ME.

The whole point of the “Show onto weaker Foot” system is to allow the opponent to attack the ball but to not let him do it as effectivly as normal. You’re looking to force a mistake by making him strike it with his weaker foot. If the winger or wing-back acctually has sufficiently high enough attributes for Technique and Crossing, he could very well make up for that weaker foot and still deliver a good cross.

What does work rather well is to ask your players to close down the wingers rather aggressively. Just get in there and either delay the winger so the rest of the team can re-group or just get in there fast and muscle him off the ball before he can cross.

If you can’t defend a cross, prevent it from coming in

With the Match Engine being the way it is, I can complain about crosses being overpowered. I mean I really could do that, but what good is it going to do? For starters, I don’t believe crosses are overpowered, I believe defenders are underpowered in dealing with their opponents properly. Secondly, complaining is hardly constructive and whilst it will make me feel slightly better for a short while, it still won’t solve the problem at hand. I prefer to look at other avenues in dealing with said problem, which means I try to prevent the crosses from coming in. If you can’t defend properly against the crosses that come in, you can at least try to limit the amount of crosses that do come in.

This is where the relentless pressing already ingrained in my style of play comes in handy. The relentless pressing really helps in shutting down opposition passing lane options, as they are controlled by our wide players engaging their wingers and by the midfielders and forwards chipping in by ensuring the ball doesn’t get to the wingers anytime soon.

Its not hard to get that done in Football Manager. It relies on the team in possession reacting as quickly as possible to the moment of transition when possession is lost. Ideally, a team needs to play as much as possible in the opposition’s half to get them in a low block where their striker is detached from their midfield line. Once they are in this position, it is about having ideal positioning with the ball ergo players in positions where they are impacting the game and finding spaces with the ball but also where they are able to prevent a counter-attack. This means balancing the team out.

The whole concept of pressing relentlessly is based on fluidity of positions, rotations and covering your teammates runs. In this way, players use the movements of their colleagues for reference rather than zones on the pitch. In addition the concept is also about balancing the heart, which wants to attack, and the mind, which tends to focus more on defence. You can’t be on the offence all the time, but neither can you defend for 90 minutes and come out on top.

Fluidity of positions, rotations and covering your teammates, maintaining a tight and cohesive wall of players between your own goal and the opposing team. In an ideal situation there ought to be no more than 25 to 35 metres between the forward line and the defenders. The reason for this is to constrict the space in a vertical sense, hence reducing the distances between players thus making it difficult for the offensive team to pass or dribble through the middle of this compacted space.

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If it actually works, it looks a bit like this. The opponent in possession has no real passing options available to him, with almost all passing lanes blocked. The team is balanced though, as they are not overcommitting players to the offensive phase. Numbers up on attack, high in the front third of the pitch but numbers down in the middle third of the pitch when defending on transition, that is the ideal I strive for.

Offensive balance means that a team has not over committed players high up field going forward on attack during the run of play to expose it to quick transition if it loses the ball. Defensive balance means that a team has held shape and has committed enough players or the right players behind the ball as the team is attacking to slow transition in the event the ball is lost. Defensive balance promotes the freedom of movement of the attacking players during an attack but offensive balance does not likewise influence defensive balance. This requires a bit of a trial and error approach, but that’s what pre-season is for.

 

 

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