First, an introduction
So you came onto Strikerless to read some brilliant tactical advice on the latest version of Football Manager. I can imagine your disappointment when you saw this… so, who am I? I’m 33, live in Sydney, Australia and have been playing FM since I was 18. I’m time poor these days so play FM Touch – the streamlined version of the full sim. It gives me all the tactical functionality without the “bloat” of the rest of the game. I also generally only play two saves – a first save with a strong club (this time it is Manchester United) that helps me develop a solid tactical base; and then a second save with a lesser known club.
Not quite strikerless
Ok, so Guido has been kind enough to let me publish some thoughts on my latest tactic for FM16 on his fantastic blog, Strikerless. Only thing is, well, I use a striker. I convinced him on the basis that the tactic was “wingerless” which would be a slight variance on the underlying theme of his blog – creating tactics that work even if you are deprived by a fairly commonly assumed role on the pitch. In my case, I am not using anyone in the ML/MR or AML/AMR slots.
My main objectives in creating this tactic were as follows:
- Consistently dominate possession and create more clear chances than my opponents (because this should lead to more wins than losses)
- Be fluid with lots of off-the-ball movement, rather than rigid and predictable
- Play wingerless. That is, without wide midfielders / wingers
The formation that didn’t work
So the ideal formation I would tried to pull of was a 4-3-2-1, or a traditional Christmas tree shape: a flat back four, flat central midfield trio, two attacking midfielders and a lone forward. The problems with this approach were:
- Without wingers, the full backs are the only source of width, so I needed to encourage them to push forward. This, in turn left gaping holes behind them if we lost possession and having no one in the DM strata meant the opposition could easily counter into that space and pull my central defenders out of position and create easy chances on the break
- The only way to not be pulled apart was to have the MCL and MCR both be on a defend duty which really impacted my attacking play. It wasn’t bad for drawing games but didn’t get me many goals and left my forward line too isolated
The formation I’ve landed on
A formation that I’ve settled on is a 4-1-2-2-1: Essentially the Christmas tree shape, but with the centre central midfielder dropped back into a defensive midfield role. It looks like this:
The team instructions will look reasonably familiar to those who read the Strikerless blog regularly, and are based on the same key principles of maintaining possession and winning the ball back quickly, so we satisfy the key objectives outlined above.
Let’s take these one at a time and reflect on our options and why I have chosen the settings in the screenshot.
The overall mentality I choose has the greatest impact on the other instructions, so my choice here is critical. For example, the tempo, defensive line and closing down settings all adjust as we change the overall mentality. The control mentality is defined as:
“it aims to move the ball around the park and to patiently probe the final third to find space as and when it opens up. Although full-backs overlap and midfielders break ahead of the forwards, they will generally only do so during relatively risk-free situations and will usually sit back and help the midfield maintain possession until chances open up”
That description is the most aligned to my objectives that I can find.
My understanding is that this dictates how close or how far apart the players are and, to some extent, how much creative freedom they are offered. I have selected a very fluid team shape because:
- Objective 2 dictates that I want to play in a more fluid manner
- Having players closer together should help maintain possession (Objective 1)
Given the narrowness of my formation and the fact we are playing a very fluid team shape (so players are naturally closer together) this could cause congestion which may limit my passing options. I want to dominate possession (objective 1) and allow players to have time on the ball so they don’t feel pressured into choosing between finding a teammate or hoofing it upfield. I also want to encourage a more patient build up so that the forward line doesn’t get too isolated from the midfield and to allow my fullbacks time to get forward. So I will choose a lower tempo here.
I’ve chosen a very narrow formation and a very fluid team shape so I will try and compensate for this by encouraging the team to play fairly wide. This will allow us to stretch the play across the width of the field and not get as readily pulled out of position against opposition wingers who hug the touchline. It will also provide space and time for my full backs to be the “out ball” as well as to measure crosses.
To dominate possession (objective 1) we need to try and win the ball back quickly and restrict the space which the opposition has to play with. So this implies a higher line to compress the space the opposition have to work in. However, I have seen so far in FM16 that high lines are easily exploited by the AI so I have set this to normal for the time being. This is where the overall mentality helps a lot – with a “control” mentality, our defensive line is still fairly high up the pitch anyway.
To encourage the players to push the line up, I have selected the use offside trap option.
To dominate possession I need to also aim to win the ball back quickly so I have opted to close down more and use tighter marking, to encourage my players to get up close and personal with the opposition and try and cause bad decision making. My tackling is left at default so as being too conservative would not be consistent with winning the ball quickly and being too aggressive could cause too many injuries and bookings. These instructions are all consistent with the philosophy adopted by Guido in his strikerless tactics as well.
In terms of passing, I want the team to play out of defence and pass short so as to maximise their chances of retaining possession. I also want the players to have flexibility to play through the centre or out wide, so won’t specifically ask them to exploit the middle or either flank. I can use this during a match if I feel it will provide an added advantage.
Given I have short passing and lower tempo, I will leave the retain possession box unticked at this point and only use it additionally in matches to reinforce objective 1, if necessary. Otherwise, I find this can make the team play too defensively and not look to score goals.
Finally, given I am playing a very fluid formation which encourages creative freedom, I will leave the “be more expressive” box unchecked, so there is some level of tactical discipline adhered to by the players.
I will work the ball into the box and look for the overlap in the final third. This will reinforce the idea of waiting for the right moment and prioritising possession over speculative long distance efforts at goal. By looking for the overlap in the final third, this will spread the ball wider to the fullbacks who will likely be in space and have time on the ball. This will allow the rest of the midfield to catch up and support the attack and provide multiple options to either retain possession, try a cross or play it infield to a more advanced position.
Roaming from position is also on, to encourage players to find space and make themselves available for a pass. With such a narrow formation, we do need to avoid being predictable and easy to mark.
Just a bog standard goalkeeper role. You can fancy it up with a sweeper keeper, but I’ve never really noticed a difference to be honest. I’ve instructed him to roll it out and make fewer risky passes so we don’t waste possession but also so he doesn’t roll it to a marked player. I’ve asked him to distribute to the centre backs (rather than to the full backs) as I want my full backs to push forward once the keeper has the ball. I also find that without wingers, the full backs don’t have enough passing options and can just end up hitting it long trying to find the forward.
A normal central defender with a defend duty. Nothing special again, just asked them to mark tighter. I’ve found this can reduce (but not eliminate) those pinpoint crosses finding the opposition striker on the break.
Possibly the most important players in the team. I’ve gone for fullbacks with an attacking role. The wingback and complete wingback don’t seem to provide enough defensive cover for me in this version of FM, and limited fullback clearly doesn’t get forward enough. The standard fullback seems to pay more attention to his defensive duties and gets back in position more quickly than the other attacking roles. The only specific additional instructions are to shoot less often and cross from the byline. The former because I want them creating, not trying potshots and the latter so that they hold the ball for as long as possible, allowing the midfield to get into the box. Early crosses would just be aimed at the lone striker which would be very unproductive. If they can’t get to the byline, I’d prefer we track back and reset rather than lose possession.
I’ve chosen the halfback role here. With a fairly wide team instruction, the two central defenders generally split quite wide apart. Having the half back gives me a third man to slot into the gap, but who also behaves intelligently in defence, transition and attacking phases. I definitely wanted a “Defend” duty in this position to keep numbers in defence and the other roles were not adequate:
- The regista and roaming playmaker don’t come with defend duties and are positionally not disciplined enough
- The ball winning midfielder gets dragged out of position too often
- The defensive midfielder and anchor man on defend duties I find don’t contribute enough when possession needs to be recycled
- The deep lying playmaker was a close fit, but becomes the focal point of our moves when we are in possession, which I don’t want.
The half back was a good combination of discipline when defending but providing sensible support when attacking. I’ve asked the half back to play fewer risky passes so he acts more as a continuity player rather than a key playmaker.
The two central midfielders are ball winning midfielders on a support duty. Their task is to win the ball back quickly, press aggressively high up the pitch and prevent the opposition from having time on the ball. This encourages opposition mistakes or hopeful long balls which can be useful for maintaining pressure. I’ve asked them to mark tighter and and make fewer risky passes so we keep the pressure on and pass the ball onto more creative players.
The two central attacking midfielders are advanced playmakers with an attack duty. Being playmakers, they generally start fairly deep which gives my team more passing options as we bring the ball out of defence. I ask them to roam from position and move into channels so they actively find space and are encouraged to drift wider and move into gaps in the opponents formation. This, in turn, drags the opposition defenders out of position and creates space. The left hand player is asked to get further forward to support the striker, which adds a vertical assymetry to the way these players operate.
Quite simply, an advanced forward. I don’t want this guy coming deep into the space occupied by the playmakers. I want him playing high up and occupying the opposition defensive line which creates room for my playmakers and midfield. Only an advanced forward or poacher is really suited to doing this, and I find an advanced forward tends to be a harder lone striker role for the opposition to mark when compared to a poacher. No specific instructions, we just let this guy do his thing.
What do we look like
If you’ve made it this far, you’ve done well. My next post will set out in more detail how the team looks in action, but as a prelude I’ve set out what we look like when we build from the back to give you an idea of what all those instructions mean in the match engine. The screenshot below shows how we would typically look at the very early phase of possession.
There are a few things we can glean from this immediately:
- The half back does what it says on the tin. Sits deep between the two centre-halves, allowing them to push forward and wider. If he was another role, he would be sitting roughly where the opposition number 10 is, which is not as productive. The centre half on the ball has many safe passing options as well as a few more direct options to the striker or right back.
- The goalkeeper has distributed to my centre back as instructed. This has allowed the full backs to push forward aggressively, rather than staying deep to receive the ball from the keeper. The opposition midfield has tucked in narrow to prevent being outnumbered in the centre of the park. This gives my fullbacks acres of space to exploit.
- My central midfielders and attacking midfielders have created an overload in the centre of the pitch. This is a solid base from which to maintain possession with relative ease. Depending on where Stones passes the ball, my AMCs (number 9 & 10) with “move into channels” and “roam from position” have options to move towards the ball or away into pockets of space to receive the ball and / or drag opponents out of position. This also allows them to link with the fullbacks if the play spreads wide.
- My striker is high up the pitch, occupying the centre backs and providing that threat in behind. This causes the opponents defenders to be reluctant to press further forward and help their outnumbered midfield.
The overall shape at the beginning of a move (3-2-4-1) is very different to the set-up on the tin (4-1-2-2-1) which demonstrates the power of player roles and team instructions in setting up a tactic.
In my next post, I will aim to provide more insights into how the setup behaves in the match engine and that a tactic without wingers can really work!
The download link is below for those that want to play around with it. I must stress I’ve only tried this with a strong team, so no promises – it could be a disaster with lower level sides.