Rewriting History: Scottish Strikerless

An introduction to start us off. My name is FM Samo and you can find my own inane ramblings on all things Football Manager over on my site, Occasional FM. One thing you’ll notice very quickly if you follow me on Twitter or read my blog posts, is that I’m Scottish. When I first came across the brilliant Strikerless site Guido has built up here, my initial reaction was that someone had set up a shrine to Craig Levein and the one of many painful nights it was to be a fan of the Scottish national team. This proved, of course, not to be the case, but if you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, read on to find out!

In March 2016, Scotland traveled to the Czech Republic for an international friendly. As our opponents, the rest of the home nations, and 19 other countries are preparing and gearing up for a summer competing in France to become champions of Europe, we’ve got a summer of crying into our Tennent’s to look forward to.

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The national team and the Tartan Army traveling to Prague for this game brought back memories. These memories weren’t good ones, in fact, they were more like nightmares. In October 2008, the same journey had been taken. Scotland had made a fairly poor start to qualifying for Euro 2012. A 0-0 draw in Lithuania was followed up by a shocking 2-1 home win in the 97th minute against Liechtenstein. In a group that also included Spain, the aim was that 2nd spot that would secure a playoff for the chance to make it to Euro 2012. The Czechs were our main competition, so a positive result in Prague would see us remain unbeaten and be in with a real chance of achieving the aim.

As is so often the case amongst Scottish supporters, hopes were high. Craig Levein was still relatively new in his role as the national team manager, and in his first game in charge, had actually overseen a 1-0 home win against our upcoming opponents. In the run up to this encounter, despite that previous win and our poor start in the qualifying group, he revealed that he was considering lining up in a strikerless 4-6-0 formation. STV reported that fans were ‘dismayed’ and that they feared Scotland were going to ‘park the bus’.

Scotland lost. 1-0. The goal coming from a set piece in the 69th minute.

Levein argued his system had worked well, restricting the Czechs from playing their game. The Telegraph reported that the operation might have been a success, but the patient had died. They called the performance ‘sterile’, ‘impotent’ and ’embarrassing’. The Tartan Army don’t want the team to be trying to restrict the Czech Republic from playing their game, they want to be attacking teams like that, teams on a similar level to our boys in blue. We all know from being regular visitors to Strikerless.com that strikerless tactics don’t need to be defensive. The only word we know that’s associated with strikerless football is ‘sexy’. With this in mind, and getting down to the nitty gritty of why I’ve just given you a history lesson on some of Scotland’s recent failings to qualify for national tournaments, I’m going to take over the Scottish national team, organise a friendly against the Czech Republic in Prague, and armed with Guido’s Strikerless Classic Revival for FM16, beat them. I’ll be kind of, sort of, not really, hoping to change history. Basically, I want to prove the Czechs could have been beaten by a strikerless formation. Here goes.

Here’s the 11 men I’ve chosen to make up the starting line-up, and to try and rewrite history.

I decide to go with David Marshall over Craig Gordon and Allan McGregor. At right back, I’ve gone for the much maligned Alan Hutton over the youth of Callum Paterson. Hutton might not be up to scratch in the non-FM world these days, but he can still do a job in-game. Left back is arguably Scotland’s best position at the current time, and if Andy Robertson wasn’t my man crush, Graeme Shinnie could have definitely stepped in. In central defence, I’ve gone for Russell Martin and Christophe Berra here, I’m not 100% confident in my decision with this one, but we’ll go with it and see how it pans out. They do have the experience of Darren Fletcher in covering with them, and that’s exactly why he’s been given the nod here over Scott Brown. The half back is one of three key roles highlighted by Guido in his FM16 piece on this tactic, and I believe Fletch is the ideal player here for that role.

Moving further up the pitch, the CMs. James McArthur and James Morrison are my picks here. McArthur’s finishing might not be great, but he’s got the engine to get up, down and across the pitch. Ideal for the BBM role. Morrison’s great numbers for technique, flair, and vision, coupled with a decent passing attribute make him a good choice for the ‘central winger’ role. While his overall pace might let him down slightly, so he might not be the speediest of central wingers, what he lacks in pace he makes up for in dribbling.

And the front three. Looking at my choice here, I can’t wait to get the match started. Steven Naismith and Matt Ritchie are my picks for the shadow striker roles, and the AMC, or ‘withdrawn targetman’, is Robert Snodgrass. All three are capable of winning matches, and I’ve got a sneaky feeling they might win this one for us.

The Tartan Army have taken that fateful journey to Prague, and we kick off. It doesn’t take long at all for there to be some action, as we’re awarded a penalty in the 4th minute. Naismith found Morrison with a through ball, who’d made a great forward run from central midfield, and he’s taken down in the area through on goal, just as he was about to pull the trigger. However, it’s a goal-den opportunity missed, as Naismith steps up, and tamely passes the ball back to the Czech keeper (who isn’t Petr Cech, he must be injured in-game). It doesn’t take us long to record another clear cut chance on the board.

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Naismith receives the ball from Andy Robertson, just outside the penalty area. It’s here you can really see the roles of the tactic working well. Snodgrass is the most advanced player, running beyond the two shadow strikers just as Guido outlines in his post. Naismith finds Fletch, who as a half back, I’d probably like to see a bit deeper, probably on the Czech number 9 as opposed to how high up the pitch he is, but that’s just being picky. Fletch plays it right to Matt Ritchie, the second shadow striker, who’s dropped deep here and allowed James Morrison, the central winger to advance beyond him, occupying a Czech central defender. Ritchie’s got an easy ball out right to Alan Hutton, but he doesn’t take it, and finds Morrison, who’s beaten the offside trap to get into the penalty area, with a great little through ball. In that last image, it looks a clear goal to me, but Morrison manages to put it wide of the target, not even working the keeper. Poor effort, but great football to create the chance. A fine example of the movement this strikerless tactic can bring to your team.

A missed penalty, and the above clear cut chance on the board, I could feel a goal was coming. Naismith redeemed himself…

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Like I say in the caption, that first screenshot shows you perfectly how the roles of the classic strikerless tactic line up. The width being provided by the complete wing backs, but the compactness of the attack-minded midfield 5. A few passes later, and there’s been so much movement. Look at how far forward the central winger, number 6, James Morrison, has got since he played that initial pass inside to Snodgrass. Snodgrass and Ritchie play a one-two, and Snoddy finds James McArthur but he’s surrounded by two Czech defenders. He’s perfectly drawn them out to create the space for Naismith to run in behind. A first time finish from Naismith, and it’s 1-0 Scotland at half time.

Despite having the majority of the possession in the match, the Czech Republic just couldn’t find a way through the staunch Scottish strikerless defence. Much of their play was restricted to the wide areas. As you might know, it seems to usually work quite well if you aim a cross at the back post, and playing with two complete wing backs on attack, I thought we’d potentially be exploited here. Especially so, given the Czechs were playing a 4-2-3-1 formation with men out wide. The telling defensive stats from the match are that they attempted 16 crosses, of which only three were successful, while 40% of our aerial challenges won during the match, came in our own penalty area. Standing firm to deny them scoring opportunities.

The match looks like it’s ending with a 1-0 Scotland victory, but we wanted more. 90th minute, and that man Naismith again.

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Interceptions play a big role in strikerless. It’s important to pick up on slack play by the opposition, win the ball back, and go on the offensive. That’s how we seal the match here. Hutton intercepts a loose ball, and finds Matt Ritchie. Even in that first screenshot, you can sense a chance is coming, it’s almost a 4 v 4 situation against the Czech defence. Snodgrass is bombing forward through the middle, flanked by Morrison and McArthur, making the forward runs that their roles are trademarked for. The Czech CB pairing really are in no-mans land, as Snodgrass easily plays the ball forward to Naismith, who beautifully nestles the ball into the bottom corner, first time, from outside the box. Great breakaway, lovely goal. Game over, goodnight Prague.

So I did it. I rewrote history. Scotland can beat the Czech Republic with a strikerless tactic. Is Guido a better tactician than Craig Levein? Potentially. Will strikerless tactics ever see the light of day in Scotland again? That remains to be seen.

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