Inside My Mind 02; Going Through The Motions

In the “Inside My Mind” series I want to take you along on the road go down when I develop a tactic. In the previous post of the series I looked at the theoretical process, but I promised to actually apply said process on a real tactic, to put the theory into practice. I want to take you along on a journey to create a new tactic and that means I’m going to start by putting the first steps of the process into practice. I am going to show you the concept that underlies most of my tactics, as well as walking you through the process of coming up with a basic shape, the team style and the first setup of the roles.

Think of a concept

Everyone needs an idea to work from, as this allows you a base to build from. If you don’t have an idea of how you want to play then how do you know what changes to make during a game or how can you determine that the tactic and the settings you use aren’t working? If you don’t have a general idea of the shape at the very least, then you simply can’t fix things properly when issues arise because you have nothing to build towards. So it’s a lot simpler and less frustrating if you have some sort of idea in your mind already.

The concept of strikerless football is quite easily explained. Instead of a traditional forward, you play an attacking midfielder as your most attacking man on the pitch, position-wise. These attacking midfielders, be it a trequartista, an enganche, a shadow striker, or an advanced playmaker, tend to move into the space between defence and midfield to receive the ball, thus overloading the central midfield, establishing domination in terms of possession and creating space for surging runs by wingers or other midfielders.

Now to get this to work in Football Manager, my tactic will rely on four core pillars, four concepts I want to see throughout the tactic and throughout the team. These core pillars all interact in some way and they form the foundation of the entire strikerless philosophy.

A brief summary of what I want to see:

  • Movement;
  • Pressing;
  • Cohesion;
  • Possession.

Think of a basic shape

As I mentioned earlier, the basic shape is roughly an average of the defensive and attacking shape I want to see. I basically need to think of how our players will line up defensively, think of how they should line up offensively and try to come up with something that will look like a shape resembling their average positions. The idea behind this step is visualising not only the formation but equally important the movement of the players. Which player is supposed to move where, which players are hybrid players, equally important going forward as defensively?

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The idea I want to work with looks like this. Our wing-backs will be key players in the shifting between attacking and defensive phases. They will be joining the attack when we have possession and forming our only wide passing outlet, as well as providing those very nifty (and incredibly overpowered) crosses from out wide. The wing-backs are expected to drop back when we lose the ball to protect the flanks and stop those pesky (and incredibly overpowered) crosses from flying into our own box. Two of the central midfielders have similar duties, going forward to support the attacking during the attacking phase of play but dropping back to sit in front of the defensive line when we are on the backfoot.

The midfield also has a playmaker, and preferably one who can get in behind the forward two. The forward two are mobile players, as they are our main attacking outlets and they need to move around to be available for the passes of their team-mates. The defensive unit is comprised of two rather plain central defenders and a defensive midfielder in front, screening the defensive line and protecting the space between defence and midfield.

Think of basic team instructions

When deciding on a basic style of play (or team instructions), I generally pick the style of one of my older, successful tactics and just straight up import that. The idea is that whatever doesn’t work for the team I have will get removed during pre-season but I will start out with a sturdy and somewhat proven framework.

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So what you see here is a pretty much typical strikerless setup in terms of style and instructions. The Very Fluid approach is on have I used before on many occasions, as it means every player is expected to chip in, players ought to work together towards a common goal. Since I want the team to act as a cohesive unit, this makes sense. I am going to sound like a proper hipster for referencing famous real-life managers but bear with me on this one. People like Michels, Cruyff, Lobanovskiy and Sacchi strived for universality, where every player on the pitch takes a collective responsibility for each aspect of the game. Not in the sense that the forward is now tracking back to help with the off-side trap, but more in the sense of for example a forward pressing an opposing defender on the ball, allowing his team-mates either time to link up and help or fall back to take up a more reliable defensive stance.

Anyway, since universality is closely associated with Total Football, it’s becoming a sort of buzz-word. In a way, universality is part of some mythical style of play, which combines the aesthetics of short and intricate passing, aggressive pressing, fluid movement on and off the ball and positional interchangeability with the results that deliver trophies.

That really isn’t what I’m after. I want all players to take equal creative and defensive responsibility during all stages and phases of the game, resulting in a very fluid style of play. Because of this style of play and by pushing up the defensive line, I try to keep the lines compact. This means the players can press without being too concerned about leaving huge gaps behind them. So in my eyes, a Very Fluid setting is a necessity if I want to keep a tight and cohesive formation throughout the match because the defenders have to think of their positioning when attacking and the forwards have to contribute defensively by pressing.

The next Team Instruction I want to look at is the Close Down Much More setting. I am a big fan of counter-pressing and I do want my players to harass the opposition where-ever possible and in terms of sliders (I am old skool like that), this instruction would increase the amount of closing down my players do. I want them to seek out opposing players to win back the ball, cut off passing options or simply allow others time to re-group. Close Down Much More does induce the most relentless form of pressing you can achieve in FM. Sometimes when I used this instruction, I noticed my players being drawn out of position far too often, thus ruining the team shape and the cohesion of the formation, so you could always dial it down a notch.

The next Team Instruction I want to look at is the Use Tighter Marking setting. The Use Tighter Marking instruction pretty much reinforces the previous instruction. I want my players to get up close and personal and stay with their markers, especially in defence and midfield. Don’t give them time on the ball, don’t give them time to pick out a pass. I want my players to aggressively assault whoever is in possession, whilst others (Very Fluid setting kicking in) join in by cutting off passing options.

The next Team Instruction I want to look at is the Prevent Short GK Distribution setting. I’ll be brutally honest and say I haven’t really seen much difference with this box ticked and without this box ticked, but I’m just going to leave it in there, just in case. Philosophy-wise, it should be ticked anyway. I reckon it mostly applies to players in the forward strata, which is an area where I generally don’t have a lot of players by default. Still, it feels right to just to keep it ticked if you want to use a counter-press.

The rather direct passing and high tempo are aimed at instilling a sense of urgency and creating an energetic and high-paced style of attacking. Mix that in with the freedom to be more expressive and roam from positions and I’m hoping it generates an attractive, yet incisive, energetic style of football.

Think of basic player roles

Once the shape is sorted and we have figured out the style of football, fitting the roles into it should be simpler. To start us off, these are the roles I have selected. I have started off with only slightly modified roles in terms of player instructions, because I want to see how the standard roles interact before I tweak where necessary.

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The goalkeeper

Our goalkeeper is a simple shot stopper. He is supposed to prevent the ball from going into the back of the net, nothing more and nothing less.

Key Instructions

  • None; there is no special Player Instruction active.

The central defenders

They have been assigned a rather plain role again. Just simple defenders, but because my defensive line pushes slightly further forward, they need to possess both speed as well as jumping power. They need to be able to intercept high balls over the top as well as chase down mobile threats appearing in the space behind the wing-backs.

Key Instructions

  • Closing down less; as I don’t want them drawn out of position.

The wing-backs

As I mentioned earlier, the wing-backs have a role to play both in offence and defence. That is why I pushed them further forward, but to prevent them from venturing too far forward and leaving the other defenders exposed, I have set their role to defensive. I’m hoping this generates some forward movement without leaving the other defenders too exposed.

Key Instructions

  • Cross more often; since crosses are as overpowered as they are, it won’t hurt if I send a few into the box every now and then. I do have a player who will run onto the ball, which will hopefully be enough to benefit.

The half-back

The half-back doesn’t excel offensively, he’s not the one making the Hollywood-passes, nor is the one to score a heap of goals or rack up assists like it’s nothing. He isn’t a proficient force defensively, normally he’s not the one with the great last-ditch sliding challenge or the skillful tackle on an opposing player. No, the half-back is the master of the transition phase of play and his main weapon is his positional awareness and vertical and lateral movement across the pitch.

The half-back looks to serve a role somewhere between an aggressive sweeper and the more traditional defensive midfielder. During the various phases of the game, he takes up different roles and positions, all of them inconspicuous. During the defensive phase, he will drop back and split the defence into a back three. During the offensive phase, he will act in a capacity similar to that of an anchorman and during the transition phase, his movement protects the defensive line.

Key Instructions

  • None; there is no special Player Instruction active.

The box-to-box midfielders

Like the wing-backs, these box-to-box midfielders are supposed to be hybrid players, important in both phases offence and defence. I have opted for the box-to-box roles now because I want to get some extra penetration inside the box from these guys. I have entertained the idea of swapping these guys with roaming ball-winning midfielders on a support setting, for the sake of balance. We’ll see how the first games turn out and if I end up changing these guys.

Key Instructions

  • None; there is no special Player Instruction active, though I did entertain the idea of adding “moves into channels” as an additional instruction to add some extra layering to our attacks and provide additional width when needed. Maybe in the future.

The advanced playmaker

Our creative spark in midfield, the advanced playmaker is supposed to provide the forward two with through balls and otherwise set up our attacking moves. He will be backed by two mobile midfielders, so he should be able to focus on his offensive duties.

Key Instructions

  • None; there is no special Player Instruction active.

The attacking midfielder on support / withdrawn target man

I basically want a player who can beat opposing players for headers and contribute with flick-ons, and hold up the ball by controlling aerial balls played into his chest. Such a player will play with his back to goal to help relieve opposing team’s pressing and allow our runners to link up. I want this player to play a typical target man role about 15 metres deeper than where a target man usually plays. He would pair up with a shadow striker making runs forward to get on the end of a flick-on or get the rebounds from the headers. In a nutshell, I want the role Fellaini plays for Utd at times or how Cahill played for Australia and Everton.

Key Instructions

  • Hold up ball; to allow the box-to-box midfielders time to link up or the shadow striker time to get into an advanced position.
  • Move into channels; because I do want that lateral movement and I want him to make himself available for the pass. If he remains static, he will be easy to mark out of the game, to nullify his impact on the game.
  • Roam from position; this is strikerless after all, I need an element of unpredictability.

The shadow striker

Our main goalscoring threat, the runner from deep. The shadow striker gets into the box and latches onto crosses or through balls, as well as keeping the opposing defensive line pinned back to open up space for our other midfielders.

Key Instructions

  • None; there is no special Player Instruction active.

Nota bene

I realise this process sounds like it’s rather laborious. Writing it down certainly was, but the truth is that it generally takes me fifteen to twenty minutes to come up with ideas like these inside my head before I start playing games to see how it all turns out within the confines of the games’ match engine. This is probably because I have had many years of practice and some of these trains of thought have become second nature to me. The entire process does imply at least a basic knowledge of the various roles and instructions.

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10 thoughts on “Inside My Mind 02; Going Through The Motions

  1. Really good explanation Guido – very interested in the go route one, seems counter intuitive when there is nobody up there to launch it to but really seems to work in this year’s ME. For #ArgSt I’ve narrowed it down to 6 TI’s, but we are playing pretty direct to give the incisive edge.

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  2. I have noticed the “Prevent Short GKs” work if you keep at least 2 players in the forward strata, whether by using the word that shall not be mentioned here, or AMs/IFs with attack setting. Support and “get forward more” won’t work, because they’ll retreat when possession is lost. It doesn’t stop them from trying it, mind you. But you can punish them for doing it. I’ve picked up the odd goal on takeaways from defenders uncomfortable with the immediate pressure from a Gk.

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  3. Whats the idea behind hitting early crosses?

    You always tend to put it in your instructions but when I use your tactics its usually the first thing I tweak cos I always see that its better to overlap and cross from byline or near it (or at least to wait till the ams/cms are in attacking positions). In other words in strikerless the players in the cm and am stratas take longer to find themselves in attacking positions so hitting crosses early doesnt really compute… Or?

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  4. For the withdrawn target man, do I need to use a particularly tall player? I was thinking of doing this tactic with Stoke City as they have no real striker anyway, or maybe with Liverpool, but I didn’t know if a Coutinho and Firmino SS and AM or Bojan SS and Shaqiri AM would work

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