As we continue looking at the process of creating a tactic, I have stumbled across the greatest hurdle of all; the fine-tuning of the tactic. Your tactic looks great on the drawing board, you’ve thought it all through and you think it will work. That is when reality sets in and you actually have to test the tactic, adjust it where necessary and tinker with it to see if you can improve the concept. I dubbed this the greatest hurdle of all because you have to watch the games, analyse what you see, assess the probable cause and come up with ways to remedy whatever is wrong.
Understanding how you are playing on Football Manager is the key to everything if you want to improve the performance of your tactics. After all, if you don’t understand the basics of how your system works, if you cannot comprehend its inherent strengths and weaknesses, then how can you determine if it’s working or not? Not only that but how can you decide what needs changing and more importantly, what you change it to?
Now, the first competitive game I played with this new concoction ended in a 1-0 win.
Shown above are the stats from the game and as you can see, we were the stronger side, without really dominating the other side. At this point, the result is of secondary importance because we are trying to improve the tactic’s performance. To achieve this goal, we need to learn what’s working and what isn’t. This requires watching large chunks of the game and just scribbling down whatever you seem to notice.
A few minutes into the first game, I stumble across my first observation. When looking at our offensive shape, I couldn’t help but notice a potential vulnerability in our defensive setup, which could be easily exploited.
The split between the two central defenders seems a bit wide. In fact, you could probably sail an aircraft carrier into the space between the two central defenders. This gaping hole in our defensive can be explained by examining the role of the defensive midfielder. The half-back turns into a third defender when the team is attacking, which causes the central defenders to split wide. When there are wing-backs present in our defensive line-up, they will generally keep this split in check, preventing the central defenders from splitting too wide by their mere presence out wide. Since the wing-backs are posted in front of the actual defensive line, this split is left unchecked and such a gap is generated.
Now this is isn’t necessarily a problem. If the team keeps the ball, the half-back slots into the space vacated by the central defenders and all are well. If we lose the ball, however, this generates opportunities for a lethal counter-attack down the heart of our defence. Our team has lost the ball in the situation above and even though the counter-attack was snuffed out by quick repositioning by the defenders, the current setup has an inherent weakness during these phases of play, one that could cost us dearly against stronger opposition.
Reconfiguring the defensive setup seems like a good idea in this situation. This can be done either by dropping the wing-backs back or changing the role of the defensive midfielder. Since the advanced position of the wing-backs is what gives this tactic its distinctive drawing board shape, I am hesitant and even reluctant to change the wing-backs. This means the defensive midfield role needs tinkering with. The most logical option for me is either a deep-lying playmaker on a defensive setting or an anchor man, depending on our offensive and defensive needs. Both are static and protect the defensive line, but since I already have one playmaker in the line-up and I don’t believe in two captains on a single ship when using a Very Fluid setting, I will not assign a second playmaker. The addition of an Anchor Man in the next match should remedy our weakness in transitioning from offence to defence without compromising the distinctive shape we wish to use.
One of the other problems I noticed was the relatively low pass completion percentage the team achieved. 73% is fairly low for a strikerless setup, which generally thrives on hogging possession and completing many short passes to the various interlocking layers of players moving around the pitch. When I called up the pass completion screen in the game’s ProZone screen, we can immediately see the truth behind this statement.
The red dots and arrows represent passes out of bounds, the orange ones indicate intercepted passes. We can instantly see our build-up from the back is flawed. Most of the misplaced passes take place in our own half, which is something we need to remedy somehow. Losing the ball in our own half is a big issue, which can lead to situations like the one listed above, where one or two opposing forwards can waltz right through the Titanic-sized hole in our central defence.
Before we can find a remedy to this problem, we need to assess its causation. Why are we losing the ball a lot in our own half? Looking closer at the graphic above shows us that we generally lose the ball a lot in central areas of the pitch. The balls played out of bounds where generally defensive clearances, where a defender was put under pressure and simply hoofed or headed the ball out of bounds. We generally don’t lose the ball much when we get out wide. This makes me wonder how often we actually go wide.
The ProZone passing map for our completed passes is a bit of a mess, but it paints a similar picture to the passing map for intercepted passes. A lot of central passes, but barely any wide passes. Now, the following may be speculative, but I reckon we could improve both our passing completion percentage as well as our build-up play by looking for more wide options and making our play less congested in the central areas of the pitch.
Again, there are several ways to deal with this problem. I can change the shape of the team, I can change some of the player roles or I can tweak some of the player roles I am using with customised player instructions that suit my needs. I am hesitant to change the team shape much since I don’t want to turn it into yet another run-of-the-mill, generic, a dime-a-dozen tactic. The current role setup is not doing too bad and none of the standard player roles I can use offers much of an additional wide passing outlet by default, so altering the current player roles seems redundant. Tweaking the player instructions somewhat would be the preferable course of action.
In this case, I have opted for tweaking the box-to-box midfielder role. I want him to move into the channels, to add an additional wide outlet and prevent congestion of the central areas.