I’ll start us off by referencing the old adage that classics never really die. After all, they became classics for a reason, they have traits and characteristics beloved by all. In reference to Strikerless, it’s a particular brand of football you can create with a strikerless tactic. That daft prick Ruud Gullit coined the phrase “sexy football” during his stint with Chelsea and despite the fact that his managerial performances and qualities are roughly on par with those of a frozen fish stick, his definition of sexy football is quite apt for my own particular brand of football.
That is the kind of football Chelsea played under Gullit and it’s quite similar to my own brand of football. I want to create a style of play that sends waves of enjoyment throughout the virtual stadium, a team of artists that dazzle and mesmerize opponents, fans and pundits alike. Whenever my team gets the ball, I want to feel the buzz of expectancy because as a manager, I know something beautiful might happen, even if it doesn’t always come off as planned. I want to generate poetry in motion, smooth and silky passes, fluid movement through the lines.
Looking at the video above, I have highlighted some moments that are typical strikerless goals. I’ll let you be the judge regarding my own brand of football and it’s degree of sexiness.
Before I start explaining what’s what and how everything functions, allow me to get in the obligatory disclaimer that this tactic is, in fact, a tactic developed and tested during the Beta stages of FM17. I have absolutely no idea if and when SI might update the game and change the match engine, rendering the entire tactic useless again. Having said that, the entire concept works brilliantly so far. The Dark Side is strong in this version of FM and I am looking to bring sexy back, Justin Timberlake style.
Table of Contents
The three pillars of strikerless football
I genuinely believe in the premise that when you find the right style of play, you can get almost any formation to work. To find the right style of play for a strikerless formation, you have to understand how a strikerless formation actually functions out on the pitch. The premise of a strikerless formation is that instead of traditional forwards, you play one or more attacking midfielders as your most attacking men on the pitch, position-wise. These attacking midfielders tend to move into the space between defense 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.
With these ideas in mind, I have based the tactic around three pillars, three concepts that I want to see on the pitch. I need to see plenty of movement, I want to see a lot of pressing, resembling Klopp’s Gegenpressing and I want to see a cohesive team unit. Just to visualize…
Pillar 1; movement
The very nature of strikerless football I described implies that you need mobile players and a style of play that generates actual movement both on and off-the-ball. With no forward up front to hold up the ball, you need some sort of an advanced focal point, which for me implies that you need players to drift into the space between defense and midfield to receive the ball or create space for others. By playing in the gap between midfield and defense, they are either always open to receive a pass, or they drag the defensive line higher up the pitch, thus creating space for movement into the space behind the opposing defensive line.
In order to benefit from these intricate runs made by the attacking midfielders, you will need other players to make penetrating runs as well. This, in turn, means you need a specific type of player, but you also need to set up the correct player roles to ensure the appropriate interaction between the players and you want to ensure a compact formation, where the players are closely packed together. We will look into this aspect of cohesion in a later paragraph. Just keep in mind that when the various lines are close together, the players don’t have to cover great distances, which allows them to benefit and feed off each others movement. When one player drops back, this opens space for others to run into.
Pillar 2; pressing
A few years ago, the concept of counter pressing was rather alien to the general public. The rise of managers like Pochetino, Tuchel and Klopp and their trademark energetic pressing style has made counter pressing more and more mainstream. This does not mean the concept is new, not at all. Managers like Bielsa and Lobanovskiy used similar strategies in earlier times and like every idea ever conceived, it will be rehashed and improved sooner or later. Incidentally, this isn’t me being a pretentious douche by referencing famous real-life managers, it’s merely me illustrating the point that counter pressing has been around for a while.
Since actual counter pressing is difficult to achieve in FM without the ability to set pressing triggers, I generally settle for the next best thing, which is all out pressing all over the pitch. The philosophy behind this kind of pressing game is to press and defend high up the pitch, aggressively chasing down opposing players, forcing them to play either a long ball or play risky back-passes. By playing a high defensive line, you can keep the distances between the lines small, to stop your players from having to cover great distances to effectively close down an opponent, which again ties in nicely with the cohesion part we mentioned earlier.
Pillar 3; cohesion
My last pillar is the trickiest one to describe. Cohesion is a vague concept, but allow me to elaborate and explain what I mean. In the past, solo efforts and individual stars decided the fate of matches. Legendary players such as Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruijff, and Diego Maradona, who, thanks to their skill and speed, found empty spaces in midfield, created the time to take the ball to the box and then decided to pass or shoot at the goal. Nowadays the game has become a lot quicker. If a forward loses the ball he will immediately challenge the opposing defenders for the ball. As a result, the amount of space and time available to players has become significantly lesser, forcing them to pass faster and interact more closely.
Some of the top teams seem to use a form of swarm intelligence, making decisions collectively and coming up with innovative moves on the fly. That leaves less room for individual efforts and makes playing collectively important; otherwise, it would be impossible for teams to sustain their attacks against fast and complex defenses. This suits my strikerless ideals. 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.
When you look at the match-clip above, you can see how compact the formation is. The space between the last defenders and the forward three is never more than thirty meters. The team makes this whole process look effortlessly and smooth, resulting in the sexy style that characterizes the strikerless brand of football.
The team instructions
A concept may look flash and pretty on the drawing board but it needs to be applicable in reality (or in this case, in FM) for it to be effective. The pillars that make up my preferred style have been defined, now it’s time for me to apply these ideas and mold them into a set of team instructions that is effective yet does not stray (too) far from the ideal style I had in mind when I started the design process.
With the three underlying concepts in mind, I feel these settings should enable me to play the style I desire. I have opted for a “very fluid” team shape to ensure the cohesion and compact formation I strive for. The “control” mentality is generally my starting mentality, though I tend to mix it up during the matches. A “higher tempo” helps to ensure they are able to pass and move their way through a defense. The defensive line is sent to “slightly higher” to help out with the pressing aspect as well as keeping the formation compact, which in turn helps out with the movement and cohesion. The use of the “offside trap” makes sense if you’re using a higher defensive line, you don’t want to give away loads of space without ensuring some form of protection. “More closing down” and the “prevention of short goalie distribution” are put in place to help with the relentless pressing and keep the lines compact, which again helps with the cohesion and in the case of a turn-over of possession ensures the possibility of a quick break. “Play out of defense” seems necessary because of the very nature of strikerless football. Without a forward to hold up the ball it seems rather pointless to hoof the ball forward. “Pass into space” makes perfect sense. Strikerless is all about movement, so you need to utilize the space that opens up on the pitch. The “more direct passing” approach is a bit of trial and error from my part. Mixed and normal passing left me struggling to achieve enough penetration of the opposing defensive line, this passing style seems to get the job done. The free-flowing and adventurous nature of strikerless football almost necessitates the use of the “be more expressive” and “roam from positions” instructions.
The basic formation
With so many players moving all over the place, it’s rather hard to explain the basic formation because there really is no basic formation. There’s no such thing as playing 4-4-2, no 4-4-2 is the same in the way they actually take to the field and move around on the pitch. Every team has at least an attacking shape and a defensive shape. You don’t play with a back four the entire time, you play with three at the back when going forward, as one of your wingbacks joins the midfield, four at the back when transitioning between attack and defence and perhaps five at the back when defending, as a midfielder may drop back to help out the defenders.
Having said that, I think the picture above helps to explain what I hope to see on the pitch in terms of movement. Starting off with the central defender pair the more observant readers have probably noticed the different roles for the pair. Since you generally play against a single central forward, there is no need for the both of them to square off next to each other. Instead, I want one defender to aggressively seek out the forward, whilst the other waits behind to provide cover in case of a fuck-up (and let’s face it, this is FM, so that tends to be necessary). When the opposition uses two central forwards, both defenders are set to plain old central defenders, no frills.
The two ball-winning midfielders in the heart of midfield are there to guard the defensive line and provide some muscle to the lineup. The ball-winning midfielder in the defensive midfield is given liberty to roam forward to from a three-man midfield when in possession, whereas the other ball winning midfielder assumes a more holding, static role, effectively acting as a sort of pivot when the team transitions from defense to offense and vice versa. When the team moves into it’s most offensive shape, this pivotal midfielder is often the most withdrawn midfielder, being overtaken by his comrade-in-arms and the playmaker.
Having two breakers present in midfield frees up possibilities to relieve other, more creative players from their defensive burdens somewhat. In this particular setup, it frees up offensive maneuverability for the wing-backs and the third midfielder, the roaming playmaker. The two wide men are our sole wide outlet and should be allowed to roam forward without restrictions, which means others have to pick up the slack somehow. The current (BETA!!!) match engine allows for such antics since the crosses coming into my own penalty area are no longer hideously overpowered.
The final aspect to describe is the offensive triangle, which consists of two shadow strikers and a regular attacking midfielder on an attacking duty. The idea is that the more static attacking midfielder acts as a sort of focal point for our offensive efforts, holding the ball up for the playmaker to link up and spray passes towards the shadow strikers. When it all comes together it’s a lovely sight to behold.
Quit boring me with this shit, where is the download?!?!
Please keep in mind that this is a tactic created and saved during the Beta stages of the game. Importing the tactic could prove difficult or even not possible at all. The tactic ought to be saved as a .FMF format, instead it has become a .TAC format. Apparently, the .FMF format I can use from my beta version is not compatible with the .TAC format most other beta users seem to have. Oh well, I wrote a long and boring disclaimer about how it might not work at all, my work is done.
Regarding the actual application of this file, you probably know the drill by now. Find the My Documents folder where your FM17 material is stored and place this download in the tactics folder. That ought to work. Once again, this is Beta, so it might not.
OMFG!!! RESULTS!!! OI’s!!! TRAINING!!!
No. Go away. This is not FM-Base.