In the past few weeks since the release of my first FM17 tactic, I have received a fair bit of feedback regarding the initial tactic. Most of it was regarding the defensive frailties of the tactic, the susceptibility of the tactic to quick counter-attacks down the flanks. Whilst I did not experience these problems in a manner similar to the experiences of others, I was nevertheless not entirely happy with the setup I was using.
The balance between the various lines was not quite the way I want it to be. The reason why the setup with two ball-winning midfielders worked for me was probably because I had two world-class midfielders in Kevin Strootman and Radja Nainggolan. As I progressed in the Roma save, I noticed the same defensive frailties others mentioned when one or both were absent from the line-up through injury or suspension. Some of these changes may or may not be the direct result of another SI patch, we’ll not discuss that any further in this article.
Midfielders form the most important part of any team in football. The midfield works as the connectivity between the defence and the attack, quite literally too. It acts as an anchor that holds the entire squad together. Balancing the roles in midfield out properly can either make or break your tactic.
Your team has an attacking shape, a defensive shape and transitions between these phases (attack to defence and vice versa), bringing us to a grand total of four phases your team goes through in each match. It is your responsibility as a manager to line up the team properly during all four stages in order to prevent your team from being overrun defensively or lacking firepower offensively.
The new (and hopefully improved) setup
In the old setup, I used a tripod-shaped midfield, consisting of two ball-winning midfielders and a roaming playmaker. The new setup has been altered in the hopes of reinforcing the defensive weaknesses and further strengthening the offence.
In comparison to the old tactic, I have kept one of the ball-winning midfielders but replaced the other midfielders. The roaming playmaker often proved ineffective because he was too close to the advanced playmaker, so he was replaced by a sort of a central winger-esque role, a tweaked central midfielder on support.
He is supposed to drive forward with the ball when he gets the chance and these are the instructions that will get the job done in that regard. The classic central winger role as described by Jonathon earlier is no longer possible since some of the instructions have been removed, but this set of instructions comes close enough.
Since I removed the roaming playmaker, I wanted to include another playmaker role in the midfield trio. Because of the mix of defensive stability and drive forward to link up with the other midfielders, I opted for the deep lying playmaker on support. With the additional protection in midfield, I also felt secure enough to let the complete wingbacks roam further forward down the flanks.
Effectively, this setup generates a sort of double pivot in central midfield, consisting of the static ball-winning midfielder in central midfield and the more dynamic deep lying playmaker in the defensive midfield stratum. I want to examine this statement further in the paragraphs below.
During the defensive phase
The goal of this new setup during the defensive phase is mostly to protect the space in front of the defence. The midfield trio clusters together, forming a sort of tripod and absorbing the pressure from the opposing team. Whilst I realise this leaves the flanks a bit exposed, the team solves this problem by shuffling the three midfielders to the threatened side, shutting down the passing lanes when the opposing side tries to switch flanks.
In the screenshot above, the opposing side is trying to outflank the central block by moving to our left flank, attacking the sole wingback there. The team responds by shuffling the midfield block to that side and slightly stretching the midfield trio a bit.
In a normal situation, the midfield block maintains a more central position, easily absorbing the pressure from opposing teams, who are often forced into playing direct passes forward because of the relentless pressing by the forward three.
During the transition from defence to attack
The goals of this new setup during the transition phase from defence to attack are to retain both creative and spatial control. I am not relying on the centrebacks to transition play from deep, instead opting to use the dynamic playmaker in the defensive midfield strata as a pivot. His role and movement ensure that an opponent’s initial press towards our backline cannot be deep or sustained because a simple pass forward on either side hits a wide player, or in the centre, finds a player running into unmarked space.
As the team reclaims possession through a goal-kick, the defensive line pushes forward and splits slightly, which opens up five possible passing options for the goalkeeper, effectively making it difficult for an opposing team to press and disrupt the build-up phase of our attack, without sacrificing our defensive stability in case of a turnover.
During a more traditional turn-over of possession, the closely packed midfield trio generally ensures that at least two of the midfielders are open to receive the pass and continue the build-up phase of the attack, whilst the closely packed nature of the midfield ensures that loss of possession can easily be corrected by a nearby team-mate.
In the example above, defender Laporte can pass the ball towards the deep lying playmaker or the central winger to continue the forward momentum of the team. The central winger and the playmaker are likely to drive forward and take the ball towards the opposing team, whereas the ball-winning midfielder will remain in place to act as a sort of advanced screen to remain effective spatial control of the defensive midfield stratum.
During the attacking phase
The goals of this new setup during the attacking phase are to retain both creative and spatial control. I want them to offer a plethora of attacking options, whilst maintaining a defensive balance that makes us unlikely to get in trouble when we lose the ball. I’ll highlight these intentions by using two match situations.
In this situation, shadow striker Draganic has control of the ball, with central winger Bertolini looking to overlap and surge past the opposing midfielder into space, where he can either pass the ball wide or back to one of the shadow strikers. The deep lying playmaker will look to link up as well, whereas the ball-winning midfielder will hold his position to protect the space.
In the situation above, central defender Manolas will pass the ball towards the deep lying playmaker. At this point, the versatility of the setup is showcased. The playmaker can pass the ball towards the central winger or drive forward into space. When he moves forward, two passing options open up for him. When he passes it, the central winger is again presented with two options. When he drives forward, another passing option opens up or he can opt for an easy pass out wide towards the complete wingback surging forward. When the playmaker opts to move forward, the ball-winning midfielder remains static, effectively becoming the doorman of this three-man midfield, protecting the space in front of the two defenders.
During the transition from attack to defence
The goal of this new setup during the transition phase from attack to defence is to initially delay a counter-attack and after that to drop back to retain spatial control. Because I like my team to play an aggressive forechecking style, their first impulse after losing the ball will be to harass the opposing team to try and win the ball back. This aggressive initial press allows the wing-backs the time they need to track back and form a back four defensive line. If the initial press is unsuccessful, the forward three will delay the build-up further, allowing the midfielders to drop back as well.
The situation above shows a situation where the initial press is further reinforced by a pressing wing-back. The midfield trio remains clustered, dominating the central area of the pitch, effectively limiting the passing options the opposing team has left.
The situation above displays what happens when the initial press fails. The wing-backs have retreated and the forward three will pressure the opposing side to allow the midfielders the time to retreat, so they can pick up the long ball that is often used to bypass the aggressive pressing.
The download links
So in case the entire explanation above regarding the reshuffling and tweaking of my midfield was not interesting for you or you’re just more interested in seeing if it actually works for you, here are the download links. I have included a Steam download as well, for those who are more inclined to use it over a manual download.