Back in the days, liberos were a truly majestic sight to behold. Step into your time machine and go back in time a good 20 or so years. Turn on the tv and watch teams defend. The majority of them will feature a type of player that seems to have been lost from the modern game. You’ll see an elegant defender sitting behind the defensive line, picking up stray through balls from an attacker. As he effortlessly brings it under his control, he marches forward with it, stepping past the other defenders and moving into the midfield zone. From there he acts as a modern day deep-lying playmaker, initiating the play and spreading it out to the flanks, or playing it forward into midfield or attack. This is the libero. People tend to get nostalgic about liberos and their style of play and rightfully so, as they were often stylish and elegant players, epitomised by the likes of Franz Beckenbauer and Franco Baresi.
The idea is to use a proper libero in this version of FM, so basically a defender who advances up from the back line to become an additional midfielder, an idea that has remained constant in Dutch football through such sweepers as Horst Blankenburg, Arie Haan (in his later days) and Danny Blind. Experiments in previous editions of FM were unsuccessful so let’s try it again in FM17.
The formation pretty much illustrates this point. I’ve tried to craft a tight and cohesive formation, with space in the defensive midfield area for the libero to move into when the team is in possession. The libero will be backed up by the presence of the inverted wingbacks, who can cut inside to ensure numerical superiority when necessary as well as providing some much-needed width.
This setup should generate plenty of interaction between the various lines, with players crossing over and overlapping. This should help generate a knock-on effect of movements. An attacking midfielder dropping back into midfield creates space for another midfielder to run into, which in turn creates space out wide for an attacking wide player to overlap. This train of thought complements the idea that movement both on and off the ball is absolutely crucial to the success of the strikerless formation and the style of play. This particular formation and therefore the style of play heavily rely on the exploitation of space. When your players remain static, no space can and will open up for others to exploit.
An example. As the libero moves forward beyond the two remaining central defenders, he basically strengthens the central midfield. Since he is facing forward he can act as a deep-lying playmaker, spraying passes forward or opting for lower risk short passes when the situation calls for it. He can be quite effective in doing so as well.
The clip above shows you how the libero can get involved when the situation calls for it. Randall Hernández, the acting libero, strides forward, actually moving past one of the central midfielders and apparently not being picked up by the opposition. When the ball is flicked back for him, he can pick his pass which results in a goal by the shadow striker breaking past the off-side trap and scoring.
When you see this screenshot, you can truly appreciate the offensive movement by the libero, who covers a considerable distance to get involved in the attack. Beckenbauer and Baresi would be proud of such actions. Most of the time, the liberos actions cannot and should not be measured in terms of assists. He generally provides the secondary assist, launching another player who in turn flicks it back for someone else to score an easy goal.
Defensively, he does what you might expect from a libero. He acts as the central defender in a bank of three central defenders. He is actually not dropping behind the other defenders, instead opting to line up with them to form a solid defensive line. His statistics in terms of aerial challenges, tackles, interceptions and fouls will show you.
Disregarding the challenges in the penalty area, which came from set pieces, it’s mostly a centralised affair for our libero. Since he generally does not have a direct opponent to deal with, he can choose which of his teammates he backs up. He can provide back-up for his teammates either by staying behind them and providing cover whilst they deal with the threat or he can try and get in front of the offensive threat, shutting down the passing route towards them.
The statistics my first choice libero has amassed so far are a nice hybrid between those of a decent playmaker and a good defender, if you discard the assists anyway. A decent passing range, solid defending and a few goals from set pieces make the libero basically an inverted half-back (just to complicate matters a bit more, haha), a defender who moves into midfield when the team has possession while remaining on the defensive line when the team has to defend.
This unusual combination of skill-sets makes it difficult to find a good libero in the games database. I am going to quote LPQR from FM Asymmetric on the skill-set a good libero should possess (mostly because he nicked most of his description from Strikerless anyway).
The type of football played by the Libero means he will have to make correct decisions in pressured situations, anticipate team-mates and opponents movement, spot an opportunity for a pass, identify space to run into, all these being issues relating to the mind more than the feet. Without a single doubt, the complex movement that this role entails means we want one thing above the rest from our Libero: football intelligence. This is a skill that is incredibly hard to identify in real life, however FM offers a set of attributes that make it easier to determine whether or not a player excels in that department:
Anticipation – How accurately can a player predict other player’s movements
In other words, can our Libero “read the game”, can he predict where the ball is going and where his opponents are going to be. A player who can accurately predict the movement of opponents doesn’t need to be fast or ruthless, he compensates with the power of his mind and his speed of thinking.
Concentration – How long a player can keep his mind focused on the game
A players attention tends to fade as the game progresses. We don’t want that, our Libero needs to be focused for as long as possible, as any mistake he makes can be potentially fatal. A high attribute for Concentration means the player will use his Decisions and Anticipation attributes better throughout the length of a match.
Decisions – Controls the quality of decisions the player makes
A player is constantly presented with options, and the Decisions attribute controls if the player chooses the best option. It also controls how and when an option is performed. Decision is what, when and how. We don’t want our player to be hesitant, when he makes a move, we want him to follow through.
Positioning – The accuracy of a players position
This attribute controls how well a player positions himself, depending on what’s going on around him. Positioning (do I recognize the various options available to me) is linked with Decisions (do I opt for the right position out of the various options available to me) and Anticipation (do I predict the movement of others well enough to read the game). In our eyes, these three attributes make up most of the footballing intelligence our Libero should possess.
b) mobility – the player’s ability to position himself efficiently and find space in both defensive and attacking situations is of great importance to this role. As the Libero will shift up from behind the defence all the way into midfield and back in pretty much all of the defensive/attacking transitions. A few key areas the player needs to excel in:
Acceleration – How fast can a player reach top speed
Whilst the Pace attribute determines the actual top speed a player can reach, Acceleration determines how long a player needs to reach that top speed. In the split-second decision-making world of the Libero, getting there fast is mostly about accelerating rather than top speed.
Agility – How easily a player moves
A low attribute means the player is “sluggish”. A high attribute means the player is nimble and light-footed. We prefer the former to the latter. Sluggish players commit fouls, which is generally not a smart idea if your Libero is the last field player between an opponent and your own goal.
Pace – Decides the top speed a player can reach
The Pace attribute determines the top speed a player can reach whilst sprinting. If the system entails a defensive set-up that frees the Libero from covering large distances, he doesn’t need to have more than 11-12 for these stats, as long as he’s intelligent enough.
To wrap this article up, I will provide you with download links.