Wingerless: Tactical Philosophy

Part 2 of the Wingerless Series

 

This is the second part of my wingerless series where I write about how I’ve challenged myself to play football manager without wingers nor to score or conceding from the dreaded cross.

As a Chelsea fan from about 2003 (queue the taunts), I got used to the gritty defensive style of the game where even conceding one goal is considered an ink stain on a white shirt. Unfortunately, in football manager, the defensive style which I love is a disaster to replicate. Sitting deeper and absorbing pressure, which is a hallmark of a defensive masterclass in real life, is just begging for trouble in football manager because of the match engine’s obsession with goals from crosses. I roughly estimate that between 70-80 percent of the goals conceded in football manager are from crosses especially if you don’t set up correctly to defend them.

Why does this irk me so much you may ask? Firstly because it’s unreal! In the real world, crosses don’t evade defenders like water from the palm of one’s hands. Not even David Beckham’s crosses had as much as an 80% assist rate.

Secondly, I get tired of seeing the same repetitive goals from crosses. Despite improvements from the football manager 2016 patch and football manager 2017 the crosses are still flying in and used by the match engine as a high percentage way of scoring/conceding goals. Now being one of those young new age millennials of short attention span who gets bored quickly, the repetitive nature of these goals got to me. Hence why I’ve decided to write up this wingerless series for those who suffer from the same irritation.

Just before we move on to the bread and butter of the tactics, I must say that since we all get absorbed in our saves to the point of dressing up for cup finals and breaking household items when we lose said finals football manager like any other game is just a series of code. Being someone who has an interest in programming, I step back at times and look at the match engine as a series of binary 1’s and 0’s and see how I can get the best out of it. Any computer program works in a flow-chart-rescue manner making patterned, repetitive decisions based on the options it has in front of it.

Firstly let’s start off with my defensive philosophy which is broken down into three key areas.

Defensive Line:
Since crossing is the match engine’s primary way of breaking down a defense sitting back deep and absorbing pressure is out of the picture. It’s much more advisable to play a higher line and risk a pacy striker getting in behind. Madness you may be thinking, but it is true. Teams getting in behind have a lower scoring chance than teams getting crosses in. Don’t believe me? Then go watch and observe the games match engine again. Many a time in this game when a player gets in behind they botch the finish, the keepers make the save or the defenders magically catch up and make a last ditch tackle, which defenders in this game seem to thrive at more than initial smart positioning. Again, I’m aware it seems like madness but after reading this play some football manager and observe.

A commonly the by football manager players is that they expect what happens in real life football to be replicated in the match engine, but it’s not the case. The match engine is improving yes, but it’s still some ways off real life football and the key is knowing what works and what doesn’t. Leaving space in behind is clearly not as dangerous as leaving space out wide in this game.
So with that knowledge about the defensive line, I usually play a slightly higher line which pushes wingers a few yards back further away from crossing positions.

Pressing:
Secondly, I close down more on the team instructions screen. By pressing I don’t allow playmakers especially the deeper ones (Deep Lying Playmakers, Registas, Central Midfielders) to sit and dictate play. This will limit those dangerous big diagonals out to a winger or marauding fullback who drills in the dreaded cross. I can’t count how many times the match engine repeats this repetitive play like an NFL coach with a one-paged playbook. The deep midfielder picks up the ball, and just perfectly Hollywood style launches it out, and mostly it’s to the right wing because they are predominantly right footed. Again go back and observe and you’ll notice that most of the goals conceded from crosses are from the right. That’s why in FM 16 you would have RB’s winning player of the year awards and getting 30 assists per season.

The key here is to get rid of the problem at its source by pressing the central players and forcing them to play more hurriedly. When under pressure it’s harder to play a big diagonal out wide, so they’ll usually play it sideways, backward, a few yards ahead or even give it away. I sometimes even specifically close down the central midfielders on the opposition instructions screen which helps emphasize the tactic but this shouldn’t be done in cases where the opposition outnumber you in central midfield. Because I use wingerless formations, I usually have the numbers in the center of the park to implement this.

Marking:
Lastly, the final feature I use to great defensive effect is tight marking. I use it on the team instructions screen, which personally I feel it’s redundant there. However where I mostly implement marking is for opposition fullbacks.

Now I don’t want this to get complicated so follow closely here. Whenever I use a back four formation, my fullbacks are naturally responsible for dealing with opposition wingers. Now since I don’t use wingers in football manager, there is a threat that the opposition fullbacks may double up on my wings causing a two v one against my fullback. To prevent this; however, I use my attacking midfielders to man mark the opposition fullbacks out of the game. Yes, before every game I click on the player instructions for my attacking midfielders and give them each the responsibility of man marking a fullback. On goal kicks, they are stuck to them to prevent the goalkeeper distributing wide and even in open play they track them all the way back in our half. At the end of the match, my attacking midfielders usually have the most km run because of this.

marking
Using a back 4 my attacking midfielders (in red) to drop wide to man mark the full backs

Now, whenever I employ a back five formation man marking fullbacks are not necessary because of the numbers in the defensive line and horizontal shift. If the ball is on the right wing and the opposition fullback and winger try to double up, then my left wing back covers the opposition fullback and my left center back of the three covers the opposition winger.

marking-2
Using a back 5 allows me to employ ‘horizontal shifting’ of defenders (in red) to cover both full backs and winger

 

 

 

 

 

Lastly, on marking, I usually mark tightly the lone striker of the opposition using the opposition instruction screen. If the match engine isn’t having any success using width as is its primary go-to method it’ll usually try to go long to the striker to hold up play and then get midfielders into the game. By marking him tightly one of my defenders, whoever is closer to him at the phase of play, usually physically harasses him into oblivion. Note that I only employ this if the opposition is using a lone striker as doing this with two strikers will cause too much disorganization in my defense.

With all these defensive tips and tricks I usually get by and concede very little goals from crossing. This eliminates more than half of the match engine’s way of opening up my defense plus because I don’t use wingers the extra numbers I have centrally keep my team clogged in the center of the pitch making it difficult to play through my team. Lastly I play the team ‘fairly wider’ from the team instruction screen which keeps them even closer to the wider areas so they’re already in position in case we lose the ball and the opposition quickly switches the ball out wide.

Attacking Philosophy

Keeping out crosses is one aspect of the wingerless challenge so how about scoring without crosses?  I need to be fair to the challenge of not utilizing wingers and crosses to great effect so here’s how I go about on attack.

I don’t use wingers but what I do use are fullbacks or wingbacks. That being said I don’t set them up as crossers. The majority of the time I use my fullbacks (back four) or wingbacks (back five) as inverted fullbacks/wingbacks. Since I incorporate as little crossing as possible into my attack it only makes sense that I attack as quickly and directly as possible with my transition passes before the opposition can set up compactly defending their goal area.

I usually play fluid since and the reason for this is since my attack is so quick and direct the fluidity allows my fullbacks/wingbacks and deeper midfielders to transition quicker into the attack. A rigid, structured system would keep them deeper for longer only allowing the attacking midfielders and strikers to get involved in the transition attack. As for playing mentality, I vary things based on the strength of the opposition, time remaining, the score of the game and whether I’m away or at home. I usually range from counter to attacking based on discretion.

While various player roles and positions can be used, I would recommend using a striker who comes deep to receive the ball like a false nine or a deep lying forward on the attack, an attacking midfielder and central midfielder with an attack role/duty which would encourage fluid runs behind the striker. I’ve even used strikerless formations at times (Guido would be proud).

As I close, some may be wondering out of curiosity what formations do I use, and the short answer is anything wingerless really, but mostly I go for a Christmas tree 4-3-2-1 or a 3-4-2-1. There are times I mix and mash a bit and play the striker as an attacking midfielder instead. The bottom line is no wingers.

It was quite a long read but those who made it to the end I have a nice little summary below:

Defensive Philosophy
– Man mark fullbacks using attacking midfielders
(if using a back four)
– Aggressively press central midfielders and playmakers to prevent diagonals out wide
– Play a higher line to keep wingers further away from good crossing positions
– Play fairly wider

Attacking Philosophy
-Attack quickly and directly
-Use a deeper lying striker
-Use an Attacking Midfielder, and Central Midfielder on attack to makes runs in behind
the striker
-Use a fluid team shape to get deeper players into attacking transitions quicker

Whether you share the same wingerless desires as I do or you can’t envisage playing sans wingers, I hope there was some tactical take away from this until then I’ll see you in tune next. Stay wingerless!

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2 thoughts on “Wingerless: Tactical Philosophy

  1. close down always and always mark tight on the lone striker are really smart. It really helped cut down crossed goals conceded on ’16 and seems to be working nearly as well this year. I just have them set up as permanent OIs

    I combine this with 2 other things:

    1. DCs close down less or much less, depending on the team instructions, formation, etc. The goal for me is to have the green closing down bar on the DCs PI screen between half and 3/4. What seems to happen is that those are the general instructions, causing them to hold shape and not come running out; and that this general instruction is overridden by the OIs only in the case of the lone striker, so they stick close to him and close him down whenever.

    2. I treat lone AMCs the same way in terms of OIs because they have a sneaky tendency to find the end of crosses as well, and are often generally the focal point of a lot of attacking.

    in both cases, I only apply these if the opposition has only one SC and/or one AMC.

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  2. Or you could just invest in better players, particularly fullbacks.
    Also, just blindly closing down the central mids could be wasting energy. Are you closing down a player who just wins the ball and lays it off quickly without looking for a “killer” ball? Far better to close down those players who actually pose a passing threat and to close down the recipients of the “killer” ball who are capable of doing something with it. Scouting reports and team statistics help to pinpoint those who actially require closing down.
    Similarly, boring as it is sometmes, watching the matches with comprehensive highlights and using the Data Scientist view shows threats you may have missed.
    Sorry to sound critical but it is obvious that there is much more to your philosophy that I look forward to reading.

    Like

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