July 2030. Swedish-born, Manchester United supporter Hakan Telleus has just won the World Cup with his native Sweden, to follow on his 2026 triumph with the Dutch, and Champions League-winning campaigns at Malmö FF, Fiorentina and Borussia Mönchengladbach.
At the height of his career, no doubt, with club directors offering the dashing Swede a generous pay package and their most comely daughters in hopes of enticing him to sign on the dotted line.
Suffice to say; jaws hit the floor when Telleus announced that he would not be setting up shop in Manchester, Madrid, Paris or Munich, as many expected.
No, much to the delight of bookies everywhere, he was off to Yorkshire. To newly-promoted Leeds United. Worst of all, he had vowed to discard the Sacchi-inspired tactics that he had relied on thus far. Instead, he promised the angst-filled Yorkshire masses to play hipster football – hipster football of a calibre to cure erectile dysfunction throughout northern England and beyond.
From the depths of Telleus’ madness, glory would spring. Champions League titles at Leeds, Saint-Étienne, Stade de Reims and Eintracht Frankfurt. European Championship and World Cup glory with Greece in 2044 and 2046.
The method to his madness? Obscene quantities of grapefruit, an unhealthy dose of self-confidence, and a suite of tactics featuring a libero, two inverted wingbacks, and not a single striker.
Ok. Let’s not mince words. I’m no tactical genius. The tactics below were employed over a 17-year period in-game, and derived primarily from Guido’s libero system, in conjunction with LPQR’s musings on the libero role, and other posts here at Strikerless.
More to the point, this post isn’t about analysing the tactics in depth. Rather, the purpose is to provide an overview of how I’ve applied strikerless and “club DNA” principles to great success in a long-term career save.
The primary tactic is PM Libre. (Note: the naming conventions derive from Telleus’ grapefruit obsession and his time at Fiorentina, where he failed in his first attempt to implement a libero system.)
Those of you familiar with it will note the striking (cough) resemblance between PM Libre and Guido’s libero tactic – it’s virtually a carbon copy.
The second, defensive-minded tactic is PM In Catene, which blends the base tactic with Guido’s Park the Bus principles: (1) the mentality is dropped to counter; (2) the tempo is lowered to normal; and (3) the midfielders are withdrawn into the DM strata:
Finally, the third tactic is PM Scatenato – a more aggressive version of PM Libre intended for matches against sides you expect to dominate. The formation and instructions are the same as PM Libre, but with a control mentality:
PUTTING THE THEORY INTO PRACTICE
My save is focused on redeeming the “nearly men” of Europe – managing only those sides who have reached the finals of the Champions League and World Cup, but fallen at the final hurdle. So, I’m rarely playing with big teams at the height of their power. Rather, I’m usually building a new side at each and every step of the journey.
The tactics are not plug-and-play. But, what does that really mean? How do the tactics play, in-game?
Generally speaking, both when in possession and transition, we are hyper-aggressive – moving forward at pace, with extensive off-the-ball movement. With competent midfielders and attacking midfielders, we are deadly. If the defenders don’t track someone making a run, he can slice the defence wide open. If a defender does track him, space opens up. If the defence shifts to zonal marking, we’ll hit you in the seams. Understandably, we do not rely on a single goalscorer but instead see goals spread out across the entire midfield, led by the front 3.
In defence, we are extremely compact (especially with In Catene) – to break us down, you either need to pull someone out of position, or find a half-yard of space on a cutback. The other significant weakness is a function of playing a high line – balls over the top, if the opposition has pacey forwards (or our central defenders and libero are slow). Of course, this is easy to address – drop the defensive line to normal.
The other feature of these tactics is that, when pressing high up the pitch, we force a truly absurd number of turnovers – pressure leads to haphazard clearances, which our libero and central defenders are there to gobble up, recycling possession.
Most importantly for the purposes of my current save, the tactic is extremely effective with a skilled underdog. Our most clinical displays are often against superior (or, at the least, more reputable) opponents, who play a more attacking style of play. The tactic is set up to soak up pressure. And, by sending players forward, the opposition opens up space that we can exploit in transition.
Frankly, I find that my sides tend to overachieve against “top” teams. In Catene in particular can be devastating if you have the personnel to carve open your opponents at pace, on the counter.
The periods when I’ve struggled most is when my XI isn’t quite ready for the big time – we’re competent, but not deadly. That typically leads to us nullifying the opposition, but unable to create opportunities (or struggling to finish them). That problem isn’t necessarily unique to these tactics, of course – it is just one that I’ve at times struggled with.
TACTICAL TWEAKS AND CONSIDERATIONS
That’s all well and good. But, as I said before, these aren’t plug-and-play tactics, even if I’m guilty of using an IR skin to simulate the more straightforward matches.
In the game, the most common tweaks I will make are to the defensive line – dropping deeper to either: (1) counter an opponent with pace; or (2) encourage the opposition to push forward, thus creating space we can exploit when in possession or transition.
When trying to break down a determined, defensive-minded side, you have to consider – is this Real Madrid, or Ingolstadt? If the latter, I will typically remain in PM Libre but bump up the tempo and maintain a high defensive line. I might also switch to Scatenato (thus switching to a control mentality), for a period of time. (Since leaving Frankfurt, I’ve employed a version of these tactics that utilize a Very Fluid/Overload mentality pairing, which may be the subject of a future post.)
If I’m facing off against tough opposition, or equivalent opposition away from home, I will likely begin with In Catene. That provides a more solid back line without throwing off the overall balance – I’ve scalped many an opponent in this formation, as it excels when your opponents underestimate you.
In Catene is also the formation of choice against an attack-minded 4231, 433 (with three strikers) or 442. The width an opponent offers is surprisingly well covered by the IWBs and central midfielders.
One final thought regarding tactics. In my final year in Frankfurt, I tinkered with a second set of TIs which sought to: (1) employ more intense pressing on opposition defenders and midfielders; while (2) maintaining a more compact defensive shape, as we will be less likely to close down the opposition in our defensive third maniacally.
This hyperaggressive closing down seemed to work brilliantly – we forced more turnovers while tightening things up at the back. To be fair, I didn’t play with these TIs enough to decide that they should replace the original instructions for this tactical suite. It is simply an option that you could consider when trying to break down the opposition.
BUILDING A SQUAD TO PLAY THE GRAPEFRUKT WAY
By now, you’ve probably considered the obvious problem when playing with a libero and inverted wingbacks – there are few natural liberos and “wrong-footed” fullbacks in the game. Fortunately, the solution is easy – find a defensive midfielder (or defensive-minded central midfielder), and retrain him as either a libero or inverted wingback.
The liberos in my Frankfurt squad were both retrained defensive midfielders, and were practically ideal for the role:
In terms of an inverted wingback, I retrained this midfielder to play as my left inverted wingback while at Saint-Étienne, and was fortunate enough also later to have him at Stade de Reims:
Your existing fullbacks are also potential inverted wingbacks – you just need to retrain them to play on the other flank.
I also am very deliberate about training, and want my side to be highly technical, and play as a cohesive unit. While general training is left at balanced, individual training is typically focused on player roles, with certain desired PPMs:
- Goalkeepers are trained as sweeper keepers.
- Inverted wingbacks are trained as IWBs, with the “plays 1-2s” PPM.
- Central defenders are trained as ball playing CBs.
- My right-sided CMs are normally trained as a deep lying playmakers, with the “tries killer balls” PPM.
- My left-sided CMs are trained as box-to-box midfielders, with “tries killer balls” and “gets further forward” PPMs.
- Enganches are trained as enganches, with “tries killer balls” the most-desired PPM.
- Shadow Strikers are trained as shadow strikers. I want them to “move into channels” and have a PPM for dealing with 1v1s — so, either lobbing or going around keepers. I’ve also found that “likes to beat offside trap” and “knocks ball past opponent” can work really well if they’re fast enough (and let’s face it, they should be fast).
I use individual training foci to ensure that players have certain minimal attributes by the age of 18 – e.g., technique, first touch, passing, composure, positioning. I also focus on other position-specific attributes – e.g., off the ball for attacking players, tackling for defenders, etc. I update the individual training foci every 2 months which, frankly, is a massive pain in the ass. But it’s worth it.
SHH. NO MORE TALKING.
Ok, ok. Where can you get these tactics, you ask? Right here.
PM Libre (via Google Drive)
PM In Catene (via Google Drive)
PM Scatenato (via Google Drive)
Hakan Telleus’ efforts to bring redemption to the “nearly men” of Europe are chronicled at the SI Games forum: If You’re Not First, You’re Last. Hampus, Toothless Bob and Apples will welcome you with open arms.