Creating a tactic in Football Manager is rather easy. You open up the tactics creator, walk through the steps the program has to offer, work out whichever style and options appeal to you, and the game is even kind enough to fill in some default roles it deems best suited to what you had in mind. It may not be perfect, but it’s a robust and relatively reliable instant tactic. From start to finish it takes mere minutes to create a tactic.
While creating the tactic may take mere minutes, making sure the tactic works consistently and against every opponent is a process that takes far more time and understanding of the game. Maintaining the tactic and tweaking it when necessary is a constant balancing act, a continuous process of observation and adjusting specific settings and roles to deal with the opposition you are facing.
One of the most common questions I receive is how I tweak the tactics that I create. While there are no sure-fire circumstances and hard variables that determine how and when I tweak, I can show you some case-studies of how I maintain and tweak my tactics. This article is the first part of a series in which I show you how my tinkering and tweaking has worked for the Hungarian national team during the 2052 European Championships.
The bare facts
Before we start any matches, it might be important to show you what the Hungarian setup looks like during this tournament. We’ll look at the squad I called up for the 2052 European Championships, we’ll look at the tactics I have prepared for the Hungarian national team, and we’ll briefly look at the opposition we’re facing.
Without being too critical here, the overall quality of the Hungarian’s player-pool isn’t overwhelming. Suffice to say there are no Puskás’ or any other Magical Magyars available to me. Just have a look at the overall squad and the clubs these guys represent.
Their respective clubs have released some of our international players; our third-choice goalie is an 18-year-old playing for an academy team; young Stefan Kovac is 16 years old and called up because of a lack of alternatives. All-in-all, we have a few players active in top European leagues, but apart from Mátyás Toth, none of them is playing for top teams in these leagues. I’ll briefly show you the player’s profiles as well.
Ever since taking over the Hungarian national team, I have had them train two tactics. I’ve had them set up in a 3-4-3/5-2-3 hybrid formation as well as the more classic 4-1-2-3. Regarding the team instructions, both tactics are set up similarly to ensure that the learning curve on the tactics isn’t too steep.
The squad is geared towards playing in either formation, with no wingers present and versatile wingbacks, who can easily slot into the centre-back role as well as occupying the more advanced wing-back roles.
Our opening fixture for the 2052 European Champions was the Czech Republic. Since this is 2052, you can’t assume they are the same level they are the starting database. By only posting a screenshot of their squad, you can see how the Czech team might be compared to ours.
At first glance, I’d say our squads were pretty much on par, with perhaps the Czechs having a slightly stronger side. Like our Magyars, they only have one player active for a top team, but more of their players are active for sub-top clubs, whereas a fair few of my lads are active for absolute shit-kickers of clubs.
Anticipating the Czech’s tendency to play with a single forward and attacking midfielder close behind him, I opted for the more classic 4-1-2-3 formation. The general idea would be that the two central defenders would be sufficient to deal with their lone forward, whereas our defensive midfielder could pick up the opposing attacking midfielder. It goes without saying that our wing-backs would be ideally set up to handle the threat of their wingers.
Because I expected to be the underdogs during this encounter, I also altered our mentality. Instead of the usual Overload setup, we would drop into a lower compact and cohesive form by using a Counter mentality. While our forwards weren’t absolute speed demons, I was confident we’d have the minimum pace and spatial awareness to make those precious few counter-attacking opportunities count.
During the match
The first half
In the initial defensive phase, our lower block press appears to be working just fine as we (attempt to) press the turnover in an effort to win the ball back. While we do not press as aggressively and high up the pitch as we usually do, it does allow us to press from a structured and defensively sound shape, which constricts the spaces the Czechs have to play into. Our defensive setup pretty much nullifies their offensive threat, forcing the Czech defenders and midfielders to try long range passes.
The passing chart for the opening twenty minutes of the game shows you the exact same thing. Not a lot of short passes being intercepted due to heavy pressing but a fair few hopeless long-range passes to try and reach the Czech forwards, who were effectively isolated from their peers in midfield and defence.
In the picture above we can see the Czech Republic attacking into the Hungarian half and quickly running into the compact defensive block that is the Hungarian defence and midfield. With no real passing outlets available to him, the Czech midfielder Svach tries to send away his forward Suk with a long ball over the top of the defence. The pass is easily cut out by the two central defenders anticipating the pass and converging on the striker and the trajectory of the ball.
These specific passing and movement patterns happened a lot during the opening stages of the match. The Czechs generally encountered our initial press halfway down their half. If they managed to bypass the initial press, they ran into the cohesive unit that consisted of narrow-sitting wing-backs, two central midfielders, a defensive midfielder and the two central defenders taking away the available space in the central area. The Czech wingers generally dropped deeper to try and receive the ball, which made blocking off the outside passing lanes relatively easy as the team could just shuffle over to the threatened flank.
As you can see from the passing chart above, the Czech wingers Sindelar and Masek were largely ineffective. They barely made any effective passes inside our own half and were mostly contained far away from our goal. As you can also see, I was actually okay with the Czech wingers receiving the ball around or just over the halfway line because there were always five, six or seven Hungarians behind them to anticipate their every movement and smother their efforts to break through.
In the few instances where the Czechs tried to get their wingers involved, it’s easy to see why they were set up for failure right from the very get-go. As the Czech left winger Masek is played in by the wingback, it’s one of the few times he actually receives the ball inside the Hungarian half. It’s also a short and easy pass he receives, which allows our defence time to anticipate and adjust. Masek has to engage the Hungarian wingback, with at least two Hungarian players providing cover in case he skips past the wingback.
His passing-options are also very limited. The most logical pass would be towards the attacking midfielder, who is also in a vulnerable position with the Hungarian defensive midfielder being close and the two Hungarian central midfielders rushing back as well. Our pressing from a compact organisation nullified the threats of the Czech forwards.
While we were doing rather well at containing the Czechs, our forwards were as impotent as grandpa without his viagra pills. The shots-chart for the first twenty minutes is rather indicative of how we performed during the opening stages of the game.
Four shots in twenty minutes, two of which were long-range efforts. Since we were keeping the Czechs contained, I decided to employ a more offensive mentality, switching from Counter to Control. If our defensive shape remained intact, I was confident we could keep the Czechs pinned back around the halfway-line, while committing more bodies to the fray offensively, leaving our three forwards less isolated upfront.
The passing-chart above is for the Czech Republic, displaying the remainder of the first half after we switched to a Control mentality. The Czech Republic did not manage to get a single pass into our penalty area, while we were able to disrupt their build-up much deeper in their own half. The sheer volume of orange arrows clearly shows you that their pass-completion percentage was below par, they could not find any openings in the Hungarian defence.
Meanwhile, we added some extra manpower to our offence. However, the final passes were not precise enough or the forwards were caught in offside positions. With pressure mounting on the Czech backline, I was speculating on a poor pass from the backline into midfield, where we could launch a counter-attack.
Our goal came just before the halftime break. It wasn’t even a classic counter-attack. One of our central defenders cut out a long pass towards the lone Czech forward and found one of the forward trio of attacking midfielders in space with an open passing-corridor ahead of him. A quick direct pass forward saw us quickly transition from defence to attack. A quick diagonal pass later and Csaba Barkovics found himself in space. A few steps towards goal and a well-aimed shot later saw Hungary take the lead.
With a 1-0 lead in the bag, I considered my options during the interval provided by the halftime-break. We were containing the Czechs and with minimum effort, while our offensive efforts were lacklustre, to say the least. I decided to change the mentality back to Counter because I quite liked the defensive setup it provided. I enjoyed the speed at which the Hungarian players converged on the man in possession combined with the number of players committed to pressing the ball in a low block. Why change a good thing?
The second half
The Czech manager had obviously realised that he had to make changes if he was going to salvage this game and he acted accordingly. He took off the ineffective wingers Sindelar and Masek and brought on two additional forwards in Duda and Dvorak, changing his team’s overall shape from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3 formation.
These changes impacted the way we could defend. Instead of our two defenders taking on a single forward, they now had to contend with three central forwards. While the fullbacks were instructed to tuck inside more and maintain a narrow shape, they were not the solution to solve the Czech numerical advantage in the heart of our defence. I expected our fullbacks to get involved offensive as well and provide a bit of width going forward, which would leave us vulnerable to counter-attacks. Still, if we were able to disrupt the Czech build-up play as effectively as we had during the first half, we were fine, weren’t we? WRONG!
Situations like the one above started to happen more and more often. One of the Czech forwards kept dropping off to harass our defensive midfielder, effectively disrupting our build-up and making himself a prime target for long balls when my defensive midfielder moved forward. In the first fifteen minutes after the break, we were getting murdered. The Czech forward Suk dropped deep to track our defensive midfielder and when Hungary lost the ball, he was often open to a long and direct pass, at which point he had the time and space to release his compatriots up front. The remaining two Czech forwards took up positions between the central defenders and the fullbacks, effectively opening two passing corridors for Suk to exploit.
We got lucky with that attack and the Czechs had a few similar opportunities where one of the defenders was able to stick a boot in and clear the ball. It was obvious we needed a change of tactics as continuing down this path was akin to tactical Hara Kiri. The Czech forwards outpaced my defenders and the way the Czechs were playing, they constantly found themselves in 1v1-situations where they could exploit their pace. Changing to a more conservative formation would have perhaps fixed the issue of space to run into but not the issue of the third Czech forward finding a lot of space.
To remedy the Czech strategy I decided to chop-and-change my own tactics and move to the more defensively solid Wolf Pack tactic. The more robust three-man defence should be able to contain the threat of the Czech offensive trident. Since the Czechs had given up on their offensive midfielder I had less need of a defensive midfielder. The pattern of the Czech forward dropping off could be broken without a defensive midfielder.
The defenders on stopper duty I use within the Wolf Pack tactic often see a defender step out to engage the opposing forwards dropping deep or oncoming offensive midfielders. Combined with the presence of the two ball-winning midfielders in central midfield and the low-block pressing, it would and should have been enough to nullify the threat of the Czech forwards. Effectively, it ended their threat.
These are the remaining shots the Czechs took this match. Almost all of those came from corners and the Czechs just pumping the ball into the box in the hope of finding a gap in the Hungarian wall. Meanwhile, we had given up on trying to score because our left fullback Nagy had a brain-freeze and decided to do this.
A second yellow card for Nagy and the Hungarian national team was a man down. We had effectively been dealt a major blow. I took off one of the forward three and added an additional wide defender but we lost the effectiveness of our forward press, giving the Czechs more time to hoof more and more long-range passes into our penalty area. Ultimately, one scrimmage fell in.
After this somewhat lucky equaliser, the Czechs decided a draw was a decent result. Considering we were a man down and on the ropes, I was inclined to agree with this assessment. A draw beats a loss. With difficult games versus Spain and Austria ahead of us, this wasn’t a bad result at all.