Those of you who follow the blog or my Twitter feed are well aware that I enjoy creating “new” roles by tweaking existing ones or using regular roles in extraordinary situations. I have dabbled with the Targetganche in the past, which was basically a Targetman-type player in the attacking midfield stratum but I was looking for something new and interesting for FM18.
In terms of football tactics, I try to think outside the box, which also means making use of underutilised resources. This train of thought automatically leads me to look at the central defenders. When your team is on the attack, the central defenders are almost always tasked with remaining behind to protect the defensive line and ensure the team is not caught by a counter-attack. The wing-backs are often tasked with adding to the offensive phases of the game but what if we could get the central defenders involved somehow to gain an extra edge?
When the team is pressing an opposing side, the offensive line is generally the first line of defence, as they pressure the opposition defence and try to either win back possession or force a long ball. When we mirror this idea, there has to be a way in which the defensive line or at least elements of the defensive line can act as the first layer of the offensive phase. The idea I had was hardly an original one, as people like Guardiola and Klopp use the same principle. I was going to use one of the central defenders as a sort of quarterback.
A quarterback in non-helmet football?
One of the most important principles of football is moving the ball forward. As with most ball sports, the eventual aim of any play is to reach the opposition’s end of the pitch and score. With the rise of ever more advanced pressing and counter-pressing schemes, it is increasingly difficult to do this.
With most fans wanting a happy medium between winning football and football that is aesthetically pleasing, a sole focus on playing the long ball is almost non-existent in the modern game. However, when coupled with a more expansive approach, playing direct football has its benefits and should not be dismissed.
Every team utilises different build-up patterns in order to move into more advanced areas of the pitch. These differing principles vary widely depending on each coach and the players at their disposal. But one such tool that many teams utilise is the use of vertical passing in the first phase of build-up. If completed successfully, this allows for the instant progression of the ball into a more advanced area of the pitch and past one, or sometimes two, lines of opposition pressure.
Many a time, I have noticed the trend that my central defenders are left unpressured by the opposition. This allows them time and space on the ball. I would like to encourage one or more of the defenders to play long balls quickly from deep to catch their opponents out, something akin to how a quarterback uses a deep pass to pick out a wide receiver in American football. Mu current formation seems ideally suited to such a setup.
With no playmaker present in the defensive midfield strata of the pitch, the quarterback-style defender can move into this space somewhat and act as a deep-lying playmaker from the central defence, adding an additional layer to the team and making it more difficult for opposing teams to pressure us into submission or into conceding possession. So how do I set up this quarterback-style defender?
The quarterback-style defender in Football Manager
The basic template for this quarterback-role is the Ball-Playing Defender role that is a default role in the Football Manager universe. Looking at the description of the role, you can easily see why it serves as an ideal starting point.
“The main job of the Ball-Playing Defender is to stop the opposing attackers from playing and to clear the ball from danger when required.
However, unlike standard central defenders, the Ball-Playing Defender is encouraged to launch defence-splitting through balls from deep to generate counter-attacking opportunities.”
This description of the in-game role of the Ball-Playing Defender does not really differ much from what I expect of my quarterback and intend for him to do on the pitch. In order to create this playmaker from the defence, I have simply altered a few of the settings of the BPD’s original player instructions. I’ve found that this has a fairly large impact on the amount of ball the Playmaking Defender receives.
I want my quarterback to actively drive into space in the defensive midfield area when there is space to move into. When the team is in possession, the Segundo Volante usually drives forward to link up with the Ball-Winning Midfielder, whereas the Mezzala moves into the gap between the right Winger and the Shadow Striker. Moving forward should enable this defender to achieve higher passing accuracy.
As you may have already realised, the role is fairly specialised. Because of how this player is supposed to interact on the pitch, you need a player that is comfortable both on and off the ball. He needs to have a solid defensive skill-set because his primary task is still defending, as well as some skills on the ball. My current Ball-Playing Defender is a retrained defensive midfielder, Alen Juranovic. This is Alen.
As you can see, he is a decent all-round defender. His defensive skills are definitely on par and due to his past as a defensive midfielder, Juranovic is quite comfortable on the ball. His passing-skills and decent mental skill-set make him into a player who should be quite comfortable driving the ball forward and pinging the ball towards team-mates in space.
In the match-clip above you can see how Juranovic intercepts a long ball clearance from the opposing defender. He controls the ball and dribbles forward, looking for space. He eventually locates a free option on the right flank, sending a long-range cross-pass towards Arango on the flank. This is exactly what I want my quarterback to do.
Enabling the quarterback within the confines of your tactic
Using a quarterback in your tactic is not easy as merely adding a Ball-Playing Defender, adding an additional instruction and slapping a somewhat competent player into the position. You have to create the surrounding for this quarterback to be effective, as this enhanced Ball-Playing Defender relies on his teammates in order to give him passing options.
Adding a quarterback to your team creates a very odd structure to a side as it essentially creates another pivot in the formation, this one from the defence. This then means that the wide defenders become akin to the wingers in the side. This creates several separate attacking layers, as illustrated below.
I briefly touched upon the subject earlier when I mentioned the unique role of the defensive midfielder, who makes room for the quarterback to excel in. The screenshot above shows you the various passing options the quarterback possesses when in possession against a deep opposing block. The key is to layer the formation and create plenty of mobile passing outlets. The wing-backs are very real passing outlets, whereas the various wingers and midfielders are also available to receive a pass. The defensive midfielder can be bypassed, as he will move into a more advanced position as the team transitions to a more offensive shape.
When the team is in a more offensive shape, with many players ahead of the ball, the quarterbacks task is to locate pockets of space and find a team-mate inside such a pocket, shifting the direction of play to a side where the opposition is undermanned or otherwise vulnerable, as a real playmaker is prone to do. Unlike a Libero, who can also act as a playmaker from the defensive end, this quarterback has less freedom to roam and acts as a regular defender most of the time. He acts as a playmaker when there is time on the ball, either picking passes into pockets of space or choosing safe, short options when there is no long-range passing option available.
The above match-clip showcases his passing range, as he varies between picking passes to the flanks and more central options. As he alternates between various kinds of passing, the importance of movement around him, enabling him to move into space and to pick a pass becomes evident. When his space is restricted by a defensive midfielder crowding out the defensive midfield, it makes no sense to use a quarterback in your defensive setup at all. As it happens, my lopsided triangular diamond-shaped midfield leaves space on the left side for a player to advance into and distribute play, with plenty of mobile passing outlets to either side. This is where the concept of layering kicks in.
Ideally, you make sure you have players in every aspect of these layers throughout the match, to provide maximum passing options. As you can see from the positioning of my players, the entire setup has been geared to provide plenty of passing options. Centrally, the Segundo Volante becomes a real passing option when he vacates the defensive midfield area and moves into a higher position, opposite the Ball-Winning Midfielder. The Mezzala is a prime target for both a pass into feet or a ball over the top of the defence into space. The wingers and wingbacks are excellent passing options when the quarterback needs to relieve pressure on the defensive line. There are two prime examples of these passes in the clips below.
In these cases, the quarterback did not have good enough options in the central layer of the team. The opposing team had set up a central block pretty high up the pitch, effectively removing the central passing outlets. When this is the case, the quarterback will look to bypass the central layers and the close-by layers, opting to seek a secondary, wide layer. Allow me to elaborate.
As you can deduce from the clips above, there are a limited number of options available for Juranovic when he receives the ball. The three attacking midfielders are all marked out of the game, the midfield runner has two men beside him and the two fullbacks are level with the quarterback and thus not really helpful. Juranovic could play the ball to the Segundo Volante in front of him who would then either recycle the ball and create a new phase of attack by passing back to the limited defender, or launch the attack himself by exploiting the space on the flanks. In both cases, Juranovic bypasses the pressing and accelerates play with a direct pass forward.