As you may or may not have heard, the weekend of October 13th and 14th was the weekend Sports Interactive released an Alpha version to a select few creators from within the community. Lord knows quality control is not a thing because somehow I managed to get invited. It was a grand weekend, where I got to spend time with some of the finest creators our community has to offer, drink copious amounts of booze, marvel at all the stuff on display over at SI HQ, talk to Miles and some of the developers and naturally get a feel of the new game.
Together with my compatriot blogger FM Grasshopper, whose blog you should be reading if you have never done and should continue to read if you are already reading it, I decided to focus my attention on one of the most influential and game-changing new features Football Manager 19 has to offer.
As you know, the new Football Manager offers a host of innovative new features. One of the options FM Grasshopper and Guido want to examine and explore is the overhauled tactical interface. As you may have gathered from the videos and play-throughs, the tactical user interface has undergone some massive changes. The most obvious difference is in the interface layout, which coincides with a new and more intuitive template-approach to creating tactics. Let’s look at the various new features and how to use them.
The new style templates
As you can see from this screenshot, the game now comes no less than ten templates for a specific football style. Each template comes with a set of suggested instructions and even recommended formations. While this might seem patronising at first glance, it offers players a framework for reference, to prevent them from selecting contradictory instructions or mismatching instructions versus a specific formation or player roles.
More user-friendly team-instructions
The game has become more user-friendly by adding not only extra text to explain how a certain style works but moving images as well. These moving images will showcase the kind of football this particular style is most likely to produce. By adding in the most sensible instructions, formations and roles a manager could use to generate such a style, the game helps you out by establishing a solid framework to work with.
Compared to previous instalments of Football Manager, the team instructions have changed. In the past, these instructions were grouped together in various subcategories within a single screen, which could give the team instructions screen a cluttered and messy look.
The new team instruction screen has a clean, sleek and tidy look. Instead of one screen with all the possible instructions huddled together, there are now three submenus for each phase of play. This gives the new tactic screen a more intuitive feel based on real football. There are instructions that impact the phase of play when the team has the ball, there are instructions for the transitional phases and finally, there are the instructions for the defensive phase of the game.
(1) The attacking phase
The instructions that impact the attacking phase of play are not new or innovative ones. Apart from a one (more on that in a moment), all of these instructions were in previous instalments of the game as well. What has changed is that these instructions have been isolated from the other instructions, generating a less messy and tidier look that you know will only impact the attacking phase of play.
The only new instruction in Football Manager 19 is the “play for set pieces” instruction. This option does exactly what you might expect, it encourages players to attempt to win corners, free kicks and throw-ins so as to allow the team to bring tall and powerful players forward these dead-ball situations.
(2) The transitional phase
An entirely new screen to the tactical interface is the transitional phase screen. In this screen, you can select the various options that impact the team during its transitional phases from offence to defence or vice versa. The goalkeeper distribution options are not new to that, the real eye-catchers here are the other two options, which determine how the team responds when the ball is won or lost respectively.
The first screen essentially determines the way the team presses. Pressing is basically moving your players into a position where they can generate pressure on the opposing team with the intent of getting the ball. The keyword here is “intent.” This makes the difference between the two options.
When your team is pressing, they are actively trying to win the ball from the opposing side by moving out of position and/or actively disrupting the formation of the opposing team. The “Counterpressing” option basically generates this effect. If a team moves close but their intent is not to win the ball but merely to contain the opposing team, that is not pressing, that is what the “Regroup” option does. Your team’s intention is to defend their own goal by stopping them from getting into positions where they can take a shot, without actively trying to win the ball.
Similarly, when you win the ball, the second screen determines how the team carries on such a situation, again with “intent” being the keyword. The “Counter” option will ask your players to immediately go on the attack after winning possession, trying to use the transitional phase the opposing team has to undergo to their advantage. “Hold shape” will result in a more considered and patient approach, keeping the ball and retaining formation before building another attack.
(3) The defensive phase
During the defensive phase, it is all about what your team does out of possession. This includes setting your defensive line and how you intend to mark and tackle. These are the options we have always had in Football Manager and these options have not disappeared from the game. Additionally, we can now set the line of engagement for the system you want to replicate: closing down space between the lines and sticking together is now in our control.
The changes to the defensive phase in Football Manager 2019 allows for a deeper tactical thought process. For instance, you may want to play pragmatically…a style like the Catenaccio tactic of the 1960s, full of rock-solid defensive instructions which remain at the heart of some Italian approaches. Or your defensive approach may be to press urgently from higher up the pitch, suffocating the opposition and try to camp all twenty outfield players in the opposing half.
Determining where and how your players engage their opposition is now much easier to control for a human manager compared to older versions of the game. Instead of tinkering with the team mentality, defensive line and various opposition instructions, you have much more direct control over the harassing of opposition players in terms of where on the pitch you want your players to engage their opponents.
The removal of manual team shape settings
In past renditions of the game, there was the option to set the team shape to various options, ranging from Very Structured to Very Fluid and every other option in between. These team shape settings helped determine how your players behaved on the pitch, in conjunction with their respective player’s roles, team instructions and team mentality. The team shape impacted the individual mentality of players and thus how they behaved during the various stages of play (attack, defence and transitioning between the previous two).
The team shape also had a direct impact on the creative freedom any individual player had. More fluid team shapes offered more creative freedom to a player, whereas a more rigid, structured setup offered less creative freedom, again in conjunction with the team instructions, team mentality and player’s roles.
This subject matter is and generally has been a complex affair for many gamers. Subsequently, we have just glossed over this subject briefly. While we did not cover all the intricacies of the subject matter, we did give you an impression of how this option works and how it impacts the Football Manager match engine.
What has changed in comparison to earlier versions of the game, is the ability to manually set the team shape. To put it bluntly, the option to manually set the team shape to your desired form has been removed from the game. You can no longer determine which team shape uses in a match, not directly anyway. When creating a tactic, the game determines which team shape is best suited for this specific setup.
While we guess that the reasoning behind this move is a similar one to the creation of the new user interface and the addition of the various style templates, this is still nothing more than an educated guess. Letting the human manager set their team fluidity regardless of how they actually set up their team was always going to cause problems due to the number of unrealistic combinations that were possible, combinations that were impossible for the AI managers to use in the same way. This unbalance between the human manager and AI manager wasn’t particularly fair or realistic.
The Hybrid Roles
From the onset of the tactical screen, you can also take the previous approach of starting from scratch, which many seasoned players may do. However, you can also tweak the preset styles to add or remove certain instructions. This provides the opportunity for players to create a hybrid tactical style. For the purposes of this post, we have created hybrid styles of Gegenpressing-Tiki-Taka (Guido) and a Custom Fluid Counter Attack (FM Grasshopper). They are not quite yin and yang, but they offer an insight into Positive football and perhaps more pragmatic.
Guido’s Gegenpressing-Tiki-Taka Strikerless 4-1-2-3-0
I intend to be brief here and come up with a more detailed article later. When perusing the default styles the new engine had to offer, I could not find one that ticked all the boxes for the brand of strikerless football you all love to hate. I could find elements of my flavour of football in one style and some elements in another but no style was ideally matched with my own desires. So I ended up doing what I generally do, mess around with the game to create some abhorrent monstrosity that does fulfil my needs.
The process was about as complicated as noting down the instructions I did like for a specific style and comparing notes from the various styles to come up with compromise style, that included the best of two worlds, without weakening either concept.
Being an old school devil, I initially started working with a pen and notepad, until the ever clever Grasshopper dropped a spreadsheet in my inbox that proved useful. The outcome of my research is displayed above. I ended up blending or marrying the concepts of Gegenpressing and Vertical Tiki Taka (which is the style of play a certain Italian manager in charge of a team in a blue kit would employ… bloody licensing issues…).
These two styles have a fair bit in common during their transitional and defensive phases, which made combining them fairly difficult. The one issue I stumbled across was the offensive style. One of the two is ultra-fast, whereas the other is more slow and methodical. I ended up with a hybrid of the two. More direct than either two of the original styles with a tempo setting somewhere in between the two.
As I said earlier, I intend to look into this tactic a lot more in-depth in the near future because… well… It fucking kicked ass! Not just for me but for several other testers as well.
FM Grasshopper’s Custom Fluid Counter Attack 5-3-2
So, I took the base Fluid Counter Attack with Dortmund and chose one of the recommended formations: a 5-3-2. This is a brave step for me as I usually do not play with x3 CB formations. But with Dortmund, and FM19 in particular, this is made a bit easier. Dortmund has exciting Wing Backs in Raphaël Guerreiro & Marius Wolf that I wanted to use. The ‘in-built’ mentalities within the Fluid Counter Attack style also meant that the initial headaches about fluidity/team shape and TIs were already set up for me.
The Mentality is set as ‘Cautious’, which I am pretty happy with…so I left this unchanged. I’d like to see my players take less risk and soak up the pressure. In possession we are defaulted to shorter passing, to encourage fluid movements between the team. I also left ‘Pass Into Space’ switched on, if the option for an incisive pass is available then I would like to make use of the athletic team I have. We’re also Higher Tempo, which will be a nice intensity to use when in possession.
But what makes this tactic hybrid? Well, I removed ‘Play Out Of Defence’ from our tactic…I wanted to see how my team were going to recycle it and I figured that this may slow us down a bit. I’ve still got two forwards on the pitch: a Pressing Forward and a Deep Lying Forward. These are good ‘out balls’ to have and I found my team, particularly the two ball playing defenders, using them often as they Move Into Channels.
I also removed a Narrow shape whilst in possession. One thing I wanted to do in Football Manager 2019 was to experiment a bit with having a differing shape when ‘in possession’ and ‘out of possession’. So, when I have the ball I am using a standard attacking width (to make use of my Wing Backs), but once out of possession, my Dortmund side sit narrower. Something so vital in the modern game, so I am glad it is in this year’s edition.
Another change from the preset tactic is altering the Defensive Line. The default sees a Lower Defensive Line, but seeing as I am managing Dortmund I wanted to have my back three sit higher (I figure I will be a favourite in most games and may see teams sit back against us). This setting is what I change most during my playthrough (that and team mentality), as I adjusted to counter the AI’s approach.
The result? Well, it’s by no means a perfect tactic, it really is a Football Manager Draw Simulator. Narrowly losing out to some gorgeously curled free kicks from the AI (grrrr) – remember this is an alpha build I played on. What is lacking, and perhaps an area to improve on is the number of strikers at the club because I signed nobody here. The only loss from my three-month playthrough, between August, September & October, was against Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena. My record in competitive fixtures: 6 wins, 7 draws and 1 loss.
Our team was better with Marco Reus as a Pressing Forward on Attack. Despite not being totally suited to the role, and being injured for around a month, Marco managed 3 goals, 2 assists in 4 starts as I nurtured him back to full fitness. All in all, I have had serious fun with Football Manager 2019. Even throughout that horror month of September without Marco, the football was frantic and easy on the eye.
Thank you for reading,