What inspired the creation of this tactic is the thorough dismantling of Ajax at the hands of Getafe in this season’s Europa League fixture. The Ajax side that had humiliated Real Madrid was now taken apart most resoundingly by what is essentially Madrid’s third club. From taking down (arguably) Europe’s biggest club on the highest stage to crashing out against one of Madrid’s “lesser” clubs, it was a performance by the Spanish side that thoroughly impressed me.
In the buildup towards this fixture, Dutch media described Getafe as a ‘discount’ Atlético Madrid because of their defensive prowess. Under their current manager, Bordalás, Getafe has made a name for themselves because of their unprecedented defensive toughness and ability to negate the offensive firepower of most of La Liga’s top sides. Dutch media billed them as a very defensive side, with a tendency to disrupt play when possible and deemed necessary, combined with a very direct, straightforward style of play in possession.
Looking at the matches, however, that would be underselling the performances of Getafe. Yes, they were stalling whenever they could, there was a bit of diving going on, not to mention the odd reckless challenge, but Getafe also dominated Ajax for most of the games. Ajax had possession but failed to do anything with it; Getafe had more shots on goal in both games. Realistically, the Spanish side was unlucky to lose in Amsterdam, having hit the woodwork twice and losing 2-1.
Dutch media were quick to label Getafe and Bordalás’ style as ‘anti-football’, but anti-football is still football. While it is true that Ajax was hardly on top form, it takes considerable skill to negate the offensive prowess of a side like Ajax the way Getafe did. It may not have been pretty, but it sure as hell was effective, and I found myself thoroughly impressed with Getafe’s performance.
Since it would also be a change of pace from my usual style of play, I figured it would be challenging and fun to see if I could translate Bordalás’ style to FM20.
Before we dive in, let’s be clear about one thing.
It is not my intention to provide an authoritative, detailed account and subsequent recreation of Bordalás’ tactics at Getafe. If that is what you’re looking for, I’d suggest these articles and video as starting points, in no particular order:
- This Voetbal International article, by Sam Planting;
- Another Voetbal International analysis, again by Sam Planting;
- This background article in The Guardian, by Sid Lowe;
- Another background article in The Guardian, again by Sid Lowe;
- This Goal.com article, by Rik Sharma;
- Tifo Football’s analysis of Getafe’s tactics, by Simon Harrison.
I know some of you really can’t be arsed to read all of this. Fuck knows what you’re doing on Strikerless if reading is not your thing but hey ho, you came here for a download link. Well, here it is. Go nuts. I’ve chucked in some results for good measure. I don’t use OI’s (not regularly anyway) and training is handled by my assistant. That completes the holy trinity of asinine questions.
The concept of Bordalás’ fight club football
Because I am a bit of a lazy bastard, I am going to embed the video I linked above. However, I will also write out some of my observations from the fixtures between Ajax and Getafe in the Europa League.
Getafe almost aways lines up in a 4-4-2 formation under Bordalás, keeping the spaces between the lines compact. The defensive solidity of the team is virtually sacred to Bordalás. The Getafe trainer has no qualms about playing a style that is not deemed ‘beautiful football’; the aesthetics of the game are ancillary to getting a favourable result. In both games I have watched, Bordalás would line up eight field players with a primary defensive task. For example, the midfield bank of the team usually consists of stereotypical ball-winning midfielder dash professional bully Mauro Arambarri and the industrious Nemanja Maksimovic in the middle and Allan Nyom and Marc Cucurella on the wings, both of whom started their careers as full-backs.
Like an accordion, Getafe folds backwards and forwards at designated times, making it very difficult for opponents to use neat positional play to play through their compact, cohesive lines. Each player in the last two lines focusses on protecting his designated zone and tries to recognise the moments when to maintain his position and when to break forward.
While many accuse Bordalás’ club of playing anti-football because of their tenacious fouling and stalling antics, the Spanish side and their manager merely adhere to a different philosophy regard football. In the words of their manager Bordalás:
“ Whoever labels us anti-football doesn’t know what they’re talking about, we press in their half, play direct, look for goal as much as possible, and get into the box with as many players as possible. This is modern football and Getafe is one of the teams that is best at modern football. There’s a lot of ways to play, all valid and attractive. They want to pin coaches to styles, but our responsibility is to mould the squad we have.”José Bordalás (according to Goal.com)
Their offensive game-plan
Getafe directly plays football in possession. Extremely direct, even. Their 4-4-2 formation is almost custom-designed to play long balls towards their forwards Jorge Molina and Jaime Mata, both of whom are living examples of a classic ‘target man’.
The most common pattern: one striker competes for the long ball; the other seeks space behind the defensive line, supported by one of the wide players who also creeps forward to find space near the opposing defensive line. At any moment, opposing defenders see two strong and tall forwards barreling down on them, fighting them in the air for possession.
This is how Bordalás explains it.
When we played against Barça, their goalkeeper made 69 passes but I do not want my goalkeeper to make 69 passes. What we want to do is to generate goal chances and our tastes are not for everyone, but a lot of people are giving us the merit that we deserve.”José Bordalás (according to Football-Espana.net)
As simplistic as this strategy may be, it is undoubtedly a productive and effective one. Getafe has been performing admirably in La Liga for a few seasons now, with a straightforward offensive plan. One, I might add, they have been using for several seasons now without tinkering with it.
Their defensive game-plan
While their offensive plan remains the same, they have evolved their defensive approach to take more risks in defensively this season, pressing higher up the pitch to disrupt an opponents build-up from the back. In such scenarios, the wide midfielders advance to pin the opposing wing-backs down near their penalty area, which prompts the opposing team to play a long ball towards the congested central zone in midfield.
In a variation on their pressing-game, their most industrious midfielder, Maksimovic, moves forward to pressure the opposing defensive midfielder. At the same time, the forwards and wide midfielders collaborate to funnel their opposition towards a flank, where they are often pressured into another long ball forward.
The key players, in my eyes, to make this setup work are the wide midfielders, who not only compensate for the roaming central midfielder but are also required to contain the threat of opposing wing-backs. Nyom and Cucurella started their careers as full-backs, so they have no qualms about sinking deep on either side of their backline when the Serb roams forward.
The fight club football factor
So far, Getafe under Bordalás does not sound unique compared to a club such as Burnley under Dyche. Their directness is not why football purists deem them ‘unworthy’. What makes them disliked by football purists is their penchant for the art of anti-football.
Getafe is a team that considers toughness, stiffness and fighting football as art forms and specialises in disrupting their opposition by any means necessary. There has been a growing irritation at Getafe over suggestions that they’re dirty, masters of the dark arts, and they have good reason to feel that way: there’s much more to it, greater variety than many admit. As Jorge Molina, the team’s forward puts it:
“A team of thugs doesn’t reach sixth in the league.”Jorge Molina (according to The Guardian)
So while playing hard and dirty is not their primary weapon, it is one of the tools in their arsenal. There is no denying, however, that Getafe plays hard. With a total of 93 yellow cards this season in all competitions, Getafe holds the dubious honour of being the most carded team in Europe.
But the many (and often hard) fouls committed by Getafe players are not aimed to set the tone defensively or to make your presence felt on the pitch. Most of the fouls are calculated ones, where a player takes a yellow card for the team to disrupt an attack before it can reach a danger zone for Getafe, often nipping rapid counter-attacks in the bud.
Applying the concept to Football Manager
With all of this in mind, I set out to create my interpretation of Bordalás’ Getafe. Naturally, it couldn’t become an accurate recreation, because of my dislike for actual strikers. The fact that the game does not allow for intricate pressing traps and triggers also plays a role in the lack of accuracy but hey ho, let’s not lose any sleep over such trivial matters and cry over spilt milk.
Replicating the basic shape was not much of a challenge. 4-4-2 formations are amongst the defaultiest of default tactics in Football Manager; all I had to do was remove the two forwards and turn them into attacking midfielders. Replicating the roles to get the movement of the players right was a whole different matter, though. After some puzzling and tinkering, this is what I came up with in terms of a basic shape and roles.
The central defender pairing
The central defenders are not the most glamourous part of the team; they don’t score the goals, make the fancy passes or show off their technical skills. Their contributions towards the cause are more laborious; breaking up attacks, battling opposing forwards and generally thwarting any offensive advancements. Usually, their efforts are tacitly acknowledged. Their job is a thankless one, as they hardly receive praise when they do something right but it only takes one mistake on their end for fans to go all medieval on them, borrowing phrases from Tarantino movies.
Ideally, I was looking for essential the archetypal English centre-half combined with a decent passer; players who possess strength, aerial ability and bravery, as well as being not wholly useless fuckwits on the ball. That’s all recruitment though and has nothing to do with tactics. When opting between the various roles, their movement patterns chose for me.
While the ball-playing defender offers the allure of that Hollywood-pass from the back far more than the other two roles, he also tends to wander forward, away from his defensive position in search of space for that illustrious long-ball opening. I don’t want that.
The limited central defender, on the other hand, offers the grit and fighting-spirit I want—a player role as brutal as it is effective. A claustrophobia-inducing defender, someone who marks his opponents so well that they end up feeling drowned out of the game, swept away as quickly and casually as a standing leg when the ball comes towards you. However, they are prone to playing short and safe passes, and with no presence in defensive midfield, that simply won’t do.
In the end, the default and plain central defender was my go-to for the central pair at the back. The aggressiveness I want to see will not come from a special role or special instructions but the players’ attributes.
In the image above, you can see the average defensive contribution of the defenders in terms of tackling, aerial challenges and interceptions, as well as their positional heatmap and their passing chart. We can see a fair few successful long balls as well as a reliable and cohesive defensive pairing.
The central midfielder pairing
Getafe generally lines up with two industrious midfielders, thug-on-cleats Arrambari and Serbian marathon-man Maksimovic. Interpreting their real-life positions and roles would result in a ball-winning midfielder and box-to-box midfielder combination (or perhaps even two ball-winning midfielders, one on support and one on defend). While Bordalás and his work at Getafe inspire my tactic, I do want to add my unique brand of insanity to the mix.
For the role and position usually occupied by Arrambari, I don’t want a ball-winning midfielder in my team. Ball-winning midfielders are prone to drift away from their position, and while I do want a player who can make tackles and regain the ball, I also want a player who will hold his position on the pitch to protect the back-line. Mainly, I don’t want a pure destroyer; I want someone a bit more responsible.
An anchor-man role is not possible in central midfield, so the options I had at my disposal were the deep-lying playmaker (on defend) and a plain midfielder (on defend). I opted for the deep-lying playmaker, to give us a third option to distribute long balls forward towards our forward line, while not losing that vital protection in front of the defensive line.
In the image above, you can see the passing chart for our deep-lying playmaker and his glorious long-range passes. You can also see a heatmap that displays his movement across the pitch. Because we are playing a middle-high block, he sees a lot of action just past or on the halfway-line.
His compatriot has become a bit more offensive than Bordalás would generally like. To generate that pressure on the opposing defensive midfield and help create link-up play with the forward line, I have turned the Maksimovic-role into a standard midfielder on attack duty. More offensive than the real thing but more geared to creating something that works in Football Manager.
The other midfielder meanwhile acts more like a lightning rod. He draws attention towards him with his offensive movement and positioning further up the pitch, generating space for the deep-lying playmaker to operate. He will try to link-up for the forward-line but is generally more of a runner than a playmaker. His most important contributions to the team are movement off the ball and a willingness to track all over the field.
At this point, I am going in a slightly different direction than Bordalás. Getafe generally fields two traditional full-backs, players whose main task is a defensive one. They will typically sit deep and help the defensive block absorb pressure, rarely venturing past the half-way line. They can do just that because defensive wide midfielders and a double block of central midfielders shield them.
In my tactic, these wide defenders should contribute far more. The central midfielders are no longer primarily tasked with shielding the defensive and breaking down the opposing midfield block, so the wide defenders cannot hang back idly. I have turned my wide defenders into inverted wing-backs to get them involved more.
The rationale behind this is as elegant as it is simple. We want to secure possession in the central areas to avoid getting caught on the break. Having the wing-backs tuck inside to flank the deep-lying playmaker creates an additional stable block of three to shield the defensive line and either retain possession or snuff out counter-attacks with a host of bodies.
Their average positions and heat-map pictured above can show you that there is a strong presence in the midfield area, made up by the two inverted wing-backs and the deep-lying playmaker. At times, these wing-backs are free to roam forward, penetrating deep into the opposing half to challenge opponents and win back possession.
The wide midfielders
As we mentioned earlier, Getafe often uses players who started their careers as defenders as wide midfielders. This description is an almost textbook definition of a defensive winger. These defensive wingers advance to pin the opposing wing-backs down near their penalty area, which prompts the opposing team to play a long ball towards the congested central zone in midfield. Alternatively, they protect the balance of the team when one of the midfielders or inverted wing-backs moves forward.
Defensively, they are crucial to maintaining the balance in the team. Unlike traditional wingers, they should and will track back; they will back up their defensive line if needed and cover for other players if they venture forward. The image displayed above shows their defensive contributions (tackles, interceptions, aerial challenges and fouls) to the team effort. You can see that they go forward and trackback a lot.
Offensively, they see less of the ball than their more traditional-minded peers. They still get forward and try to cross the ball but often from far deeper positions because they are ever wary of maintaining the balance and being in a position where they can trackback if needed.
The forward pairing
When you are building a tactic, you want to get the best out of the qualities of your players, be it their natural technical skills or their physical prowess. Getafe does just that by fielding two large forwards who are strong in the air yet positionally aware as well. With their bulky frames, Getafe’s players provide an effective passing outlet for the defenders, holding the ball up or playing passes to a teammate.
Since it is difficult for me to find multiple tall forwards in the league I am active in, I opted for the more traditional big-guy-little-guy strike partnership, in attacking midfield of course. The larger player plays on the left side in a slightly deeper position. He aims to flick the ball on and to win aerial challenges. Sometimes, when his teammate drops back a bit, he becomes the spearhead of our attacks, flicking the ball on for his teammate to chase after at pace, breaking into the space behind the big guy.
For the big guy up front, I decided to revive my withdrawn target-man. If SI doesn’t give us a target-man in the central attacking midfield zone, we’ll simply build one ourselves. The most customisable role in that regard is that of the plain attacking midfielder, which formed the basis of my withdrawn target-man in FM20.
I wish I had more customisation options here, but this is it I’m afraid. Tick one box to make him hold up the ball, stick a big, tall guy in the position, play a direct style of football and pray for the best.
The other role proved to be far easier to set. I am looking for a mobile role, a player to dive into pockets of space behind the bulky target-man. That’s the job-description a shadow-striker is hardcoded to fulfil. The attacking midfielder can hold it up, and the shadow striker can run onto the flick-ons.
At first glance, we can see that the impact of our forward line is a significant one. They seem to get a fair few opportunities to take a crack at goal in and around the box. We can also see that the shadow striker tends to drop back a bit and plays behind the withdrawn target-man instead of in front of him.
When we zoom in on the interaction between the two, we can see that the intention and execution are nearly synchronised. This partnership mostly relies on proper wide delivery and crossing from the defensive wingers and at times inverted wing-backs, or long balls from deep areas. We can see that our target-man (#8) is the recipient of long, direct passes and that he lays them off to the shadow striker (#9) as well.
In terms of playing style, it was a straightforward process. How can I get the ball from point A to point B as quickly as possible? We added some tweaks to get it working in a Football Manager environment and presto!
Passing the ball forwards quickly and directly through an opponent’s lines tries to eliminate as many opponents from the equation with the least player touches. We have gone for an extremely direct passing-style and we will try to get the ball pumped into the box as soon as possible.
Building up from the back in this style is akin to a surgeon making the first incision with a scalpel during an operation. The penetrating blow is precise and quick and cuts open the opponent. The ball is generally not haphazardly kicked forward in the hope of finding a team-mate in space but generally played with urgency and intent towards a team-mate in space.
As you can see in that clip, my players will seek the shortest route towards goal; rather than keeping the ball for possession’s sake, they try to attack with speed, breaking forward as fast as possible, without haphazardly kicking the ball forward.