A strikerless 4-1-3-2

I’m back, and I have a new strikerless abomination™* for you to check out. When I started messing with tactics for FM17, I decided I wanted to try something different. For the last few versions of FM, my tactical setups have been very similar. My teams always had a base of:

  • Control mentality
  • Very fluid team shape
  • Close down much more (or at the very least close down more)
  • A high defensive line
  • Roam from positions
  • Shorter passing

Basically the sort of thing you’ll see in most of Guido’s tactics on this site, they had been an enormous influence on my tactical thinking ever since I found this blog a few years ago.

This formation started life with strikers, it was one of the tactics that I used over the course of my beta test save.  Due to a series of injuries, I was forced into fielding it as a strikerless system. This didn’t last long, a few matches at most, but when my test save finished, and I couldn’t decide on my long term save I thought I’d investigate it further, the team I chose to do this were Sporting CP.

I chose Sporting as they’re one of the better sides in their league, I wanted to test it out with good players but not elite level. Also, they’re in Europe, The Champions League to be precise and I thought that the counter-attacking nature of this tactic would be well tested against the bigger clubs in the competition.

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Facing Off Against Superior Opposition; Parking The Bus 101

It’s a phrase that has been around for a bit more than a decade, “parking the bus.” It’s not a phrase with a positive connotation as it is used to describe teams employing a highly defensive minded tactic. These tactics usually involve at least two defensive banks sitting deep in their own half, inviting pressure and letting the opposition keep the ball and passing it around, waiting for them to make a mistake.

When the opposition has made a mistake and lost possession, the team parking the bus only commits a few players to the counter-attack. These advanced outlets further up the pitch will then break quickly towards goal. The tactic is based on the beliefs that when you do not concede a goal, you cannot lose the game, and you can limit the chances your opposition creates by restricting the amount of space in your own final third.

Since this brand of football is generally not as aesthetically pleasing it is often branded as a negative approach to football, anti-football even. That is rather harsh since it is a well-drilled approach, which requires the right personnel, hours and hours of practice, and a good amount of insight into the setup of both your own team, the opposition’s team and various other circumstances surrounding the match.

In this article, we are going to look at what makes up a good tactic to park the bus, how to set one up of your own, various factors to take into consideration when opting to play such a tactic and ultimately you get the chance to download my own strikerless take of parking the bus.

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Project Libero; The Tactic

Back in the days, liberos were a truly majestic sight to behold. Step into your time machine and go back in time a good 20 or so years. Turn on the tv and watch teams defend. The majority of them will feature a type of player that seems to have been lost from the modern game. You’ll see an elegant defender sitting behind the defensive line, picking up stray through balls from an attacker. As he effortlessly brings it under his control, he marches forward with it, stepping past the other defenders and moving into the midfield zone. From there he acts as a modern day deep-lying playmaker, initiating the play and spreading it out to the flanks, or playing it forward into midfield or attack. This is the libero. People tend to get nostalgic about liberos and their style of play and rightfully so, as they were often stylish and elegant players, epitomised by the likes of Franz Beckenbauer and Franco Baresi.

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Strikerless 2.0 For FM17; Balancing The Midfield

In the past few weeks since the release of my first FM17 tactic, I have received a fair bit of feedback regarding the initial tactic. Most of it was regarding the defensive frailties of the tactic, the susceptibility of the tactic to quick counter-attacks down the flanks. Whilst I did not experience these problems in a manner similar to the experiences of others, I was nevertheless not entirely happy with the setup I was using.

The balance between the various lines was not quite the way I want it to be. The reason why the setup with two ball-winning midfielders worked for me was probably because I had two world-class midfielders in Kevin Strootman and Radja Nainggolan. As I progressed in the Roma save, I noticed the same defensive frailties others mentioned when one or both were absent from the line-up through injury or suspension. Some of these changes may or may not be the direct result of another SI patch, we’ll not discuss that any further in this article.

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Strikerless Retro Tactic For FM17

Okay, first of all, this is basically an updated version of the Beta tactic I released earlier. As the game underwent several updates, the altered Match Engine forced me to tweak the tactic in a number of places. Most of the article is a re-post, with some tweaks and edits made and a few new bits and pieces.

Everyone has heard the adage “classics never really die.” After all, they became classics for a reason, they have traits and characteristics beloved by all. In reference to Strikerless, it’s a particular brand of football you can create with a strikerless tactic. That daft prick Ruud Gullit coined the phrase “sexy football” during his stint with Chelsea and despite the fact that his managerial performances and qualities are roughly on par with those of a frozen fish stick, his definition of sexy football is quite apt for my own particular brand of football.

That is the kind of football Chelsea played under Gullit and it’s quite similar to my own brand of football. I want to create a style of play that sends waves of enjoyment throughout the virtual stadium, a team of artists that dazzle and mesmerize opponents, fans and pundits alike. Whenever my team gets the ball, I want to feel the buzz of expectancy because as a manager, I know something beautiful might happen, even if it doesn’t always come off as planned. I want to generate poetry in motion, smooth and silky passes, fluid movement through the lines.

Looking at the video above, I have highlighted some moments that are typical strikerless goals. I’ll let you be the judge regarding my own brand of football and it’s degree of sexiness.

Before I start explaining what’s what and how everything functions, allow me to get in the obligatory disclaimer that this tactic is, in fact, a tactic developed and tested during the Beta stages of FM17. I have absolutely no idea if and when SI might update the game and change the match engine, rendering the entire tactic useless again. Having said that, the entire concept works brilliantly so far. The Dark Side is strong in this version of FM and I am looking to bring sexy back, Justin Timberlake style.

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How To Create A Strong Defense; The Phalanx Analogy

Most managers, myself included, prefer aesthetically pleasing brands of football. We are not content with merely winning a game, we want to win in style, preferably a grand style. Okay, I am not really sure if this applies to most managers, but it bloody well applies to me. I blame my Dutch genes for that little quirky trait. The Dutch are quite apt at losing games but declaring themselves the moral winners because their style of play looked better. I mean, Van Gaal anyone?

We played beautiful football! It's not like that Portuguese wanker is doing any better...
We played beautiful football! It’s not like that Portuguese wanker is doing any better…

Anyway, enough of my ranting and back to the topic at hand as promised in the title. What many people seem to forget is that there can be beauty in clean defending. The same ideas and principles so often associated with the attacking phases of football are just as easily applied to the defensive phase. The fluidity of positions, rotations and covering your teammates, maintaining a tight and cohesive formation, it’s just as much a hallmark of a strong defense than it is a characteristic of a strong offense.

That brings me to the concept of the phalanx. As an avid gamer, I played my fair share of the Total War series and well, you can’t play these games without picking up a thing or two regarding shield walls, testudo’s or phalanxes. The phalanx formation was a close-rank, dense grouping of warriors armed with long spears and interlocking shields. The Spartan phalanx was legendary in classical antiquity and renowned for hammering home the importance of keeping one’s shield up. It was not for the protection of the warrior carrying it, but for the warrior at his side. When the shield was dropped it created a gap in the impenetrable defense, which could be exploited.

A classic phalanx formation screenshot Rome 2 Total War.
A classic phalanx formation screenshot Rome 2 Total War.

I want to apply the concept of the Greek phalanx to how I organize my teams defensively. If that sounds intriguing (or just sufficiently hipstery), read on!

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The revival of the Four Horsemen (FM17 BETA)

EDITORIAL NOTE: We have another guest piece on the site, by the most excellent and ever-charming Marc Bowen. Make sure you visit Marc’s site Limited Fullback.

Sitting down for the first time with the BETA and what a better way to start my FM17 endeavor with my beloved Arsenal. Throughout the summer all pundits, fans, and media were all calling out for Arsenal to sign a striker, in typical Arsenal fashion they disappointed in the transfer market and signed a relatively unknown forward in Lucas Perez. Not something that would excite the fans and terrify opposing defenders. So when sitting down and analyzing the squad and how we were going to play, I took a little leaf from what the Gunners have been doing in the real world. A makeshift 4-2-3-1 system with Alexi Sanchez as the lone striker (well let’s call him that for now). They are continuing to play the fast flowing football with intricate passing through the opponent’s defense, with an added element of pressing from the forward players, making the whole side more solid defending from the front.  Observing the way that Sanchez plays as the lone striker he generally doesn’t seem that far advanced from the 3 attacking midfielders, not like Giroud would, looking like more of a target man, and distancing himself from the 3 behind him. Pundits call this Sanchez role as the False 9.

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