One of the prevalent developments in football over the past few years is a growing emphasis on the importance of set pieces. When you cannot break down a defence during the phases of open play, a strong set-piece routine offers you the opportunity to score a goal. After all, the premeditated nature of set pieces offers managers a level of relative consistency in preparation and planning. You can work out multiple routines and prepare your players for these routines during training sessions. In this blog post, I want to focus on the process of setting up a good corner routine, the variables that determine whether or not a routine is successful and my own routine.
For a good four years now, I have been running the weblog Strikerless.com, which is based around the ideas of strikerless football. When I started writing about strikerless football, it was deemed somewhat of a novelty, an oddity that tricked the mechanics of the match engine but had no actual foundations in real life football, barring one AS Roma team and the odd effort born out of desperation when teams found all their forwards banned or injured.
Since I started preaching the strikerless gospel, real life caught up. Several European teams play without a traditional forward and with a certain degree of formlessness. They either have no obvious focal point of attack or they can attack from so many directions that anticipating how they will attack at any given time is nigh on impossible. This is the underlying concept of a strikerless formation in a nutshell.
Instead of a traditional forward, you play a trequartista or other sort of attacking midfielder as your most attacking man on the pitch, position-wise. These attacking midfielders, be it a trequartista, an enganche, shadow striker or an advanced playmaker, tend to move into the space between defence and midfield to receive the ball, thus overloading the central midfield, establishing domination in terms of possession and creating space for surging runs by wide players or other midfielders.
That brings us to a new version of the game; Football Manager 19 is on the verge of going live. FM Grasshopper and I attended a private event and were allowed to play the Alpha version of the new game. This event and my results in playing the Beta inspired me to write this article. Please note, and I want to be very clear about this in advance, this article DOES NOT and WILL NEVER contain a download link because it was created on an ALPHA version of the game, not the finished game. What worked well in Alpha, might not work at all during Beta or the full release.
Having said that, the underlying train of thought might prove useful and insightful, so there is an added value to this article. Plus, if you are so inclined, it is not like you cannot manually write down the player roles and instructions to try this bad boy for yourself. I just don’t want to assume any responsibility if your gambit backfires. There are no proper plug and play tactics after all.
There was once a time not too long ago that having a dynamic, lumbering striker was almost necessary for success. The likes of Fernando Torres, Carlos Tevez and Robin Van Persie were some of the most prolific goal scorers on the planet in most of the decade spanning from 2000 until 2010.
Since then, however, things have changed. While many of the world’s best clubs still deploy traditional strikers, others have opted for a strikerless attack. In the 2018 FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Manchester United, Blues boss Antonio Conte opted to deploy a starting XI sans a traditional striker. With Alvaro Morata on the bench, Conte chose to play winger Eden Hazard as a de-facto “striker” instead. The Belgian would go on to score the game’s lone goal in the 1-0 victory.
Most avid FM players have encountered situations like these before. Whatever the exact circumstances, you desperately need to score a goal but the opposition is stifling your forwards by erecting a living wall of human bodies in and just outside of their own penalty area. Despite hopelessly outclassing the other side in terms of possession and shots on goal, your team is just not scoring any goals. These defensive exploits are frustrating you and your team, as the opposing team refuses to be led to the slaughter. In an effort to break down the opposing defence, you could employ an old-fashioned battering ram. It makes sense; when finesse is not sufficient to break down an especially tenacious and dogged defence, brute force might offer an effective alternative.
Meet Oscar Ruíz. He’s a 21-year-old Colombian player that we got for less than 2 M from Atlético Nacional. Truth be told, he was one of those bargains that I just couldn’t let slip past me. As it is, we have too many Colombian players in the reserve squad of River Plate or loaned away, due to the foreigner player restrictions of the game.
Oscar was a prospect, a hot one. But I had other great and experienced players in his same positions in the first team, waiting for a chance in the bench, fellow promises in the reserve squad and the magnificent Tovar, out on his 3rd loan at Flamengo. Yet Oscar found a crack, took it and left something bigger than his own name.
Yes, he’s got a first touch rating of 17, a 19 in determination, 16 in vision, work rate and technique and his passing skills are just below 15, but if you look closely, this Midfielder can also dabble as a central defender. So I thought about playing him for his midfielder stats in a Ball Playing Defender role and gaining an extra ballplayer in my 5-2-3. That didn’t cut it.
Before I get into the tactic itself, and how Oscar became pivotal to it, let me give you some context. The year is 2023, it’s my 5th season at River Plate, having arrived from Stoke City in the 2018/19 season. We’ve won it all. Five Argentinean leagues and 5 Copa Libertadores in a row, a couple of Supercups each year and reigning in the Club World Cup (against City, United, Chelsea and Bayern). But I don’t like the way we play. I’m Argentinean and a River Plate fan. That means that the 4-3-1-2 is part of my DNA. Thanks to Oscar, and my eagerness to give him a go, I found the missing link.
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.
The tagline for this site is “dare to think outside the box”, which is both a play-of-words on the idea of not fielding an actual striker as well as a metaphor that means to think differently, unconventionally or from a new perspective. For my new tactic, I have decided to create a spin on the traditional diamond tactics. Naturally, the formation has a strikerless twist. Playing in this formation offers you a midfield diamond, which in turn enables you to pass the ball and play between the lines of both back four and midfield, as well as midfield and forward line. If you have followed the site somewhat regularly, you can see that such a concept of play appeals to me and suits the strikerless style.
When I started Strikerless.com a number of years ago, it was merely a way for me to unwind, to put my thoughts to paper and to create some order in the perpetual chaos swirling around in my mind (hello ADHD!). Eventually, this blogging got a bit more serious, as apparently, people thought and still think that I have sensible things to say. I try to interact with people as often and as polite as I can and one of those interactions has resulted in this blog post.
One of the biggest compliments you can make me is saying that I have inspired you to do something you enjoyed doing. It’s a quality I strive for in my professional life as a teacher and it’s even more flattering when I hear I have inspired people I have never met to change their views on how to play a football manager simulation game.
Anyway, back to this post. @DazzaFM contacted me and said I had inspired him to create a strikerless tactic. He felt it worked well enough to create a tactical video over, so that brings us to this blog post. I am going to share this video with you and I hope to have many more conversations like this one over Football Manager.
Strikerless football is not a style that appeals to everyone. Some are set in their ways and feel forwards are an integral part of their team. Others feel it’s an exploit to play in this way. There are also people who don’t like the aesthetics of this particular brand of football. Whatever their reasoning may be, there are plenty of people who would prefer not to play without strikers. Fortunately for them, all strikerless tactics can be converted to more conventional with-strikers tactics. This article focusses on changing tactics from strikerless to a more traditional style.
I’ve mentioned my collaboration with Rashidi before and this is the second video that came of our aforementioned joint effort. The first video discussed how we set up the tactic, the second video shows us playing a game and making changes on the fly to Mourinho the shit out of Man Utd.