Over the past decade, people have fallen out of love with the humble 4-4-2 formation. It’s a shame really, as it’s a beautiful and effective tactic. Its beauty is also part of the reason why people tend to snub their noses at it, since it’s a rather straight-forward and simple tactic. Ranieri and his marauding Leicester City team are proving quite how effective a humble 4-4-2 formation can be. So here’s my take on a Leicester City-inspired 4-4-2-0.
When people talk about Total Football, they are usually referring to the attacking phase of play. The positional switching and movement off the ball it delivers has always captivated managers around the world and it’s always been an ideal people are trying to replicate in FM. The whole concept is based on fluidity of positions, rotations and covering your teammates runs. In this way, players use the movements of their colleagues for reference rather than zones on the pitch. In addition the concept is also about balancing the heart, which wants to attack, and the mind, which tends to focus more on defence. You can’t be on the offence all the time, but neither can you defend for 90 minutes and come out on top (hello José, that means you too!).
Yes, many people tend to forget that these same ideas and principles so often associated with attacking can and should also be applied to the defending phase of football. Fluidity of positions, rotations and covering your teammates, maintaining a tight and cohesive wall of players between your own goal and the opposing team. In an ideal situation there ought to be no more than 25 to 35 metres between the forward line and the defenders. The reason for this is to constrict the space in a vertical sense, hence reducing the distances between players thus making it difficult for the offensive team to pass or dribble through the middle of this compacted space.
The following article is something I do not often do; it’s a special request piece. People kept asking me if my tactics are plug & play and if they require any tweaking. The answer is yes, they do require tweaking, which is 90% common sense and 10% trial & error. Still, people kept asking me how I did it, so here we are. An article on how to spot the strengths and weaknesses of your own system, how to see what is wrong with your setup and, most importantly I suppose, how to fix whatever is not working.
Please note that the following ideas are by no means universal or a sure-fire way to fix whatever is not working, these are just my ideas on how to remedy shortcomings on the pitch.
With the arrival of Jürgen Klopp in the Premiership, more and more attention is given to one of the major developments in football tactics in recent years; counterpressing. Before Klopp’s move the Premier League, counterpressing or its German equivalent gegenpressing was already hot topic for the football hipsters among us. The act of pressing and closing down the opposition immediately after the ball is turned over has been made popular by managers like Guardiola, Klopp and Heynckes. Just for reference, this is what I mean.
The aim of said counterpressing is to prevent the opposition from counter-attacking, and to win the ball back as quickly as possible. It relies on the team in possession reacting as quickly as possible to the moment of transition when possession is lost. Ideally, a team needs to play as much as possible in the opposition’s half to get them in a low block where their striker is detached from their midfield line. Once they are in this position, it is about having ideal positioning with the ball ergo players in positions where they are impacting the game and finding spaces with the ball but also where they are able to prevent a counter-attack.
When it comes to tactics, I firmly believe there is no “one size fits all” approach to FM. You can create a framework that works, but you will constantly be tweaking, testing, analysing, rinsing and repeating to optimise the approach for your own team. For me, the main challenge in FM16 thus far lies in striking the right balance between order and laissez-aller. My FM15 tactics were characterised by free-flowing attacks and teams thundering through the opposing ranks with aesthetically pleasing football. I haven’t been able to replicate this style quite yet, instead coming up with a more gritty, counter-attacking style so far.
Like in previous versions of Football Manager, I have dubbed my initial tactic Strikerless Sexy Football because that is what the tactic aims to deliver (and often delivers), just the way that pretentious prick Gullit envisaged it originally. I have to admit, Gullit has a way with words. If his coaching skills matched his vocabulary and oral skills, he’d be able to rival Sir Alex. Sadly, it did not, so all the dreadlocked Dutchman has to show for his coaching career is an FA Cup with Chelsea and the coining of the phrase Sexy Football, which had fuck all to do with John Terry’s off-the-pitch antics. No, Gullit used this term to describe teams who played the game in a smooth, elegant and effortless style: teams comprised of artists who could evoke the highest spiritual consciousness through exceptional technique and intimacy with the ball. (more…)
One aspect of football I deem important is control of the central areas of the pitch. When you control the heart of the field of play, you automatically limit the opportunities your opponent has, whilst increasing your own options exponentially. The freedom of choice is greater in the middle of the field. There is no boundary created by the touchline. One has roughly eight basic directions from which the ball can be played (forward, backward, left, right, and four diagonal lines), which means keeping possession becomes a lot easier. A team that bases their play around establishing a greater presence in the center will have many more choices and thus be more dynamic. The opponent must also not only defend the two wings, but the middle and both wings, because from the center of the field either are directly playable. These are concepts I have touched upon before in my Strikerless Magnum Opus.
In that regard, it makes sense that I experimented with the Triple Pivot, as the default setup of such a triple pivot looks to distribute the various tasks of a regular midfield between the three players in the defensive midfield position, aiming to generate more space for the other players by drawing the opposing midfielders further forward. It is basically a way to generate control in the midfield area with actually having a player directly present in the area. The triple pivot controls the central area from a distance with its movement and interaction, it’s a form of indirect control.
This makes my new experiment a rather exciting one. I want to attempt to dominate the central area indirectly, so basically without fielding an actual central midfielder, attempting dominance by having players drift in and out of the central zone. The line-up would look like this.
As I mentioned earlier in a more theoretic post about the Triple Pivot concept, a triple pivot is the deployment of three defensive midfielders, who may be used to protect the defence in a deep block, to prevent the opposition space for counter-attacks, to keep possession by overloading in the first phase, Read more…
There is no such thing as overkill. When you’re playing around with abstract concepts like say… not fielding any actual forwards during a game of football, that’s not a bad code to live by. This got me thinking, especially after being inspired by a post by Chris Darwen… What kind of tactics do real-life teams use to be successful and how can I convert/pervert (cross out the option you deem suitable) those into strikerless ideas. During the last few World Cups, 7 of the last 8 semi-finalists have used a double pivot, but they also fielded a forward. So what would happen if we were to remove the forward and instead slot him into the defensive midfield. That’s right, it’s the birth of the triple pivot system!
Imagine a formation that takes you back to the times of the early nineties, to the times of teams like the 1990 West German squad. A sturdy, defensively reliable squad, with a proper defensive sweeper like Klaus Augenthaler. The Germans won quite a few trophies in their day playing, according to the pundits, a particularly cynical style of football. But in Italy 1990 the cynical defensive football prevailed, while the Germans began playing more offensive attacking football, but without losing their organisation and discipline. I’ve tried to marry this ruthlessly efficient and defensively solid style with my own strikerless ideas in the same fashion a master whisky blender tries to take the best flavours to create something new and genius. The end product of my whisky-fueled brainstorming-session looks like this.
Now before reading on, please don’t expect this tactic or any Football Manager 2015 tactic to provide instant results. This is a system involving a strikerless formation, which by default takes time to implement but has a proven track record of success in Football Manager 2015. This specific tactical system has been designed around the concept of an Auspützer as described by Jonathon and myself earlier. I will go into a detailed breakdown, covering both the formation and the various roles below. (more…)