Tactical Reviews; Chris Darwen’s Strikerless

It looks like the strikerless bug is slowly but surely spreading, which means I get to do these reviews more often. It hasn’t even been that long since the last review and there’s already a new one lined up. Chris Darwen, also known as @comeontheoviedo on Twitter, has submitted a 4-3-3-0 tactic he created for reviewing purposes, so once again I dove into a save-game to see what makes it tick and how it performs.

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Tactical Review; Rodrigo’s 3-4-3-0

Our last tactical review dates back to February, when we reviewed @cdeekyfm‘s 4-5-1-0 tactic. Right now, we’re going to look at Rodrigo’s 3-4-3-0. Last year, he sent in a tactic as well, so we can consider this a semi-annual event. Anyway, I figured it was time to disect another tactic, so I fired up the laptop and got right to it. Are you curious yet? You really should be…

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Tactical Review: Cheeky Deeky’s 4-5-1-0

It’s been a while since the last tactical review, but we’re going CSI on yet another tactic. This time, we’ll be dissecting a tactic created by Jonathon Aspey (@JLAspey, give him a follow!), who has contributed to Strikerless in the past and has his own blog, The Tactical Annals. In one of his latest blog posts, he mentioned creating a strikerless tactic, which is ofcourse exactly my cup of tea.

As a result, I dug out my scalpel, dusted off the whiteboard and started cracking on an analysis of this tactical find by my buddy. Are you curious yet? You really should be…

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Hipster Overload: 3-5-2 Strikerless

In my humble opinion, footballing battles are won and lost in the midfield. The midfield is the beating heart, the living soul of any football team. It is the part of the team that dictates the play to the forwards in attack and shields the defense. It therefore makes sense to balance out your midfield as best you can. In an effort to bolster the midfield further, I have drawn inspiration from Louis van Gaal and his revival of the 3-5-2 formation. This is what I came up with.

formation

The result of the planning was a new 3-5-2 formation where one of the defenders can be moved to the midfield so as to add more force, and hence the physical fighting ability, in the midfield.

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Tactical Review: Rodrigo’s 3-4-3 Brasil Strikerless

It’s been a while since my last review, so bear with me as I haven’t done these reviews in a while, so I may a bit rusty when it comes to analysing a tactic, its strengths and its weaknesses. Whilst this won’t be regular feature for my blog, if you have a nice strikerless formation and you want me to have a look at it, just contact me via Twitter.

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Tactical Review; Arsenal Kyiv 3-4-1-2-0

I haven’t done these reviews in a while, so I may a bit rusty, but per special request, I have dug out my scalpel to dissect a tactic, see what makes it tick, see what works and see what needs improving. I’m not sure if this is going to be a regular feature for my blog, but if it’s fun enough to do, who knows what the future holds… For now though, don’t ask me to review your tactic, because it takes me roughly 8 hours to play the games, analyse what I see, get the match clips and write up my thoughts.


The basics

The formation

Right, let’s start with the basics. The tactic is full-blown tactical hipster, formation-wise anyway.

The basic formation
The basic formation

Strikerless (dhuh, why else would I be reviewing it…) and a libero? Hipster overload… Anyway, what’s more interesting than the formation outlined above is how they actually appear to be playing on the pitch. As I have mentioned before, the concept of an absolute formation does not exist. It’s a myth, crammed into our heads by analysts and newspapers, oversimpliying things.

The positional heat map.
The positional heat map.

What we can see is a 3-4-1-2-esque shape. The libero pushes up a bit, as is to be expected, whilst the wing-backs maintain a wide position further forward than you might expect from the initial formation. Upfront, the players appear to be clustered closely together, with the staggering explained by the Support duty from the left Attacking Midfielder. Apart from the clustering upfront, there are no real problems I can see with the basic positioning, on first glance.

The style

The team's style.
The team’s style.

When we examine the team’s style, there aren’t a lot of surprises there. A Very Fluid style of play makes sense for a strikerless formation, what with the attacking and defending as a team and such. The rest appear to be personal preferences into a certain style and need to be seen in action before I can comment on those at all.

To summarise, at a first glance, we have stumbled upon a theoretically feasible project, with no inherent flaws in the design that would doom the tactic right from the start. That’s nice, but it will make the dissection process a wee bit more difficult, because there will little or no glaring errors to whinge about. In order to make up some sort of review, I’ll have to resort to nit-picking.


The pro’s

Excellent for counter-attacks due to well set-up verticality

The idea of verticality is ideal for a strikerless formation like this one. If you can win the ball, you open up the opposing defence with one or two passes towards your advanced players, whilst if your opponent drops back, they basically give up half the pitch to you, allowing you the time to provoke opposing players out of position, before exploiting the space that is opened up.

Ideally, you want to create a situation where players have to move out of their preferred defensive zones to combat a threat, preferably in a way that makes them face their own goal. The first part of this concept means that either the entire team has to shift along to prevent space from opening up, which basically never happens. The second part of this concept means that opposing players are less quick to transition from defence to attack when you do lose the ball, you are minimising the risk of a counter-attack whilst increasing the possibility of a successful challenge for the ball.

In layman’s terms, just get the ball forward quickly to exploit space before the other team manages to re-group. In FM, this tactic has managed to exactly that. Just look at the match-clip.

Tremendous hipster potential

I briefly touched upon this subject earlier, but when your tactic is strikerless and using a libero and you can throw around a term like verticality to describe what you’re doing, the hipster potential is going through the roof. Just throw in some counter-pressing and you’re all set.


The cons

The offence seems to favour a central attack, but lack penetration at times

The results in my test-case were pretty darn good, but then again, we were playing lower league sides in pre-season. What I did notice was that almost all my attacks are based on attacks through the centre of the pitch, which usually end with shots from the edge of the box.

The assist build-up from pre-season.
The assist build-up from pre-season.

We barely score any goals from the flanks, it’s mostly the forward three midfielders setting up and finishing the attacks. Whilst there is absolutely nothing wrong with not using the flanks, the team lacks penetration into the opposing box. I know that sounds like a cheesy line from a porn movie, but allow me to show you what I mean.

The red circles represent passing options, the dotted red lines represent the possible offensive movement, the yellow lines would indicate possible passing routes.
The red circles represent passing options, the dotted red lines represent the possible offensive movement, the yellow lines would indicate possible passing routes.

In this case, the most advanced midfielder receives the ball. Now in my eyes, he has two possible passing options. On the left, the wing-back could and should make a run into space, for there is space to exploit with a simple through-ball. Just behind the man in possession, another midfielder could move into the space on the right. This option is less easy, but still a valid option.

In a strikerless formation, you lack a focal point upfront, so you are heavily reliant on the runs into space by your midfield players. This does mean that your players should be making runs. In this tactic however, I miss the runners, I miss the penetration into the box, which sort of limits the passing options and makes the formation relatively easy to defend against. Let’s look at how the situation detailed above ends.

Neither player actually makes a run, which makes the pass an exercition in futility. This wasn’t an isolated incident unfortunately, or I wouldn’t mention it here. Whilst the tactic certainly yielded some lovely attacks, they were mostly quick breaks, transitioning from defence quickly and exploiting the disarray in the opposing defence to get some goals in. With this lack of width and penetrating runs, breaking down a well-organised and compact defence would be hard.

The build-up from the back seems flawed at times

The team instructions ask to play higher up the pitch as a defensive line, yet asking for a patient build-up from the back as well. I think these two don’t always mix well, as this restricts the space the defenders have to control the ball and pass it along to a midfielder or forward. Allow me to show you.

The yellow line represents the trajectory of the ball.
The yellow line represents the trajectory of the ball.

The goalkeeper generally tries to stick to the instructions and instead of hoofing it forward, he distributes the ball to a defender. However, because of their positioning high up the field, they are automatically closer to an opposing player, as well as having most of their passing routes blocked off by other opposing players. By playing so far up the pitch, yet opting for a patient build-up, you are either forcing the goalie to just hoof it forward or you are making it very easy for the other side to defend as a compact block.

The defence seems vulnerable to direct attacks

The team plays with a high defensive line, per the instructions given to the team. Combine this with the libero, who by definition drops back to sweep up behind the defenders, and there’s a recipe for disaster. We’ve played mostly lower league Maltese sides, but even they managed to break through our defence quite a few times.

Those are three situations from the same match. I’ve selected all three for different purposes. The first situation is straight from kick-off and it’s just to high-light the offensive positioning and possible vulnerability during the transition from attack to defence.

The blue line represents the defensive line, the blue circles represent the three defenders.
The blue line represents the defensive line, the blue circles represent the three defenders.

That’s how the team sets up when attacking. You can see how the defence fans out, spreads to cover the flanks. Imagine what where to happen if the team lost the ball and were subjected to a quick counter-attack? If the players maintain that wide position, they allow the opposition to slip right through. If they maintain a more narrow shape, they automatically open themselves up to an attack down the sides, with the presence of a libero negating the possibility of an off-side trap.

The second situation highlights such a scenario. Again, let me show you what I mean in case the match clip was unclear.

The blue line represents the defensive line, the yellow line indicates the path of the ball, the dotted yellow line indicates the most likely follow-up trajectory, the dotted red line indicates the most likely path the forward has taken, whilst the red circle indicates the most likely passing target.
The blue line represents the defensive line, the yellow line indicates the path of the ball, the dotted yellow line indicates the most likely follow-up trajectory, the dotted red line indicates the most likely path the forward has taken, whilst the red circle indicates the most likely passing target.

In this scenario, the defence has maintained a more narrow shape, but with the wing-backs moving forward, the flanks are left exposed. One of the opposing forwards has made use of this space by moving wide to receive the long ball, relatively unpressured by any defensive players. The second forward has occupied the space behind the Regista and is wide open to receive a pass.

The curved blue line represents the defensive line, the other blue line represents the movement of the libero, the blue circle represents the libero, the yellow line represents the trajectory of the ball, the dotted yellow line represents the most likely follow-up path of the ball, the dotted red line represents the most likely movement of the forward.
The curved blue line represents the defensive line, the other blue line represents the movement of the libero, the blue circle represents the libero, the yellow line represents the trajectory of the ball, the dotted yellow line represents the most likely follow-up path of the ball, the dotted red line represents the most likely movement of the forward.

As I predicted, the wide forward passes it back to the centre, before occupying the space behind the defence. The backward movement of the libero make an effective off-side trap impossible and with the defence stretched to cover the wide player, there is a tremendous amount of space to exploit. In the end, the forward botches up the chance and needs the help of a defender to score the goal, but there were several similar attacks like that in every match I have seen.

In the first bit, you can see a forward occupying the space behind the defensive line, latching onto a long ball. This isn’t an off-side position, as he was level with the libero at the time the pass was sent forward. Again, it shows the vulnerability of pushing up a defensive line but fielding a libero as well.