The Mjallby 4-1-2-3-0

https://pbs.twimg.com/profile_images/2266142841/image.jpgThis was without a doubt my favourite save on FM14. I wouldn’t necessarily say it was my best, because I only won one trophy and the save itself only lasted one season, but it is certainly my favourite. At a lull point in FM14 midway through my Salzburg save, I began to search around. I’d recently read Guido’s article on his narrow 4-1-2-3-0, and decided that I wanted to use the same formation, and incorporate the Central Winger, which I had just released an article about.

Just to give you a bit of context, when I joined them, Mjallby were predicted to finish 12th in the Swedish League and were a largely average team, nowhere near the level of Elfsborg, Malmö and Helsingsborgs. Starting the save, I put the players into the narrow 4-1-2-3-0 and happily decided that a mid-table finish would do me fine. Well, that didn’t end up happening. For anyone who was following me on Twitter at the time, you’ll have seen what happened. We challenged for the title, joining the race with about a month and a half to go, and won the title on the last day, needing a win to confirm ourselves as champions.

What’s more, it’s not as if Mjallby were one of those teams with good players that FM underrates (like Southampton) that are more than capable of winning the league. Mjallby’s players are mid table standard at best. The title win also wasn’t due to my (usually terrible) man management. No, the title win was entirely due to one thing, the Mjallby 4-1-2-3-0 (Mjallby Mjölnir for Guido).

Here it is to the right. 41230 A narrow 4-1-2-3-0 shape, flooding the centre of the pitch. In goal there’s a Sweeper Keeper, due to the fact that we use a high line. The SK’s only on defend though, as I don’t want him being overly aggressive, and I rarely notice a different if I’m honest. In central defence I went for a very standard ‘defend’ and ‘cover’ combo. Ideally, I’d have the cover defender as a Ball Playing Defender, but the defenders available to me simply weren’t capable of playing that role. To the left and right of them, I went for two CWB’s. With such a narrow formation, we’re going to need natural width, and therefore CWB’s are the only option at RB and LB. In front of the defence is the Half Back. I won’t go into detail here (Guido has done some fantastic work on the Half Back), but the HB really is the unsung hero of this tactic. Considering how many men we throw forward, we need the HB to help keep our shape and defensive solidity. Ahead of him, is an Advanced Playmaker on ‘support’ who I ask to roam from position. Usually, he’s the last layer in the attack, but does bag goals. Beside him is the Central Winger, who is fantastic in this formation. He’s usually the second wave of attack and is just devastating, creating more vertical runs that just bamboozles the defence. Up until this point, this is the same setup that I used at Salzburg, apart from PI’s. Ahead of this, we’ve got an Enganche, who I asked to press more, and generally be more of a physical presence ‘upfront’. It never quite worked how I wanted it to, but the role was still effective. Beside him are two Shadow Strikers, who are basically that, Strikers from deep. I need them to break beyond the Enganche, and collect his through balls, and if need be, make layoffs to the Central Winger.

I actually created this tactic within a ‘standard’ mentality. It was never actually meant to be as attacking as it ended up, but it was so beautiful to watch I didn’t want to change anything. If anyone has any questions about instructions etc. then feel free to ask me here or on Twitter (@JLAspey), but I don’t feel that just simply unveiling the tactic itself does anyone any good. What’s more is there’s a lot of team and player instructions to this tactic, and listing them out would make for a rather boring article. However, what I can do is show you what developed as a result of the tactic, and hopefully inspire some ideas in others, at least in the last days of FM14.

At it’s most basic, what this tactic does so well is throw bodies forward. When you look at the roles I’ve used here, they’re all fairly attacking, except the Half Back and Central Defenders. That’s 7 willing runners at all times. Running through the centre, that’s going to be tough for any defence to handle.

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Above, you can see the kind of scenario I used to see all the time, and this isn’t even an extreme example. There’s been times when we’ve got 3 central runners going through against one lone defender just from our ball movement and vertical movement. Anyway, I digress. The Central Winger (circled in blue) has the ball here as we march towards the Elfsborg defence, and he has no less than 4 options, all dangerous, and all likely to result in a goal, or a CCC at the very least. We’ve got plenty of runners, but it’s also worth noting that we’ve got 5 men back, and the HB is doing his job screening the defence. In no way are we open to a counter attack here. This is my idea of short, vertical football at it’s finest. Moving forward at the right times, making short sharp passes and breaking through the opposition defence.

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Here’s another example of our narrow vertical movement. Yet again, the CW has the ball (circled in yellow) and has 4 vertical runners going through the middle. In addition to that, he’s also got the CWB’s making runs down the flanks, providing support. As you can see, the Left CWB is in acres of space, as the opposition goes narrow to desperately try and fight the midfield battle. All it takes is one pass and we’re through on goal. Again, despite the CWB’s moving forward this time, we’re still not open to a counter attack, as the opposition is desperately throwing men back to stop us plowing through the middle.

All of these screenshots are when we’ve built up play to this point, starting with the defence. We are fast and vertical, but there’s also a possession element to our play, where we built up to the ‘front 3′, and then things get very aggressive. We’re not just constant counter attacks. That doesn’t mean we’re not absolutely deadly on the counter though….

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Here, we’ve just won the ball from Elfsborg. The ball has been moved into Henderson (our left SS), and he’s looking to pass the ball into our CW who is breaking past the defender closing down Henderson. In the red arrows you can see all the men we have breaking forward, getting involved in the counter attack. The Half Back eventually stops and holds his position, but (along with the CWB’s), that’s still 5 runs for the CW to look for when he receives the ball. This move eventually leads to a penalty, and our second goal in a 2-0 win. Considering with one pass, we break through their midfield, we’re in an amazing position to counter attack, and we do this so quickly. The ‘front 5′ (Enganche, SS’s, Central Winger and Advanced Playmaker) are quickly approaching the centre backs of Elfsborg, and 5 v 2 isn’t good for them.

A very fair criticism looking at the formation itself would be that it’s very narrow, and therefore must be extremely predictable in terms of attacking, and that teams can just clog up the centre of the pitch. This is a fair point, but we have far more width than the formation would suggest. I used the instructions ‘exploit the flanks’, ‘push wider’ and ‘look for overlap’ to encourage us to also look down the flanks, whilst still having that unbelievable central strength. Combine that with asking the SS’s to ‘move into channels’ and you can see that we actually use the whole width of the pitch, creating holes for our central vertical movement. If the AI clogs up the centre, we’ll go out wide and beat them there, and if they spread out, we’ll pass through the centre and the gaping holes they’ll leave.

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Here, you can see how we use the flanks. The ball has moved into our SS out wide, but he is confronted by a defender. Rather than try and dribble round him, he makes the pass back to our left CWB. Noticing this, the CW bursts forward, moving into space that their Right Back and Centre Back have left trying to close our SS down. Our CWB makes the very difficult pass into the CW in the blue circle, who is then through on goal for a rather simple goal. Not only does that show our width, but it also shows everything you need to know about the Central Winger in a nutshell. Forward runs, defensive danger, and intelligent movement. You can see from the screenshot that our movement has dragged the opposition defence apart.

This tactic is also extremely proactive in terms of defending. I ask the side to ‘hassle opponents’ and ‘push higher up’ to both press the opposition, and compress the space available. I’m very much of the school that the ‘pitch’ should be as small as possible when the opposition has the ball.

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Here’s an example of us without the ball. As you can see, we’ve compressed the space a lot. Due to our narrow shape, we’ve controlled the centre ground, and therefore there’s nowhere for them to pass through. The only real passes on are the blue ones, and they’re absolutely harmless. The red pass is a possibility, but the CW is moving backwards as this shot is taken, and covers that space. I’ve also highlighted our defensive line with the white line, and you can see how short the gap is from our back line to our front line, and the gaps are small in between our lines. Getting through is going to be nigh-on impossible for the opposition. Our pressing isn’t frantic, but it is constant, and we usually force a bad pass, rather than winning it back by tackling. Generally, interceptions are the main way we defend.

What’s also worth noticing from this screenshot is the strange 5-0-5 formation we’ve forced the opposition into, and they’re almost abandoning their midfield. This is the effect that the formation itself has, and the opposition becomes confused with how to deal with it. We have completely dominated the midfield, the most important aspect of the game in my opinion. It’s perhaps not as solid a defensive shape as my defensive 4-1-2-2-1, but then the tactic itself is very different, and with a tactic this attacking, you’re never going to have a perfect defence. I do feel however, that this side was good at defending, exhibited by the fact that our keeper broke the league record for clean sheets.

I’ve enjoyed going through this tactic, analysing it, and falling in love with it all over again. This tactic made the Mjallby save so fun for me, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it, and that my love for this tactic came across in my writing. Once again, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me here, or through my Twitter page.

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An In-Depth Analysis Of The Unsung Hero; The Half-Back

One of the unsung heroes of my by now (in)famous strikerless formation is the Half-Back. He doesn’t excel offensively, he’s not the one making the Hollywood-passes, nor is the one to score a heap of goals or rack up assists like it’s nothing. He isn’t a proficient force defensively, normally he’s not the one with the great last-ditch sliding challenge or the skillful tackle on an opposing player. No, the Half-Back is the master of the Transition phase of play and his main weapon is his positional awareness and vertical and lateral movement across the pitch. Yes, the noble Half-Back, the invisible driving force in defensive midfield. You could argue he is the beating heart of the team and the glue that holds the team together.

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The Half-Back looks to serve a role somewhere between an aggressive sweeper and the more traditional defensive midfielder. During the various phases of the game, he takes up different roles and positions, all of them inconspicuous, bar one. I want to discuss the role of the half-back during the offensive phase of the game, during the defensive phase of the game and most importantly during the transition of offence to defence and vice versa.

The offensive role

First of all, we want to look at the role of the Half-Back during the offensive phase of the game. How does he line up, what is the role he plays, how does he aid the team? As I mentioned earlier, his role is often inconspicuous. His role during the offensive phase of play is exactly that, inconspicuous. The Half-Back is basically an aggressive sweeper now.

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By either dropping back or remaining stationary, the Half-Back forms an effective bank of three at the back, allowing the wing-backs to move forward. If the wings aren’t occupied consistently enough or with enough presence, it is difficult to provide width in the middle and attacking third of the pitch. The Half-Back isn’t a traditional defender as such, as he’s basically guarding the defensive line, staying slightly ahead of the two central defenders. His movement is crucial to the team effort though, as it allows the two wing-backs to move forward and add some much needed width, allowing for an efficient overload in the middle and attacking third.

The above clip pretty much demonstrates my point. The Half-Back is often unmarked and can receive the ball, either directly from a distribution by the goalie or because the wing-back passes it to him. His positioning makes him an invaluable pivot in the build-up from the back.

The defensive role

Defensively speaking, I want to differentiate between the snuffing out of counter-attacks, which, whilst being defensive work, is not part of the defensive phase of play and the actual defending done in the defensive phase of play. The former will be discussed in its own paragraph, the latter is being discussed here. During the actual defensive phase, the Half-Back tends to act as a screen in front of the defence, so basically as a normal defensive midfielder would.

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Here we see the opposing team coming forward and this is the teams actual defensive shape, with the wing-backs tucked in on the defensive line and the Half-Back in defensive midfield, guarding the central area in front of the defence. So where does this screening come into play? Allow me to elaborate with a simple video.

In that simple attacking movement, there are several instances which highlight how the Half-Back protects the defence and how his lateral positioning helps out his team-mates. Initially, we can see the Half-Back has taken up a central position, which he maintains upto the point where a counter-pressing trigger occurs and the left wing-back is drawn out of position.

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We see the Half-Back moving laterally to protect the now exposed left flank. One of the central midfielders can deputise in the central area of midfield to pick up a runner, thus allowing the Half-Back to take up a position on the flank, where he can cover the run of the wing-back. Nothing fancy, nothing spectacular, the Half-Back remains almost invisible, yet his movement protects the balance of the entire team.

A poor clearance and a few heartbeats later, the Half-Back has taken up a slightly more advanced position, to combat another threat to the defence. The opposing midfielder has picked up the ball, so again the positioning by our Half-Back has to be spot on to eliminate most threats to the defensive line.

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When we examine the situation closely, we can see that the Half-Back has taken up a slightly more advanced position, which enables him to kill three birds with one stone. I know that’s not an actual proverb, but it applies to the situation. The Half-Back has now effictively cut off the passing lane towards the opposing teams striker, simply by re-positioning himself. An added benefit is that opposing player in possession, Fiore, is now being pressured directly by an opponent, whilst the Half-Back and one of the other midfielders are nearby to help out, adding some indirect pressure to the situation. The final option his positioning offers is the possibility to cover a run from deep by the opposing midfielder highlighted in red.

In the final situation, we can see the Half-Back has positioned himself wide, trying to block off the run by the opposing midfielder. His lateral movements have allowed the other defenders time to re-position themselves, essentially eliminating the threats, which just leaves the lone winger and his direct runs.

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In this case, the winger does not dare take on the Half-Back by himself, instead passing it for one of the forwards. As the video above shows you, the Half-Back still tracks back and wins the ball with a superb sliding challenge, showcasing one of the few spectacular challenges he has made during this match. As you have seen, the Half-Back mostly relies on his positioning to fulfil his defensive role.

The transition from defence to offence

The transition phases are often overlooked in terms of importance, but in reality it’s these phases that often determine how successful you are in your endeavours. Is your side able to capitalise on the other teams mistakes and are you capable of keeping it tight and coherent at the back, even when you unexpectedly lose possession? Initially, I want to look at the transition from defence to offence or basically the start of any good counterattack.

During the transition from defensive phase to the offensive phase of the game, the Half-Back can play a number of roles, but they all rely on his positioning. When the ball is won high up the pitch, he plays the role of a pivot in defensive midfield, similar to his role in the attacking phase of play.

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As the Half-Back is supposed to drop back from midfield into defence to take up his defensive position, he is often in an advanced position compared to the center-backs. This means he is often the recipient of their headed clearances, as he as the time and space to receive the ball, swivel and look for a pass, often towards the wing-backs, who are also key players in terms of transitioning.

Naturally, teams fielding an attacking midfielder could throw a spanner in the works, but even that is a problem that can be solved. The Half-Back again needs to rely on superb positioning and on-the-ball skills, as you can see in the video below.

The Half-Back has to compete with an opponent for the ball, but his positioning sees him win the ball and allows him to play a clean and simple pass towards a team-mate, who sets up an attacking move. Nothing spectacular, nothing too fancy, but lose the ball there and your team-mates will end up in a world of hurt. Again, let me show you.

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Losing possession there would leave the defensive line severely exposed, as a simple pass down the flanks would leave my own wing-backs exposed and a pass over the top down the middle would see my center-backs forced to sprint against their opponent to win back the ball or pray that the goalkeeper does a Neuer and rushes out of his goal to clear the ball.

Whilst it’s hardly glamorous or spectacular what the Half-Back does, it’s absolutely crucial to the teams efforts to transition from defence to offence. If you want to catch an opposing team off-guard with a quick and critical counter-attack, you have to be able to quickly transition from offence to defence and as you can see, the Half-Back is one of they driving forces behind these transitions.

The transition from offence to defence

I highlighted the importance of the transition-phases in the previous paragraph before elaborating about the transition from defence to offence. In this paragraph, I want to stress the importance of the transition from offence to defence. You see, both the AI teams and your own are at its most vulnerable when they lose the ball and have to move from an attacking shape back to a defensive shape, which means players have to track back and take up new positions.

In this transition-phase, the Half-Back is mostly required to snuff out counter-attacks by the opposing side, as he moves from his position in the attacking phase as part of the back three to a more advanced role in defensive midfield. He can stop counter-attacks dead in their tracks either by winning the ball through an interception or successful tackle or he can delay the onrushing forwards and midfielders long enough to allow the other players to track back and take up their defensive positions. Either way, to effectively fulfill this role, he will need to move quickly and be intelligent in his positioning.

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The above screenshot shows you exactly what I mean by delaying the opposition. By moving forward the Half-Back shuts down a passing lane towards the forward, making it a very high-risk pass. As the midfielder hesitates, the wing-backs will track-back and the two center-backs will cluster together, effectively reestablishing the back four from the defensive phase, all because the Half-Back bought them the time to do so.

In the match-clip below, I want to show off some of the positioning the Half-Back tends to do. There’s not much to analyse from it, it’s just the Half-Back positioning himself between an opponent and the ball, snuffing out through-balls and counter-attacks without actually having to engage an opponent.

Whilst the interceptions are certainly an important part of the way the Half-Back fulfills the role, his most important contribution towards the team effort is not the amount of interceptions, but the time he buys his team-mates to track back and take up their defensive positions. It’s the aggressive fore-checking and excellent positioning that allow his team-mates time to re-group that is the Half-Backs most important effort for the team.

‘The Great Wall of Italia’ – Parking the Bus in Football Manager

The legendary Italian sports journalist Gianni Brera once stated that the perfect game of football would end 0-0. That is perhaps a strange thing to say, but if you look at it from a certain (defensivist) point of view, then you can begin to understand it. In theory, both teams have attacked very well, but both teams have also defended perfectly, denying the opposition chances to score. It is perhaps a more ‘perfect’ game than a 5-5, which would suggest both teams have defended poorly throughout the match. A more entertaining game perhaps, but not a ‘better’ game in Brera’s eyes. This is also a key insight into the mindset that has long existed in Italian football, a mindset that has become increasingly stereotyped over the past 20 years or so. In John Foot’s Calcio: a history of italian football, Foot claims that Italian teams have not always been defensive, but they are ‘simply much better at defending than other European teams’. Italians highly value a good defensive performance. Compare this to England, where this season Sam Allardyce was once again branded as ‘old-fashioned’ when his team sat back and defended to gain a draw against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, and you can see the cultural differences.

However, this season many have grown to admire the Atletico Madrid side of Diego Simeone, who has put together a fantastic hard working, counter attacking, defensive minded side. I’ve said on many occasions that I love watching Atletico defend, the way they press the ball, but retain their classic 4-4-2 shape that Europe’s top teams found so hard to break through. Contrast this to Football Manager, where I can’t bear to watch my teams defend. This is likely a by product of the fact that my teams are usually quite attacking, and therefore defensively suspect, but whenever the opposition have the ball, I’m always waiting for us to concede.

Recently though, I’ve been reading several articles on defensive football, particularly Cleon’s fantastic thread focusing on his efforts to create a defensively strong side, and I’ve been inspired to create a tactic that is designed to be defensive, to not concede goals, be incredibly tough to break through, and win games 1-0 or 2-0. It also includes one or two catenaccio features. I’ve also been wanting to do an international save recently with the World Cup coming up. The perfect team? Italy.


Here’s the defensive monstrosity to the right.

The main element of our defensive strength comes from our central defensive diamond (I’ve expanded on this as I’ll show later). The diamond is so strong, that it forces the AI out wide, limiting them to crosses. The sweeper is a basic sweeper from the catenaccio mold rather than a more modern Libero. He’s there to be the last man, to cover behind the defence, and to pick up the pieces when he needs to. He’s allowed more freedom in his passing range, but that’s mainly to ensure that the ball is moved into the midfield.

There’s also a Fachetti style wing back on the right wing, set as a CWB, who is responsible for the attacking width down our right flank, preventing us from become predictable down our left side. He’s not quite a goal scoring wing back like Fachetti was (not yet at least), but he provides us with a lot of support going forward, and has been one of our most important players so far.

I’ve also got a Central Winger in there to provide further attacking intent down our right side. Considering we’re defending with 6 men at times, there has to be enough movement from the 4 men going forward (sometimes 5 with the CWB) to get the one or two goals we need to win games. I don’t have the ideal player to use as the CW right now, but when I can fit a player into the role, the attacking potency of the side will dramatically improve.

There’s also an Inside Forward on the left wing, who acts almost as an abstract strike partner for the False 9 upfront. These are our two most important attacking players, and one of the usual attacking movements is to see the ball played into the F9 by one of our midfielders. He’ll then turn and play the ball in behind the defence for the inside forward cutting in from the left wing. Candreva has performed brilliantly so far from the left wing role, and scored both of our goals in a 2-0 win against the Czech Republic.

Here’s an example of our defensive shape when the opposition has the ball. You can see the strength of our defensive diamond and our back 6. Not only that, but we’ve pushed Slovakia’s midfield so far back, so that their midfield trio is almost on top of their defence. As a result of this, Slovakia don’t have a central player within our third of the pitch, except for their increasingly isolated striker, who is covered by a triangle of the DLP, CD and Sweeper. As you can see, the gap between their midfield and their attackers is huge, making it very difficult for them to build up play towards their forwards. We may not be controlling the ball, but we’re certainly controlling the space. I’m more than happy for the opposition to have the ball in these areas, where they’re no threat to us.

Here’s another example of our fantastic shape whilst defending. The opposition is more advanced this time, and is threatening our final third. What’s worth pointing out though, is our midfield trio of the DLP, the CW and the B2B have already forced the AI to go wide, and they’ve retained their shape centrally. All of the Slovakia players are easily covered by at least one of our markers, and the only player that is unmarked in the picture is a backwards pass (in yellow), something I’m happy to encourage as I can force the AI to go central, where we (often) make tackles or key interceptions to launch attacks.

‘The Defensive P’

I said previously that one of the key elements of the tactic is the defensive diamond. That is absolutely true, but it’s been expanded into what I’ve called the ‘Defensive P’, that incorporates the defensive left back. Set on a defend duty, the left back almost becomes another centre back. In fact, I’ve been using mobile centre backs in this position, and I’m looking for Ogbonna to make this position his own, and complete the all Juventus back line. With all of these players on a defend duty, they hold position whilst the rest of the team attacks, retaining a strong shape and preventing us being countered. The right sided centre back is set as a stopper, to increase his closing down should anyone break down the left wing before the CWB can track back. All together, it forms an abstract Back 4 when we have possession. Here’s another example of the Defensive P forming when we’ve got possession. With this in place, we become even more difficult to score against.


To give you an idea of how well the tactic works defensively, here’s a screenshot of Armenia’s passes against us in a recent qualifier. You can see they’ve got plenty of passes around the halfway line (however, there’s also a lot of incompleted ones), but in the central areas of our final 3rd, there’s very few passes at all, showing how much we force the AI to go down the wings with our central defensive strength. You can also see how few passes we allow into our box, with the Defensive P shielding it.

These tactics have helped us qualify for the World Cup, and in the games I’ve used this setup, we’ve only conceded one goal, a 92nd minute free kick in the friendly against Slovakia. Apart from that we’ve won the other two qualifiers 2-0 against Armenia and the Czech Republic. The Czechs tried to out defend us, leading to us dominating possession and all of the stats. It’s a positive side effect of the defensive mentality I utilise, that if teams try to out defend you, you will dominate possession and create chances.

95% of the tactics I see around the FM scene are control/attacking tactics, so I thought it would be interesting to try this, and explore different ways of playing the game tactically. If anyone else has experimented with playing defensive football, I’d be interested to hear what your results were.

One thing that has happened as a result of this tactic is that I no longer dislike watching my team defend. Watching teams struggle to break us down, and watching my defenders and midfielders make tackles and interceptions all over the place is actually fun to watch in game.

Parking the Bus isn’t as boring as you’d think.

An In-Depth Analysis Of The Enganche In A Strikerless Formation

A twitter conversation a few days back re-sparked my interest in the enganche role within a strikerless formation. The actual conversation focussed on player roles we wanted in FM15. I opted for the Withdrawn Targetman, which is basically the role I want my Targetganche to fill right now.

Basically, we wanted a cross-pollination of the targetman role and the enganche role. In a way, it makes sense, as the enganche already encorporates some of the qualities a targetman is supposed to offer to a team. Mix up the enganche and the targetman and ideally you get the Targetganche™, or the Withdrawn Targetman I want to see in the game. He will hold up the ball and bring his team-mates into play, choosing how and when to pass the ball to maximise the potential of the attacking movement. Because he was supposed to be my Plan B, he would have to offer some physical brutality as well as footballing skills.

In an ideal situation, I would be able to tweak the current enganche role to my likings. Unfortunately, I was unable to make the Targetganche hold up the ball as much as I would like to. Basically, the Targetganche showed two dimensions in his style of play. The first dimension means the Targetganche often takes a touch before quickly passing the ball along, instead of holding it up to ensure players link up or move into advanced positions. In a match, it would look a little something like this.

It looks like a fine goal and the Targetganche really plays an important role in the whole attack, setting it up from midfield and ending the attack with the assist for the goal-scorer. When you break down the move, it shows you the beauty of strikerless football as well as why I’d love the Withdrawn Targetman to be an actual new role in FM15.

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In the initial stage of the attack, Targetganche Vankan, highlighted in red, plays as a proper targetman, his back being towards the goal and he has actually dropped back into attacking midfield, whilst the two flanking Shadow Strikers, highlighted in blue, have taken up advanced positions, one of them even in an off-side position beyond the AZ defensive line. In an ideal situation, the Targetganche can hold up the ball to have the players take up attacking positions, before flicking the ball on towards the Shadow Strikers. Sadly, despite being asked to play risky passes, Vankan swivels and looks for a short option.

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Vankan swivels on the ball and plays a short pass towards one of the central midfielders, Jankovic. The Shadow Strikers are still in advanced positions, even though they have clustered together on the left side of the attack. Towards the bottom of that screenshot, you can see the right wing-back making a threatening run forward.

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Jankovic passes the ball back to Vagner, who indeed recognises the run made by the right wing-back and plays the ball towards Kouakou. Vankan meanwhile is unmarked by opposing players and takes up a position near the edge of the box, looking to support the two Shadow Strikers.

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As Kouakou surges past an opponent, the Shadow Strikers take up advanced forward positions, with the Enganche remaining behind them and indeed being overtaken by the Central Winger linking up. Effectively, our four players are drawing the AZ defence close together, which means that a well-timed run can send a player clear of defence with no chance of recovery by a wide defender cutting inside.

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Kouakou’s run leads him to the back-line and draws out two defenders. With the defenders focussing on the advanced forwards, the Shadow Strikers, no-one is actually paying attention to the Targetganche. Vankan surges past the defenders to connect with the low, driven cross by Kouakou. Making a run from the edge of the box, sees the Targetganche unmarked near the first post.

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The cross comes in low and Vankan again swivels on the ball before laying it back for the onrushing Shadow Striker to tap into the back of the net. Whilst it’s hardly the way I actually wanted the Targetganche to play, it certainly does work against a team like AZ, where the opposition drops back and offers little or no space to actually exploit.

Oddly enough, the Targetganche seems to perform better as a mobile threat, connecting with crosses than as the actual bulky powerhouse, chesting down passes or flicking them on. In terms of actually holding up the ball, the Targetganche doesn’t really do it, instead taking only one or two touches before quickly passing the ball along.

Oddly enough, I’ve seen the actual Targetganche motions most in matches where the opposition pushes up and tries to actively fight us off, which is strange considering the fact that I wanted a role like this to break down stubborn defences all pouring into their own box. In the above video you can see the Targetganche play in the way I actually want him to play, the second dimension to his style of play.

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In the initial stages of the attack, the Targetganche, highlighted in red, takes up a more advanced position compard to the two Shadow Strikers, highlighted in blue. The Shadow Strikers try to contribute defensively by dropping deep, keeping up with opposing players who are pushing forward. The Targetganche is the advanced attacking focal point for the initial stages of the attack, looking to play in his team-mates.

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As Matas wins the ball, Vankan takes up position with his back to goal, whilst the Shadow Strikers are preparing to make their runs forward. A few easy passes will see Vankan in possession, at which point he can set up the attack. The movements by the Shadow Strikers also help to relieve the amount of pressure on the Targetganche, as defenders seem more likely to pick up runners instead of more static players.

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With the movement of the Shadow Strikers and wing-backs, the opposing defence remains stretched. The two centre-backs are supposed to pick up the Shadow Strikers, whilst the wing-backs are supposed to pick up the runs of their counter-parts. This means the defensive line has to stay wide, allowing for gaps in the defence. When the wing-backs would cut inside to help the central defenders, they would cede the wings, allowing our wing-backs to dominate the flanks.

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In this case, Vankan actually does hold up the ball and he dribbles forward. One of the central defenders actually steps out to take on Vankan, allowing the Shadow Striker space to move away, effectively breaking the defensive line. Because the defence is stretched by our own wing-backs, there is no-one in the direct vacinity to cover the run by the Shadow Striker.

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Vankan keeps hold of the ball long enough to allow the defender to step out quite far, allowing the Shadow Striker a lot of time to make his run into space. Just before Vankan actually gets pressured, he can release an easy through-ball into space for the Shadow Striker to pounce upon.

 

How To Turn Your Pre-Season Into A Money-making Scheme

Pre-season is good for a great many things. It can help you raise tactical familiarity, you get the chance to assess your squad and new signings, raise the overall fitness level of your players, boost morale in time for the new league campaign and there’s the opportunity to make some serious cash during pre-season.

Whilst I find all of these aspects to be equally important, I do find that I often overlook the financial aspect of the pre-season. However, the commercial and financial impact of the right pre-season friendlies can be immense. Allow me to show you with just a single screenshot.

The end of season commercial update.
The end of season commercial update.

That’s 34 million from non-domestic merchandise sales. True, I am in charge of what is now a world class club, but the message also indicated the sales have risen due to a tour through China. This means that the right set of friendlies can not only help you raise tactical familiarity, allow you to assess your squad and new signings, raise the overall fitness level of your players, boost morale in time for the new league campaign. No, there’s the actual possibility to raise enough money to sign one or two extra players.

Again, I realise that the team I have taken under my wing is one of the best in the world in terms of players and reputation and the amount of money made in pre-season will be considerably less for lower level clubs, but just cut that number in half or divide it six ways. For a League 2 side for example, you’d still be able to raise roughly 5.5 million.

In terms of the money-making scheme, let me first distinguish two forms of income influenced by the pre-season friendlies. First of all, you can gain money from the sale of match tickets. Secondly, the right pre-season games influence your commercial sales, both domestically and abroad.

The sale of match tickets is easy enough to explain. You play a game, people visit the game and have to buy a ticket for the match. The money gained from this match is shared between the two sides playing the match, though not always evenly.

This leads me to my next point. There are guides out there saying you should always, at all costs, play friendlies in your own stadium. I disagree with this statement. During home-games, you have to pay a sum to your opponent to show up. Depending on the reputation of your opponent and your own reputation, both the sum you have to pay as well as the projected income tend to vary. When the income you make is not a lot more than the sum you have to pay your opponent, a home-game is just not profitable.

Again, allow me to show you with a simple example. I want to play a match versus the best team in the world in terms of reputation, which is FC Barcelona. Let’s see what we can expect from a home game against Barça.

The data for a Barça home game.
The data for a Barça home game.

A home game against Barcelona in our 64k stadium would bring in 1.4 million. Of that sum, we’d lose 750k to Barça as a sort of participation fee, which means our profit would be around 650k. Not too shabby, but let’s look at the potential revenue for an away game against the same opponent.

The data for a Barça away game.
The data for a Barça away game.

As you can clearly see, an away game will earn us a cool, clean 1.1 million. Barça will obviously make a similar fee, but that would be the participation fee we’d receive for just showing up. When you are arranging friendlies, experiment a bit with home and away games to see which games yield maximum financial results.

Please keep in mind that if you are in charge of a lower league side that whilst these money maker games are financially sound, they can be detrimental to squad morale when your players get their collective arses kicked during the matches. For example, when you’re in control of Compostela, challenging Barça or Real may be a smart move financially, but on the pitch, your ass is grass and they’re the lawn-mower. Metaphorically speaking naturally.

This leads me to the next point I wish to make. The importance of commercially interesting friendlies. As you could see in the very first screenshot of this article, it was absolutely a factor to be reckoned with. The Chinese tour during pre-season apparently yielded interesting results in terms of non-domestic merchandise sales.

It makes sense in a way. That trip to China is about much more than the football. In real life, Manchester United were one of the first clubs to go on a big preseason tour, and their worldwide support and sponsorship deals have subsequently given them an advantage over the rest of the league. FM tries to mimick this by making the Asian and North American countries, which traditionally lack a strong domestic league but to boast a large number of football fans, commercially interesting options. From a commercial perspective, playing friendlies all over the world offer a club the chance to expand their brand name and fan base, strengthen brand loyalty, build global partnerships and generally make a large amount of money.

Now in terms of which countries are interesting ones to visit, I must admit I have not tried every available option there is, simply because I don’t have that much spare time on my hands. What I can tell you is that various Asian countries offer interesting possibilities, not only in terms of revenue income, but also in terms of commercial income.

In no particular order, these are countries which have significantly boosted my income when I played there during pre-season.

  • China;
  • Japan;
  • South Korea;
  • USA.

I am sure there are other viable options as well. India, Thailand and Indonesia for example are all viable options in real life, but I have no idea how their economic and commercial ratings are in the game right now. When trying to balance revenue with commercial interest, I can tell you that none of these sides have high reputation clubs you can play to gain some direct revenue income, which is why I have not played pre-season tours there. I can therefore not share any data on the commercial possibilities in other countries. More will follow in the near future.

UPDATE 29-04-2014

I have gone down a second road, by arranging two tours during pre-season. I was curious if I could gain extra commercial income by arranging tours through two different Asian countries. I was actually pretty convinced I could, I was very interested to know how much extra income I could rake in, as this would help me determine what the value for a specific country. I say, see for yourself.

The end of season commercial update after two Asian tours in pre-season
The end of season commercial update after two Asian tours in pre-season

You can see for yourself, two tours equal an extra income of nearly 12 million in terms of non-domestic sales. However, domestic sales appear to have dropped because we haven’t played any domestic friendlies. The amount of friendlies we have played remained the same, we just played them abroad. It’s not extra money we’re making, it’s a re-distribution of our income sources. Next season, I will be looking increasing the income in total.

Utilising the Central Winger

Those of you that follow me on Twitter (@JLAspey) will know how much I’ve banged on about the ‘Central Winger’ these past couple of months. It’s something I originally said whilst watching Angel Di Maria’s early performances in central midfield for Real Madrid, saying that he was playing almost like a central winger. It’s also a position FM Analysis has been analysing, particularly with Peter Pawlett of Aberdeen, a natural winger who has been moved inside into a midfield 3, much like Di Maria.

Although the term itself may sound like football hipster mumbo-jumbo, it actually has a lot of reasoning behind it. In its basic nature, it’s the idea of playing a competent dribbler in central midfield, who can beat players and get to the byline to cross. Anyone who has seen Madrid this season can see the effect that Di Maria’s vertical and direct running has had on the whole team, and therefore it has made them extremely dangerous on the counter attack, something that has carried on from Mourinho’s Real side.

In theory, the role can be so much more dangerous than just a normal winger, or a box to box midfielder. Defenders are unable to use the sideline as an extra defender (as they would against a normal winger), and instead are forced to engage a fast midfielder dribbling at pace, something no centre back would be comfortable defending against. In addition, the player also has a much wider range of passing options, especially if he has additional players breaking forward with him, especially in wide areas, and runners from full back. A setup utilising a CW has the potential to completely overrun the opposition defence.

For a while now I’ve wanted to utilise the role on FM, but I’ve never really felt I had the correct players to allow the role to reach its full potential. I did use it in a save at Racing Club in Argentina, and whilst initial results were promising (for the role at least), the save was soon binned (my last attempt at a back 3). However, I’ve now started a new save in Austria with Red Bull Salzburg in 2018, and I believe I’ve got the CW working extremely well, and it’s become a key part of my tactical planning. The players I’m using aren’t even my ideal players for the role, but it’s still working extremely well.


The players I’m currently using in the CW role are Mario Lemina and Kim Nielsen. Both are undoubtedly talented players, but if you could combine the two, you’d have the perfect CW for RB’s level. I’m still not overly sure who I prefer in the role if I’m honest, and most of the time I rotate the two for fitness anyway. Nielsen does have the better goalscoring record in the role though (you’ll see in this game). The player I’m keeping an eye on for the role is Marti Vidal of Barcelona, who has been moved up to their senior squad since that screenshot, but still isn’t in the first team. He’s been open to a move to Salzburg, just Barca won’t sell him. He’s got all the technical ability and physical pace needed to play the role perfectly. Anyway, the CW is surrounded by the setup you can see on the right, with a DLF to create space and drag defenders out of position, and two IF’s to exploit that space along with the CW. Combine that with a mobile roaming playmaker in Miladinov to control the midfield, and in theory there’s a setup to unlock defences.

The match I’ll be using to illustrate the CW is a Europa League match against the Hungarian side Videoton. We’re already 4-0 up from the first leg at home, so I chose to rotate the team a bit and give my top players a rest for the upcoming league matches. I chose to play Nielsen in the CW role for this match, as Lemina had played our recent 1st vs 2nd match against Austria Wien, and therefore needed a rest.

Here is how I set up the CW, starting as a CM-A with ‘press more’, ‘get further forward’, ‘dribble more’ and ‘run wide with ball’ selected. Ideally I’d also select cross from byline, but according to FM14, that’s a ridiculous thing to ask a midfielder to do. As the save progresses, that’s something I’ll have to ask my players to do through PPM’s. It’s why I’ve selected run wide with ball, in order to try and force him to get to the byline when he’s got the ball.

Here you can see exactly the movement I want to see from the role. The DLF has dropped deep, leaving a large area of space between the LCB and the RB, with the RCB deciding not to allow the DLF too much space, and stepping out to challenge my striker. However, Nielsen is now on the move and is moving towards that space as Damari (DLF) plays the ball into him. In one very simple move we’ve confused the AI and created space we can now exploit.

As you can see, Nielsen has continued driving forward, running at the defence (if the CW was a faster player such as Vidal, the midfielder wouldn’t catch up with him). This is where attacking layering comes into play, as my AML Pederson stays outside of the RB, who is now unsure whether to close down Nielsen, or stay with Pederson. He dithers long enough for Nielsen to be able to slip the ball through for Pederson, and we’ve overloaded them down our left hand side. This is all entirely due to the movement and combination of the DLF and the CW.

Not only does Nielsen play the ball through for Pedersen, but he then drives towards the box, and we’ve now got 3 v 2 in the box as Pedersen puts the cross in. My DLF Damari (who started the whole move) gets his head on it and puts it in the corner for our first of the game. This is exactly the kind of vertical attacking football I love, and the kind I want my Salzburg side to play. This isn’t a goal assisted or scored by the CW at all, but you can see how his vertical movement has opened up the defence, and allowed us to go 1-0 up.

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Again you can see the havoc that is caused by the DLF, and how important he is to the success of the CW. He’s dropped off again, and this time the CB decides to stay home, leaving Damari with plenty of space to turn and pick out a pass. What’s worth noting is that Nielsen (circled in blue) has actually moved forward and occupied the space left upfront by Damari, only dropping off slightly once Damari has picked up the ball. Damari picks the pass out to the AMR and once again we’re now looking at overloading them down the wings. The CW is now in a position to stay forward and influence the attack and get into the box.

We’ve now achieved the overload as our CWB right back has marched forward, and collects the quick ball inside from the AMR. Our CW Nielsen has already been driving to the near post, and is in the perfect position to then finish off the move. Once again, the movement caused by the DLF and the CW has undone Videoton.

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The CW will also take up very advanced midfield positions at times when we’re in position, almost in an AMC position. Here and Here are examples of his ‘get further forward’ instructions allowing him to move into those positions at times. It’s not something that I particularly want from the role, but fluidity isn’t something I’m going to stop, and picking up those positions will help link the rest of the midfield to the attack.

The CW’s advanced positioning can also be clearly seen in the average positions map. When you compare Nielsen’s positioning compared to his other midfield partners, he’s clearly the attacking part of the trio. That shape of midfield is something I’ve seen in other games, but usually the AP-S is a bit more advanced than in this game.

The Central Winger also contributes to the passing game as you can see in the passing map, and isn’t just a one dimensional role that constantly runs at defences. He made the 2nd most passes in the whole team throughout the match, only beaten by the roaming midfield playmaker, who always ends up with the most passes. He had a fantastic game, and out of our 4 goals, he was directly involved in 2 of them.

The Central Winger is certainly a role that I still need to develop somewhat, through PPM’s in particular. If I can teach a player to keep crossing from the byline, it could take the role to another level. In addition, if I can develop/buy a player with similar attributes to Marti Vidal (or Vidal himself), the CW will become even more dangerous for opposition defences. It’s arguably become the key part of my Salzburg side though, and it’s clear it has definite potential.

– To end, I’d like to say thank you to Guido for allowing me to put this article on his blog. If anyone reading this has any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.