Before I begin this post, I feel it’s probably best to explain that I’ve always been a Pep/Bielsa disciple. I’ve always particularly believed in Pep’s style of football, and his philosophies. Looking at my Sturm save, you can identify this. I put my best players (Alar, Lovric and now Wydra) in the centre of the park as a midfield 3 in order to achieve numerical superiority there. I’m a firm believer that, like chess, achieving dominance in the centre is a sure-fire way of giving yourself a good chance of victory. It’s now become a football cliché, but this is something I’ve believed since I first started to watch Pep’s legendary Barca side. I’ll always maintain that the Barca/Real 5-0 is the best I’ll ever see a team play, and watching that match in a full pub at University confirmed my allegiance to Pep Guardiola.
Lately however, I’ve started to become influenced by a different style of football, that has moved me away from wanting my teams to play just like Pep. This probably started with the first time I watched Mourinho’s Madrid perfect the counter attack, or the first time I watched Dortmund’s gegenpressing. Now, I always make the point that possession isn’t everything to me, and I always look for that point of perfection between vertical movement and possession play. The epitome of this other style of football is former Red Bull Salzburg boss (I won’t hold that against him) Roger Schmidt, someone who Pep has openly admitted his admiration for.
There have been some fantastic articles written on Schmidt, especially after his move to Leverkusen this Summer, and I highly recommend you go and read some of them. Schmidt’s teams tend to play a 4-4-2 shape (although Leverkusen have been called 4-2-3-1 at times) and press extremely aggressively, attacking half spaces, and staying narrow, avoiding many of the issues that come with the 4-4-2, such as getting between the lines, and dominating midfield. Leverkusen also attack very directly, and shoot from distance quite often (logically, as Leverkusen have several good shooters from distance), maintaining the same intensity that they do whilst pressing. The first goal they scored vs. Dortmund this season is a perfect example, attacking directly from the kick off, and scoring within the first 15 seconds. Glorious, aggressive, attacking football, and the very opposite of those who adore ‘tiki-taka’ (for views on that particular style, go read Pep Confidential). Whilst I love Pep, I despise aimless possession football, more defensive than attacking.
But why am I rambling on about this? Well, this season with Sturm has been a very strange one so far. It’s absolutely my mistake, but I’ve ended up with two strikers (Molina and Gregoritsch) who have problems with injuries. As a result, I’ve not been able to really use a consistent tactic due to having different types of strikers. Gregoritsch can’t play CF-S, and Molina isn’t the kind of striker who can stretch a defence. I’ve used the 4-1-4-1, a 3-6-1, a 3-5-2, and a diamond so far. Not exactly the tactical consistency I want. It’s not Pep levels of tinkering either, it’s tinkering because I have to.
I’ve almost stumbled upon the latest development. Needing a decent striker, I took to Twitter, and naturally being knowledgeable on all things Austria, @Shrewnaldo suggested ‘Super Kev’ Kevin Friesenbichler. That name might not mean too much to some people, but having read Shrew’s stuff since I got back into FM around FM10, I know Friesenbichler was a large part of Shrew’s Rapid and Austria C&C, and therefore the recommendation made sense.
Here’s Super Kev (easier to type from here on in) on FM15. As you can see, he’s also not the type to be able to play the DLF-S in the 4-1-4-1, or a CF-S in the 3-5-2 I’d developed. He’s the perfect quick and powerful striker to stretch a defence, and therefore I had to fit the team around him, and get the best out of him.
This is where Schmidt comes in. I’ve been wanting to try a Schmidt-esque 4-4-2 for some time now, but didn’t have that fast striker I needed to stretch the defence. Now I do, a 4-4-2 seemed to be a perfect way to get the best out of Friesenbichler, and try that combination of Pep and Schmidt that I believe in, within the framework of a 4-4-2. I know it’s difficult to get excited about a 4-4-2, but bear with me.
Immediately, you can see all the Schmidt influences. There’s a striker to push forward and stretch the defence, a midfielder that will press and push forward, and a sitting midfielder. We’ve also got narrow wingers. Alar (who I’ve discovered can play well anywhere but striker) plays as an AP-A at AML and is asked to roam from position, and is very influenced by my attempt at creating the David Silva role last year. Sallahi sits slightly deeper but gets forward plenty. Both are asked to ‘press more’ in order to ensure the aggressive pressing that I want. This is already on top of an attacking mentality, and asking the team to ‘press much more’. This makes our pressing absolutely relentless, and we press high up the pitch.
The team as a whole is asked to ‘sit narrow’ in order to firstly, attack those same half-spaces that Leverkusen do, but also to make sure that the CWB-S’s get forward. I’ve also asked the team to look for the overlap, so they should do this pretty well.
At this point, I think it’s probably best I explain the title. This is a brainstorm, because the tactic is nowhere near settled yet, but I have a feeling I have something with this tactic. I’m using this post to explain my thoughts, and brainstorm what I want to do with it from here on in. Most importantly, I’m also going to do an analysis of the second match I’ve used it in, a Europa League match against the Spanish side Sevilla, now managed by Antonio Conte, and his usual deep 3-5-2. We won the match 1-0, but I think it’s important to look at why we won the match, considering we were underdogs for the match and it was at Sevilla. Just so you don’t think I’m avoiding an potential bad matches with the 4-4-2 and only showing the good one, I’ve only used it in one other match, a 3-2 win in the league, with Super Kev scoring a hat-trick as I worked out the kinks with the formation and instructions through the match.
I’ll start off with this, as I believe it’s the most important element of why we won the game. Again, Conte’s Sevilla were using his typical 3-5-2, with wing backs and a midfield 3 behind 2 strikers. We have just finished an attack here, and the keeper has rolled the ball back out to their central defender. Now, there’s two ways of looking at this image, which I’ll show. One way is to suggest that the Sevilla midfield 3 have managed to get into the soft spot of our midfield, allowing them to play through the centre and utilise their perceived superiority there against Wydra and Lovric. However, the way I see it is that Sevilla are playing right into the hands of our pressing trap. Whilst the classic criticism of 4-4-2 is that you get outnumbered in central midfield because of 3 v 2 situations, modern 4-4-2’s like Leverkusen/Salzburg’s and Atletico Madrid’s feature narrow wingers, who therefore condense the space horizontally, and cram the midfield. Here you can see we’ve got that with Alar at AML and Sallahi at MR sitting extremely narrow.
Firstly, when the ball is rolled out, Friesenbichler goes to press the man with the ball. This makes it difficult for him to pass the ball into the midfield 3, and we force them wide. However, should the ball manage to find it’s way into the centre, we’ve got any of the 6 who can press and trap the midfield 3 within the blue circle, and take the ball from them. In addition to this, when the ball moves wide, we follow it. Alar can go up to press the RCB, and Molina can move up to press the LCB. Sallahi’s set at RM, and is therefore covering the left sided wing back, which is fine with me.
Not everything is rosy in this screenshot though, as you can see from the circle around the centre circle. We’ve left a ton of space behind our midfield 2, which is something I’m going to have to address as I continue with this tactic. Sevilla didn’t use a Number 10, but if they did, they could have caused us serious problems. I’d left the defensive line untouched until now, and I think it’s time to move it forward to condense this space.
We were also dangerous on the counter, which I wanted. Not depending on the counter, but I wanted it to be a part of our game as well as our possession play The best sides blend these style together. Bayern are a perfect example. Our goal came from a fantastic counter attack, which I’ll illustrate.
Here’s the beginning of the goal, and it’s fairly innocuous. At this point you’d never think we were 10 seconds away from scoring. Their RWB Manquillo is making a run down the right flank and goes to cross the ball in. It ricochets off Klem and ends up moving along the red arrow, which Super Kev spots and moves in white to pick up the ball. You can see that our counter attacking quartet Super Kev, Molina, Alar and Sallahi are there (circled in blue) and are fairly narrow.
Super Kev continues and makes the run in red, taking out the Sevilla defence. Molina in the centre breaks from deep as well, and the eventual goalscorer Alar (circled in yellow) is giving the RCB some serious issues. Does he come across to stop Super Kev’s run, or does he stick with Alar?
In the end the RCB (in purple) decides to come narrow and deal with the threat of Super Kev. From there it’s a very simple pass for Friesenbichler to Alar (in yellow) who finishes the move. You can also see that our entire attacking quartet is there, with Molina slighly deeper, and Sallahi deeper still, should Super Kev be unable to get the pass through to Alar. A perfect 10 second counter attack, and we’re 1-0 up. Brilliant. Vertical football at it’s best. Super Kev may not have scored the goal, but this tacic is certainly making him effective, and getting the best out of him.
We were also very good on the ball. We retain possession at the correct times, whilst still moving the ball forward up the pitch. Wydra (later Offenbacher) and Lovric dominated the game from central midfield, particularly Lovric, who continues to astound me.
We also dealt with them extremely well defensively. Here the ball is with Oviedo, their LWB, and he’s not left with many options. Lovric comes across to press the sideline (another fantastic pressing trap), and Sallahi screens to cover the orange options. Left with little options, Oviedo tries the light blue pass, and Spendlhofer simply makes the green movement and steps in front of the pass. It’s the way I prefer to defend (via interceptions) and both Spendlhofer and Dibon are extremely adept at it.
Here’s something I absolutely feel I need to change. Conscious of Sevilla’s perceived superiority to Sturm, I only selected CWB-S’s, thinking they’d get forward just about enough. They did get forward well, but there were certain times that we could really have exposed them if I’d been a little braver with my duty selection. Here, we’ve got a potential 3 v 2 down our right flank. Sallahi has the ball, and makes the pass in red to Molina making the run in blue. However, if Ligeon had been positioned slightly higher, perhaps in the spot in yellow, Sallahi could have made the yellow pass, and from there, we’d have forced their back 3 to split up and caused them real issues defensively.
Alar’s performance was just majestic in the AP-A role at AML. I’ve come to the conclusion that he can play well anywhere apart from striker. He’s fantastic. He ran the show. He made 75 passes, for a completion percentage of 82.7%. As you can see as well, they’re not just backwards passes. Alar also made 4 key passes through the game, and of course he was the one that finished off the counter attack to score the goal for us as well.
It’s also worth mentioning that Molina was fantastic with a strike partner, making 3 key passes. He’s injury prone and temperamental (he’s now complaining I didn’t strengthen the squad, after I strengthened the squad), but when he’s on form, he’s absolutely fantastic. If he was only a little faster, he’d be perfect.
I feel it’s also worth showing just what we did to Sevilla’s formation and gameplan. To the right you can see just how deep we’ve pushed their defence and midfield back, both with our attacking movement, and with our defensive pressing. There’s a huge gap between their highest midfielder and their strikers, a gap where Lovric can absolutely dominate.
We controlled everything. The only period where they really gave us any trouble was the last 5 minutes, where they threw everything forward. I deliberately left the tactic as it was, just to see if it would hold out, and despite Sevilla throwing man after man forward, we held out, and passed the ball around to run out the clock. We were absolutely fantastic and the result shows massive progress for the club, considering we would have lost this match a season ago, and the match itself was fairly comfortable. Stats wise we were pretty even with them, but we didn’t allow them one CCC, and they fouled us a lot, perhaps a sign that they couldn’t handle us?
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my rambling on this 4-4-2 as it’s developing. I hope to be able to continue using this tactic, injuries allowing *fingers crossed*. It’s got definite potential. It’s next test? Salzburg in 3 days. No biggie.