Utilising the Central Winger on FM15

Apologies to everyone for the wait for this article, but there’s been a few reasons why it’s taken me until December to write this. Firstly, I’ve wanted to make sure I get this right after the success of the FM14 article, and have all the material needed to show why the Central Winger is such a fantastic role. Secondly, I’ve actually had some problems using the Central Winger on FM15. I developed a 3-6-1 on the BETA with Manchester United, with Angel Di Maria as the CW. I’ve always said that Angel Di Maria was the archetypal Central Winger, and to my surprise, well, it didn’t work very well. Januzaj ended up being far better in the CW role, but on the whole, I didn’t see many of the movements I saw on FM14, and I worried that my favourite role was going to be largely useless on FM15.

In the end, I figured out that the CW’s ineffectiveness was as a result of two things, both my fault in a way. In an attempt to avoid horrific Back 3 spreading that I’d seen on FM14, I decided not to ask the team to ‘play wider’, condensing the diamond midfield in the centre, meaning that the Central Winger didn’t have the space he needed, and therefore was largely useless.

Before I go into the Central Winger for FM15, I’d like to sum up how I developed the role last year, and exactly what it is, for those that didn’t see the FM14 article. The Central Winger came about when I first saw Angel Di Maria play central midfield for Real Madrid in their 4-3-3. Being the football hipster I am, I went on Twitter and said that Di Maria played almost like a ‘Central Winger’. Naturally from there, I wanted to develop this role and style of play on Football Manager, and create a midfielder that ran directly at defences, moved out wide at times, and provided a goalscoring threat from midfield, bursting past the forward line. I developed the role in my save at Red Bull Salzburg *spits*, and it became a key part of many of my tactics towards the end of the game. I tweaked a CM-A, with ‘get further forward’, ‘press more’, ‘run wide with ball’ and ‘dribble more’ selected.

The story of the Central Winger on FM15 is largely a result of my save with Sturm Graz, and the 4-1-4-1 I’m using. As those of you that have read will know, it started off as an attempt to recreate Real Madrid’s 4-4-2, which moulded into a 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1, and eventually into a conventional 4-1-4-1. Until moving to the 4-1-4-1, I hadn’t used the CW, but next to a Roaming Playmaker, I felt I needed vertical movement, and so the Central Winger was my only option. I had my reservations though. Once again, it’s gone on to become a key element of my tactic, and I’ve finally figured out what makes it tick in comparison to FM14.

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Here is how I set the role up this year. As before, it starts off as a CM-A. I select ‘dribble more’, ‘close down more’ and ‘run wide with ball’. I would have selected ‘get further forward’ as before, but this year, it’s already selected. I select ‘dribble more’, rather obviously, to get the dribbling and running at the defence that I’m after. Funnily enough, this didn’t happen that much on FM14. I select ‘close down more’ in order to increase the pressing, which is a direct influence of me attempting to make this role play like Di Maria. Di Maria would often move out towards the left with the ball as well, which is why I selected ‘run wide with ball’. This was something that wasn’t overly obvious in gameplay last year, but things have changed this year.

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I posted this screenshot in my latest Sturm update to illustrate how I’d been using the Central Winger, and it really is the CW at it’s very best and most direct. Alar, the CW, picks the ball up in central midfield and spots the hole in the defence between the FAK left back and centre back. He then drives with the ball into that space, running directly at the defence. This threat is so severe that five defenders track Alar’s run, completely ruining their defensive organisation. A simple square pass inside to Schmerbock, and we get a decent shot on goal. Very simple, but very, very effective. The CW running at a defence, committing bodies, before laying off a pass to allow us a shot on goal. Exactly what I want. This utilisation of space is far better than it was on FM14, and the right CW will be able to spot these open gaps in defences.

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Because of his instructions, the CW will also be very effective when play breaks down. Here, we’ve had a shot on goal and the ball has rebounded out to Alar. He’s pressed by 2 defenders, with one covering deeper. Alar however, recognises the space in the centre and dribbles his way into this space. The defender next to Molina comes across to block and Alar simply squares the ball to Molina, who finishes easily. Again, simple but effective. Directly running at a defence, and laying a simple ball off for a goal. Perfect Central Winger play.

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I’ve always found the CW to be most effective when combined with a striker that drops deeper off the front line. In my 4-1-4-1 with Sturm, I’ve used a CF-S and DLF-S, both designed to break off the front line, and create space either in front of, or behind the defence. Here, you can see very basically how well this works. Our RPM Offenbacher plays the pass in white into the DLF Molina (don’t ask me why he’s facing the wrong way). Seeing this, Alar breaks forward, and moves past Molina making the run in red. His marker doesn’t go with him, leaving Alar completely open. Unfortunately, Molina’s pass is poor and Alar is forced to pick the ball up out wide, but the threat is always there. This happens less than it did last year, but it’s still a key element of what makes the CW so effective.

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The Central Winger is not just a threat when dribbling with the ball and when near a striker either. The Central Winger contributes to the overall play of the team by providing vertical movement throughout the attacking phase, starting from deep. Here, the CW Alar has picked the ball up in his LCM spot. Rather than dribbling this time, he moves the ball out wide to the winger Akiyoshi, who subsequently moves the ball inside to our other central midfielder, Schnaderbeck. Once again, the CW Alar moves without the ball and bursts forward making the run in blue, moving past Schnaderbeck as the ball comes to him.

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Here is the continuation of the above move. Schnaderbeck is pressed by 3 defenders and smartly moves the ball into Alar, who then spots the pass in red into our right midfielder, who unfortunately is offside. However, this shows the movement of the CW within the attacking phase, following the ball forward, from central midfield to the edge of the box, and creating good chances for our goalscorers. In a few seconds we’ve gone from central midfield to the opposition box. The CW is not necessarily a ‘creative’ role, but it will create chances for other players simply by committing opposition defenders.

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The CW will also move into the Number 10 zone at times, which can cause absolute havoc for the defence. Here, the CW has moved into this 10 zone late in the attack, and receives the ball from Schnaderbeck. The opposition defence can either come out and close him down, leaving space behind them, or allow him to keep running (which they do). He then moves forward towards the edge of the box and fires a shot past the opposition keeper. It’s always a danger with a 4-1-4-1 that the striker can become isolated, but the CW’s fantastic movement avoids this problem.

I will admit that the Central Winger has changed somewhat from FM14. I wouldn’t say it’s quite the same goalscoring threat as before, but it has become so much more effective in overall play, dominating midfield, working box to box, creating opportunities for other players, and completely ruining the opposition’s defensive organisation. The right player in the CW role will constantly commit defenders, eventually leading to someone being unmarked. When 5 AI defenders cover the run of one man, you know the role is effective. Combined with a Roaming Playmaker, the Central Winger will run your midfield, and cause serious problems for the opposition.

I have always said that the ideal Central Winger would be Angel Di Maria, and on FM15 it remains the same. Classic winger/inside forward attributes are needed, with good finishing ability and decent passing. In simple terms, a box to box midfielder, with better dribbling. Having said that, in a midfield 3, the CW’s tackling really isn’t important. Although he presses the ball, it’s a bit passive in my system, in order to retain shape. Increasing the pressing of the CW would be a very interesting experiment, something I might have to try someday.

I hope you all enjoyed reading about the Central Winger again for FM15. If you have any questions about how I use the CW within my tactic or anything like that, please don’t hesitate to ask.

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.