In my FM15 preview post, I spoke about wanting to do something along the lines of the current Real Madrid setup, which is basically a 4-4-2. I’m an avid supporter of 4-4-2, and I’ve always believed that the formation gets a bad reputation, especially amongst British fans/media (I’m looking at you Gary Lineker). I’ll go further into my support of 4-4-2 when I do the full article on this tactic when the game releases, but I believe Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan are one of the best teams to watch that I’ve ever seen, and they used 4-4-2. It’s about the system, not the formation. I’m sure Pep Guardiola could use 4-4-2 at Bayern, and they’d still produce wonderful football.
Anyway, back on topic. After a brief dabble with my 3-6-1 with Manchester United, I switched saves to try out this ‘4-4-2’ with Real Madrid. I put 4-4-2 in inverted commas, because it’s not a standard 4-4-2 and is quite asymmetric. I’m not doing this just to be complicated (although that’s probably a factor), I’m doing it to try to accurately recreate the performances of specific players, particularly Kroos, Modric and Ronaldo.
Here it is to the right. I would have used the picture from the tactics screen, but it looks so cluttered and messy, so for now, it’s easier to show you the formation layout from the ‘player’ tactics screen, which looks nice and neat to me. In goal I’ve gone for my usual Sweeper Keeper on ‘defend’, which I always prefer. After dabbling with a Back 3, the Back 4 is very simple, with the full backs set as FB-S, and the centre backs set as CD-D. Nice and simple, but it’s proven to be very solid so far, and I’ve noticed a giant gulf in quality between Ramos/Pepe/Varane, and Manchester United’s CB’s, mostly in terms of mental attributes. They position themselves better, and are far more composed on the ball. Then at DMCR I’ve used a DLP-D, who is asked to ‘dribble less’. This is Toni Kroos’ role, who picks up the ball from the centre backs, and orchestrates from deep. Kroos has been fantastic in this role so far, much like in real life. Ahead of him at LCM is the new ‘Roaming Playmaker’ role, and Luka Modric plays here. Kroos and Modric provide a perfect staggered double pivot in central midfield, and are a possession keeping machine. In defence they don’t get caught out of position, and can hold their own against 3 man midfields. On the left is a Defensive Winger on ‘support’ who is asked to ‘run wide with ball’ and ‘get further forward’ at the moment I’m playing Gareth Bale here, and he’s been fantastic, but for certain reasons I’ll explain later, he won’t be staying in this role. On the right, I’ve used the new ‘Wide Playmaker’ role. I was planning on using James Rodriguez here, but he got himself injured for 2-3 months, so I’ve been using Isco in this role. Upfront, I’ve set Benzema in the centre forward position, with the DLF-S role. Just to the left of him in the left striker position, is Cristiano Ronaldo, set as a CF-A. I’ve offset Ronaldo to the left to try and encourage Ronaldo’s movement out wide that he still does as a striker, and I’ve allowed him to ‘roam from position’ to further encourage this. It’s been working pretty well so far, but it’s still a work in progress, as I’ll explain later.
First off, I’ll show you our standard defensive shape. This is in a friendly match against PSG, and Silva has the ball. You can see we’ve settled into a solid ‘two banks of four’ shape, with everyone important either covered, or marked. The only passes Silva has on are the blue passes, which I’m more than happy to allow him to take. We’ll keep our solid shape, and allow them to have pointless possession. I’ve often said before that I want my teams to have possession, but it’s not the be all and end all for me. I’m happy to allow other teams to have more of the ball, as long as we can retain our shape and not allow them through. I’m not overly keen on Coentrao’s positioning right next to Ramos, but he’s not so narrow that he’s leaving space, as Lucas is much deeper anyway. This two banks of four shape is incredibly consistent, and is something I’m very happy with.
To show you how defensively solid this shape and tactic is, here is PSG’s passing map from the above game. Annoyingly, we lost this match 1-0, but it certainly wasn’t due to the tactic. As you can see, there are barely any passes in our final third, and in total, PSG have only attempted 5 passes into our box. We had 24 shots on goal, and only 5 on target. They had 2 shots on target, one being a David Luiz free kick from 25-30 yards. Awesome.
You can see the sheer amount of passes PSG have made in the central third of the pitch. That honestly doesn’t bother me, I’ll let them pass it around there for the entirety of the match, if we can counter attack and finish one time. Unfortunately we didn’t this time, but I can see that the potential is there. All it takes is a few tweaks, and Bale, Ronaldo and Benzema to finish the chances they get. Unfortunately, there’s an issue when players are through on goal, they tend to take their shots just outside of the box, which really is far too early. I hope it’s something that’s altered before the full release.
Here’s a screenshot of our attacking shape, which I’m fairly happy with so far. Benzema (DLF) has just dropped deep to collect the ball and has moved it on to Ronaldo, who is now acting just like Ronaldo and is running at the defence. We’ve still got Modric and Kroos as the staggered double pivot protecting the defence, and Bale is forward supporting in the DW role. Isco is forward in the WP role, but isn’t really affecting play in the way I’d like. This is something I’ll go into later. Apart from that, I’m very happy with the attacking shape of the side. The FB’s also aren’t too far forward, so there’s no danger of being countered there. In fact, they’re perhaps too far back, so I may look at making them more aggressive. Should the IWB role begin to work properly, I’d love to pair one with the defensive winger. Here’s another screenshot of our attacking shape.
Here’s the problem. It’s a recurring issue, and a general problem with the Wide Playmaker role. We’re on the counter with the deadly trio of Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema, with Isco out wide as the the Wide Playmaker. To begin with, he keeps up with the break, but then tails off and just holds his position. This is all well and good, but Benzema and Ronaldo make the runs highlighted in red. To really stretch the defence, we need Isco to be a bit higher up, and make the run highlighted in yellow. This isn’t surprising, but the wide playmaker isn’t a dynamic role, and therefore isn’t useful on the break. In Real Madrid’s 4-4-2 however, James is both a creative outlet, and a threat on the break. What’s more, I don’t really find the WP to be that creative. As @MrEds put it, it’s just a wide player who attracts the ball a bit more. So for that reason, I’m planning on switching the right midfielder to a WM-A, with instructions to make him to cut inside, and I plan on playing Bale there. He’ll be far more dynamic in that role, and will make those late runs on the counter that were so vital to Madrid last year. I’ll probably move Isco over to the left and ask him to play the Defensive Winger role, which he’s doing very well this year. Of course, if Perez hadn’t sold Angel Di Maria, he’d be perfect there.
There’s a brief preview of how the ‘4-4-2’ is developing, and my thought process on potential changes. I’m still planning on using this tactic in my first proper save with Austria Salzburg, but it needs some work before then. However, the team performance against PSG was near perfect, if Casillas had saved the free kick, and we’d scored with 1 of our 24 shots. There is definite potential here.