The Leverkusen 1-2-4-1-2-0

It’s been far too long sScreen Shot 2015-07-24 at 10.04.06ince I’ve done a tactical analysis post (since my analysis of my 4-5-1-0 with Eibar in fact). These type of write-ups used to make up the majority of my FM writing, but as this year has gone on I have enjoyed the saves I’ve been playing so much that I’ve tried to blend both the tactics and the story aspects together. However, it’s now time to go back to the tactical articles, to look at and disect the new tactic I’ve been using in the Leverkusen save, a 1-2-4-1-2-0. In effect, it’s a strikerless 3-4-1-2, but with a Libero instead of a third centre back.

It was part of not only a tactical shift, but a stylistic shift within the club. Over the first three seasons, I’d used possession based tactics in an asymmetrical 4-3-1-2 and a 4-4-2 diamond, which passed forward aggressively, but then probed around the opposition’s box, looking for a way in, and being patient. I wanted to move away from this somewhat, moving to a more direct, counter attacking approach, with a very fast tempo. It’s highly inspired by my recent research of the 1991 Red Star Belgrade team.

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 10.34.30This is the tactic itself on the right with the roles selected. In goal I’ve gone for my usual Sweeper Keeper on defend as the defensive line is pushed up, and I tend to prefer them by default now on FM15. Ahead of that is a Libero on support duty to act as a more playmaking version of the sweeper, and then two standard CD-D’s. Ahead of that is a bank of 4 with two defensive midfielders and the wing backs. In defensive midfield I’ve gone for a standard DM-D to cover for the attacking movement of the CWB’s, and a Roaming Playmaker, to allow for the growing talents of all rounder Daniel Vener, who is now probably the best player at the football club. I want him to march forward from defensive midfield and control the play of the team when we’re in deep positions.

Ahead of that is the attacking triumvirate of the BBM-S, AM-A and SS-A. The two AMC’s effectively act as deeper strikers, with the AM-A being the more playmaking of the two, and the SS-A basically being a deep poacher, who runs aggressively at the defence. The box to box midfielder is also unleashed by the lack of strikers, and tends to get beyond the two AMC’s and into goalscoring positions. For this reason the BBM needs to be a competent finisher, and I’ve made what some would consider to be a strange choice here, moving Etou onto the bench, and retraining Thiago as a central midfielder. I know it seems odd, but it works beautifully.

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Here are the instructions I’ve selected. I’ve moved to ‘more direct passing’ with this tactic rather than my usual retain possession and shorter passing. It’s transformed the passing of the side, but in a good way, with us looking much more positive on the ball now and making quick transitions from box to box. We’re still crafty when we get to the box though, with ‘pass into space’ and ‘work ball into box’ selected. I’ve selected ‘play out of defence’ as I want the team to counter well, and if the team doesn’t play it out from the back well, then we will lose those opportunities. I want the ball worked to the DM’s, then out wide, and then into the attacking trio, where they can cause havoc. Without playing it out well, all of this is impossible. The other role selections largely reflect our shape and pressing. I ask the team to push up and play wider in order to stretch the horizontal space when we have the ball, but compress the vertical space when we’re defending. This combined with our high tempo and aggressive pressing make us a real threat in transition, exactly what I want.

So clearly this tactic is quite attacking, so how do we do defensively?

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Well, here’s the team against Koln, and we’ve just lost the ball deep in the opposition half. As you can see, we’ve got a defensive diamond in red, outnumbering the Koln players by 4 to 2, meaning that we’ve got a very good chance of winning the ball back if Koln pump the ball into this area. You can also see the that CWB’s are quickly making the runs in blue in order to get back into position and help out the centre backs. Furthermore, you can also see the midfielders moving in to press the ball immediately with 3 players making the pressing movements in yellow. So although we’ve got 6 men forward, we’re still more than strong defensively, and well equipped to cope with a counter attack, something that Bundesliga teams are very good at.

I also want to point out the positioning of the Libero. Although he hasn’t (and doesn’t) moved forward like I’d ideally want the Libero too, he’s covering well behind the defense, and is ideally placed to pick out any pass to their striker nearby. The defence is also narrow enough for my tastes, and moves narrower as the play develops.

All of these combine to Oliveira (the right centre back) stepping up and making the interception as Koln try to force the ball forward, and we’re on the attack again. You can see that although the back 3 stays wide, they narrow quickly.

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Here’s an example of the Back 3 splitting in this tactic. The splitting is nowhere near as bad as on FM14, but it is still somewhat wider than I would like it to be. This example is from kick off, and shows you our standard shape in possession of the ball. The reason I’m not horrified by the back 3 splitting is:

a.) they narrow very quickly anyway.

b.) the presence of the double pivot in front of them.

You can see the double pivot in yellow, covering the spaces either side of the Libero. Whilst the Roaming Playmaker on the right has the freedom and license to step up and attack, the DM-D stays back, and helps cover these spaces. As in the examples above, you can see the additional cover this provides. Furthermore, you can also see the central strength we’ve got with the midfield 5 in a 2-1-2 shape. This allows us to build up play through the middle should we wish, but we’ve also got the CWB’s who have already pushed very high up on the flanks, almost creating a front 4 of sorts with the AMC’s. It’s almost a pseudo 3-3-4.

Screen Shot 2015-08-23 at 13.45.27The above image illustrates one of the ‘issues’ with this tactic. The Libero. He’s not a Libero. You would expect him to march forward with the ball in the example above, but instead he passes it to the RPM and holds his position.

You can see this from the average positions chart on the left, with the Libero in line with the CD-D’s. It really is hipster role selection on my part to select a Libero, but I still love the way he plays in the system. He drops slightly deeper than the CD-D’s, and steps up when he needs to. I also allow him greater passing range (amongst other things), meaning he does spray the ball about from the centre back position, but he just doesn’t step forward as the Libero should. The furthest forward I see him is at throw ins, which isn’t a realistic example. Basically, he’s a more creative sweeper. However, I have no problems with this, and I like the role as it is (however, I want the Libero to work properly on FM16 thank you SI).

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Having shown our transition defence, and our general shape when in control of possession, here’s the shape we move into when we’re in our standard defensive shape (whilst still pressing very aggressively), and it’s a loose 5-3-2 shape. The wing backs are the hybrid players here, being asked to shuttle up and down the wings in order to aid pressing. Here, Austria Wien have control of the ball on the left flank, and the right CWB-A Busquets has vacated his position flanking the the Back 3 to press the ball, and is doing so along with the RPM Vener, and the BBM Thiago. On top of that, Vener’s presence is preventing the Austria Wien player from making the easy pass inside into the centre of the park.

The Libero is also covering Austria Wien’s only striker, meaning that the only pass available to the man on the ball is the pass in red backwards. I’m more than happy to allow that, and press the ball as it moves across to the other side. In the end, the trio press the ball making the yellow movements, and win the ball back. Yet again, we’re quickly on the attack. Aggressive defence turning into attack. Very much my philosophy.

Screen Shot 2015-08-23 at 14.50.35This aggressive defending and strong structure clearly has an effect on our opposition. The screenshot on the right is taken from a recent win against Schalke in the Bundesliga, and you can see the issues we’ve given them in terms of building up the play. There’s a lot of red passes there, and there really isn’t a lot of passes in general. There’s a decent amount around their box and at the halfway line, but moving into our defensive midfield area the amount of passes even attempted decreases rapidly, and when you look at our box, Schalke have only made 3 passes into our box all game. No matter how you look at it, that’s a stifling defensive performance.

Conversely, when you look at our pass chart from the same game, you see the ease we have in passing the ball through the middle of the park against Schalke (and Diego Simeone’s) 4-2-3-1. We’re not as ball hungry as we were with the previous tactics, but we comfortably pass the ball through the centre, using the wings as an out ball if needed, with the CWB’s providing vital width. The passing through the middle is a key feature of our attacking play, through the BBM, AM and SS. It’s fast, short, but direct, and it allows us to press very quickly should we lose the ball.

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Here’s an example of what I mean. The BBM Thiago picks up the ball in central midfield, and immediately has runners in the two AMC’s. Furthermore, the right CWB is also providing width high up on the right side, occupying the opposition wide players. Thiago can make either the yellow pass to Mbiyavanga, or the orange pass to Dudé, and makes the correct choice, finding Dudé.

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From there, Thiago (BBM-S) makes his run forward, supporting the ‘front two’. Meanwhile, Mbiyavanga continues to make his run. Dudé can either make the simple pass to Thiago or the very tough pass to Mbiyavanga. However, he waits, and dribbles at the defence, waiting for the opportunity to make a better pass.

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The trio end up in this position, with Thiago continuing his run from deep in white, and Mbiyavanga continuing to make his run in yellow. From this position, we’re still 3 v 5, but the quality of Dudé, Thiago and Mbiyavanga is enough to break through this numerical disadvantage. In the end, Dudé makes the orange pass, perfectly meeting Thiago’s run.

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That one pass cuts out two of the opposition players, and now we’re really threatening, with our three best attacking players going in on goal. After making the pass Dudé turns and makes the green run on goal, supporting the attack (and the right CWB is up, making the run in blue), but Thiago makes the correct decision, playing the red pass and putting Mbiyavanga in on goal, meeting his run in yellow, leaving him 1 on 1 with the keeper. Unfortunately he misses, but this is typical of the kind of attacking play and movement that this tactic generates. At times, it really can be stunning to watch.

As good as you can see we are defensively with our aggressive pressing and will to win the back back, we’re also lethal in attack with our fast vertical movement. It’s exactly the type of football I like, and so far this tactic has proved extremely successful in the Leverkusen save. I’ve really enjoyed using it, and I thought I’d write this to show why it’s working so fantastically.

Speaking of the Leverkusen save, the updates for that will return soon. I’ve got a busy couple of weeks coming up, but after that normal service will resume. Until then, thank you very much for your continued support of The Tactical Annals, and I hope you all enjoyed reading this article, something a little different, and more like the articles I used to write when I began writing about Football Manager. As always, if you have any questions please feel free to ask either in the comments section of this blog or on Twitter (@JLAspey).

Why 4-5-1 Is The ‘Best’ Formation on FM15’t worry, this isn’t going to be one of those FM articles where someone claims that their tactic is ‘the best and most effective tactic you’ll find on FM15’. However, I’m going to put forward my opinion of what is the ‘best’ formation to use on FM15.

Of course, my idea of ‘best’ is going to differ from those that claim their tactic is the best, really meaning the best for that particular team, in that particular league with those particular players and signings. My idea of the best formation relates to the most useful, the most versatile, whilst still being very effective.

So, first off, why do I like the 4-5-1 formation, when it’s largely thought of as such a bland formation, right alongside 4-4-2? Well, this won’t turn into a rant, because those of you that have read this blog will know of my complaints relating to the positioning of AM’s and DM’s, but conversely, my love of CM’s in this year’s version. They’re so versatile in their positioning, and you can make up for the issues with AM and DM positioning by tweaking the roles slightly. For example, as I showed in the Central Winger article (a tweaked CM-A), the CW will regularly move up into the AM strata to support the strikers.

The first reason I like the 4-5-1 is that it’s so solid defensively.

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This screenshot is taken from the Sturm Graz save (which I’m still trying to get back into), and a league match against Rapid. We’re 2-0 up at this point, so Rapid really need to push forward, and they are. As you can see, with the roles I’ve chosen we have a fantastic defensive shape. The Central Winger has moved forward to press the opposition midfielder, and the wide midfielders are tucking in, giving us quite a narrow defensive shape, whilst still retaining enough width to cover the sidelines. The DLF-S has dropped deeper and is in a position to help should the Rapid midfielder play it square. Most importantly, the CM-D is acting like a hybrid of a central midfielder and a defensive midfielder. You can see from his positioning that he’s available to cover either space, depending on where Rapid move the ball. This can give us both a flat midfield 5, or a 4-1-4-1 shape. Again, flexibility.

In addition, with the right roles selected on the wings (aka ‘attack’ duties), the 4-5-1 will morph into a far more attacking shape when you’re attacking. This is hardly a groundbreaking piece of information in Football Manager, but with the issues with AML/R defending and tracking back this year, this fact has become even more important. Even with a 4-5-1, where 5 of the midfielders are deep, you won’t have any issues with bodies going forward.

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This screenshot is from the same game against Rapid, and you can see the sheer amount of bodies we have forward. Hardly a negative tactic. This tactic is used with the ‘control’ strategy so it isn’t cavalier in terms of going forward, but it does presume that we are the dominant side in the match and therefore, the ones doing the majority of the attacking. The thing that I love about this image is the CM-D circled in white, who is doing exactly what you’d want from a defensive midfielder, sitting in front of the defense, ready to pick up any clearances, or stop any counter attacks.

However, the main thing that I like about the 4-5-1 is how versatile and flexible it is. All the roles and the entire shape of the side can be altered without actually changing the ‘shape’ that shows up on the tactics screen. Therefore, you won’t have any issues with familiarity that you would usually have.

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 15.48.08For example, this on the left is the collection of roles that I start the match with. It will morph into a 4-3-3 shape when we go forward, and in defence it constantly switches from a flat 4-5-1 to a 4-1-4-1 depending on the positioning of the CM-D (who certainly needs to be an intelligent player with good positioning).

This is clearly a solid tactic by itself, as you can see above, but say for example it’s the Champions League, and I’m playing a Real Madrid, or a Juventus, and somehow we’ve sneaked a goal to go 1-0 up in the 70th minute. Ridiculous idea I know, but bear with me.

The opposition are clearly going to pour forward at this point, desperate to get the equaliser. The Sturm side I’ve built is very good, with good defenders and a good defensive shape, but against players like Ronaldo, Bale and Modric, this may not be enough, and I’ll probably need more bodies back.

It’s at this point that I could alter the key roles in the central 3 of the 5 man midfield, and completely change the shape of the side. Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 15.58.37

I could switch to this on the right. On the surface, it still looks like a 4-5-1, but with the way CM’s position themselves this year, it would morph into more of a 4-2-3-1, with the CM-D’s staying deeper, and the AP-A providing the passes for the WM-A and W-A on the counter attack. Rather than having just one CM-D staying deep whilst the rest attack, you’d have a far more solid base (with my two best midfield tacklers in Lovric and Wydra), whilst still having some threat on the attack.

If things got really bad and we were still being overrun in midfield, I could switch the AP-A to an AP-S and just focus on breaking down the wings and putting crosses in to the striker (it helps if you’ve go a big fast lump like Super Kev upfront).

I’m a lot less reactive than I used to be on Football Manager (mainly as a result of testing tactics out to write about), but to me, this seems like a no brainer. You end up having a whole set of tactics in one, avoiding all the inevitable issues with the tactical familiarity system in full fat FM15.

This is why the flat 4-5-1 is the best formation in FM15, rather than the best ‘tactic’, because you can actually have 3 or 4 tactics within one formation if you spot the key times during the game when changing the in game shape makes sense. I say it’s the best formation, not because it seems very strong in the way that the 4-1-4-1 does, but simply because if you use it correctly, you can create almost every Back 4 system, and constantly keep the AI guessing.

It certainly fits my Sturm side very well, and I’m going to keep playing that save with this 4-5-1, not only because I enjoy watching it, but because I want to get that save back up and running again and get the motivation to play it. I hope you enjoyed reading my opinions on the 4-5-1, and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask either on here or at @JLAspey.

‘Playing The Patch’ – The Strikerless 4-5-1-0

I’ve had a few problems with FM15 lately. There’s been a few things that have really been irritating me, particularly relating to player positioning, and how SI have interpreted certain positions. This article isn’t going to be a rant, but there’s several positions that I’ve become very annoyed by. I don’t like AMR/L’s on FM15. I find them largely useless when defending, and for someone as focused on defending (shamelessly a defence first manager) as I am, it’s meant I haven’t used them. Last year, I used them in a very successful 4-3-3 with *coughSalzburgcough* but I won’t use them this year until a patch sorts out their farcical efforts in defence. A bunch of successful teams throughout football history have used what SI would consider to be AMR/L’s, and they don’t act anything like they do in FM15. I also don’t like the positioning of AMC’s. With an ‘attack’ duty, they end up too far away from the rest of the midfield, and again, don’t contribute at all defensively. On ‘support’ they’re too close to the rest of the midfield, leaving me to think why on Earth would I bother using an AMC then? With Stuttgart, Roguljic was set as an AP-S, and he ended up being in the same line as the double pivot when I looked at average positions. If he’s going to end up in the same position as a central midfielder, why am I using an attacking midfielder?

I don’t like the positioning of forwards on an ‘attack’ duty, particularly Advanced Forwards. They go missing far too easily, and don’t contribute to build up play at all. I know the role itself should lead the line, but they should do far more than they do. Diego Costa lead the line last season for Atletico Madrid, but he didn’t just stay on the last man and leave the rest of the side to pass the ball towards him. As you’ve seen with the 3-5-2 with Sturm, I ended up using two strikers on ‘support’ duties in order to avoid this. In addition, I don’t like the positioning of DMC’s. On ‘defend’ I feel that they stay too deep, but I’m not brave enough to use ‘support’ for DMC’s. Also, the CM-D role is fantastic on FM15, and seems to do everything a DMC does (certainly a non-playmaker DMC), so again, I’m starting to wonder why I’ve used one.

All in all, I’ve been a bit miffed. It seems to me that the 4-1-4-1 is by far the best formation on FM15. Obviously it still takes brains to put one together (no insult to those around the FM community who have created some fantastic 4-1-4-1’s), and there are various different ways of playing it, but it certainly seems to be the best that I’ve seen and used. I’m at a point now where I refuse to use one anymore, and I’ll be sticking to that for the remainder of FM15, unless the inevitable patch renders it useless, and therefore challenging to use again.

This leads me onto the actual topic of this article, a new tactical idea. I’ve been feeling myself being drawn back to Strikerless football recently thanks to the fantastic articles that @MerryGuido has been writing (go check out his Strikerless blog if you’ve been living in a cave, it’s fantastic). This has also coincided with a save that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, with Eibar in Spain. I’m not sure whether it’s a save that’s going to stick yet, but I’m using it as a tester to try out a new tactical concept, a Strikerless 4-5-1-0.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 19.24.52Here’s the formation. Obviously, Eibar are pretty low in terms of quality in comparison to many of the teams in La Liga, and therefore I’m having to be pretty defensive. Despite that, I’m actually using quite a few things that work very well on this version of FM15, without resorting to using something that I feel is ‘very strong’ like 4-1-4-1.

I always use a SK, so that’s automatic. The back 4 is also pretty standard, with two CWB-S’s (roles I’ve come to love, even if I don’t completely know the difference between them and WB-S’s – hipster role selection).

When you see all the complaints I’ve made above, you’ll notice that CM’s are missing. Well, that’s because I love them on FM15, and you can cover every single position in the centre of the pitch with them. We’ve got a CM-D to drop deep and cover the DM strata, a BBM midfielder to cover both, and a CM-A to move into the AM strata. The CM-A isn’t a Central Winger this time, as I don’t want him to dribble, I want the team to move the ball around from man to man, rather than allowing one man to dribble more than the rest.

In addition, there’s MR/L’s who are set to be attacking, and will move into the AML/R zones without having all the problems that AML/R’s have with defending. Up ‘top’ in the AMC position, I’ve gone for a Trequartista after some testing. Initially I wanted a Shadow Striker here to act like a deep striker, but he didn’t get involved enough, and a Trequartista provides much better movement as the 4 players behind him break from deep, with the CM-D hanging back. I may dislike AMC’s at times on FM15, but the Treq is absolutely key to this tactic, and because the AMC doesn’t have a striker in front of him, his movement seems somewhat different.

Clearly, this isn’t going to be the kind of tactic that a team can learn quickly, and initial results weren’t fantastic in pre-season friendlies as I tweaked the roles and mentality of the tactic, (it’s now ‘standard’ one of my favourites from FM14) and re-trained some players. At the start of the season I was still tweaking it, and eventually plugged the right players, roles and mentality together at half time against Real Sociedad, when we were already 3-0 down. We came out far better in the 2nd half though, and eventually went down 3-1. Fairly respectable when you consider Elche lost 7-0 to Barca. The next match was away against Atletico, and we played amazingly. We ended up with more passes into the box than them, had far less shots, but until the 80th minute we were 1-0 up, until a Cerci 25 yarder and a calamitous defensive mistake gave them a 2-1 win (a crash dump later robbed me of that performance). Still, we continued the good form and drew 0-0 with Deportivo, who had started the season well…

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In the next game, this happened. It was one of those games where you feel like your tactic has really started to ‘work’. We completely outplayed them in the proverbial relegation 6 pointer and the 4-5-1-0 performed exactly as I wanted it to. I’m going to look through the game, look at the goals we scored, and show how the 4-5-1-0 works.

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note: The roles do not show up in the pre-game screen.

Here’s the lineups. Elche set out in the standard Spanish 4-3-3. The roles the AI has used look a little strange, but hey, who am I to judge? We line up in the 4-5-1-0 and look pretty well equipped to battle their setup. We’ve got a good amount of central players to combat them in midfield, and their only real source of width is a W-S and a FB-A, which I feel we can comfortably deal with. I didn’t tweak anything at all, nor did I need to throughout the match.

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Immediately, you can see how well equipped we are to combat Elche’s attack. Our back 4 has very little to be concerned about, with only one striker up top, and we have the clear numerical dominance. Their AP-A at AMR isn’t threatening us at all, and is almost in line with the FB-S on his side. Our CM-D has dropped back into the DM strata, providing us with even more defensive superiority, and we’ve formed a diamond in midfield. We’ve got a 4 vs. 3 advantage here, and Elche will do well to pass through central midfield. Atletico struggled to pass through us, so at this point I’m very confident that Elche will struggle.

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After 9 minutes, we really start to threaten. We force them to kick it long from a free kick, and begin our build up. The ball is played out to our Winger Nieto, who makes the run in blue and tries to take his man on. Meanwhile, Dani Garcia makes a run forward to support, as does our CM-A Boateng. Our right midfielder Del Moral also breaks forward, and we’ve already got plenty of runners. Our Treq Berjon however, doesn’t break forward, and instead comes over to help Nieto (making the movement in yellow), who doesn’t manage to beat his man.

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Nieto moves the ball into Berjon, and makes his own run forward, joining 3 other runners. Berjon draws 3 Elche defenders towards him and makes the pass in blue to Garcia. We’re now 4 vs. 4 in attack and in a position to get a shot at the keeper. It’s fantastic movement from the Trequartista, who gravitated towards the ball, allowing the runners to move past him. Our nominal ‘front man’ is now deeper than 4 of the midfielders, and in a position to create havoc.

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Garcia makes the correct decision and squares the ball to Boateng. Boateng then spots the run made by the right midfielder Del Moral, and plays him in. Unfortunately, the keeper saves this shot, but we’re already threatening to score, carving our way through Elche, with some fantastic vertical movement past the Trequartista.

3 minutes later, we went 1-0 up.

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Nothing too complex to begin this move. Boateng moves the ball into Ekiza, who plays the direct pass into Del Moral. You can see the strange shape we’ve forced Elche into at this point. It’s still their 4-3-3, but we’ve turned it into something completely different with our movement and passing.

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Del Moral then holds the ball up a little and plays it into Berjon, our Treq. From here, he’s got plenty of runners to aim for. In particular, the BBM and the left winger have both got loads of space, with Elche trying to press us over on our right flank. That’s not going to work.

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For some odd reason, the BBM Garcia holds his run, but our left winger Nieto continues, receiving the easy pass from Berjon and sticking it in at the near post past the keeper. 1-0. These screenshots and my descriptions really don’t describe how lovely this goal was to watch, and it was exactly the type of football I want to see. Who thought a 4-5-1-0 would be defensive?

After 27 minutes, we went 2-0 up.

This is the first video I’ve ever uploaded to this blog, so I apologise for it not being great quality. It would be better quality, but for some reason FM15 won’t let me upload to YouTube, so SnagIt has been used. I want to show the next two goals so I can analyse them, and also show you quite how fluid the football we play is.

This goal shows quite how important the Treq is to this tactic, as he is included in all aspects of the goal. He combines with the left winger Nieto, before collecting the ball and moving out wide, pulling one of Elche’s central midfielders with him. A lovely exchange between the left back, the BBM Garcia, and Nieto ends up with Berjon in front of the goal, and he sticks it in the far corner. It’s flowing, positive, attacking football. It’s not suicidal though, and we still have 4 men back should Elche manage to get the ball and counter attack.

This one, I am particularly proud of. It’s one of the nicest goals one of my teams have ever scored on Football Manager. The ball starts off at a throw in and works itself around most of the team. It’s not frantic, but it is very patient (a result of the standard mentality, we keep the ball well when we have it), and when the ball moves up to the Treq, that’s when it comes to life, as our CM-A plays it to Del Moral (the right midfielder) who plays it through to Berjon to finish off the move. It’s absolutely lovely football, finishing them off and securing a massive 3-0 win early in the season. Berjon was also absolutely outstanding as the Treq, scoring 2, assisting 1 and making 5 key passes.

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As for how we coped with them defensively the rest of the game, I think this shows it best. We made it look oddly easy, and most of Elche’s shots were from corners or free kicks. To contrast that, the majority of our shots were from inside the box, after nice build up play.

Clearly, this 4-5-1-0 has potential, and I’m going to continue using it with Eibar, before deciding whether the save is worth writing about. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my thoughts, and I apologise for the semi-rant at the start. As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

A Brainstorm

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.

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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.

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 23.48.19Immediately, 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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 11.59.22Alar’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.

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 12.04.34I 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.

A Tactical Brainstorm And Preview

I’ll admit it, I was hoping to have had a tactical piece out by now. Whether that was the FM15 Central Winger article (which is coming) or something altogether different, I wasn’t sure. I was only a few matches away from being ready to do the article on the 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1 I’d been using with Sturm Graz, but then FM intervened, taking away my star Number 10, and forcing me to change tactics, meaning I hadn’t managed to test the 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1 enough before writing an article on it.

To compensate for this (and also because I’m missing writing about tactics) I thought I’d give you a preview of what I’m hoping to use down the line on FM15. I’d use it now if I could, but there’s certain elements of the game that don’t work quite as SI said they would, meaning for now at least, they’re largely useless.

First off, I’ll show the formation and roles I’d want to use, before explaining the theory behind it.

Here it is to the left. StScreen Shot 2014-11-21 at 11.31.58ill the 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1 that I was using at the beginning of the season with Sturm (and looking at the stats, the tactic I’m likely to go back to), but with a few different roles thrown in that will completely alter the way it plays, and hopefully improve it.

The main changes are switching the striker from a CF-A to a CF-S, as I feel the forward’s been a little too isolated, so dropping his mentality should mean he interacts with the rest of the team more, making us far more fluid in possession. I’ve also switched the DLP-S to a Central Winger, as having two playmakers in the midfield is somewhat pointless, and I want more vertical movement from the midfield going past the AMC.

The right back is set as a FB-S, but this is a temporary decision for now, but with what I want to do with the left back, I’ll need extra cover on the right flank.

You can see the movement I want. I want the WM-A to cut inside and act like a deeper Inside Forward. I need the CW to get forward more than the DLP-S did, and hopefully break past the AMCR and get in support of the striker.

The most important change to the current 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1 is the introduction of an IWB, as it will completely change the shape of the team when we don’t have the ball, and help me refine the style of play I’m looking for with Sturm. Rec,204,203,200_.jpgently, I’ve been reading Pep Confidential (a book that I can highly recommend, that is probably the best football book I have ever read) and there’s a section where Pep is discussing what he wanted to do with Barcelona had he stayed on as coach. Pep talks about wanting to have a full back that forms a double pivot with the DMC when his teams have the ball. Pep is a strong supporter of having one ‘organising midfielder’ but it is clear that he sees the advantages of a double pivot. Pep ended up going past this idea, and using two full backs that come inside into midfield, in Alaba and Lahm. A player similar to this is something I feel would fit perfectly into my 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1, helping us keep possession and rotate the ball up to our more attacking players. Having that extra layer in defensive midfield will allow me to be braver with the other members of the midfield, particularly the CW.

Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 13.43.56This would be the shape whilst in possession, either a 2-3-4-1 or a 3-2-4-1 depending on how you look at it. As you can see, the IWB has come inside, and formed a nice double pivot with the DM-D, meaning if we need to recycle possession across the pitch, then we can. This stability allows me to push the CW high up towards the striker, hopefully making us better in attack, especially with the CF-A now a CF-S

Obviously, with the left back vacating his position, the left flank is somewhat exposed. This means the DW-S role that is already in the 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1 becomes even more important. He’ll have to work box to box initially to cover the IWB as he makes his way back out to the flanks. I’m even considering retraining a left back to play this role, to ensure there’s a player there with good defending skills.

My thinking is that if we do lose the ball up high, we’ve got such a strong attacking shape, that we should be able to press the ball immediately and force the opposition to kick it long, and win that aerial ball and get possession back. Our only risk is an accurate long pass from a defender to a winger, so that’s something I’ll keep an eye on.

I’ve said many times that I’m not possession centric (I’ve often been happy to let my teams sit back and allow the opposition defenders to pass it between themselves, where it doesn’t hurt us), but I do like my teams to have the ball, passing aggressively, it means we’re dominating the game, and that is something I’m focused on. What’s more, this is also part of my plan to beat the hateful Red Bull Salzburg. We don’t dominate the game anywhere near as much as I would like us to against RBS. And by pressing higher up the pitch, with more men, I feel we can cause them far more trouble than we have so far.

Of course, it’s all well and good coming up with these ideas, if you don’t have the players to play in the roles! Well, I think I do.Screen Shot 2014-11-22 at 09.58.15

Klem is hardly Philipp Lahm or David Alaba, but for our level, I think he’s more than suitable for the role. His stats are well rounded, particularly mentally (which I’m a big fan of), and he’s got good attributes in the ones needed for the IWB role I’m imagining. Passing, Work Rate, Positioning etc are all there, as well as his standard left back attributes that will help him should he need to make a quick tackle in the DM position. Klem’s so well rounded that at one point in the season I was considering turning him into a central midfielder, but without any decent cover at left back, it would be pointless. This allows me to get him into central midfield, whilst retaining his position at left back.

Of course, this all sounds perfect doesn’t it? Well, err……not really. There’s no way I can use this tactic right now as the IWB-S role just doesn’t do what SI said it would. The IWB is described like this in game:

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This doesn’t happen. Those runs through the centre of the pitch do not happen. A few days ago on Twitter I was told that an IWB was simply sitting on the shoulder of the left sided centre back, definitely not what I want. Hopefully, SI are working on making this role work properly, as quite a lot of people across the FM scene were looking forward to using it, and I’m now considering it important to my tactical setup going forward, in my battle to topple Salzburg.

Hopefully I can manage to use this setup, because I think it will improve the team considerably, albeit with a few signings, particularly a Central Winger. I’ll be updating the Sturm save soon, and I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading about my plans. I hope to get a proper FM tactical article out as soon as I can, as long as FM stops injuring my important players!

As always, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask me.