I made a post a short time ago advocating the use of “the pocket” in FM, exploiting the space between defence and midfield to bring you scoring chances and causing the opposition defence as much problem as possible. In these articles (there will be several parts), I’ll look at the exact opposite – how to defend this zone and prevent the opposition from doing the same to you.
In an effort to do so, I’ll look at a few different ideas that you can employ within your own tactics. Rather than do this in the course of my own game and potentially cause myself some problems, I’ve started a new game and taken over both Lazio and Udinese – two Italian sides of similar ability. I’ll be replaying a friendly between the two on several occasions and employing various formations in an effort to illustrate my recommendations. I’ll be using, where possible, default formations within the game and asking my assistant to pick the team, take teamtalks, etc so that I am only showing the changes that particular recommended tweaks can make.
In direct contrast to the first post, the situation above is exactly what we’ll be trying to avoid and I hope the following will help you to decide which method of doing so will be most profitable for your own team.
NOTE – some of the screenshots are from FM12 when I started writing this but are still valid.
In the original offensive article, I argued that successful use of the pocket required three things:
- passing options
- the right kind of player
Obviously there’s very little (other than hard tackling and assault) which you can do to effect the last of those bullet points so we’ll start by concentrating on denying the opposition the first two options: space and passing options.
Using at least one DMC
This is probably the most obvious tactic to use, simply filling the space in front of your back four with a player who will naturally sit inside the pocket and protect the defence. There are a variety of “roles” available to you in the TC (tactic creator) for the DMC but rather than look at these individually we’ll just look at the instructions that can help protect the pocket.
The first of these is marking and, where your opposition is using an AMC, man-marking can be one of the most effective ways of protecting the central gap between defence and midfield. By sticking to the AMC, your DMC makes his opponent a less attractive passing option for the rest of the opposition and they’ll be less likely to give him the ball.
In the screenshot to the right you can see Maicosuel’s passing from the AMC position in a 4-2-3-1 against Lazio’s 4-1-2-2-1 using Cana in the DMC position. Cana was employed as DM(S) and Maicosuel as an AM(A), so primarily looking to get beyond the defence but also a clear threat in the pocket. However, the man-marking has completely prevented Maicosuel from exerting any influence whatsoever on the game. He’s made just 10 passes in the entire game, just one has gone forward and only one is in the final third.
Incidentally, he only managed 3 shots, all from outside the box and all completely useless.
What we’ve essentially done here is completely neutralised the opposition’s attacking midfielder and they’re now playing with just 10 men when attacking. A good result all round.
As an aside and before I forget, Mauro Zaraté is a cracking player. Lazio ended up winning this first game 2-0 and he was fantastic throughout.
In a second game, I changed it up slightly to use a trequarista rather than an attacking midfielder, looking to have the player, Di Natale in this instance, stay within the pocket rather than trying to burst beyond it. In the first half, with marking set to “man”, Di Natale was more effective – making 26 passes and many of them offensive. In the second half, I asked Cana to specifically mark Di Natale with much more beneficial results. You can see from this video just how tightly Cana follows Di Natale around the park, preventing the Italian from finding space and exerting any influence on the game.
Remember to choose high resolution
There is, of course, a negative to this. As with any tactic in football, there is an upside and a downside – the downside here being that Cana is so focused on man-marking Di Natale that he leaves an empty zone behind him. Watch the video again and at around the 12-14 seconds mark you will see Cana pushed right up alongside the two central midfielders and a dangerous gap, or pocket, has developed in the 10 yards in front of our defence.
If the AI was smart enough then this is something that could be exploited, either by a striker dropping deep, a winger coming inside or a midfielder running from deep. Something to be aware of but it may be worth it if you are negating the opposition’s best player.
The alternative is, of course, to set your DM to zonal marking. If you are trying to get him to simply sit in front of the defence and protect the central area then this is best combined with low closing down and creative freedom; if you want him to meet runners high up the park or in wider positions then increasing these instructions will help.
To the right you can see how narrow the DMC plays with low closing down, sticking very much within the breadth of the 18-yard box. Once again, there are advantages and disadvantages. The clearest pro being numbers through the middle to prevent passes between or down the sides of your centre halves. The most obvious con being the fact that your DM could get by-passed by teams playing down the flanks although it is worth noting in this case that the DMC will drop back between the centre halves when the ball is wide, providing an additional head to get the ball clear from crosses and attempting to mitigate the effectiveness of a late midfield run.
Here you can see an example of Udinese’s Allan playing in the DMC slot as described above. As Lazio break from deep, Allan decides not to close down the runner early and, as he isn’t assigned to mark a particular player, he sits back to occupy the slot in front of the defence – neatly protecting the pocket. As various players come into his “zone” he moves to block them off and prevent passes into them.
Remember to choose high resolution
Yes, it results in a shot for Lazio but it’s from distance and is a low percentage play. In that game, I set Allan to loose zonal marking with closing down two clicks above “own area”, tweaking these instructions will allow you to get the balance you want.
This sort of DM can be particularly useful when you’re the inferior team and having your DM come racing out to close down brings with it a high risk of him being beaten to the ball or dribbled past – thereby exposing your defence.
So those are some simple methods for using a traditional DMC to protect “the pocket”. I will pick up this theme again in future articles but am currently favouring smaller, more manageable pieces due to the lack of time available to me. Future “parts” of the article will look at playing a high defensive line, the offside trap and stopper centre halves .
I hope you find some of the above useful although I will point out one thing – I am not advocating any of the suggestions above as “the best” one to be used. There is no “best”, the variables in football are too great to make one blanket statement like that. You will need to find the balance in your own team and be mindful of what formation the opposition is playing to make the most of a DMC. This article is just about suggestions and prompting ideas which you can further develop yourself.