Austria & Rapid Wien – Tactical Evolution, Patches and The Wonder of Hoeneß

The longest title of any of my blog articles and potentially one of the longer posts too as I have a lot to cover.

First, as promised, I’ll be looking at the tactical evolution that I kicked off over the summer, what prompted it and what it’s meant for the club side since. This will take in the transfers that I executed in the close season to aid our transition into the chosen tactic, before looking at how we’ve performed in early season results… straddled by the impact of the 13.1.3 patch.

After that, there’s the small matter of the national side where we’ve now completed the qualification games for World Cup 2014. How did we get on? Did I settle on a tactic? Will we be on the plane to Brazil?

Read on to find out…

So… tactical evolution. Some of you might be wondering why I wanted to change at all. We won the league last year, rather comfortably, and reached the final of the main domestic cup too whilst performing reasonably well in Europe. Why change something that isn’t broken?

Well there are a few reasons for my inclination to change.

A slight hint as to the direction of my tactical evolution

First of all, I get bored easily. I have an incredibly short attention span and this often manifests itself within FM as a desperate need to try something new, often to try something unorthodox, certainly to try something that I haven’t tried before. This tactic certainly fits the last of those desires.

Secondly, although the 4-5-1 / 4-3-3 variants were effective over the course of the season I never really felt that we properly hit our stride or were performing to our maximum potential. I felt we were a little one-dimensional – or rather one-and-a-half-dimensional, too often relying on set pieces and the pairing of Drazan and Alar to get us goals.

Which brings me on to the third reason – personnel. As I’ve already said ad nauseam, my player pool is necessarily limited during Club and Country games and I can’t just go out and buy foreign players to make up for improve my squad. Instead I have to make the most of what I’ve got within Austria, trying to develop players that will be ready for the national team.

Given our success last season, there was huge interest in a number of our players and I was more or less expecting to lose both Drazan and Alar during the window. Having read Lee Scott’s update on his own club and country save, I liked the rules that he had set himself with that on “every player having his price” particularly standing out. A move to a bigger club would benefit the player and thereby the national side so I decided that £5m would see either Drazan or Alar on their way.

Having sold Burgstaller in January and expecting Drazan to follow him to the bigger leagues, I was left with a largely wingerless squad. Although there are a few options available to me for these positions, they would have cost significant money and would not have been up to Drazan’s standard… but why ignore what I already had at my disposal?

The “Hutteldorfer”

Instead, I decided to re-assess the squad at my disposal and aim to make the most of my limited resources. What I finally settled on was a 3-4-1-2 as shown to the right. This suited me down to the ground as it has the added advantage of being a system that I haven’t used before, adding a little extra interest to the game.

So how did I reach this conclusion? Well I’d like to think that there was an element of logic to it all although there’s no doubting that I was predisposed towards a 3-at-the-back formation because I was keen to test the suggestion that it had been implemented more effectively in FM13 than previous versions of the game.

The “logical” part of it came about through a look at the youngsters that I want to develop.

My first thought was that we had / have a number of promising strikers that I wanted to assess. Even those who can also play other positions, such as Grozurek and Hoeneß who can play on the flanks, are more suited to a striking role. Therefore, a formation that utilises two up top seemed to make sense and would provide me with enough rotation possibilities to give each of them decent game time.

Secondly, with the highly promising Schaub in my squad, I was keen to utilise an AMC although in a different approach to my usual trequarista preference. As you’ll hopefully have read in my Exploiting the Pocket article, I love a trequarista sitting in front of the opposition’s defence picking through balls for the strikers and wide men. However, experience of this save has told me that in many of the games I’m going to play there will be no gap in front of the opposition defence. Instead, teams are defending deep with a similarly deep midfield and trying to hit me on the break. Therefore, I need movement up front to move the defence out of position which is where my attacking triangle of Attacking Midfielder – Deep Lying Forward – Advanced Forward came into being, attempting to attack centrally from various angles and trying to move those stubborn defences out of their comfort zone.

Once that was decided, the rest of the tactic started to fall into place. I wanted a strong central midfield and so rejected the idea of a wide diamond and, having one eye on 3 at the back, a flat 4 started to make sense. With 3 in central midfield (including the AMC in this), it’s usual to think in terms of having a passer – runner – tackler / creator – spoiler – scorer combination.

The General Idea

Whilst I think this is a valid approach, I’ve tried to implemented a “one-and-a-half” rule here. So we have a deep-lying playmaker on defend duty who is the passer but half a tackler, the ball-winning midfielder who is the tackler but half a runner and the attacking midfielder who is the runner but half a passer… if that makes sense. Again, it’s about additional options and it’s worked out fairly well so far.

The wide midfielders gave me a bit of trouble. At first I couldn’t really decide whether they should be wingbacks or ML/MR. In the end, the personnel available decided this for me and I’m still not entirely convinced that they are as effective here as they would be from wingback positions. However, it’s a case of working with what I’ve got until I’ve had a chance to fully test it either way.

So that’s the general idea of it with the this11.com picture to the right showing the movement that I’m trying to create in order to cover the critical areas of the pitch both with and without the ball.

I’ve tweaked a few of the instructions manually although this is probably the closest tactic I’ve ever had to default TC settings. Partly this is because I agreed with the settings that had been implemented and partly because this match engine has been built by the people who created the TC and therefore the match engine has been amended to suit the instructions that they’ve decided upon.

Protecting the right flank

There are clear weaknesses in my chosen system – most obviously down the flanks. An out and out winger who stays high and wide is going to cause me problems and stretch my 3 man defence. Joined by an attacking full-back, this could be incredibly dangerous. Hence why this is the starting system but is regularly tweaked mid-match with the occasional pre-emptive move on my part.

As an example, this is the starting formation that I adopted against a team with a particularly dangerous right winger whom my scout report informed me was their highest rated player. It was therefore fairly obvious that they would look to use him as their main outlet and he was completely unsuited to coming inside.

This is the most extreme change that I’ve made thus far and I usually either utilise the shouts or manually change the advanced settings.

So that’s the general plan of attack (and defence) for this year which, as I’m sure you’ll remember, was partly brought about because of the expected personnel I would have at my disposal… primarily the loss of Drazan depriving me of my one true winger…

Drazan

Of course, what then happened is that no-one decided to make an offer for Drazan and so I was left to look a little stupid. In fact, no-one made an offer for Alar either. Neither of these facts made me particularly unhappy, though, as they are clearly both outstanding players for our level but it did leave me with a bit of a dilemma. Drazan is a quality winger, as evidenced by his 11 goals and 17 assists last season, but he is not ideally suited to a more defensive role.

However, I wasn’t about to abandon my new tactic because I still fully expect to lose him sooner rather than later and I want to be fully prepared. In the meantime, I’m using the painfully dumbed-down training interface in an effort to improve his defensive attributes, attempting to untrain the “hugs touchline” PPM and playing him in the ML role anyway. He isn’t as effective as last season but I can’t afford for him to sit on my bench and stall his progression – he could be an important asset to the national side in future.

Alar’s lack of transfer, on the other hand, played right into my hands. My initial plan was to use 18 year old Schaub in the attacking midfield role, although I had my reservations due to his age and lack of consistency. With Alar still an option, and a far superior option at that, I feel more confident that we’re going to get a contribution from this area in the big games. It may seem an odd choice to move Alar away from the forward line – after all he scored 28 goals last season when played up top – but the team is stronger with him in the withdrawn role and I have other promising options for both striking positions.

Despite those two staying, the board were incredibly generous in the transfer budget that they made available to me – over £5m. On top of this they extended my allowable wage budget by around £20k a week, a fund which I further improved by re-allocating some of my transfer budget and then shipping out 56 players. Yes, you read that right. Fifty-six players.

To say that we only made £40k from these players leaving tells you all you need to know. 28 of these players have gone out on loan to a variety of Austrian clubs, the vast majority in order to get first team football and prove to me that they’re good enough for Rapid… 99% of them won’t be. All but one of the others was free-transferred including first team squad members, and relatively high earners, Stefan Kulovits and Boris Prokopic.

How much?!

One of the more interesting releases was that of Atdhe Nuhiu, a giant of a targetman who was a regular for Rapid in the 2011-12 season but had a loan spell in Turkey last year. Frankly, he’s utter gash and I had no hesitation whatsoever in telling him I wasn’t renewing his contract. You can imagine my surprise, therefore, when Karlsruhe picked him up and decided to pay him £13,250 a week!! One of the stranger moves I’ve seen.

All that movement left me with a much more manageable squad and some room to manoeuvre in the transfer market. In my last club update, I’d provided details on some pre-arranged transfers including the important one – Michael Gregoritsch.

I was therefore more than happy with the attacking options at my disposal, an area I’ll cover in a little more detail later. What was concerning me, however, was the defence. We weren’t exactly rock solid last season and had lost Gérson who returned to Brazil following his loan spell. That left me with Sonnleitner, who is a decent option, and a series of players that, being polite, I’m not entirely convinced by (Pichler, Piermayr, Spendlhofer) and some very promising but very raw youngsters (Domej and Trost primarily).

I was tempted just to play the youngsters and accept the ensuing defensive weakness but the promise of a Champions League campaign with two teenagers in defence scared me into investing in some better options and I instead sanctioned loan moves for both Domej and Trost, loan moves which seem to have been of benefit thus far.

Lukas Rath

I didn’t entirely abandon my club and country ethos, though, and the key defensive signing I made was that of Lukas Rath, £700k from Mattersburg. It doesn’t take the most perceptive reader to notice that he’s a natural left-back which clearly doesn’t fit with the tactical detail above. However, he is a competent centre back, has decent attributes and is a promising talent. He has performed well thus far, hardly looking out of place in the back 3 and I’m reasonably happy with the investment.

I desperately wanted to sign one of the Austrian centre halves that I have previously identified as future internationals but all attempts to buy Wimmer, Hinteregger or Dibon were frustrated and so I instead turned to the loan market – bringing in promising Brazilian centre half Marquinhos from Corinthians. Although he isn’t currently interested in a permanent move it’s something I’ll keep an eye on with a view to nationalising him but I have to admit this is a long shot.

Michael Liendl

The last serious transfer that I made was to sign 28 year old Michael Liendl for £850k from WAC. This was a pre-emptive move on my part as I expected Alar to move on and Liendl was to provide the experienced option to back-up Straub. With Alar staying, Michael is now very much a utility option – filling in for injuries or suspensions and allowing me to rest key players for games that I expect to win.

The rest of my transfers generally fit into two categories: ones for the future and tutors. The ones for the future are gambles though and I won’t provide screenshots as I don’t have any great faith that they’ll “make it”; whilst my tutoring signings have failed completely. Gianluca Zambrotta, Hermann Hreidarsson, Lee Chun-Soo and Jari Litmanen have all joined for frees in the last 6 months with the sole purpose of tutoring my youngsters – only for each and every one of them to find a personality clash with the proposed pupil and refuse to carry out my orders. Incredibly frustrating and something which I find a little odd.

One other item worth mentioning in the transfers is the arrival of Roman Wallner and Wolfgang Mair, for £70k and nothing respectively. These are two experienced Austrians who aren’t particularly suited to tutoring and won’t see a great deal of game time, if any. So why sign them?

During a pre-season look at the “comparison” between our team and the rest of the league I noticed that we were ranked lowest of all 20 teams in “leadership”. This was undoubtedly a knock-on effect of our young squad. I have no idea what impact it would have on the team but it’s not something that I particularly wanted to leave unaddressed. As I wanted to bring in a couple of experienced players anyway to counteract any programmed inconsistency in a young squad, I decided to combine this with a search for players with a high “influence” attribute. Killing two birds with one stone, in came Wallner and Mair with the latter combining his playing duties with management of the amateur team.

Squad Depth

That’s left me with a pretty well balanced squad, nicely trimmed to a total of 73, with those 28 out on loan. It’s also a primarily Austrian squad with an 87% domestic bias and average age of 22, both adversely affected by the foreign tutors. All done whilst maintaining the wage expenditure at just a tad over £70k per week.

The only really disappointing thing with the summer has been the fact that Mohamed Ildiz, a very promising combative midfielder, has been competitively capped by Turkey – thereby excluding him from Austrian service and meaning that I’m prioritising other options for game time. A real shame and a trend that I hope doesn’t continue with the similarly promising Domej and Grbic.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t have future plans in place. Goalkeeper is still a slight worry and I fear for our prospects if Konigshoder suffered a long term injury. Left mid is also a slight concern and I’ll be keeping an eye on Drazan’s performances over the coming months.

But it’s too late to worry about that now as we’ve already reached November with the squad at our disposal and things have been going well… in general.

Goals, goals and more goals. The only game we’ve failed to score in was the disappointing performance at home to Galatasaray. But it shouldn’t have escaped your notice that we made it to the Champions League groups in the first place.

The away draw in Goteborg was the 3-4-1-2’s debut and it seems to have been a pretty decent marker for how we’ve done in the rest of the games. Great going forward, suspect defensively but, crucially, getting the result that we’ve needed.

There’s no denying that our defensive performances have been poor and this is something that I’m working on rectifying. To my mind, we haven’t been helped by inconsistent selections and players settling into the team, particularly Marquinhos who doesn’t speak German. But there are tactical weaknesses too with the aforementioned susceptibility down the flanks and also an unexpected vulnerability to central through balls.

All of this has been overcome by our performances going forward. Some of the football we’ve been playing has been fantastic to watch and you should notice some recurring names on the goalscorers list above – Michael Gregoritsch and Jens Hoeneß. Gregoritsch’s performances are clearly pleasing; £1.6m is a big outlay for a club of our stature and it’s nice to see your faith in a player paying off; but it’s the form of young Hoeneß that is bringing me most joy.

Jens Hoeneß – August 2012

Here’s Jens at the start of the game when I was fairly excited about him. He was one of the newgens created by the game to “fill out” the squads of the lower tier teams that I had activated and I spent £400 to bring him in from ASV Drassburg. Turns out I could have snapped up a real star for the price of a bog standard flat screen TV.

Jens Hoeneß – Nov 2013

Here he is now and, as you’ll no doubt notice, he’s improved vastly and just keeps getting better. I’ve been using him in the deep-lying forward role and he’s been flourishing. At 17, he’s formed an awesome partnership with 18 year old Gregoritsch, who has scored 9 himself, and it bodes incredibly well for the future.

With Grbic, 17, backing up the advanced forward role with 6 goals in 4 starts and 4 sub appearances; and Grozurek, 21, backing up the deeper role with 2 goals and 2 assists in 2 starts things are looking very bright for out forward line.

Even Alar, the senior statesman of our offence, is just 23 and Schaub (18), Otto (17), Starkl (19) and Schutte (17) are all waiting in the wings. Promising potential waiting in the wings. (the italicised names are out on loan)

Of course, the defence is still an issue and I’m not happy with the number of goals we’ve been conceding – 27 in 21 games. This weakness came to a head when my computer was diagnosed with the 13.1.3 patch earlier this week. All of a sudden, the game was exponentially poorer as teams could no longer pass and players decided that shooting was bad for their health.

This manifested itself in the poor run of form you can see in my fixture list during September and straddled a particularly important double header for the national side.

However, I’ve turned things round since then and we appear to be back on our merry way, albeit with the odd slip up. How did this turn in fortune come about? A tactical amendment? A change in personnel? A team meeting? No. All I did was verify my game cache in Steam and the match engine seemed to sort itself out.

Now this may seem utterly mental and if I was reading this rather than writing it I would tend to agree. However,  both Thomas Paine and Thomas Levin miraculously discovered the same thing. I have no idea why this is, perhaps the patch was incorrectly downloaded but when I verified the cache, 183 files were “fixed” and the game has become playable again.

The impact of the patch is still there – passing is less accurate, players are less inclined to shoot, etc – but it’s a valid game again which it certainly wasn’t on Tuesday night and which resulted in quite a few vitriolic tweets on my part…

Either way, we’re performing well on the pitch and our Champions League progress has helped to swell the coffers significantly with our bank balance now sitting an incredible £16m.

Rapid Wien during my reign

With improvements already underway to the training and youth facilities, the board have also agreed to extend our youth recruitment once again, now sitting at an “above average” level. Combined with our excellent junior coaching, all of this bodes incredibly well for the production of newgens in the coming years and both on and off the field I am delighted with progress thus far.

Which leads me on to the national side and how we are faring in our quest to qualify for World Cup 2014.

When I left you last, we had just passed the halfway stage in the group and were heading into a crucial double header against Germany and Sweden. I stated that I was aiming for 2 points from these games in an effort to stave off the challenge of both the Swedes and the Irish for second spot in the group and a play-off place.

Unfortunately, those 2 points never arrived. Leading into the double header, we faced France in a friendly where I gave the old Whirl tactic it’s final run out. Defeated 3-0, although not embarrassed, I decided to shelve it for the moment and stick with the defensive 4-5-1 against the big sides and introduce my 3-4-1-2 for games I thought we could win.

As I’d previously alluded to, the Hutteldorfer suits the national pool well. With none of our strikers really being top-class, the additional numbers up top help mitigate against the lack of a potent goalscorer whilst employing 3 centre halves gets around the fact that we have a lack of international class fullbacks, allowing me to use Fuchs further forward and Alaba in midfield.

I would have ideally liked to use Baumgartlinger in the ball-winning role but he broke his leg on club duty with Mainz and it looks to have really destroyed him. Injury has also denied me the services of Marko Arnautovic (torn hamstring) but this appears to have been a blessing in disguise as his replacement(s) have really stepped up to the mark.

Darko Bodul, in particular, has been a great find. The former Sturm Graz forward moved to Swansea for £2m in the summer and his excellent passing ability should suit the deeper striker role well.

Unfortunately, Mohamed Ildiz is forever lost to us and I fear the same happening with David Domej and Adrian Grbic who I have talked about in the club update.

Despite this, I feel that the national team has certainly improved during my tenure and I went into the final 4 fixtures with some expectation that we could progress.

That expectation was quickly tempered as our arch-rivals Germany gave us a proper spanking in the first game of the critical double header. Set up in the defensive 4-5-1 we looked to hit them on the break and this worked a treat as we created 3 clear cut chances. Chances that Harnik and Alaba spurned and we were effectively Neuer-ed before Germany’s class showed in the second half; Bender, Ozil and Gomez consigning us to a 3-0 defeat.

Meanwhile, in Dublin, Ireland were defeating the Swedes 1-0 thanks to a goal from Shane Long. This result made our next game in Goteborg all the more crucial. Win and Sweden were out, lose and we were in serious trouble. As it was, we did neither.

Intending to nick an early goal, I went with the 3-4-1-2 and quickly regretted it. Sweden were playing a narrow 4-2-3-1 and were tearing me up through the middle with Elm and Elmander particularly troublesome with their movement beyond the excellent Ibrahimovic. 2-0 down at half time despite, or perhaps because of, incessant tinkering on my part – something had to change.

Switching up to 4-5-1 we got a goal back right after half time only for Elmander to score a second on the hour and it looked like we would leave empty-handed… all that changed when Ibrahimovic was subbed after 70 minutes and suddenly the ball was no longer sticking up top for the Swedes. We were getting the ball back early and attacking with intent, getting a goal back quickly through debutant sub Marcel Sabitzer.

With time running out, I went all out 3-2-3-2 with two striker and AML/AMR/AMC. Long ball was the order of the day and it paid off with a last minute penalty coolly slotted home by Gorgon.

That result effectively removed Sweden from the equation. It was now down to ourselves and Ireland. As the Irish expectedly defeated the Faroes and Kazakhstan in their next two games, we were looking at a qualification showdown in Dublin on the final day.

We had the Faroes at home before that and were comfortably 3-0 when I had a eureka moment. At that stage we were 3 points ahead of Ireland with a +9 goal difference, the Irish on +6. One more goal for us would “allow” a 2 goal loss in the final game and we would still qualify by virtue of our superior goals scored. So we pressed for the 4th only for the inevitable to happen and the Faroes hit us on the break. We still won but the goal difference was now +8 and suddenly we were very, very vulnerable.

Cursing myself for my “genius idea”, I decided to take the pressure off in the teamtalk and, again, almost immediately regretted it. It turns out that Shane Long is actually Ferenc Puskas re-incarnate and he was absolutely destroying our defence. He scored and then set up James McClean to put the Irish 2-0 up at half time and ahead of us on goal difference.

The hairdryer was introduced during the break, deviating from my usual “calm” teamtalks. It worked a treat as, just like the Sweden game, we scored almost immediately after the restart. We were much improved from the first half which may not be apparent from the match stats  but that shows just how ineptly we had performed in the first period.

The equaliser came, and deservedly so, from Veli Kavlak and from there on in it was a case of seeing it out, confident that even a single late goal from the Irish wouldn’t be enough.

2-2 it finished and that left the final table thus:

Job done. But only just.

The losses to Germany were to be expected but our early results carried us through here and it shows the advantage of having the crucial home games early in the competition. Points on the board are invaluable in these situations.

Playoff draw

That left us with a playoff place and, thankfully, the draw was unseeded. Avoiding France, Denmark and the dangerous Bosnians was all I really hoped for and Wales are probably the second weakest side in the draw, Northern Ireland being the side every wanted to get.

We have the away leg first and, fairly obviously, the key is going to be stopping Gareth Bale. This could well be a problem for my now favoured 3 at the back with the Welsh having used Bale at AML during qualification. Should we just attack their weak defence (including Ángel Rangel… hmmm) and try to keep the ball away from Bale? Should I double up on him or play deep? I still haven’t decided but the idea of a Pogatetz man-marking hatchet man job has crossed my mind once or twice…

I better start wrapping this up before you all fall asleep, well done if you’ve managed to read this far by the way – it’s been a ridiculously long post.

I hope that this update has given you some insight into the developments in my game and the clear focus that I’ve been trying to apply. There’s really no secret to it – develop talents with the club side and find a tactic that will develop the most promising players at my disposal with the added bonus of being able to test whether the setup is viable before transferring into the national side.

And that, you’ll be glad to hear, is just about that. As usual, if you have any questions then please feel free to ask in the comments boxes below. Or if you just want to tell me my tactic is crap or that I clearly have to sort out my starting teamtalks then feel free. Feedback is always welcome. I did want to include some videos of the lovely attacking play we’ve managed to produce but that can wait for another, shorter, article.

Thanks for reading!!

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6 thoughts on “Austria & Rapid Wien – Tactical Evolution, Patches and The Wonder of Hoeneß”

  1. A massive and nicely written post, happy to see your 3-4-1-2 is working, it was my favorite tactic in CM 01-02, Hoenes seems perfect for the DLF role.
    Regarding your defensive line I’d be curious to see how it could work using different roles: a central stopper and two wide Dc’s to cover.

    1. Absolutely. I started with a flat 3, a system that I wasn’t planning on keeping for long but more to give me a base to tweak from.

      I’ve said somewhere before that my biggest dilemma with 3 at the back is whether one sits and two attack; or two sit and one attacks. That still stands but my thinking with the current set-up is that most of the teams I face play two up top. Although I’m playing zonal, having two aggressive defenders with the spare man sweeping up behind is a fairly standard approach… which is all well and good in theory but obviously hasn’t been enormously successful thus far.

      And thanks for the comment! Nice to see people are reading and even nicer to get comments on what I’ve written.

  2. I just wanted to drop in and commend you on this great post. I’m returning to FM after a long pause and i came across your post by chance while googling for some help. I enjoyed every word and immediately went on to read the rest of Austria and Rapid.
    I’m looking forward to future posts.

    Cheers!

  3. Brilliant. Nothing else to say but brilliant. I hope you’re pulling in the visitors because your work deserves them.

    Your young players look excellent and should very nicely compliment your national team in a couple of seasons!

    1. Thanks Mark, as always I really appreciate it when people take time out to leave comments – particularly ones as complimentary as yours.

      I’m approaching 30,000 views for the blog which I think is fantastic but I’d probably write it even if no-one read. I really enjoy the writing and it helps me to sort things out in my head properly. You can say whatever you want about football / FM but when you try to write it down and, crucially, provide evidence to back up your arguments then you soon find out which of your thoughts are write and which you’ve just made up!!

      As Lee Scott from FM Analysis called it – cathartic.

      Nevertheless, it does make it all the more enjoyable when you know others are reading and enjoying your writing so your comment is greatly appreciated.

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