Something which I often see asked around the FM sites and forums is how do people analyse their tactics? How do you spot the strengths and weaknesses of your own system? How to you see what is wrong and how do you fix it? What changes do you make during games and why?
It’s probably the most basic set of questions pertinent to the most fundamental area of the game and, understandably, I think that it’s something which many people struggle with.
I think that the reason it is so difficult for people to grasp is not only that it is a difficult skill; but that everyone has their own methods – none of which are right or wrong. Couple that with a perceived stigma that you might not “know what you’re talking about” and the massively arrogant and ignorant approach of many posters on FM or football websites, and you can understand why people have difficulty in identifying where they are going wrong.
This post, therefore, is going to try and put across a few of the methods that I use in trying to spot issues with my tactics. I’m not the best FM player in the world but I think I do pretty well so whilst I’m not suggesting that I have all the answers or that my way of doing things is “the best”, I hope that anyone who is struggling with their tactics in FM can take a little something from this post… and maybe the rest of you can just laugh at my efforts!!
So, as an example – here’s my effort at a strikerless libero tactic and a friendly against Anderlecht as the case study.
Have a plan
So, taking it from the very beginning, I guess the first thing you should do is have a clear idea of what you want from your tactic. How do you know if it’s working if you don’t know what “working” entails.
I’m a firm believer that almost anything can work in Football Manager. Whilst many people will tell you that there are a set of rules which must be obeyed for your tactics to be successful, with the exception of the most basic of concepts, this is largely bullsh*t.
Having said that, if you are struggling, then going back to basics and following someone else’s logic might not be the worst idea in the world. I’m bored with basics, though, and so the system which I am trying to perfect is thus:
The idea is that the libero steps out from defence to support the midfield with runs from deep and direct passes. The DLP sits deep to cover the gap between defence and midfield with the defensive wingers providing some defensive solidity out wide but also over-lapping the inside forwards when we have the ball. The AMC acts like a deep creative striker – assisting in midfield when required but primarily offensive in nature, scoring and providing assists.
The only significant alterations that I’ve made from the default settings is to change the ML and MR wide play to “hugs touchline”. I want them to stretch the play and, as our sole defensive influence out wide, I don’t want them wandering inside and leaving us exposed to the counter.
That’s not a great description but I don’t want to go into it too much. The analysis is the important part here.
Watch the game
It seems like such an obvious thing to say but watch the game. As much of it as you can. Do you think you could spot all of Stoke’s tactical problems if you only watched their highlights on Match of the Day every week? I use Stoke as an example because they’re so dull that they’re always on last and so you get even fewer highlights. (Hi Mully… what?)
I watch every game on ‘comprehensive’, I know some people watch the full game but I’d just say that you should watch as much as you have time for. At least until you feel that the tactic is working how you want.
I often pause the game to give me more time to see player’s positions and identify potential weak spots. If something significant or strange happens then I’ll rewind the game until the last stop in play and see how it came about. Yes, this is time consuming but if it means that the tactic improves quickly, then it’ll probably save time in the long run.
Tactics creator v sliders
Too big a topic to cover in full but if you don’t think you understand the sliders, then you don’t. Use the tactics creator (TC) and access the wealth of knowledge on the internet to guide you on the descriptions.
Bear in mind that the whole system has been set up using someone else’s logic. It might not always match your own logic but that’s how the system is set up. Disagreeing with the logic won’t change that.
Into the game…
So enough waffle. I picked Anderlecht as the game reckons they are of equal reputation to my Feralpi Salò side, although I think that we should be able to beat them. I also knew they wouldn’t start with 4-4-2 so, making this a little more interesting, they lined up thus:
Two strikers plays right into our hands. With our back three, it leaves me with two markers and spare man covering which is perfect.
In midfield, we’ll have a flat 4 against their central 3. I don’t see them gaining much of an advantage here, though, as our AMC should assist with numbers in the middle but, more likely, at least one of the wider MC’s for Anderlecht will get pulled wide in an effort to close down the hitherto free man (MR/ML).
Then we have their flat 5 in defence which is facing nothing, essentially, as we don’t play a striker. Our AML/AMC/AMR combination will be looking to run in behind and across this back 5, though, and my initial impression was that we might have problems if the 5 of them were allowed to play relatively narrow and simply crowd us out.
NOTE – all the videos below are available in 1080p so please select a higher resolution to get the most from them.
Right from kick-off, I notice something incredibly positive:
As the ball is played back from the kick-off, our libero is left all alone. The two strikers go wide onto the centre backs and the Anderlecht central midfield drops off for a very long time before coming to close the libero down.
The Anderlecht defence also drops deep. This goes hand in hand with the lack of pressing and tells me that they aren’t going to hassle my players high up the park. It also means something else – given the rigid lines which they are set up in, the deep line is going to stretch the space between defence and midfield, and midfield and attack. Worth noting.
Finally, at around 0:16-0:18, you should notice the very obvious 2-v-1 that we have out wide. The MLC for Anderlecht hasn’t come wide to support the left back, leaving our MR in acres of room when Tretyak, the AMR, cuts inside. This is further evidenced at 0:35 when Yildiz, the libero that is still wandering around directing operations, comes left and feeds it to Orlando – our ML who is all alone on the left flank and has time to swing in a cross.
Something which I’ve just noticed now and didn’t at the time – pause the video at 0:38. I don’t like that big gap outside the box. I’m a big fan of implementing “the curtain” and having players lurking on the edge of the box to collect defensive clearances – particularly as it looks like we’ll have a lot of crosses in this game.
In the 3rd minute, we had this.
First of all, the defence. I’m happy here as my pre-game expectations are ringing true. We have a comfortable 3-v-2 at the back which isn’t stretching our back 3 unduly.
However, going forward there is a massive gap that we aren’t taking advantage of. You can again see how deep Anderlecht are sitting with their fullbacks held back in a flat 5 even when the ball is in our half. Their midfield is flat and narrow and offering very little defensive protection.
We have a 2-v-1 available on the left flank but it’s a long ball to realise it. If we instead had our AMC occupying the shaded gap, he would have acres of room with which to take a touch and play the required pass out to the flank. The problem is – how? I decided to leave the AMC untouched and keep an eye on similar situations – was this a one-off or something that required fixing?
I did, however, make a couple of shouts. With that gap in front of the defence, I didn’t want our players taking speculative long shots just because they had a bit of space 25 yards out. So I implemented the “works ball into box” shout which reduces all the players’ long shots instruction to rarely.
Secondly, I used the “pushes higher up” shout. This is something I nearly always use as I want to narrow the gap between defence and midfield in lieu of using a DM. It should help get the libero higher up the park and more able to support the midfield. Should.
Very quick one this but it’s what persuaded me to leave the AMC as an AM(A) for the time-being. Anderlecht’s goal-kick is headed right back up the pitch and Gramaccia, our AMC, is well positioned to utilise the space that I’d highlighted above. However, he also then sprints into the box to provide a target for the cross. With our lack of strikers, this is exactly what I want from the AMC so I’m loathe to change it. For now.
And it pays off as Gramaccia completes a simple finish to put us one up. It’s truly awful defending really, particularly when 4 Anderlecht defenders try to close down Holub but there you go.
Again, now that I’ve seen it, I really don’t like the wide open space outside the box – particularly when Anderlecht have 3 players available for the counter. I think something should be done about this for my next game.
One of my favourite things in FM is an effective closing down game and this video shows that well.
Despite not using a striker, our high closing down instructions and use of hard-working players in the advanced positions allows us to put pressure on the defence high up the park. In this case the ball has been played back to one of the DC’s and our AMC robs him before Tretyak takes over, goes into Messi mode and scores a beaut.
Incidentally, Tretyak was cutting inside from the right flank onto his left foot. It looks like the Anderlecht defence have then tried to push him out wide with what I imagine is an opposition instruction. Not a bad plan except that Tretyak is two-footed and so can still finish the chance. Just a quick note on the advantage of the two-footed inside forward.
Either way, that side of the tactic gets a thumbs up as something which is working well.
As is the libero, to an extent.
Here you can see the primary benefit of the play-making libero. Firstly, he is always available for a pass. If at any point the MC’s get into trouble, they can safely play it back to our libero who is comfortable on the ball and in space – and this happens at 0:21 when the DLP comes under a little pressure.
He then carries the ball out of defence and has the passing range, vision and ability to play an intelligent ball out wide to the MR who is doing exactly what I want – holding his position wide and stretching the opposition.
Big thumbs up all round. Right?
Well kind of. Look at the video again and as soon as Yildiz, the libero, gets the ball try to find my AMC.
At 0:22 he is hard up against the opposition defensive line and reasonably tightly marked. He stays like that for the next 5 seconds and only finds a reasonable amount of space once the libero has passed it wide. And yet, for the entire time Yildiz has the ball, there is a 20 yard gap between defence and midfield. Our AMC should be taking advantage of this.
Therefore, I decided to make the change – the AMC becoming a AP(S) rather than AMC(A). He still has the capacity to make through balls but should look to drop deeper and use that space.
But what about defending?
Here you can see a good example of why I am (currently) reasonably happy with the defensive set-up.
At the start of the video, Anderlecht have played a long ball to the right striker who takes it for a run down the flank. With his “stopper” instructions (increased closing down etc), Okoye (my DLC) has license to follow him, close him down and hold him up. Our midfield then has time to get back and support whilst we have a 2-v-1 in the middle with the libero covering the other central defender against one striker.
When the ball is played inside, our midfield close down aggressively – forcing the ball backwards at 0:14, making a successful tackle at 0:19, hurrying the ball-carrier at 0:22, backwards again at 0:25 and eventually injuring one of them. Good work all round. Particularly that injury. Top notch.
As ever, though, there’s a worry in this video. Watch the video again but, instead of watching the ball, take a look at Anderlecht’s left-back – particularly from 0:14 onwards.
Not until 0:29 does he become properly marked.
Had Anderlecht had time on the ball and a player capable of doing so, then the left back would have had far more time on the ball than I’m comfortable with. The reasons for this are two-fold – with the zonal marking instructions that I’ve implemented, the MR goes inside to cover the advancing midfield. Meanwhile, the AMR with his high mentality and teamwork attribute decides that “doesn’t do defending” and stays high up the pitch looking for a counter.
This can be of benefit. We may decide that we are confident in the harrying ability of the midfield to prevent a cross field pass; or confident in the pace of our defence that they will quickly be able to recover the ground. In which case, we’ve got a player perfectly poised for a counter attack.
If we’re not happy about it, we need to make a change… it’s at this point that Anderlecht changed to a 4-4-2.
Initial impressions are that this probably suits us just fine. As you can see from the basic line-up at a goalkick, we are still 3-v-2 at the back whilst we are man-marking (and goalside for the most part) in midfield whilst the AMC is perfectly poised in the gap that still exists between defence and midfield.
However, then I see this:
Watch our AML and see what he does at 0:11.
Previously, with just one man out wide, the zonal instructions and high closing down worked fine. It didn’t matter if the AML went wandering inside to close down as we were still 1-v-1 out wide with support available from defence if needs be.
However, now he’s wandered to close down the DC and we’re left with a very obvious 2-v-1 down on our left flank. With the remaining “1” being an ML, he is more inclined to close down high and he leaves Anderlecht’s MR in acres of space. A quicker pass from a better right-back would have left us exposed. As it is, we get away with it on this occasion but it needs to be rectified.
Time for a change then and I implement specific man-marking for the wide players: our MR to their ML and our AMR to their DL and the same on the other flank. Does it work?
Well I think it had something to do with us winning the ball back here. Our MR (Aztori) quickly puts pressure on their ML when he receives the ball deep. He has nowhere left to go and no easy pass available (notice our AMR sprinting to mark their DL at 0:10). Anderlecht are then forced to play it long, it’s an easy interception for our libero and we’re on the attack again.
Notice the effect of the AMC dropping deep, too, with his AP(S) instructions helping him to find space at 0:19 and then again at 0:26 where he plays the lovely ball over the top for the MR who is breaking forward. I have no idea how Tretyak doesn’t score. Lovely football though.
So that was the match, how did we get on?
I’ll take that.
In truth, Anderlecht didn’t put up much of a fight and came to defend. It will be interesting to see how we hold up against a more adventurous side.
Through the course of the match I identified a few issues with the tactic too:
- the AMC has a tendency to push too far forward. He may be more effective, when the opposition isn’t using a DMC, if he drops deep into space between defence and midfield.
- when the opposition have two players on the flank, it may be worthwhile using specific man-marking to prevent the inside forwards from wandering and leaving the defensive wingers exposed.
- set piece instructions need looked at, no-one “sweeping” in the “curtain” 25-30 yards out. Defensive clearances are likely to be picked up by opposition
- as above but in open play from crosses.
But we’re not finished the analysis there.
Using the analysis tab and stats
This is something I use a lot and although I wish it was more advanced it can be very effective in pointing out issues with your tactics. Some examples of items I check:
Here you can see that the basic shape of the tactic is more or less as expected.
The DLP at MLC is deeper than his midfield partner and offers an outball to the defence whilst the inside forwards are slightly in-field from the defensive wingers, allowing an overlap.
We also appear to be making good use of the width of the park as the reddish shaded area is quite wide and well established on both sides of the park. Often you may wish to focus through the middle in a narrow formation but I like to use the whole pitch – particularly against defensively-minded sides.
One thing to note here, though, is that my ‘keeper is very deep in his box and the defensive line is very high with a large gap between. The reason I don’t use a sweeper-‘keeper is that my goalie is painfully slow. The graphic to the right, however, shows that it may be worth considering in future.
One surprising item was the location of the tackles for both teams.
The most obvious item to note is that our tackles are much higher up the pitch than our opponent’s. This is a clear indication that our high pressing game is working well with the high proportion of green dots indicating a pleasing success rate.
Anderlecht, on the other hand, barely made a tackle outside their own half and again reinforces the assertion that they came to sit deep, retain their shape and played defensively.
The last item that I tend to look at is the stats page for your players.
Crosses are a bit of a common topic just now and I recently read a FourFourTwo article arguing that wingers were out of fashion because crossing is ineffective with the best crossers of a ball being accurate around 20% of the time.
For me, a successful cross is so dangerous given the likelihood of an excellent chance being created that I tend to think 1 in 5 is an acceptable risk – as long as you can create enough crosses to “play the odds”. In this case, our two defensive wingers have swung in 36 crosses between them, with just 7 being successful.
So just under 20% success rate. However, we scored 4 goals. 1 assist came directly from crosses. 1 other came from a scramble after an unsuccessful cross. I like crosses.
However, it really is something worth keeping an eye on. Perhaps reducing the defensive wingers crossing instruction to “sometimes” will allow to pick better opportunities for a cross and otherwise recycle possession. Perhaps.
Either way, it’s worth looking into these things. In a similar vein, our AMR has only been successful in 1 of his 5 header attempts. A reason for the low cross completion? Should we replace him with another giant like 6’5” De Angelis who won 100% of his 7 headers? Perhaps, but Tretyak may have lost 4 headers he was our top shot maker…
So before you get any more bored, I hope that has given you some insight into how I go about analysing my tactic during a game, some things that I keep an eye on and the reasoning behind making certain changes.
Like I said at the start, this isn’t supposed to represent “the best way” or be an example that everyone should follow – it’s intended to show you a process, a method that perhaps you could also use to influence your own tactics and matches.
I hope that it has, at the very least, proven interesting.
As ever, thank you for reading and I look forward to any comments or questions you may have.