That mob from the capital are swiftly becoming the bane of my (FM) life. Not only have they won the title for the fifth year running, i.e. every season I’ve been playing this save, they also beat me in both domestic cup competitions this season.
I’m not sure that I can blame them for Arsenal knocking me out of the Europa League but, other than that, they are single handedly responsible for ADO Den Haag winning diddly squat instead of a lovely shiny treble.
Anyway, the squad continues to strengthen but much of this update will be spent looking at the new tactic and, specifically, how it has provided us with more defensive stability this season – this at the request of @fm_samo and @fmanalysis
By the way, the new kits are supplied courtesy of @theawaystand. If you like them, let him know – he may be able to do some new ones for your team.
So let’s start by quickly looking at our results from this season. As you should know from the last update, Ajax beat us on penalties in the Johan Cruijff Schaal (Super Cup) and Arsenal knocked us out of the Europa League in the playoffs.
That left us with a season concentrating on domestic football, which paid off somewhat:
It should be noted that we lost the fewest games (Ajax x2, Twente away and Utrecht at home); whilst there were 7 frustrating draws (Utrecht away, De Graafschap away [those either side of the Arsenal games], Vitesse home, Feyenoord away, PSV away, Vitesse away and Roda away).
To me, that’s really not a bad record and we really weren’t far from winning the title. Indeed that Roda game was a killer – van den Berg being sent off after 10 minutes for an elbow, then ten Kroode making an horrific error to let them back into it.
But, for me, there are two reasons we lost the title this year.
Vieirinha’s 95th minute winner for Ajax in the home game with TWO awful defensive errors required. That goal created a 3 point swing.
Christian Eriksen’s 30 yard free kick in the 82nd minute of the away game after a stupid foul when Tschauner gave away possession. That goal also created a 3 point swing.
If either of those goals were not scored, we’d have won the title instead of Ajax. Most frustrating.
Nevertheless, it’s a record high finish for ADO, the best defensive record since I joined, the best offensive record since I joined and an outside chance at Champions League football – depending on our luck in the playoff draw.
As you can see from the Eredivisie stats page, much of our success was down to the partnership of targetman Giovanni Lagendijk (scoring his 20 goals in 20 starts and 4 subs) and playmaker Jan van den Berg who is, quite frankly, sensational and made the £14m departure of Derix utterly irrelevant, perhaps even a blessing in disguise.
One stand-out stat, however, is the clean sheet record for Mike ten Kroode – my much maligned ‘keeper. In fact, despite keeping a very un-ADO like and unprecedented 15 clean sheets in the league this season, ten Kroode is set to be replaced by a Bosman signing. Why?
Because he’s a giant twat mostly. But also because much of our defensive stability was despite him, not because of him. Which brings me nicely onto the tactic and why it works defensively.
Now some of you might be thinking that conceding over a goal a game is not particularly stingy – however it is worth noting that Holland is an attacking league with lots of goals, I still play an attacking system and my young defence is rotated a lot to aid development. Also, our record this season is a drop of about 25% from previous years.
I’m currently averaging around 3 goals scored a game so I don’t expect to keep 40 clean sheets a season; instead my aims are more realistic and this season I’m looking to take my goals conceded under 1 per game. I’d expect somewhere between 0.8 and 1.0 per game.
So why do I think this system will achieve that?
Reminding ourselves of the tactic, we moved from a back 3 system into a more common back 4.
There are some basic advantages that a back 4 has over a back 3:
- numbers – it may be the crudest of considerations but it shouldn’t be discounted that 4 is more than 3 and, when defending, safety in numbers isn’t a bad starting point
- width – a back 4 covers the width of the pitch more naturally than a back 3, allowing your backline to have an orthodox defensive presence in the wide positions without requiring a wide midfielder to drop deep
- familiarity – this may be my imagination but it seems to take FM teams longer to ‘learn’ 3 man defensive systems than what I guess are more common 4-man defences.
- flexibility – I know a few people that will disagree with this but, to me, a back 4 is more flexible in dealing with various opposition formations than a back 3 where high wingers might necessitate a radical change of shape.
Those are the very crude, starting blocks of a back 4’s advantages over a back 3 and it should be noted that I am not advocating one over t’other. The back 3 has certain advantages over a back 4 – not least releasing an additional player forward and, against 2-striker systems, optimising the balance of defence and attack.
Another benefit of a back 3 can come when it is used with a sweeper – a deep defender providing cover for two more advanced ‘stoppers’. This, however, can also be implemented in a back four.
Although a back-four is almost synonymous with the prefix ‘flat’, this is really very rarely the case. Most successful centre-half partnerships of the last few years have a more intelligent and nimble covering defender alongside a more brutish, aerially strong thug – Carvalho covering for Terry, Ferdinand covering for Vidic, Costacurta and Baresi, Hansen and Lawrenson, Hyypia and Henchoz, Miller and McLeish…
The idea is quite simple really and is an extension of the first advantage to the back 4 – safety in numbers. One-on-ones are dangerous for a defence. Space is dangerous to a defence. A defender should not try to engage an attacker if he has no cover unless he is 100% sure he can win the ball cleanly or the attacker is about to shoot.
Here is a fine example in our latest loss to Ajax (sigh)
The ball has broken loose from Tschauner’s tackle in midfield and heading towards my defence. Van de Pavert decides to come and meet the 50/50 with Andersen, safe in the knowledge that should he lose out (as he does) then Bosec, his centre half partner, is moving across to cover the space behind and will intercept the ball (as he does).
As the majority of teams that I face use a single striker formation, this combination of stopper / cover is very effective in allowing both depth in my defensive cover and an aggressive attempt to meet the ball early.
If you want to read more about this then it’s been covered fairly extensively over the years, probably most notably in what was called ‘the Nike defence’ – Google is your friend.
An additional layer of cover is provided by the DMC, here set to a ‘Defensive Midfielder – Support’. My reasons for selecting this role are mostly offensive but the use of a DMC rather than a more symmetrical 4-2-3-1 with two MC’s is purely defensive – much of which I already covered in this article:
I still haven’t got round to Part 2!!
Although the DM-MC split is offset, the DMC should cover both sides of the pitch. Here, for example, is the tackles and heat map from our first league game of the season:
There’s a slight left-bias there but not as much as I had originally expected and certainly not as much as you would experience with an MLC in a standard 4-2-3-1.
This level of protection is all well and good when the opposition have the ball and the DMC has retreated into a protective position but, as you can see from the heat map, the DM is asked to get forward an awful lot. Surely this leaves the defence exposed?
And this is where the strength of a DLP becomes apparent.
The DMC (Tschauner) has joined the attack and so, to balance out attacking intent in one area, we compensate with an MC who is mainly static. A ‘deep-lying playmaker’, with his ‘run from deep rarely’ instruction, stays deep and tries to control the game from a central position where he can see the majority of the pitch (and players) ahead of him.
This has the handy knock-on effect of leaving a player deep to cover – the first line of defence against a counter attack. Hence why I tend to see a high number of interceptions for this player as he collects poorly aimed clearances from the opposition.
This, in effect, changes our formation during defensive and offensive phases. When we’re defending, the opposition will see a back four, two holding midfielders covering them and the ‘attacking players’ aggressively closing down from the front – the AML, AMC, AMR and striker.
When we attack, though, the two centre backs sit deep, protected by the DLP at MC with the fullbacks pushing on out wide and the front four attacking from various angles – then the DMC arriving late to exploit space. Hopefully.
This is the basic set-up with which we approach games. There really isn’t anything too complicated to it, just what I see as a common sense approach to achieving a solid shape. For me, successful defending is about preventing the opposition from having meaningful possession in space and in areas which can hurt you. To prevent them from doing so you need:
- to understand your basic shape and it’s strengths / weaknesses
- react to your opposition’s strengths when appropriate
- play the right personnel in the right positions
Reactive tactics are a big topic and are ably covered elsewhere. Again, Google is your friend but these two articles are a good starting point, both from FM Analysis – versus Napoli’s 3-4-2-1 and a guide on The Dugout. You can also see my general approach in my Analyzing your tactic and spotting problems blog article.
The third bullet point though, playing the right personnel in the right positions, is equally vital. I can recommend you read Cleon’s Understanding your Tactic series for an alternative (if similar) view but this is how I try to ensure my defence is as strong as possible.
The attributes shown above are those which FM designates as ‘defensive’ – or at least they are chosen to appear on the ‘defensive attributes’ menu. Many FM-ers will concentrate on these, and with good reason, but for me they only provide half the picture. A defender may be majestic in the air and capable of last gasp tackles but what if he’s always switching off or can’t anticipate where a striker is going to run?
Which is why, for me, mental attributes are also vital in defenders:
These are the attributes which are deemed ‘mental’, although obviously not all of them will relate to defensive actions – creativity being an obviously irrelevant attribute in this field.
Key, if not absolutely necessary, are the following:
- work rate
I have put these in descending order of importance in my mind. Many will have a different approach but that is the priority I place on mental attributes for my defence.
Positioning is a simple one – if a player is in the right position more often than not then he doesn’t need to do anything complicated like tackle to clear a ball; this goes hand-in-hand with anticipation, ensuring that your defender has ‘read’ the play and predicted where the pass is going to go or where the striker is going to run.
Concentration prevents your defenders from switching off and making stupid goal-costing mistakes; whilst composure ensures that they don’t panic on the ball in dangerous areas where a turnover could be catastrophic.
Teamwork ensures that your players work as a unit and I would probably place additional emphasis on this attribute were I employing an offside trap. I’m sure many FM-ers will place higher priority on bravery and aggression in defenders but I would always favour a Maldini or a Kompany over a Colin Hendry or an Ivan Córdoba.
Obviously, everyone would prefer a defender who has 20 for all these attributes; plus tackling, marking, heading, jumping, strength, pace, acceleration… well, everything. But that isn’t going to be possible and, depending on the level you are playing at, you are going to have to prioritise attributes.
Which attributes you prioritise is really down to you but, for me, it’s a combination of the mental attributes listed above and the technical / physical attributes which suits their role within the team. Remembering that my central defenders are intended for differing purposes, they require different attributes.
Ted van de Pavert is my current first choice for the more CD(D) role and you can see the influence of my prioritisation of attributes: positioning, concentration, composure, decisions, teamwork, work rate… but not anticipation. And his pace isn’t great.
Well his decisions will balance out a relatively low anticipation but I’ve also used him in the more cavalier role which has the safety net of a cleverer, covering defender behind him. Ted’s lack of speed and low anticipation would make him unsuited to the covering role but he is exceptional in the more advanced role – winning 86% of his headers and 92% of his tackles.
Attributes aren’t the only impact on a player’s performances, though. It’s always worth considering Player Preferred Moves, or PPM’s.
A fine example, for me, would be van de Pavert’s central defensive partner – the covering defender.
Remembering our ‘Nike’ defence image from earlier, the BPD(C) is the only player in my team that doesn’t receive natural cover from anyone else. He is the last line of defence. Once an attacker gets past him, he’s 1-on-1 with your ‘keeper. So the very last thing that you want him doing is diving into tackles recklessly.
Following on from that logic, I would be loathe to play anyone here who has the ‘dives into tackles’ PPM and I am currently attempting to teach my youth prospect the ‘stays on feet’ PPM so make him as effective as possible in this role.
It really is just a case of considering what it is that your player needs and prioritising this to make a solid unit. If you play a flat defence with a high line then you’ll need high teamwork and pacy defenders. If you sit deep and surrender wide areas then you’ll need defenders who are strong in the air and a ‘keeper with good aerial ability, command of area, communication and jumping.
As with every facet of FM, there is no right or wrong answer. It’s entirely subjective.
I started this section with the aim of outlining my defensive approach and, to be honest, I’ve found it quite a difficult thing to articulate. Writing this article over the course of 3 nights as opposed to the single sitting I usually take has not helped and it feels a little disjointed to me. Apologies and I hope that it is still of some use to people.
Unfortunately, my ramblings have left me no time to update more fully on my summer transfers and plans for the coming season. Therefore, I’ll try to cover these in the next update.
Until then, thank you once again for taking the time to read. If you have any questions on the defensive approach or want to debate on an alternative approach, then please feel free to leave a comment below or contact me on Twitter.
Alles Door Oefening 😀