My Alavés save has taken something of a backseat recently as I’ve been kept busy at work and the majority of my free FM time has been taken up by the network save with Petr Uchio. We have, however, completed a successful second season with Deportivo Alavés and continued the Cantera project in earnest.
Of course, if you read the last blog article on my 3-4-3-ish idea, you’ll be aware that the Cantera is not the only ‘project’ which I’m currently undertaking. Unfortunately, some events are transpiring within the save which look likely to prevent me fully experimenting with the 3-4-3 and so I can only give it a few cursory run-outs in friendlies.
Nevertheless, I should be able to highlight some significant findings on the proposed tactic and the necessary amendments that have been made to the starting shape… but only after a brief update on Alavés’ second season and our promotion back to the big time…
So I guess the league table is the best place to start:
Continuing from our form last year, we’re staying a year ahead of schedule and claimed promotion at the second time of asking. Bloody annoying that we didn’t win the league but we may get another chance should we get relegated. There’s no denying the primary factor in our success:
Jorge Galán, the free transfer striker that the game rated at just ‘3 star’ for Liga Adelante, rewarded my faith in him with 33 goals, 12 assists and a ‘signing of the season’ award.
Our attacking nature paid dividends, particularly in the away games where we claimed more points that at the Mendizorroza. I’m really not going to claim any great tactical genius or particularly complex set-up here. As per the previous updates, I just let the players get on with it and do what they think best but generally play to the strengths of our main goalscorer – a short, quick, one-footed striker. So we played him on the right on a front two and tried to play through balls into the gap between the centre backs. It worked.
So, like I said, I’d keep it short on the season summary. The only other items of note are the Basque turnaround and the progress of our youth. Regarding the former, the squad now looks like this:
So again, we’re a little ahead of schedule. The squad is nearly entirely comprised of Basque players with just 4 non-Basque stragglers. According to my 3 year plan, we should only be allowed 3 non-Spanish foreigners within the squad so all 4 of the current ‘outsiders’ need to be moved on. Rocha won’t be much of a loss whilst Ortiz and Sánchez are approaching the time when I’d have moved them on anyway.
Cruz will be a little harder to replace unless I can get a hold of long-term target Benat Alemán. Unfortunately, as you’ll read soon, that won’t be happening any time soon.
One of the key sources of replacement Basque players will be our own youth and so I was delighted when the board first agreed to improve our ‘Junior Coaching’ and then announced a £2.4m investment in both training and youth facilities – due to be completed this October.
Our existing youth are also doing their part with this year’s intake bringing me a promising ‘keeper:
He’s a long way off being ready for first-team football but a promising ‘keeper can be the Holy Grail in games like this. A bad ‘keeper will cost you time and time again so Alcalde’s development could be key.
Unfortunately, the rest of the intake was average at best, leaving me looking at Dave from 2014’s intake:
Dave’s progress has been phenomenal. In just over 15 months, he’s played 45 games and it’s paid dividends with as many as 3 attribute point gains for the likes of Strength, Decisions, Composure and Passing. He’s developing into a superb player.
Keeping hold of him is the major concern. I’ve extended his contract several times and increased his minimum fee release clauses every time but he’s attracting nearly all of the big name European clubs and I’ve so far turned down £6m offers from Chelsea, PSG and Arsenal.
The money could come in very handy as the board, or rather both boards, aren’t releasing any cash. I say ‘both boards’ as the old chairman sold the club to a new man on the first day of the La Liga season. The new chairman, a gentleman by the name of Juan Fernández, then immediately floated the club on the Stock Exchange. This is the first time this has happened to me so I have no idea what to expect.
Let’s hope that this creates some cash, or rather it convinces the board to release some of our cash. Despite a £19.5m windfall from TV money and an anticipated profit of £21m over the season, the board have given me just £77k in transfer budget and REDUCED our wage budget to £41kpw. Given the promotion clauses in many contracts, this meant that we’ve started the season £4k a week over our wage budget.
All of which means that we have not been able to sign a single player whilst 10 have left. We need investment and we need it before the transfer window closes in 16 days. As it is, the situation is remarkably similar to that I’ve been facing in my network save – according to the ‘Comparison’ tab we are clearly the worst team in the league with ten ’20ths’ and this table makes an absolute mockery of my board’s paltry ‘investment’ (see right).
Spending a quarter of the next lowest budget is just painful, without even considering the fact our expenditure is 1.5% of Barcelona’s…
We need a miracle or perhaps a new miraculous 3-4-3 tactic which takes me onto…
THE LATEST ON THE 3-4-3
In case you missed it, I was inspired to ramble on a hybrid 3-4-3 tactic that had come into my head whilst reading a book on Louis van Gaal. I had planned to give it a real shot with Alavés as the general approach fits in with the original idea I had for the save – attacking, attractive football.
Unfortunately, the financial problems I’ve highlighted above and the fact that I cannot sign any players have precluded any serious attempt to recreate the idea – we just don’t have the right players in my squad from last season. I have, however, managed to try it in a few friendlies and at least find out a little about the shape I wanted to re-create.
These were the shapes that I wanted to create:
Initially, I set up using a system with wingbacks to cover the wide areas when defending and then trying to get them to come inside when we have the ball. When defending, it looked like we had it just right:
A solid back 3, flanked by the wingbacks with the 2 central midfielders patrolling in front of the defence and the wingers dropping back to help out. Excellent.
The problem came when we regained the ball. I just could not get the wingbacks to come inside:
There are lots of problems here. First of all, in true FM14 style, the back 3 split FAR too wide. For reasons that surpass understanding, the left centre back is at least 10 yards, probably 15, too wide. Unfortunately, this is default back 3 behaviour in FM and, as far as I know, there is nothing I can do about it.
TACTICAL RESTRICTION COUNTER – 5
Then there are the wingbacks. I have them set to ‘sit narrower’ and ‘cut inside’ yet the left wingback is sitting in a straight-line with the centreback and left winger, refusing to come inside. Meanwhile, the right wingback is actually wider than the winger (who is set to stay wider) but he’s just been helping to retrieve the ball from the opposition so we’ll let him away with that.
What I couldn’t let them away with is the fact that I have not been able to bring the wingbacks narrow. The match engine sees ‘wingback’ and reckons they play wide. Not an unreasonable assumption but nevertheless an assumption and one that appears to be unassailable.
TACTICAL RESTRICTION COUNTER – 6
Having failed with the concept of getting players to start wide when defending then come narrow when attacking, I tried the opposite approach – players who start centrally when we have the ball and then come wide when we’re defending.
The wingbacks have become defensive midfielders which should automatically see them stay central and flank the DLP when we have the ball. To encourage them to defend the wide areas, I’ve given them specific man-marking instructions – picking whichever advanced wide player the opposition is using on that side.
When attacking, the shape is really quite nice and similar to what I’d posted above. The back 3 are actually rather well split here, the DLP is flanked by the DM’s (or ‘insurance players’ as I’ll call them), the attacking midfielder is getting up in support of the striker and the wingers are staying wide. Lovely.
Whilst defending the shape is also approaching what I want. The insurance players have successfully split into the wide areas and are man-marking the opposition wingers whilst the two central midfielders are protecting the space in front of the defence.
Personally, I’d like to see the defence pushed much higher up. Boca have the ball very deep and there’s reasonable pressure about to be put on the ball with no unmarked players looking to break our defensive line. Pushing up would exert the defensive pressure that I want.
Despite the shape being just about what I wanted there were still obvious problems – the biggest being that we just weren’t holding possession in the manner that I had foreseen and which is sure to be a key part of a tactic which would appear to be vulnerable to sustained pressure. One potential ‘fix’ I considered was pushing the DM’s up to flank the DLP on the MC line and push the attacking midfielder into the AMC line, like this:
I have also considered making our back 3 a flat line and employing an offside trap. Or even just doing it with the covering defender in place and relying on his intelligence and pace to play it appropriately.
The main problem with the above formation is that it leaves us very, very exposed centrally when the two wide CM’s have to drop wide and mark the opposition wingers. It leaves the DLP as the only player naturally dropping back into a defensive position as the AM, on an attacking duty, is hesitant to come back and help out.
When playing against narrow side, with just two players out wide, things are a bit different:
Leaving the wingers to mark the opposition fullbacks, all 3 central midfielders can stay in the middle at all times which helps to maintain pressure on the opposition high up the park and maintain a numerical superiority if the opposition do manage to get beyond the press.
So progress has been made, definite progress. It is, however, still a long way off the finished product and I’m still not entirely convinced that it will be a viable approach against teams with 4 wide players.
In the two friendlies we played against narrow sides we won 3-1 and 17-0. Of course the latter was against the non-league jokers that I always arrange to play last as a morale boost for the season but seventeen goals are…. well, fun.
For now, given the reasons above, the experimentation with Alavés is at an end. We’ll revert to the attacking 3-4-1-2 in an effort to retain our La Liga status. I may start a new save with an established team so that I can specifically experiment with this project although I’ve yet to settle on a team with which to do so.
For now, thanks for reading and if you have any insight into my tactical deliberations, I’d love to hear them. For some inspiration, here’s one of my favourite goals from the experiment thus far.