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Layer 3: Packages and Formations

The last step before I actually start designing plays and putting the puzzle pieces into place, is to take some time to think about the packages and formations that I want to run. These will be the templates we fit the pieces into.

With my goals of really pressuring the entire field, I’m going to focus on formations that cover the entire field well sideline to sideline and create layered defenses. The other consideration is that I am planning on running multiple plays from the same formation, so it will need to be generic enough to run multiple plays from it. If it’s a very oddball and specific formation that only works if it’s run a certain way, then it’s not going to serve my purposes well.  I need formations that have a lot of potential options. For now I’m focusing on 5 packages, which will allow me 10 formations between them.

I’ve done concept testing on another 2 packages that could have as many as 18 formations between them, plus a 3rd package that I haven’t tested at all yet. But those are pretty finicky and aren’t great to build the core playbook around. They would be more trick plays and filling out the edges based around particularly special players. The core 5 packages should give me lots of room to work without worrying about those others until I’ve got these down.

Finally, before we get into those formations, remember at this stage it has nothing to do with the actual player roles or any specific play. For our purposes now, it’s just the player positions and defensive shape that we are looking at.

34 Package

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The 34 is just a single formation, defined by the 3 players in the DM strata and 4 in the CM strata. Like the 3-4 defense it is named after, it is a defensive formation aimed at stopping the run and offering lots of options to bring an extra blitzer. Two CMs give me a lot of ways to get players into and around the box as either runners or passers. These options also free me up to not be obligated to bring my WM into the box and vary their attack as well, giving me lots of options with those 4 attackers and the ability to disguise my attack. The 3 players behind them offer a natural screen, but one could also be brought forward without significantly compromising my defensive stability.

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43 Package

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The 43 is the reciprocal of the 34, defined by 4 players in the DM strata and 3 in the CM strata. Similarly this package has just a single formation and like its 4-3 namesake in football, it is also designed to stop the run. However, again like its namesake, it does it with less flair, telegraphing the likely attackers and likely defenders based on position. It demands less versatility from the individual players and instead lets them focus on their specific role. Like the differences between the 3-4 and 4-3 in football, it trades the variability and surprise of the 34 for the strength that comes from being able to play one-dimensional players in the roles most suited their skills. Knowing that there is a natural 4 player screen behind them, the WM and CM can focus more on their offensive duties and get up the field more aggressively. And should an extra blitzer be brought from the deeper areas, they have a good chance of being a free runner and unaccounted by the defense.

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Nickel Package

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This package has 3 formations, and is built around balance, with 2 STC, 2 CD, 2 Wide players on each side, and 2 midfielders in the central areas. Again, it draws inspiration from the football formation it is named for, attempting to strike a balance between attack and defense, run and pass. And as the Nickel is rapidly becoming the go-to in the modern NFL, I too expect this package will become the one I build my top 11 around.

The various formations of the Nickel Package are differentiated by the positioning of the 2 midfielders.

In the Nickel base formation, they line up with one in the CM spot and one in the DM spot, again trying to strike that balance and create layers to the defense and attack, while also allowing the players to focus on their roles. Their alignment doesn’t matter in terms of which of the 3 CM or DM slots they occupy, and this formation, in particular, lends itself to shifting players into slightly asymmetrical positioning as there is a lot of space for all the players to work in. Additionally, because there are 2 STC, my other players, namely the WM, are freed from needing to get into the box. This allows me to vary my attack while also utilizing players in ways that best match their skills.

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The Nickel Wide formation has both the midfielders pushed up into the CM strata. This offers maximum versatility in attack and lets me get really creative in that regard. However, without a DM, it lacks a natural pivot player and the natural screen is weak. Defensively, it can suffer as well as there is no defensive screen in front of the CD – though without the DM the players fall back into 2 banks of 4. So it still has a good shape, it just needs a bit more time to get into it and until it does, there is an opportunity for a resourceful opponent.

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The Nickel Deep formation has both the midfielders pushed back into the DM strata. This offers a very strong natural screen in both attack and defense, but in return there are comparably limited options in attack and it may struggle getting players to play between the lines in those central 0,1 zones. Still, with a strong screen, there is no reason a player or two can’t be brought forward, and players that are brought forward will find plenty of space to exploit.

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Dime Package

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Like the previous, this package follows its inspiration by focusing on stopping the pass – particularly deep passes – by taking away the receivers. Like the Nickel, it has 6 players in the midfield, with 2 on each flank and 2 in the middle. But where the Nickel traded out a midfielder for a striker, the Dime trades the midfielder for an extra CD, making 3 in the back. This is helpful against teams that feature exceptional or numerous strikers. It also mitigates the risk of being a bit more aggressive in the midfield, allowing for means to make up for one less attacker. Additionally, the central CD can be played as a Libero to get that attacker back. It follows the same convention as the Nickel, with 3 formations, each determined by the positioning of the 2 central midfielders.

The Dime Base formation has the 2 midfielders split between the CM and DM positions.

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The Dime Wide has them both in the CM strata.

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And the Dime Deep has them both in the DM strata.

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Generally speaking all three more or less have the same strengths and weaknesses of the Nickel formations, with 2 major differences. First, the lack of a second striker means that we need to get additional players into the box and with only 3 obvious options, much of that duty is going to fall to the WMs, limiting my ability to vary the attack. And second, the ability to use the CD as a Libero can free up the DM to be a bit more adventurous if I choose, or mitigate the absence of a DM in the Dime Wide.

 

Singleback Package

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This package is defined by the fact that it utilizes a single CD. This gives me an extra attacker, but obviously creates significant risks in defense. The WBs fall back well, and create a solid, albeit wide, back 3, so it’s not terrible. But it means I will need to rely on the DMs in both the offensive and defensive screening roles to limit opposing opportunities to play into the gaps between the 3 in the back. That means playing 4 in that DM strata and neutralizing the opposing advance players by cutting off their supply of passes. I play this package in 2 formations.

The first formation is the Singleback Base formation, which uses the extra man to get another midfielder and gives me a truly packed midfield for maximum creative options in play design. It has all the advantages of the 34 and 43, with a really solid natural screen, a natural double pivot, and lots of options for bringing attackers forward. The packed midfield is very difficult to play through and mitigates our risk in defense, which in turn allows the sole CD to focus on defending long balls.

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The second formation is Singleback Twins, which uses the extra man to get another striker. This frees up the WMs, so that I can utilize them in more creative ways, and has most of the advantages of the Nickel and 43. It’s a bit more risky than the base Singleback formation in defense, but it makes up for it with that second striker, who should always ready to run behind the opposing defense on a fast break off a counter attacking long ball if they try to get too aggressive. This makes it higher risk for both parties, hopefully something I can take advantage of.  

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Edited by VinceLombardi
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Layer 5: Designing Plays and Making a Playbook

Now it’s time for the fun part, actually making plays. But before I let my creativity go wild, I need to establish my “Base” play that will be the template from which all other plays are built. In determining what your base play is, you are going to look back to your high level system goals and use them to guide your design. Additionally you will want to consider your TI options and conceptualize how you see those affecting your base default. For this entire process we are going to stick with the 34 formation, since it’s my most developed and the one I am most familiar with.

Base play

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For my base plays, I look to create the simplest and most natural expression of the formation’s shape, as that the most important element for me and is key to my system working in attack and defense. I want my players by default to be in or near their defensive position. From there, I am looking to create an effective leading edge of players in the box to create scoring threats and an offensive screen behind them to support them. Whatever is left will be tasked with playing between those lines. Looking at the 34 formation, I see this shape naturally occurring as the players get forward and I put in the player roles that will encourage it.

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Then I watch it in matches. A lot. In all the TI settings, in all kinds of situations, against all types of opponents. I want to see the team doing the same thing, over and over again. Because if I can’t reliably get what I want with the Base play, then I can’t expect it to play reliably as I start adding more creative elements later. I don’t care if it wins. I only care that I see what I want to see, and for my system that’s strong shapes – namely that well defined leading edge, that offensive screen behind it, and the players between the lines playing  the space effectively between and with the two lines. They might miss every shot, pass and cross. Don’t care. I can get better players to do what I need later. I want very reliable movement patterns and shapes. I want the players finding and working the space well. Eventually I hope to see something like this on every build up. Well defined leading edge and offensive screen, with the players between them supporting the lines.

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I cannot emphasize how important it is to get this Base play right. All your other plays in the formation will be based on this play. So if there are any issues in this play, they will be copied to all your other plays. Take your time. Do it right. If you find a mistake later, go back and adjust. I just finished my 1st season and I am about to go through my 3rd revision to the 34 Base. I expect a 4th before I am happy with it.

Boom. First play of the playbook down.

 

Designing Plays

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Now that we have the Base Play, it’s time to start designing other plays that can be run with it.

Now, designing a play is a little different than designing a tactic. In a tactic, you need a level of versatility to make it suitable for almost any situation so that you can run it game after game. A play doesn’t need that. It can be incredibly focused and situational in a way that a tactic never could. The versatility comes from the play book as a whole, the plethora of options and how you use them. Each individual play only needs to do 1 or 2 things very well and if it can do them reliably, then it’s a good play. Maybe a play isn’t super useful because it’s only for a very niche situation. But if it can reliably handle that situation, it’s still a good play.

I try to have versatility built in to my plays, but that’s not because they need it, it’s because that an essential feature to my system and how I want my offense to run. You could just as easily build a system around getting a specific superstar player the ball in the box and each play is a different, very specific way to do it. That’s your own choice for your system.

So the first step to designing a play is to identify what is the thing that you want this play to do. Maybe it’s as general or simple as shifting the entire team to the left. Maybe it’s as specific as getting your WBR into the box between the CDL and DL, late in the attack, with time and space to get a good shot on goal. It can be anything. But take the time to define it and make a clear design goal. If you have multiple ideas then design them as different plays. Don’t try to do it all in one play. Now you might find later that you can combine them, but in the design phase, don’t do too much.

As an example, let’s say I want to pull the defense right to create a free runner on the left flank. It’s an overload concept that I see people struggle with all the time.

First I load up my Base Play and use it as a start point. I already know how my players look in this play because I have already watched it way too much. So what do I need to do to change this play into the desired play? Well first, I’m trying to shift the team right. That means I need space on the right for my team to move into. That means my MR as an IW(a) isn’t going to work because he is going into space I need my midfielders to move into. So, I go into my toolbox of player roles and switch this player to a W(s) to keep him along the flank. The WBR is already on the flank in the base play, so no adjustment needed there. Next I need that CMR to pull right to create space for the other midfielders to move into where he normally is. In my toolbox, the Mez(a) how I create that movement, so I make that switch too. Then I get to the DM and CML. I don’t really have anything in my toolbox to get these guys to go right. But I do know that the BBM that I have in the base tactic moves laterally well. Maybe just creating the free space to his right by moving the CMR out will be enough to get him over. Additionally, the DM doesn’t really need to move per say, as nobody further left is looking to get into the space he is in.  For now I will leave them both be, but will keep a close eye on them. If I need to get them over I can try to find a different role or physically move them over in the tactics screen. For now, those changes seem a bit drastic and will introduce unexpected changes to our defensive shape and attack. I would prefer to stick with what I know works in the Base play and then change it if it needs to be changed. Finally on the left side, I need to decide who is the free runner I am trying to get open. As is, in my Base play, the ML likes to move right into the box already and the WB sticks to the flank, so it wouldn’t require much, if any, change to get the players where I need them. This is what I end with:

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What I hope to see and expect to see when I run this is the ML and STC working the leading edge. The screen is untouched, the left side should still be able to push up freely, but the right side is going to run into the traffic in front, holding it back and slightly distorting its shape. Finally, the MR is pulled off the leading edge to work between the lines and collectively all 3 of the players working between the lines should see themselves on the right side of the formation.

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When I am watching to see if these 2 roles changes are effective, there are 3 key areas I will be watching. Do the 3 players on the right, create an overload? That is, do they pull the ball, defenders, teammates, and action their way and congest it on the right sideline? Do the central 2 midfielders that we didn’t change work laterally to the middle or right of middle into the spaces vacated by the Mez(a)? Finally are we getting our objective of getting that WB free?

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The end result is promising. We get the shape we are after. Looking back to our original concept, the overload works and it pulls the defenders and the midfielders with some regularity, which in turn frees up the WBL. But its not 100%. We never get that back breaking run from the WBL and at least some of the time, we don’t manage to even work him free. He might need to be a bit more aggressive, maybe a WB(a) instead of WB(s) – something worth experimenting with. But the concept is sound and something to build on in the future.

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One thing I thought was really interesting was the way the players shifted immediately following a goal kick and how the overload was expressing itself so deep in our own end. The Mez(a) moving could be expected, but the other 2 caught me off guard. Also the screen wasn’t as distorted as I expected. I also might need that WB(a). It might take some tinkering to perfect, but it’s reliably creating what I am looking for, so we are going to call it another play and save it to work with later.

And that’s really all there is too it. Have a concept, make a few switches to try to get what you are looking for, and then test it. If it works or looks good, then I save it so that it can be improved later. Rinse. Repeat.

 

My naming convention

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Before we got further I want to point out that I’ve got 10 formations already and each will have 3-4 plays, maybe more. That’s a lot of tactics to keep straight. So to keep it organized I needed to create a naming convention to name my plays and as with everything else, it’s using the football verbiage I am familiar with. I was a little loose with this when I started and as my playbook grows, I am finding myself having to go back and fix omissions. Now I stick to it religiously.

[Package] [Formation] [Macro Team Movement] [Individual Player Movement] [Blitzes]

Packages and formations are easy. That helps keep the formations within the same group together on the tactics list. So any play that starts with “Nickel” is going to be my base Nickel personnel with 2 STC, 2 CD, etc. etc. etc. A play starting “Nickel Wide” or “Nickel Deep” would be the same group, but with the midfielders realigned as appropriate. And all of these Nickel package plays will be grouped together on the tactics list.

Macro team movements are denoted as a “Crash” or “Sweep” and identify what direction the team as a whole is shifting. A “Crash” and “Sweep” differ in that a “Crash” is a more subtle shift often used as a set up for another move, whereas a “Sweep” is a hyper aggressive attempt to completely overwhelm a specific area of the pitch. So “34 Crash Left” is a play run out of the 34 package that has the entire team shifting action to the left, however “34 Sweep Left” has the team truly attacking that left side and trying to overwhelm it.

These macro team shifts also redefine what the base play is for the rest of the naming convention. So, continuing the example, in the “34 Base”, the ML and MR by default are IW(a) getting into the box. But in the “34 Crash Left”, I am shifting the entire team left, so the default for the ML will change to a W(s) or W(a), but the MR will remain by default a IW(a) since that is consistent with the macro team shift. This is important, because if I later change the ML back to a IW(a) in another play I need to denote that change as a Stunt or Blitz so that I know he isn’t following the Crash Left with the rest of the team.

Individual player movements are denoted by “Stunt” and identify the player(s) doing the shift and what direction the shift is. So “ML Stunt In” in any play tells me that the ML is shifting into the inside zones instead of his normal movement for the base play. So “34 Crash Left ML Stunt In” is a macro shift left by the team, but the ML moves back against the grain of the macro team movement to work the zones in front of the defense.

Next I denote any blitzes, what players are making them, and where they are going. For me blitzes are different than stunts and crashes as they are creating more significant changes in the way we are playing by default. They often raise the tempo of my transitions because players are given much higher mentalities than default and the movements differ in that it is much quicker and more single-mindedly vertical than Stunts or Crashes. So, for example, the uses of a WB(a) or IWB(a) would be denoted as a blitz rather than a stunt. Additionally, Sweeps are plays that inherently have a lot of blitzing movements, so I don’t bother to denote the blitzes in those plays as its implied.

So putting it all together when I see the play “34 Crash Left ML Stunt In WBR Blitz Down” I know that this is a play out of the 34 formation, where the team is pushing action to the left. However the ML is working back against the grain to work the zones in front of the defense and the WBR is rapidly moving up field trying to attack into the box.

Finally, I am not naming every element of the play, only the major elements that are defining what I am trying to do with that play as a whole. So again going back to the final example, “34 Crash Left Stunt In WBR Down”, there are likely other changes that are happening that aren’t denoted in the name. In this play the CMR and MR are both shifted slightly compared to what they do in the base “Crash Left” play, which helps create space for the blitzing WBR. But I do not include their shifts as part of the name as these shift are not the goal of the play, nor necessary to understand what the play is designed to do.

 

 

Edited by VinceLombardi
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Putting it all together: My Playbook

As a disclaimer, this is very much a work in progress. I spent half a season concept testing and half a season putting together these plays. Some, like the 34 plays, are much more thoroughly tested than others because they fit my personnel on my roster. And some, like the Twins and Trips stuff are still very much concept testing that haven’t seen much attention, which is why the formations weren’t included above. I can say everything has at least been tested in matches to ensure that it at least gets close to the mark and nothing should be complete crap. But thats no guarantee its good. A lot of it needs work yet.

I also want to point out that because this is all a work in progress, I do not guarantee that any of it is a perfect match for the player roles as laid out above, and there player roles used in the plays that I didn’t include in the post. This is because I am currently between the 2nd and 3rd revisions of my system and I forsee, at minimum, a 4th revision before I am happy with the playbook. Most of these plays are 2nd revision designs, but the roles above are what I am starting with going into my 3rd revision.

Moving forward, I am looking forward to this next season as I want to expand the roles I use and introduce more tools to create more varied plays. I expect to be adding at least 2-3 roles to each midfield position before the season is up. I design following the layers above, so I expect it will be most of a season before I get back to designing plays and updating these for the new roles.

Finally, I’m not going much into the plays and will only likely mention a few with any comments. This post is long enough without me writing a paragraph for each, finding screenshots, etc. I’m largely just going to throw these up so that those interested can check them out for themselves and use them for jumping off points for their own versions of the system.

The Playbook                                            

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34 Base – If there is one play I am confident about, this is it.

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34 Blitz Inside

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34 Crash Left ML Stunt In WBR Blitz Down – That’s a mouthful, but it’s actually a pretty cool play. The CM(s) has roaming, but not get further forward. So he gets pushed out of the way by the blitzing WBR and then roams back into the space after the WBR goes by. The CM(s) kinda works like a door. It’s a role/combo that I plan on experimenting with more. There are also likely too many players between the lines and not enough on the leading edge. 

Spoiler

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34 Crash Left WBR Blitz Wide – This is what the 34 Crash Right could become. Looks like I already made the WB switch on a previous version. Also note that the leading edge of this crash is on the overload side with the W(a) and PF(s) instead of away from the overload as with the 34 Crash Right below.

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34 Crash Right – This is the play I made as the example above. I would suggest looking into changing the WBL to a WB(a) to get him forward, making “34 Crash Right WBL Blitz Wide”.

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34 Sweep Left – The sweep plays are all kinda cool, but this one in particular is fun. The 3 players on the left are all like a loaded gun, ready to explode when somebody pulls the trigger by getting them the ball. The 4 right players all make an overload around the halfspace instead of the flank which is another cool element. It still needs a little work I think, but there are some neat things here. Definitely worth the look, imo.

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Nickel Base

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Nickel Crash Down – This is a really solid play. The IW(s) play really well behind the leading edge made by the STC pair.

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Nickel Crash Right ML Stunt – WBR needs to get fixed. That role plays too far back iirc. IWB(s) w/o gets further forward would be better. Also the name isn’t correct. The ML isn’t stunting imo. This looks like an alternate crash configuration with a WBR stunt.

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Nickel Crash Left

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Nickel MR Blitz In – This has a nice leading edge.

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Nickel Stunts In – This play makes an interesting midfield diamond

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Nickel Sweep Right

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Nickel Wide

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Nickel Wide CMR Blitz

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Nickel Deep

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Nickel Deep MR Stunt DMR Blitz

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43 Base

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43 WBR Blitz – This is a simple and effective WBR blitz.

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Dime Base

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Dime Wide – The Libero plays as a holding midfielder to help complete the screen

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Singleback Base – The Singleback formation is fun and surprisingly strong defensively. Just don’t try it against 2 striker sets and be careful that they don’t switch into a multiple striker formation on you.

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Singleback Sweep Left

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Singleback Twins

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Singleback Twins Sweep Left

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Singleback Twins DMR Blitz In

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Twins Base

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Twins Wide

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Twins Wide WB Stunts – This play is a likely cut candidate. The screen isn’t right and the IWB(d) role doesn’t work well for what I want. They don’t get far enough forward. If you check it out, I would try IWB(s) without gets further forward and see if that plays better. Needs work.

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Trips Base

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Trips Deep

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Edited by VinceLombardi
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Putting it all together: Match Day

When I watch a match I look for a few specific things, which dictate what TI and plays I want to run. This particular bit is rather new to me as I only started really adjusting to my opponents and flexing my system the last 5-10 games of the season. Prior to that I was so focused on testing plays that I didn’t pay much attention to what they did.

I watch all matches on Comprehensive Highlights.

Middle Third

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This area is the starting point of my attacks and where I hope to recover the ball in defense. As such it is the focal point of my attention as it will tell me how I’m doing in both phases.

In defense, I am watching their highlights to see how they are getting through the front line of my defense. If they are struggling to get into my third, then I will be more focused on what I am doing on offense, as my defense is holding. However if they are getting into my third with regularity or, even worse getting the ball into dangerous shooting locations, then I am going Cover TI to give my defense a little more room and and time to try to pick off a pass. Also, if I can’t keep them from getting the ball into the box, then I want to fall back deeper to protect the box, even if that means I am giving up a bit of space for those long shots.

In attack, I am primarily watching how they pressure my ball carriers. If they are playing passive and letting me to get to the half-line uncontested, then I want to take advantage of that opportunity to play my Control TI game. This will make sure that I am taking the time to get my guys into position and form our shapes before entering into the other half. On the contrary if closing down on my guys and pressuring them to pass the ball (or even worse, tackling it off them), then I know that my offense cannot wait until we form up our shape. I will switch into the No Huddle TI in order to try to catch them in no man’s land between players and exploit their press before it gets home.

 

On attack

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I want to watch where the space is in the opposing formation as they fall back and whether or not my players, particularly the between the lines guys are getting into it. They are the real destabilizing force for my attacks, and so I need them to quickly and efficiently find space to receive the ball. This will largely direct my play calls as I will switch into something that will get into that space better.

This sequence is a great example of what I mean. After 58 minutes of struggling to break the opposing team down, I identify pockets of space in the 2,3 zones. My existing play has my WMs playing on the flanks as W(s), so I switch into a Crash In play, to get those WMs playing nearer the free space.

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Then I use the leading edge to drive the already deep defender, deeper into the box to move that space back into the box as well. This enables my WM to take a shot from inside the box instead of making a speculative effort from long range.

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Prior to that shift, they had my number and I only a few shots on goal, despite controlling the match.

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After, I was able to get a lot more shots, and they were from better locations. What looked to be a 0-0 draw at 58 mins turned into a 2-0 win.

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Standout players

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Finally, I am watching for any specific players that are repeatedly standing out for one reason or another. They could be on my team, their team, offense, defense, whatever. They also could be standing out for about any reason, exceptionally fast, always out of position, always in position, just having a good day, injury, etc. From there I might adjust a play to take advantage of an opportunity or to avoid an opposing player that just always has my number. On multiple occasions I have identified attacking fullbacks that don’t track back well and shifted action their way with a Crash in their direction or a Blitzer into where they should be and used that to exploit their poor positioning. This is still something I am still trying to incorporate better into my game and play selection, but when I have been able to make the right read it has paid dividends.

What I want to see on Defense

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Opposing player gets ball in the midfield wing, looking to start an attack. My right side players are well positioned to prevent him from getting a free run on the flank. The opposing STC is bracketed by the DML and CD preventing a long ball, a normal pass, and giving him no space to work in. On the far side, my ML sticks to his man to prevent the field getting flipped and my WBL floats in space ready to clean up wherever he is needed. There are no options, so the opposing player passes it back when my MCR pressures him.

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But my MCR isn’t done. He forced the pass out of his area, but now he sticks to this guy to prevent the opposing team from being able to immediately pass the ball back. This frees up the other players to apply pressure without needing to worry about my own press pulling my shape apart. Sure 1-2 players might be slightly out of position, with the STC having to rotate back to cover the gap left by the MCL. But they aren’t out of position because they are frantically trying to press everything at once and get caught in space between players. Instead, they are still contributing on defense even while “out of position” and he is now helping create a bracket on a player that was part of the attack immediately prior. The end result of the situation is opposing team makes 3 passes, but doesn’t manage to advance the ball forward. And when the ball gets passed out of the area, both the MCL and STC can quickly spring back into their original positions so I can regain my shape and solidify the defense again.

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This sequence is the ideal way my attack works. Each move is contested and they result in very little from the effort. If I remember correctly, in the example, that last opposing player dwelled just a little too long on the ball and the MR was able to tackle it loose for a turnover. My defense is built around creating those opportunities for myself.

By everybody sharing the duties and working as a team we don’t rely on any particular player’s success or failure. Those front players step up to harass players as a group, closing them down into smaller and smaller space until they are forced to move the attack into another area. Unlike, a single BWM, the team can close from all directions and if one is out of position another can step up into their spot. Away from the action my players wait to prevent an easy pass into another area and also to make that first close down quickly to prevent them from turning that completed pass into a backbreaking run through my defense. Finally behind all this action my primary defenders keep their shape and remain ready to deal with anything that gets through.

fMulZFT.png

 

 

Edited by VinceLombardi
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Football as an Inspiration

While it’s clear that I am heavily influenced by my football background in designing this system, I thought it might be helpful for me to point out and explain some of the elements I have taken and how they inform the system.

Defense as a model for shape and space

Spoiler

 

So while it may be easy to assume that my attacking shapes come from offense in football, it’s actually the defensive side of the game that really takes center stage and is the model for much of the system. This is especially true for its shape and how I use space. The leading edge, offensive screen, and between the lines model that I feature so heavily is the same general structure of defense in football. The front defenders set the edge against the offense trying to attack the line of scrimmage. The defensive backs are tasked with ensuring that nothing gets behind them. And the linebackers are tasked with playing and defending space between those groups.

EkEyq6t.jpg

We can see this shape and model and use it for soccer by simply changing the way we see the positions. Their roles are the same. And with the magic of MSPaint, we can see how the 34 defense from football becomes the shape for the 34 formation in my system.

lqR9kMz.jpg

ijJentM.jpg

 

Blocking

Spoiler

 

Blocking is key to both offense and defense in football. And while it might seem a bit off to use it in soccer, the concept is surprisingly effective when applied to the sport. It’s really not that different than pulling defenders. The big difference is, rather than pulling the defenders with movement, you lock them down preventing their movement. This in turn prevents them from stepping up to challenge a ball carrier.  

It works in soccer by moving an attacker into a dangerous location. Naturally the defenders move to cover him. This takes the attacker out of the play, but it also occupies the defender. And while occupied in such a way, the defender can’t cover another player without releasing the attacker he was previously defending. This can leave gaps without defenders to actually defend them. We can design these elements into our plays relatively easily. Here is a simple blocking design from a football perspective:

oRhKFrM.png

The MR and STC block out the opposing CD and DL. With no defenders left to protect the B gap, we can then blitz in our CMR. And we can see exactly that occur on the field.

keix5XP.png

These strategies are especially effective against the opposing defensive line.

 

Passing Concepts

Spoiler

 

Another source of inspiration are the passing concepts in football. In my sweep plays I abandon my normal defensively inspired shapes to apply an aggressive Vertical Passing concept.

uA1Xf3w.jpg

In these plays, the offensive players all run deep and spread out over the field laterally. This challenges the defenders to not only fall back at pace, but also track laterally with their movement. Additionally, the defenders in the middle need to quickly recognize that the movement from the outside is going to require them to drop deep, lest they be caught out of position.

8bRvmA5.png

But the defenders drift too far down and the MR passes up to the rushing CML, who relays it quickly to the ML. The DR doesn’t recognize that his man is the ML and tries to close down the CML, but that just makes it worse. The ML gets behind the DR with the ball and gets a free run all the way to the goal.

pWW7lct.png

 

 

Edited by VinceLombardi
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Final Thoughts and Links to Interesting Posts

Using Tempo to Break a Defense

I would also like to put a big "Thank You" for @wkdsoul who designed the database I'm playing. It features a Premier League modeled pyramid which includes all the teams across all the major USA sports (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, MLS).

Edited by VinceLombardi
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Bravo. This is fantastic. 

I've been an American football fan my whole life (Go Colts!) and I can still get overwhelmed by all of the terminology and concepts. Not only is your work applying football strategy to soccer incredibly impressive, but you did it in a way that makes both reading and comprehending it easier. 

It's a fascinating way to look at FM and I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

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6 hours ago, Hoosier_76 said:

Bravo. This is fantastic. 

I've been an American football fan my whole life (Go Colts!) and I can still get overwhelmed by all of the terminology and concepts. Not only is your work applying football strategy to soccer incredibly impressive, but you did it in a way that makes both reading and comprehending it easier. 

It's a fascinating way to look at FM and I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

I'm glad its understandable. Its a bit long winded, but I wanted to make sure it made sense to people who had little or no football background.

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6 hours ago, crusadertsar said:

It is too bad there is no American Football Manager Sim because I think you would boss it

Front Office Football is the closest we'll get thanks to EA owning the NFL license

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8 hours ago, VinceLombardi said:

I'm glad its understandable. Its a bit long winded, but I wanted to make sure it made sense to people who had little or no football background.

Yeah, it's a wonderful post and not long winded at all. Better than the amount of "I IZ NEEDING HELP WIV DIS TAKTIK" We've been getting recently. 

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7 hours ago, Gambit said:

Front Office Football is the closest we'll get thanks to EA owning the NFL license

Yep. There was a Head Coach game, which was super promising. But it never got off the ground as a franchise.

Madden 2005(?) let you design plays. That was pretty awesome too. Sad to see it go.

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20 hours ago, VinceLombardi said:

I would like to put a big "Thank You" for @wkdsoul who designed the database I'm playing. It edits the US to feature a Premier League modeled pyramid which includes all the teams across all the major US sports (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, MLS).

 

Edited by VinceLombardi
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Great read and thanks for sharing. Much to take in! Have been trying the 34 for a few weeks now and a big fan and it works well. 

The difficult bit is now working out when to use the right packages, formations, plays etc. There are so many options! Think I will concentrate on 34 and Nickel and get to know them first before delving any deeper. Maybe also use the Dime package against the many 442s you get in Germany. 

Do you give the Libero any PIs?

 

Brilliant post. 

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4 hours ago, loisvale said:

Great read and thanks for sharing. Much to take in! Have been trying the 34 for a few weeks now and a big fan and it works well. 

The difficult bit is now working out when to use the right packages, formations, plays etc. There are so many options! Think I will concentrate on 34 and Nickel and get to know them first before delving any deeper. Maybe also use the Dime package against the many 442s you get in Germany. 

Do you give the Libero any PIs?

 

Brilliant post. 

Yeah. I still need to work on that stuff too. I'm trying to have more options than I need, but still avoid too many options. Each revision cycle allows me an opportunity to cut the fringes and work with the best parts of the previous cycle as a starting point. With so much stuff, I don't want to waste my time improving something that might never be good enough. And each revision cycle I more or less follow the layers improving each area in turn before moving on to the next. 

So being in the revision 3 cycle, layer 2 currently, when I get around to revamping the plays in this cycle, I should have a much better toolbox for designing those plays.

The Libero (a) has close down less, so that it operates like the rest of the CD, focusing on A gap control in defense. And also more direct passing, so that he has the passing range to work the entire field from his spot at the back like a DLP. Even if he doesn't have the skill or mentals, I want him to have all his options. It doesn't take a brilliant or skilled passer to get the ball to a free WB on the far flank. But without more direct passing, he won't even be looking for him. And with less options, I expect he will be more likely to try to force a pass into a tight spot, something he clearly lacks the ability to do.

IMO, the less I let him do, the more likely he is to do something bad.

Edited by VinceLombardi
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7 hours ago, VinceLombardi said:

Yep. There was a Head Coach game, which was super promising. But it never got off the ground as a franchise.

Madden 2005(?) let you design plays. That was pretty awesome too. Sad to see it go.

FoF has now been bought/partnered with the devs who make OOTP, so their next game should be good!

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@Vince Lombardi out of interest what packages, formations and plays do you have the most faith in at present. I feel the Base 34, base Nickel and the inside blitz for both work the best at the moment. Top German sides away from home are very difficult at the moment and having to work very hard to get points off them.

As it should be. 

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4 hours ago, loisvale said:

@Vince Lombardi out of interest what packages, formations and plays do you have the most faith in at present. I feel the Base 34, base Nickel and the inside blitz for both work the best at the moment. Top German sides away from home are very difficult at the moment and having to work very hard to get points off them.

As it should be. 

In terms of formations, 34, Nickel Base (not wide or deep formations), and Singleback have had the most testing. For all 3 I have spent a lot of time in Base play. Crashes are likely next as they have been used as jumping off points for other plays. Sweeps less so, but also tested more than the rest.

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Ok completed first season with this system on journey man season with Dortmund. 

3rd place 5 points behind Schalke. 21 wins 7 draws and 6 losses. Didn’t lose at home all season. Both 34 and Nickle are really strong at home. 

Nees to work on away strategy especially against the big boys. Think it is mainly down to poor choices I make. Will be trying the cover TI much more to focus the defence and carefully pick the plays. Overall really enjoy this system. Have just moved to Liverpool as Tuchel skipped over to Barcelona. Very surprised to get the job as reputation lower than the other candidates but maybe as it is listed as my favourite club and I said what they wanted to hear!

anyway am now where I wanted to be since starting the save and will not move again. 

@Vince Lombardi do you have a particular thought process when away from home and tips/suggestions?

Really enjoying it and the football is tremendous. 

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How much affect do player traits have on PIs? Does it mean they ignore instructions? 

Tactic is working very well with   Liverpool on journeyman save and leading league after 16 games with only one loss. However very difficult to find a dlp that doesn’t have contrary traits. Fabinho should be perfect but his traits of plays one twos, knocks ball past opponent and gets into opposition area all conflict with what I want him to do. That is a lot of coaching of a 30 year old to reverse and now play him as a box to box instead. All my first ream defenders have some issue or other with their traits but can be coached. 

Basically how much attention to traits should be paid?

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How much affect do player traits have on PIs? Does it mean they ignore instructions? 

Tactic is working very well with   Liverpool on journeyman save and leading league after 16 games with only one loss. However very difficult to find a dlp that doesn’t have contrary traits. Fabinho should be perfect but his traits of plays one twos, knocks ball past opponent and gets into opposition area all conflict with what I want him to do. That is a lot of coaching of a 30 year old to reverse and now play him as a box to box instead. All my first ream defenders have some issue or other with their traits but can be coached. 

Basically how much attention to traits should be paid?

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1 hour ago, loisvale said:

Basically how much attention to traits should be paid?

Currently I don't pay hardly any attention, but that's because I'm still developing the system. If somebody is doing unexpected stuff, then I check to see if traits explains it. Once I get settled into a regular roster and the system is clicking right, then I will turn my attention there.

I would agree with your analysis of that player though. That's a lot of traits that wouldn't be useful in that DM-DLP (d) spot. Just based on them, the CM position seems a much better fit.

Edited by VinceLombardi
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Using Tempo to Break a Defense

So I mainly use either Cover or Control TI, as they work in 70-80% of situations for me.  But sometimes I need to break out the No Huddle to fill in a few gaps. Here I use the higher tempo to break a stubborn defense and get 2 quick goals to break a tie. 

Spoiler

 

This was an away match against a team further up the table that I was slated to lose. They come out reasonably aggressive, but I am able to use the Cover TI to stifle their attack and turn the game into a defensive slog. It works in that regard, but I'm never able to get off any of my own opportunities and all I've got is longballs, longshots and/or set pieces to get that upset goal based on how the match played out in the first half.

1VOksHg.png

Rather than rely on luck, I look to see if I can identify why my attack is breaking down and what I can go to resolve it. Simply put, they have really good defensive shape. They are matching up well with my attackers and trading them off between defenders well. I've got no advanced players to cleanly pass the ball up to. They are essentially doing what I do, take away the passing outlets and then pressure the passer to force a bad pass. This slows down my buildup and prevents me from moving my attack forward like I would like. This in turn causes my players to bunch up and gives them even more time to get into their good shape. It really is my defense come back to get me. 

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If I can get to it, there is space behind the defenders. I play direct, but I'm not really a long ball/hoofball team. And the only way I could exploit it with a play change is a shift into a Nickle or other 2+ STC formation, as I don't have any 1 STC plays with a poacher or similar (yet). Plus honestly, their defenders are as good or better than my strikers and at least as fast. It would be unlikely for me to really get a good long ball opportunity even if I made that switch. I have a rather average roster for my league and they have better quality players. So that option is kinda out, or at least non-optimal. Plus my defense has been playing very well and a play or formation change risks upsetting what is working there.

Instead, I'm going to try to prevent them from getting into their shape by raising the tempo. I make the switch right after halftime as I fear going down a goal will be insurmountable (and I just yelled at them at half and I wanted to use the morale boost). In the next 4 mins I am rewarded with 2 goals. The first is a long range effort following a fortuitous turnover, and admittedly it was a lucky long shot goal.

The second goal is exactly what I was hoping for. We collect a loose ball in our own half and the team springs into action to prevent them from ever getting a chance to set their defensive shape.  Instead of mucking about in the midfield and waiting for my play to develop, we just use our workrate and the morale boosts from the team talk and goal to out effort them. We push quickly up the field, and though they have the pace to repeatedly challenge us on our attack, they never all get set at once and get into their previously dominate defense shape. My guys crash the box and I'm rewarded with a second goal.

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I immediately return to my Cover TI as I don't want to give them a chance to get back in the game. They are the better team, but my defense is solid and should be able to hold a 2-0 lead if I don't take any chances. I never got another good shot off in open play, but I didn't need it. Turns out I broke their back and spirit in that 4 minutes.  My defense holds them to no shots in the second half and I get 2 more goals off set pieces (a corner and free kick), for a dominating 4-0 victory. 

F7xxefR.png

Mrp9R5o.png

As a nice side note, they were the #1 defense in the league and hadn't conceded in nearly 500 minutes of soccer before I unleashed that double salvo.

I never changed a single role all game, and just 4 min switch from Cover to No Huddle turned the game entirely around -- which substantively was just a quick shift to a higher tempo and freedom to play a bit more creatively. Both TI setups have the same mentality, directness, and the counter transition. And both the attacks I show took 12 seconds and are only a few mins apart in the match. But that tempo shift completely changed the way my team approached the build up, the attack, and most importantly the result. 

 

Edited by VinceLombardi
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Interesting.

I have experienced this kind of thing many times in the season with Liverpool on the journeyman save. What you have described above works well. The team has a great deal of pace and skill and given we have won 23 games drawn 2 and lost only one in the league I am coming up a against a lot of parked buses home and away. I almost exclusively use 34 formation away from home and the nickle at home.  My experience of dealing with matches is mostly based around decisions taken on TIs and using the base formations. 

If really trying to force things then really attacking space on the left or the right along with tempo changes (no huddle) or changing to two strikers is very effective. If the opposition is backing off control TI works very well. The cover TI and base formations is very solid when protecting what you have or taking on difficult matches. Beat Man City away doing this and they are very strong in my save which is now in 2024.Pep still there and have won EPL last four years.

in game shouts of demand more and get creative have an effect. 

Finally attention to player traits and getting the right personnel for the positions is critical. 

Football is great and this team is having great success but keeping Man City at bay is challenging in this save as despite the run of wins I am only 4 points ahead.Hopefully on track to end Liverpool’s long wait to win title in my first season.

All in all the system is brilliant has lots of variety and is great fun to use and experiment with. Love it.

Congratulations -many people would get a lot of enjoyment using it . I know sharing has helped you sort it out in your own head but very glad you did!

 

Edited by loisvale
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I play with 4-4-2 I changed my AF to PF(s) with roam from position and lowered passing just by 1 click and it seems like they are making "one -twos" passing, it looks much better now :) forwards are little bit deeper and if I would have BBM with better finishing I will be scoring a lot more since they run passing each other with strikers and completely losing opponent defense and shot :) before I think I had more long failed shots now I think they run more into the penalty area...will check with more games:)

90345561_Taktyka442.jpg.9096406304d58267c125b3761feedc5e.jpg

Edited by LukasZ_VCF
Simulated few games - ALL won ;O even CL final with PSG
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12 hours ago, loisvale said:

I am coming up a against a lot of parked buses home and away. I almost exclusively use 34 formation away from home and the nickle at home.  My experience of dealing with matches is mostly based around decisions taken on TIs and using the base formations. 

I am playing this league season almost exclusively from my base 34, 43, and Nickel as I've thrown out the rest of the playbook to more or less start over. I have found it to be very successful, and I really like the defensive stability they offer. The attacks can get a bit boring, especially against other good defenses, but quick tempo shifts or the like can create the edge I need. In this way it plays very similar to my FM16 version. 

 

13 hours ago, loisvale said:

If the opposition is backing off control TI works very well.

Also has been my experience. If they give me time, this setup really takes advantage and works the ball around well. In my U23 league I am very dominate, so a lot of teams play back, which is great because this is my preferred TI setup for evaluating plays and I do most of my creative testing in those matches.

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Not read this yet, only skimmed some of it but I must say, it looks like you've gone into some real detail here. Will have a proper look through now. 

Edit: So yeah I've just gone through all of this, very impressive stuff @VinceLombardi, really interesting take on things and very detailed. :thup:

Edited by craigcwwe
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7 hours ago, craigcwwe said:

Not read this yet, only skimmed some of it but I must say, it looks like you've gone into some real detail here. Will have a proper look through now. 

Edit: So yeah I've just gone through all of this, very impressive stuff @VinceLombardi, really interesting take on things and very detailed. :thup:

Yeah it's a lot to take in. Hopefully it mainly made sense. My limited soccer knowledge forces me to overexplain what I'm doing. I appreciate you taking the time to check it out and glad you found it interesting. 

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  • 3 weeks later...

Sigames should make an (American) Football game too... If it is about licensing and stuff, just use "fake" nicknames and stuff and let users edit that out with an included editor. Would absolutely love it, as these are my two favorite sports. Would have to have College included too in my opinion. 

Great read!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Just found this thread.  This was an awesome read. I love the idea of plays. I can imagine you having those signs that college football teams use, where the players turn to the sidelines to see the play. 

 

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  • 3 weeks later...
  • 3 weeks later...

@VinceLombardi or @Morrissey some advice my NFL gurus.   As my USA database, teams and league is setup as i want it.  I'm gonna start making some players and need to transpose some of the positions.  any suggestions on the below for NFL positions into football?

 

Position   NFL
     
Ad Forward   Wide Reciever
Deep Lying Playmaker   Tight End
Box to Box   Running Back
Ball Winning Mid   Centre
Centre Mid   Off Guard
     
Regista   Pocket QB
Roaming Playmaker   Scramble QB
Anchor   Safety
     
Wing Back   Off Tackle
     
Centre Back   LineBacker
FullBack   Corner Back
     
Keeper   Kicker
Sweeper Keepr   Punt Return
Edited by wkdsoul
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  • 2 months later...
On 16/03/2019 at 04:49, loisvale said:

@VinceLombardi Are you still developing your playbook? I’m still using it and enjoying experimenting with various things. Still works great. Haven’t heard from you in a while. 

I still play off and on. I've got a new 9 month old and that's really cutting into my game time. I was on paternity leave when I developed this and had time to really devote to it. That has since dried up.

I've had good success and done some stuff beyond what is in the playbook. But honestly, generally speaking, I'm finding that it works best when I don't over complicate things. I stick mainly to my base plays and opt into a few other plays situationally if I need to break a game open. My formations are typically decided by some combination of whatever my best 11 are for the game and what my opponent's formation is. From there it's just about dialing in my mentality. I find that's enough for 90% of my games. 

When I do turn to them, of my most successful plays are simple, and just create an overload in a specific area or target a specific opposing player. For example the way the Nickle Crash Down challenges the front of the box while the STC drive the DC back. 

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On 02/04/2019 at 17:35, wkdsoul said:

@VinceLombardi or @Morrissey some advice my NFL gurus.   As my USA database, teams and league is setup as i want it.  I'm gonna start making some players and need to transpose some of the positions.  any suggestions on the below for NFL positions into football?

 

Position   NFL
     
Ad Forward   Wide Reciever
Deep Lying Playmaker   Tight End
Box to Box   Running Back
Ball Winning Mid   Centre
Centre Mid   Off Guard
     
Regista   Pocket QB
Roaming Playmaker   Scramble QB
Anchor   Safety
     
Wing Back   Off Tackle
     
Centre Back   LineBacker
FullBack   Corner Back
     
Keeper   Kicker
Sweeper Keepr   Punt Return

It's really hard to transpose the positions between the two sports. The specialized nature of players in NFL doesn't translate well.

But as to the question: Off Guard and Off Tackle are plays, not positions. It describes where the running back is running and who the lead blocker is. Just call them Guards and Tackles.

Beside that, I would say that the names are appropriate. I can see where you were going with each one and can't say that any is inaccurate.

Edited by VinceLombardi
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  • 1 year later...

@VinceLombardi

I just found both of your threads about your way off playing. Such a fresh approach to the game and one I'm going to take inspiration from. I've been trying to implement some NFL principles into the game, but being a soccer fan first I've struggled. These explanations have given me so many pointers :onmehead:

Aside from that you've also thought me a lot about how NFL teams approach there game. I've watched the NFL on and off for 20 years (packers "fan") but this part always remained a mystery to me.

Are you still playing fm atm? 

 

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4 minutes ago, VinceLombardi said:

I am actually. Just picked up 21. Really enjoying it. Glad to be of some help.

Ive added full rosters to that database for 21.  SHould be up jsut after official launch.  

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This is fantastic stuff. Really detailed and thoughtful. I've been binge-watching the All or Nothing series on Amazon so I couldn't have found this at a more apt time.

I've started to implement your ideas in FM21 with a relegation tipped Brechin City. Won my first game with 34 + Control and I couldn't have been happier.

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4 hours ago, CowShedBarmyArmy said:

This is fantastic stuff. Really detailed and thoughtful. I've been binge-watching the All or Nothing series on Amazon so I couldn't have found this at a more apt time.

I've started to implement your ideas in FM21 with a relegation tipped Brechin City. Won my first game with 34 + Control and I couldn't have been happier.

Always happy to hear it's helping folk.

I just started my first ever journeyman save. Normally I just stick to one team.

Ended up at IK Sirius at the bottom of Swedish Premier with like 7 games left. Kept them up after a nice little run by playing a strikerless tactic I dusted off and revamped from FM16. 

Really a fan of the new match engine. A big step up from the rather tepid central play I was getting on FM19. I really think that there is a lot of room to be inventive in this ME and am looking forward to seeing how far these concepts can be utilized. 

 

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On 15/11/2020 at 14:02, VinceLombardi said:

Always happy to hear it's helping folk.

 

Reading through it all now, and enjoying it thoroughly. As an old time American Football fan (first game I saw on tv was the Raiders v Redskins superbowl back in 1984!) who has been to the Big Apple to see the Giants play, I'm enjoying the crossover. I've always thought that once the Yanks (sic) got their hands on footy they would revolutionise the way people think about tactics, training and organisation, and the ideas above are very good food-for-thought.

As Joe Collier, legendary Defensive Coordinator for the Broncos, who designed the Orange Crush defence of the 70 and 80s, once said:

“There are no geniuses in this profession,” he said. “Again, it’s simple. You design defenses whereby your athletes are in the proper position to make the plays you want them to make. Anyone can draw up good plays. But what good are great X’s and O’s if you have your athletes 10 yards from the play you want them to stop?”

KUTGW! :applause:

Edited by facman
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