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Hello, I'm looking for some help improving my 4-4-2 please.  I'm in the depth of the Northern Irish third tier, and generally pleasing my board in our aim of avoiding relegation.  I think I should be able to get more from my players, but I'm not sure how.  

I have below average player stats for my division except physical where I'm about average because with skill at a premium I've tried at least to get in players who are physically decent.  I also want to play a 'traditional' lower league game, with hard work, imposing myself physically, long ball and counter.  

My setup is (sorry, no idea how to post an image), and to some extent dictated by the players available:

         P(at) TM(s)

W(S) CM(a) BWM(d)  W(a)

FB(s) CD(d) BCB(d) NCB(d)


Team instructions:

Cautious, more direct passing, dribble less, be more disciplined (in the hope of minimising the lack of ability)

Counter/counter press (to get the ball upfield quickly)

Lower LoE/Less urgent/get stuck in

The only PIs are more pressing for the front five, in the hope of getting the opposition to launch the ball upfield to what hopefully is my organised defence.

Is there anything I can do to make this more effective?  I'd like to turn my numerous draws into wins but being a weak side I'm worried that opening the game up and going more adventurous will turn those draws into defeats instead!

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Okay let's start with the roles. A TM(s) with a P(a) is fine although neither is going to disrupt the opposition unless you tell them to with PI's or they have PPM's that deal with that. Poachers hang off the shoulder of the last man and TM's tend to stay pretty static. That can totally work as a pairing but its worth making a note of it. Moving down into midfield, your wings look fine but your middle is a little concerning. A BWM(d) won't hold his position and a CM(a) is naturally going to be positioned a little higher so that could leave you pretty vacant through the centre. If you're going to play a CM(a) then I'd switch the BWM(d) to a role that holds like a DLP(d) or a CM(d) or even a CM(s) given the instruction to hold. As far as I can tell there is a difference between a CM(d) with Hold Position hard coded and a CM(s) with Hold Position set via the PI's and its that the CM will stay hold slightly higher where as the CM(d) will drop deeper before holding. If you're set on playing a BWM(d) then I'd consider changing your CM(a) to a BBM(s) or some other supporting role like a CM(s). The BBM won't hold position but they will get back as well as push up  and lend support to the BWM(d). A CM(s) will just keep things ticking in midfield help out the BWM(d) when required.

Just an aside but a cheeky little tweak I sometimes like to make is to play a BWM(d), CM(d) or DLP(d) inside of an IW(a) with the AF(a)/P(a) infront. This creates some nice movements because the BWM drops, the P(a) pushes up and they both leave a nice bit of space for a creative winger to cut in and exploit.

I don't know what a BCB(d) is, do you mean a DCB or a BPD? If its the latter then I'd advise against it because he's playing behind a player who will be dropping into the same space. A BPD wants room created ahead of him to carry the ball into. If its a DCB then its fine. You can't go wrong with CD(d)'s so that's good also. Ideally you'd have an over-lapping left back who could exploit the space created be the W(s) and the P(a) but they're hard to come by in the lower leagues. A FB(s) will work fine and will still overlap in the right circumstances. The NCB(d) i assume is a DFB? If so then I'm really not sure about it. I'm guessing this player is just not very good or you're envisaging your DFB lumping the ball down the line for the winger. I think that that is an unnecessary risk tbh. More often than not you'll just be surrendering possession. The W(a) is going to need support because the BWM(d) is dropping deep and the only passing options will be the TM(s) and the P(a). A supporting FB would definitely be preferable here to offer a recycle pass. You could try a FB(d) but a FB(s) or a WB(d) would be better.

If you're looking for your keeper to launch counters to your TM or your W(a) then you probably want to switch him from a GK(d) to a SK(d) or even a SK(s).


Now let's look at your instructions with all of that in mind. Counter, as a mentality, will work fine if your strategy is that your primary method of scoring will be through counter-attacking. More Direct Passing indicates that you're looking to bypass the defence & deeper midfield when it comes to transitions. That's fine. Dribble Less won't affect your wingers, just the rest of your players and could work well although it does mean they'll pass instead. If their passing is weak, especially under pressure then you could see yourself giving away the ball a lot. Combined with Direct Passing this also plays into a very back to front style. Be More Disciplined basically reduces the amount of forward movement that is typical for your selected Mentality. You're playing Counter so your long passes (when you're not countering) will be heading up to fewer players ahead of the ball. That said you've got a Poacher who will ignore Be More Disciplined (because he Gets Further Forward), your W(a) will ignore Be More Disciplined (because he Gets Further Forward) and your CM(a) will ignore Be More Disciplined (because he Gets Further Forward). So really, you're telling your fullbacks, BWM(d), W(s) and TM(s) to hold off on joining the attack.

A Lower Line of Engagement makes sense in a countering system so that's fine. You want to draw your opponents out, win the ball and then hit them in behind before they have a chance to regroup. Less Urgent is a strange one as you've told your players not to dribble and to go Direct and you're looking to hit teams on the counter. Are you looking to maintain possession? Maybe Direct Passing isn't the way to go. Maybe I'm wrong on this but it does confuse me a bit. Get Stuck In is a useful shout so long as you have players capable of making clean tackles. Also consider whether you're good at defending free kicks because you will give plenty away. If you're dominant in the air then it can work but just watch that you're not giving away to many free kicks in dangerous areas, too many penalties and too many yellows and reds. As long as its working, use it, but monitor it.

Now onto to the winning possession instructions.

You've gone Counter-Press which is hugely physically taxing so you'll need very fit players. I don't really see your system working with Counter-Press because you're playing a front two, one of whom is a TM(s).  Counter-Press only works when you suffocate the opposition's defence. A front two can't do that and especially when one of them is playing deep. Plus it totally defeats the object of using a lower LOE. Do you want your forwards up against the defence or not? If you do then go CP but Standard or higher LOE, if you don't then Standard or Lower LOE but no CP. Your strategy is to draw the opposition out and hit them on the break, if you CP then you're not drawing them out, you are pinning them in.  Finally, you've told your front five, although you don't have a front five, to Close Down More. The Poacher is now a PF(s)/PF(a) so why not just set him as that. Your TM(s) is now even harder to hit with those direct passes because he's roaming around trying to close people down. Your W(s) is playing in midfield, so who's he closing down? Same with your CM(a) a player I already regard as an unnecessary risk. He's off chasing opposition players further exposing central midfield.


I'd say strip it back a little bit. What are you trying to do? Pin the opposition and score with quick transitions? In which case change your TM(s) to a TM(a), play a higher defensive line and LOE and use CP. Maybe think about changing shape a little bit so you've got an extra body in the final third. Diamonds, 4-3-3-1's and 4-3-3's are perfect for CP. 4-4-2's not so much.

If your aim is to sit back, draw the opposition out and then hit them with a pitch length counter then lose the CP and think about your roles. 

I hope that helps.

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Thank you @Atarin for the detailed advice.  In a small sample of 3 games results are improved and performances seem less disjointed.  I also have a couple of players who struggled to get involved now playing their parts more.

It does seem to need a more adventurous mentality than the cautious I'd originally planned, but other than that the boys are playing much more as I wanted.

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6 minutes ago, ThunderCelt said:

Thank you @Atarin for the detailed advice.  In a small sample of 3 games results are improved and performances seem less disjointed.  I also have a couple of players who struggled to get involved now playing their parts more.

It does seem to need a more adventurous mentality than the cautious I'd originally planned, but other than that the boys are playing much more as I wanted.

Glad I could help, although obviously a longer sample size is needed. Balanced mentality could work fine with what you're trying to do although I'd definitely think about changing the CM(a) to a support role in that case or he'll be quite aggressive.

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