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My Swiss Army Knife Method: Creating Defence-minded Pragmatic Football


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Part 2: Defence

 

So let us start with the defensive base of the tactic. But I will be taking a different approach. Rather than looking at the player roles, I will examine the attributes. Specifically those which the game defines as absolutely essential to defensive football. Roles will come later. For now I want to show how you can identify those players in your team who will be your defenders. And not necessarily if they are natural in the centreback position. I've had some of my best defenders start their careers as midfielders only to be later retrained into centrebacks. Like I said before, versatility is everything.

It's All About Attributes

In FM games, player attributes are grouped into three broad categories. The three categories being technical, mental and physical.

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For a player to excel in defending, they need to possess the attributes from all three categories to aid them in both:

1) Keeping the opposition player (with or without the ball) from getting into a dangerous scoring position and...

2) Taking the ball away from the opponent. 

 

To help in identifying the relevant attributes, the following guide is invaluable. The description of each attribute tells you exactly whether the attribute is needed on the ball or off, for attacking or defending. It is really useful. 

https://www.guidetofm.com/players/attributes/2/ 

Technical Attributes

Without getting into the specialized roles such as Ball-playing Defender (BPD), Stopper or Fullback, there are only two technical attributes that are absolutely essential to basic defenders: Marking and Tackling. Other technical attributes like Passing, Technique, and First Touch could be important for a more specialized defender role such as BPD or libero. This is because they are players that will be expected to carry the ball and perform more challenging technical actions with it, like long passes and complicated dribbles. Heading too would be in this list of preferred but not mandatory defending attributes. Since it is not actually needed to defend. Heading is a offensive attribute that defines how accurately a player can head the ball to his intended target area. Of course it is nice for some of your defenders to excel in heading, especially if you intend to score some goals from dead ball situations. But to actually prevent the other team from scoring and win the ball back all you need is:

Marking - how well a player can take up a position close to an opposition player that makes him a less viable passing option.

Tackling - how well a player can take the ball from an opposition player without committing a foul

 

Mental Attributes

Speaking of fouls. Mental attributes are very important for your defending players for exactly that reason. They help by preventing or minimizing fouls. Fouls will still happen. They are inevitable when playing the defensive side of the game. After all, defending is notoriously associated with the Dark Arts of football for a reason. And some of the best defensive players in history had high levels of aggression. Players like Sergio Busquets, Diego Simeone and Claudio Gentile were never known to shy away from a scrap. Rather they always looked to physically impose themselves on their opponent. 

Image below: Ultimate tough guy Claudio Gentile throwing wily Maradona off of his game. Italian football was especially famous for putting the defensive side of the game first. Incidentally some of the best defenders in history called the Boot of Italy home. 

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So in FM21, Aggression is an attribute that basically defines how likely a player is to get involved in a physical situation and how much he exerts his physical force in such situations. That includes attempting to tackle or mark an opposition player. Or simply competing with an opposition player to get to the ball. In itself, high aggression attribute is not directly linked to likelihood of violent or other unsporting behaviours that lead to fouls. Those are not directly affected by Aggression, but rather by hidden attributes like Dirtiness and Sportsmanship

In fact, I prefer my defensive players to have high values in their Aggression attribute. Who wouldn't want to have players like Claudio Gentile in their backline? 

However low levels in other key attributes, when combined with high Aggression, can make fouls more likely to be committed as a result of greater involvement in physical situations. In this case, you need to make sure that your High Aggression defender has equally high attributes in Tackling, Anticipation, Concentration, and Decisions

Anticipation - how well a player can predict the movements and other actions of his teammates and opposition players. 

Concentration - how unaffected a player is by lost focus when making a decision. Basically it is the attribute that regulates the increasing rate of mistakes the longer the match goes on. A player will gradually lose focus during a match. And the more his focus falls the more likely he is to a make a poorer decision. Higher concentration reduces the rate at which focus drops. 

Decisions - how well a player can evaluate the options he is aware of and choose which action to perform, when to perform and how to perform it. Decisions is one of the most important mental attributes. However it is limited by the options he is aware of , which in turn is affected by Vision

 

So there you go, the pieces are starting to fall into place. You know you have a great defender when you have a player with excellent Aggression, Tackling, Marking, Anticipation, Concentration and Decisions. 

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Those six attributes already make sure that not many opponents will be able to get past him. But his Composure, Bravery and Positioning are also very important. 

Composure - how unaffected a player is by mental pressure when making a decision or performing his chosen action. When defending your players face a lot of mental pressure due to being in close proximity to opposing attackers ("Holy s#%*, that's Messi running at me!") and the high importance of the situation ("I don't want to be the one to let in the losing goal!"). 

Bravery - how willing a player is to choose to perform an action that risks pain or injury. 

You definitely need a certain level of bravery to perform a sliding tackle like the one below. 

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Positioning - how well a player moves and positions himself, in order to deal with an opposition attack, when he is off the ball and the opposition team is in possession. It is the defensive equivalent of the offensive Off The Ball attribute and is one of the essential defensive attributes. 

I am also going to argue that Teamwork attribute is important for any defensive-minded player. Mainly because it relates to how closely a player follows his tactical instructions and how aware he is of the positions and movements of his teammates. Generally, you don't want anything fancy from your defenders, other than stopping the other team from scoring. You will also want your defensive group to work well as a coordinated unit. Especially when in combination with a Sweeper Keepr and operating with a high defensive line and offside trap. 

 

Physical Attributes

Pretty self-explanatory. Ideally you will want most of your defenders, whether centrebacks or defensive fullbacks, to be tall and physically strong. For obvious reasons. Height will help them to deal with opponent's crosses and score goals during your own set-pieces. And Strength is simply that, how well a player can exert physical force on an opposition player. And for a defender it basically means everything. 

Almost all defensive actions are governed by strength. Strength affects how likely a player is to succeed in a physical situation such as shielding the ball from an opposition player while standing or dribbling, when attempting a tackle, when marking an opposition player and when competing with an opposition player to get to the ball. 

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TO BE CONTINUED ...

Edited by crusadertsar
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Posted (edited)

Part 3: Integrating Player Partnerships into the Tactic

The theme of this update is the concept of on-the-field partnerships. And how such relationships between players have proved to be so important for some of the greatest winning teams in the history of the game. Today, nobody can think of the great Barcelona team 2000s without remembering the names of Busquets, Iniesta and Xavi. Or Chelsea team from that same period. That team dominated Premier League and Europe and was defined by the legendary trio of Frank Lampard, Claude Makelele ad Michael Essien. The effect that chemistry between players can have on club's success is undeniable. So how can we integrate this into the main principle of my tactic; Total Football = total balance in both defence and attack. Let's start our examination with the very base of the formation, its defensive duo of two centrebacks. 

 

Stop and Run for Cover!

 

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In writing this I was inspired by the excellent thread of @themadsheep2001 about Manchester United's 2006-2009 team. Reading through it, got me remembering the dynamic duo of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. The Red Devils' ever-present centreback pair. Together Vidic and Ferdinand terrorized Premiere League forwards for a decade. It began when the Serb arrived at Old Trafford in 2006. That was the first season the two would play together. By many considered to be the greatest defensive partnership in Premier League history. Their best season came in 2007-2008 when they had 41 starts together across all competitions. Statistically, the pair helped Man United retain the title while only conceding 22 goals with +58 goal difference. 

 

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Vidic and Ferdinand always lined up in the classic Cover-Stopper defensive partnership. It is an old defending concept that dates back to the days before offside trap was the often-used tool that it is now. Hence when implementing these two defender duties one really should not use the offside trap instruction. The two are incompatible. That is because as your Stopper goes forward from your back line, he will invariably leave gaps behind him. These gaps are supposed to be covered by his Cover duty partner. The offside trap can then become near suicidal if these gaps are exposed by an opponent with quick strikers.

The Cover-Stopper partnerships offers other advantages instead. It really shines when you have two defenders with an exceptionally varied skill set. In such way that they can compliment each other in the best of ways.

Vidic was your typical "tough as nails" classic centreback. For many Manchester United fans he brought back memories of the club legend Steve Bruce. In partnership with Ferdinand, Nemanja complimented Rio's more mobile and technical skills with his "no-nonsense" defending. Unlike Ferdinand, Vidic focused primarily on the defensive aspect of the game, rather than attempting to carry the ball forward or play out from the back. Vidic was praised for his aggressive defensive style and bravery by teammates and pundits. Undeniably at his prime he was one of the world's best centrebacks due to his defensive consistency and defensive awareness. Not to mention his strength, leadership, and ability in the air.

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Chelsea's Kurt Zouma is probably one of the finest Stopper-type centrebacks in the game today. Notice how the essentially, key attributes are outlined in the different colour from the less important recommended ones (blue).

 

So for a Stopper in the mould of Vidic, you want a strong, tall and brave defender with great heading, tackling, marking and positioning. It is good position to play your older veteran defender with a bit less pace. If he is a bit slow, it's okay as he will make up for it by his greater mental ability and higher positioning on the field. Think of your Stopper as the first barrier that the opposition forward has to cross. And most of the time the opponent won't be able to get past him. And If he does then of course it is time  the Covering centreback's to shine. 

While Vidic was the stereotypical Stopper, Rio Ferdinand was seen as rather atypical defenceman due to his more elegant, graceful, and "continental" (rather than physical) style of defensive play. Ferdinand was singled out for his unique technical ability, skill, balance, and confidence on the ball. Known for his composure in possession, distribution with either foot, as well as the ability to bring the ball forward into the midfield. Much like Ferdinand at his prime, an ideal Cover Duty Defender should have great pace, anticipation and positioning. It is not required but he could also be more technical with high attributes in dribbling, first touch, passing and technique. In that case setting his role to that of Ballplaying Defender (Cover) might not be a bad idea. 

 

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Again I go with another example from Chelsea. Andreas Christensen is at the least a suitable covering centreback, if perhaps not the best one. Also, notice the role's key (green background) and recommended (blue) attributes. 

 

Edited by crusadertsar
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I love the 451 and how you can turn it into anything. I will give this thread a proper read when I get the chance, just wanted to say I look forward to it. I'm interested how different it will be in FM21 vs FM20, where it was a recipe to never be able to press the opposition!

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On 12/04/2021 at 01:19, crusadertsar said:

Hence when implementing these two defender duties one really should not use the offside trap instruction. The two are incompatible. That is because as your Stopper goes forward from your back line, he will invariably leave gaps behind him. These gaps are supposed to be covered by his Cover duty partner. The offside trap can then become near suicidal if these gaps are exposed by an opponent with quick strikers.

I struggle to see why it's a bad idea to play a stopper and cover with the offiside trap since it's only the cover defender that has to step up to catch the opposing team offside and surely that's much easier than having 2 standard defenders coordinating themselves to catch the opposing team offside. 

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5 minutes ago, DarJ said:

I struggle to see why it's a bad idea to play a stopper and cover with the offiside trap since it's only the cover defender that has to step up to catch the opposing team offside and surely that's much easier than having 2 standard defenders coordinating themselves to catch the opposing team offside. 

It's just the way the offside works. You want ideally for your defenders to be aligned in the same line and not staggered like they would with differing duties.

However if you have really good defenders then you could still run offside trap and stopper cover combo but it would just be risky.

Edited by crusadertsar
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5 hours ago, sporadicsmiles said:

I love the 451 and how you can turn it into anything. I will give this thread a proper read when I get the chance, just wanted to say I look forward to it. I'm interested how different it will be in FM21 vs FM20, where it was a recipe to never be able to press the opposition!

Thanks for the support! Me too I'm curious to see how it does once my team is finally fully famiar with it and I can properly devote a full season to the formation. 

Or should I say formations :p

Edited by crusadertsar
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22 hours ago, isignedupfornorealreason said:

The post title reminded me of the old thread from 2015;

Will be interested in seeing your thoughts, because that thread pushed me to play several long term saves with a 4-5-1, including one with Aston Villa funny enough. :)

 

Genuinely amazes me that this old thread of mine is still remembered and somewhat regularly quoted, 6 and a bit years later! 

I did love the 451, albeit a slightly different slant to the OP here - i love the fact that you can use one "formation" to create so many "shapes".  Here........well its very interesting reading, but not really about the 451 formation per say (most involve some varuation.......although including the 41212 diamond is.... a stretch! :) )

I have tried a few times to recreate the 451 flexibility, using that exact shape (5 flat midfielders) but not had much sucess in recent years with how the ME has evolved. I might have a gander again this year, especially since i am playing an Athletic save again, and they have a lot of players who i think could well suit it. 

Will keep following this with interest as well. Interested to see some more of the tactical stuff - A couple of years after my thread. Ozil-to-the-Arsenal i think did a great thread which centred around using different midfield setups, and quite specifically moving the main "playmaker" from game to game to suit the opposition - sometimes a DLP at CDM, sometimes the same player was an AP at CM, or a RPM at CM (maybe, not sure that role existed!). I think it was an Ajax based save he did and i specifically remember the playmaker was Stefano Sensi......an FM fave. 

 

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37 minutes ago, Jambo98 said:

Genuinely amazes me that this old thread of mine is still remembered and somewhat regularly quoted, 6 and a bit years later! 

I did love the 451, albeit a slightly different slant to the OP here - i love the fact that you can use one "formation" to create so many "shapes".  Here........well its very interesting reading, but not really about the 451 formation per say (most involve some varuation.......although including the 41212 diamond is.... a stretch! :) )

I have tried a few times to recreate the 451 flexibility, using that exact shape (5 flat midfielders) but not had much sucess in recent years with how the ME has evolved. I might have a gander again this year, especially since i am playing an Athletic save again, and they have a lot of players who i think could well suit it. 

Will keep following this with interest as well. Interested to see some more of the tactical stuff - A couple of years after my thread. Ozil-to-the-Arsenal i think did a great thread which centred around using different midfield setups, and quite specifically moving the main "playmaker" from game to game to suit the opposition - sometimes a DLP at CDM, sometimes the same player was an AP at CM, or a RPM at CM (maybe, not sure that role existed!). I think it was an Ajax based save he did and i specifically remember the playmaker was Stefano Sensi......an FM fave. 

 

But that's sort of my plan too with this. Using the 4-5-1 as a base and changing it slightly to counter the opposition. The point being how few changes you really need to do in order to go from 4-5-1 to even 4-3-1-2. Afterall it only involves moving two players and NOT that much of a stretch :)

Maybe I was not very good in conveying this idea in my writing. So I hope future updates can get more tactical. For now as you can see I'm rather obsessed with the defensive stability that I can get from this basic shape. As you can see all the shape variations that you can get from the original 4-5-1 still include that original 4-3 midfield. The essential core of the formation. That is the part I'm trying to show from the beginning. That unchanging core of the back four and the midfield trio which always stays the same and what makes this formation so special in my opinion.

So I guess you can kind of guess where I am going to go next with the future update. 

Anyways thanks for your input and for following this project. 

Edited by crusadertsar
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Hi, I have read most (maybe even all :)) of your tactical articles on the Dictate the game platform.

They are great and can work as a history lesson just as much as an inspriation on FM tactics.

But I don't understand your line up of the 4-3-1-2 here. How can this be called a version of a 4-5-1?

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I thought one must have 5 players within the DM-M-AM areas for this. And also in the positions AML + AMR you should not use the IF role, as that c(o)unts a forward, not a midfielder. (Sorry about the word play :D)

Any thoughts on this?
 

Edited by nugatti
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I think the difference between what @Jambo98did and what I think @crusadertsaris looking to do is that Jambo used a 4-5-1 shape and changed player roles to achieve different variations, whereas this thread shows how you can move one or two players to achieve a different formation. Both perfectly valid, but quite different.

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12 hours ago, Jambo98 said:

Genuinely amazes me that this old thread of mine is still remembered and somewhat regularly quoted, 6 and a bit years later! 

 

It is just a lovely idea that appeals, to take a single formation and by adapting the roles and duties create many different shapes without changing the formation. This is something most of us do anyway in our tactics (my 433 plays as aa 4231 or 424 in possession), but the 451 has so many variations that are so easy to see. I think that is why people are drawn to the idea. I certainly think about doing this kind of thing at least once per year. I had a lot of fun doing it in FM20, although it did not work out the way I actually planned it to work out because FM20 was a nightmare for teams just endlessly keeping the ball in their own half and doing nothing with it if you did not press them enough.

On the formation, at a push you can get a 451 to transform into a 3421 if you try hard enough, just with role and duty changes. 

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41 minutes ago, howard moon said:

I think the difference between what @Jambo98did and what I think @crusadertsaris looking to do is that Jambo used a 4-5-1 shape and changed player roles to achieve different variations, whereas this thread shows how you can move one or two players to achieve a different formation. Both perfectly valid, but quite different.

Exactly. @nugattiMy point is that you can have one base tactic with which you can achieve everything. No need to train any other tactics.

Then there is the need of Swiss Army knife players too. Like my Petit. Players that can fill a lot of positions like winger, AMC and striker. So I can switch easily to a more offensive 4-3-1-2 by simply moving my right winger into attacking central midfielder role and my left winger into the more attacking poacher-like striker. I have selected my players carefully to make sure that all my wingers are very versatile complete players. This is how we achieve total tactical flexibility. The back line and midfield trio stay the same through all this. And my instructions are unchanged. The only instructions I ever change is tempo and defensive line and line of engagement which all depend of the opposition. Especially if I am facing a parked bus. But I will write about instructions in the future.

Edited by crusadertsar
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3 hours ago, crusadertsar said:

Exactly. @nugattiMy point is that you can have one base tactic with which you can achieve everything. No need to train any other tactics.

Then there is the need of Swiss Army knife players too. Like my Petit. Players that can fill a lot of positions like winger, AMC and striker. So I can switch easily to a more offensive 4-3-1-2 by simply moving my right winger into attacking central midfielder role and my left winger into the more attacking poacher-like striker. I have selected my players carefully to make sure that all my wingers are very versatile complete players. This is how we achieve total tactical flexibility. The back line and midfield trio stay the same through all this. And my instructions are unchanged. The only instructions I ever change is tempo and defensive line and line of engagement which all depend of the opposition. Especially if I am facing a parked bus. But I will write about instructions in the future.

So, basically you call it a 4-5-1 even if you move a player from AM to F position?

If so, then that's where I got lost :)

In my head it's not a 4-5-1 any more. Also I would think the game interprets such a move as a change to another formation(?) - strictly speaking - but of course both player and team should be able to cope pretty well as the changes are minimal.

Keep sharing thoughts and ideas for the good of the community, please ;)

 

Edited by nugatti
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52 minutes ago, nugatti said:

So, basically you call it a 4-5-1 even if you move a player from AM to F position?

If so, then that's where I got lost :)

In my head it's not a 4-5-1 any more. Also I would think the game interprets such a move as a change to another formation(?) - strictly speaking - but of course both player and team should be able to cope pretty well as the changes are minimal.

Keep sharing thoughts and ideas for the good of the community, please ;)

 

No I dont call it 4-5-1 anymore in that case. I think that's where we misunderstood each other. My point with this was in how I only train 4-5-1 as my starting formation and then make adjustments midgame. I'm not really a fan of calling spacefic formations ect. Or training multiple formations for the same team. Tactics in real life are way more fluid with sometimes players involved in various positions and in various formation strata throughout the length of the match. Often you can't just say "oh they are clearly playing 4-4-2, and now they switched to 4-4-1-1". That's not how football works in real life.  Just to give an example, see how Pep uses his fullbacks and wingers. Their roles change throughout the match and so does Pep's formation essentially.

Basically I just want to develop universal fluid tactic where I build my team around 3 broad categories: Defenders, Midfielders, and Attackers. Irrespective of roles and positions.

So in all the variations that I "adjust" from the initial 4-5-1, there would always be the same proportion between these three categories. Meaning I always use 3 defending players in the back (I like to keep my right fullback as a much more defensive role, sort of like tornante "returner" role in classic Italian football). Then always the same trio in midfield. And the same three general attackers.

For my attacking players the only thing that really changes from time to time is their starting orientation on the pitch to help them get a positional advantage over the opposition. Although the central striker is always the same role. A complete forwards that can do a bit of everything and could act as a constant focal point of our attacks whether they come from deep or higher up (as in 4-3-1-2). While the left winger is always the more clinical channel runner, finisher. And my right winger is always my hard working forward who is more concentrated on supporting, creating overloads. Although he can also act as our shadow striker or creative AMC. Someone like Petit above. An attacking jack of all trades. 

Essentially i want to have my forwards/wingers attacking space from different levels. Left winger/poacher from higher position and right winger/shadow striker from deeper. And this is still preserved when we switch into a narrow formation. The central forward is always there as a main attacking pivot, holding up the ball. So that is why in my opinion the formation itself is not as important as the players in it.

 

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PART 4: Building My Ideal Midfield Trio

A very important part in this system. Similarly to the defensive duo of Stopper and Cover, it remains largely unchanged no matter what formation switch I make from the original 4-5-1. For my role inspiration I went no farther than the bitter rivals of Manchester United for most of its Golden Era during the early 2000s. That team was Chelsea and its midfield trio of Frank Lampard, Claude Makélélé and Michael Essien. And it has rightfully been considered one of all-time's greatest midfield partnerships in the beautiful game. 

My focus on the importance of on-the-field partnerships continues. This time with a look at the midfield three roles and their interactions. In all of the various variations that you can create from the original 4-5-1 (even the 4-3-1-2) the three midfielders play a very important role of basically being the Heart, Lungs and the Brain of the system. Here complementary roles are essential in order to bring balance to the whole formation. And none more essential that the more defensive one, the "Makélélé" role.

 

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At his prime Makélélé was described by many pundits as one of the most talented players in his position. Makélélé revolutionised the role of the defensive midfielder in the Premier League. As an extremely hard-working Defensive Midfielder, he was also capable of playing in more advanced positions. Although he usually played in front of his Chelsea's back-line. There he served as a defensive foil for the more offensive midfielders. He was helped in this by his aggressive tackling, uncanny ability to read the game, break down plays, mark and anticipate opponents. And most of all, perfect timing in his challenges. To help with his ball-winning abilities Makélélé used his acceleration, positioning, concentration, decision-making and determination. Although he was not the fastest, most talented or technically skilled player on the pitch. Nor particularly good in the air. He was technical enough to use his short and simple passing game to good effect and greater benefit of the team. It allowed him to quickly give the ball to where it could do most damage at the feet of the more creative midfielders and attackers. Thus he would efficiently link up the defence with attack, after winning back possession. He possessed immense physical strength despite his small stature. Combined with his low centre of gravity, it allowed him excellent control on the ball. Which in turn helped Claude to retain possession against even the most physical and determined opponents.

In short, Makélélé was a pure example of a completely tenacious and determined player. A complete team-player in all senses of the word. Singlehandedly, he defined the role of the Anchorman. A holding midfield "destroyer" - a player that mostly focused on winning back possession and distributing the ball to other more creative players. And so how can we represent him in the game?

 

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As you can see the young Brazilian (joining my team this summer) may not be the next Makélélé, or even Kante, but still has a lot of room to develop. And he already possess more than enough numbers in all the relevant attributes for the midfield "destroyer" role.

 

In my overall role selection, I opted for keeping it simple rather than using a bunch of exotic roles. Instead, I prefer the players that I choose for each role to really make it their own with their unique blend of attributes and traits. Thus I play my more defensively responsible, physically strong and still technical player as my CM(D) "Makélélé" role. Then the more attacking, creative outlet, the Lampard role, as CM(A) with some added personal instructions (PIs).

 

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The PIs here are really meant to add another dimension to the simple CM(A) role. My intention was to try to make it play closer to how real Lampard played. That is as a blend of deep attacker/playmaker, or a sort of deep shadow striker if you will. There are some exotic roles that can probably offer similar style of play (mezzala being one) but I really wanted to show you that the game gives us all the tools to create a perfect midfield with just generic roles. And the three different duties for the Central Midfielder should theoretically cover everything that you want you midfield to perform. So what is the point of complicating things with exotic roles with numerous hard-coded instructions? 

 

Now what can I say about Frank Lampard that has not already been said or written? He is a player that probably does not need any introduction. Much like Makélélé's name became synonymous with a dogged midfield "destroyer", Lampard's is forever associated with the role of the midfield "runner/playmaker". A prolific goal-scorer throughout his career, despite his deep playing position, Lampard possessed a keen eye for goal. Always a thorn in the side of opposition defences, he possessed a talent for get forward and make late attacking runs into the penalty area. Or to produce accurate and powerful shots from the distance. He also possessed the creativity, technique, vision and passing range of a refined playmaker. These allowed him to be deployed as a deep-lying playmaker capable of starting attacks with his passing. But Lampard was not only capable of scoring goals, providing assists and playmaking attacking plays. He also did not neglect his defensive duties. As a versatile box-to-box player, Lampard could play anywhere in midfield and in any role. Throughout his career he was deployed as a central midfielder, an attacking midfielder and defensive midfielder. And even as a supporting striker.

 

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Frank Lampard was a truly unique, hard-working player, with bags of stamina and an innate ability to read the game. Since the end of his career both managers, teammates and opponents lauded him as one of the greatest offensive midfielders of his generation. So it is rather hard to find such a player from the start of your campaign in FM21. But once the newgens start appearing, anything becomes possible. Here is my current choice for "Lampard" role.

 

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Take a look at Neo's player traits, I find that they are especially suitable for his role. 

The Belgian woderkid is only with us briefly for another season (I am not prepared to pay the 80+ million euro price tag even though we probably have enough to afford him). But I am not worried because we have his replacement (and our second "generational" player) training at the academy already. Meet Unai, my future Basque "Lampard".

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And now the third piece of the puzzle. My "Essien" role plays an important job balancing both attack and defence, without necessarily excelling at either. A concept that is perfectly matched in CM(S) role in the game. 

 

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Micheal Essien was another physically strong yet technical midfielder. He was similar to Lampard in how he personified the "box-to-box" midfielder role. Very energetic in both support and offensive play, Essien was primarily known for his disciplined, hard-tackling defensive style. Which earned him the nickname "Bison". The Bison was definitely not as productive in his offensive output. More of the jack-of-all trades than either Lampard or Makélélé. Nevertheless, he still possessed good technique, vision and tactical intelligence to act as an effective link between Makélélé and Lampard.

 

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My #1 choice for Essien role. I play him as CM(S) with no added personal instructions (correction). While your CM(A) should essentially be the Roaming Playmaker/Shadow Striker type, then in the CM(S) slot you could play your secondary playmaker. But a player with more skill in defensive arts or with exceptional work-rate and teamwork. Or your aging star midfielder that may not be as clinical going forward anymore. 

 

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So there you go, the core 5 roles in my 4-5-1 system. They never really change no matter what I do with the wide players and the striker. Even if I suddenly decide to switch the whole thing midgame from 4-5-1 to 4-3-1-2 or to 4-3-3 (it usually does not take more than 2 quick position shifts). 

 

 

Edited by crusadertsar
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Very great topic ! I like the way how you explain the whole process !

Just one quick question : you said you sometimes use your wing players in ML and MR position. For the ML, did you recreate the Raumdeuter with PI's, or use a IW(a) for both your players ?

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2 hours ago, Tibalg said:

Very great topic ! I like the way how you explain the whole process !

Just one quick question : you said you sometimes use your wing players in ML and MR position. For the ML, did you recreate the Raumdeuter with PI's, or use a IW(a) for both your players ?

When I play them in my 4-5-1 I don't usually change the IW(a) instructions. It helps that all my wing players have "move into channels" though. I know it doesn't recreate fully what a Raumdeuter is supposed to do but nevertheless it's essential in making sure that my wide players occupy both half-spaces.

Edited by crusadertsar
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And for those who are interested, this is a great video explaining Jose Mourinho's tactics. Specifically the 4-3-3 shape he used for almost all of his time with Chelsea. It's a tactical approach that I admire a lot for the balance in defence and attack it offers. And it loosely inspired my idea for this thread.

 

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Had an amazing start to the season, running with my "variable" Swiss Knife system :) We are in October and 1st in La Liga, actually outscoring the Real Madrid behemoth. 

Will be posting some results and more tactical musings and tweaks in an update this weekend. Stay tuned :brock:

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So I wanted to show you how the tactical ideas I discussed above have helped my Real Sociedad team maintain a strong start to the season. Most of our opponents have been playing with either 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-2-3 so I matched them with my more aggressive 4-3-3. I made one little modification in playing Mez (A) in place of CM (A) for the last few games. I think it was actually a change for the better. I will explain soon.

As you can see we have been doing very well, especially at HOME games. 

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I wanted to especially highlight our last victory on October 29th. It was very special to me as it came against Real Madrid - my bogey team. Finally! Something that has been a source of embarrassment for me in this long campaign with Sociedad. It was our first victory against this La Liga behemoth. Real Madrid have won the league every single time since the start of this save in 2020. So that is 4 consecutive 1st place finishes. And in all those 5 years we could not manage better than a draw against them. Part of it is the amount of offensive talent that they have amassed. Players such as Salah, Martial, Icardi and Bernardo Silva. A truly new Galacticos team, even if most of them are aging in their early 30s. 

But this latest game was different. We managed to outscore them! And if not for the late consolation goal from Salah, could have finished with a larger goal margin. So the victory feels especially sweet because it did not seem like a lucky one on our part. We were just more clinical than them. And tactics do matter sometimes :D.

203774B48D070078C630E4AD9893DB26F58E686F (1600×900)

 

And at least two of our goals came as a result of the important interplay between the AMR IW(S) Petit, Mezzala (A) and the AML Raumdeuter Diaz. As you see here it was a simple overload and exploit strategy that worked exactly as predicted. First we win the ball back in a decisive counter. Then a cross from my Mezzala is followed by a neat tap-in by my Raumdeuter, The whole thing starts and is over in less than 10 seconds. 

 

To further break down the play in the above highlight, I will show two still screens, one from the start of the counter-attack and another from the end, just seconds away from the goal.

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In the above screen, you can see how my IW(S) #34 is initially the wide outlet for the pass to the Mezzala #12 Vickers. But almost as soon as he receives the ball, Vickers starts moving to the outside! Him and Petit essentially exchange places whereas Petit moves inward to cover for any possible Real Madrid counter while Mezzala Vickers continues dribbling along the flank until he decides to cut inside into the box. 

 

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Once in the box, Vickers ends up crossing to our #16 Raumdeuter who in all this time was also moving ever closer to goal. Voila! Diaz, our Raumdeuter, was able to score an easy goal largely thanks to the fact that most of the opposition shifted to deal with the Mezzala and our central striker #9.

What most impressed me in all this was the interplay between our wide player and the mezzala. They both had "more roaming" instruction and I believe were able to use it to their advantage to cause havoc inside Real Madrid's defences. 

Another day, another goal, another win. And now we are on to our next match in three days against Athletico Madrid, wish us luck :cool:

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@crusadertsar

Thanks much for this beautiful thread. I love it when the story is full of real life pictures and players. I tried to adopt your stuff.

I had an uninspiring 1st year with Braunschweig in 3. Div. Germany. we set a new draw record of nearly 20 and finished somewhat 5th. Well then I read your story...

It even works with much less talented players in German 3rd division beautifully. I set my CD duo like Ferdinand & Vidic we proudly present: Akoto & Gottwald. In midfield we set a three man Heart, Lung and Brain partnership with the well known Hober in Lampards role, ageing Nehrig as Essien and the brilliant Kammerbauer in the essential Makelele position.

Our wingers are nice and versatile so we can change our play as you said. Brilliant! Thanks very much. We are in 2nd position and unbeaten by 18 games which is a new record.
btw: did you had any poacher role within your tactic? I have a good one the magnificent Hoppe import from US.

Thx

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26 minutes ago, HanziZoloman said:

@crusadertsar

Thanks much for this beautiful thread. I love it when the story is full of real life pictures and players. I tried to adopt your stuff.

I had an uninspiring 1st year with Braunschweig in 3. Div. Germany. we set a new draw record of nearly 20 and finished somewhat 5th. Well then I read your story...

It even works with much less talented players in German 3rd division beautifully. I set my CD duo like Ferdinand & Vidic we proudly present: Akoto & Gottwald. In midfield we set a three man Heart, Lung and Brain partnership with the well known Hober in Lampards role, ageing Nehrig as Essien and the brilliant Kammerbauer in the essential Makelele position.

Our wingers are nice and versatile so we can change our play as you said. Brilliant! Thanks very much. We are in 2nd position and unbeaten by 18 games which is a new record.
btw: did you had any poacher role within your tactic? I have a good one the magnificent Hoppe import from US.

Thx

Thank you! I get a lot of enjoyment of sharing my stories on these forums but it's even more satisfying when you get feedback of how my content affects other users and their own virtual footballing worlds. So its really nice to hear that your campaign is going better.

I would say that a poacher style player would be perfect for the Raumdeuter role. My own Raumdeuter newgen also plays as a Poacher occasionally when I switch to the 4-3-1-2 alternative. I use that shape rarely when I need a lot of guns upfront to break down the more stubborn defensive sides. Here are his attributes. He is really more of a poacher.

 

Raum.png

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Did you @crusadertsar have experience with shaping the 451 countering better teams after relegation? 
I am fighting against relegation and my approach is still the same with mixed results. Mostly it shapes into a flat 4141 with slight tweaks. I play counter pressing with a high Defense. Before I tried mir defensive mentalities with counter Attack but I got smashed in my own half without a chance. Most teams play 4231 against my side so far.

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2 hours ago, HanziZoloman said:

Did you @crusadertsar have experience with shaping the 451 countering better teams after relegation? 
I am fighting against relegation and my approach is still the same with mixed results. Mostly it shapes into a flat 4141 with slight tweaks. I play counter pressing with a high Defense. Before I tried mir defensive mentalities with counter Attack but I got smashed in my own half without a chance. Most teams play 4231 against my side so far.

No unfortunately my only experience is with top-half club like Real Sociedad. In FM21 at least. I would be weary of playing with a high defensive line against better teams. Generally they will have fast attackers that can really hurt you when they get behind your defensive line. I would try to keep things nice and compact. So maybe standard line of defence combined with low line of engagement. And make sure that you get some real work-horses in your midfield. As well as one of your fullbacks. One of them should always be a more defensively-responsible one. I typical Mourinho fashion. 

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Just out of curiosity, since Makelele you'd nominally consider an anchor man and slot in the DM strata, have you tried teaching your CM(De) the Stays Back At All Times PPM? Not sure if a pure CM can learn it but does create an interesting dynamic and more of a diamond shape in the middle than just the duty allows for at times (without also being the same as just having a DM)

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2 minutes ago, NotSoSpecialOne said:

Just out of curiosity, since Makelele you'd nominally consider an anchor man and slot in the DM strata, have you tried teaching your CM(De) the Stays Back At All Times PPM? Not sure if a pure CM can learn it but does create an interesting dynamic and more of a diamond shape in the middle than just the duty allows for at times (without also being the same as just having a DM)

Interesting idea. Haven't considered it actually. Although my CM (d) sometimes drops deep into DM strata and acts almost like Anchorman. I'm not sure if I would like him to be confined to only one type of behaviour. Mainly because I still like the times that he stays further up and pushes the other midfielders wider.

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Thx for your reply. I will try and shape. At the moment my two MC are not very good in tackling and more like creative players that could be the issue why I don’t dominate the midfield anymore, plus the better sides I am up to. I need to put more Essien / Makelele in the center. 
How about teaching your DM plays simple passes? 

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4 hours ago, HanziZoloman said:

Thx for your reply. I will try and shape. At the moment my two MC are not very good in tackling and more like creative players that could be the issue why I don’t dominate the midfield anymore, plus the better sides I am up to. I need to put more Essien / Makelele in the center. 
How about teaching your DM plays simple passes? 

Yes. That trait is what i want my CM(d) or DM to have. Mine is learning it already.

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13 hours ago, Sammie B said:

Great read. Are there any other PI's you use or traits you get players to learn? 

The PIs are just like the ones I showed in the screenshots. Except maybe "Roam more" on my DLF.

In terms of traits, I'm not a big fan of teaching specific ones to players. Simply because it limits the number of positions that I can play them in. And kind of goes against the whole concept of universality and "Swiss Army knife" versatility. I like how my Left winger can play as my Left AMR, AMC, centeral midfielder or a even striker. But if he has too many position specific traits then he probably couldn't do all that.

Although one trait that I like is "play one twos". Simply because it's useful in the kind of football I'm trying to achieve and can improve the game for any attacker or even wingbacks. 

Hope this answered your questions :)

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How Do You @crusadertsar decide into which shape you‘ll Form your 451? 
I usually chose between 4123 and a flat 4141. Sometimes I’ll shape into a 4312 with a Treq. And a Shadow Striker assisting a Poacher. I do that when I go full attack.

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4 hours ago, HanziZoloman said:

How Do You @crusadertsar decide into which shape you‘ll Form your 451? 
I usually chose between 4123 and a flat 4141. Sometimes I’ll shape into a 4312 with a Treq. And a Shadow Striker assisting a Poacher. I do that when I go full attack.

Basically I will use the basic 451 as my most defensive shape. Which is actually quite rare these days for my Real Sociedad team (we are expected to finish 3rd by the media now so joined the big boys of LaLiga club). Then I use 4-1-4-1 more frequently when faced with Real Madrid or Barca AWAY and they are using a formation with AMC so I want to make sure that my DM shuts them down. 

But lately I have been using 4-3-3 or 4-1-2-3 which still defends as a 4-5-1 but allows me to put more pressure on the lesser opposition with my advanced wingers. I even tried a strikerless variation for a run of games and it has been rather successful. All in all the initial 451 really allowed me experiment with a variety of shapes without really losing our tactical fluidity or making it hard for players to learn the new tactic. Because it is hardly knew when you only shift 1-2 positions around. 

The common thread across all my tactics has been my attempt to create a 2-3-5 shape in attack. For this I feel that most variations of 4-5-1 are good for. But the selection of roles is very important. In fact this is something that I will discuss in the upcoming update which I am writing right now. I will try to release it peace by piece on here. Starting today :)

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PART 6: From WW to 2-3-5 - Method to my Madness

The Future of Football is in its Past. A pretty bold statement. But let me elaborate. Managers like Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp are among the most successful in the game right now. They are also among its most innovative ones. But they innovate by looking into the past and being attentive students of football's illustrious history. In this they don't "innovate" as much as "reinvent" an older, more elegant way to play the game. And they are doing it in two differing approaches.

Klopp's and Guardiola's styles of football are both different in their method and application. Klopp favours a more pragmatic, direct approach. This is natural since his team is a less technical one. On the other hand, Guardiola has made a name for himself in his pursuit of Total Football perfection with its more patient possession-heavy style. Although Pep's current system with Man City isn't the slow-burn Tiki Taka that he used with his Barcelona team in mid-2000s. Over the years Pep's Juego de Posición (Positional Play) philosophy acquired more edge and focus on moving the ball forward rather than sideways. And while Positional Play has some elements, that today we associate with Vertical Tiki-Taka, it's far from the "balls to the wall" gegenpress that Klopp popularized with Dortmund and Liverpool.

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At the same time, both Klopp and Guardiola are committed to build on the legacy of Total Football. Something that reflects in their use of the idealized 2-3-5 attacking shape.

 

Formations Are Dead

You might have noticed that I don't like the word "formation". Instead when referring to a tactic I tend to use words like "system", "philosophy", or "style". That is because "formations" as we knew them are dead.

Even the 4-3-3 is not universal across all teams that tried it over the years. The classic 4-3-3 (or 4-1-2-3 to be pedantic) was first popularized by the Dutch Total Footballers in the 1970s. But it is far more than just a formation. Rather it's a "method" of using the full extent of the pitch. A method that is far older than its most famous variation, reinvented 50 years ago in Amsterdam. On a much deeper level, it relates to a primitive concept as old as the game itself. Total domination of the more powerful over the weak. It is not enough to merely beat the other team, one must do so in style. The fans expect their footballing heroes to put on the show of utmost entertainment while exposing the humiliating weakness of the opposition.

For this particular reason, the self-proclaimed "Supergiants" of football, like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Manchester City, Juventus, and Chelsea, all play with some kind of variation of the 4-3-3. It is the best formation that can allow them to overrun their opposition in the ultimate show of force. On paper that is. Because what is "formation" exactly? TV pundits like to throw around words like 4-4-2, 4-1-4-1 and narrow diamond in their attempt to distill the complex mess that is football tactics into a more digestible meal for the uninitiated. But in reality most teams don't play the entirety of the match with one unchanging strategy. In fact the tactical shape can change many times during the same match, shifting dynamically based on the phase of play.

There are some communalities however. Most teams that play with four-at-the-back, defend in a 4-5-1 (or 4-1-4-1) shape. Simply because that is the most efficient way to defend without going into the full park-the-bus mode. But then when attacking such teams tend to gravitate into some kind of 2-3-5 or 3-2-5. Again, because it is the most efficient and effective way to overload the opposition defence.

When any team instructs its players to line up in three lines of 3 attackers, 3 midfielders and 4 defenders, it is a manifestation of aggression and arrogance of football. It is one of the best ways to dominate your opponent, especially when you can maintain possession through an unbroken link of passes. Defence becomes an afterthought as you strive to defend through attacking and keeping the ball away from your opponent. By creating an unbroken chain of passes from your backline to opposition box. Johan Cruyff was the first to see the power inherent in the natural triangles that can be created when playing in this way. Then came Bielsa, Guardiola and Klopp. An unbroken chain of likeminded managers to continue the legacy of Cruyff's school of triangles and diamonds.

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More Than One Way to Skin a Cat

Total Football way of playing goes beyond mere positioning of players. It is important but not as much as the movement that is generated once the team has the ball. And that is the reason why I don't like talking about formations. I could set up my team in a 4-3-3 but because of the roles I use it might not work the same as another team that sets up in that shape. I might even botch my roles and end up with an unplayable tactic that only generates possession for the sake of possession with no real goal penetration.

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Not my actual tactic, just an example of one that does not have an optimal selection of roles and instructions. 

Sadly, in FM21 it is not easy to faithfully recreate a system like the one that Guardiola or Klopp perfected in the Premiere League. Before you can do that you need to understand what its end goal is. And that is actually to achieve a completely different "formation" once the ball has been won. A bit counter-intuitive wouldn't you say?

The ultimate goal of both Guardiola and Klopp is to dominate their opponent in their own half. And to do this they strive to achieve the ideal 2-3-5 shape in attack. There is no denying the fact that having five of your players moving on the goal is very hard for the opposite team to defend against. Even the most organized defences would have trouble marking all of your attackers. Hence the success of teams like Liverpool and Man City that use this concept in attack. There is also something completely satisfying in solving even the most staunch "parked-bus" defences through a smart, strategic movement. It is akin a pulling off an elaborate heist to rob the crown jewels.

So how do Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola pull it off, and rob the bank night after night?

Klopp tends to use his wingbacks in a more creative role on the flanks. Both Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold are aggressive attacking fullbacks who contribute to the 5 player overload. But they also aid with the thorough ball passes and quick passing build-up to aid the three primary attackers. It helps that they both possess exceptional vision and range of passing. While Liverpool's three midfielders play as a more direct box-to-box trio, sharing both defensive and creative duties. Not that different from the classic trio that Mourinho used for Chelsea's 4-3-3.

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On the other hand, Guardiola's 2-3-5 is all about the control of the half-spaces. For this he packs all of his creativity in the midfield where his "Free Eights" do their magic. Over the years Guardiola used some of the most creative players in the game for the two "Free Eight" roles. Names such as de Bruyne, Bernardo and David Silva, Iniesta, Xavi and Foden. None of them very defensively minded. That is because Guardiola's two central midfielders are hybrid role, operating more in attacking midfield strata than they do in the deeper midfield. In a way it's Guardiola's ultimate expression of his team's dominance. It just screams: "Look at me! I use my front 5 players to attack, come and get me!" But it's a clever bait. Because Pep uses his signature inverted wingbacks and defensive midfielder to cover for the the creative liberties taken by the front five.

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Edited by crusadertsar
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Posted (edited)

Sorry but I am starting with the theoretical background that is behind my latest tactical reasoning. As a consequence of my team becoming one of the top dogs in LaLiga there has been some need for a tactical evolution. We increasingly face more defensive opposition and thus more creative tactical changes are required. Just wanted to give a bit of a background in my inspiration for my tactics.

Anyway, my tactical musings on how to actually create the famous 2-3-5 attacking shape in the game are to follow.

Edited by crusadertsar
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Great thread! Really enjoyed reading it. I have used 4-5-1 as my tactic in every CM/FM since 2004, almost entirely because of makelele, so it's nice to see him included! I have tried the 4-4-2 for some fun, but I always inevitably end up with some sort of 4-5-1 variation :thup:

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6 hours ago, crusadertsar said:

Sorry but I am starting with the theoretical background that is behind my latest tactical reasoning. As a consequence of my team becoming one of the top dogs in LaLiga there has been some need for a tactical evolution. We increasingly face more defensive opposition and thus more creative tactical changes are required. Just wanted to give a bit of a background in my inspiration for my tactics.

Anyway, my tactical musings on how to actually create the famous 2-3-5 attacking shape in the game are to follow.

Great Man! I like the history stuff with photos and all! Top work!! 

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PART 7A: The Special One and His Magic #10s

 

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In this update I will discuss one of the newest and most integral additions to my "235-in-attack" system - the role of the Trequartista. Or if you will, the mercurial Number #10 role. You know the one that is almost extinct in modern football. A tactical dinasaur like our friend Jose some of you might say. But me, I always have been the weird one, even as a kid, to go against the grain. And I always loved dinosaurs, especially tactical ones.

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At first I did not envision it as a part of my semi-faithful recreation of Jose Mourinho's 4-3-3. But the longer I played, the more I realized that there was something crucial missing from this tactic. 

In my opinion Trequartista's are awesome and every tactic needs one. Let me explain why.

There are a few reasons. But the number one being that they simply inject a healthy dose of unpredictability into your tactic. There are many names for this mysterious quality in football. Panache, flair, creativity, eccentricity, *****, brio, sparkle, verve, genius. Or simply put MAGIC. In Italian football they call players possessing this quality, simply Fantasistas. The ones who can pull off the unthinkable and turn an ordinary play into a fantastic one at a drop of a hat. 

Throughout his career, Jose Mourinho has acquired a reputation for being a pragmatic manager. Meaning that he is someone who above all else is concerned with final result rather than the style. That may be partly true. He also unfairly acquired a reputation for being a manager who is not supportive of young talent or one who is conductive to allowing creative players on his team the freedom that they need. And I am going to argue that this could not have been further from the truth.

Mourinho has used some kind of uber-creative Fantasista type player in almost all his teams. Whether we look at Deco with Porto, Ozil at Real Madrid, Sneijder at Inter or even Chelsea's Lampard. Not all played in the signature #10 AMC position (particular exceptions being central midfielder Lampard and widely positioned Ozil). Yet all played an essential part in their formations by injecting a huge amount of creativity into an otherwise risk-averse tactic. 

For those looking for more background info about that start of Mourinho's fascination with creative #10 Fantasista, you could read through my older thread and my rather primitive attempt at recreating Porto's famous Narrow Diamond. The very one with magical Deco at its beating heart. I don't think I like that tactical recreation by my current standards but there might be a few useful things to be learned from it. After all we learn from our mistakes. 

In a Swiss Knife System, a Trequartista is a actually a rather fitting role. In my opinion it is also a sort of attacking "Swiss knife" player - seemingly able to be everywhere at once and do many things at the same time. Naturally being a playmaker a Treq is ball magnet. And this will draw opposition players to him which in turn will actually free up space elsewhere for Treq's teammates to exploit. This makes a Trequartista, especially one on the wing, a rather invaluable element in any "overload and exploit"-type system, such as the one I described in my previous updates. 

 

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Trequartista also has hard-coded behaviour that you cannot replicate with any other role, a bit like Raumdeuter and Wide Targetman. Aside from being an attacking playmaker, it is the only attack duty player that does not automatically have "get further forward" as part of its hard-coded repertoire. Correction: DLF on attack duty also has this ability. Also the other advantage of the role is a marked lack of some hard-coded instructions that are usually found in attacking wide players. This makes a treq into a rather uniquely customizable role. It does not come with any movement instructions like "cut inside" or "run wide" like your regular or inverted wingers. You could even tell your Treq to act like some kind of creative Targetman and hold up the ball. The tactical applications of all this are numerous. Especially if you are looking to replicate a creative attacking pivot role, like the one that Messi occupies. If that alone does not make you salivate and want to integrate a Treq into your tactic, I don't know what else will.

 

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It is a role that is built with full creative freedom in mind. That is the other reason why I love it so much. It is designed for maximum freedom of movement to both attack the box, find space for self or others, make killer passes and score goals. It will even work hard and press, given the right player. Add into the mix a player that is not "designed" for the role so to speak. Like if you use someone who is aggressive and extremely hard working and with an interesting mix of unique traits. And you truly have yourself a recipe for something "fantastic" in an otherwise utilitarian tactic. 

So the next question I will be asking, where do I fit a role as great as a Trequartista in my Swiss Knife System? And what kind of special player would I use there? You will have to wait a little to find out ;)

Edited by crusadertsar
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13 minutes ago, Prolix said:

:kriss:

:lol: Oups good catch mate. Meant to write Real Madrid. Just shows that Sociedad is on my mind all the time haha. Fixed it!

It was all planned of course. Wanted to test you guys to make sure that people are actually reading all my ramblings :p

Edited by crusadertsar
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Insightful write-up as always:thup:... I once tried something similar with my Tottenham team but I never quite nailed the wing roles, I did manage to get some nice combination plays in the centre though with the combination of two Mezzalas(a), an AP(s) in the AM strata and DLP(d) behind them in the DM strata, with an extremely wide attacking width to create space in the centre area and it worked quite well..I tried the winger role on the flanks with the hold position PI and they do hold the width pretty well but it all goes to shambles whenever they get on the ball particularly due to the hard-coded behaviour to dribble more and cross more (my two nightmare PIs, never seem to ever get them to work :idiot:).. Anyways I'm looking forward to more of your ideas on this.. Cheers!

Edited by Tim_Tai
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Just dropping in to say this thread has really helped my tactical flexibility and understanding. Thanks for your efforts @crusadertsar. I'm in my third season at Sociedad (8th in-game season), have a good young team and look like mounting a title challenge this year after 3rd and 4th place finishes. There's something about knowing you can just move a couple of players around to counter the opposition that makes it really satisfying. Do you have a preferred shape against a 5-3-2 out of interest? I've been pushing the widemen up to the AM strata but keeping the middle CM where he is rather than dropping him into DM. Seems to work nicely but wondered if you had any thoughts there? 

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1 hour ago, iacovone said:

Just dropping in to say this thread has really helped my tactical flexibility and understanding. Thanks for your efforts @crusadertsar. I'm in my third season at Sociedad (8th in-game season), have a good young team and look like mounting a title challenge this year after 3rd and 4th place finishes. There's something about knowing you can just move a couple of players around to counter the opposition that makes it really satisfying. Do you have a preferred shape against a 5-3-2 out of interest? I've been pushing the widemen up to the AM strata but keeping the middle CM where he is rather than dropping him into DM. Seems to work nicely but wondered if you had any thoughts there? 

Thanks for the feedback! Always great to hear from another fellow Sociedad fan  :) The 5-3-2 is one my least favourite formations to face as it can be rather dangerous on the counter due to its two forwards and yet it can really park the bus with its back 5. I would try to hit them hard with an aggressive 4-1-2-3 early in the match and then once you scored a goal or two switch to a more balanced 4-5-1 maybe. Also I have been experimenting with a 4-4-1-1 (which is essentially 4-2-4 in attack that might work well against such defensive sides. 

Edited by crusadertsar
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PART 7B: To The Dark Side - Mourinho's Pragmatic Football

 

I want to get this out of the way first. This update won’t be about my usual subject, Total Football. Instead I will be joining the Dark Side and discussing Pragmatic Football. And at the same time probably offering praise to Pragmatic Football’s grand master and high priest, Jose Mourinho. In that light another possible title for this could have been “Understanding The Misunderstood Genius of Jose Mourinho”. My long-delayed tribute to the Special One.

Maybe it’s a normal thing that accompanies aging. I don’t know but definitely agree that our tastes evolve over time and we become more “safe”, or cautious if you will, in our approach to life. After-all, we have less time left as we age and we want to make sure we don’t mess up. For me this is happening with my approach to Football Manager tactics. In my old age I am turning into Jose Mourinho!

The more I play, the more I realize that I’m starting to value the same things that he does. Especially Mourinho’s obsession with achieving that perfect tactical balance and defensive solidity. And it has become my obsession in FM21.

Beautiful Game Versus Pragmatic Football

What does it mean to play football ‘pragmatically”? Pragmatic football is developing a tactical system wholly focused upon bolstering the strengths of one’s own team and countering the weaknesses of the opponent. It is especially about exploiting your opponent’s weaknesses in the most efficient and ruthless way. The key word probably being “efficiency” of play. There is also “lean meanness” to Mourinho's pragmatic approach. It is about winning clinically with 1-0. It is about feeling the pride of that 15 goals conceded record for the whole season. To be successful every manager, even Pep Guardiolas of the world, has to be pragmatic at some point in his career.

Yet the idea of playing pragmatically is often misunderstood and associated with anti-football or even worse defensive “park-the-bus” football. The style of football that is more in the realm of the underdogs and minnows of the game. But true pragmatism is not reserved for the underdog. You will not see Inter Milan parking the bus. Although they played very pragmatically when they achieved their historic tremble under Jose Mourinho’s management.

Mourinho’s Inter, Rafa Benitez’s Valencia, and Zidane’s Real Madrid – all giants of the game. And their success is the ultimate proof that pragmatic approaches can win you trophies. To win, no matter how, gets you success. So how did Mourinho do it? And more importantly how can we recreate his success, at least in the earlier part of his career, in FM21?

The Legacy of Helenio Herrera

"I hate it when they ask about being fortunate. I don't believe in good luck. When someone has won so much in twenty years, can it be fortune?" 

                                         - Helenio Herrera, when asked about being "lucky" in his long managerial career. By this time he had 16 domestic and international trophies to his name.

 

Jose Mourinho is no stranger to the concept of making your own fortune. Or of winning at all costs. In this, his football approach can probably be traced back over 50 years to Helenio Herrera and another pragmatic tactical philosophy. Herrera's Catenaccio, a historic tactic, also misunderstood by fans and pundits alike. Seen as an ultra-defensive style, when in fact its main proponent Herrera only wanted to play in the most efficient counter-attacking way possible. Akin to fencing, Helenio admired the precision and clinical nature of football. In his view, best attack should be balanced by the best defence. So that the exact moment you score your first goal, you seal your opponent's fate.

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I will not discuss Herrera's Catenaccio any further. I already spent more than enough time writing about this revolutionary tactic in my earlier series, Zona Mista. It goes without saying that Helenio Herrera was a perfectionist in every sense of the word. Sometimes to the detriment of his players' personal lives. But his approach also led Inter Milan into its most successful era. Only later outmatched by Mourinho's 4 domestic trophies and 1 Champions League title.

Jose's Common Threads - Creativity and Grit

Like Herrera, Jose Mourinho is probably one of the best defensive coaches of the modern era. Mourinho has always built his teams around the defensively-solid core of his goalkeeper, back four, and the double pivot midfield. No matter which team or tactic, those have always been the common threads running through all his tactics. Whether we look at Porto's 4-3-1-2, Chelsea's 4-1-2-3 or the 4-2-3-1 at Man United and Real Madrid. In fact Mourinho's signature 4-2-3-1 (or to be more precise 4-4-1-1 in defensive phase) is not all that different from his 4-5-1 (or 4-1-2-3 if you will). You still have a strong backbone of the back four. There as always you have the stopper-cover combo (one more mobile and creative centreback like Ramos coupled with "tough as nails" stopper Pepe). And in the fullback positions Mourinho always makes sure to include one more attacking one (Marcelo) paired with a defensively-responsible partner (Arbeloa). Sort of like Catenaccio's "returner" role. 

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Then Mourinho's midfield trio is always made up of two more defensive midfielders paired with a #10 who is given full freedom to create and attack. Basically Mourinho's Trequartista role and another nod to his Catenaccio influences. 

There have been some variations of course like with the 4-3-3 that I analysed in my previous articles. There the midfield trio included the double pivot along with the creative attacking midfielder (Lampard) in a deeper midfield position. In practice it is still the same idea, the midfield needs to have both grit and creativity. For the most part the midfield is there to aid the defence in stopping the opposition from scoring. And then once the ball is won, the double pivot is required to recycle possession to a more creative player in either central or advanced midfield position. In this way the box-to-box dynamos of Makalele and Essien aided Lampard in doing what he did best via his late runs into the final third. He was not the most typical trequartista but I still think he was the closest to that role that that particular Chelsea team had. 

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Over the years Jose has used some truly formidable defensive midfield pairs. And always with the same creativity+grit combo. At Real Madrid we had Xabi Alonso playing as a deeplying playmaker and Khedira as his ball-winning partner. At Chelsea, there were Makalele and Essien. Then there were Fabregas and Matic. All were part of Mourinho's constant drive to achieve balance in both midfield and defence by pairing creativity and grit.

Switch Play and Counter - Balancing The Transition Play

In attack, Mourinho's tactics are all about switching plays, quick transitions and counters. Yet he is not one to favour direct football, just as his sides are not overly concerned with possession. If I were to describe Mourinho's style, I would probably use word "Balanced". As in striving to achieve perfect balance in defence, midfield and attack. Thus I try to build my own tactics to best reflect that in the game. So you will not see me using extreme pressing or passing instructions or too many attacking roles. Always balancing the two extremes, as I don't want to shift the tactic into either Tiki-Taka or Gegenpress territory.

In attack, all of Mourinho's tactics have some common elements. We always saw the use of lightning fast, technical wingers linked with a very creative number #10. At that historic Chelsea side, it was Robben and Duff complementing "False 10" Lampard in the middle. 

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At Real Madrid, it was Ozil's accurate passes that fed Ronaldo and Di Maria's explosive runs. A beautiful one-twos between Oscar and Hazard, a pin-point cross into the box from Willian for Oscar to tap into the far corner. Those are just some of the examples of the interplay between the wingers and attacking midfielders that Mourinho was able to achieve over the years. One individual moment of brilliance at a time, his attacking players would prove that no team could be successful by just relying on its defence. Jose's wingers and attacking playmakers have always brought creativity, goals and most importantly beauty to his teams. 

Then of course there is the central striker. The big physical presence upfront and an attacking pivot for the rest of the attack to flow around. The big Target man, goal poacher and an aerial target all in one. Players like Drogba, Lukaku, and Milito defined this role for Mourinho. Not always the strongest or tallest player on the team (as Benzema comes to mind), yet he would always be the one with the betterment of the team in mind as he allowed his quicker teammates to exploit the space liberated by his movement and physical presence. 

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So those are the qualities that Mourinho’s looks for in his striker. It is obviously one of the most important roles which along with that of the creative attacking playmaker, trequartista, that Mourinho never fails to include in all his teams. Despite his recent less than stellar record at Man United and Tottenham, I still think that the secret to Mourinho's success is in recruitment. For his style to flourish it all comes down to making sure that the team is suited to his highly demanding, perfectionist approach to football. Rarely has he been wrong in finding the right man for each position in his tactics. 

 

NEXT UPDATE - What Could Have Been - My FM21 pragmatic football experiment continues

Edited by crusadertsar
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  • crusadertsar changed the title to My Swiss Army Knife Method: Creating Defensively-minded Pragmatic Football
2 minutes ago, gokalpcakir1 said:

Well that's where I'm going with this. Just be a bit patient ;) I'll try to post some of my tactical musings on here soon.

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  • crusadertsar changed the title to My Swiss Army Knife Method: Creating Defence-minded Pragmatic Football

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