Let's start with a bit of context, from the 2017/18 season.
Alternating to a counter attacking 4-4-1-1 when the going got tough.
The title was won by a solid defensive foundation.
Relied heavily upon our defence in the Champions League, shutting out Real Madrid and Paris St Germain to reach the semi-finals.
Attack was efficient, yet unspectacular.
We were very effective against teams who came forward to attack us.
Significantly less effective at breaking down teams who sit deep.
Tactics in the Portuguese league are reasonably conservative, facing a relatively high proportion of 2 DM formations.
Transfer strategy was to negotiate up and ultimately accept lucrative offers for first team players.
Opening opportunities for young players coming through.
Establishing a strong financial foundation.
Lautaro Martinez was brought in for the first team as a potential long-term option at striker.
Lautaro Martinez was chosen for his high potential ability, intelligence - specifically anticipation, decisions and off the ball movement - and well rounded attributes.
Our squad for the 2018/19 season is now pretty much the same defence, a similar midfield and a new look attack.
[Insert diamond related cliche here]
There are a few reasons for choosing to play a 4-4-2 diamond.
We sold our wingers over the summer
Felipe & Trincão are coming through but not quite ready to be relied upon
Accommodates our best players
Xadas & Krovinovic in the midfield, alongside Fejsa
Cervi plays in a central role
Martinez & Talisca up front
Can be effective against 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 variants.
Last season our strategy was direct passing, aiming to exploit the pace and skill of attacking players before the opposition can organise their defence.
This season we switch to a Control mentality in exert greater control - obviously - over opponents.
4-4-2 diamond is naturally strong in midfield
Xadas and Krovinovic are both technically skilled, intelligent and hard working
Opponents in Portugal typically sit quite deep so this allows us to take the game to them.
Last season a Structured team shape to make attacking players more attacking and defensive players more defensive to facilitate a more direct game.
In this system, a Fluid team shape would give us greater creativity and control over central areas.
Creativity coming from a higher degree of creative freedom
Control over the centre coming from attacking and defending as a unit.
Attackers having a lower mentality making them more likely to be involved in midfield.
Defenders having a higher mentality - again - making them more likely to be involved in midfield.
The issue with this is that a number of our key players have quite specialist sets of attributes.
Jardel & Dias are excellent defenders but - with low passing, technique, first touch & vision - have limited technical ability.
Talisca is a dangerous attacking player but - with low team work, work rate & defensive attributes - is not inclined to track back, nor would he be effective.
As a result, we line up in a Flexible team shape encouraging players to balance their individual duty with the team mentality and their position on the field as well as giving them a balanced level of creative freedom.
Additional team instructions are:
Play Out of Defence
Rulli is instructed to Distribute to Fullbacks
Fullbacks then either dribble forward with the ball themselves or pass into midfield
Look for Overlap
Increases the mentality of my fullbacks
Exploit the Middle
Increases the mentality of my DC(D)s and MC(D) increasing compactness with the Fullbacks & Midfielders on Support duty.
Once again using @fmFutbolManager's Mentality Calculator spreadsheet, we can see how these combine to distribute positive yet balanced mentality throughout the team.
Players & Roles
Our core defensive unit is intelligent, brave, strong and good in the air and sets up in a simple DC(D) - DC(D) - MC(D) triangle.
In this instance I choose an MC(D) over a DM(D) to avoid reducing our defensive line and I have a personal preference for using players in bands.
Ahead of our defensive core we have a midfield unit of intelligent, technical and hard working players.
Our wide Central Midfielders are Carrilero (Support):
Shuttling between the lines of midfield is perfect for this system:
Moving into the AM strata to create a 3v2 against opposition 2x DM formations.
Dropping deep alongside the holding midfielder to create a solid defensive block.
Covering lateral spaces in the absence of an additional wide player on the flanks.
Both are asked to Run Wide with the Ball to add some dynamism to our attack.
Notice how the combination of Team Mentality, Duty and Shape gives them a balanced, yet expansive Individual Mentality - exactly as I like a midfield to play.
Finally we have a 3-man attacking unit.
Franco Cervi is an Attacking Midfielder (Support) asked to dribble more, aiming to cause havoc ahead of the opposition defenders.
Lautaro Martinez is a Complete Forward (Support) roaming from position to create space for others and take advantage of space wide.
Talisca is an Advanced Foward (Attack) as he has the best finishing and movement of the three.
In the Match Engine
Welcome to Benfica vs Porto, one of the key matches deciding the Primeira Liga.
Porto line up in the 4-2-3-1 DM which we struggled to break down - drawing 0-0 home and away with Porto - last season.
Porto are looking to build an attack through their wingback, Alex Telles and we have formed out default medium block defence.
Solid four man defence.
Diamond midfield shifts across, shielding the defence.
Carrileros take wider positions, closely supporting the wingback.
Cervi drops into midfield.
Martinez drops deeper, pressuring the opposition DMs.
The strong medium block defence doesn't put pressure on Porto high up the field. Instead it limits their options:
Attempt to attack wide and cross.
Go in-field to their defensive midfielders and attempt to build from there.
This is also a good example of why I do not like 4-4-2 diamond for high-pressing defensive set ups, unless I have extremely hard working & intelligent strikers.
Opposition fullbacks are in acres of space so act as an immediate 'pressure valve' for the opposition.
The distance any player would have to travel to press means a) they'd open a gap and b) the ball would be long-gone by the time they got there.
When Porto try to attack wide, we see this shape.
Right sided Carrilero is again tucked in very close in support of the wingback.
Fejsa is marking the opposition AM whilst our centre backs have a 2v1 ahead of the attacker.
Cervi and Martinez have both dropped deep, putting pressure on opposition DMs should they wish to recycle possession.
Alternatively, when they go centrally they just run into heavy traffic.
Similarly to Porto, we also build up through our fullbacks.
Porto have a reasonably strong defensive structure.
Their Wingers are defending narrow which would be an issue if we were looking to play through our defensive midfielder.
Fernandes is under no pressure and has plenty of space to take the ball forward himself.
Our right sided Carrilero - in this instance Luis - can attack a really dangerous position outside of the opposition DM.
The opposition could press with the left back and leave space for Fernandes to overlap.
..or the DM and open space for Cervi.
..or the DC and Talisca has an open run at goal.
As play develops we also have Xadas and Grimaldo both in fairly open space on the opposite flank.
This time we attack through the middle.
Porto once again have a strong defensive set up.
Their AMC is putting pressure in Fejsa, who is OK but not the best on the ball.
Their AMR/L are tracking our wingbacks and cutting off a pass.
They have 2 DMCs shielding their back four.
Despite all of this, look at the space Florentino Luis finds himself in.
Our Carrilero's have advanced towards the AM strata, creating a 3v2 in "Zone 14".
This time he is our pressure valve.
One pass and we have escaped the Porto press.
Once we hit Luis - again - we have options.
Fernandes will be making an overlapping run on the right and difficult to mark for the AML
DMCs shifting across opens space for either Cervi or Xadas.
Centre back coming forward leaves a striker free.
Another similar scenario. This time Cervi on the ball in the Attacking Midfield position.
Again, Porto are well structured defensively.
AMR, AML and AMC have all dropped back into midfield.
Cervi is under pressure in a crowded midfield.
Again, the Carrilero advances into that AM position in the half-space and is in acres of space.
Again, Luis has options.
Draw the fullback and play Fernandes in behind to cross.
Attempt to play a through ball to Talisca if the central defender presses.
2018/19 League Table
Goals scored, up.
Goals conceded, down.
Possession %, up.
Very solid season indeed
Although something tells me that next season we might line up a little differently..