"I am going to be honest with you...
..I don’t really believe there is anything different about the Championship.
Football is the game. It is always the same. There are specific situations and characteristics of the Championship, yes. But it is a competition. There are good teams, there are good players. What matters most is your idea.
When you think about the Championship, when you are offered a job in the Championship, the first thought you must have is this: can I make my idea work in this league?
This is the first step you must take. It is not about the Championship changing your idea. No. It is about your idea inside the Championship. Can we make it work? Is it possible to go there with our idea, our philosophy?
We consider it, and we say yes. And then? We go for it."
Nuno Espirito Santo arrived at Wolves on the 31st of May, Wolves having just finished 15th in the Championship after a somewhat depressing, anti-climatic first season at the club after the much spoken about takeover by Fosun International.
Since that moment onwards, he has transformed the club I love. I love the man like I have loved no other manager in my 18 years as a season ticket holder, and as a little bit of a student of the game - I have been fascinated, thrilled and inspired by the style, philosophy and all round approach that has been instilled and the success that has came from it. Despite the amount of money thrown at it and negative press the club may get regarding the Jorge Mendes influence - the job Nuno has done is remarkable. His ability to man manage players, create such a fantastic spirit in a tight knit squad which is backed up by promoting the youngsters, his calming yet ferocious approach on the touchline - everything that is Nuno I genuinely try to approach in FM. I see what he is like in press conferences, I replicate calm, cautious "on the fence" if you like answers. I make minimal change where I can and above all, always make it about the team. One game at a time. Consistently praising the team yet making sure they stay on task, do not become complacent.
The Idea. The System.
But most importantly the tactic behind this whole "idea". Now initially Wolves with Nuno did not change from a 3-4-3 in over 15 months. However, it looked pretty obvious during a barren spell that things didn't need to change, the idea was fine, but there needed to be some adjustment. Enter the 3-5-2 which if you really look into it, is not that dissimilar to the 3-4-3 we set up with originally. We can move the shape of the forward players very easily between the two, both in real life, and in FM, which i will talk about.
I will explain the reasoning behind the system generally and the "idea".
First of all we want to play as unit. With the ball we are one unit and likewise even more so without. This means there is little between the lines, we are compact so of course we want mental attributes such as Teamwork, Determination and Workrate to help this. This is the reason I aim for a fluid or very fluid team shape. You may ask do we have enough Attack duties. On paper it perhaps doesn't look right and I would agree, but in game it makes sense because with the ball we want to retain it, limit aimless long balls and without the ball we are compact, defend from the front and with support duties that then allows a natural counter, something we are brilliant at particularly with the front two. We can see this demonstrated below with back to back wins, the second of which is a beautiful sight to me, the team were everywhere.
Second of all, we focus play through the middle to give even more space and onus on overlaps outwide. If you have watched Wolves this is self explanatory. Doc and Jonny hug the touchline (PPM they need training in this, something i will mention shortly) but we focus the penetration through the middle. The spine of the team in Coady, Neves and the frontmen are neat and tidy and will keep the ball, this then allows space outwide to exploit. We want to see those cross field balls to each flank and get balls in the box, the former of which I am not quite happy with but happy enough. With the ball, wee make the pitch as big as we can to compliment this. Play more expressive to allow the individual players such as Jimenez and Jota to express themselves and tactically too but generally the whole "idea" is to find ways to win without changing that much. This whole system I want to beat teams in a variety of different ways which sounds like expecting too much but it actually does. Some games I dominate possession, others we come away with 40% tops, its a real mixed bag in that sense but as Nuno alludes to many times "we can control the game with and without the ball"
I mentioned above the need for a different shape, this is required and also sometimes preferred. I am convinced long-term Nuno will revert back to 3-4-3. I just dont believe Wolves have the players to make it work the way they did in the Championship. Particularly in the forward positions. Below is an example of when we revert to this shape.
In terms of the positions I have decided on, I will go through the roles I have picked and justify and explain my reasons
Sweeper Keeper (Patricio) : Good passing range without it needing to be spectacular because we play out from the back with passes into the back three.
Libero (Coady) : If I am honest, this was a difficult one because we need the old "sweeper" role back as that is what Coady does. Libero without the ball is fine but with it he drifts forward. However, in FM terms it isn't bad because it is generally OK as he presses but in replication is not ideal. We need a player with "stay back at all times" PPM.
Central Defender (Boly, Bennett) : They are given the stopper duty because they press further forward than a standard "defend" duty. However, hugely important, these two are trained in "bring the ball out of defence" and possibly even "run with ball more often" in Willy Boly's case. In games where we are struggling to break teams down, these two are often pivotal because they are high up the pitch, and can create some tactical movement in the final third by doing the above.
Generally, we want all our defenders to be good footballers as well as defenders.
Complete Wing Back (Doherty, Jonny) : These are huge and will hug the touchline (also train your wing-backs to do this) and often pop up on the end of each others crosses. Jonny much like in real life I made the move to train him to "cut inside from left" which works really well simply as a different dimension to what the Doc offers.
Mezzella (Moutinho, Dendoncker) : We want these to be very mobile and take up areas in the slightly wider areas. This role imo does this best. With one of the duties I make attacking, Moutinho does this very well although long term I would want a more mobile version in this position. We can use a 3-4-1-2 variation on this and push one of these up to "in the hole" position, this was often done with Morgan Gibbs White and to good effect combining a DLP (D) with a M (S) and a AM (A) infront of them.
False 9 (Jota, Jimenez) : Again this may seem odd having two false 9's and two attackers on the same duty, but they perform exactly how I want them too and how they do IRL imo. They drop deep, link play, get into wide postions, press the midfield when out of possession.. they are a nightmare for opposition.
Ultimately, does it work?
Yes, by now I guess you are wondering how exactly I got on. Well, with a season of no ins and outs and getting the team to purely learn the tactic, whilst focusing on dynamics and team consistency, we managed to finish 6th whilst also reaching the Semi-Final of the FA Cup losing out to Liverpool. As you will see below the results from the turn of the year was fantastic. We only lost 4 games, 3 of those coming against the top 4.
With your help, there is much I can improve on both in tactical adjustment and to make it replicate Nuno's idea even more. I am going to leave a link to download this tactic. It would be fantastic if the geniuses on here could throw there two cents in. To work on, and further develop "the idea". No tactic is ever perfect, it would be great to share some ideas and for people to offer suggestions as to where I can go from here. I have got Wolves in 6th position with this and I am very happy and delighted more with the performances that have came from it. I was very adamant to not touch the squad in season one, I wanted developing the Dynamics of the squad to be the key addition. It is very clear that at Wolves what Nuno has built on is the real life equivalent to Team Dynamics. It is a very close knit bunch and that shows. Now I have developed on that, I can add one or two key additions heading into my second season. A footballing centre half to replace Bennett, and a more mobile central midfielder could seriously turn this team into a real contender both on my Football Manager save, and perhaps in real life, while continuing to develop the idea.
If you would like to download the tactic and use it to improve and develop this it would be fantastic. This is not going to be a plug in and win everything system. That is not the point of this thread. I do believe it to be solid, and i think if you follow the core values I have spoken about in this thread (Team Dynamics, man management, PPM) then you have a good chance of making it work with the right kind of players. I would really appreciate some input. Thanks for reading!