During the World Cup Gareth Southgate's England side set up in a 3-5-2, making use of their ball-playing defenders and relying heavily on set pieces, defying all odds and managing to reach the semi-finals. However, what's impressed me most during Southgate's reign as England boss has been what he has done after the World Cup.
Since the World Cup, Southgate has favoured a 4-3-3 formation with the following concepts that stick out to me:
Positive football, keeping the ball and controlling the game
Playing out from the back
Counter-pressing in a mid-block
Patient build-up play at the back, springing into life when in the final third
Fast, direct and exciting wide players
Harry Kane dropping deep to create space and play in teammates
Kyle Walker's 'Man City' role
Trust in young English talent
Not far from what I started with however after a season of small tweaks this is the tactic that I've settled on:
As you might have guessed I've gone with a Positive mentality (I did actually begin the season on balanced...)
We are playing out from back with Play Out Of Defence and Distribute To Centre-Backs
I am counter-pressing in a mid-block with the use of Counter-Press and no alteration to the defensive line or line of engagement
Both the wide players have been given an attack duty to encourage them to be more direct after the patient build-up play from the back
Counter and Pass Into Space have been used to encourage the 'springing into life when in the final third'... that's the idea anyway
Focus Play Through The Middle was something I added towards the second half of the season to make use of our numbers in there and the space created by the strikers movement
To control the game I have used Shorter Passing and Work Ball Into Box to reduce long potentially risky passes and to encourage the players to remain patient for their chances
Due to our slow build-up play it can often be the case that the two midfielders will take a number of long shots, you could try putting shoot less often on however both of my midfielders (especially the mezalla) scored a fair few from distance
If you have the personnel to do so, you could also use player instructions to ask the two wide players to swap positions. Sancho and Sterling swapped sides a few times during the recent friendlies which could cause problems if the opposition team is man marking
One thing I haven't really gone into is set pieces. These have been massive for Gareth Southgate's team. I found it hard to replicate the 'train' that's used in real life, in the end I settled with aiming corners into the 6 yard box...
Player Roles and Instructions
Goalkeeper Defend | Jordan Pickford
I've gone for a classic Goalkeeper in this role, I could have gone for a sweeper keeper on defend duty however with the fact we're not playing with a higher line I didn't feel it was necessary.
Full-Back Support | Kyle Walker
When watching Kyle Walker play for England I feel his role is similar if not the same to the one he plays at club level for City, highlighted even further when Raheem Sterling is playing ahead of him. Rather than constantly bomb forward he tends to sit in line with the defensive midfielder offering a constant option when playing out of defence and being on hand to use his electrifying pace to snuff out counter opportunities when England lose the ball. You could argue that his role is more of an inverted wing-back however I personally feel he holds his position in a more natural full-back position rather than constantly cutting inside acting as a midfielder, could be wrong though.
Central Defenders Defend | John Stones & Harry Maguire
I've gone for a bog standard defender here. Again you could definitely argue that both of these guys are ball playing defenders however when reading the role description the part about 'launch defence splitting through balls from deep' doesn't really appeal to me. With the team instructions used along with player traits such as Brings Ball Out of Defence these guys will still build up from the back but without the long through balls from deep associated with the ball playing defender role.
Wing-Back Support | Ben Chilwell
With the inside forward ahead of him vacating the space on the left I decided to go for a wing-back here. The support duty has been used to again encourage the patient build up play from the back and to not leave us too exposed on the counter.
Anchor Man Defend | Eric Dier
Close Down Less
For me this was one of the easiest decisions to make when choosing the roles. If you read the role description for the anchor man I think you'd find it hard to disagree that this is the job both Eric Dier and Declan Rice have done for England. They sit in between the defence and midfield, intercepting moves, winning the ball and laying off simple passes to the rest of the team. Close down less was added after I kept seeing all 3 of my midfielders pressing the same player, leaving all kinds of space in behind.
Central Midfielder Support | Jordan Henderson
In the initial version of this tactic I used a deep lying playmaker for this role. With a playmaker in the side the team will naturally look to pass to him as often as possible in order to let him dictate play. However I don't really believe that play goes through one particular player in the current England setup. Another reason for the change was due to the fact that I already had the right full-back holding his position so it didn't feel right having a midfielder in front of him doing the same, prompting me to switch it to a central midfielder on support who will 'balance his attacking and defensive responsibilities'. Stay wider was added as even though I want to focus the play through the middle I still want to make use of the spaces on the pitch, again one of those ones where I've added it after seeing my midfielders step on each others toes a bit at times.
Mezzala Support | Dele Alli
Take More Risks
When watching England, the combination play on the left side between the midfielder, inside forward and wing-back is clear to see. Dele Alli will often drift out wide when the inside forward comes inside to combine with the wing-back. I've gone with the support duty to again encourage the slow build-up play until the ball reaches the wide players. The mezzala role along with take more risks however will still get forward, make things happen and support when necessary as well as get into the box for some chances.
Winger Attack | Jadon Sancho
One of two attack duties in the whole team. I want him to make runs in behind and when he receives the ball I want him to be direct and attack the opposition defenders. He will stretch the play on the right hand side and provide crosses for the striker and opposite inside forward.
Inside Forward Attack | Raheem Sterling
The other attack duty mentioned. When he gets the ball I want him to be direct, this time driving inside to create space for the overlapping wing-back and to potentially find the striker or the winger in space.
Deep Lying Forward Support | Harry Kane
As mentioned previously, I want my striker to drop deep in order to create space for the two attacking wide players. Sometimes this guy plays like a deep lying playmaker in that he will drop deep and find the two attacking wide players making runs in behind much like we saw Harry Kane do in the recent friendlies.
To develop this tactic I decided to start a Bristol City save. A mid table championship team with a strong English core and some talented youngsters on loan. Please note that I mainly played a mirrored version of the tactic due to the personnel available. I had a physical left-back and a typical left winger so it made sense to mirror it, making use of the teams strengths.
For a team predicted to finish 13th, finishing 2nd has proved to be a brilliant season. Aston Villa have absolutely romped the league and proved way too strong to compete with. However we were the best of the rest by some distance. In terms of team stats we had the best average possession in the league finishing on 57%, scoring 80 goals (3rd) and conceding 43 (5th), not bad.
I rotate quite heavily when playing mid-week games in order to keep the players fresh, especially with the counter-press. Eliasson played the left winger role pretty much all season with Lloyd Kelly playing behind him, a 6'3" physical player who can play both left-back and centre-back. My other option was Jay Dasilva who is a quality full-back but at 5'4" and not being physical at all, he's not really in the Kyle Walker mould. It meant when I played Dasilva I made sure I played the system where the left-back was the wing-back. I could play Tomas Kalas in the full-back position, another centre-back / full-back with good physical stats. Kasey Palmer had a strong season playing in the mezalla role, scoring plenty of long shots and direct free-kicks. You'll see from the stats I had a hard time getting the best out of my striker, starting the season with Matty Taylor, he didn't really set the world alight as you can see. This caused me to turn to a young prospect who if I'm honest didn't really have the passing to play the role as I wanted, but did a job nonetheless. One thing the stats don't really show in regards to the striker is the space that he creates which I'll go onto later. A special mention has to go to Andreas Weimann who played the right inside-forward role excellently, the amount of times Eliasson assisted him was exactly what I wanted.
Not a huge amount of activity regarding transfers although I did make a one bit of smart business during the January window.
Jack Hunt (28) who was having an average season as our starting right wing-back was sold for £3m.
To replace him, Jayden Bogle (18). 10 years his junior, he was brought in for same price at £3m. Not afraid to give youngsters a chance, I've effectively swapped my ageing right back for a better, younger model. Happy days.
Just a few screenshots of a couple of scenarios that I was pleased with.
A long ball has been played to the back post by the opponent, Kelly has won the header due to his positioning and physicality (Dasilva would have undoubtedly lost this header).
Kelly's header falls to Eliasson who has space to turn and run at the defence. With his attack duty and the counter team instruction he won't be wasting any time.
Fast forward and Eliasson has travelled with the ball some distance, attracting the attention of 4 opposition players in the process. With his winger duty he has swung a cross into Weimann, who scores tap in.
Eliasson has received the ball on the left hand side.
Eliasson has dribbled forwards into the space and Matty Taylor has made a run towards the ball, creating a gap between the left centre-back and left-back.
With the space created, Eliasson has now played a through ball into Weimann's path who slots home. Our striker's stats perhaps weren't the best but the space that he creates isn't reflected in those stats.
This save has been a lot of fun. It's been particularly rewarding attempted to translate the football I've seen from games in real life into FM. Southgate has done wonders for England and with the young prospects coming through, we have exciting times ahead I'm sure.
This is my first tactical post, so any feedback regarding the writing style or the tactical decisions would be greatly appreciated.