1.- Low block or high block?
1.1- High block
When I think of a high block in a 4-4-2 I always think of George Graham's (in)famous backline of Adams, Dixon, Winterburn and Bould and their use of an aggressive offside trap to stop their opponents attack. The high block, if properly implemented is a great way of dealing with the direct, long ball football typical of Graham's era. However to implement this form of defending your defenders need good positioning, anticipation, concentration and the quickness to compete with the strikers. Another advantage of the high block is that it goes along nicely with the high press so on paper both "pass and move" football and "longball" football are accounted for. This of course only works if you have a well drilled backline and the players up front are willing to play their part so only big teams tend to go for this option. when smaller teams have tried there are other circumstances to take into consideration. A real life example was Rayo Vallecano which under Paco Jémez played a high defensive line with an intense pressing game despite being clear underdogs against almost all teams in the spanish first division. They did this because their field was very small anyways so there wasn't so much backtracking to do anyways. If memory serves me right they overachieved under Paco Jémez during his first year but got relegated the next one.
1.2- Low block
There are many teams which have employed a low block when fielding a 4-4-2. Like I said in my opening post when teams found themselves as underdogs in Spain they gave up possession and formed two tight banks of four to minimise space and attempted to hit their opponent with fast transitions. Diego Simeone won a league title in 2014 by this very method and recently Valencia had much to celebrate in their centenary when their 4-4-2 strategy of fast transitions and tight defending earned them a shot at winning the champions league and a Copa del Rey against Barcelona.
Reducing the spaces available for the opposition is not the only thing that you can achieve with a low block, it is also a good way to lure the opponent further forwards and exploit the space they leave behind them.
2.- Wolverhampton Wanderers
2.1- My story with the wolves
Three years ago I knew absolutely nothing about the wolves. I didn't even realise that wolverhampton is a real place because it had such an impossibly cool name. Then one day a friend came to me: "You know the guy you told me about, he is going to play in the championship" "The champions league? With whom?" "the championship, with wolversomething". Ruben Neves was going to play in the english second division, I didn't understand, he was perhaps the most promising playmaker in Europe along with Tielemans, why would he go to a "second rate" team like Wolverhampton? Wolverhampton entered the Premier League the following year and signed Rui Patricio, Joao Moutinho and Adama Traoré. I always found rui Patricio underrated, I liked Moutinho quite a lot a few years back and knew Traoré as a Barcelona youth player with great speed but little else going for him. This were three players I liked quite a lot, between that and their cool name it was as if the Wolves were going out of their way to make me a supporter.
So I opened a new save and made the following 4-4-2:
3.- The tactic
3.1- the pure 4-4-2
Whenever I make a tactic I load up a formation and set all the roles into what I call "pure" roles, that is the roles with the most flexibility:
This is what I call the pure 4-4-2, under this roles how your players behave is all up to their traits, except for the strikers, there is no "pure" striker in FM since all the roles have predetermined instructions. I have never played a match with these roles and I never will but I like building my tactics step by step so I always go to the "pure" formations before doing any changes.
3.2- the strikers
So next I take a look at the strikers and decide what partnership I want, because I am playing Wolverhampton and they are not a team full with world class players I decide to go for arguably the simplest partnership of all the tried and tested:
3.3- the wings
Next I focus on the wings, Adama is a very one dimensional player and can only play as a winger so the W(a) was my first decision regarding the wing, next I went for a FB(s) to accompany him, I could have gone for a Irwin like role and chose the FB(d) but while I like solidity in my tactics I think that is a bit too much. I don't like having both wings with the same partnership so I decide to go for a FB(a) on the left. Finally it was time to choose an appropriate ML, he had to allow overlapping, be a passing option for my central midfielders and make his presence felt in the final third despite playing deeper so I gave the WM(s) the instructions to "sit narrower", "cross from deep" and "cross more often" hello mr Beckham.
3.4- the midfield duo
I initially went for a CM(d) and CM(s) combo, which just means I told one of my midfielders to hold. That way I could look at my wings and my Strikers and later decide what I needed from my midfield. My first change was to turn the CM(s) into a BBM so he could join link up with the attackers in zone 14, just outside the opponents area but I was still using a CM(d). Because all a CM(d) is told to do is hold his position he is not a specialist ball winner (he will win balls but he won't focus on defending as much as other roles) but I was not sure about using a different more mobile role. Our Team instructions were the answer to that, I finally decided to use a BWM(d).
Isn't the BWM a very mobile role? yes and no, while he will leave his position to chase the balls we play a narrow and compact defence so while he will chase down the ball like a dog, it is a dog on a leash we are talking about. I made no changes to the keeper or defenders so as of now my 4-4-2 looks like this:
note that because I did not instruct my WM(s) to "cut inside" but rather "sit narrower" he will not bump against my BBM. It is easy to see what I expect each player to do and how they play as a team. This is not a set of roles meant for possession football but a rather more direct approach.
At this point I play my first games in the pre season with no instructions and choose them as I see how the tactic is working.
The numbers indicate the in which order I chose which instructions:
184.108.40.206- Defend narrower: Like I said a low block is about negating space. With defend narrower horizontal space amongst my two banks of four is reduced helping us defend.
220.127.116.11- Much lower LOE: By keeping a standard defensive line but deepening our line of engagement we both lure the teams upwards, making more space for us and defend in a more compact manner, that means our two banks of four are as solid as they could be in structure. These two instructions are the reason I decided on the BWM since the is not that much space he can roam into, like I said he is a dog on a leash.
18.104.22.168- Mark Tighter: We need to make it harder fo our opponent when he has the ball in our own half, this could be done by either marking or pressing. The problem with pressing is that it would shatter our two banks of four (as a general rule pressing works badly with a low block) and make us create a lot of spaces between our players which is exactly the opposite of what we want.
22.214.171.124- throw it long: Rui Patricio is better t distributing with his hands, that is the only reason, If I had a goalkeeper that was better with his feet I would choose take long kicks but this is not the case with the wolves.
126.96.36.199- distribute quicky: I want my goalkeeper to start the counter attacks if he has the ball, just like Schmeichel or Yashin.
188.8.131.52- pass into space: My reasoning was the following. Player A passes the ball to player B, player B receives the ball in position A, Player B moves the ball from position A to position B. 3 steps. While with pass into space I want. Player A passes the ball into position B, Player B receives the ball in position B. 2 steps. Passing into space is not easy and some balls will be missed but I think this is a way to make our time play more efficiently.
184.108.40.206- Slightly higher tempo: I don't think I need this instruction at all, I am experimenting with options for now, when performing a counter players already go as fast as they can so this is more of an instruction for our non counter attacks and I haven't seen a big change in the way we play.
The question marks are things that are liable to change, for example I chose Cautious mentality in my first match against Liverpool but switched to balance against newcastle and will be tempted to go as far as positive against lower cup opposition.
There is certainly room for improvement especially in terms of squad building. This is not a plug and play tactic, this is simply the earliest steps of a counter attacking tactic, and almost nothing in my tactic is fixed but instead works in a match per match basis.
thank you for the wait, when enough games have been played I will try to go deeper into how we play.
In the meantime I will try to answer all possible questions to the best of my ability.