The point of this thread is to discuss the experiment I'm running namely to enable my team to always be able to play a short pass. I figured this would be possible if there are always more players around to build up then there are to disturb my passing game. There should be no reason to kick the ball forward without any idea. This also brings defense security, because there will always be a defender around to sweep lose balls, or cover the space a pressing defender allows.
As stated I want my team to build up from defense, to do this, I will assign my most advanced defender as playmaker. He will be assigned with zonal marking, while the other defenders will all be assigned with man marking. So far nothing to revolutionary. I also want my midfield and attack to leave the playmaking to their most limited players. Usually this is a centreback. This means, I will always have an equal amount of midfielders compared to my opponents, and I will be one short in the offensive pressuring against their defenders. To do this I feel I need a very fluid squad, defenders need to be thinking about offense, and the offensive part of the team needs to do their defensive work. My team settings will always look like this:
Since most players got a man to take care off, they will usually be around a man. This is solid in defense, but means they need some individual skill in offense. As soon as a winger, or an offensive midfielders gets into a one to one situation in a good position, he should try to beat his man so the numbers are equal in their defense now. This means my wingers and/or offensive midfielders need to have a certain individual skill. Since I'm playing ajax, this is already taken care off with loads of good players and hot prospects.
Translation to FM:
As a team to do this I chose Ajax. I'm anything but a fan, but I chose them because their squad is well rounded and with their technical defenders and I was hoping to see a little more teamwork in the front row but it should be fine. As Ajax, I will be mainly playing in the Eredivisie, where you would expect a variety in 4-3-3 formations, and in a rare case a 4-4-2 variant. So I started to make a formation to cope with the most attacking variant of the 4-3-3. The version van Gaal en Adriaanse liked to employ with an Attacking Midfielder. This is nowadays called 4-2-3-1.
Against a 4-2-3-1 formation, I want one of my central defenders to be able to build up free without having the offensive midfielder disturbing him around. So I start out with 2 defenders. One to take out the striker, one to build up. To make sure the wingers don't come inside to close me down. I put down two fullbacks. To allow the defender to build up, there needs to be a defensive midfielder around, so if they decide to press that second defender, the defensive midfielder gets space to pass the ball.
To even our man in midfield, I play with two central midfielders. As I said, I wanted them to do the same, and start their attacks via their most limited defender. So I start with two wingers and a striker closing down their best centreback. The formation would look like this:
The other variant is the one with a defensive midfielder. This means I no longer have the need to play a defensive midfielder, but I do have the need to press them earlier. This means my defensive midfielder will push up, and become an offensive midfielder. Depending on the kind of player they pose there, I will chose a player to close him down. For example, if Pirlo is their defensive midfielder, I need a hard working player to make sure he never gets space on the ball. However if they decide to play a destroyer in the likes of Busquets, I will put down someone in the likes of Eriksen. Generally it would look like this:
Those were the regular formations, especially for Ajax players. The trickier part comes when two or four offensive players are employed. I expected to have to cope against some flat 4-4-2's. So I started with a counter to that too:
Against flat 4-4-2:
Against a two striker formation, it's unnecessary to have you fullbacks cover their corners, when there is a huge chance, nobody will try to invade their space. However, I also can't allow my usual two centrebacks to be alone. That would create an equality, and I want a majority. This means I will play with three centrebacks, the ball playing defender once again in zonal marking, to attack their midfield, I copy them. I also use a flat line of four midfielders. Right in front of that, I put my wingers on AML an AMR so they are able to press their fullbacks. To finish it off, my striker will close down their least limited defender. The formation will look like this:
Against Diamond 4-4-2
Most of you will have a pretty solid idea what's going to change in this formation. Exactly the same thing as the other formation does. Being able to pressure the defensive midfielder, or even not giving him the ball at all should give their build up play a hard time. If a narrow diamond is employed, I manually set my wide midfielders to mark their central midfielders. I do this because I want to keep the pitch wide in possession and having so many central players really doesn't help then. On Paper this might look pretty defensive, but mind that's its pressing is high and time is taken to advance in offense
Against PSG (4-2-4)
Plenty of tactics are not countered yet, but it's time to test the idea. I start off with an arranged friendly against PSG, expecting to face a tough opposition. Starting the match, I see them using a 4-2-4 formation, all with players I don't know. I've seen some CL games of PSG and that's it, so it could be me, but I felt they weren't using their strongest team. I decided to take the "against 4-4-2 flat system" and drop my wide midfielders into wingback position. The game went pretty well, we won 5-1. Didn't get into too much trouble and we were pretty solid in our passing game, and managed to create 7 clear cut chances. A deeper analysis shows our passing wasn't done only in defense, but we managed to play mainly on their side of the pitch. A special highlight goes to Alderwereld, who played as "Advanced Defender" with zonal marking and high mentality. As you can see, he was always passing forward, but not too accurate. It's not because he passed bad, but it's because FM considers a header he barely manages to win as a pass. I was pretty satisfied with Alderwereld and the teams performance.
I also want to highlight their passing. It's terrible, their keeper always using the longball, and their defenders didn't do much better. This is mainly because a 4-2-4 doesn't allow a solid build up, but also because of my pressing with again Alderwereld in a important position as he was the man to stand in front of players to make the interceptions after the long passes.
Against Creteil (4-2-3-1)
I didn't know any players last game, now I've never heard of the clubs name either. Not that it should matter though, it should be fine to test and get my players accustomized to playing my way. As soon as I saw them play a 4-2-3-1 I took out my 4-3-3 and watched a horrible start. We literally give away an early goal. My keeper just passes the ball into the feet of the striker. After that, they score via a well executed move, where Serero(MC) failed to track his man, and Alderwereld (Zonal marking defender) failed to get into his path. I was worried I made huge mistakes but I couldn't really find them. Gladly I didn't change too much and my team paid my trust back with a 2-4 victory. No deep analysis because, really there wasn't much to find here.
Against PSV (4-3-2-1 Christmas Tree)
My scout got misinformed and told me PSV was likely to play a flat 4-4-2 against me. They completely took me by surprise with this weird formation. I decided to see this as a 4-3-3 with my wingbacks marking the AMCs. What a disaster this was. We were completely outplayed and didn't get anywhere. I was glad I just lost this 3-1. I need to figure out a solution to this christmas tree formation!
Against Heerenveen (Away, 4-3-3)
After my disappointing season opening, I immediately faced a tough away game in Heerenveen. My scout had no idea how they would play so he assumed they would play 4-4-2. He was wrong, they played a classic 4-3-3 with a DMC to get the ball forward. I used my best DMC as AMC to annoy him. This did work, but also worked for them. Since my DMC is ok with the ball, but not too great he lost a lot of balls for me. When my hardest working midfielder came in, the play improved. This means I can't rely on a ball winning midfielder high up the pitch because it breaks down the game for both sides, or even worse, it adventages my opponents.
Against Vitesse (Away 4-3-3)
Again a tough away fixture, but this time we got played apart and I've learned what somebody here saw coming. My defenders had a hard time reaching midfield. Naturally I would expect my offensive defender to close the gap, but he doesn't dare to do so, or doesn't think it's a wise decision to do so. This meant I had to find a more defensive midfielder to play in midfield. This meant one advanced playmaker became a deep lying one. This seemed to work, although I couldn't comeback from a 2-0 score and lost 3-1.