Often, we FMers spend so long looking for the 'perfect tactic' that we forget that, as in real life, there is no singular superior tactic and that they all need tweaking depending on the situation and the opponent. I'm going to put up a game I have just played as an example of how I approach games, hopefully people can learn a trick or two and give me some feedback. Here goes:
My West Ham team have a crucial game in the Champions League. Last year we got knocked out in the Group stages and I'm determined to do better than last year. Four games of the group stage have gone and we're currently 3rd, one point off 2nd place. We just so happen to be playing the 2nd placed team, Bilbao, knowing that a loss will effectively relegate us to the Europa League. We played Bilbao in the first game of the group stages, away in the hostile San Mames stadium, and lost 1-0. We were hopelessly outplayed, having only 1 shot on target.
To a large extent, the result was my fault. Bilbao lined up in a 4-1-3-2 formation and absolutely dominated the game. They passed the ball around us and our defence never got to grips with the big/little man combination of Llorente and Munian. The top scorer in Spain for 4 out of the last 5 seasons, Llorente got the only goal. Where did I go wrong? Well, my first mistake was not checking their tactics before the match. Had I done so, I would have realised that their formation (below) was very similar to my own.
I lined up in my usual 4-3-1-2. I realised that a stalemate was likely and ensured that my front two worked the channels and full backs marauded forward. But it was in vain. My AM and CMs had no time whatsoever on the ball and could do little to affect the play. My intricate short passing, so effective in my Premier and Europa League triumphs last year, was neutered. I tried to react by dragging a striker out wide in order to provide more width, but it was unsuccessful as he struggled to get in the game. I managed to ensure that we had more possession, having barely touched the ball in the first 20 minutes, but we failed to make anything of it. In the end, we had to leave the Basque country accepting that we had been outplayed and outfought and learn lessons for next time.
Which we did. This time, I started with a 4-3-3, as shown below:
The full backs are told to overlap and the wingers to cut in. The midfield 'five' all have very high creative freedom. We have a fairly high defensive line (highest notch of normal) and the highest notch of normal for width and closing down. Passing style is 7 and Tempo 8, as per my usual settings. Passing focus is mixed, as is target man supply. Everyone is set to man marking except the striker and the full backs. I do this as there are clear match ups in midfield and they are playing 2 up. I want my CBS to go man to man with their strikers, in order to prevent Llorente bringing the ball down and to make it difficult for the tricky Munian to receive the ball, and to prevent him building up a head of steam before being closed down. FBs aren't man to man as there is no direct match up and I don't want them getting dragged out of position. To me, the most important position on the pitch is the defensive CM, the Argentinian regen Lautaro Piaggio. He has the usual good defensive stats you would expect of a DM, but also 14 composure, 13 creativity, 16 technique, 15 passing and 14 first touch. In many regards, his role is attacking. I want him to drop deep, find pockets of space and always be ready to receive possession. His position just behind the midfield line is crucial. If the opposition close him down, they risk offering a forward pass to another midfielder or even a forward; if they stay off him he can dictate play, passing to whoever is in space. Given the formations, this is most likely to be the marauding full backs. Basically, if he has a good game we are likely to win. I don't do anything on the Opponent Instructions as everything is all set up in my tactic, apart from one thing - I ask my players to close down their DM. Looking at their tactics, he is the only player that we don't match up with. I could ask my CF to drop back and mark him, but as we need to win I want him to stay further forward.
So we head into the game. In the first 20 minutes we get outpassed again, as they had roughly 57% of possession. They had a couple of off-target shots, but nothing dangerous. Their full backs are quite dangerous going forward, especially as our wingers aren't tracking them. Time to make a change. I went to the tactics menu and changed our passing focus. This was key. I had relied on my players to decide where to pass, assuming that they would automatically find the space on the flanks. However, this hadn't happened enough and after seeing too many passes attempted to central players under pressure, I decided to force the issue and tell them to focus on passing to the flanks. In response to their attacking full backs, I decided to let them attack. I could have switched my wingers man marking to tight, but the thought of counter attacking down the flanks was causing me salivate. Anyway, I'm sure my full backs can handle my threat. Can't have them getting bored. To make the chance of a 3v2 situation up front more likely I put target man supply to 'run onto ball' and checked the target man box, even though I don't have a set target man. As my passing was set to flanks, I assumed that my players would look to give balls for my wingers to run on to. I also changed my passing style and tempo to 12 as I was worried that my play was getting bogged down in the middle. I didn't tick 'counter attack' as I was worried that my players would get defensive; I want to force the game.
These changes worked well - I was controlling the possession and whenever we got the ball we looked a threat. The full backs and wide forwards were causing them real problems. By having the AMRLs cut inside, I posed the opposition full backs a real problem: do you track them, and leave space for the full backs to exploit, or do you let them drift in and focus on the rampaging full backs. This wasn't one that they ever dealt with - my full backs got 20 crosses off between them, and the inside forwards, cutting into the gaps between the CBs and FBs, managed to get 9 shots off, 6 of them on target. This meant that our team had numerous ways of creating chances - either from taking advantage of their FBs being out of position and moving fast to create a 3v2, or from a cross from the flanks, or from a ball slipped inside a full back to an unmarked forward.
To be a successful manager on FM (and IRL) you have to look at the two sets of tactics, see where the weak points are and look to exploit them. Furthermore, you have to start with an idea of how you are going to score. You need to have an image in your minds eye of the type of chances that you will create and work from there. There is no use in having a Mr Micawber 'something will come up' attitude and hoping for the best. The more different situations the better. So for this game, I knew that we could both score from quick attacks, or from later phases of play.
Which was useful, as we didn't score in the first half, despite dominating the play. We were creating plenty of chances but not scoring. They didn't really threaten, the odd snatched shot going well wide.
One of the chances we had got me thinking. Dario Gilmour, my beast of an Aussie regen (below) won a header at the far post that caused chaos in the box. To take advantage of his jumping and strength, I set my right winger and full back to cross to the far post and later changed my AMR instructions to hug touchline.
We started the second half like we ended the first, dominating and creating plenty of chances. Llorente clipped the bar for them with a looping header, but I would like to think my keeper had it covered. It would have easy to be jittery and make an unnecessary change, but I knew we were onto a good thing. All that was needed was a bit of patience. And so it came. In the 52nd minute, Gilmour cut inside and got a shot off. The keeper tipped it round the post and from the resulting corner Boyata headed home. 1-0 us.
The game continued on as it had been, but with them attempting to attack more. Our players were well set up to deal with it, starved them of meaningful possession and looked increasingly threatening on the counter. Every time they turned the ball over, we had the opportunity of creating a 3v2 situation on their centre backs. We still couldn't get the second goal that would kill the game, but we were looking comfortable. I changed two of the three CMs to provide some fresh legs in the centre of the park but apart from that nothing else. When you are on top, why change? I was tempted to start wasting time but I felt that it would be better to focus on scoring again.
As we got past the 80 minute mark, I had a look at the stats, everything was fine so I continued things as they were. My only worry was that a ball over the top to Munian could take advantage of our fairly high line. Given that it was doing such a good job of stifling their midfield, I decided against making a change. Thankfully, they took Munian off and replaced him with Toquero. Breathe out. Only a wonderful bit of skill or terrible mistake could stop us now. In the 90th minute, we scored the second goal that we'd been threatening for so long. We won the ball in midfield, quickly got it out to the right wing, where Paulo, hugging the touchline, beat his man and sent a lovely ball to the far post where, as was to be expected, Gilmour was free to tap in from close range. Game over, and what a relief to see something go exactly as planned.
We had turned the tables; they only had 1 shot on target, even if they hit the woodwork twice. We created 2 clear cut chances and 10 half chances to their 0. My only complaint is that we didn't score more, but that's not the end of the world. Perhaps if Lacina Traore had not been on international duty we would have been more accurate with our headed chances.
Here are the match stats:
Any thoughts/questions? What are your in-game tricks?