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  1. Intro Each year I like to try and re-create real-life tactics in the game. This year, given how successful Marcelo Bielsa has been in the Championship, I’m surprised I haven’t seen dozens of Bielsa based threads on this forum (If there have been then I must have missed it, sorry). Bielsa is such an interesting manager to me and in some ways seems more like a mythological figure than a real person. His fellow managers have such high praise for him (Pochettino, Guardiola, Simeone, etc). Managers who have had a lot more success than Bielsa. Yet, when given the chance, they heap praise upon him and call him the best. The reason for this is because he is a true football man. His life is nothing without the sport. He is also extremely ambitious and demands a lot from his players. It’s safe to say that his ideas and work rate alone have gained him a reputation as being one of the best managers in the world. Please join me as I attempt to re-create his philosophy as best I can on FM 2019. In this opening post, I will just be discussing the basic ideas surrounding his playing style. Followed by pre-season analysis, training regimes, finding the right players and more. Also just wanted to mention I will be primarily focusing on how his Leeds side plays only. Save background: I’m in the year 2036 and I had recently been managing Newcastle. We won everything in the five years I was there and decided to resign and look for a new challenge. During that same time I was holidaying through waiting for teams to sack their manager, I saw O-zil’s old threads popping back up here on the forum. After looking through, I remembered he attempted the Bielsa philosophy but the thread never seemed to progress anywhere. I found that particular old thread and was reading through it realizing almost immediately that I wanted to try it myself. Bielsa has had great success with Leeds in real life even though they seem to be falling off as of late but the fact he has them competing for automatic promotion (at the time of writing this) is a testament to his managerial skills. In my save, Leeds are still in the championship and are a struggling mid-table side. A similar situation to when Bielsa took them over. They sacked their manager midway through the 2035-36 season and I agreed to join them after the season ended so I can start with a fresh squad. So here we are. Noticeable Characteristics Of Bielsa’s Philosophy: Positional Fluidity: He is known for putting players in positions we aren’t used to seeing. It’s common to see players filling in for others and swapping around. Ex) Vidal playing LWB for Chile. Gary Medel as CB. Or even this year, playing Kalvin Phillips as RCB in a 3-4-3 formation. He is also known for playing fullbacks in a back 3 because he thinks they are ‘better able to carry the ball’. Intense Pressing: Bielsa’s special. He’s known for his teams ferocious pressing and intensity. You must be physically fit to play for him. Keep Possession: He likes his players to be technically talented as well. He has Leeds passing it short and quick for the most part. That's not to say there will never be direct passing. I just want to play how Leeds play currently and keep it short to dominate possession. Tactic Base Shape: Defensive shape (A rough 4-1-4-1): In Possession Shape (3-3-1-3): Ignore the team fluidity in the second screenshot. It only changed because I changed the players' positions around for the sake of showing how I want to look in possession. Team Instructions: This is a very general view of how Leeds play. We are going to try and adapt the key components of how Leeds has been playing this season. 1) Intense Pressing 2) Positional Fluidity 3) Short Quick Passes 4) Majority of Possession and 5) High Energy Mentality: Attacking “This mentality is best employed for matches where the team are favorites to win and expect to dominate possession in the opponent’s half. It aims to exploit space in the final third by employing a fast tempo and more direct passing. If the team has a high chance of losing the ball by attacking, they would, however, opt to recycle the ball to retain possession. It focuses heavily on getting players forward and into space and allows them the creative freedom to express themselves.” Team Fluidity: Very Fluid All players must defend as a unit and attack as a unit. Very similar to Total Football in that regard. I'd also like to see the players fill in and swap with each other. Roaming in a way but disciplined. Also, the fact that we have chosen Attacking mentality I don't really want to have players on attacking duties. I'll let the overall team mentality determine how attack-minded they will be. In Possession: Much Shorter Passing Play Out Of Defense Work Ball Into Box While reading about how Leeds plays and watching a few matches myself. They like to keep possession and the stats show they have the highest possession percentage in the Championship. They also tend to make quick short passes on the floor; hence ‘much shorter passing’. Although, I didn’t want to add too many possession team instructions as it could become overkill and just complicate things. So, for now, I’m going to start with this and see how we play. They also use width to their advantage but I opted to leave the width as it is since playing with attacking mentality already has it preset to standard. In Transition: Take Short Kicks Distribute to Center- Backs Counter Counter Press Bielsa has Leeds transitioning very quickly whenever they regain possession. And when they lose possession... we already know how intense their pressing is. The keeper instructions is to attempt to stop him from booting the ball down the field and immediately giving away possession. Out Of Possession: Much higher defensive line Much higher line of engagement Extremely Urgent Prevent short GK distribution Use offside trap These are the ‘Gegenpress’ default instructions. He requires his teams to press like madmen so we will start with these. Crucial Player Attributes: First Touch Passing Anticipation Determination Decisions Teamwork Work Rate Acceleration Pace Stamina Natural Fitness The tactic will be very demanding on the body and mind so while there are plenty of important attributes, these are an absolute necessity. You simply cannot play for the club if you are sub-par in any of the above-listed attributes, doesn’t matter how skilled you are. Talent is nothing without hard work. Position Overview: Center-backs: Need to be comfortable with the ball at their feet. Capable of playing simple and not panicking and booting the ball up-field. The team mentality will affect their passing so I may look to further adjust their individual player instructions if they aren’t skilled enough. And it wouldn’t be a true Bielsa tactic unless I at least try to play full backs in the back line. Or even cm’s in the wingback role. Depending on their attributes, obviously. Wingbacks: Need to provide me with width and also comfortable with the ball at their feet. They will have the freedom to underlap and overlap past the wingers in order to stretch the defense out and open up space. Defensive Midfielder: This is Kalvin Phillips position and I see him described as the ‘heartbeat’ of the team. He shields the defense when out of possession. And when in possession, slips between the two CB’s. He will see a lot of the ball. We will basically be looking for a player who plays like Busquets but has the work rate of Kante. Should be easy… Right Center Midfielder: When in possession he will be in line with the two wingbacks to form our second row of 3 (although the wingbacks will push forward as we advance up the field) and will assist the three center backs in maintaining possession. He will be our deep screen for the back three. Left Center Midfielder: He will essentially turn into an Enganche. Our main playmaker in the team who attacks forward and takes up the position of a traditional ’10’ when in possession. A ‘hook’ for the attacking moves. Wingers: Will play out wide in order to stretch the opponents and create “overloads in the wide spaces with the wing backs”. They are also expected to attack the spaces the striker creates for them by dropping deep. Ideally, I would prefer them not to have to touch the ball too much until we are in the final third. Depending on the opponent, the wingers could turn into Inside Forwards and the wing backs could turn into IWB’s. Again this depends on the opponent and how they are set up. Striker: He is the first line of defense and must press hard. He regularly drops deep to pick up the ball dragging the center backs out of place leaving space for the wingers to exploit. Our striker must be competent at passing and holding the ball. Must also be capable of getting himself into position to receive a pass. Squad View: The first team had 34 players when I first joined. That is way too many players for my 8 man coaching staff to manage so I will be looking to sell and loan if we cannot sell. I want every one of my players to have at least a 12 in every core attribute listed. But since it's my first season and I don't have any wage budget remaining, I will cut some players slack if there are one or two attributes they don't live up to expectations. According to my coaches, my best player is my right back Lazmi. Unfortunately for him, his work rate is 9. He has no future at this club plain and simple. My wide players are going to be doing a lot of running and I can't have any slackers holding us back, doesn't matter how many gold stars you have. One weak link in the chain can cause a break and it's not a risk I want to take. Misc. Information: When I was hired the board asked me to develop players using the youth system so I will also look to do that to the best of my abilities. Leeds actually have very good facilities in my save so it’s definitely possible. Difficult, but possible. As if trying to replicate El Loco’s tactics wasn’t hard enough haha… Bielsa relies heavily on opposition scouting reports. In order to replicate Bielsa’s style fully I need to bring in and expand the clubs analyst department. I have to make sure my scouts bringing back opposition reports are reliable. Preparation is key. Given he also spends A LOT of time on the training ground I feel it wouldn’t be a proper Bielsa replication unless I at least attempt to make training programs for my team. Up to this point, I have avoided the new training system entirely but will have a go at it for this save. I didn’t really touch upon it but Leeds have taken a lot of long shots this season. It’s not something I plan on trying to implement because long shots feel somewhat broken this year on FM. As the squad quality improves I will also focus on the attacking players’ flair or ‘gambeta’ as Bielsa calls it. He likes his players to improvise and having higher flair rating improves a players unpredictability. As the squad quality improves I will also focus on the attacking players’ flair or ‘gambeta’ as Bielsa calls it. He likes his players to improvise and having higher flair rating improves a players unpredictability Online Resources: https://totalfootballanalysis.com/head-coach-analysis/marcelo-bielsa-leeds-united-tactical-analysis-statistics https://www.whoscored.com/Teams/19/Show/England-Leeds#team-squad-stats-summary https://www.dreamteamfc.com/c/news-gossip/417508/marcelo-bielsa-leeds-roofe-phillips-klich/ The next post will be how we got on in pre-season and I will show any adjustments I think are neccessary. The goal is to play how Bielsa dreams, so realistically it will be difficult but I want to try and get as close to it as possible.
  2. Welcome to - what I should imagine is - my last tactical thread before Football Manager 2018. So far, I have enjoyed looking at some of the most exciting and interesting teams in football history and looking at how we can implement their playing styles in the Football Manager Tactics Creator and see it played out in the match engine. As always - if you have yet to read along so far - I would recommend you start here as I will not spend too much time explaining already-discussed concepts. Johan Cruyff's 3-4-3 Diamond Arrigo Sacchi's 4-4-2 Arsene Wenger's Invincibles Brazil's Jogo Bonito style Cult Heroes: Wales at Euro 2016 Pep's Barcelona In addition to tactical re-creations we have also looked at some more general real-world tactical theories or Tactics Creator concepts. What is Team Shape? Grassroots Tactics: Simplicity Playing Style, Structure & a modern 4-1-4-1 Universality in Football Manager 2015 (Very Fluid) Remember when I promised that Pep's Guardiola was my last system based on the Very Fluid shape? I am sorry.. Before you think, "here we go again" and your eyes glaze over, this discussion is going to follow a new approach aimed at making the Tactics Creator cleaner, simpler and more rational when implementing your tactical ideas. Resources on Marcelo Bielsa My most common gripe about tactical content, certainly applies to Marcelo Bielsa. There is an awful lot written, but not a lot actually said. There is a lot written about his erratic character - obsessive, genius and nicknamed "El Loco" - or his "disciples", but not much actual tactical content. Please feel free to recommend additional resources, and I am happy to share. Zonal Marking - Bielsa's Chile, the most tactically exciting side (at the 2010 World Cup) Zonal Marking - Marcelo Bielsa set to thrive at Bilbao Zonal Marking - Manchester United 2 - 3 Althetic Bilbao: United unable to deal with Bilbao pressing Analysis of Tactics of Athletic Bilbao by Peter Chulkov Scout Report: Olympic de Marseille 2014/15 by Branko Nikovski Tactical Theory Before we look at the characteristics of Marcelo Bielsa's tactics in more detail, let's introduce a new format which should make it easier to relate real-world football to the Tactics Creator and on to the Match Engine. Football can be broken down into 4-phases: Defence Transition from Defence to Attack (aka. Build-up) Attack Transition from Attack to Defence Now, let's think about Marcelo Bielsa's approach to each of these phases: Defence Famously intense pressing and high defensive line As a general rule, Bielsa maintains a one-man advantage over the opposition striker(s). -> Preferring a 3-man defence when facing a 2-man attack. -> And choosing a 4-man defence against a 3-man attack with a lone centre forward. The rest of team press man-to-man against the entire opposition team. Transition from Defence to Attack Fast attacking transitions Verticality or - for those not a fan of tactical jargon - passing the ball forwards. Build-up play through Defenders comfortable on the ball. Regular use of midfielders in defence, aiding build-play. Attack Attacking unit has been described as an "enganche y tres puntas" which means playmaker and 3-forwards. Bielsa was one of the pioneers of Inverted Wingbacks, essentially acting as auxiliary midfielders in-possession. Stretching the opposition defence using width from either wingers or wingbacks. Runners from deep position support attacks and overload opposition defenders. Transition from Attack to Defence Typically employs 1-2 holding midfielders, protecting the defence from opposition counter-attacks. Bielsa is famous for his 'loco' approach to the game and his 3-3-1-3 formation, but also uses 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 as illustrated thanks to the tactical diagrams from Zonal Marking and Konzeptfußballberlin.de. In Football Manager 2017 Step 1: Team Mentality Team Mentality is - in my opinion - the single most influential component of the Tactics Creator, determining: Base individual mentalities across the team Base levels for: Defensive Line Closing Down Tempo Time Wasting Width Passing Directness (to a smaller extent) Quite simply no other instruction influences - anywhere near - as many aspects of a team's play. In order to simplify our decision, we can group these aspects into 3-core factors which relate to the phases of play outlines earlier. Base individual mentalities across the team => our overall, collective strategy Defensive Line and Closing Down => Defensive strategy Tempo, Width, Time Wasting and Passing Directness => Transition from Defence to Attack / Build-up strategy Later on, we will assign individual Player Duties and use Team Instructions tailor each of these to our exact requirements. Let's apply this theory to the characteristics of Bielsa's play, outlined above. What is our overall, collective strategy? Bielsa advocates pro-active, high-intensity (Spoiler Alert! ) attacking football. What is our defensive strategy? Intense pressing and a high defensive line. What is our build-up / attacking-transition strategy? Fast-attacking transitions, verticality etc. Team Mentality: Attacking Step 2: Formation Re-visiting the quote on formations from Jonathan Wilson: The application of this is that we use formations which facilitate our overall strategy: Facilitates intense pressing, positioning players across the entire pitch. Facilitates quick-attacking transitions, allowing players to quickly get into attacking positions. Given Marcelo Bielsa's flexibility in his approach to structuring his teams, we need to employ a 3-3-1-3, a 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1. We will come on to Player Roles and Duties later on. How do these formations facilitate our strategy? High-intensity pressing: Wide 3-man attack means we can effectively press opponents in their own third. We have different midfield options depending on our opponents set-up. Option of either a 3 or 4-man defence, allowing us to maintain a 1-man advantage against our opponents attack. Quick attacking transitions: We have 3 or 4 players in attacking positions ready to attack quickly when we turn over possession. Note: The only aspect which requires any basic knowledge of the Match Engine is positioning the positioning of the Wingbacks in the 4-3-3 due to the issue with a Half-Back playing with a 4-man defence. Step 3: Core Team Instructions Having determined our Team Mentality and Formation we can use Team Instructions to tailor our game plan, exactly as we would like it. The Team Instruction screen throws a lot of information at you. It helps me to divide it down into 3-areas: Core Team Instructions => Instructions relating to our Team Mentality: Defensive Line Closing Down Tempo Time Wasting Width Passing Directness Team Shape (covered later) Auxiliary Team Instructions: All remaining instructions. In the instance of Bielsa, we can use these core Instructions to: Optimise intense-pressing Higher defensive line Close down more Match passing directness to suit attacking-transitions More direct passing => has the side-effect of a minor increase in tempo and width. Step 4: Team Shape Team Shape is the final element of our collective strategy, and determines: How individual players prioritise Team Mentality vs Individual Duty. Collective level of Creative Freedom across the team. Individual Mentality Individual mentality is determined by 3 primary factors: Team Mentality determines a base Mentality level, according to the collective team strategy. Player Duty determines whether an individual is responsible for attacking, defending or supporting in relation to the collective mentality. Team Shape determines to what extent the individual focuses on the Team Mentality vs. their individual Duty. Given that we have already chosen an Attacking team mentality, we can see that a Flexible - instructs individual players to balance Team Mentality and individual Duty equally - team shape gives us the following Mentality distribution: Defend: Balancing a Defensive duty with an Attacking team mentality gives us a Neutral balance between attacking and defensive tendencies. Interestingly, the Attacking mentality description does hint towards this but is very easily overlooked: Support: A Supporting duty balanced with an Attacking mentality gives us a 70-30 preference towards attack. In a Standard mentality system, this level of individual mentality would be considered attacking. Attack: Attacking duty in an Attacking team mentality = all out attack. More than 80-20 in preference of attacking. Team Shape allows us to alter the balance between Team Mentality and Individual Duty, with more Structured shapes prioritising the individual duty and more Fluid shapes prioritising the Team Mentality. Applying this back to Marcelo Bielsa: One of the reasons behind the 'el Loco' nickname is the focus on a collective, attacking mentality. Bielsa's teams attack and defend as a unit. Bielsa typically gives players a high level of collective creative freedom. Team Shape: Very Fluid Deja vu. Sorry.. Step 5: Player Duties Having determined our team mentality and shape, assigning individual player duties will now allow us to: Set individual Mentality Structure our attacking movement Individual Mentalities In the context of an Attacking team mentality and a Very Fluid shape, we can see the individual Mentality assigned to each duty in the Player Instructions screen. Defend => Marginally above neutral. Positive, yet sensible play. In a Standard mentality, this mentality would be associated with a Support role. Support => 70-30 preference for Attack. In a Standard mentality, this would be classed as an Attack duty. Attack => Heavy preference towards attack. Attacking player in an Attacking system. All out attack. Attacking Movement Going back to the 4-phases of football: Defence Transition from Defence to Attack Attack Transition from Attack to Defence We have already defined our strategy for defence and the transition from defence into attack. Player duties influence our attacking shape in 2-ways: More attacking mentalities will - other factors remaining equal - take up more attacking positions on the field. Roles associated with different duties have different profiles for attacking movement. Roles associated with an Attack duty are more likely to get further forward. Roles associated with an Defend duty are more likely to hold position. Roles associated with a Support duty are typically open to customise. How does this influence our Attack and Transition from Attack to Defence phase? Attack Instructing players with Support or Attack duty to get forward more determines Attacking shape. => Next, we'll use specific Roles and PIs to get players into specific positions. Transition from Attack to Defence What happens in the key moment we are attacking - with players committed forward in our attacking shape - and we lose the ball? Instructing players with Defend or Support duty to hold position means they remain in their defensive position guarding against opposition counter-attack. Understanding this we assign players duties depending on: Whether they should be: Positive yet, sensible. Attacking All-out-Attack Whether they should: Get forward in attack Stay back Implementing characteristics we see employed by Bielsa, we can implement: Aggressively commit players forward with attacking runs from deep. Attacking players wide, stretching the opposition and creating width. Use a holding midfield shield to circulate possession and protect from counter attacks. Across all 3 formations, players perform similar duties despite taking up different positions on the pitch. Central Defenders (Defend or Cover) Positive yet sensible mentality Stay back in attack Wingbacks (Support) Attacking mentality Get forward in attack, providing width Inverted Wingbacks (Support) Attacking mentality Neutral movement, naturally moving into midfield. Holding Midfielders (Defend) Positive yet sensible mentality Stay back in attack Advanced midfielder (Support) Attacking mentality Get forward in attack Wingers (Support) Attacking mentality Get forward in attack, providing width Inside Forwards (Support) Attacking mentality Get forward in attack, naturally coming inside Striker (Support) Positive yet balanced mentality -> Strikers on Support always have a lower mentality than other players on Support, conversely Strikers in Attack are more attacking than others. Move into channels creating space We avoid Attacking duties in an Attacking mentality as: We want to attack as a unit. The mentality is simply too extreme. Chasing a lead maybe but playing all-season trying to score at all-costs is an unnecessary risk. Step 6: Player Roles and Instructions Player roles are the icing on the proverbial cake. Player roles are simple. They are nothing more than a pre-set combination of Player Instructions, the name is just a label. In most cases, after selecting Duty you will be left with a handful of options. Your decision simply comes down to: Do you want this player to be a Playmaker / Target Man? Do the Player Instructions associated the role, suit the player and fit your tactical requirements. If not, are they customisable? Not sure we need to walk through every decision, but let's give one example. We already know that my Striker is going to be in the Centre Forward position and playing a Support role, which leaves me 5-options: Deep-Lying Forward Target Man Complete Forward Defensive Forward False 9 Process of elimination: Do I want a Target Man? -> No, I tried it and don't like the long-balls. Target Man. Do I want my Striker to Dribble More? -> No, my primary striker is 35 and his dribbling is 11. Complete Forward False 9 Do I prefer more or less risky passes? -> More, as he is drifting off and has attacking runners all around him. Defensive Forward Hello, Deep-Lying Forward + Move into Channels. Don't forget to set your Goalkeeper distribution. In this case, to the centre backs! Step 7: Auxiliary Team Instructions If the last step was the icing, these are the candles. Finally, we have the remainder of the Team Instructions screen which we bypassed earlier. Offside trap? Tighter Marking? Tackling Instructions? Passing Instructions? Retain Possession? Creative Freedom? Final 3rd instructions? Crossing? Dribbling? Freedom of movement? There are two issues people trip over with Team Instructions: Lots of them are redundant, ignored or unspecific? -> In an Attacking / Very Fluid system, is more creative freedom going to do anything? -> How much is more, anyway? 2 is more than 1, so is 999,999,999. Lots have unclear side effects. -> Retain possession, and play out of defence change passing and tempo settings. -> Focus passing through the middle and look for overlap impact the individual Mentality of related players. My advice: Treat them as an intermediate level area of the Tactics Creator. => Employ them if you know what you're doing => If you're struggling then keep it simple Watch a few games first. => Do you need to employ a particular instruction to improve play? => If yes, watch a few more games and see if it does the trick. In this case our Attacking mentality meant that players were prone to shooting from long range more than I liked during pre-season, so I added Work the Ball into the Box. Overview There we have it. We have used the tactics creator to create: Marcelo Bielsa's high-octane attacking football. Fast-attacking transitions. "Verticality" High-intensity pressing. Applying this style in 3-variants: 3-3-1-3 4-3-3 4-2-3-1 Apologies for a long post. The purpose is to explain decisions in simple way that people can apply to their own tactics. Look at this as a walk-through ahead of a guide I intend to put together around the release of Football Manager 2018. Due to travel commitments I am out of time for now, but the next post is reserved for: Match engine analysis Info on the squad For those who like inverted wingbacks and 3-4-3 diamonds, here's a pre-view: Can't give an ETA at this moment as it's subject to finding time.
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