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Introduction Something I love about FM is the way there are many different ways to be successful, just like in real life football. For example you can mainly focus on tactics, scouting or youth development. You can tweak tactics game by game, analysing the smallest details. You can concentrate on improving your squad year on year, built around one main system. You can develop your own players from your academy, or completely ignore it and sign players rejected by other clubs. On FM16 I took Merthyr Tydfil from non-league to the Premier League. My aim was to do it playing passing football. After several seasons without progress in I settled on a short passing, very fluid 4-4-1-1 and eventually reached my goal with only minor tweaks as time went on. Going into FM17 I wanted to try something similar - but instead of passing football, a dull, defensive long ball game. I started with Edinburgh City in Scotland's League Two. I eventually abandoned that style of football after failing to make it work. Having made it to the Scottish Premier after around 9 seasons I wanted to try out the hoofball idea again and see if I could win games, in more of a test save than a serious career. The Club For this save I picked a club with history of this style of play - AFC Wimbledon. As a club in the English third tier this gave a nice balance for a test save between trying it out at the highest level - where squads aren't typically built for the style, and it may take more effort to implement, and non-league, where players are a lot less well rounded with fewer strengths and bigger weaknesses. Wimbledon were ideal with a number of hard working players and importantly, two target men in Tom Elliott and Tyrone Barnett. I signed England legend Emile Heskey to ensure we always had a target man available. I started off pre-season initially playing 4-4-2, getting a draw against Slough before 3-0 defeats to both Watford and QPR. After a break from the save I gave it another go, this time trying a 5-3-2. We went on to beat Wycombe and Oxford City 2-0, either side of a 1-1 draw with Bath. These were reasonable results so I took the same plan into competitive games. To cut a long story short we finished 3rd, narrowly missing out on 2nd before losing to Sheff Utd in the play-off final. Had I taken things a little more seriously we may have got the two extra points required for automatic promotion. However, promotion was never something I was aiming for, it was more an experiment to see if I could compete, and perhaps overachieve, while playing an ugly route one style. The Formation As explained above I settled on 5-3-2. Playing direct style one requirement of mine was to use a target man. Being an immobile role the player needs plenty of support. One way to do that is to give them a strike partner, someone quicker who can run in behind is one option - the classic big man/little man combo. One issue with 4-4-2 is the lack of numbers centrally against other formations, particularly 4-5-1 variants such as 4-2-3-1. Rather than adapt a 4-4-2 game by game I went with two MCs and a DM. A DM gives the two MCs more freedom to support the target man. Every formation leaves gaps which the opposition can potentially exploit. Playing 3 DCs and wing backs means that space is out wide, where opponents playing two wide players on each side could make it difficult for a lone wing back. However as a physical, defensive side, the idea was that our 3 CBs and DM could deal with crosses, while a bottom heavy formation would make it difficult for teams to attack through the middle. Team Instructions This can be summed up much like Cleon's section on TIs in his art of possession article. There are a number of instructions that could be selected for hoofball but use too many and the style of play will be so specific and limited that it's unlikely to be successful. I kept it fairly simple with just six, sometimes using others depending on the situation at the time within a match. Mentality - Standard The obvious thing to do here is to pick defensive or counter - sit deep and grind out results. Alternatively control or attacking would make the team push higher up the pitch, attempting to press the opposition to stop them from passing the ball out from the back. I went for standard to give a balance. Too deep and the long balls won't get high enough up the pitch. Too high and the lack of possession such a style creates will leave us vulnerable to balls over the top. Team Shape - Highly Structured Reading threads and articles on tactics sometimes people can overcomplicate this. The main reason for this choice is simple. I want to my players to focus on specific jobs. The defenders and more defensive players need to avoid taking risks. When a long ball attempt inevitably falls to the opposition, as it regularly will, this keeps them deep and in position, ready to deal with an opposition attack. Meanwhile our attacking players need to aggressively attack to support the target man or find space, especially in behind the opposition. Using a standard mentality the support players find a balance between the two. Go Route One Along with a target man a key part of the style. It doesn't mean every ball will be long and hopeful - once the ball is in the opposition half players will still link up with shorter passes. Pass Into Space With route one passing we're not going to keep possession. Whenever space opens up we want to use it. With our team shape our defensive players are less willing to take risks, this encourages them to look for passes into space, as well as the rest of the team. Hit Early Crosses Much like "go route one" and "pass into space" this encourages the team to look for the killer ball as soon as possible. Most crosses will come from our two wing backs, this help to avoid them trying to beat players with dribbling and instead get the cross into the box at the earliest opportunity. Exploit the Right/Left Flank With our formation and team shape, plus wing backs on support roles (more on that later) this makes their mentality slightly more aggressive. If we can't attack quickly through the middle I want the team to keep the ball high up the pitch and if required get it out wide before looking for a cross. Higher Tempo Going route one decreases the tempo. I increased it slightly to avoid players dwelling on the ball for too long. Take too long and a crossing or through ball opportunity could be missed. As a further note I used "get stuck in" during games rather than a standard instruction. This should naturally come from using aggressive, determined and hard working players. Using it constantly is likely to result in a lot more cards, suspensions and maybe even injuries for my own players. Player Roles and Instructions Goalkeeper - defend Keeping it simple here with three instructions to support the style - take long kicks, distribute to target man and distribute quickly. DCR and DCL - central defender stopper Two CD Stoppers. The idea being that they can press opponents but still have plenty of support around them, given the formation. I tried this initially and found no reason to change it. It may be that other duties could work better, it's not something I tried. DC - central defender defend A simple central defender on defend. I did start the season re-training Tom Soares to be a ball-playing defender, to give the team a DC that was more ambitious in starting attacks. I was winning games but didn't stick with it, though it's something to consider. DM - defensive midfielder support With three CBs I didn't want a DM standing on their toes. I also wanted the DM closer to the MCs to help win second balls. The PIs hold position, dribble less and shoot less often helps remove any temptation for the player to take an unnecessary risk. WBR and WBL - wing back support The support duty ensures they do their bit defensively. I avoided attacking duties as the PIs encourage the player to run with the ball and cross from the byline, the complete opposite of what I want to see. I added cross often, cross from deep and cross aim centre (where players are more likely to score from) to their PIs. MCR - box to box midfielder support Roam from position plus moves into channels (and shoots less often) encourages plenty of movement but the support duty stops this being too aggressive. Perfect alongside the MCL... MCL - central midfielder attack This player has the same instructions as the MCR but the attack duty means they'll get forward more often, helping to provide the target man with close support. STR - poacher attack The main goal threat in the side. I purposely avoid adding roam from positions or move into channels here to keep the poacher as close as possible to the target man. The pass into space TI balances out the fewer risky passes default PI here. Although I expect the poacher to be greedy if an obvious through ball is on he should go for it. I added close down much more to encourage the poacher to press the opposition and found no reason to remove it. STL - target man support/attack The main man. Like the poacher I added close down much more, and additionally I included shoot less often to cut down on hopeful long shots. I mainly used a support role to begin with, and later found attack could also be effective. There are arguments for both, the way to go is to probably adjust game by game if necessary, or depending on the player you have and what works best. Opposition Instructions A key part to the tactic. Basically we never tight mark wide or defensive players. We're happy for them to get the ball. Deeper players are unlikely to create or score a goal, wide players are encouraged to cross into our crowded penalty area, filled with big strong players that dominate in the air. The show onto foot instructions encourage the ball to be moved out wide. Before each game I tended to check the weaker foot of MCs, AMs and STs, sometimes adding show onto weaker foot, closing down and/or hard tackling instructions. Summary Statistics From the League One detailed season statistics after the season ended: · We won the most headers in the league. · We had the highest ratio of winning headers. · We completed the 4th most crosses. · We had the worst average possession and worst pass completion ratio. · We had the 10th best defence and scored the 6th most goals. · We won the most tackles, but only had the 19th highest tackles won ratio. · We gave away the most penalties. · Poacher Lyle Taylor was the 2nd highest league goalscorer with 26. · Target man Tom Elliot had the 3rd highest average rating and the most key passes. · Defensive midfielder Nadjim Abdou had the 10th highest average rating. A great signing from Millwall for £50k. · We had three of the top four players for highest distance covered. · We had the top four players for most mistakes, but only one player featured in the list for mistakes leading to goals. Individual games often showed the opposition put in a lot of crosses, with the majority not being completed. Long shots were more mixed, but there were a number of games in which opponents were regularly shooting from range and these rarely resulted in a goal. (match stat screenshots to be added) Pitch Size I went with the smallest possible simply to restrict the space the opposition have. We won 15 home league games, drew none and lost 8. Given our season expectations of 20th this was a success. A bigger pitch may help us score goals but is likely to make it easier for opponents to find space themselves. Improving the System If I were to continue playing, or for anyone looking to play such a style: · We took too many long shots. If players have more and better support this should be cut down. There are various ways this could be done - there is only so much the PI can do if players are left without any choice but to shoot from range. · Set pieces - I didn't make the most of these, it was definitely an area with room for improvement. · Sign a long throw specialist - fits alongside the above. · Adapting to opposition - our form dropped off in the second half of the season. Sometimes I found playing more defensive helped. After such a good start we were often favourites to win, meaning teams wouldn't leave as much space in behind, something we had been very good at taking advantage of. · It would be interesting to develop similar style that's equally succesful using a 4-4-2. A key point to remember is that you're ideally trying to consistently grind out results. Due to that the small margins in football are even more important than usual. A poor tactical choice could be the difference between a narrow win and a narrow defeat. Managers like Pulis and Allardyce don't just tell 11 powerful players to kick it long and tackle hard, they look for any advantage they can through exploiting weaknesses in opponents and finding ways to make the most of the players they have. Other Reading Various articles on long ball, Wimbledon, Tony Pulis, Sam Allardyce and Graham Taylor's style of play: http://www.skysports.com/football/news/11698/10803578/is-tony-pulis-so-called-pulisball-the-most-effective-way-for-west-brom https://www.fourfourtwo.com/us/features/hilarious-hijinks-and-hoofball-real-story-wimbledons-crazy-gang https://www.shortlist.com/entertainment/sport/the-story-of-wimbledons-crazy-gang/74137 https://www.theguardian.com/football/2014/mar/09/premier-league-football-clubs-computer-analysts-managers-data-winning https://www.fourfourtwo.com/us/performance/tactics/graham-taylor-playing-long-ball http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/news-and-comment/graham-taylor-dead-flourish-watford-aston-villa-legacy-live-longest-england-manager-a7524671.html http://www.squawka.com/news/graham-taylor-how-englands-first-great-pragmatist-influenced-football-tactics/876173