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Welcome to the latest instalment in a series of Football Manager tactical recreations based on some of the most entertaining football teams of all-time. Sitting in Barcelona as I type, it is impossible to ignore the the football culture and history associated with the iconic FC Barcelona. After last week's result in Paris and Pep Guardiola's stop-start season at Manchester City, this is perhaps not the most fashionable subject but - to me - Pep Guardiola's Barcelona team was certainly the best I have witnessed and arguably the best of all-time. Their iconic playing style and the best player of all-time - Thierry Henry [/sarcasm] - combined with the supporting cast of Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Alves, Busquets, Pique, Puyol etc., etc. makes them an interesting prospect for this type of discussion. If you have yet to read previous discussions, I recommend starting starting with the previous threads in order to fully understand the concepts I am talking about: 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 Whilst Barcelona may not be the biggest challenge - and I am aware many have asked about lower-quality sides - Guardiola's tactics offer us the chance to discuss areas we have not yet covered comprehensively. Mentality - Team Mentality v Team Shape v Player Duty. Specialist Roles - famously the Half-back and the False 9. Multiple Playmakers and how to differentiate between them. Retraining Players, including Player Traits. In addition, Messi - in my opinion the best player of all-time - in the prime of his career. Let's enjoy his ability whilst he's here. I think it may be quite a few iterations of FM before we see another player like him. Resources on Pep Guardiola's Barcelona GPS - Analysis: Pep Guardiola's Barcelona Tom Payne Football: Analysis of Guardiola's Barcelona (2 parts) Zonal Marking Team's of the Decade: Barcelona 2008/09 Spielverlagerung - 2011 CL Final: FC Barcelona v Manchester United Zonal Marking: Barcelona 3 - 1 Manchester United Sky Sports: Pep Documentary Theory Once again - using the excellent analysis from Spielverlagerung - this is the shape we are trying to create. In case you have been living in a cave, this is the starting line-up from the 2011 Champions League Final where Barcelona faced Manchester United. Barcelona winning 3-1 and Sir Alex Ferguson describing Barca's passing as a "carousel" in a game widely regarded as one of the defining games of Guardiola's Barcelona. Lined up in a 4-3-3 or 2-3-2-3 formation - defence, midfield and attack highly integrated with each other. Playing style clearly inspired by Dutch Total Football and Cruyff's influence at the club. Guardiola once said, "Cruyff build the cathedral. It is up to us to maintain it". Highly creative, free-flowing football. Focus on intelligent, technically gifted players. Thierry Henry describes Pep Guardiola's playing style as 3 Ps: Position - Juego de Posición. Team is structured into triangles with players between the lines, giving the player in possession options. Busquets drops deep, central defenders spread wide and the wing backs push forward to create numerical superiority building up from the back in what's known as la Salida Lavolpiana. Messi also drops deep, linking up with Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets creating a diamond in midfield. Wide Forwards stay wide during build up, stretching opposition defence and creating space for creative players in midfield then given licence to cut inside when the ball hits the final 3rd. Possession - don't say tiki-taka. Controlling possession and moving the opposition, to create weaknesses elsewhere. One of the most technically gifted teams in history. Dual playmakers in central midfield - Xavi acting as the heartbeat of the team playing deeper and recycling possession, whilst Iniesta is more advanced, creating chances and linking with the attack. Pressure. Attackers leading the pressing. Pressing as a unit. High block defensive line controlling space. In Football Manager 2017 There are a lot of rather sophisticated - and potentially complicated - tactical concepts here, but we actually don't need to deviate too far from the playing style we have already discussed. Last time out we discussed the concept of Playing Style and Structure. Let's now apply that concept, to the points we outline above. Playing Style Playing style is going to be more evolution than revolution. We have already mentioned that Guardiola's style is heavily influenced by Cruyff and the Dutch school of Total Football. We can use playing style to create: Highly creative, free slowing football. Team working together, attacking and defending as a unit. Possession orientated game-plan, short but positive passing. Higher Defensive Line & Pressing. Team Shape: Very Fluid Surprise, surprise. Hello, old friend. If you've read previous threads, this will not be a surprise. Very fluid gives us the creative, free-flowing football and ensures the entire team attacks and defends as a unit. Mentality: Control The main evolution to playing style. Moving from Standard to a Control mentality offers several benefits: Higher collective mentality. Quicker tempo. More width. Higher defensive line. More aggressive closing down. With a just a handful of Team Instructions we are able to create the playing style we want. Team Instructions: More Closing Down - has the knock on effect of increasing tempo and defensive line. Play Out of Defence - shortens the individual passing instructions for my defensive players. Shorter Passes - shortens passing across the team and lowers tempo. Retain Possession* - further shortens passing. Can further decrease tempo but doesn't when combined with More Closing Down. Getting pretty minimal now, which I am very happy with. As outlined above Team Instructions usually have knock on effects and I think this causes a lot of problems. You can easily add loads and lose track of what you've changed. Keep it simple until you know what your doing, and even then keep it simple. * Retain possession is a controversial subject. Team Structure The most important thing about Playing Style and Team Structure is that they complement each other. In addition, we can use Team Structure to re-create: Team structured into triangles with players between the lines, giving the player in possession options. Busquets dropping deep, central defenders spread wide and the wing backs push forward to create numerical superiority building up from the back in what's known as la Salida Lavolpiana. Messi also dropping deep, linking up with Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets creating a diamond in midfield. Wide Forwards stay wide during build up, stretching opposition defence and creating space for creative players in midfield then given licence to cut inside when the ball hits the final 3rd. Dual playmakers in central midfield - Xavi acting as the heartbeat of the team playing deeper and recycling possession, whilst Iniesta is more advanced, creating chances and linking with the attack. In previous threads we have discussed how Very Fluid team shape means that individual mentalities will deviate minimally from team mentality - if you attack, everyone attacks. If you defend, everyone defends. Control is a reasonably aggressive mentality - more aggressive then Standard, but less aggressive than Attack or Overload - so my Team Structure must balance that. A second consideration is that in order to have Busquets dropping back and my centre backs spread wide, firstly he must be in the Half-Back role but also - due to a glitch in the match engine - my fullbacks must be in the wingback strata, otherwise my central defenders won't spread wide. This means that we have two important challenges which we need to balance out: We have increased mentality across the team. Our hand is forced into an aggressive Formation. Mentality is probably up there with Team Shape as the cause of the most confusion for a lot of people, but - in my opinion - it is actually incredibly simple. ========================================================================================== What is mentality? Mentality is mentality. Mentality describes perfectly what it does. It's probably safe to assume that most people reading this have - at some point - played football or some kind of sport. Now, think about your mentality when playing and how you act differently. If you're an attacking player, you're more likely to be passing the ball forward, more directly towards goal, take up more advanced positioning and make more attacking runs. As a defensive player, you're more likely to take up a conservative position on the field and your passing, movement and general play will effect that. Then of course there is everything in between, and extremes at both ends - all out attack or holding on to a 1-goal lead in the last minute of the Cup Final. In Football Manager a player's mentality is reflected in a hugely-informative[/sarcasm] green bar, tucked away in the player instruction screen. If you're numerically minded - like me - @GreenTriangle put a helpful spreadsheet together of the 'under the hood' values, reminiscent of the old, slider systems. Mentality is determined by: Team Mentality - increases or decreases mentality across the board. Team Shape - determines how far individual mentalities deviate from the team. Player Duty - specifically duty, not player role. Position Player Duty is relative primarily to Team Mentality, but also Team Shape. Team Mentality determines whether your team is attacking, defensive, somewhere in-between or either extreme. A player's Duty, determines whether their responsibility is to attack, defend or support within that team mentality. Then Team Shape determines how far a player's Duty will make their individual Mentality deviate from the Team Mentality. Structured systems have more deviation, whereas more Fluid systems are more of a unit. For example, not all MC(A)s are created equal - in fact, differences can be large. In an Structured, Attacking system the MC(A) mentality is 17 / 20 where as in a Very Fluid / Defensive system that mentality is reduced to 8 / 20. In real football terms that's the difference between, "we're going to play an attacking system, everyone's got their own roles but you're the spearhead" and "we need to defend as a unit, attack when you can but be very careful". The challenge of going from a Standard mentality to a Control mentality is that - across the entire team - mentalities increase by 20-30%. This is a horrendous interface for analysing this, but given the centre of the bar is Neutral mentality at a basic level we can see that in a Control mentality with Very Fluid shape, Duties take the following effect: Defend duty: Slightly below neutral - if neutral is 50-50, they're 55-45 in favour of being conservative. In real football terms, players with a Defend duty will be slightly more conservative than neutral, but only just and higher than a typical defender. They'll be involved with build up, playing pro-active football but remain reasonably conservative. Support duty: Slightly above neutral - if neutral is 50-50, they're 60-40 in favour of being positive. In real football terms, players with a Support duty will be slightly more positive than neutral. They'll be playing positive football, more inclined to more the ball forwards as opposed to side-ways and support attacks yet remain reasonably sensible. Attack duty: Pretty comprehensively attacking. Looks like 75-25 in favour of attacking. In real football terms, players with an Attack duty mean business. They'll be strongly inclined to attack - not quite at all costs, but pretty heavily - the ball will be going forwards at goal and they'll be looking to score. ========================================================================================== Formation, Player Roles and Duties: If I was to be 100% accurate, I would perhaps skew my wing backs roles to create the Abidal / Alves roles to something along these lines, however I just do not have a player for the Abidal role at the moment. Not sure this represents anything overly groundbreaking here. Only one falling off his chair at this point is probably @Guimy at the sight of my first Strikerless system - of which I'll explain more detail shortly - otherwise, I'd be fairly surprise if anyone had not seen or thought of similar systems before. In comparison to previous systems we are using a lot more Support roles and fewer - but more potent - Attack roles. The wide players are the main difference between this and my last 4-3-3, moving from Attack to Support. For both Wing Backs and Inside Forwards - outside of mentality - the changes are negligible. IF(A) is hard coded to Get Forward More. IF(S) doesn't automatically Get Forward More, but has the option to. IF(S) will also automatically play More Risky Passes. WB(A) automatically Gets Forward More, Run Wide With Ball, Dribble More, Cross More & from Byline. WB(S) automatically Gets Forward More & everything else is optional. Complete Wing Back (Support) has the mentality of the WB(S) but the instructions of the WB(A) plus Roam From Position (which apparently = Complete, to SI). Player Instructions: GK: Sweeper Keeper (Support): Distribute to Centre BacksDCR: Ball-Playing Defender (Defend): N/ADCL: Ball-Playing Defender (Defend): N/AWBR: Complete Wing Back Right (Attack / Support): N/ADMC: Half-Back Defend (Defend): N/A WBL: Wing Back Left (Defend / Support): N/AMCR: Deep-Lying Playmaker (Support): N/AMCL: Advanced Playmaker (Attack): Roam from PositionAMR: Inside Forward Right (Support): Get Further Forward & Stay WiderAMC: Shadow Striker (Attack): Roam From PositionAML: Inside Forward Left (Support): Get Further Forward & Stay Wider Lionel Messi & the False 9 role The first of my joker cards In the Football Manager Tactics Creator we are spoilt with a number of remarkably similar Roles for Strikers / Attacking Midfielders. Let me begin by saying that - to me - the Role is entirely plastic. The most important things are: Position - DMC, MC, MCR, AMC etc. Duty - Defend, Support, Attack. Are they a playmaker? Movement - hold position, get forward, roaming, wide, cutting in etc. Other PIs - crossing, shooting, hold up the ball etc. Lionel Messi is probably the best player I have seen since Ray Parlour and he is famous for the False 9 role. In Football Manager, the False 9 role is represented as: Key points: Striker position. Support role. Move into Channels, Risky Passes and Dribbling all hard coded. Option to Roam from Position. However I opted to go for the Shadow Striker role, which is represented as: The roles are similar. Lots of movement, dribbling, creative, but we can see there is a key difference: The False 9 starts in the striker position and moves away from the goal, creating space for others. The Shadow Striker starts deeper in the AMC position, but aggressively attacks the space ahead of him. The role you chose will depend on the way you see Messi and we probably all see things slightly differently. To me, Messi is way more the latter - he's deep, he links with midfield, draws defenders towards him and attacks the space. Looking at his goal record and watching some of his goals I would be advocating an Attacking mentality all day long. Squad Development & Player Profiles There is a reason I left the tactics screen above without a team selected. Whilst our Team Structure and Playing Style may have been reasonably vanilla in comparison after previous threads. Squad development is an area we can throw in a couple more joker cards and hopefully make it worthwhile reading. A common misconception is that particular tactics will instantly turn no-hopers into world beaters. Unfortunately - whilst there are always tactics which will optimise what you have - until SI implement a "Play Like Messi" instruction, sticking Per Mertesacker up front and calling him a False 9 is not going to make him play like Messi (but maybe Peter Crouch?). Whilst many are admirably grafting away, gradually turning their lower league team into world-beaters I have been having a whale of a time taking one of the best squads on the game and throwing £280m at it whilst shipping out £230m of dead-wood or mis-fits. Squad - 2017/18 Season Best squad I've ever had. Bar none. Couple more joker cards. Starting XI Couple of points of interest here: Messi, Iniesta, Neymar, Coutinho, Dybala and Suarez all in the same starting XI. 6 players playing in retrained positions. Apologies for the confusion of: Neymar in the Messi role. Messi in the Iniesta role. Iniesta in the Xavi role. Yes, that's Philippe Coutinho at right wing back. Xavi & Iniesta: Let's talk about Playmakers Last time out we looked at the differences between our options for Player Roles - Regista, Roaming Playmaker, Deep-Lying Playmaker, etc. This time let's think about the player performing the role. To me - regardless of role - world-class playmakers must be strong in two key areas: Technical ability - Technique, First Touch, Passing. Intelligence - Vision, Decisions, Anticipation, Composure. Plugging these attributes into a Player Search Filter with a 17 minimum, for elite level performers gives us: The original triumvirate - Messi, Iniesta & Xavi - plus Özil, Pirlo and Totti. Average age is very high - only Özil and Messi below 30, 3 players over-35. Players with widely differing styles - Pirlo to Xavi to Özil - have remarkably similar core attributes. When building a new team, my instinct is always to find a young player with potential and a reasonable attribute profile, tutor, give game time and let them grow into the role. In keeping with Barcelona's ideology, I attempted the same with Samper and Aleña but they are limited from reaching elite-level by their potential. Xavi and Iniesta are both legendary midfielders, absolutely at the top of their game. Not only their intelligence and technical ability, but also their experience allowing them to exhibit total control over games. This is why I opted for experience. Addressing the second point - how do we differentiate playmakers from each other with such similar attributes? Player role and how they are utilised tactically. Auxiliary playmaker attributes - particularly Team Work & Flair. Team work determining how likely they are to create chances for themselves vs team mates. High across the board but lowest in Messi, who happens to have the best goalscoring record of the group. Flair being the ability to create a moment of magic and do the unexpected. High for all but Xavi who was famous for his simple approach. Non-Playmaking specific strengths - dribbling, set pieces, finishing, strength, work rate etc. Inherent characteristics - preferred foot, (to an extent) size). Player Traits. Moving Iniesta into the Xavi role Xavi was undoubtedly one of the most intelligent and technically gifted midfielders of all-time and the heart-beat of Pep Guardiola's Barcelona. Xavi's role as a playmaker was more that of a conductor - controlling and recycling possession, switching play, connecting the entire team. Representing Xavi's role in Football Manager Either Deep-lying Playmaker (Support) or Roaming Playmaker (Support) depending on whether you're able to hold control of the midfield or need to move to find space. Incredible intelligence and technical ability. Xavi's traits: Comes Deep to Get Ball. Plays One-Twos. Dictates Tempo. Avoids Weaker Foot. Right Footed. In comparison, here is Iniesta at the beginning of the game: We can see, he's already got the intelligence and the technical ability but his traits are very direct. As a result, playing in the deeper role, he's going to try to directly create chances from deep rather than perform the controlling role we are looking for. Profile after 2-seasons moulding his traits by: Stop playing killer balls. Start dropping deeper to get the ball. Start playing one-twos. Physical stats have began to decline sharply but by maintaining his high level of ability by carefully managing his game-time and training he has become more intelligent and further improved his technical ability. Moving Messi into the Iniesta role Iniesta's role in Guardiola's Barcelona was that of a more advances playmaker, linking midfield with attack and creating chances. Representing Iniesta's role in Football Manager: Advanced Playmaker (Attack). Incredible technical ability and intelligence. Iniesta's traits: Tries Killer Balls Often. Dictates Tempo. Switches Ball to Other Flank. Looks for pass rather than attempting to score. Either footed. Messi has a phenomenal profile. He would be the best in the World in most attacking roles. In this case, development was simply: Retrain as a Central Midfielder. Tried but failed to Develop Weaker Foot - I believe due to maxing out his CA vs PA. The idea of Messi playing in midfield, coming deep to get the ball and then moving forward aggressively with 3 world-class attacking options ahead of him or going himself is - quite frankly - devastating. Neymar playing the Messi role In the 2016/17 season, my attack was structured like this: My scouts rating Neymar as a similar level of ability to Messi by the end of the season and - whilst performing very well - not quite reaching full-potential on the field playing wide right. Like Messi under Guardiola, Neymar moved central - initially as an experiment - and absolutely exploded. Messi dropped deeper into the midfield playmaker role and Cesc moved on to PSG for a modest profit after a very successful yet brief 3rd stint at the club. Coutinho playing the Dani Alves role Dani Alves is a special player. Wonderful Brazilian style attacking wing back. All round football ability - people have even called to see him in midfield. Solid defensive ability, which developed over time. Flair, work rate and fitness are inherent to his overall game. Ahead of the 2016/17 season I had a big decision to make. I had the option to sign Özil - as we have already identified, one of the few elite level playmakers capable of the Iniesta role perfectly - or Coutinho. But I couldn't sign them both due to financial constraints. Coutinho edged it for a few of reasons: Time required to retrain Coutinho meant I wanted him early, whereas maybe I could get Özil later. Scarcity of players with flair, work rate, fitness, a good right foot and the attacking ability to play right wing back. Availability of Cesc Fabregas as a cheaper alternative to Özil. Coutinho's progress has been gradual. It took the entire first season to reach Accomplished at right wing back and has not reached natural after two seasons. Attacking threat, technical ability, all-round footballing ability, fitness and intelligence come ready made whilst defensive ability is improving gradually. ========================================================================================== Match Analysis You join me for the 2018 Champions League Final - the ultimate El Clásico. Having beaten Real Madrid - once again - to La Liga and put two big scores on them in the League, they were out for revenge. Zinidine Zidane is still in charge has actually had two very strong campaigns despite losing out on the trophies. Perhaps under pressure for his job if it doesn't go his way. 4-1-4-1 is a bit of a surprise as Real Madrid have heavily - and successfully - used 4-1-2-3 all season. The big money acquisition of Eden Hazard has pushed Karim Benzema onto the bench, moving Ronaldo centrally. Ronaldo has thrived centrally in the 4-1-2-3 - hitting just under 30 league goals - but I'll be looking to ask questions of him with less support in the 4-1-4-1, trying to cut off supply and isolate him. 4-1-4-1 offers brilliant defensive coverage but the challenge is supporting the striker. You'll notice that in my 4-1-4-1 my striker is on Support and midfield runners rush forward. In Hazard, Kroos, Kovacic and Bale, Real Madrid have runners, but I'd imagine Ronaldo in an attack duty and his traits will drive him further forward - will we be able to isolate him and then exploit the space left by the midfield runners? Analysis Without the Ball Key Instructions / Attributes: Very Fluid - attacking and defending as a unit, forwards mentality is closer to team mentality meaning they will lead the press. Control - pushes defensive line, closing down and mentality - across the board - higher. Support duties - ensures my Inside Forwards and Wing Backs are track back and mitigate their aggressive starting positions. Work rate, determination, stamina, team work. Real Madrid attempting to build up play from deep. De Vrij advancing with the ball after a Real goal kick. Pressing structure I've been using for a few years now: Front 3 lead the press, hassling the opposition back 4, disrupting building up play and - ideally - forcing a long ball. A midfield wall consisting of WB - MC - MC - WB pressuring the opposition midfield and shielding the defence. Defensive triangle DC - DMC - DC outnumbering opposition attack. 'Busquets zone' protecting the centre of the field. Thinner dashed lines show the distances between the WB and the centre back behind and the wide forward ahead - a particular concern building this tactic. Note: in a standard mentality we use more pressing TIs - Higher Line, Close Much More, Tight Marking, etc. Using Control, we simply use Close Down More and notice how advanced we are. Already a risk, any higher would be overkill. Ideally the "Sweeper" Keeper would "sweep" more, but I can't make that happen. Real Madrid handicapping themselves by dropping Casemiro at DM into the defensive line (to aid build up) but failing to spread the defenders. Look at how close Casemiro is to Varane. Effectively taken himself out of the game, allowing us an extra man advantage - see Busquets. Low Block Real Madrid in a more advanced position, attempting to build an attack. Pressure on both the player making and receiving the pass. Wing backs and wide forwards have both adopted deeper, defensive positions creating a compact 4-1-4-1. We have a 4-man defensive line of WB - DC - DC - WB with Coutinho advancing to put pressure on Hazard. Busquets is shielding, again holding that vital position ahead of the defence and cutting out any passing option to Ronaldo. Alba is tucking in. Bale does have quite a lot of space, but with the ball on the other side of the field it'll take a while to reach him. Alba is well positioned to track a dangerous run at the far post. Wide forwards replace wing backs in a 4-man midfield screen. Neymar tracking way back creating a 3v3 on the opposition midfield, leaving Busquets free again. Real Madrid playing conservatively, neither their full backs or central midfielders making a run leaving Hazard, Ronaldo and Bale outnumbered. Analysis in-Possession Deep Build Up Play: Salida Lavolpiana Starting from a goal-kick, Barcelona attempt to build an attack from deep. La Salida Lavolpiana Busquets drops deep, between Pique and Romagnoli. Pique and Romagnoli spread wide - in this case, Pique draws Ronaldo with him. Wing backs push forward, creating a 3-4-3 shape. Messi and Iniesta drop deeper to offer passing options - in this instance, Iniesta is marked but Messi is open. Busquets is unchallenged and can progress with the ball, drawing out a defender to create more space for Iniesta and Messi to play through the middle. Suarez and Dybala retain their width, stretching the opposition defence. Neymar free to roam from position to create a diamond with Iniesta, Messi and Busquets, find a pocket of space and/or make an attacking run. Neymar is pulling the Real Madrid defence forward leaving lots of space behind. We have technical players with space and time to play a pass. We have very dangerous attacking runners in Dybala, Suarez and Neymar. Iniesta pulling the strings - Heartbeat of the Team Not normally one for the stats - as @Cleon pointed out in his Art of Possession thread, stats are often calculated differently - but Iniesta set some hit some stand-out achievements pulling the strings in his new role. 92% pass completion over the course of the season. Averaged nearly 75 passes per game. Completed 125 passes against Real Madrid in the Champions League final. Watch highlights: Messi - the Playmaker Over the course of his career, Messi has been a winger, an inside forward, False 9 and a playmaker. As the best footballer of his generation, he would be the best in the world in almost any attacking role. There are a couple of advantages of playing him in midfield. More involvement, receiving the ball earlier. More time and space. Passing options ahead of him, rather than behind. Receiving the ball from Iniesta and Busquets deep, Messi turns and runs at the defence. Almost anything could happen here. As we hit the final 3rd, the wide forwards - Suarez and Dybala - have cut inside. Wing backs drive forward providing width. Neymar has options for different attacking runs and space in behind the defence to attack. Devastating. The concern with Messi in midfield is his work-rate but he actually covered more ground than anyone in the league. Neymar - the new Attacking Spearhead Messi dropping deeper to take on a midfield playmaker role opened a space at the top as the spearhead of the team. Neymar - like Messi many years before him - moved inside from his wing taking up the "False 9" role, and never looked back. Watch highlights: Achievements Won the La Liga, Copa del Rey, Champions League treble. Completed an unbeaten season in all competitions. Broke the La Liga goalscoring and point scoring record with 143 goals and 102 points. Played beautiful football. Thank you & GoFundMe contributions So far the response to these threads and discussions generated have been absolutely phenomenal so once again I wanted to thank everyone for contributing as I have really enjoyed it. A couple of people have suggested they'd like to contribute financially to support the series so I have set up a GoFundMe page - Football Manager Analysis. I'd like to be 100% clear that these articles are completely free and will always continue to be. Contributions are simply supporting the work that's been done so far, if you've enjoyed them. As I am sure you can appreciate - whilst I love writing them - a lot of time & effort goes into these. Any contributions are very much appreciated. If we reach the conservative goal of £100m I am going to sign Nicklas Bendtner. I am going to finish by saying that - for those who have read a long so far - I think we have now talked through pretty much all of the tools you'd need to build your own system, if you have a different inspiration - for example Bielsa, Klopp, Pochettino. Please shout if there is anything you feel lacking and I will include in future threads. Enjoy
Recent threads have focused on re-creating the tactical styles of some of my favourite teams in real-life and implementing them using the Tactics Creator in Football Manager. This time, I want to try something different. I am interested in developing my approach, taking inspiration from some of the tactical trends we are seeing in modern football. Rather than my usual approach of developing a tactic, I intend to develop a framework where I have a consistent playing style and a flexible structure which I can adapt depending on my squad, and the challenges we face. Playing Style & Structure Key Concepts: Playing Style - overall playing "philosophy" for want of a better word. In Football Manager terms, this is primarily the combination of: Mentality Team Shape Team Instructions Structure - the organisation of a team on the field. In Football Manager terms, this refers to a combination of: Formation Player Role Player Duty Player Instructions Playing Style depends on factors such as: How would you like your team to attack? quick transitions and fast attacks? Attacking wide? Controlled build-up from the back? Playing through the centre? Long balls? Counter attack? Tiki-taka? How would you like your team to defend? Intense pressing? High block? Sit deep and maintain structure? Low-Block? Park the bus? Is your approach to give players an NFL style 'play book' telling them exactly how to play, or the freedom to make decisions? Whilst Structure is determined by: What formations can you play with the players you have available? How would you like to structure your defence / midfield / attack? Do you need a playmaker? A target man? Who is provides width? Who is holding in midfield? Who is making attacking runs? Do you really want to play that Attacking Libero with a Regista and aggressive front-6? ...and no, there's no download link available! In order to understand the difference between Playing Style and Structure, consider teams who line up similarly but employ a different style of play in comparison with teams who employ a similar style of play but line up differently. For example: Alex Ferguson's treble-winning, attacking 4-4-2 at Manchester United in 1999 and Claudio Ranieri's title-winning, counter attacking 4-4-2 at Leicester last season. Similar structure, different playing style. Pep Guardiola's 4-3-3 at Barcelona and his flexible Bayern Munich side or Klopp's use of 4-2-3-1 then 4-3-2-1 and now 4-3-3 or 4-5-1. They maintain a similar playing style but structure their teams differently depending on the squad, opposition etc. Previous threads actually give a few useful, Football Manager based examples: The Cruyff 3-4-3 and Sacchi 4-4-2 employ similar playing styles but structure the teams differently. Sacchi, Invincibiles and Brazil all employ a similar structure but different playing styles. Links: 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 It's important to understand that Playing Style and Structure go hand-in-hand. Revisiting Jonathan Wilson's quote: My interpretation of this is that 'application' refers to Playing Style, combined with the abilities of your squad and strengths / weaknesses of your opposition. For example: If your playing style is to sit deep, draw the opposition out and counter, you need your structure to give you a solid defensive base but also men forward to counter. If you're playing a quick attacking system then you need numbers in advanced positions, in order to attack quickly. If you prefer a controlled build-up then presence in midfield is essential and you'll need players making attacking runs. Defining a Playing Style We're going to begin with a bit of nostalgia. Whilst playing Football Manager 2015, I experienced something of a tactical 'light-bulb' moment whilst experimenting with the concept of 'universality' having been inspired by the movement away from specialists and towards complete footballers throughout world football. -> Universality in Football Manager 2015 (Very Fluid) The thread never really took off, but the under-lying concept was the basis for my interpretation of Cruyff's 3-4-3 and Sacchi's 4-4-2, both of which really did take off. You'll see that the major breakthrough was developing the playing style, essentially using Very Fluid to organise the team into one unit contributing to all phases of the game and then to balance this with a Standard mentality, moving away from my penchant for attack. In the tactics creator: Summary of the playing style: Very Fluid. Standard mentality. Intense Pressing. Intelligent, technical and hard-working players. The 4-4-2 diamond was nice, devastating in attack but the 4-3-3 was more effective at pressing and really dominated games. Side note: look at that beautiful tactics creator screen.. Won everything there was to win at Arsenal, Ajax and Holland and the legacy continued in 2016 again with Ajax and this time Barcelona. Take a look at the Cruyff 3-4-3 diamond and see the similarity in the playing style, roles and even half of the players. It's largely the same system, with a different formation. The same applies to the Sacchi 4-4-2. The team structure is different but the playing style - very fluid, standard mentality, high pressing and intelligent players - remains the same. This playing style was the real legacy of the Universality thread. The idea that you can take your playing style and apply it to any shape you like to fit your team. Evaluating a Structure - 4-3-3 My favourite club to manage in Football Manager has always been Ajax - as you can probably tell from previous threads! The Ajax team of 1995 is one of my earliest football memories. Players like Seedorf, Rijkaard, Davids, Kluivert, Overmars, the de Boers and van der Sar went on to become legends around Europe as I was growing up. Then, of course, there is the brilliant influence of Dennis Bergkamp at my family's club, Arsenal. Then as I got older and learnt more about football, it turned out that a lot of my preferences about how I enjoy seeing football played stem back to the great Ajax teams of the 70s. With a couple of additions - namely Rajkovic in goal after Cillesson's move to Barca and the versatile Augustinsson on the left flank - this was my starting squad: 4-3-3 has always been my bread & butter, but formation can be anything. When deciding a formation, I have a few rules of thumb: The overall formation should cover the field, allowing you to press effectively - for example, this is why I prefer 4-3-3 to the initial diamond. Solid defensive base, generally 2-3 centre backs and a holding midfield player. Look for a strong presence in the midfield area - generally 3.5 - 4 players in central midfield with the .5 indicating a wide midfielder coming inside. One attacking winger or fullback on each flank providing width and stretching opposition defence. A striker who will act as the first line of defence, pressing and offer movement to get involved in the build-up. Most creative player assigned a Playmaker role. You always have two influences. 1. What can you do with your existing squad? 2. Bigger picture, what are you trying to do overall? In this instance. Characteristics of my squad were better suited to a 4-5-1 variant than the 4-3-3. El Ghazi is a better Winger than Inside Forward. Ziyech is more suitable for a central / playmaker role than an Inside Forward. Augustinsson is an excellent left winger or attacking fullback - great versatility, personality and PPMs. Tete and Diks are great fullbacks but don't offer enough attacking threat to be my main wide players. Klaassen is my best goalscoring threat for movement, composure and finishing. Interested in the real-life movement towards the very fluid 4-5-1 variants, particularly from Klopp and Guardiola. A closer look at the structure of the 4-3-3. Effective pressing shape, off-the-ball. Transition either through the central playmaker, or attacking fullbacks. In attack: Complete Forward movement creates space. Inside Forwards attack the space opened up by the movement. Fullbacks provide width. Central Midfielders support. Deep-lying Playmaker combines playmaking responsibilities with holding the midfield, protecting the Defence. Observation: Fullbacks required to run the length of the field in transition - in both attack and defence - in order to provide width. Even the fastest players in the world would take a few seconds to cover that distance. Gives the opposition valuable time to organise their defence Or - in reverse - valuable time for the opposition to counter-attack Wingers start in a more advanced position so have less ground to cover. Passing the ball is quicker than running. Wide Attackers in the AM-strata means the 4-3-3 is perhaps better suited to a more direct transition, e.g attacking mentality. Pulling wide players back into midfield gives more potential for extra numbers in the midfield. Evolving Structure - 4-1-4-1 What changed? Maintain the strong defensive shape and high pressing. Transition now goes through either the central playmaker or wingers. Wide attackers drop back to Midfield strata start for more control of the centre. In attack, we have re-organised the responsibilities. Complete Forward movement creates space. Central Midfielders now attack the space opened up - one has Attacking duty and the other instructed to get forward more. Wingers now provide the width. Fullbacks provide support. Deep-lying Playmaker combines playmaking responsibilities with holding the midfield, protecting the Defence. Benefits: Quicker transitions: Wingers have less distance to run to provide width. Less open to counter-attacks as the fullbacks are better positioned to cover. My best attacking players - Klaassen and Ziyech - are in more effective attacking positions. We won the league, the UEFA Cup - after drawing Monaco in Champions League qualifying - and the youngsters won the Dutch Cup. The system worked very well. At this point I was 90% happy but still had a few ideas to implement going into the 2017/18 season. Take advantage of Ajax' versatile squad by adapting tactics to opposition weaknesses and punch above our weight in Europe. Namely: vs 4-3-3 vs 4-2-3-1 My second shape is the 3-4-3 diamond which is already very strong against 4-4-2 and it's variants. Upgrade the Playmaker Bazoer is a great player, with even better potential however Vision of 14, decisions of 11 and passing of 13 meant he was yet to reach a level capable of being a playmaker at a club challenging in Europe. Question marks over the Deep-Lying Playmaker (Defend) role being too conservative. Considering splitting holding / playmaking responsibilities. Change the Playmaker's position on the field to exploit gaps in the opposition formation. Flexible Structure - Playing against the 4-3-3 It's difficult to talk about the 4-3-3 without thinking of Barcelona - in this case, my opponents in the Champions League, Quarter Final. From Pep's all-conquering, to Lucho's more direct treble-winners they're one of the most famous advocates of 4-3-3. This is how they line up: In the majority of leagues, 4-3-3 is one of the most common formations you'll come up against and there's a reason it is so popular - it's bloody effective. The 4-3-3 consists of a back four, midfield trio and three attackers. In this case, one of the most devastating combinations of attackers in history. Tactically, the main challenge of facing the 4-3-3 is the midfield trio. Structured in a '1-2' triangle consisting of a DMC and two MCs, this trio offers three men behind the ball when defending and two offensive players when attacking. As we have said before - formations are neutral. The football field is a big space and it's impossible to cover perfectly with 10 outfield players. Given the lack of player in the AMC position, the most useful - in my opinion - space against the 4-3-3 formation is between the opposition midfield and their attack. Utilising this space has a few advantages: It allows us to build-up play from deep, through the centre of the field. A player in this position has passing options ahead of him which allows us to keep moving forward. As the opposition midfield press, they open up spaces further up the field. Wide players occupying deeper positions between the opposition fullbacks and attackers should generally be useful passing options. This is why I mentioned upgrading Bazoer and re-thinking the playmaker role. Meet Stefano Sensi, my new playmaker. Possibly my favourite player of Football Manager 2017 so far. Sensi is intelligent, creative, dictates tempo, technically gifted and unpredictable - high flair, plays 1-2s or long passes. How does he fit in? What's new? Split the holding midfield responsibilities from the playmaker role. Sensi comes in as the Playmaker Bazoer advances to an MC(D) role, maintaining his role as holding midfielder. Ziyech moves out to the left midfield spot in a 'free role', acting as an auxiliary midfielder - roaming from position and getting forward more. Augustinsson drops back to full-back but takes on an attacking role in order to provide width. My thoughts on the deep Playmaker roles: Both Deep-Lying Playmaker roles are similar. Both static, holding position and no forward movement. Roaming Playmaker makes more lateral movement. Instructed to roam but fewer forward runs. Has the option to move into channels and dribbles by default. Regista is the Pirlo-esq role, very mobile and slightly more direct. Passing range is increased and instructed to roam with optional forward runs and dribbling. Tough call between the roaming playmaker and regista but I prefer the lateral movement, as there's more time and space in deeper positions to pick out runners and I didn't necessarily want the more direct style accompanying the regista. If there's an issue with the Playmaker not getting into advanced enough positions, I was ready to switch to Regista + get forward more, dribbling and shorter passing PIs. Playing style remains the same. In-Game Analysis Ajax v Barcelona, Champions League Quarter Final Flexible Midfield structure and Pressing Here you can see Barcelona building-up from deep through Mascherano. Sensi and Bazoer combine to form a double-pivot shielding the defence and covering Rakitic and Rafinha. With the cover from the double-pivot, Klaassen leads the press with the rest of the team cutting off passing options. Defending with a 4v3 at the back and a 2v2 on each flank preventing overloads. Dolberg working hard as the first line of defence. Build-up through the Middle Veltman is under pressure from Suarez but lack of support from his team mates means Veltman can bypass him easily. Sensi is in plenty of space with 6 passing options available ahead of him or - preferably - advancing with the ball until he meets pressure. Bazoer has dropped into space providing an easy passing outlet, should Sensi hit trouble. El Ghazi and Ziyech are both in space on the flanks. Width and passing options give us a good platform to build. Sensi advancing into Midfield One of the advantages of chasing a more aggressive playmaker role was that Sensi could advance into midfield and transition into attack rather than just circulating possession. As the Barcelona midfield start to press, this opens space for the further up the field: Bazoer offers a simple, easy option and covers against counter-attacks. Klaassen is wide open in an advanced midfield position. Ziyech has come inside and is using the space ahead of Bazoer. Dolberg drops deep to get involved with the build up. El Ghazi and Ziyech are wide and stretching the defence. Transitioning Attacks El Ghazi has attacked down the right-hand side but been outnumbered so needed an outlet to retain possession in-field. Sensi - this time well in the Barcelona half - again in plenty of space. Sensi has time to control the ball and either advance himself or pick out a passing option. Ziyech has gone forward too early here. Red area is where I'd want him. Bazoer is deeper, once again, offering a simple passing option and cover against the counter-attack. We won this game 1-0 with 60% possession and was probably the performance of the season. At this stage, the squad was nowhere near Barcelona so we really punched above our weight. Unfortunately lost the 2nd leg at the Nou Camp, getting knocked out on aggregate but gives us a real platform to build on next season. Flexible Structure - Playing against the 4-2-3-1 When I think of the 4-2-3-1, Borussia Dortmund - in this case my opponents in the Champions League, Second Round - spring to mind. First with Klopp and now with Tuchel, they've been very successful with the 4-2-3-1 for a number of years now. This is how they line up. 4-2-3-1 is an aggressive formation consisting of a back-4, double pivot midfield, playmaker and 3 attackers. One of the challenges of playing against a 4-2-3-1 is that you can easily find yourself overrun at the back by the 4-man attacking unit but - once again - formations are neutral. This is both a strength and a weakness. With 4-players in the attacking strata, the double-pivot in midfield must be reasonably conservative in order to maintain balance. Dortmund kindly illustrate my point here, fielding Ginter and Weigl - both conservative, holding-type players. Essentially, the 4-2-3-1 naturally divides itself into an two units: Attacking unit - attacking midfielders and striker. Defensive unit - defence and double-pivot. Note: The fullback role is always unknown. With the presence of the double-pivot they could theoretically bomb forward, or sit back and form a solid defence. Compare this with our approach of having the entire team attack and defend as a unit. This is where I see an opportunity to gain advantage. My approach is to isolate & bypass the attacking unit and then to stretch and draw out the defence, then attack the space that creates. No drastic changes but you'll notice 3 structural changes designed to exploit some of the weaknesses of the 4-2-3-1. Bazoer - our holding midfielder - drops to Defensive Midfield (Defend). Why? The central midfield structure in a 4-2-3-1 is a '2-1' shape consisting of MC-MC-AMC where it's a good bet that the AMC is the playmaker so Bozoer drops to DMC to nullify his threat. Also, it's now a very crowded area for me to play my playmaker. van Ginkel comes in as an all-rounder in midfield. Why? Ginter and - particularly - Wiegl can control a game. Van Ginkel is a hard-working player who will put them under pressure. Ziyech is now my assigned the Playmaker role. Why? Ziyech is my most creative and technical player and is positioned in the biggest gap in the 4-2-3-1. Combined with minor tweaks to the playing style: We no longer play from defence because a simple ball directly into midfield bypasses the entire opposition attacking unit and leaves their defence exposed. We no longer focus passing through the centre as there is more space on the flanks. During the match I reduced my defensive line to standard to counter the incredible pace in the Dortmund attack. In-Game Analysis Dortmund v Ajax, Champions League Second Round Isolating the Attacking unit Here is an example of Ginter trying to build up play from his deep midfield position. Back four plus Bazoer creates a 5v4 advantage over the attacking 4. Despite Shurrle cutting inside to create space and Guerreiro playing an attacking role, the attacking unit looks isolated. Klaassen is putting Ginter under pressure whilst the rest of the team cut off passing options. Bypassing the Attacking unit Riedewald finds Ziyech after intense pressure from Dortmund's famous intense pressing. One pass has taken 4 Borussia Dortmund players out of the game. Ziyech has the ball with space to advance into with runs from team-mates giving Dortmund difficult decisions: They could hold their shape, in which case Ziyech advances unopposed into a dangerous attacking space. The fullback could press Ziyech but would leave the Augustinsson making an attacking run unopposed. Either centre back could press but that'd leave Dolberg - one of the most dangerous strikers in Europe, at the moment - space to exploit. One could press and the left-sided defenders drift across but that'd leave El Ghazi open on the right wing. Overrunning the Defensive unit Ziyech is again exploiting the space on the flanks but this time faces intense pressing. This time Dembele has dropped deeper to press, meanwhile the other 3 from the attacking unit look uninterested in helping the defence. We still have 4v3 in the event of a counter-attack. The Dortmund right-back has been drawn to press Ziyech leaving wide-open space for Dolberg and Augustinsson to attack. Weigl has also been drawn across from his midfield spot, leaving van Ginkel open in the centre. Klaassen has taken a very threatening attacking position in the channel between right back and his centre back. El Ghazi is again stretching the defence, preventing them from drifting across without leaving him space to attack. The pass-map also how influential Ziyech was, playing in the gaps of the Dortmund 4-2-3-1. Ajax went into this game as underdogs and came out 6-3 winners on aggregate. This game, the away leg finished 3-0 and the home leg was an epic 3-3- draw where we didn't quite to such a good job of isolating the attacking unit! ================================================================================================= Hopefully some of the information presented in this thread is useful to the rest of the community and inspires some interesting discussions. One final point for those who are here to ask advice from the community. Remember that football is highly subjective. A question like, "how can I play like Jurgen Klopp?" is difficult to answer as my interpretation of Jurgen Klopp's approach will probably be different to yours, which will probably be different to the next guy or girl's. You'll get a far better response by defining the characteristics you'd like to implement, and having a go. It's much easier to help someone with a question like, "this is what I'm trying to do... this is what I've done... and when I'm playing games I'm facing challenges x, y & z". My best advice would be to apply the advice that you read from around the community, then play and experiment, don't give up too soon and ask plenty of questions to supplement what you're seeing in the match-engine. Thank you for reading!