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How to Hang With Much Stronger Opposition?

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Are there any guides out there that deal specifically with strategies for playing against much stronger teams? I'm trying my hand with Wigan at the moment, and we're doing fine against mid- and lower-table teams in the Premier League but we're being demolished by the top four or five.

I know the usual tack is to keep men behind the ball and look for countering opportunities, but my squad isn't really built for quick counter-attacking. We're sorely lacking in pace, short on quality wingers, and our strikers aren't really cut out to be poachers. We beat teams that are better than us by playing ball-control and retaining defensive shape, but this sort of breaks down when we're up against a side that is drastically better than us at every position.

I realize that you can only hope for so much success against teams when you are clearly inferior, but my ultimate goal is to at least be competitive when I go to Old Trafford, for example. I remember Cleon had done some remarkable things with Swansea in FM12, though maybe the talent level there was a little higher than what I have.

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I don't think there are many guides as such but if you look through the FAQ's and Important links thread at the top of the forum and go through the FM13 threads, you might find individual posts inside aabout how people beat the bigger sides etc. But as for topics dedicated to just this I can't remember many been posted.

I've got an example I'll post in here though that I added elsewhere to give you an idea of what I do. I take this approach against everyone I play who are stronger than me, I've used it when I am in the BSN and come up against teams like Chelsea, City and Liverpool in the cup and so on. It's all about identifying the threat for me of the oppositions main strength and then trying to deal with it.

Beating The Best

Playing Barcelona is never an easy task especially in the first few seasons as they still have a great squad. I recently played them in the Super Cup after I won the Europa League. I tend to get asked a lot about how I set up to face the bigger sides so I thought I'd use this game as an example for now. More games will be discussed later in the thread but this one was quite intriguing.

Don't worry I'm not skipping through the games or the tactical changes I've done, I just thought this would make a better discussion point for now. So I'll explain any changes I've done and not spoke about in the thread further down.

Here are my results up-to the point where I played Barcelona;

Fixtures.png

I had a pretty easy pre-season because I like to build morale and confidence up so I tend to stay away from playing the bigger teams. The start to the season didn't exactly go to plan and I was conceding more goals than I had like. But I have brought a few new players into the club who need time to settle in and adapt.

I'm going to show you what the result was before hand though as it saves me time editing all the images I'll use. So here is the result and the formations used by both teams;

Formations.png

They lined up as I expected them to. So what was the plan of action to stop them from playing? Well firstly Messi is always hard to play against and is more or less impossible to mark. So taking that into consideration the best way to stop Messi is?.........cut off his supply. If he doesn't get the supply he can't be dangerous and hurt my side.

The key areas for me to stop Barcelona playing is not to allow the central midfielder's to play a high passing game. If they want to sit deep and pass it around between themselves then that's fine as they can't hurt me from deep. So I've decided to tight mark the midfield trio of Barca so they have less time on the ball. Hopefully this will stop them being creative and pulling the strings in midfield.

Another area that is key is the wide players. The AML and AMR are deadly as are highlighted in my own formation. So I also have to take this into account and prepare.

As this is in season two I now use two inside forwards. So that is the only change from the original tactic that I posted.

For this game though I'm going to give both the inside forwards support roles to help out more on the wings and close the gap between my own wing-backs and the inside forwards. The reason for this is Barcelona will look to exploit this space and it's one of the main strengths of the 41221 formation. So by providing the extra cautious measure it should reduce the space and also mean my own inside forwards aren't to high up the pitch and marked by Barca's fullbacks. I'm basically giving myself more space for them to play in and trying to utilise their pace/acceleration. You can see what I mean better in the screenshot below from the match;

kickoff1.png

You can see that they are playing in-front the fullback but behind the wingers. In the next screenshot you can see the amount of space the the inside forward actually has and what runs he could make should he receive the ball.

kickoff2.png

The black circles are my defensive midfielder and my other midfielder's sticking to their man. My two central defenders are quite deep and should provide the cover should the midfield mess up and allow Messi to get free. Because he has the pace and skill to punish me its vital there is some kind of cover because I'd be being naïve if I didn't think Messi would beat his marker a few times in this game. However Sandro is instructed to man mark him because of his physical side of the game. Messi is little and technical but a lightweight in comparison compared to Sandro.

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The next screenshot shows how deep Barcelona are playing when I attack them.

3.png

They have everyone back in their own half which is good for me from a defensive situation as it means they can't hurt me. It does mean they are harder to break down but that doesn't matter. If they can't get forward they can't score which is half the battle won already. You'll also notice I have 3 spare players in defence just in case they break away quick.

In the next screen you'll see Messi about to receive the ball from his fullback. He is marked and got his back to the goal so he's no threat at all. He doesn't really have any options to play a pass or to play the ball. I have players positioned who can can deal any threat should he win the ball.

4.png

By tight marking through the OI's Barcelona have no creativity in the middle of the park at all. They are doing lots of backward and sideways passes but there not coming out of their own half.

When my side gets the ball they build up from the back and pass it across goal, been very patient.

It seems I've lost some of the potency going forward with the support roles for the inside forwards but it's also keeping Barcelona quiet as they just cannot get out of their own half because I am pushing high up and compacting the middle. At times its like I have a flat 4 in midfield due to the IF's helping out.

This is one of the occasions they attacked me

5.png

They can't really hurt me from here and I have the centre covered should Messi get a ball across, which he doesn't in the end anyway.

It's evident early on and for the entire game that Messi's supply is limited and the Barcelona midfield is dropping to deep to try and find the space and time due to been closed down heavily and tight marked.

In the end the stats for the game looked like this

matchstats.png

That's right one shot for Barcelona and it wasn't even on target. How many times can you say you've seen that happen?

You'll notice that Barca's defensive players passing wasn't that great. This is because time after time the fullbacks were doing long balls into the channels due to been pegged back or having no options to pass to in the midfield.

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Great stuff, thanks! I'm actually trying this out now with my Wigan squad against Arsenal at the Emirates. Both sides lined up with the same formation (4-1-2-2-1), and Arsenal's midfield trio looks like:

MCR - Arteta

MCL - Ramsey

DMC - Djourou

I started by having my midfield three tight-mark their midfield three, but this created problems because my DMC was too far forward, and Podolski (as the lone striker) had tons of room between my midfield and defense. So I instead set my DMC to tight-mark Podolski, because I don't really consider Djourou a creative threat.

I also noticed very quickly that having my team set to 'zonal marking' and 'press more' caused my midfield's marking to be not-so-tight in many situations, because they were all too eager to close down the ball-handler (if close by) instead of sticking with their men.

The problem I'm having is that Arsenal's wingers are running rampant -- I've conceded two goals, both on crosses from wingers. I'm not really sure how to stop this. I set my fullbacks to man/tight-mark both wingers, but the fullbacks don't appear to really tightly mark until the ball has crossed the midfield line. Basically, if Arsenal is playing the ball out of the defense there's a good chance a winger will be open enough for a direct pass, and once they receive it they can cut inside right past the fullback.

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I thought this might work, but it hasn't. I'm on my third reload (each time I try something different to see what works). I've tight-marked their midfield and double-covered their wingers, with my lone striker marking their DMC, leaving my own DMC free to pick up whoever he chooses, and one of my center backs set to 'cover'. It doesn't matter, at halftime they have 72% possession and shots are 12-0 in their favor. The only difference is that they're only up by 1 instead of 3 or 4.

I guess leaving their fullbacks mostly free doesn't help, but if I don't use wingers to help then their wingers can easily embarrass my fullbacks one-on-one. And if only Lukas Podolski played this way in real life (I'm an Arsenal fan) -- he can receive the ball near midfield and skate all the way into the box by himself to score.

Aaron Ramsey completed 86 of 91 passes (94%).

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I think Cleon's 2nd year Tottenham is closer to the AI's Barcelona than your Wigan is to Arsenal (especially if this is the first season). That isn't meant as an insult. You can do everything right tactically and still lose to Arsenal most of the time. They are significantly more talented and that is the most telling factor at the end of the day. Tactics and all the other outside factors are important and certainly make an impact, but there's only so much you can do when there's such a talent gap. The fact that you've reduced the scoreline suggests you are making some good changes.

You mentioned your fullbacks are getting embarassed one on one. Why, then, did you set them to tight mark the wingers? I think that instruction is contributing to your problems.

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Yes, I agree -- the gap between my side and Arsenal is much larger than Cleon's Spurs and Barca. So maybe I should temper my expectations a bit.

I tried tight-marking the wingers because they were getting wide open, and easily cutting inside -- so I tried to prevent them from getting the ball at all. But we just don't seem capable of marking them well enough to implement that strategy. If we don't tight-mark, they have too much space; if we do, there's a risk that they slip by their marker as they're receiving the ball. Talented, speedy wingers seem a headache in general to deal with -- even if you can prevent them from driving straight in to shoot, they can always pass into the middle or cross.

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I think my season's about to take a nosedive. My next games are:

Tottenham

Arsenal

Man City

Sunderland

Liverpool

Man United

Newcastle

In a row. I guess I'll have a stretch of easier games afterward, but our morale will be so shattered by then who knows what we'll have left!

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I don't know if I have answers for you per se, but some more questions come to mind. Would closing the wingers down be more effective than tight marking them? Do you need to specific mark them with two players? Or would that just pull you too far out of shape? Where are the getting the ball from? If they're consistently being fed from the midfield, maybe you can target them instead.

Or perhaps, instead of preventing crosses, you can concentrate your efforts on clogging the box and cutting them out so they don't go anywhere.

As for the morale, I imagine facing that kind of schedule won't be fun, but your players are smart. They know where the team stands in relation to those opponents. I think you can mitigate morale losses by taking a calm approach and making sure you don't put any undue pressure on the team. This will pass and some more manageable games will come. If you put this kind of effort into getting the most out of those games, you can recover psychologically.

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I think I've had enough.

I stopped my Wigan game because it occurred to me that I just may not be good enough with tactics to succeed there, so I reloaded my Arsenal game. My first game was away at Spurs, and it was like watching a replay of my last Wigan game against Sunderland. Guys like Jeremy Menez, Dembele, Huddlestone run all over the pitch and embarrass my defenders one-on-one with ease. Why can't I ever make my players do that? If they are capable of running through three layers of defense, I don't know what tactical instruction I can issue to do anything about it.

I really don't know what else I can do to help myself understand what incantations I need to perform to have my team play well. I've read all the guides (multiple times), I've spent way too much looking through these forums. I've spent way too much time reading TT&F '10. I've tried starting simple, watching matches over and over to understand what is going on. I don't feel like I'm any better at the game than I was six months ago.

If anyone can tell me what else I can do to actually understand this game, I'd appreciate it.

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I'm by no means an expert but thinking about it in a real life situation, tricky wingers (or any 'star players' really) are generally given more attention. If one player is giving you a headache then maybe pull your wingers back and give them a support duty or tell them to mark opp wingers too. Think how teams would deal with Ronaldo or Messi etc Irl. Man for man you'll always be beaten by Arsenal so try to take their best players out of the game.

Playing more physical players and hard tackling is also another approach used by lesser teams that can sometimes work as it stops them playing their fancy passing games, breaks up momentum etc.

Like i said, i'm not expert but perhaps some things worth considering.

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Sorry -- I meant that I quit my Wigan game altogether, and went back to playing as Arsenal. Playing as them vs. Spurs, I still got pasted. I did try pulling my wingers back to mark the opposition's wingers, but that ends up leaving fullbacks wide open.

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For me it also depends largely on my own teams defensive strengths as playing a stronger team you are naturally going to be reacting to your opponent as simply by being better they will dictate the terms of the match. Playing against big teams is tough because you have to consider them individually not just as oh play this formation against better teams, this way against weaker one.

Luckily with Arsenal you know what they are about (when you were playing as Wigan) they had quick wingers with a creative midfield. If it were me and I am by no means a great at this, I would look to make the game about strength and height as opposed to defending against their creativity. So playing a more ox-like midfield maybe two more holding players etc... tightly marking man for man and getting my full back to show their wingers down the flanks forcing them into crosses as they don't have a great aerial presence.

However playing better teams sometimes you will lose it's just the way things are they are better and sometimes they will win.

The principle applies all over though even against Spurs, look at where you are defensively best, where they are weak and look to make the game more about that than about their strengths. Playing the right players also is a big factor for me. Hope this helps a little.

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Thanks, I appreciate your weighing in here. As far as Spurs go, there are clearly 3 players who cannot be stopped: Dembele, Bale, and Jeremy Menez (they picked him up early in my save). There is simply nothing I can do to prevent them from cutting inside and running roughshod over my defense. All three of them get the ball, and then run all over my defense like gods among men.

I've set my OI's for Bale and Menez to closing down - always, tackling - hard. (I especially think Menez can be physically bullied, but not so sure about Bale). It doesn't seem to matter whether I keep a fullback close to these guys, because they leave them behind either way. I have a stopper-cover combination with my CB's, so the idea is that the cover back will be there to help out when my fullback gets skinned, but the cover back gets skinned also! How many more guys do I have to put back there to stop this, and if I do need more, how am I supposed to attack?

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I've never personally been fond of Stopper-Cover partnerships especially against a team that can get to the byline easily, means if they have a quick/intelligent striker he only has one center half "up against" making it easier to peal off and get a head or boot to a cross, as the stopper defender is higher up the pitch. I prefer to have two on default defend duty so that any striker will have two defenders to deal with as opposed to one at a time. That's just how I see it though but unless you have a very good stopper/cover then I wouldn't say I see it helping.

As for Bale and Menez both are quite quick which will mean that unless the people marking them are very good and composed tacklers they are throwing themselves into challenges which they are not certain to win and as a result getting beaten. For OI's I would likely use only show onto outside, maybe closing down and stack the area in front of goal with center halves capable of winning in the air and a defensive midfielder capable of bruising shins. Again you will need to look at your players and decide who can do the job, but remember you can still get all right and lose Tottenham are a good side after all.

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Try setting the player instructions to stand off and play deeper so they don't dive in - set as a shout after KO. Also never use hard tackling and close down always against good fast players.

Works for me against good opposition, the players decide when to tackle instead of diving in

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Sorry -- I meant that I quit my Wigan game altogether, and went back to playing as Arsenal. Playing as them vs. Spurs, I still got pasted. I did try pulling my wingers back to mark the opposition's wingers, but that ends up leaving fullbacks wide open.

Have you tried changing the shape of your team to make them more compact?

Rather than playing your 4-1-2-2-1 (which is essentially a 4-3-3), you might look at playing 4-4-1-1 or 4-1-4-1 (essentially a 4-5-1) so there is less space between your wide players and your full-backs.

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Soot on Sight is also a good friend in this situations. A common way to concede is for your forwards to lose the ball when the midfield is pushing up in support, causing you to lose shape. Shoot on sight ensures that this never happens. It does restrict your chances to long shots and set pieces, but the trade off is a great defensive shape all the time and a fighting chance of seeing a match out.

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I went through a similar process, it seemed the more I tried the less I knew.

The problem is, unless you can watch the match and figure out what's going on (I can't) it's very hard to know what effect a change had.

I have found a measure of success by using the instant result feature repeatedly, making a small tweak then re-running the match a few times. Eg result gives lots of possession but no shots on goal? Try switching a DLP to a CM, repeat.

If I am repeatedly getting a particular result but no idea why, I can try to watch the full match. This is where looking for things like players with no passing options comes in.

A similar approach might be to rush through a bunch of games in a row, like half a season, then do some analysis and make some tweaks.

But I am a long way from having the understanding of the game engine and the player roles to be able to specifically counter my opponent, and I have had a lot more success since I moved away from trying.

In summary, my advice - get lots of data, think about what could be going wrong, then iterate small tweaks to try to fix it.

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