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The Mentality Ladder: A Practical Framework for Understanding Fluidity and Duty

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Hi Thog,

Apologies if I haven't followed closely enough but coming up to your next fixture, how are you determining which of your 3 approaches you have outlined with Liverpool do you kick off with? Is it intuitive? Or the odds? Or homework based on tactical analysis of their playing style?

- thanks

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CHOOSING A PLAN AND MANAGING A CRISIS

There are several things you can look at to help you decide which tactic to use. Our next match is against West Brom at home after the international break. The first thing I do is look at the opposition manager's profile, and from here, I can start compiling a mental list of factors to consider:

VIsgiHl.png

Here I can already tell the following:

- Mel prefers to play attacking football

- Mel prefers to press very aggressively

- Mel prefers to play a short passing game

- Mel prefers to play a 4-3-3

Both of us are in good form and overperforming, so that should mean Mel is unlikely to deviate too much from his preferred tactics. Still, the reputation gap between the two clubs and the fact that he's playing away means he's unlikely to go all-out attack.

The scouting report then tells you how a team is most likely to create goals. Most of their goals have come from passing moves while they also seem vulnerable to passing moves themselves.

gMU6BoG.png

u0YjhUb.png

The assist map shows that they can create from any area, but they do appear to be vulnerable to attacks originating from the flanks. As I already know that they play 4-3-3, I can conclude that they'll likely be defensively strong in central areas. This is not surprising given that I also know that their two best players, Yacob and Mulumbu, are ball winning midfielders. In that case, I can add the following:

- West Brom score most of their goals from passing moves through the centre

- West Brom are most vulnerable to passing moves originating down the flanks

- West Brom defend the centre well

Finally, before the match, I look at their squad and can consider a final few factors:

- West Brom are playing away

- Surprisingly, their morale is just okay

- They don't have a senior leftback available due to injury

- Their central defenders are slow

- They don't play with inverted wide players and will likely attempt to play a lot of crosses

- Only Vydra represents a serious goal threat and he mainly relies on pace as opposed to power

Given their form and Mel's preferences, I know they won't park the bus, but they're likely not going to go all-out attack anyway. An aggressive, smaller side playing away will likely attempt to control the game instead. However, Plan A and Plan B are likely to run into trouble by encouraging them to stay deeper, look to play the ball through to their relatively quick attackers while placing my main creative players in the midst of Yacob and Mulumbu.

This tells me, then, that my defensive Plan C might be my best option once again, though I'll need to be patient. This should also keep their pace-dependent attack in check while placing my main creative player (Coutinho) on the flanks where Yacob and Mulumbu are less likely to go looking for the ball (or worse yet, diving into Coutinho's shins). If I don't make any progress going forward, I can later switch to Plan A and just instruct players to work the ball down the flanks as they did at Hartlepool.

To summarize, my reasoning for Plan C is:

(a) They will likely be pushing up and playing a possession-oriented approach, so they will give me opportunities to counter into space.

(b) Relying on pace and passing in attack, they simply won't be able to cope with my superior defence and midfield triangle if I sit deep.

© With their main strength being an aggressive holding pair in midfield, I'll be better off playing Coutinho out wide.

After 35 minutes, we're playing well and have created quite a few chances but Ben Foster is playing better and saving everything. Then, at 38 minutes, disaster hits. Lucas sees red and all that prior planning goes right out the window:

JOGI8SV.png

Now, we're in trouble, but I don't want to settle for a draw so I switch to a 4-3-2 with Aspas up top as a false nine to get the ball quickly out of our own half and act as an advanced creator for Sturridge. We hold firm defensively, but we're creating nothing. Then, shortly after the half, the situation goes from bad to worse as Brunt scores from a corner:

75q2qak.png

Over the next 17 minutes, we desperately try to create some chances, but it's just not working with West Brom pushing ahead to grab a second and their powerful defenders overwhelming Aspas in the middle of the park. I conclude that we need power up front, not technique and trickery. I don't even really want a second striker, just someone who can actually challenge for clearances, so I bring on Sakho and put Daniel Agger up top as a target man next to Sturridge. At 80 minutes, a long ball from Skrtel puts him through for the equalizer:

cgli1hj.png

Still not happy with a draw and knowing the attack-oriented Mel is not likely to back down either, I persist with the 4-3-2, and in the last minute of extra time, the crazy Dane scores the winner:

TinniXz.png

Thrilling, but frustrating. This match has again highlighted that the team has problems when the opposition has a solid DM sitting deep and forcing things out wide. I may need to regularly alter my preferred 4-1-4-1 for a 4-4-2 or 4-1-3-2 when I'm going up against a solid set of defensive midfielders.

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LIFE WITHOUT SAS OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE 4231DENMARK

Our next match is Manchester City away, and adding to the Lucas red card, Sturridge has managed to pick up a minor injury in the weights room. While I've been lucky with injuries so far, I'm now without both of my best strikers and my best defensive midfielder going into what will likely be the most difficult match of the season.

Knowing Man City will press high with what will effectively be a 4-2-4, I decide to modify Plan C to allow me to deal with Negredo's aerial presence while compensating for the absence of Lucas. I create a 5-4-1 diamond with Sakho in the centre of a back three and Coutinho operating just behind Aspas.

This will keep the numbers in my favour at the back (5v4), protecting me against wide forwards cutting between my fullbacks and central defenders while best exploiting the gaps that I expect to be present in central midfield. The final tactic, then, looks like this with Allen told to hold position and Gerrard given license to play more risky passes:

FfYzKkX.png

Note that I've removed the BWM as I have Coutinho to press their midfield in advanced areas, allowing the defensive midfield triangle to just cover space and focus on providing defensive support to the wingbacks.

In the second minute, City have predictably thrown numbers forward. Their options are limited with my packed defence, so Fernandinho plays it long. Skrtel, comfortable with the cover offered by Sakho, rushes forward to clear it:

nRSyj5m.png

Coutinho collects and brings it forward into the enormous amount of space that has been exposed in the middle of the park:

R2cf6aB.png

Fernandinho has to rush across to close him down, allowing Allen to surge into space:

Pdvo5lR.png

Coutinho lays it off to Aspas who plays it through to Allen:

jtPB1Fc.png

It's a difficult shot, but Allen expertly lifts it over Hart for the goal:

3PGGTBB.png

Here, you can see another strength of playing three at the back against the 4-2-3-1Denmark. Normally, the high pressing of the four forwards causes keepers to distribute long, but the defence splits in the 5-3-2 and pushes their wide forwards back to mark my wingbacks. This gives Mignolet the option of safely playing it out of the back and preventing me from being pinned back by a series of returned clearances that you often have to deal with when playing 4 at the back against a 4-2-4-style system:

FCWnLbT.png

A few seconds later, Skrtel threads it into the vast gulf of space beyond their forward line and Johnson scores the second:

wwcD5Qf.png

As they try to play it out of the back, the advanced positioning of their wide forwards encourages them to get it forward quickly, but this just lets us swarm them in the middle of the park before either of their midfielders has had time to get forward:

rkOejh9.png

There's been a bit of debate about the positioning of centrebacks in 14.3, but this image shows you some of the reasoning behind it. Johnson has pushed forward, the back three shift across to allow Skrtel to provide cover, but on top of providing cover, this helps create efficiently arranged passing networks that utilize the full width of the pitch:

s1cbqjx.png

Here you can see how the 4-2-3-1/4-2-4 systems usually create goals. A fullback lets a wide forward get goalside of him for whatever reason and the wide forward cuts into the space while the fullback scrambles to react. Except here, he's running into Agger instead of a clear run on goal:

puYfS8T.png

Here you see how even a 5-4-1 can become a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 when the ball is in the opposition half:

pJeHqNg.png

At the half, Man City have decided to go all out attack with a standard 4-2-4. At 47 minutes, poor marking from my players allows Aguero to score a goal from a well-placed Milner cross. If you're playing a smaller side, these sort of random lapses in concentration are going to be your biggest worry going up against these kind of systems. As always, good tactics will adjust the probabiilty of victory in your favour, but player quality will always have something to say.

At 66 minutes, I decide it's time to play some keepy ball and try to draw some fouls in their half, so I tell my midfield diamond to quit with the risky passes. I also switch my wingbacks to support while telling them to cross less often and play less risky passes in the hope that I can convince Enrique to stop drilling crosses into the side netting. Finally, I switch Aspas to a false nine, so he'll come deep and offer more passing options.

At 80 minutes, I have to make some subs as players are starting to make mistakes. Henderson has been misplacing passes all match, so I move Gerrard up to MCR and bring on Kolo Toure to screen the defence and also bolster our defence on set pieces. Enrique has also started to make errors, so I bring on Cissokho at leftback.

Unfortunately, while the 5-4-1 gets around the 4-2-3-1Denmark's tendency to force your keeper to boot it long, this workaround doesn't always work for a 4-2-4, so I'm having to deal with a lot of pressure as Aspas and Coutinho contend for long balls against Kompany and DeMichaelis.

At 86 minutes, I have to replace an exhausted Coutinho with youngster Luis Alberto. And finally, I tell my team to waste time. Toure practices posing heroically on the ball, Mignolet spends an inordinate amount of time adjusting his socks, and we leave the Etihad with all three points.

And so if you were wondering, that's one way to increase your odds against an attacking 4-2-3-1Denmark away from home:

eyJeN66.png

Next up, Hull away in the league cup as Luis Suarez comes back and we ask the important and still largely unanswered question: Is Plan A good enough to break down a stubborn, mid-table defence?

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THOG, I think you nailed it on the head on the previous page: While your opening posts opened my eyes to a lot of things, I found it hard to visualise how these actually played out on the pitch. Your posts describing the creation of the tactics and the employment of them during play take the opening post information to the next level and are so, so valuable.

These newer posts also express perfectly something I'd been thinking about recently - namely the use of PI's to implement player behaviour rather than the role they are given.

I would like to thank you for the effort you're putting in Sir.

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Post 202 was great. Thank you. Could we have more examples of how you think the opposition are going to play. So many people including me would learn so much from this.

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Thanks for this. I feel i have gained a fair bit of knowledge of how to implement the type of play I want to produce, and identify the times that will not be possible and look to a plan B or C.

Too many times I have stuck with the same plan and not understood how it failed, or what I could've changed to the game to work in my favour.

Top stuff mate.

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Hi THOG,

Trying to find the bayern style tactic :p , what would you think about this ?

Balanced / Control

GK Sweeper (S) CYCLE POSSESSION (PIDistribute to Defenders)

DR Fullback (A) SHUTTLE BALL INTO SPACE (PI Get Further Forward)

DCR CD (Defend) DISRUPT ATTACKS QUICKLY

DCL CD (Stopper) RECOVER POSSESSION (PISwitch position with DM)

DL Fullback (A) SHUTTLE BALL INTO SPACE (PI Get Further Forward)

DM Halfback DISRUPT ATTACKS QUICKLY (PISwitch position with DCL)

MCL BBM (Support) SHUTTLE BALL INTO SPACE (PI Close down more)

AMC Shadow Striker PENETRATE GAPS (PI Close down more) (he will be positioned between the AMC spot and the AMR spot, so kinda AMCR position)

AMR IF (Support) CREATE CHANCES PATIENTLY (PI Close down more)

AML IF (Attack) PENTETRATE GAPS INTERMITTENTLY (PI Close down more)

ST False 9 (Support) SHUTTLE BALL THROUGH DEFENCE(PI Close down more)

TI:

Shorter Passing

Passing into Space

Play out of Defence

Exploit the Middle

Play Wider

Hassle Opponent

What do you think about this

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...

It'll be very aggressive and direct with a possibility that your defence would be highly vulnerable to counterattacks. It could very well end up being a goalfest with a team like Bayern, but it probably won't result in the more methodical build-up that I think you want.

A couple of technical issues to consider:

You don't need to give a Close Down More PI if you're already using Hassle. Hassle sets closing down to maximum, so if my understanding of how PIs work is correct, it's possible that Close Down More will actually reduce closing down in this instance.

Exploit the Middle will effectively put your MCL and F9 on an attack duty while telling your wide players to sit back.

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3 questions:

Do you use a complete forward attack in all plans now, as you said a quicker player is needed?

Are you going to use the 5-4-1 cum 5-3-2 vs all 4-2-3-1 Denmark formations?

How did you get on against Hull? :D

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RIP IT UP AND START AGAIN

Our next match is Hull City at home in the League Cup. Looking at Bruce's profile, I can see he's fairly attacking (specifically, he's "adventurous"), prefers to press and that his first choice of system is 4-4-2. The scout report shows that they'll also play 5-3-2, and I can see from their fixtures that they recently used it to secure a draw against City. Looking at their assist map, I can see that they score about an equal amount of goals with passes down the middle and crosses, but defensively, they're quite strong down the middle and vulnerable to passes/crosses from out wide. So basically, they're the sort of side that should give me trouble if the West Brom and Hartlepool matches were any indication.

Now, given that Bruce is fairly attacking, I suspect he'll play some sort of patient, breakdown strategy away from home against a larger side. His preference for pressing will see him push up and try to fight a physical battle in midfield while looking to score from a defender error or set piece. In that case, he'll probably keep enough numbers back to keep my players from breaking with any regularity on Plan C while Plan B would likely see us struggling to pick through a physical defence while giving their fast strikers opportunities to attack into space. In that case, Plan A would seem the logical choice, but to be honest, I don't trust it. Despite managing good results against larger sides like Celtic and Malaga, it's purpose has always been to beat more stubborn teams into submission, and I've had doubts about its ability to do that since the Parma friendly. These doubts were cemented in the Hartlepool match while even our victory against Crystal Palace was a tedious, unremarkable match where we got lucky from a keeper error and a pair of set pieces.

In practice, Plan A has seemed more like the hesitant, overly structured Liverpool of 2011-12 than the frenetic, all-action Liverpool of 2013-14 with the midfield sitting back too much and wide attackers tending to do a bit too much creative legwork from the middle of the park. My conclusion is that I erred too much on the side of caution in focusing on avoiding passing errors from my deep defensive unit, and that I need to tell the side to take more risks. In any case, it's never too early or too late to acknowledge that something isn't working. If a tactic doesn't seem to be going in the right direction as familiarity increases, it's probably not worth seeing it out to the bitter end. And while this will set us back a bit in terms of instituting the playing style I'm looking for, the fact that we have a working and thoroughly tested Plan B and C means we don't have to start from the beginning entirely in most situations. Going back to the drawing board, then, I come up with a revised Plan A:

PLAN A v2: RELENTLESSLY RELENTLESS, ATTACKING FOOTBALL

Mentality: Attacking

Fluidity: Fluid

Team Instructions

- Roam from Positions

- Much Higher Tempo

- Shorter Passing

- Retain Possession

- Drill Crosses

- Much Deeper Defensive Line

GK: Goalkeeper - "Cycle Possession"

- Distribute to Defenders

DCRL: Ball Playing Defenders - "Keep Possession Away from Pressure"

On Attacking, central defender passing will be extremely short, even if I give them a PI to play more direct, but as I need them to drop deep and play it forward quickly, I'm changing both central defenders to ball playing defenders to give them a more direct passing range.

DLR: Wingback (Attack) - "Keep Possession"

- Cross Less Often

I mainly want my wingbacks providing width, creating overloads and helping to work the ball along the byline. So far, crossing from both has mainly seen a lot of promising attacks end up in the side netting. The attack duty will also ensure they have the passing range to get the ball forward quickly.

DM: Defensive Midfielder (Defend) - "Keep Possession Under Pressure"

- More Risky Passes

- More Direct Passes

MCL: Central Midfielder (Defend) - "Shuttle Ball"

- More Direct Passes

This player will now need to contribute more in distributing the ball to attackers in advanced positions, so I tell him to play more direct passes. As you can see, I want more of a direct defensive/counter passing structure combined with an attacking mentality.

MCR: Central Midfielder (Support) - "Create Chances Urgently"

- Dribble More

Again, this player will be relied upon to work the ball into well defended areas while the more aggressive tactical priority will see him trying to play the final ball much more often.

ML: Wide Midfielder (Attack) - "Penetrate Gaps Intermittently"

- Cut Inside With Ball

- Cross Less Often

This player will now get into the area much more quickly. I removed Dribble More and More Risky Passes as these were leading to a lot of needless dispossessions for Sterling who, again, is mainly supposed to be operating as a sort of wide poacher. I want him to bring the ball inside, lay it off to a teammate and get forward as opposed to trying to make spectacular runs on his own.

ML: Wide Midfielder Right (Attack) - "Penetrate Gaps Intermittently"

- Dribble More

- More Risky Passes

Suarez, on the other hand, will still be expected to do the spectacular, though I'm removing Cut Inside as I want him using his dribbling to draw defenders away from Sterling and Sturridge as opposed to trying to work through the heart of the opposition defence. The attack duty and narrower width from my passing instructions, however, will still ensure he regularly cuts inside off the ball when play is building up on the other flank.

ST: Advanced Forward (Attack) - "Draw Off Defenders"

Sturridge will continue operating as a player mainly expected to push up, create space for Coutinho/Sterling and draw off defenders when Suarez attacks the area.

Fortunately, this doesn't set me back too much with tactical familiarity, so I think I can safely test it against Hull. If not, it's only a cup fixture. When I go to the prematch screen, I see Hull are going with the 4-4-2. This also suggests Bruce isn't going to try to sit back and grind out a draw, so everything is going according to plan so far. At 2 minutes, Suarez puts Aspas through but the striker tries to bring it on to his left foot and lets himself get closed down in the box. Still, this is the kind of quick, counterattacking play that I've been struggling to create with the original Plan A. Seconds later, Suarez creates another opportunity, but Aspas fails to get his foot on the ball. After 18 minutes, the players seem complacent, but they're getting into good areas. Hull's rightback has been very error prone and quick to foul, so I decide to exploit the left flank to see if I can provoke some mistakes from him. Finally, at 35 minutes, a surging Henderson plays it to Aspas's feet and Nibbler finally gets it right:

r0qSpsF.png

Ten minutes later, we should get our second, but McGregor keeps Hull in the game with a spectacular save.

At the half, I decide to take off Allen as he's been particularly error prone. The stats confirm this as he's committed two fouls in dangerous areas while his pass completion rate is lower than those of most of his teammates despite the fact that he's been instructed to play the simplest game on the pitch. So Henderson moves over into the advanced holding role while Alberto is given a chance to get some competitive game time in central midfield. But as the second half starts, the players look complacent and immediately start giving away possession with lazy passes. Fortunately, Hull don't seem too concerned either, so we cancel one another out with a lot of awful passing in midfield. The match then drags on and ends as an unconvincing 1-0 win. Still, this appeared to mostly be a result of player attitude as a promising first half gave way to a sorry display of player apathy. Fortunately, the goal took the wind out of Hull's sails, so they were in no position to take advantage of our poor performance.

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3 questions:

Do you use a complete forward attack in all plans now, as you said a quicker player is needed?

Are you going to use the 5-4-1 cum 5-3-2 vs all 4-2-3-1 Denmark formations?

How did you get on against Hull? :D

I'm still experimenting with an advanced forward up top, as I don't want my striker to try to hold up the ball on the counter. I want him immediately starting to move and pull the defence apart. It hasn't been properly tested as Sturridge hasn't been fit and Suarez just came back (and Suarez just got injured in training after the Hull match too).

I'll probably only use the 5-4-1 against the more direct, larger sides.

As above, it was a good first half followed by a terrible second, but my players showed they will actually do what I originally wanted from my Plan A if they're motivated.

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Great posts again, THOG. This thread is what currently, in my time of frustration, makes me want to persist in getting better with tactics.

Given that you change tactics pretty often, how do you go about match preparation and training in general? Do you worry about tactical fluidity at all?

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Great post.

I have questions regarding Hull's match. What makes you think they would keep numbers back? You worried about their fast strikers in case of Plan B, why not in case of more aggressive Plan A?

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It'll be very aggressive and direct with a possibility that your defence would be highly vulnerable to counterattacks. It could very well end up being a goalfest with a team like Bayern, but it probably won't result in the more methodical build-up that I think you want.

A couple of technical issues to consider:

You don't need to give a Close Down More PI if you're already using Hassle. Hassle sets closing down to maximum, so if my understanding of how PIs work is correct, it's possible that Close Down More will actually reduce closing down in this instance.

Exploit the Middle will effectively put your MCL and F9 on an attack duty while telling your wide players to sit back.

ok well i tested it yesterday with Portsmouth. The play was really nice to see and i won 5 of the 6 matches and draw 1.. goals came from my wide players SS and my striker. I will try it without Hassle and Exploit the middle to see what happens.

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Hi THOG,

Your game vs Man City where you went with the 5-4-1 Diamond. Did you change to this formation 'in-game' just prior to the match KO? I ask this, due to your 'tactical fluidity' changes in your pre-set match Plans, which would have decreased. I'm assuming you didn't mind this going into this game?

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Great posts again, THOG. This thread is what currently, in my time of frustration, makes me want to persist in getting better with tactics.

Given that you change tactics pretty often, how do you go about match preparation and training in general? Do you worry about tactical fluidity at all?

The changes I make aren't big enough to have a very noticeable effect. Also, having three plans that cover a lot of tactical territory gives you flexibility in terms of familiarity since changes will overlap into another tactic.

With training, I keep it moderate and mainly assign role training that target specific areas where I would like a player to improve. Sturridge, for example, is training as a target man just so he'll have a bit more muscle for taking on defences.

Great post.

I have questions regarding Hull's match. What makes you think they would keep numbers back? You worried about their fast strikers in case of Plan B, why not in case of more aggressive Plan A?

They're a smaller side playing away and their manager isn't that attacking, so I would expect them to probably play on something like a Counter mentality. And since their fullbacks are fairly defensive, I expect them to play a single pivot with a rigid back four.

Plan A takes more risk in attack, but it defends slightly deeper than Plan B.

ok well i tested it yesterday with Portsmouth. The play was really nice to see and i won 5 of the 6 matches and draw 1.. goals came from my wide players SS and my striker. I will try it without Hassle and Exploit the middle to see what happens.

If it's working for you, no need to change it. :)

Hi THOG,

Your game vs Man City where you went with the 5-4-1 Diamond. Did you change to this formation 'in-game' just prior to the match KO? I ask this, due to your 'tactical fluidity' changes in your pre-set match Plans, which would have decreased. I'm assuming you didn't mind this going into this game?

No, a slight reduction in formation familiarity won't have that great of an effect, especially if the plan is to sit very deep and just obstruct the opposition. I'd be more cautious about playing around with Plan A/B though.

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YOU SCORE 3, I SCORE 4; YOU SCORE 0, I SCORE 4

The next match sees us taking on Southampton at home, but our striker-eating weights room has claimed Suarez just as Sturridge returned to fitness. Now, I have three major problems:

(1) My best player is injured for a month.

(2) My squad is disgustingly complacent.

(3) I don't have a system that I'm sure can consistently break down stubborn defences.

Since Pochettino is unlikely to sit deep and keep numbers back, my next tactical decision is a little easier. Southampton, like Cardiff, prefer an attacking 4-2-3-1 with a high press. Of course, they're a little better than Cardiff, and they have the form to show it. They're currently undefeated in the league, 5th in the table, and they've defeated both Spurs and Everton while holding United to a scoreless draw. This tells me that they play well against other attacking teams with a high press, but a recent 3-3 draw with Middlesbrough suggests they struggle against passing teams that sit back and counter from deep.

That's a good sign. The scout report also tells me they're most vulnerable to attacks down the middle while our own assist map shows that we're quite adept at scoring goals set up from central areas. The question, then, is whether I take a risk with Plan A or go with Plan C and rely on Southampton to give me a lot of opportunities to counterattack.

Given that we're at home and I have the superior team, I decide to see if I can just outscore them with Plan A.

In the first minute, Coutinho cuts right through their midfield and plays through Sturridge, but Sturridge's shot deflects off the keeper's leg. Hopefully, that won't be the only decent chance of the match.

And it's not! At 20 minutes, I see a perfect example of the sort of flank play that I've been after. First, Johnson receives it from Henderson and carries it forward while Henderson moves inside:

GEDggm7.png

Johnson pulls off two defenders, but instead of going for a cross, he slides it back to Coutinho who immediately moves up and pulls the two defenders off Johnson:

1I8iFRf.png

Coutinho then taps it back to Johnson who moves inside with the ball:

T0cpbPh.png

Johnson then pulls off Shaw, who had already been occupied by Henderson, creating even more room for Sturridge. The fullback then gently crosses it a few feet over for Sturridge to easily volley past Boruc:

5qz6xvO.png

Fifteen minutes later, we get a corner and Lucas lifts it over the zonal wall for our second. Shortly after, you can see how the 4-2-3-1Denmark shape, when combined with an aggressive press, leaves massive amounts of space for us to exploit in the centre:

5GbHj0V.png

Not five minutes later, we open them up again and my wide poacher scores goal three at the far post, and two minutes later, more lovely combination play on the flanks leads to Sturridge's second.

At 56 minutes, we're playing well, but a positional error almost lets them score a "classic" wide-forward-slips-past-the-fullback-unopposed goal that is the 4-2-3-1Denmark's bread and butter:

Yov549J.png

At 60 minutes, confidence is giving way to complacency, so I decide not to risk injuring the recently returned Sturridge and pull him off while replacing the booked Skrtel as well. I'm going to see if we can squeeze another chance out of this match in the next 10 minutes, and if not, we'll go to Plan B to shut it down.

But before the change of plan is instituted, more clever play from Johnson and Henderson forces Southampton's centreback to scramble out wide and concede a penalty, but an uninspired shot allows Boruc to keep it out.

After 76 minutes, I see Southampton are really going for goal while my players are complacent and tired, so I decide it's a better idea to play it safe and switch to Plan C while pulling Coutinho to wide midfield and Lucas to DM. The match ends 4-0, though our complacency allowed them to have 2 good chances in the second half while preventing us from making it 6 or 7 for ourselves. As the shot map shows, we got into fantastic areas all match:

VTVuTl3.png

But more importantly, our crossing map shows that Plan A has increased our threat from wide areas. Our number of crosses per match has not massively decreased, but the more patient "if we can't cross, we'll turn the pitch sideways" approach has spread it out among more players while the number going out of play has dropped considerably:

hGp3q3c.png

Compare the above to the map from Hartlepool:

IKPDC3P.png

Finally, the match stats show how soundly Southampton were beaten in every area except tackling and headers:

5J44Hvj.png

So the revised Plan A can humiliate a tough, mid-table side trying to punch above its weight, but how would it do on a cold, rainy night in Stoke? Well, that fixture will have to wait until March, but in three weeks, we have Norwich at Anfield which should be a reasonable test for it. Until then, it's Fulham at home and Newcastle away.

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THOG,

Your post regarding the City game is absolutely fantastic. The key feature of the 4-2-3-1 Denmark is as you say, the AML/AMR bursting through on goal getting in between the fullbacks and center backs. This is almost always the result of a through ball / pass from either the ST or one of the CM's. It's one of the most frustrating things to deal with because often times teams like City/Chelsea/United play with their AML/AMR/ST sitting on the shoulder of the defensive line, waiting to break forward with the aforementioned pass.

The key is.. How do you defend properly against this without using a 5-3-2 system, or any 3 CD system? I am working on this right now starting into my 3rd summer with Arsenal.

Ultimately, you can't plan for everything and expect to win every game, but there is no question that if you can neutralize the 4-2-3-1 Denmark, you'll probably be much closer towards winning a title than you otherwise would be, as long as the other top clubs are using it.

For example, in my Arsenal FMC save, we won the title the first season playing very cautious football and having the best defense in the league. In the 2nd season, we came in third place by about 6 points, while Chelsea scored a ridiculous amount of goals en route to the title. We were able to eliminate Chelsea from the Champions League by counter attacking them, but in terms of the Premier League, we simply couldn't cope with their attack. It's a shame I didn't figure them out sooner, but knocking them out of Europe was brilliant regardless..

So, here's what I did..

In the CL Quarter Final Chelsea had the first leg at home. They lined up the typical Denmark, with Hazard and Willian out wide and Mata + Lukaku playing the AMC and ST.

What we decided to do was line up a 4-2-2-1-1 and play narrower. The wingbacks were instructed to keep it tight and narrow, and close down less. The idea was to force the AML/AMR to just cross from wide and not make those nasty runs towards goal. It sort of worked, and we got the 1-1 draw.

But that wasn't good enough.

Second leg, at the Emirates, we needed to be more aggressive. So we lined up a 4-1-4-1 instead of the 4-2-2-1-1. The idea here was that the DM would man mark the Chelsea AMC, while also making sure we denied space to Hazard. We didn't focus much on Willian, and he did score a goal late but it was pretty much a lucky consolation goal as the tie was secured by then. What happened was that we were able to utilize the space between the CM's and defensive line. Jack Whilshere was a monster and played as a CM-S, while Nemanja Matic (my DM) sat back and played simple passes. We had Theo Walcott (a wide mid) cutting inside on an attack duty, constantly trying to break through Chelsea's line. Add in Giroud's target man prowess, playing simple flick ons, etc, and you've got a devastating counter attack. We used Ozil next to Jack Wilshire (AP-A) who made runs at the box, and also played dangerous passes. ALSO, Oxlade-Chamberlain played wide left, and cut inside a fair amount to link up with Ozil/Giroud/etc.

Chelsea simply couldn't handle us. We won 4-1 and knocked them out of the CL, it was glorious. Hazard finished the game with a 6.1 rating, and Lukaku with a 6.0.

Chelsea were not as attacking as they were at home in the first leg, but they still left a lot of space open to exploit just by lining up the 4-2-3-1 denmark. If you can figure out how to nullify the AML/AMR, and expose the space behind the CM's, you can beat it. But sometimes the other team is just insanely powerful and you can't touch them.

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Having a couple of spare CMs ahead of the DM is really useful in that regard, because it encourages their CMs to push up and then gives you the opportunity to burst into the space behind them. In the Southampton match, both Wanyama and Schneiderlin were on yellow because they both had to stop Coutinho's runs with desperation tackles. Then, later, we got a penalty because Henderson had all the space in the world to just break off the flank and run directly into their area.

When two of the aggressive AI 4231DAN sides play one another, they seem to cancel one another out, probably because they're both pressing so high that the wide forwards can be closed down before they reach goal, though occasionally, you'll see one of them beat the other by some enormous margin. Of course, playing a high line brings other risks, but if you're playing 4 at the back and looking to neutralize it defensively, a sweeper keeper with good anticipation and rushing out attributes is probably the best defence... at least against that specific type of goal.

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Brick_Tamland, hope that works out well for ya. Good luck.

THOG,

Agreed about the high line. If you play high enough up the pitch you can basically keep the AML/AMR totally isolated and cut off the supply from the wide defenders and central mids. But that's a strategy that I generally don't want to use, as I am much more cautious and prefer not to press so high.

But we'll see. I may need to have a better "high pressing" strategy as a backup plan, just in case.

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LINES, DIAMONDS AND THE PRACTICAL VALUE OF PULLING YOUR PUNCHES

Fulham will be a more interesting challenge than I had first assumed. New manager Felix Magath prefers a defensive diamond formation which is naturally very strong at defending the centre. Currently, despite being in 16th place, they've conceded only one goal assisted from central areas. I expect them to sit quite deep and crowd the middle, so this will be a good test for Plan A's ability to break down a defensive side.

However, some changes will be needed to make our counterattacking approach work against a team with an unusual shape that is likely to be focused entirely on preventing goals. First, as I expect Fulham to sit quite deep and not leave any space at the back, I will play Sturridge as a complete forward on a support duty. There's no point playing a lone striker as an advanced forward if there's not going to be any room for him to break. Moreover, bringing him deeper will allow him to help our outnumbered central midfielders work around the angles of their defensive diamond.

Second, given Magath's cautious disposition, I don't expect them to commit numbers forward at Anfield, so I'm going to rely on Lucas as the sole holding midfielder while Gerrard pushes up and operates in a support role. Coutinho is then given an attack duty to encourage him to get into the box. This will provide the numbers I'll likely need to overwhelm this defence with more of a counterattacking style. While this will obviously increase the risk of being exposed at the back, their narrow formation means my defensive midfielder should be able to contain them on the break without having to worry about wide attackers breaking down the flanks

In any case, breaking down a defensive opponent often requires accepting risk. For a more direct or counterattacking approach, this typically involves committing more defenders or midfielders forward with attack duties. For a more patient approach, this typically involves pushing up the defence and pressing the opposition aggressively in their own half to prompt more defensive mistakes and maximize time spent trying to pick apart your opponent. In some cases, you may opt for both. In either case, you'll be getting more of your players into dangerous areas while also exposing space into which the opposition can attack.

The question, then, is why the fast attacking Plan A and not the possession-oriented Plan B for Magath's Fulham? The answer is that this type of midfield is particularly well suited to disrupting possession-based approaches while the two strikers are well suited for attacking balls played behind a high-pressing defence. This means Plan B is probably the worst of any of my three options.

Even with wingbacks, Magath's 4-1-2-1-2 would be problematic if I try to build up slowly out of the back. The narrow diamond midfield won't simply sit in the middle and let me have free rule of the flanks. Rather, it will shift across like any midfield with the diamond structure cutting off short passing options and isolating the player on the ball.

A flat midfield covers space horizontally, bisecting the diamond-shaped passing groups to prevent the attacking side from finding space to play the ball forward through any area of the pitch, but this usually means the player on the ball always has one safe option to get himself out of trouble. This naturally works to the advantage of a side looking to keep possession of the ball and patiently probe the gaps between midfielders. The diamond midfield differs in that it covers vertical space, aligning with the attackers' diamond-shaped passing groups to deny safe options and quickly isolate the player on the ball.

Of course, there are drawbacks to the diamond shape. First, cutting off the immediate options in a player's passing group leaves more distant options wide open, and while this forces the attacking side into a more direct style, it can leave the midfield scrambling to cover space if play is quickly and effectively switched to the opposite flank. Second, the diamond shape limits immediate passing options when the team transitions out of defence. In a sense, the team has to break out of the very same prison it built around its opponent before they take advantage of the full width of the pitch, and as such, another diamond or the triangle/half-diamond of a 4-3-3 or 4-1-4-1 has an advantage over it in defence.

In my case, Plan A offers me the more direct option that should work better against a diamond defence while their inability to break quickly down the flanks should allow me to commit an extra central player forward to let me break through and bypass this particular sort of system.

The first half is a rout with three goals scored in twenty minutes until Magath opts for a change of shape. For the first goal, the narrow defensive shape effectively isolated the midfield as play moved into the final third, but this allowed the ball to be played wide out to Johnson who was then able to cross it to an unmarked Sterling.

Notably, I did not use exploit the flanks here, as building up along the flank can actually work to the diamond's advantage by effectively cutting the ball player's options in half before play moves into the final third. Against the diamond, you want your players to move the ball across the pitch to shift the defence and, in doing so, create openings for passing and movement. My first goal was only possible because my players worked the ball up through the middle before playing it out wide to Johnson (who then played it across to Sterling).

For the second half, I switch to Plan C to give the team an opportunity to sit back and conserve energy, as I want to avoid any unnecessary injuries. At 60 minutes, I bring on Sakho and Flanagan to let them get some game time to help their development.

Unless you're in the situation of having to worry about your goal differential, an early goalfest should be treated as an opportunity to maintain player fitness and train younger players. There's no need to risk first team players' fitness just to score several unnecessary goals. Three points is three points.

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Hi THOG,

In your Attacking Fluid system, I noticed the following shouts, as follows:

- Much Higher Tempo

- Shorter Passing

- Retain Possession

- Much Deeper Defensive Line

I wanted to ask you a question about these as at first glance it would 'appear' that some might 'conflict' with one another (from what we know about FM).

For example, Attacking system with much deeper defensive line, which effectively is either Standard ? (drops down 2)

Shorter passing/retain possession with much higher tempo ? The first two are effectively for ball retention / lowering tempo and then you are playing with a much higher tempo?

Cheers

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...

The idea is that I wanted a counter-style tactic that didn't wait for "safe" opportunities to break forward. The standard Attacking settings are for a very direct, physically overpowering style where you pin the opposition into their area and play direct balls into the box, but that style doesn't play to my squad's strengths. Similarly, while I have a Plan B for controlling matches, I don't think the squad has the extraordinary technical ability and tactical vision to pick apart teams with possession football. So following Rodgers' own apparent logic with Liverpool, I want to turn them into a reckless, counterattacking side that tries to lure out smaller sides and then use pace and technical ability to rapidly exploit whatever small gaps open up. If this doesn't work, then the wingbacks push up and try to work the ball in from the flanks.

Shorter passing and retain possession are mainly used to bring my wide attackers inside with lower width and encourage more combination play in the initial wave of the attack. Basically, I don't want Sterling/Suarez/Sturridge just hoofing the ball from the middle of the park. I then rely on a pair of attacking wingbacks to provide the width you might traditionally expect from wingers in a 4-4-2. On these settings, my attack duty players (including my wingbacks) still all have a mixed passing range while I use PIs and roles to get more directness from my defensive unit (except the advanced holding player who, when on a defend duty, will mainly play short, possession passes as a central defender would on the default Attacking settings). Much Higher Tempo is used to offset the lower tempo from passing (which isn't really necessary for me given the style I want and the modifications I made to my defenders' passing) while Much Deeper Defensive Line means I'm not encouraging the opposition to hold shape and just sit back in their own third. This costs me time on the ball, obviously, but that's the trade off I accept to create some space that my small, technical attackers can actually exploit.

In general, the default TC settings have to make some assumptions about the squad available, and if you're playing a game where you're switching mentalities to suit different situations, those assumptions will likely work best for more traditional systems with a versatile combination of players on the pitch, especially as far as your forward line is concerned. But these assumptions obviously won't always work for every set of players or every system. In that case, you can use TIs and PIs to create a style that works better for the players at your disposal.

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Hi, I just am sorted of confused after seeing your tactic. You mention your wing backs as "Keep Possession" but if I look at the mentality ladder full backs are meant to "Keep Possession" and wing backs are meant to "Shuttle Ball Into Space" not sure if I am reading it wrong or there's been a mistake.

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Hi, I just am sorted of confused after seeing your tactic. You mention your wing backs as "Keep Possession" but if I look at the mentality ladder full backs are meant to "Keep Possession" and wing backs are meant to "Shuttle Ball Into Space" not sure if I am reading it wrong or there's been a mistake.

There's a wingback position (next to the DM slot) and a wingback role available at both the wingback position and the defence left/right position. The wingback roles at DLR have the same tactical priority as fullbacks at DLR.

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THE INEVITABLE

Our next match takes us away to a relegation-threatened Newcastle. Pardew is not particularly attacking or defensive while he prefers a 4-2-3-1Denmark that is heavily dependent on attacks down the flanks. A full 80% of their goals come from long balls, crosses and set pieces, though none of their attackers are the big, powerful centre forward type. Looking at some of their recent goal highlights, they mainly seem to rely on pace on the counter with support from their fullbacks, and they appear to struggle against more defensive sides like Hull, Fulham and West Brom.

In that case, both Plan A and C are options with Pardew's moderate mentality likely leading him to try a half press at home with a view towards fighting it out in midfield and trying to win set pieces. While I'm growing more confident in my team's ability to deploy the attacking strategy, we're going to be playing away from home with our best player still injured and our captain having now picked up a minor injury on international duty, so I decide to play it safe and focus on neutralizing their attack with Plan C.

Before I go, I want to make some permanent changes to Plans B & C based on prior observations of these tactics and my successful modifications to Plan A:

1) I tell the right wide midfielder not to cut inside on both Plans B & C.

2) I remove "Dribble More" from the left wide midfielder on Plan B.

3) I add "Cross Less Often" to both wingbacks on Plan B (however, I leave it on Plan C as I expect to use this in situations where their crosses are less likely to be aimed in a crowded penalty area)

Going into the match, I feel the more cautious Plan C is the right decision when looking at my team sheet. Despite the difference in league position, Newcastle have a deep squad while a pair of key injuries already has me reliant on developmental players. The absence of Gerrard and Suarez is going to put a greater burden on the young trio of Coutinho, Sterling and Henderson while I'm going to rely on Henderson and Allen to fight a physical battle against the powerful Sissoko and Tiote.

Looking forward, situations that highlight the limitations of my current squad are informing my transfer priorities. At the moment, I haven't identified any specific targets, but I know I want:

(a) an attacking leftback to match Johnson's productivity on the right

(b) a physically powerful and versatile box-to-box midfielder who can act as an aggressive ball winner in Plan C and, on Plans A & B, add a physical presence in the final third against defensive sides while also being able to slot into the DM position if injury hits Lucas (who will be playing there more as Gerrard heads toward retirement)

© a goal-scoring, ideally two-footed wide attacker to act as an understudy for Suarez

When the match begins, it's as cagey as I'd expected, but Newcastle are pusing up enough that I'm able to break forward often enough. Then, at 15 minutes, Skrtel loses Cisse at a corner and the forward heads it in unopposed at the near post. My team, lacking leadership and feeling the pressure of the title race against Chelsea, collapse into a bundle of nerves. Still, I have no other option but to switch to Plan A.

At 40 minutes, Johnson slips through a gently lofted pass which allows Sturridge to secure the equalizer. At this point, I need to choose between sticking with Plan A or reverting back to Plan C. With my defenders looking especially rattled, I decide it would be best to just ensure they play the ball forward and let the attackers create offensive pressure as opposed to risking a mistake while defending around our area. Just a minute later, Henderson creates another clear chance for Sturridge, but it deflects wide off the foot of Williamson.

At the half, I do my best to calm the team's nerves. This brings Agger, our acting captain, back to his senses, but a few others are still on edge. At fifty minutes, I replace Enrique and Sterling as Allen is the only functioning part of my left flank. But at 60 minutes, we concede from another corner in the exact same style and I'm forced to replace my advanced pivot with a support duty while moving Coutinho to an attack duty. But now, the players are just a complete mess and a positional error from a daydreaming Agger allows Cisse to get through for their third.

And so, we stumble to our first loss. The match stats show a tight match with both teams creating the same number of chances and our side actually taking more corners, but we just didn't take our chances today while our defence was caught sleeping on three separate occasions. Still, I take it easy on the team as their nerves are already rattled and begin looking forward to the second return of Suarez and a good chance to bounce back against Norwich.

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THE INEVITABLE

Our next match takes us away to a relegation-threatened Newcastle. Pardew is not particularly attacking or defensive while he prefers a 4-2-3-1Denmark that is heavily dependent on attacks down the flanks. A full 80% of their goals come from long balls, crosses and set pieces, though none of their attackers are the big, powerful centre forward type. Looking at some of their recent goal highlights, they mainly seem to rely on pace on the counter with support from their fullbacks, and they appear to struggle against more defensive sides like Hull, Fulham and West Brom.

In that case, both Plan A and C are options with Pardew's moderate mentality likely leading him to try a half press at home with a view towards fighting it out in midfield and trying to win set pieces. While I'm growing more confident in my team's ability to deploy the attacking strategy, we're going to be playing away from home with our best player still injured and our captain having now picked up a minor injury on international duty, so I decide to play it safe and focus on neutralizing their attack with Plan C.

Before I go, I want to make some permanent changes to Plans B & C based on prior observations of these tactics and my successful modifications to Plan A:

1) I tell the right wide midfielder not to cut inside on both Plans B & C.

2) I remove "Dribble More" from the left wide midfielder on Plan B.

3) I add "Cross Less Often" to both wingbacks on Plan B (however, I leave it on Plan C as I expect to use this in situations where their crosses are less likely to be aimed in a crowded penalty area)

Going into the match, I feel the more cautious Plan C is the right decision when looking at my team sheet. Despite the difference in league position, Newcastle have a deep squad while a pair of key injuries already has me reliant on developmental players. The absence of Gerrard and Suarez is going to put a greater burden on the young trio of Coutinho, Sterling and Henderson while I'm going to rely on Henderson and Allen to fight a physical battle against the powerful Sissoko and Tiote.

Looking forward, situations that highlight the limitations of my current squad are informing my transfer priorities. At the moment, I haven't identified any specific targets, but I know I want:

(a) an attacking leftback to match Johnson's productivity on the right

(b) a physically powerful and versatile box-to-box midfielder who can act as an aggressive ball winner in Plan C and, on Plans A & B, add a physical presence in the final third against defensive sides while also being able to slot into the DM position if injury hits Lucas (who will be playing there more as Gerrard heads toward retirement)

© a goal-scoring, ideally two-footed wide attacker to act as an understudy for Suarez

When the match begins, it's as cagey as I'd expected, but Newcastle are pushing up enough that I'm able to break forward often enough. Then, at 15 minutes, Skrtel loses Cisse at a corner and the forward heads it in unopposed at the near post. My team, lacking leadership and feeling the pressure of the title race against Chelsea, collapse into a bundle of nerves. Still, I have no other option but to switch to Plan A.

At 40 minutes, Johnson slips through a gently lofted pass which allows Sturridge to secure the equalizer. At this point, I need to choose between sticking with Plan A or reverting back to Plan C. With my defenders looking especially rattled, I decide it would be best to just ensure they play the ball forward and let the attackers create offensive pressure as opposed to risking a mistake while defending around our area. Just a minute later, Henderson creates another clear chance for Sturridge, but it deflects wide off the foot of Williamson.

At the half, I do my best to calm the team's nerves. This brings Agger, our acting captain, back to his senses, but a few others are still on edge. At fifty minutes, I replace Enrique and Sterling as Allen is the only functioning part of my left flank. But at 60 minutes, we concede from another corner in the exact same style and I'm forced to replace my advanced pivot with a support duty while moving Coutinho to an attack duty. But now, the players are just a complete mess and a positional error from a daydreaming Agger allows Cisse to get through for their third.

And so, we stumble to our first loss. The match stats show a tight match with both teams creating the same number of chances and our side actually taking more corners, but we just didn't take our chances today while our defence was caught sleeping on three separate occasions. In retrospect, it may have been a better idea to heed the warnings about set pieces and go with Plan A in an attempt to keep them in check with more consistent counterattacks, but for now, I'll just have to learn from this misjudgment. In my team talk, I take it easy on the team as their nerves are already rattled and begin looking forward to the second return of Suarez and a good chance to bounce back against Norwich.

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Thanks.

Currently I am having issues against a team. Although their manager prefers Balanced mentality, they play with 3-4-2AM-1. My team plays with 4-4-2 which means that their two AMs would have plenty of space between lines and outnumber in midfield. If I go for attacking, pushing defensive line up to limit their space, my slow defenders would be exposed to their pacey striker and AMs. What should I do?

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THOG, unlucky against Newcastle. It might be worth trying to improve your own teams set pieces to improve your chances in tight games where your forwards aren't at the races. Especially as your corners outnumbered the Geordies.

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Thanks.

Currently I am having issues against a team. Although their manager prefers Balanced mentality, they play with 3-4-2AM-1. My team plays with 4-4-2 which means that their two AMs would have plenty of space between lines and outnumber in midfield. If I go for attacking, pushing defensive line up to limit their space, my slow defenders would be exposed to their pacey striker and AMs. What should I do?

I had a similar decision to make recently against Aston Villa: set up to prevent Benteke from getting around my area or to keep Agbonlahor from getting into space behind my defence. In these cases, if you want to stick with your system, there's no obvious right answer to these dilemmas, so you have to make a decision about which risk is the lesser threat: their striker or their midfield (by looking at either the relevant player's skill level or your players' ability to deal with that particular kind of threat).

Alternately, if you're willing to be more reactive, you can change your defensive formation to better mitigate their threats. If you have superior players, the quickest way to negate the advantages of an unusual system is to use it yourself, as this essentially turns the game into a series of 1v1 battles across the park as opposed to a test of which area of numerical superiority is more beneficial (in your case, it's a question of whether their 4v2 advantage in the middle serves their goals better than your 2v1 advantage out wide serves yours). If you don't think your advantage out wide is serving you well at all, you can also switch to a system that will flip their current advantage, or use TIs/PIs to bring your wide players inside and try to create overloads in the middle.

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BACK IN THE RHYTHM

v. Norwich

Chris Hughton prefers a direct and defensive style, and while he normally plays a narrow 4-2-3-1, I look at their recent results and see they typically play a flat 4-5-1 away from home. The goal analysis from my scout shows that they score mostly from crosses and long passes from wide areas while they're vulnerable to passing moves down the middle.

My plan is to stick with my normal attacking system, but to adjust it for their more defensive mentality and apparent vulnerability to attacks through the centre. First, I switch Sturridge's role to a support duty complete forward. Next, I play Lucas at DM with Gerrard moving up to CML as a box-to-box midfielder to encourage him to move up further in support of the front three. Finally, I replace Agger with Sakho since Sakho is more capable of dealing with direct play while Agger's performance against Newcastle was very disappointing.

As we move into extra time in the first half, the team has wasted a trio of terrific chances, but in the 46th minute, Sterling finally opens up the scoring. At 60 minutes, Sturridge has thrown away another clear chance with Ruddy now feeling confident, so I switch him for Suarez and bring Henderson to the right flank. An unfit Suarez ends up missing a sitter set up beautifully by Flanagan and the match ends 1-0.

On the one hand, we created a lot while restricting Norwich to a single, off-target shot. On the other hand, we wasted all but one of the opportunities we created. The revised Plan A, then, has yet to prove itself, but the signs are encouraging and it's possible that I've just found the inherent limits of the current squad. Though keep in mind, tactical familiarity is still well off fluid in several categories.

v. Swansea

After an unremarkable victory over Nottingham in the league cup, we go to Swansea to face off against Lambert's Swansea. Lambert prefers to play a passing 4-3-3 with a high press and an adventurous mentality. Plan C, then, should prove a good option for this away fixture, especially as Swansea do not appear too strong at set pieces.

This works well. First half goals from Suarez and Sturridge lead to an eventual 1-4 victory with our side only conceding from the requisite, wide-forward-slips-between-fullback-and-centreback-unopposed goal. Again, somewhat like the real Liverpool, we do well against the more attacking sides, but as the Norwich match showed, our victories against more defensive sides are less convincing.

v. Stoke

Interestingly enough, the next match puts us against Stoke at home. But in FM, Stoke are not quite as defensive as you might expect. Rather, Hughes is a direct attacking manager who presses aggressively. Still, at Anfield, I expect them to sit deep and try to frustrate me in midfield with the 4-3-2-1 formation they recently used to beat United. With Crouch likely to be up front, I should be able to hold a high line and try to pick them apart with Plan B while trying to avoid conceding a set piece at any cost. The more defensive centre of Plan B will also ensure that I have all of their attackers well covered if they try to counter.

As I begin the match, they surprise me with a 4-3-3, but with the slow Etherington and Ireland on the flanks, Plan B still looks like the way to go. At the half, we've kept Stoke in check while we're up thanks to a wonder goal from Henderson. Still, my objective now is to protect the lead, so I continue with Plan B into the second half. At 56 minutes, Wilkinson is sent off and Stoke are down to ten men. In response, I switch to a 5-3-2 as I no longer need the extra numbers in midfield. A further goal from Aspas sees us escape with a respectable but not terribly convincing 2-0 victory.

v. Aston Villa

My next match sees me going up against Glenn Hoddle's Aston Villa. At Anfield, Hoddle will almost certainly play a defensive 4-4-2 with Benteke and Agbonlahor up front. The bad thing about this is that Benteke offers the power that can rip open a deep-lying defence while Agbonlahor has the pace to exploit a high line. Regardless, their performance against the larger sides suggests they struggle against teams with a higher press, so Plan B is likely the better option.

During the international break, I receive news that Henderson has suffered damage to his cruciate ligaments, an extended injury that will massively set him back in his development and could possibly end his chance at securing a first team future at the club. This being the case, the hunt for a powerful box-to-box midfielder becomes an even greater priority.

When the scout report for Villa finally arrives, it shows that they tend to score from the flanks while they're extremely vulnerable to passing moves. This is not terribly surprising as they're playing a fairly conventional 4-4-2, but it reinforces my decision to go with Plan B for the match.

At this point, I suppose I should mention that I usually go with defensive positioning for my match preparation, as my tactics in this save are all dependent on either quickly winning possession in midfield or defending deep in my own half. If I were playing a different style with a different team, this might not be the case, but with Liverpool, my priority has always been to make sure I'm tight at the back while trusting the superior talent of my attack to be enough to score goals.

Though I expect Aston Villa to keep numbers back at Anfield, I decide to stick with the double pivot, as I know they're likely to try to work it forward slowly with their passing style. This should hopefully give me opportunities to win the ball inside their own half and break forward quickly.

After about 12 minutes, I notice they're actually playing rather aggressively, so at 16 minutes, I decide to switch to Plan A to see if I can open the game up. At 23 minutes, Agger scores from a corner, and at 37 minutes, Coutinho adds the second after finishing off a one-two with Suarez along the right flank. However, at 45 minutes, Benteke pulls one back from a poorly defended cross, so going into the half, I briefly consider turning my attention to keeping their attackers in check. But noticing that Benteke's goal was their only shot attempted anywhere remotely near my goal, I ultimately decide to stick with Plan A.

In this case, my intuition serves me well as Lucas scores our third at 47 minutes. At 60 minutes, Gerrard is tiring, so I decide to switch my focus to shutting down their 4-4-2. I switch back to Plan B with Allen coming on for Gerrard.

Plan B does the job, and in the last minute of stoppage time, Agger scores our fourth (and his fourth of the season) from a free kick.

v. Arsenal

With our competitive return to the Emirates, we will see if Plan C can work as well as it did in preaseason. Looking at their scout report, I see the vast majority of their goals are assisted from their left flank, though going into the match, I notice that Giroud has just picked up a minor injury and Podolski has been put out on the left flank with Cazorla shifted to the middle. This means I only have to worry about Bendtner at ST with the wide forwards Podolski and Ozil the most likely goal threats. I decide, then, that this is a good opportunity to bring out the 5-4-1 that I used against City, but this time, I play Sturridge as a complete forward on a support duty while playing Suarez behind him as a shadow striker and Coutinho next to Lucas as the sides of the diamond. This should keep their wide forwards contained while the diamond midfield should cause problems for Cazorla.

At 34 minutes, Arsenal have been totally restricted to pop shots from distance when Enrique surges onto a loose ball and takes it forward to assist Suarez with a perfectly weighted cross:

mHbYjhk.png

The rest of the match goes precisely according to plan and ends 1-0 with both sides having the same number of chances (though in fairness, mine were better while they mostly snatched wildly at the few balls that happened to land in my area).

Next, I'll finish off this series with a trip to Goodison and a brief look at how to make educated guesses about opposition tactics within the match engine itself.

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THOG, unlucky against Newcastle. It might be worth trying to improve your own teams set pieces to improve your chances in tight games where your forwards aren't at the races. Especially as your corners outnumbered the Geordies.

IMO, the biggest factor is that I had a bunch of kids and they bottled it at the first chance of going clear at the top. Minor tactical error was the second factor, but that probably wouldn't have mattered if the players had their heads on straight. Where's Dr. Peters in this game?

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EXAMINING THE AI'S TACTICS DURING A MATCH

In this final post, I'll show how you can use a lot of the ideas that I've used to design a tactic to get a sense of how your opponent has set up his side. What I know from the outset is that Everton plays an aggressive 4-2-3-1Denmark with a high press and that they score most of their goals via passing moves down the middle. That being the case, Plan C is the obvious choice, but since I know both sides will be motivated and eager to score, I'm going to stick with the more midfield-heavy 4-1-4-1 as I don't want to risk fighting this out entirely in my own third and conceding from a set piece.

But this final post isn't really about my tactics, so enough about that. It's about the virtual Roberto Martinez's tactics, and since he uses the same TC that we do, we can learn more about his or any other AI manager's tactics by looking at his team's shape during various points in the match. For this, it helps to switch over to 2D, so you can see the whole pitch.

In this image, I can get a sense of how duties have been assigned:

RN4QcE4.png

Coleman, Mirallas, Deulofeu and Lukaku are all pushing into space, suggesting attack duties. Osman and McCarthy are deeper in the middle looking to provide support options. Baines is possibly a support duty fullback. This being the case, there's space in the middle to exploit while Sterling (who is operating on the right here) will likely be running into a fairly defensive fullback going forward. To account for this, I switch Suarez to the right and give him a support role with Sterling moving into an attack role at ML. Coutinho is then given an attack duty at MC. I also switch the position of Gerrard (currently at MCL) and Coutinho as Everton's holding player is operating on Coutinho's side of the midfield triangle while my advanced pivot would be more useful operating on the side of the overlapping fullback and pulling their holding player out of position. Gerrard, then, also becomes responsible for trying to isolate Barry.

At the half, my players are getting nervous, so I have to make some changes. I put Coutinho back on a support duty with both flanks on attack. Suarez moves up top and gets placed on a support duty with Sturridge coming off due to loss of nerve.

At 70 minutes, Gerrard is out of steam and most of the team is looking nervous, so I switch to the 5-4-1 and just look to shut the match down with more time wasting.

And so this series ends with a boring, negative 0-0 draw in a Merseyside derby. We did create more chances, but the players just weren't up for it. That's the peril of being at the top with a young squad, I suppose. A little disappointing, I have to say, but on the bright side, Chelsea lost at home to Spurs so we actually gave ourselves a bit more of a cushion when it was all said and done.

I hope this second series of posts has shown that these ideas really aren't that complicated when you think of them in terms of defining the team's shape, and looking forward, this is the direction in which I'll be taking the ideas developed in the original series of posts. Until then, I hope everyone who took the time to read this has found something that they can use in their own careers. Best of luck!

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THOG,

When you switch two players around, for example, for arguments sake your two central midfielders i.e. MCL and MCR. Do you then re-set their Set Piece instructions? I ask because just say one of them is defensive and the other more attacking, the defensive player may have more defensive orientated instructions like 'man-mark' etc and the attacking player may have 'get forward'. If you swap these two players around with different set-piece instructions without changing them, this may cause problems?

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THOG,

When you switch two players around, for example, for arguments sake your two central midfielders i.e. MCL and MCR. Do you then re-set their Set Piece instructions? I ask because just say one of them is defensive and the other more attacking, the defensive player may have more defensive orientated instructions like 'man-mark' etc and the attacking player may have 'get forward'. If you swap these two players around with different set-piece instructions without changing them, this may cause problems?

I honestly don't pay that much attention to set piece instructions. I usually leave them on default which, as I understand it, means they change automatically when I adjust roles and duties.

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THOG,

What do you do to encourage more through balls from your team, for your chance creation?

The AI seems to constantly hit through balls for their chances, and rarely succeed crossing the ball. However I struggle to get those killer through balls despite playing a pretty creative style with Arsenal.

The key seems to be the AP in the AMC slot. I'm using a AP / TM partnership, and the TM can be deadly but sometimes it feels disjointed.

Any experience with this in your current set up?

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Superb thread. I also love reading threads like this and having my own theories, tactics or guesses confirmed or extinguished!

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If I say that this is increadible reading, it will not be something new. Sir, you are great, and after I read this I got desire to play again. But I have one question:

You mentioned that for some games you transformed one of your pivots becouse you wanted more players in attacking third (match against Fulham), and it is clear for me. But could you explain me what team gets when using one pivot and what is advantage/disadvantage when using two pivots. I mean what kind of play demand one and what two pivots.

Thanks again.

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THOG,

What do you do to encourage more through balls from your team, for your chance creation?

The AI seems to constantly hit through balls for their chances, and rarely succeed crossing the ball. However I struggle to get those killer through balls despite playing a pretty creative style with Arsenal.

The key seems to be the AP in the AMC slot. I'm using a AP / TM partnership, and the TM can be deadly but sometimes it feels disjointed.

Any experience with this in your current set up?

For over-the-defence passes, directness seems to be a bigger factor than the risky passes instructions (although more risky passes certainly doesn't hurt). An AP will be quite direct by default. Telling him to "Play More Direct" should help then.

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If I say that this is increadible reading, it will not be something new. Sir, you are great, and after I read this I got desire to play again. But I have one question:

You mentioned that for some games you transformed one of your pivots becouse you wanted more players in attacking third (match against Fulham), and it is clear for me. But could you explain me what team gets when using one pivot and what is advantage/disadvantage when using two pivots. I mean what kind of play demand one and what two pivots.

Thanks again.

I usually use two holding midfielders because I like both fullbacks to attack and stretch the defence whenever possible, but against a smaller opponent where my defenders are vastly outnumbering the players they send forward in attack, I will turn one of those holding midfielders into a support midfielder (and a support midfielder into an attack midfielder) just to get another person forward pulling off defenders and providing a target for crosses/passes. This still increases the risk of them hitting me on the counter, but it's a calculated move to avoid draws against smaller sides that are content to just sit deep and grind out a point.

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For over-the-defence passes, directness seems to be a bigger factor than the risky passes instructions (although more risky passes certainly doesn't hurt). An AP will be quite direct by default. Telling him to "Play More Direct" should help then.

What if you have a quick forward against a slow CB, how would you get more passes on the ground?

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What if you have a quick forward against a slow CB, how would you get more passes on the ground?

You need to create openings for those passes. Easier said than done, obviously, but you need to stretch the defence to create gaps or players will correctly assume that any such ball will be intercepted quite easily. Playing two strikers is more helpful in this sense as a lone striker is always going to have two defenders closely covering space to either side.

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THOG, I was wondering if you think that for flat formations (e.g. 442) certain fluidities are better or more appropriate?

Using the 442 as an example, it's obviously vulnerable to a player dropping in the hole between defense and midfield. Would it be safe to assume that using Rigid or Fluid with a formation like this would only make the weakness more pronounced as (I think) that Rigid and Fluid stretch your team? Perhaps Very Rigid or Very Fluid would be a better choice as they compress your team (once again, I think)?

Assuming the above is true, would it therefore also be useful to use Rigid or Fluid in formations that make use of all 5 stratas?

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THOG, I was wondering if you think that for flat formations (e.g. 442) certain fluidities are better or more appropriate?

Using the 442 as an example, it's obviously vulnerable to a player dropping in the hole between defense and midfield. Would it be safe to assume that using Rigid or Fluid with a formation like this would only make the weakness more pronounced as (I think) that Rigid and Fluid stretch your team? Perhaps Very Rigid or Very Fluid would be a better choice as they compress your team (once again, I think)?

Assuming the above is true, would it therefore also be useful to use Rigid or Fluid in formations that make use of all 5 stratas?

In the defensive phase, it shouldn't matter in the sense that, in terms of positioning, it won't cause a defend duty MC to not pick up a player drifting into the gap. Going forward, Very Rigid/Fluid will keep the team more compact which will make it easier to recover shape, but to be honest, I wouldn't be too concerned about it. Roles and closing down settings matter more.

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I do believe this thread has given me a new love for the game. I was struggling with Man Utd. I wasn't scoring and was conceding quite frequently. So I came in here to have a look. I implemented some of the information I read, which has lead to two clean sheets, and me winning both games 2-0.

Man Utd v West Ham

This game was an FA Cup game to get into the Semi Finals. It was a 6th Round Replay. I looked at the Scouting report and it said West Ham were vulnerable to a 4-1DM-2-2-1 formation. It also said they were vulnerable to attacks down the left flank and a passing game.

I therefore set my team up with the 4-1DM-2-2-1 formation and told my team to pass into space, work ball into the box, shorter passing and to exploit the left flank. It was continued dominance for the whole game. I won 2-0 with both goals coming from the left flank

Man Utd v Man City

A scary derby game. I had to win this one to stay in touching distance of the title. I knew the game was against a Pellegrini team and that I would be attacked. So I opted for a counter attacking strategy using a 4-2-3-1 which Man City are vulnerable to. I also noticed they conceded a lot of goals through the center. Therefore I told my team to work the ball into the box, pass into space, shorter passing, and to exploit the middle. This worked a treat with both my goals coming from the center. I also told my WB(A) to become a FB(S) after I had scored the goals, which tightened my defence ensuring a 2-0 win.

Would you say this is the way to go about playing the game THOG?

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Their is something about this game I really don't get. I beat 3rd placed Everton 3-0 with your Plan A tactic, but then I lose 2-0 to 11th placed Hull. Any ideas?

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Would you say this is the way to go about playing the game THOG?

I wouldn't say there's a right or wrong way to go about playing the game, but personally, I get more enjoyment and longevity out of a save if I take it slow and treat every match as a challenge.

Their is something about this game I really don't get. I beat 3rd placed Everton 3-0 with your Plan A tactic, but then I lose 2-0 to 11th placed Hull. Any ideas?

I had issues using Plan A against Hull as well. I managed 1-0 but it could have been different. A team like Hull that is capable of absorbing a lot of pressure and will hit you with direct balls or set pieces might call for a more patient approach.

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Hey THOG, I'm also playing with Liverpool and was wondering if there was a way to push the wide midfielders into the AMR and AML positions without losing the shape of the team, or at least without being defensively suspect on the flanks as the two wide men won't track back as much? Perhaps playing a HB or Anchorman in the DM slot instead of a DM?

I'm not very confident with the ML and MR positions, and it's very difficult to actually find players in the game who are comfortable playing there.

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