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Cleon

Stick or Twist?! Playing The Long Game

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Context in Football Manager is everything and sometimes we don’t realise this, for example, you could go two goals up and think you are playing well. Or you could go two nil down and think you are playing poor but like everything else, it isn’t that black and white. It is quite possible to be losing by playing well and winning while playing poor. There can be hundreds of reasons to why the scoreline is what it is, so we need to understand how we are playing in order to know what changes we need to make and why. How well do you understand exactly what’s happening in your own games?!

I recently played a game in the League Cup, I am League One Sheffield United and I was playing The Premier League’s Swansea City. Now if I didn’t understand what was happening in this game I could have panicked and made changes just for the sake of it. I see a lot of users panic when they score or go a goal behind and instantly make changes, this can be a bad idea sometimes if you don’t understand why it happened. If you’re playing well and go behind then why would you really make a change instantly? Surely if you’re playing well then you have just been unlucky? No amount of tactical instruction we set can control player mistakes these will happen regardless. At least that’s how I see it.

Let me show you an example of what I’m talking about based on a game I played recently against Swansea. To give you a bit of background about the game, I was the away side and with thirty minutes of the game left I am trailing 3-0. These were the formations both sides used;

lineups.png?resize=300%2C152

These were the stats for the first half in terms of shots both sides had;

half.png

As you can see in terms of shots it was pretty even on the face of it. I actually went into halftime two nil down though. The first goal Swansea scored came from a fantastic ball from one of their players out wide and then as a result of a cross that my keeper didn’t deal with they scored a really easy goal. I put this down to a goalkeeping mistake as I expected the keeper to deal with the cross much better than he did. I can’t show you the video of it just yet as it’ll give the scoreline away but I’ll link it at the end. The second goal was a good bit of skill from their striker although he hit his shot from 20+ yards out so I’d expect my keeper to save these kind of shots more often than not. So again I’ll put this down to a mistake or being unlucky.

So even though I was two nil down I didn’t feel the goals I conceded should have happened in the first place so we can count ourselves of being unlucky with the scoreline. But what about how I was playing? Well I didn’t think I was playing that bad, we had our own chances of scoring during the first half and my side generally defended well considering the gap between League One and Premier League standard players. I’d have liked to have a couple more shots on target but it wasn’t a big deal as I felt I was both creating enough and that the goals would eventually come.

When half time approached I had a choice to make, do I stick or do I twist? Well considering I was play well (in my mind by watching the match and not just judging by the stats, as they can be very misleading when looking at them in isolation) and I felt the goals would come I decided to do nothing. Other managers would maybe change things around here as they are losing two nil and need to score. But if you feel you have played well and not been outclassed then why change? Yeah I get that you might think you need to go more aggressive due to chasing the game but I don’t see the point of changing anything based on what I considered to be two bits of poor play from my keeper, that’s all the really separates us. If my strikers were better I could have easily gone into this half two nil up myself I felt. I don’t like to panic, if I make a change it’s because I want something that the current tactic/settings don’t currently offer but I truly believed I’d been the better side and was more than still in this game.

With all that in mind no changes were made and I continued into the second half.

The second half went much the way the first half did but I didn’t create that much going forward and neither did Swansea. Then around the sixty minutes mark Swansea scored their third goal of the game and I was three nil down. This was really their first effort at goal in the second half. Now I had a choice to make do I still stick or do I twist? I still hold my nerve and not panic and keep things the way they are, I have the long game in mind here and don’t want to rush. This might sound strange to a lot of you but I still believed I can win the game in the latter stages when tiredness is an issue. So I kept things same for the next ten minutes.With twenty minutes left to go however, I definitely twisted as I need to score four goals to go through, it seems unlikely doesn’t it? Well no, I feel I’ve been the better side and created the better chances. Swansea are also tired now but my side seems to have conserved their energy throughout the game a lot better. With this in mind I decide I can move from the counter attacking strategy to a more attacking one now as the players still have the energy for it but Swansea are looking tired and have quite a few players with low condition compared to my own. So I thought I’d exploit this fact and went attacking.

On seventy-five minutes I scored a really well worked team goal that split open Swansea’s defence and we took the chance well. Ten minutes later I score the second goal that puts me back in the game with five minutes left. Two minutes later, from the result of a corner we score the third goal and its now 3-3!!! We are in dreamland the comeback is complete and it looks like it’s heading to extra time with three minutes remaining of the game.

By this point Swansea are rattled and look lost and tired, in the last ten minutes or so they’ve been penned in their own half and the odd times they have ventured forward they have offered little threat due to their players being tired. With one minute left of normal time the unthinkable happens, I score a FOURTH GOAL! I now lead the game I was losing three nil, 4-3. The more or less straight from the kick off Swansea go up the other end and equalise, what a game this has been so far. It’s weird because twenty minutes ago I’d have took this result all day long but now I’m a bit disappointed after going 4-3 up. The full time whistles blows and it finished 4-4 in normal time, that means another half hour of extra time to be played.

The second half shot stats looked like this;

2nd.png

I had seven shots and scored four goals, that’s not a bad return at all. I mentioned during the first half that I felt I played well and the goals would come. I feel the second half we played a lot better and became more clinical in front of goal.

After the excitement of the first ninety minutes extra time was quite dull as both sides were really tired and offered nothing going forward really.

full.png

As it finished 4-4 after extra time with no further goals it went to penalties and I actually lost them lol. After all the drama that the game brought I lose on penalties! Ah well at least we showed character and there isn’t anything you can really do to influence penalties its just the luck of the draw on the day. These were the full stats from the game;

fullstats.png?resize=300%2C197

These are all the goals from the game

The first Swansea goal 1-0;

[video=youtube_share;-2L2wzrTrD0]

The second Swansea goal 2-0;

[video=youtube_share;9iKDY6m1eVM]

Swansea’s third goal 3-0;

[video=youtube_share;04lRS5NvNCI]

Blades first goal 3-1;

[video=youtube_share;pa0mGHq3IEY]

Blades second goal 3-2;

[video=youtube_share;7-TCH27gQs8]

Equaliser 3-3!

[video=youtube_share;yhjhATLB6c0]

The Blades fourth goal 3-4;

[video=youtube_share;DcnCDFeEZ1s]

Swansea equalise 4-4;

[video=youtube_share;5cBF3TWgVms]

I should point out that no substitutions impacted this game as I only made personnel changed during extra time.

So what’s the point of this article? I guess if there was one it’s that you should understand how the game is going and not take the stats or scoreline at face value, context is everything. If you know you are playing well and just been unlucky then I see little point in changing things around to chase something that you don’t need to chase. I’m not saying everyone should do that but this works for me and how I play. Also if you are to make changes then make sure its to either change something or take advantage of a situations. Some people might have panicked at half time and done drastic changes and they could have got a better result than me, they could have also got a worse one. Timing and understanding are everything on a game like Football Manager, they are the fine margins between winning and losing. Sometimes we can be too quick to change things or sometimes we can be too late to change things.

What we should do is view how the game is going them come up with a plan. My plan was simple, stick to what I know works and don’t panic. Then with twenty minutes to go, I go all out for it after I knew Swansea would tire and have players with low condition. On another day I might decide to go that little bit earlier to win the game with changes I make. But whatever I decide I’d have a clear plan throughout the game of when I’d make changes based on how the game was going. I’m not saying the changes will always work and they could backfire but I find that I can often clawback results like this.

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Fixed the editing issues :)

Thought I'd do something a bit different this time about what I write about and see how it goes down :)

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Because you were such underdogs did you pre game expect Swansea to attack at a high tempo and plan for this. You seemed to be waiting for them to blow up ( Ali v Foreman :) ). Did you play high stamina players?

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Because you were such underdogs did you pre game expect Swansea to attack at a high tempo and plan for this. You seemed to be waiting for them to blow up ( Ali v Foreman :) ). Did you play high stamina players?

No I never plan anything before a game. What I do is make a plan based on what is happening during the game. It was clear I was playing well but it was also clear Swansea were playing higher tempo and I knew at some stage in the game if they kept this up tiredness would be an issue. if they'd have played differently I'd have come up with another long term plan for the game instead.

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Certainly showed nice composure not reacting to 3-0! Analysis of types of goals conceded seemed to play a big part in your decision to stick, this is something I do myself to gauge if I'm weak someplace as like you indicate keeper mistakes or absolute worldies are hard to plan for, but being sliced open with relative ease is alarm bell stuff.

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Certainly showed nice composure not reacting to 3-0! Analysis of types of goals conceded seemed to play a big part in your decision to stick, this is something I do myself to gauge if I'm weak someplace as like you indicate keeper mistakes or absolute worldies are hard to plan for, but being sliced open with relative ease is alarm bell stuff.

I guess that's the real point I was making, understanding what's going on. It's not always tactical, it's not always bad luck, it's not always a bad performance etc. But in order to make any kind of changes you need to understand how and why you are playing the way you are in order to apply or attempt to apply the correct changes needed.

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I tend to stick too; sometimes it costs me matches, but while I don't care for losing so much, sometimes the other just has the run of the day. I recently lost 3-0 to Hibs in my current save on the strength of an amazing hat-trick by one of their forwards. All were fantastic goals, and their keeper made a couple of great stops to shut me out. I was a close run match but the score didn't indicate it. It just happens sometimes.

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I tend to stick too; sometimes it costs me matches, but while I don't care for losing so much, sometimes the other just has the run of the day. I recently lost 3-0 to Hibs in my current save on the strength of an amazing hat-trick by one of their forwards. All were fantastic goals, and their keeper made a couple of great stops to shut me out. I was a close run match but the score didn't indicate it. It just happens sometimes.

Sometimes its just not your day and these things happen yeah :)

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It's another variable that a lot people don't take in to consideration, quite often people are dominating possession but not penetrating the opposition at all and make no changes at all thinking the other team will eventually crumble and then conversely you have people whose team are actually playing very well, creating space and getting good chances and they go a goal down and start ringing the changes.

It's instinctive to know if your team are playing well and honestly you can almost tell when your team are about to score but it's a natural reaction for many to panic when they concede and not look at the reasons why they have conceded. Another great bit of advice Cleon, can I ask if you use in game team-talks and what you think about using them?

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It's another variable that a lot people don't take in to consideration, quite often people are dominating possession but not penetrating the opposition at all and make no changes at all thinking the other team will eventually crumble and then conversely you have people whose team are actually playing very well, creating space and getting good chances and they go a goal down and start ringing the changes.

It's instinctive to know if your team are playing well and honestly you can almost tell when your team are about to score but it's a natural reaction for many to panic when they concede and not look at the reasons why they have conceded. Another great bit of advice Cleon, can I ask if you use in game team-talks and what you think about using them?

I don't use the in game team-talks no, they're a bit pointless imo :)

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I tend to trust in my system, so if I am playing well I stick. I will often be proactive in making changes to hold onto a result though. But I consider carefully if a defensive change will cause me to go under pressure, and if the personnel and system can cope with being more cautious.

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I said the same in another thread recently, but it's the knee jerk decisions in matches that tend to bite you on the arse, so if things are looking OK on the pitch, then I too am quite happy to sit on my hands and keep an eye on things.

However, at 0-3 down, I'd have been knee jerking all over the shop :D

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However, at 0-3 down, I'd have been knee jerking all over the shop :D

Yeah I must say, as much as I trust my system, 0-3 is a goal too far to trust what's happening.

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What would you have both changed though? I was the better side, playing well, Swansea didn't actually cause me any trouble apart from 2 silly mistakes from my goalkeeper. 3-0 suggests we were poor but we actually wasn't.

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-Very interesting piece. I have learned from all your posts in the past that you should always know why you are doing something. So if you don't see anything that needs changing, then why are you changing it? Got to admit I've gone in to panic mode many times.

What I like about FM is that like real life football, if you get a goal, it gives your team a lift, especially if you are 2 or 3 down, all of a sudden you are right back in the game and your tails are up. At the same time you are very vulnerable right after you have scored (as happened to you sadly)

I think some inexperienced players need to be careful how they take your post, and not take it as just leave things alone cos you will come back, if there is something wrong then it will still need addressing, but there are often times it is just individual errors, wonder goals, set pieces , and actually you are much the better side and your game plan is still sound.

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What do you guys do if you notice an inherent weakness, but that weakness is also a strength.

EG: you're playing a raumdeuter and wing back support on one flank. The opposition are playing an attacking flank and overloading with their fullback and creating chances on that side. As a result of the overloading wingback your raumdeuter has acres of space and is also getting good chances as a result. My personal feeling is to 'play chicken' and try and score first and then mitigate the danger once we have the lead.

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What do you guys do if you notice an inherent weakness, but that weakness is also a strength.

EG: you're playing a raumdeuter and wing back support on one flank. The opposition are playing an attacking flank and overloading with their fullback and creating chances on that side. As a result of the overloading wingback your raumdeuter has acres of space and is also getting good chances as a result. My personal feeling is to 'play chicken' and try and score first and then mitigate the danger once we have the lead.

Give the wingback an attacking duty to reduce the gap and stop him being overloaded is what I'd do. Or I'd have factored this stuff into the tactic and the midfield would help out some way, i.e the most defensive midfielder would be positioned to help out the fullback who has the most work to do defensively. I'm not one who likes to leave stuff to chance and try and combat weaknesses somehow.

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Giving the fullback an attacking duty is something I would have never thought to do. My immediate thought was to use the mc on that flank to help. Thanks for the tip.

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What would you have both changed though? I was the better side, playing well, Swansea didn't actually cause me any trouble apart from 2 silly mistakes from my goalkeeper. 3-0 suggests we were poor but we actually wasn't.

To be honest, I'd have done something way less significant than you, and then I'd have kept everything crossed :)

I'd have tried to stress the space behind their MC line by changing the CM to an Attack Duty. It wouldn't have been as assertive a change as your Mentality switch, but it could have had an impact centrally.

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The very best piece of advice I ever got was from Cleon regarding watching in full match mode at the start of games to actually see whats going on. I only have one game going now when I play FM, an unemployed "Sunday League Footballer" (Now National A licence) start.

I watch every game in full match from start to finish now and the difference it makes it comparison to highlight mode regarding knowing how the game is actually playing out in comparison to what match stats and highlights show is really massive.

I have to say that this years engine really feels good and I don't feel like I get the occasional 'weirdness' I have encountered with all previous versions. I am in the Vanerama North at the moment as Hednesford (gotta love those keys) and due to full match mode have opted to stick with my current methods even when conceding because I can see that I am the better side! As mentioned above it becomes far easier to see when stats that suggest you are dominating are deceiving such as high possession ratings.

Loving the lower league football at times too...I have nicknamed one of my first choice defenders 'HOOF!', as this is what he does when he has the ball at his feet 9/10 times...great defender but oh my that passing :D

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I watch every game in full match from start to finish now and the difference it makes it comparison to highlight mode regarding knowing how the game is actually playing out in comparison to what match stats and highlights show is really massive.

I can't see how people watch with anything less personally.

I quite often can go a goal down but be happy with what I'm seeing on the pitch & go on to win without making any changes. Not quite as drastic as Cleon but he makes a very good point, it's very easy to "panic change" based on the scoreline or a stat when your team could be playing perfectly well

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Loving the lower league football at times too...I have nicknamed one of my first choice defenders 'HOOF!', as this is what he does when he has the ball at his feet 9/10 times...great defender but oh my that passing :D

I feel that deeply. I have at least 2 or 3 counter opportunities every game that are dashed because of crap passing; usually a little behind the breaking back so that he has to stop and go back for the ball: counter attack squashed! :D

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I can't see how people watch with anything less personally.

I quite often can go a goal down but be happy with what I'm seeing on the pitch & go on to win without making any changes. Not quite as drastic as Cleon but he makes a very good point, it's very easy to "panic change" based on the scoreline or a stat when your team could be playing perfectly well

Watching every game on full is overkill for most. Once you know how the tactic works and why then you should be able to play at a faster rate. Unless you have the time, patience to play every single game on full that is.

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I watch every game in full match from start to finish now and the difference it makes it comparison to highlight mode regarding knowing how the game is actually playing out in comparison to what match stats and highlights show is really massive.

Ouch, we only do that if we are testing the engine, testing out a new system, and even then, its like for the first 15 mins. Whats invaluable for me are the post match stats. The performance tab is my review section. If your system of play is solid, you should be able to sit back, and know why what is happening when it happens

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Watching every game on full is overkill for most. Once you know how the tactic works and why then you should be able to play at a faster rate. Unless you have the time, patience to play every single game on full that is.

I'm just the nervy type :D

I'm confident in my set up, I just get a bit panicky if an opposition player starts to stand out

Once I'm 2 or 3 goals to the good, it's 3D & Comprehensive, sit back & enjoy

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Do you think you put too much focus on what the opposition are doing at times rather than the good things you do during games? Reading these forums at times I certainly think certain individuals ignore how they are playing and focus solely on the opposition.

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I do think I used to think a lot like that that, reading a lot of the guides on here has taught me to focus more on what I'm doing rather than stressing about things the opposition are doing

I just can't help getting a little twitchy when an opposition winger puts in a few good crosses or starts tearing into space

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Anyone else good at doing dramatic comebacks and got examples to share?

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I've not played FM in a while :D

But I've got a couple. I remember being down 2-0 to Man City. I was being completely dominated. For whatever reason City were determined to completely embarrass me that day; they threw everything at me. This was one of those games where my team actually was losing because we were playing badly. I certainly was frantic as this was the FA Cup semi-final. I made one change and it completely changed the match; I replaced my striker with smaller more agile one who liked to drop deep and run at defenders. That's exactly what he did. He dropped deep, picked up the ball and ran past the now tired CBs like they weren't there. He scored twice in 5 minutes. About a minute later, I brought on another attacker but this time out on the left flank. About a minute after that, he scored the winning goal after being played in by my striker who dropped deep once again. A minute or so later the match was over. We scored 3 goals in 7 or so minutes. 2 goals and an assist from my substitute striker. All thanks to City's knackered defenders and midfield.

Ironically tired players used to be my biggest weaknesses.

I really learned how key the last phase of the game can be. In any game not just ones that are close. I've learned that when players are tired anything can happen. So I'll do what I can to make sure my players can at least make it to the end of the match. Well sometimes :D

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