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Variety and Subtlety: Getting the extra points out of your team

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This is the first guide I have written in a while actually (Pairs & Combinations has taken most of my attention in the last 18 months). I thought it was about time I looked at a few other useful things to inform your tactical decision making. So the subject today is Variety and Subtlety - specifically looking at what individual players can do for your squad, and learning to see the differences in players. So time to look at my Arsenal and see what I mean by this. I am going to look at 3 positions, and show a pair of players that have similarities that fit into my tactical style and philosophy, but at the same time offer something different and how to utilise them. So, first up Kieran Gibbs & Nacho Monreal.

Left Back

So first up a look at the comparison in attributes of Gibbs & Monreal:


Kieran Gibbs has the following PPMs:


Nacho Monreal has the following PPMs:


So let's look at the similarities:

  • Both are quick and energetic
  • Both like to get down the left flank
  • Both are technically sound

This means that I can keep the same style and tactical set up that I always employ. I am confident that if I select Gibbs or Monreal, that both players will perform adequately in the role, offering me overlapping runs down the left flank, and penetration in the final third. So, what's different about them though...?

  • Gibbs is better on the ball - his dribbling, first touch & flair are all better than Monreal - this means he is more likely to create an assist for me through some individual skill
  • Gibbs is a bit quicker too - which will only enhance his ability to take on opponents directly - his recovery pace therefore is also better
  • Monreal is more intelligent - his teamwork is better, as is his concentration - so offensively he will combine with the midfield a little better, and defensively he is less likely to be caught out.
  • Monreal is also more aggressive - his aggression and bravery are excellent, and helps him win the ball in a one-on-one duel a little more often, as well as a better aerial presence
  • Monreal is stronger - which links with his aggression - he is slightly stronger, a slightly better leap, which when combined with his aggression and defensive nous means he is the better "defender" of the two.

This is where a subtle tactical variation can reap rewards. Kieran Gibbs may be better at breaking down a tough defence, as the quality of his ball in the final third is likely to be better, and his recovery pace if I get caught on the break is also a touch better too. I may conversely decide to play Monreal in a tougher game, as he is less likely to be caught out defensively, and is more likely to offer additional aerial support in my team which is slightly on the short side. The other option I have with these players, is to play both on the left flank, with 1 in front of the other - this is a common way I tend to see out a result. Playing a Defensive Winger ahead of an Attacking Wing Back - meaning we have a disciplined tracker, and a good defensive relationship.

Right Wing

My next debate is on the right flank, where I now look at 2 candidates - Theo Walcott & Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.


Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has no PPM's.

Theo Walcott has the following PPM's:


So again, let's look at the similarities:

  • Both are very quick
  • Both have a relatively direct/positive nature
  • Both are quite balanced mentally, with decent work rate and intelligence

In my team, I play a fairly direct player on the right wing to add some width and directness to the team. This allows me to play combination play on the left, but attack down the right quickly to exploit gaps and use pace. Both players though have major differences:

  • Walcott is much better in front of goal
  • Walcott is quicker than Chamberlain - despite the fact Chamberlain is quick, Walcott is faster, and more agile too. This makes Walcotts pace much more dangerous.
  • Chamberlain is a little stronger
  • Chamberlain is a much better dribbler - his Dribbling, Technique & Flair are much better than Walcott's - this combined with his strength means he is less easy to knock off the ball, as well as being better with the ball at his feet.
  • Chamberlain is a little better defensively - as well as his strength, his concentration, decisions and bravery are better.

Utilising these 2 players is actually a straightforward decision. Theo Walcott is much better at getting in behind a high line, or finishing chances because of his electric pace and his much better finishing - quite simply you want him to finish off the moves, and less of the creating. Walcott's PPM's also enhance this, as he likes to use his pace to get past opponents, as opposed to relying on technical skill. Chamberlain however is trickier with the ball at his feet, and is a much better creator. Chamberlain would be better against an organised defence trying to keep shape as his dribbling is more likely to create space by unseating the organised defence - whereas Walcott can exploit larger gaps, or a higher line with his finishing and pace to get away from his marker.

Central Midfield

Finally my central midfield choice (well one of them anyway); Aaron Ramsey or Jack Wilshere. With the system I play, Arteta is the more defensive of my trio, with Ozil/Cazorla often playing ahead of them. This means I have room for only 1 of these 2 gifted midfielders. Once again, they fit what I want from my supporting central midfielder, but they offer a different take on the role.


Aaron Ramsey has the following PPM's:


Jack Wilshere has the following PPM's:


The notable similarities are:

  • Both are technically excellent
  • Both have excellent teamwork and work rate
  • Both are defensively capable

My supporting central midfield player has to be able to everything to greater or lesser degrees. They must be technically good, with a good engine. However the player needs to be able to play a reliable part defensively, assisting my more defensive central midfielder.

The differences between these 2 players are:

  • Wilshere is much more direct - he has better dribbling & flair, and his PPM's encourage him to get forward as soon as possible
  • Wilshere is much more aggressive - his aggression & bravery are high, and his PPM encourages him to get into challenges
  • Wilshere is a touch more intelligent - he has better anticipation, leadership & teamwork
  • Ramsey tends to pass as opposed to dribble - he has mildly better passing, and tends to try killer balls often
  • Ramsey is a better goalscorer - his finishing is much better than Wilshere's
  • Ramsey is a better tackler
  • Ramsey has a better engine and fitness

In terms of using these 2 players, Wilshere is more likely to create a chance through a moment of individual skill - and I also expect him to make more positive runs off the ball to force a chance or opening. If I elect to play a high pressing game then Wilshere's aggressive style will suit this plan, especially as any fouls his style causes are likely to be higher up the pitch, away from goal. Ramsey on the other hand, is less aggressive, but picks his tackles a little better, and is more disciplined and a better choice than Wilshere in a game I expect to sit a bit deeper. Ramsey is also a better goalscorer and therefore more likely to finish a chance created with a late run into the penalty area. The difference in movement is also important - Wilshere will tend to make a direct run in behind, or into advanced areas to score goals, however, Ramsey will tend to stay with play, rather than bursting ahead, but will look to make a late surge into the area, or, get onto a cut back from the byline.


The key to using these subtle differences to their best, is to think about your game plan and which player will maximise what you are trying to do. If I want to press aggressively, then perhaps should I play Wilshere ahead of Ramsey? Should I then go with Monreal to add to the aggression? Or should I go with Gibbs to make use of his better recovery pace? The next aspect of this, is to know your players. This may be an obvious point - but I know my players attributes (not maybe every single attribute exactly, but I have a very good idea who has what attributes), and PPM's as well as these dramatically tailor the style the player adopts. Using this knowledge from my memory, I know that Giroud plays with his back to goal, and Welbeck tries to beat the offside trap - both players fit the system, but I can pick which player will suit the style I am going to play most effectively, which will complement the team as a whole. Making the right changes and adaptation as you go can honestly earn you anything from an extra 5 points a year, to maybe 10 or 20 points. It is 1 thing to have a game plan, but it is another making the game plan work.

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PPMs are often overlooked when somebody says to you 'You have to make your tactic fit your players', and it's always worth taking the time out to have a look at your squad and how their PPMs could influence your tactic. There are some cases where they could render themselves ineffective in the system you want to play, but if you don't check you'll never know why this is the case.

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Very good post on a very pertinent topic. One of my favourite methods of getting results is simple player changes to do that little something different. I actually build my squad based around this.

Interestingly for me right now is the choice of Ozil or The Ox for my key midfield attacking role.

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It's important in squad building to have these options too. Or you just have 2 identical cut outs for every position. The variety is what helps you change games, and impact in different ways.

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Yeah exactly. It also means you can have a tactic that has 2 or more variations of it without changing much in the tactic, do I want my direct attacks to come through the middle, or down the flanks? For me that is often a matter of whether I go with Ozil out wide and Ox central or the other way round. Simple change, same role and duty, yet played quite differently.

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Quality per usual llama3. I've been looking more into PPM's lately and it makes a huge difference to your tactics. Nothing quite like retraining a young player to stop arguing with the refs! :D

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Really a fantastic reading llama3. I used to have a first 11 which I would never change, but I learned that having players that contrast with others a give different options is vital. Loved how your approach to it aswell, I compare players aswell, but found myself looking at polygons rather than attributes more often.

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I think it is a very interesting topic, worthy of more discussion. I think there are different aspects to it. It is not always the case (as with anything in football) that having different player types is an advantage in every system.

If i take a few examples from my own system:

Fullbacks - Sole purpose Role

In the system in question (the 451 from my swiss army knife thread), the fullbacks are both CWB(a). As with any defender, the core responsibility of this role is defending. You dont play someone in defence if they have no defending ability at all (at least not in this system). However in this case, there is a secondary and vital responsibility which is to provide width high up the field as we attack. The 2 WM are designed to cut inside, therefor we need wingbacks who go forward and add to this.

This means i really need attacking type attributes, plus stamina and of course defensive type attributes (each player must first be proficient in this core responsibility before anything else). I also need PPM's to help support the attacking game - "Gets Forward Whenever Possible" is fairly essential.

So in this system a second Left back who would be more defensive minded would not help, but infact hinder me. The way my system works, changing the fullback type would only hinder me, not help me (i do have changes to make it more solid). Therefore in this example, my second left back needs to be close to a mirror of my first. Otherwise, when i need to call upon him, it can impact the effectiveness of my system.

The attacking quarter - Varied type roles

So then to the flipside, some examples where i absolutely agree and advocate the original point. My system relies on 4 main attacking players (actually it is 6, but the fullbacks are not relevant for this part).

- WM(a) x 2

- CM(a) x 1

- F9(s) x 1

So for these 4 positions, i have 3 key players:

Iker Munian


Markel Susueta


Raul Garcia


So varied types, Munian and Susueta are more tricky, technical players who can run at people. Garcia is more strong and all rounder type. There are a number of ways i can use the different characteristics to utilse and make the best of the situation. Some scenarios:

Scenario 1 - Against a team playing 4231

My first game of the season was against Mallorca, who play a 4231 with 2xMC and 3xAMC.

In this scenario, there is no DM and the opposition are generally not to strong. Here, i will play a tricky player (Munian) in the F9 spot. He can take real advantage of the space given to him and get turned and beat men. Susueta wide works fine, and in this occasion i want a 3rd tricky player to play CM(a) to run into that space. I dont expect the CM (a) to be doing too much defensively because we are at home and the better side by far. So i bring in Ibai Gomez who fits the description, and Raul Garcia goes wide where his PPMs make him arrive as a late threat into the box.

Scenario 2 - Strong team playing with 2 x DM

A couple of games later, we had Sevilla at home. Sevilla are a good side, and they set up with a common formation in Spain - 42211. Its a back 4, 2 DM's, ML/MR, AMC and ST. The 2 DM's can be very hard to break down. In this setup, the F9 can be nullified by so many defenders around him. Dribbling skills wont get him out of that, and he would be better served be strong. On the flip side, this formation has no one in the MC strata. That is something that can be possibly exploited by using a good technical deeper. In wide areas, they defend with ML/MR as well as fullbacks, so it wont be easy, but with good wide men we can win that battle.

So this time, i play Raul Garcia as the F9, to use his strength and workrate, as well as passing ability. Munian will play at CM(a) today to use his technical skills in the space. I could just as easily use Susueta here, and may switch in game. To start, Susueta goes on one wing, Ibai Gomez this time goes to the other wing for his pace.

Scenario 3 - Tough team with strong midfield

So the last scenario, Barcelona away. Always an impossible fixture, but i have to try! They play 4123 with the usual Messi/Neymar/Suarez front line. They also have a superb DM in Mascherano. Finding a weakness is pretty damn hard, and we are going to be under the cosh a lot. So my way to deal with this is to again play Garcia upfront. I am going to need him to hold the ball up and again be strong and hard working up there. This time however, if there is any weakness in the Barca system it should be out wide. They are so attacking that i might be able to expose that. So today i play Munian and Susueta wide, because they are my 2 best technical attacking players. This also allows me to play Ander Herrera in the CM(a) role (actually pushed up to AMC for other reasons in this game) and have his more defensive/hard working approach to help us defensively in the middle.

So for me, that is 3 real examples of how you can use different player qualities to change the focus of your tactic, without changing anything else :)

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