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beverage1982

Practicing pragmatism at Aston Villa (my exploration of the flat 451)

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Background

So I’ve been playing FM for years now, ever since first stumbling across it back in the good old CM days. I’m also a Villa fan so naturally every game my first career is Aston Villa. 

Now as if that alone doesn’t make me a big enough glutton for punishment I also every year try to recreate a very specific tactical philosophy - a 451 / 433 counter attacking hybrid which keeps things tight and attacks with lightning pace down the flanks. 

Don’t ask me why I do it. Partly it’s because it’s just become a thing I do, partly it’s because my fondest memories in recent years are of Villa playing this way (yes there haven’t been many). Think O’Neil’s side at their best with Ashley Young bombing down a wing, or the brief glimmer of Lambert’s competence that saw Weiman, Gabby and Benteke form a potent attacking triumvirate. 

It also plays into what I like to do on FM which is keep clean sheets and score goals from dazzling wing play, counters and crosses into the box.

Sometimes this has had more success than failure and yet here I am once again returning to the same tactical conundrum. 

“The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.” - Albert Einstein

I didn’t have a great time of things on FM16. I just couldn’t get to grips with the game, which, when coupled with a not too great Villa team; wasn’t exactly a recipe for success. 

My failures - which were numerous - did teach me a lot of valuable lessons about the way I was playing the game wrong however and I was insistent that I would learn from them and set about FM17 with a plan in mind. 

So what were my mistakes? 

Formation - For some reason I’d always started out trying to build a 451/433 hybrid by setting my team up as a 433 (41221) and then trying to force the players to defend as a 451. After spending much time on these forums I realized I had it the wrong way round. Your formation on the tactics screen is how you defend, as such I’d set up in a flat 451 and try and make the players attack like a 433.

Team instructions - Cleon’s excellent counter attacking thread on these forums has taught me that less is most certainly more where team instructions are concerned - especially counterattacking. 

Taking my time - I’m a busy man, when I sit down I want to churn through games. That means highlights on key and the inevitable frustration when I see seemingly random things happen. I vowed to change my approach this year, that means highlights on comprehensive and 2D camera to fully analyst every aspect of my tactic. 

Players - For years I was used to stumbling across a great formation and filling it with the best players, but i’ve learned the hard way that you just can’t do that anymore on FM. There’s no point playing a counter attacking game where your defence will constantly be under pressure if your centre backs are Micah Richards and Jores Okore. Likewise there’s no point in Gegenpressing if your front man is Rudy Gusted. Instead it’s about horses for courses, getting the right kind of players to suit the tactic I’m trying to implement. 

“I love it when a plan comes together” - John “Hannibal” Smith

Despite dropping down a division I was excited to get my hands on Villa on FM17. After all there’s been a complete overhaul of the squad, one that would seem to play into the hands of my desire to create a counter attacking 451/433 system.

After a few seasons of trying to create this system I had a good handle on what was needed to make it work:

A strong defensive core - The team will be sitting back deep. That means we’ll be under pressure a lot of the time. As a result strong defenders - both physically and mentally - are a must. In Elphick, Chester and Jedinak I was confident I had the defensive triangle to do just that. In Amavi, Cissoko, and De Laet I also have hardworking fullbacks who can defend and attack in equal measure. 

Pacey widemen - The wide men really do make this tactic tick. They not only need to be lightning quick to take advantage of the counter, they also need to have a good work ethic, be decent dribblers and capable finishers. I find converted forwards are great here and in Kodjia, Ayew, Adomah and Grealish I was confident I had good options. 

A hold up man - For O’Neil it was the physicality of John Carew, for Lambert it was the all round game of Benteke. A lot of pressure is put on the lone striker in this formation. They need to hold the ball up and find a way of creating chances whether that’s through skill or sheer physicality. I had Kodjia (a sort of Benteke lite) and Ross McCormack a prove Championship goalscorer who could also create. Again I was happy with what I had to work with. 

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” - Benjamin Franklin

The key to getting the tactic right this time around was preparation. I needed to carefully think about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. I came up with a few key concepts that I wanted my tactic to fulfill.

  • A low block, getting men behind the ball.
  • Keeping the shape at all times, making it hard for the opposition to score.
  • Breaking with pace. 
  • Using the flanks.

I had an idea of what this might look like in my head but it wasn’t until reading  Ö-zil to the Arsenal!’s excellent Wales thread that the plan really cemented. 

 Ö-zil to the Arsenal! talks a lot in that thread about using Structured / Highly Structured team shapes to cause deviation from the baseline tactic. It was a revelation. Previously I had it in my head that I needed to go Flexible or Fluid to encourage the players to break position, but after reading the thread I realized I could do it with Structured using the correct assignment of duties. 

What I ended up with is was your see below. The formation is pretty standard, a flat 451 in defence. But the key here is using the right duties in midfield in conjunction with the Structured shape to create the 433 / 41221 shape when we were attacking. 

So let’s look at it in a little more detail.

gjE1hn.png

First the set up. I’ve opted for the Counter mentality because, well, duh! I’m trying to build a counter attacking tactic. I chose Structured to ensure the team kept it’s shape, but also so that I could use duties to create the hybrid effect. 

In terms of Team Instructions I remembered Cleaon’s lessons from The Art of Counter Attacking thread and kept them minimal. I started with Direct Passing, Exploit the flanks to create the dynamic wing-focussed attack I wanted. However this quickly became Exploit the flanks only as aI realized on the counter mentality Direct passing wasn’t doing anything for me. 

In terms of roles I also kept things very Vanilla. Again this harks back to Cleon’s Counter Attacking thread which opened my eyes to the way in which playmakers can slow down a potential break, and the likes of BWMs can break the defensive organization of my team. 

What I settled on was:

GK (D) - Pretty standard

FB (s) - The more defensive of my full backs, tasked with keeping things tight.

CB (d) x2 - Again nothing thrilling here, I want them to keep their shape and do the simple things well.

WB (s) - Normally I’d go FB here but in Jordan Amavi I have a potent attacking weapon who I wanted to overlap the attacker like Matt Lowton had in Lambert’s Villa. I added Dribble more, run wide with ball, cross more often PIs

W (a) - My right winger was a winger. I wanted him to stay wide and run at the defence, creating chances but getting the occasional goal too. On an attack duty (especially on Counter which is quite narrow) I find they make for good auxiliary attackers. The attack duty combined with Structured mentality should also be emphasized, creating the kind of hybrid sideman / forward I wanted in a 451 / 433.

B2B (s) - The right central midfielder I decided would be a B2B. There was space for forward runs due to the winger next to him, and with one up front I knew I needed some late arriving support from midfield.

CM (d) - In the centre I have a defensive central midfielder. My anchor man, there to make tackles and mop up the danger. Again with a structured mentality his duty will be emphasized, creating depth when we attack which will form a defensive triangle with the two centrebacks.

CM (s) - Now I wanted a DLP here but decided a modified CM would do the same things but without attracting the ball. As a result I gave him more risky passes, dribble less, shoot less PIs

WM (a) - The other wideman I wanted to offer something different so we weren’t one dimensional. I tweaked the WM role to create a pseudo Inside Forward. It would not only offer me a goal threat but also enable Amavi to overload outside. With the CM (d) to cover and the more conservative CM (s) on that side I was confident I wasn’t over committing. I added Cut inside Pi to get the desired movement. 

DLF (s) - The striker needed to score goals and play in others, especially without a playmaker or a traditional number 10. With this role they’d hold up the ball, hopefully before playing in one of the sidemen and charging into the box. I also experimented with a CF (s) which worked just as well. 

“Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result.” - Oscar Wilde.

So I had my tactic. Now I had the daunting prospect of a season in the Championship. I didn’t want to overhaul this squad, I quite like it in fact, so I only made one addition in January - a Turkish midfielder who was used whenever Jedinak was suspended. 

What you see below was achieved without signing wonderkids or underrated stars. 

Rqvi2t.png 

So how did we do? Well we won the league, comfortably in fact.

We only lost 5 games all season. 2 of those were home and away against Reading who had our number tactically. 1 was at home to Wigan where I’d rested too many players and they scored a wonder goal. Then there were two late on when we were trying to get over the line - both of these were the fault of me rather than my tactics as I took completely the wrong approach to media / team talks. 

So we won the title with a pretty decent Villa side. Big whoop! But the biggest surprise was how we did it. The tactic worked. It played out as a 433/451 hybrid, we scored from crosses, we attacked down the flanks. But most of all we kept clean sheets. Lots and lots of clean sheets.

uPa0ug.png 

ZIdfmB.png 

Over the course of a 46 game season we kept 32 clean sheets. 32! And only conceded 16 goals overall. 16! It was by far and away the best defensive record I’ve ever had on FM and quite frankly a joy to watch. Teams just couldn't break us down and were limited to long shots or half chances. The end result was unsurprisingly the best defence in the league, one that was 23 goals better than our nearest contender. 

RtEVsO.png 

Going forwards the wings were deadly.

Player of the Year Kodjia weighed in with goals (19) and assists (10) alike from the left wing, Ayew (despite missing chunks of the season through injury) added 8 goals, and McCormack (again injured) got 17 goals. All in all we finished as 9th top scorers with 61 goals. And I’d say that tally could have been higher had I focussed on developing a Plan B for when teams parked the bus against me. 

TPKsSa.png 

IxBEM0.png 

What next?

To be honest I just had to share this with you all and thank these forums for playing a massive part in making it happen. I stopped, I stepped back and thought about things logically and it worked. 

Now we’re Premier League bound. I think the tactic should do pretty well up there as the big teams come at me and leave space in behind. I’ll probably have to strengthen though, but for now I’m just gonna sit here and savour the fruits of my labour. 

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Great results and nice to see you executing the plan with succes and also taking in lessons learned from the FM16.... If you want a plan B you could consider moving the wings to AM strata and keeping the rest as outlined..... Then changing the AMR to IFA or Raumdeauter and the AML to WInger..... You could then add a little more risk taking by changing your mentality to Control. So still on Structured you would see a slightly more adventurous formation which would create more against teams sitting deep (parking the bus)... The formation change would see you moving more towards a 433 but still with the structured approach.

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Quality thread!

WOuld be interested to see how you get on in the Premier. What kind of adjustments (if any...), the recruitment policy, planned upgrades, etc

Keep it up!

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Very nice indeed. I love the way you've kept things simple. Something you may want to consider once you are in the Premiership and are facing more capable players, is adding one or two more specialist roles in to the mix to get some more varied play. I'm a great proponent of WWFan's 12 step guide, and in particular section 1 where he talks about fluid vs structured systems and how many specialist roles should be employed. You are currently only really using 1 specialist in the BBM, and even then I'm not convinced the BBM is really a specialist

https://community.sigames.com/topic/295001-how-to-play-fm-a-twelve-step-guide/

On the whole though you've got a lovely simple system that works. I was particularly happy when you mentioned the right winger clearing out space for the Box to Box midfielder to run into, as that is precisely what I do in my 4-4-2 on the right flank! Also, you've added 'Cut inside' to your WM to allow for an overlapping fullback, which again is exactly what I do! The only difference there is that my ML is on a support duty, whilst my left back is on an attack duty, and my ML also has 'sit narrower' in order to help out my 2 MCs so that we don't get overrun in the middle of midfield by all the 4-3-3 teams in the Premiership.

Great stuff! :applause:

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Would love to see how you get on with this in the Premier League. I am playing as Newcastle and upon promotion I decided to switch up my tactic as I would no longer be the best team in the league. Settled on a flat 451 similar to yours - counter and structured, but I am using no TIs. I also have a CMa where you use the B2B and I have a DLPd instead of a CMd. So far three straight wins - 3-1 against WBA, 1-0 against Liverpool and 3-1 against Burnley. I like what I am seeing so far and the opponents are mostly limited to long range efforts.

Like I said, I look forward to see how you get on with this now when you are promoted and how decide adjust, if at all, and how you strengthen the squad and get ready for the new challenge in general.

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Hey all sorry for radio silence. So I thought I'd do a quick update and then do a proper one later this week when I get the chance. 

So I just finished my first season in the Premiership, we finished 6th and got to quarter finals of FA Cup. So all in all not too bad. 

Transfers

I've made the decision to only buy players with certain personality types. It's something I did towards the latter end of FM16 and I found it a really interesting way to play. As a result I'm only signing players who are very determined and with personalities like Resolute, Spirited, Leader, Driven etc.

In terms of who I bought, I picked up Adel Hernandez from a relegated Hull for 10million as I needed more meat up front (he scored 8 with 5 assists), I also picked up Marcelo Meli for 500k to add some midfield depth and spent 9million on lewis Cook who was a huge upgrade in my B2B role. In january I also signed Tom Huddlestone due to an injury crisis for 1million. 

Tactic

The football was similar to last year, but my defensive record wasn't as good. I realised pretty quickly that the Premier League was better than the Championship. Those long shots I as peppered with before were suddenly fizzing into the top corner. That may be due to the better quality but I also thought it was due to my formation. Something that was only emphasized by an ageing Mile Jedinak. So I've switched to a 4141 with an Anchorman (around Xmas time) and have never looked back. 

I've also toyed with a DLP instead of a MC, but to be honest some of my best attacking performances have come when I've used width as my playmaker. By that I mean going wider and stretching the play rather than relying on a more creative player to thread the needle. 

Standout performances

At the start of the season we were winning at Villa Park but I couldn't buy a win away from home. After switching to 4141 (and occasionally to Highly Structured for tough away games) that changed. There were wins away at Chelski (0-2), Liverpool (0-1), and Man City (1-4) that were particularly pleasing. 

Youth

I've been given a generous transfer budget throughout my time at Villa and have focussed on filling my ranks with 5 star youth prospects. The idea is that in a couple of years time there will be players waiting to come through rather than me needing to splash the cash. I've also got some homegrown talent waiting in the wings (quite literally). Grealish is ready to play more and Andre Green is looking like a real star. I've had to fight off Man City for him as every time he plays he impresses. My only issue now is fitting him into the team but given Ayew's incredible form I think it's only a matter of time before I cash in and promote him. In the meantime next year's EURO competition should provide more opportunities for my depth players to play. 

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7 hours ago, beverage1982 said:

Hey all sorry for radio silence. So I thought I'd do a quick update and then do a proper one later this week when I get the chance. 

So I just finished my first season in the Premiership, we finished 6th and got to quarter finals of FA Cup. So all in all not too bad. 

Transfers

I've made the decision to only buy players with certain personality types. It's something I did towards the latter end of FM16 and I found it a really interesting way to play. As a result I'm only signing players who are very determined and with personalities like Resolute, Spirited, Leader, Driven etc.

In terms of who I bought, I picked up Adel Hernandez from a relegated Hull for 10million as I needed more meat up front (he scored 8 with 5 assists), I also picked up Marcelo Meli for 500k to add some midfield depth and spent 9million on lewis Cook who was a huge upgrade in my B2B role. In january I also signed Tom Huddlestone due to an injury crisis for 1million. 

Tactic

The football was similar to last year, but my defensive record wasn't as good. I realised pretty quickly that the Premier League was better than the Championship. Those long shots I as peppered with before were suddenly fizzing into the top corner. That may be due to the better quality but I also thought it was due to my formation. Something that was only emphasized by an ageing Mile Jedinak. So I've switched to a 4141 with an Anchorman (around Xmas time) and have never looked back. 

I've also toyed with a DLP instead of a MC, but to be honest some of my best attacking performances have come when I've used width as my playmaker. By that I mean going wider and stretching the play rather than relying on a more creative player to thread the needle. 

Standout performances

At the start of the season we were winning at Villa Park but I couldn't buy a win away from home. After switching to 4141 (and occasionally to Highly Structured for tough away games) that changed. There were wins away at Chelski (0-2), Liverpool (0-1), and Man City (1-4) that were particularly pleasing. 

Youth

I've been given a generous transfer budget throughout my time at Villa and have focussed on filling my ranks with 5 star youth prospects. The idea is that in a couple of years time there will be players waiting to come through rather than me needing to splash the cash. I've also got some homegrown talent waiting in the wings (quite literally). Grealish is ready to play more and Andre Green is looking like a real star. I've had to fight off Man City for him as every time he plays he impresses. My only issue now is fitting him into the team but given Ayew's incredible form I think it's only a matter of time before I cash in and promote him. In the meantime next year's EURO competition should provide more opportunities for my depth players to play. 

Do you tweak your formation depending on how the opposition lines up? E.g. Ozil in his thread made adjustments for 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 and just wondered if you did the same. I'm in 2nd season and in prem with Leeds but finding it tough but I'm probably playing too open (flexible and control 4-5-1), so will build a counter attacking option!

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