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Anatomy of an England Save

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Last year I chronicled my struggles with tactics in my Anatomy of a Liverpool Save. For FM17 I’m going to try to get the hang of another area of the game I struggle in: national management. I’ll lay out the details of my England save as it progresses, from team selection, to tactics, to scouting and friendlies (and the thinking behind it all), in the hope that wiser heads can point out where I go wrong and struggling managers everywhere can learn from my mistakes.

I’ll warn you up front, this is likely to be a bit sporadic and infrequent. I have a new baby and I’m not going to get the time I’d like, but hopefully I can snatch a few hours here and there.

National vs Club
There are some obvious differences between club and national management:

You can get through the seasons quickly.
No need to worry about transfers and money.

No real squad building. You have no control over the pool of potential players. If your country has no decent left backs then you have none: you can’t just buy one in.
As you don’t control the players’ day to day training, you can’t influence their development and mould them to suit the roles you want them to play.

I’m going to start as the England manager as the job has recently become available. I’m the perfect choice: less dodgy than Big Sam (only because I have no choice), more personality than Gareth Southgate (a man who makes wallpaper paste look interesting).

I’ll mainly be using wwfans How to Play FM: A Twelve Step Guide and llama3’s Pairs & Combinations. I’m also likely to dip in and out of Cleon’s The Art of ... series. They’ll be abbreviated as [W], [L] and [C] respectively, and can be found in the Tactic Building and Training Guides sticky at the top of the Tactics, Training & Strategies Discussion board.

I’m playing FM17 Touch. I’ve set up as below. The additional leagues are enabled to make it more competitive ... and to give me somewhere to go if I’m sacked.



The National Pool does not contain all eligible players. There are no reports on most of the players in the National Pool. I order National Reports on all eligible players worth at least £1M.

I’m told we’re ranked 13th in the world. Hopefully the board will bear this in mind when setting expectations.

Our first friendly, and only game before the World Cup qualifiers, is against Spain which could be tricky.

Edited by Jatravartids

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Initial Tactics
James Milner retires from international football before the friendly.

When it comes time to decide on my squad, I make sure anyone with a potential of at least 2.5 stars is included in the National Pool.

Looking at players in the Pool, we have 3 players of 4* current ability (CA) and another 15 of 3.5* CA.


I want to get as many of my best players on the pitch at the same time as possible. We’re loaded towards AM/ST, and Henderson can play DM, so I’m going to try 4-1-3-2 DM Wide.

           AF(A) DLF(S)
        W(A) AM(S) W(S)


Obviously there is a big gap between the DM and AMs, and fully half the outfield players are in attacking positions, so defence could be an issue. I’m going to try to close the gap a bit by choosing a Very Fluid Team Shape so there’s less of a gap in mentality between the front and the back, which will make us more compact. Following the guidance in [W] I have chosen only 1 specialist role: the Anchorman.

With the gap in midfield, I should probably try to bypass it as much as possible, so an Attack Mentality seems like a plan.

“A direct style of play works fundamentally on rapid transitioning from defence to attack. This can work either on a slick counter attack, or with an attritional and physical style of play instead. More direct passing is the obvious and notable feature of the style, and often in a system that reduces the number of midfielders because they tend to be bypassed during play, so there is no point playing extra midfielders when they are less likely to play an integral part in play.” [L]

I’ve set three attack roles, not the four suggested in The Art of Counter Attacking [C], but we’ll see how it goes. I’m also going to try to keep a defensive trio of A(D)-CD(D)-BPD(D).

I’ve added TI’s Prevent Short GK Distribution, Clear Ball to Flanks, Work Ball Into Box and Run At Defence.

England_  Overview-3.png

I also choose Jordan Henderson as my Captain as he has the best attributes and will generally be in the team. I’ve selected Harry Kane as vice-captain as he’s likely to play a lot too.


Edited by Jatravartids

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More +'s

It's a bit odd, looking at the schedule and only seeing 5 matches this year.

On the plus side, haviing an entire nation's players as your available squad means quite a lot of depth.


31/8/16    Spain (Friendly) 2-0
After 15 minutes I change to a Slightly Deeper dline. After 35 minutes I add Exploit the Flanks.

After half time I add TIs of Use Tighter Marking and Pass Into Space. When I substitute Henderson for Dyer at DM I change the role to DLP(D) as it suits him better.

On 83 minutes I change to Counter just to close out the game. We win 2-0 – yay us!

Although they had more shots, most of them were from distance and many were blocked. We definitely had more shots on target (9 v 3). They had 3 CCC and 2 HC, we had 2 CCC and 4 HC, so fairly even there.
 England v Spain_ Stats Match Stats.png

The shots analysis shows us having shots from good positions, but them mostly being restricted to shots from the edge of the box.
England v Spain_ Analysis Teams-5.png 

The heat map also shows us holding them centrally outside the box. Our possession is much more spread out.
 England v Spain_ Analysis Overview.png

Our attacks show a bias towards the left side and I’m not really sure why. I’ll have to keep an eye on that in future matches. Unsurprisingly, given the heat map, their attacks were heavily biased towards the centre.

England v Spain_ Analysis Action Zones.png


Edited by Jatravartids

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4/9/16 Slovakia (WCQ – Game 1) 2-0
The game against Spain has tired a number of players so there’s a bit of squad rotation. The roles and mentalities have been tweaked slightly to reflect the change in personnel, and the TIs incorporate the changes used in the previous game.

Slovakia v England_ Tactics Overview-4.pngSlovakia v England_ Tactics Overview-5.png

 We win 2-0. Again the opposition have shots but mostly from range. Our shots are much more threatening.
 Slovakia v England_ Stats Match Stats-3.pngSlovakia v England_ Analysis Teams-11.png

The heat maps show a similar story of our possession to the previous game, being spread across the pitch. The AML was an IF which might explain the bias to the right.

Slovakia v England_ Analysis Overview-2.png
In the last two matches we’ve had 26 corners to our opponent’s 13, so I should try to maximise that by improving our corner routine. I’m going to try keysi’s routines for set pieces.

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With an eye to the future, for the next set of two matches I drop Rooney and bring in Sterling. Lallana will move to AMC and Sterling will slot into AML. The day before the match, our best defender gets injured. *sigh*

We’re now up to 10th in the world.

National reports continue to come in. When they stop I’ll scout everyone under 21.

Japan challenge us to a friendly. As it’s after the last WCQ match of the year I’ll accept. Generally I’ll try not to arrange a friendly before a serious game, but afterwards, to give the squad players some game time, it’s fine.

I should look for players who aren't English but are eligible for England, but that's something for the future.


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6/10/16 Slovenia (WCQ – Game 2) 2-0
Some of the players arrive tired so it’s a bit of a mixed team but I was always going to have to do some squad rotation anyway.

I’m going to try using FBs instead of WBs for defensive responsibility. I also set Tight Marking + Weaker Foot on their Striker, Right Foot on their AML+DL and Left Foot on their AMR+DR.

For the second half I change to Counter, bump up the Tempo to Higher and the Passing to More Direct. It seems to work well.

Again, the opposition have plenty of shots but mostly from range. Our shooting is much better and we have 2 CCC and 4 HC to their 1 CCC.

Also (again) we seem to be holding the line defensively and spread our possession well.


9/10/16 Malta (WCQ – Game 3) 5-1
We’re 10-1 on to win this. We win 5-1, they got battered, we conceded from a set piece.



After the match I order reports on any English U21 with worth at least £100K and unknown potential so they can be added to the national pool.

We are now up to 9th in the world.

Jack Butland is finally shaking off his injury, so he comes in to replace Ben Foster. Phil Jagielka was at fault for the only goal we’ve conceded so far, so he is dropped in favour of Calum Chambers. I also drop Alli and Lallana in favour of Wilshire and Rooney as they’re been fairly anonymous so far.

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11/11/16 Scotland (WCQ – Game 4) 3-4

Umm ... . This didn’t go well. For a start, the referee was massively biased towards the home side and our defenders were terrible. Also, this is the first time we’ve come up against a side with a decent number of players up front. As it turns out, our five defenders couldn’t cope with their four attackers.
They take a three goal lead (including one very dodgy penalty), we yank off Rooney, change to 4-2-4 Wide and claw back to 3-3 before they finish us off.


9/10/16 Japan (Friendly) 0-0
All the shooting accuracy of a stormtrooper.

We’re back down to 12th in the world, and I’m going to try 4-2-4 Wide or 4-2-3-1 Wide in the next set of games. At least we’re still top of the group.

At the start of January I order new national reports on anyone with a potential of at least 3* (at least those the game will let me).


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OK, time to reassess tactics and personnel. A quick check shows the national pool matches the scouted list. We also have plenty of 3* players.

I’m going to go with 4-2-4 Wide and try to put the players in their best roles, or at least something close.
             TM(A) DF(D)
IF(S)                             AP(A)
          RPM(S) BWM(D)

With that number of specialist roles I’m going to use a Structured Team Shape[W]. This will be an experiment for me as I normally like a fairly fluid set-up. I’m going to go for Counter Mentality and see how it goes.

24/3/17 Lithuania (WCQ – Game 5) 6-0

As they’re playing 4-1-4-1 I’m going to use a CD(Stopper)/BPD(Cover) pair in central defence. I’ve added the OIs of Close Down + Hard Tackle to anyone with Strength & Bravery of <=10, set their ST to Close Down and Weaker Foot, and their GK to Close Down.


Lithuania get pretty much steamrollered.

The heat map shows our possession was fairly far forwards but not as wide as I’d expected. This may be a result of using an IF and AP instead of wingers.


Our positioning looks sensible. There’s maybe a bit more of a gap behind the strikers than I’d like, but there was usually someone around to pick up the knock downs from the TM(A). I might need to watch the gap behind the left back on the counter.

Pretty pleased with that game.

I arrange a friendly away against Gibraltar for 13th June (after the qualifier on the 8th) to give the lads a bit of a holiday. We’ve also moved up to 11th in the world.

8/6/17 Slovakia (WCQ – Game 6) 4-0
As they’re playing 4-1-2-3 DM Wide I’m going to use a BPD(Stopper) (Cahill in for the injured Smalling)/BPD(Cover)(Stones) pair in central defence, but otherwise the same system as the previous game. I’ve added the OIs of Close Down + Hard Tackle to anyone with Strength & Bravery of <=10, set their ST to Close Down and Weaker Foot, and their GK to Close Down. Their AML is actually pretty decent strikers and their striker can’t jump, so we’ll show their wingers to the outside so they cross instead of cutting inside and shooting. I’m also going tightly mark Hamsik as their danger man.

We dominate the match, looking dangerous on the attack and getting men into the box. I’m not happy about the space in front of the two central defenders, but that’s because I like playing a DM.


Edited by Jatravartids

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12/6/17 Gibraltar (Friendly) 4-0
Complete change of team. Camp in their half. Bit of a rout.


31/8/17 Slovenia (WCQ – Game 7) 0-3
Just don’t ask. Really: it was horrific. A complete change of approach is required.


3/9/17 Lithuania (WCQ – Game 8) 4-0
Changed to 442 Narrow Diamond as an experiment, went 3-0 up inside the 1st ten minutes. It went surprisingly well given that I had to rest some players and the squad had been picked for a different formation. I’ll try this again.

I find that I’m not really paying as much attention to the players when picking a squad as I did when I managed a club. I’m pretty much just going on stars and familiar names. I Have no idea what anyone's PPM are.

I arrange friendlies against Iceland and Australia for November and Cape Verde for March. They’re all ranked 51-100 so should be reasonably beatable but not completely useless.

We have dropped 8 places to 19th in the world. :-(


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5/10/17 Malta (WCQ – Game 9) 4-0
This time the squad was picked for the 442 Diamond Narrow formation.

I’m not entirely sure about the roles but I can play with them. As I’m new to this formation I’m going to keep it simple and go with Control and Fluid and the TI’s Prevent Short GK Distribution, Play Out of Defence and  Exploit the Middle. I also use OI’s to show everyone inside where I’m strong.

It all goes well and we thrash them as expected.

5/10/17 Scotland (WCQ – Game 10) 4-0
Their ST is their outlet when they gain possession so we set Tight Marking and Close Down on him. I also add the TI Retain Possession as we’re giving the ball away too much. After 20 minutes I change Harry Kane from TM(S) to CF(S) as he’s not getting much joy.



We qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Yay me ... I mean us.


I think I prefer club management to national management. I don’t care as much about the players when managing the national side and I can’t shape the team/squad to play the way I want by buying and training players. There’s a lot less faffing about with training, scouting etc but I like shaping the team. I think next year I’ll go back to running a club.


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