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(FM 19) Custom Barcelona Tactic

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Been getting back into FM after a long while away the last couple weeks, and I started by taking Barcelona for a spin. They keep the training wheels on for a little bit, and are ripe for a short term save, since they've got quality but need a serious rebuild in the next few seasons. Anyway, I had some good success over my first year and a half, but I was really bothered by two things. Firstly, we were scoring too many goals for my liking from set pieces and long shots, rather than open play from inside the box, which was what my whole philosophy was based around. Secondly, it wasn't just that we weren't scoring beautiful team goals. One quick peak at my analysis tool showed that we were winning purely by strangling teams and putting in a ton of crosses and shots. We were miles ahead by possession and passing numbers, but 4th for goals and 13th (!) for chances. We were also 2nd for shots on target, but 14th for shooting accuracy, and 18th (the shame!) for conversion rate. My tactic was winning, and my defensive record was superb, but my tactic was rotten. So I've fired up a fresh save and will be looking to build a custom tactic for Barcelona's starting squad. I'll be following my efforts here to help me think through my choices, but also to get input if necessary, and to hopefully offer a little inspiration to anyone in a similar circumstance.

So, now that I've showcased how incredible I am at this game, here's a quick outline of my goals for this tactic

1) Control the game- I have no targets for possession % or number of passes, but we want to hog the ball. This favors us as nearly every player excels in their respective attacking/possession attributes, but many are mediocre when it comes to defending. This also suits our attack, as we lack height and power but posses quickness, guile and technique

2) Make Suarez into a goalscoring threat- He's a world class 9, but was mostly a target for crosses in my previous tactic. If he's scoring a lot, he's getting the ball to his feet in the box, which means the tactic is working, both pragmatically and stylistically. We want quantity of possession but quality of chances, and Suarez's performances will be a quick way to see if that's what we're achieving

3) Break the bus- As a megaclub, we'll face plenty of very defensive sides. Our success, and my satisfaction, will be largely based on how well we perform against opponents who sit deep and defend narrow. Our tactic needs to have a varied, layered attack and generate enough movement to not stall out against such defenses


Goal 1 is easy. With players of Barcelona's quality, I just need tell them to press and tick a bunch of risk reducing PIs and we'll enjoy 60%+ possession in most games. If we want to achieve goals 2 and 3, however, we need to make sure that our possession is not toothless, which is a more considered task. Furthermore, there are many different ways to achieve a possession style. What I want to do is pick the combination of mentality, TIs, and player roles/duties/PIs to achieve a patient style that fits the players I have and where I line them up on the pitch. Goal 3 will be on our minds as we set up, but is rather vague as a starting point. Therefore, my first pertinent question is how do we get Suarez scoring lots and lots of goals? What kind of goals do we want him to score? What does our tactic need in terms of players and space to facilitate those goals?


Chances for Luis


Here's a quick look at our main man. He's a very complete player, but definitely at his best when finishing chances, as evidenced by his high finishing, composure, off the ball, and anticipation. I said it earlier, but we want this guy with the ball at his feet in the box, rather than contesting headers with his more middling ratings there. It's also worth noting that he has dribbles often and tries to beat the offside trap, and that the game recommends he plays as a DLF, AF, or pressing forward. My ideal goal for Luis is a neat through ball into the box, allowing him to use his anticipation and off the ball to find half a yard of space before using his world class finishing skills. That will require A) a penetrating run from Suarez B) a player in support with the technical and creative ability to play that pass and C) Space for Suarez to run into and for the passer to turn, find him, and play that pass. Condition C is going to be the difficult one to guarantee, and will require intentional design of our tactic. Because we need multiple ways to create chances, I'd also like to see Suarez finishing cutbacks and near post headers, which will require darting runs along with wide players in space near the byline


The Front Three

Looking at what we require to score the kind of goals we're after, in all cases we need Suarez making progressive runs. We're in luck, as his PPM Trys to Beat Offside Trap means this is something that he is inclined to do anyway- he wants to play on the shoulder of the last defender and time his runs in behind. Deep defenses may not play an offside trap as often, but to be fair I'm not sure how the trait works when an opponent is not deploying the trap. In order to encourage him to make those runs, we'll also want to see him on a relatively high mentality. Given that we plan to play a possession based style, this means we should look to choose an attack duty, as we will be playing a lower team mentality to encourage our players to keep the ball. For the striker position, Attack duties come with plenty of options, but there are a few we can rule out right away, including Target Man (opposite of what we want), Treq (too much dropping off and roaming), and possibly Poacher (too static, not enough movement against deep sides?). We still have a bunch of roles to choose from, but I've tentatively settled on a Pressing Forward, for reasons I will outline below

One danger to using an Attack Duty striker in a possession style 4-1-4-1/4-3-3 is that he can become isolated and disconnected from play. To that end, we need to be sure that we offer support from the midfield and wide positions, so that he can receive short passes and has players to return them to when he does. To that end, I've settled on an inside right position for his buddy Lionel Messi. This position places Messi close to Suarez, almost as if the two were in a front 2 pairing, brings him central to be more involved in play, and places him slightly deeper to receive more of the ball and use his excellent technical and mental attributes. It also affords him extra space to his left to cut inside on his strong foot. As for role, I know that I want Messi to be a designated playmaker in order to channel as much of our play through our best player as possible. I'd also like him to be a goalscorer in his own right and be afforded the license to roam in order to evade markers, use his intelligence, and both create and exploit space. Sounds like a Trequartista to me, so we'll start with that role. I'm hoping that the positioning of Messi here rather than AMR will prove a clever tweak as it will better support Suarez, while also emulating a 2 up front systems ability to press CBs, disrupt attempts to play out of the back, and force the ball wide into pressing traps. It should be noted, however, that a low work rate player in a Treq role may not work well for this. On the other hand, the roaming, takes more risks, and attacking mentality of a Treq should see him supply the killer balls I want going to Suarez

Finally, in the AML slot I'm going with Dembele as a Winger (Support). The other two are narrow, so we need a player to offer width, and three attack duties would be poorly balanced, offering too little defensively and congesting advanced areas. Dembele can also threaten teams with his pace and dribbling, and if I can set up the rest of my tactic right, he can serve as a dangerous isolation player as part of an overload-and-switch attack, while also supplying the cutbacks and near post crosses that will be part of Suarez's diet

The Midfield

We'll be fielding a DM and two CMs, and attempting to A) Spread those three out a little bit, as I've noticed that trio playing on top of each other in some games I've played and B) Have a sitter/screener/holder along with a passer/support player and a runner/dribbler/shuttler to link with the attack. The clear choice at DM is Busquets, and likely in a HB role. This will seem him drop deep to help us play out of the back, offer an outlet to recycle possession once it goes into more advanced areas, and also force our centrebacks to cover wider, which will be very useful if we choose an adventurous right back to provide width on our empty flank. The big question mark is at the CMR position, behind the Treq. My first instinct is to try a Mezzala here, encouraging the player to push high and link play, combine with the Treq, and provide more of the width we are lacking on that side. Additionally, the Mezz should give us a second penetrative passer to provide through balls to Suarez, as well as being a player capable of switching play to Dembele. In this case, I'd like his midfield partner to play like a DLP(S) without the ball magnet effect or the exaggerated creative freedom. A CM (S) is probably best in that case, possibly with roaming added or with a Comes Deep to get Ball player. On the other hand, if the Mezzala doesn't add enough width (I've never tried one with an empty flank to exploit), or if he gets in the way of the Treq, I'll go with an adventurous right back and a carrilero to cover, switching my CML to a Mezzala or a CM(A) for better link play and another presence in the box. This is a possible switch based on personnel as well

The Defense

My defending roles will be simple. I'll play a SK(A), as ter Stegen always hit high pass numbers on that role for me while occasionally drawing forwards into pressing him and knocking some nice passes over opposition forwards and into wide areas. I'll eschew ball playing defenders for now, as their Hollywood passes can be counterproductive in a patient possession style, and instead go with two CDs on defend. My left side will be more defensive. Alba has gets forwards whenever possible, so would play a FB(S) much more like a WB (S). I think WB (D) is likely the right role there, although I could also go for IWB(S) if I wanted him to tuck in or be another runner through the middle (on account of his PPMs). Telling him to sit narrower might be a good idea to get him more involved in build up and offer him more options in possession, especially with play slanting toward our attacking right flank. My right back's role will vary depending on what I choose to do with the CMR. If a Mezzala, I like the idea of him stepping into midfield as an IWB. This shores up that flank defensively and suits Sergi Roberto very well while supporting play and possession. On the other hand the Mezzala might not give enough width and the IWB might not tuck in with empty field ahead of him, in which case an adventurous role is what I'll go for. With several attacking duties in the team, CWB (S) is probably my first choice- superb at offering width, will get forward and put crosses in for Suarez without doing so single mindedly, and will run wide with the ball to exploit all that space and drag defenses towards him, and away from Dembele

The TIs

I want to keep it simple to start, and slowly add on instructions as I think they're necessary. Therefore I'm starting with a balanced mentality and choosing low crosses (suits our attackers), lower tempo (allows time for supporting players to move into position, for our creators to pick out runners, and promotes our possession style without lowering passing length, which will see more switches of play), counter press, and much higher LOE and DLine. I've also gone with a more urgent pressing setting, then given my back five instructions to close down less. This will see my front 5 close down very aggressively while my defenders are more reserved, although I am open to going back to standard and asking my attackers to close down more via PIs, especially if I change mentality. Oh, and we'll pair an offside trap with our high line


So there's a look at my first draft of a possession tactic geared towards quality chances for a predatory striker. Is it weird and ugly? I think so. Is it going to work right off the bat? Probably not. I feel like my Mezzala+IWB combo behind a Treq without a wide mid might behave weirdly and not work. The Attack duty there might also be too much, but I am on balanced.  I like having the advanced CM on that side as well to leave a big hole to Messi's left for him to exploit, as well as to cluster play on the right, hopefully allowing for devastating switches to Dembele. Only time, and the match engine, will tell

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My first two matches were against Austria Wien and al-Ittihad, but many of the key players were still on holiday. With tactical familiarity and fitness low, missing key players, it was hard to make much of those matches so I didn't over analyze, but I did notice that our passing % for defenders is lower than I want. When I noticed the same thing in our third game, I added play out of defense, which seems to have rectified that issue, so we'll be adding that to our list of standard instructions for now. Below are some other quick notes from the match against Anderlecht


First off, the match stats. Possession % is low, but Anderlecht was play 3 at the back with 2 DMs. They parked the bus a looked to kill the game from the outset, which skews those stats heavily. There's still some work to be done with our press, but I'm not overly alarmed about that. Our passing was accurate, we were getting shots off, our on target ratio is decent, and we created a CCC and scored two. Not great, but not alarming for our first full squad turnout. A few too many long shots for my taste and very cross heavy, but even if the tactic was perfect, we're not fully clicking yet and playing against a very packed defense


This is the first screen I took note of, early in the match. There's some stuff I like here- Messi (#10) has dropped deep, making himself available. Alba (#3) is reserved rather than advanced (could be a bit higher/more supportive). Suarez is lurking in the channel but making himself available, which is appropriate here. Coutinho has pushed higher than Messi and is sitting in the half space with room to receive the ball. Messi and Rakitic (#7) offer shorting squares passes and could then play on to Coutinho. Even with Dembele cutting into a cul de sac, we can retain the ball and are relatively threatening. Roberto (#3), is however not tucking in much. That's not a problem here, but something to watch for


Here's another sequence of play. I like the wide position Coutinho has taken up, and we can see Dembele looking dangerous in space. Coutinho doesn't have the space to attempt it, but the switch is on, and Messi and Suarez would both be in dangerous positions if it was played. Roberto however, is way out of position. He's not tucking in and is far too close to Coutinho. I'd prefer for the rest of the defense and midfield to be slightly higher as well. It appears however that the IWB is not working. He should either be running beyond Coutinho to receive a pass into that space, or he should be locking the door behind him. With the huge gap ahead of Coutinho and the positions of Suarez and Messi, we missed an opportunity here to get in a really dangerous cross


Missed a screenshot for my next note, but I noticed Suarez following their RCB super far wide while they were building up while Messi pressed the central defender. I'd prefer Suarez press in a manner that cuts the angle to the RCB but still pressures the CB, but sophisticated pressing is difficult in FM. I'll have to see how the system works against 2 CBs, but showing right sided CBs to their left has interesting potential in this system


This was the goal we conceded, and it was definitely a bit fluky. Roberto is in good position to defend this cross, but it gets past him anyway, and our CBs (4+5) are way out of position, allowing one of the worst aerial attackers I've seen a free header from 8 yards. I'm not changing anything on account of this goal, but we look super narrow here, and are liable to be vulnerable down the flanks in this system anyway


This is the first switch I spotted. The ball has just left the boot of Coutinho, our Mezz, and Dembele receives in plenty of space, runs at the defense, and then squares to Messi, who has an open alley to goal from the top of the arc. Goal! I would get more joy from this action later, as we would spray it out to Dembele again who would cutback to Suarez at the spot, only for the keep to save well. Really encouraging to see that work. On the other hand, Suarez was useless in the first half, as he played only two passes and was marked out of the game by the opponents tight back line. I switch him to DLF(A) and he would record 5 more passes, a long shot, and the quality chance I just mentioned in 15 minutes before being subbed off. Something to keep in mind for sure

To recap, I've switched my RB to a CWB(S) for now, although I'm a little concerned that leaves that flank too open. I've added play out of defense as well. I'm going to be watching Suarez's role to see if he's more involved against less extremely defensive teams. I'm going to keep an eye on my pressing, especially at the front, and I'm a little concerned I need to play with more width defensively

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Second real preseason match has us taking on Stoke. Here's how we did


Again, we had the lion's share of possession, with a super high passing %, albeit a modest total. Some issues persist, as long shots and crosses are too high for my taste. We did create some good chances though, and scored a penalty and a one on one from a beautiful first time through ball in the last minutes. Additionally, Suarez continued to be a complete non-factor as a pressing forward, our switches to the winger dried up as the opposition played a much less narrow formation


In light of our concerns about our defensive width, here's a screen of our opponents with the ball in a similar position to the goal we conceded against Anderlecht. First thing I noticed that Messi has tracked pretty deep to defend the left back and is guarding the same deep cross that hurt us the game prior. Looking at our shape, our width is pretty good, and all progressive or lateral passing options are well marked. Our opponents aren't playing very wide themselves, but it's looking more and more like Pique and co just lost their minds briefly against Anderlecht


This second screen highlights some of our offensive issues. Rakitic is about to receive the ball, and will turn and take his time and he is not pressed hard. We have some decent progressive options, as Dembele is wide and in space and Suarez is looking to get in behind, but most of the team remains very static around Rakitic. Messi and Coutinho in particular are a little bunched. Ivan lays the ball off to Messi, who surges forward before playing it into the corner for Roberto, who crosses towards Suarez, all alone in the box vs 3 defenders. We need more penetration from the team, and we need to get more bodies in the box. Shifting to positive and lowering tempo should be considered. I've also noticed too many times when one of our "dribbles more players" gets the ball around the halfway line and dribbles forward, away from support into the teeth of the defense. I'd prefer not to tick dribble less, as switch to Dembele and letting him run is an important part of my strategy, but I'll consider it as well


In reaction to Suarez going almost totally unused through the first half hour, I swapped him to a DLF(A) again. He was more involved in build up play, but above are two shots that show how the role might not be right for what I want either. In the first, Suarez has come short to combine with Dembele, who ignores him and runs blind towards the corner, then whips in a cross to no one while Suarez watches from 30 yards. In the second shot, our left back has overlapped and looks to cross. Our mezzala is lurking on the edge of the box, which is a good position for him, but the striker is tightly marked and 25 yards from goal. Our focus for the next game (the Super Cup vs Sevilla!) is therefore going to be getting more dynamism from midfield. I'm still not convinced by pressing forward, but we need to get bodies higher up the pitch and into supporting positions, both for Suarez and when the ball goes wide. To do this, I'm going to start by bumping mentality up to positive to encourage more forward runs and penetrating passes. I'm also going to lower tempo even further to give our runners more time to get in position, and to encourage players in possession to get their heads up before dribbling off away from all their options. Overlap/underlap instructions and role changes are also on the table should that fail, but Sevilla will likely give us more space to play in, so that will be interesting as well



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Posted (edited)

In our first competitive game, we picked up a 3-0 win over Sevilla. Here are the stats


I'm pleased we kept our passing and possession numbers up against a higher quality of opponent who didn't simply cede the ball to us, and I'm very our shooting accuracy and lack of long shots. I noticed early that we were still having issues with overly ambitious dribbling, so I've added dribble less as a permanent TI. That and the mentality and tempo tweaks saw us give a strong performance. If I'm being critical, we allowed too many opportunities to Sevilla, but none were truly quality, and we're still developing cohesion and tactical familiarity. I did reduce mentality to balanced at 2-0, but I also probably should have reigned in my right back via a role change, but I neglected this and left space for Sevilla down that flank. I consider this game a success though, not because of the scoreline or that stats, but because of goals 2 and 3. They were beautiful! Here's goal two, and short passing spin cycle that releases Rakitic free into the box. We one touch pass our way around 4 Sevilla defenders to score!


I'm unable to upload the second goal for some reason, but here's a screen that gets you the picture- Rafinha threads the needle (Yes, it splits those defenders) to an onrushing Suarez, who buries a clear chance in the box!


Game3 Suarez Goal.PNG

Edited by Marassi

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Posted (edited)

Tactic feels more settled now, as in our regular season opener we bossed play against Villareal but just didn't have our shooting boots on. 61% possession, 28 shots, 12 on target, one off the woodwork. 2 half chances but nothing to show for them. I'll be updating less frequently now as I tweak over the course of several games, rather than in response to one or two. Still tests ahead in terms of getting results against very defensive teams, or against opponents who are truly our equals

Edited by Marassi

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Team is performing well, but a couple things haven't been working as well as I want to, so I made a couple tweaks. The Striker's involvement was still very inconsistent, so I swapped him to a DLF(A). I still want him on an attack duty, but it's the only one that won't encourage to stay so high that he's too easily crowded out. Without the justification of supporting the ST closely, I moved Messi back to AMR, with an IF(S) role. My Winger on the left switch to W(A), which not only suits my players, but has made him more of a goal threat and provided better supply to the others, as he wasn't getting to the byline much on support. Finally, with passing numbers slightly lower than I wanted and not enough chances coming from diagonal switches to the winger (who is now looking to get in behind more anyway), I dropped from standard to shorter passing and bumped tempo back up one notch. With a true wide attacker on the right, my RB falls back to WB(S) as well, although I might still go IWB in the future. So here's what I've settled on for now


And this is what I just did with it, with Suarez unavailable due to injury


Suarez himself is scoring a goal every 212 minutes, so there's still improvement to be had there, but the team is top of the league and steadily improving

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