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Help required please - understanding tactics to get a team playing the way you want


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Hello all! It's been a long time since I posted on these forums - probably around 15 years actually, which tells you that I'm probably too old for FM.

Anyway, I'm having a few issues with creating/adjusting tactics to get a side (Borussia Dortmund) playing the way I want. I'm into the fifth season and the team has done well - winning the last three Bundesliga titles - but this seems to be very much despite my tactical choices rather than because of them. I've kept the core of the side but added a couple of other decent players, particularly Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Eduardo Camavinga. What I want is for Havertz to be the hub of the team, involved heavily in attacks, creating opportunities for the pacy front three of Werner, Julian Brandt and Jadon Sancho, who I want to get in the gaps between FB and CB. I want the team to press high (because most teams play cautiously against me and show little ambition to leave their third of the pitch), then to keep possession when we have it and probe for chances. However, I also want to retain the option of catching teams on the break with the pace of my forwards.

Unfortunately, none of this seems to happen anything like consistently - we might do this maybe one game in 5 or 6, then all other follow a predictable pattern: -

- the opposition strangle the game by constantly re-cycling possession between their back four and a deep lying playmaker while my forwards chase them round like headless chickens. I frequently see sides in the middle or lower reaches of the table rack up 60-65% possession against me and roughly 700 passes as a team - they often have three players completing over 100 passes. I know this is probably because we're giving them possession too easily when we have it, but I have no idea how to stop either them keeping it so easily or me wasting it so much.

- whoever plays as my AM-L will always have a poor game, regardless of who plays there. They will be the first to see their rating drop and regularly will be at 6.3 by half time. I've tried different roles in this area, but I want them to be a threat in the final third. I assume this must be down to other players taking up their space, so I've experimented with different roles in L CM (CMs, BBM, BWMs) and L FB (WBs, FBa, FBs), but it's consistently the same. In an ideal world, I'd like to play Brandt here as IFa and Sancho on the opposite side as IWa as that suits their attributes best IMHO, but that goes against the rules I've read on these forums around roles, duties and distributing them with balance, which is why I use an attacking role on the left (I'd prefer to use a WBa at both full backs to provide support for retaining possession in midfield, but I gather that probably won't work?)

- all our chances come from whoever plays on the right beating several players and either crossing to the back post for a header from the AML or a rebound for a tap in by CF. Or a corner. Because the opposition make no attempt to go beyond the half way line, they never create any chances, so eventually we score and we do win more games than we don't, but it feels like I might as well not be managing the team and that my tactics are a hinderance. When we play in Europe we get exposed and go out of the Champions League at the first knockout round normally.

Initially I started by playing 4-2-3-1 to get Havertz in the AM slot so he could dictate the game from there, but when I couldn't get enough possession I assumed that it would be down to having too many bodies in the final third, so I switched to 4-3-3 with Havertz operating as an APs from CM. It hasn't really changed anything and most games continue to play out in the same way.

So, apologies for the long post. I'm not looking for someone to say: 'change this and win every game', more looking for some guidance to get the team playing vaguely like I'd like and to stop the repeat issue of nullifying my best players. I'm not looking to dominate every game, rack up 70% possession and win each match 6-0, but it'd be nice to feel like I'm actually managing the team and that changes I make have some effect.

Many thanks in advance!

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First off, you're never too old to play a game you love!

Your tactic overall looks pretty balanced. That said, what I would try would be to slow the tempo down, shorter passes, and take off pass into space. This should help the team work the ball to your AP, instead of bypassing him with fast play. He will, because of his role and duty, look to make longer passes.

Once in game, go to analysis, players. THen there is a dropdown for possession. You can check this screen at different times during the game to see how many touches your AP is getting. Watch him during highlights if it's still low, he might be getting heavily marked by the opposition. You can try switching his location with the BBM, and also check his personal instruction for roaming, this should help him find space to receive passes.

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10 minutes ago, 04texag said:

First off, you're never too old to play a game you love!

Your tactic overall looks pretty balanced. That said, what I would try would be to slow the tempo down, shorter passes, and take off pass into space. This should help the team work the ball to your AP, instead of bypassing him with fast play. He will, because of his role and duty, look to make longer passes.

Once in game, go to analysis, players. THen there is a dropdown for possession. You can check this screen at different times during the game to see how many touches your AP is getting. Watch him during highlights if it's still low, he might be getting heavily marked by the opposition. You can try switching his location with the BBM, and also check his personal instruction for roaming, this should help him find space to receive passes.

Nice, thank you! Will lowering the tempo and passing length reduce the likelihood of counter-attacking when it's on? I wouldn't want to cancel out the best attributes of my front three - could I achieve the best of both worlds by playing short passing with standard tempo or would that be effectively trying have my tactical cake and eating it???

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No because they are different phases of play. When you transition to possession, your team will look to counter (assuming counter is checked), meaning guys will look to more aggressively move and pass up the pitch during this initial transition. This will not change by the suggestions I made. What does change is your approach/in possession play, which is once you are in control of the ball and not on initial transition. 

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22 minutes ago, 04texag said:

No because they are different phases of play. When you transition to possession, your team will look to counter (assuming counter is checked), meaning guys will look to more aggressively move and pass up the pitch during this initial transition. This will not change by the suggestions I made. What does change is your approach/in possession play, which is once you are in control of the ball and not on initial transition. 

That sounds perfect - I'll test it out in a few games and see what happens.

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Awesome, I would love to hear how it goes. 

 

One other thing I have recently done ( I play similar tactics) is to turn my wingbacks on to Automatic. Dont' see a lot doing this, but it turns off the hard coded gets further forward. My players have that trait already, and I feel like it reduces their mentality a little. When I've done that, they have been less ball hogs than normal. This version of FM loves to give the wingbacks the ball, and on my team they are good, but then the play bypasses my much better midfielders.

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50 minutes ago, 04texag said:

Awesome, I would love to hear how it goes. 

 

One other thing I have recently done ( I play similar tactics) is to turn my wingbacks on to Automatic. Dont' see a lot doing this, but it turns off the hard coded gets further forward. My players have that trait already, and I feel like it reduces their mentality a little. When I've done that, they have been less ball hogs than normal. This version of FM loves to give the wingbacks the ball, and on my team they are good, but then the play bypasses my much better midfielders.

That's really interesting - and it would make a lot of sense to change the team's approach in line with the match situation. I cannot get any decent performances out of my AML, regardless of who I put there, so I'm wondering if it might be the attacking role for my LWB/LFB combined with the 'get forward more' hard coded PI.

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1 hour ago, dazza11 said:

I would suggest dropping your LOE.. draw the opposition back four out, and create some space for your fast forwards to attack in behind 

So maybe play standard LOE and Higher DL? Would that risk allowing them to make the endless pointless passes they make between back four and DLP?

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I rarely use an AP, but generally, if you're using a 4231, playing narrow, and have both wingers cutting inside, then your #10 is going to struggle for space, regardless of role, especially if your opponent is employing a DM. 

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At the moment, as a big team like Dortmund, the opposition are probably mostly playing very cautious against you, for them nicking a point is a result. So by having a high LOE they rarely venture from their half, but by playing a back 4 or 5 with 1 or 2 dm they still have the numerical advantage to keep possession. Plus what space is there with the higher press for you fast front three to run into?

ive had greater success with bigger teams by using standard LOE and high ( not higher) defensive line. The opposition only knock the ball around at the back Cos your high press makes moving forward so difficult. Experiment with it for say a half, see how it goes. 
 

also with higher tempo and playing narrow you are limiting space for your own players, and then adding an IF & IW you are all sitting on top of each other so creating chances against cautious opposition is super difficult. I’d suggest go to standard width at least, try the IW either on support or change to W

Edited by dazza11
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3 hours ago, dazza11 said:

At the moment, as a big team like Dortmund, the opposition are probably mostly playing very cautious against you, for them nicking a point is a result. So by having a high LOE they rarely venture from their half, but by playing a back 4 or 5 with 1 or 2 dm they still have the numerical advantage to keep possession. Plus what space is there with the higher press for you fast front three to run into?

ive had greater success with bigger teams by using standard LOE and high ( not higher) defensive line. The opposition only knock the ball around at the back Cos your high press makes moving forward so difficult. Experiment with it for say a half, see how it goes. 
 

also with higher tempo and playing narrow you are limiting space for your own players, and then adding an IF & IW you are all sitting on top of each other so creating chances against cautious opposition is super difficult. I’d suggest go to standard width at least, try the IW either on support or change to W

This sounds like great advice - I've persisted with high tempo because, in my mind, that would encourage the swift counter attacks that could take advantage of my forwards' pace, but you're absolutely right that if we're high up the pitch and the opposition are knocking it around at the back, there's no space for us to break into anyway.

I'll test it out and see how it goes - I'm kind of looking to control possession to make the most of Havertz's quality, but also keep the option of the counter open to make use of our pace - it's either the best of both worlds of the worst of neither.

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4 hours ago, XuluBak said:

I rarely use an AP, but generally, if you're using a 4231, playing narrow, and have both wingers cutting inside, then your #10 is going to struggle for space, regardless of role, especially if your opponent is employing a DM. 

This is pretty much the conclusion I've come to - asking an APs to find space when there's already two other plays in the AM strata and two CMs, is just making everything too compressed. Add to the mix that I want to play narrow to encourage the AML and AMR to get in between the FB and CB, it all just becomes a mess.

I had more joy in the first season when I had Reus playing AM as an SS, so I envisage this being a plan B, using either Brandt as an AMa or bring Patrick Schick off the bench to play SS and then either pushing Havertz wide as AP from AML or AMR, or, alternatively using him in CM as a DLPs. Loads of options.

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I just looked back and formation that I  used for big teams is very similar to yours, and it won the lot with Barca/Man Utd/Inter so a couple of tweaks here and there should help. In game I add counter & change left wb to A and if chasing with turn HB to a bwm depending how we are going. 

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4 hours ago, Haribo1681 said:

I've persisted with high tempo because, in my mind, that would encourage the swift counter attacks that could take advantage of my forwards' pace

You are managing a top team, so you cannot expect opponents to leave you enough space for those counter-attacks, simply because most of them will be ultra-defensive when playing against you. Except when you play against other top teams, of course. 

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17 hours ago, Haribo1681 said:

This sounds like great advice - I've persisted with high tempo because, in my mind, that would encourage the swift counter attacks that could take advantage of my forwards' pace, but you're absolutely right that if we're high up the pitch and the opposition are knocking it around at the back, there's no space for us to break into anyway.

I'll test it out and see how it goes - I'm kind of looking to control possession to make the most of Havertz's quality, but also keep the option of the counter open to make use of our pace - it's either the best of both worlds of the worst of neither.

So, I made a couple of changes for my next league game - away to Stuttgart who were lying in 6th on decent form while we were top (mainly as a result of Bayern dropping points elsewhere, but anyway...). I reduced the tempo and dropped the LOE to try and encourage them to play into midfield where we could then press hard and either counter or then control possession: - (ignore the injuries etc, they were picked up in the game).

It didn't go so well.

Back to the drawing board, I guess...

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In my novice opinion the lower tempo with play narrow and an AF on attack makes you very easy to play against. Your striker will be isolated by teams defending deep and you’ve lowered the tempo which gives opposition time to regroup, when they wasn’t pushing out very far in the first place. What are you hoping to achieve with play narrower?

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20 minutes ago, dazza11 said:

In my novice opinion the lower tempo with play narrow and an AF on attack makes you very easy to play against. Your striker will be isolated by teams defending deep and you’ve lowered the tempo which gives opposition time to regroup, when they wasn’t pushing out very far in the first place. What are you hoping to achieve with play narrower?

I'm mainly trying to get the AML and AMR to play more narrow and be more of a goal threat - when I was playing wider it all felt too spread out and like they couldn't find each other so we were just lumping the ball up and giving teams the chance to kill the game with excessive possession.

I'm finding that trying to fix one 'problem' creates another somewhere else that either doesn't seem connected - it's a frustrating process of trial and error.

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Personally, I would change the AF to a DLF A to make him less isolated. 

Also, I would remove either play out of defense or distribute to CB, as they can possibly make things too slow when combined. 

I would change the narrow attack to standard to a) make more space for Havertz b) teams will most likely defend the middle against you

You could try to remove more urgent pressong, and apply a split block to your attacking players to keep your defense in place

Also, look at your wide players' player traits if you find them doing weird things

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So, I'm increasingly of the opinion that tactics don't actually make any difference - for the final game of the season, we were home to Hoffenheim needing a draw to win the league. They're in the lower half but safe from relegation so have nothing to play for. They pitched up play 5-4-1 with a defensive mentality and, of course, proceeded to neutralise the game by racking up 400 passes in the first alone. We shaped up playing our usual 4-3-3, but Havertz was unavailable meaning Gio Reyna was needed to play as a Mezzala in CM. I tried to a standard LOE with a higher defensive line, slightly wider attack and a standard tempo but with attacking mentality to try and play the game in their half.

As you can see, it was a disappointing outcome - they scored with their first shot - their first foray into our half, to be honest, and we missed a penalty, to ultimately lose 1-0 and finish second in the league to a really average Bayern side.

I'm not as bitter as my opening line would indicate, just a bit confused - what could I have done differently here to avoid this outcome? I feel like I make logical changes to my side to get my best players in the positions to make the greatest effect, but it doesn't seem to have any effect, and ultimately most results feel like they are pre-determined.

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3 minutes ago, Mr_Demus said:

Personally, I would change the AF to a DLF A to make him less isolated. 

Also, I would remove either play out of defense or distribute to CB, as they can possibly make things too slow when combined. 

I would change the narrow attack to standard to a) make more space for Havertz b) teams will most likely defend the middle against you

You could try to remove more urgent pressong, and apply a split block to your attacking players to keep your defense in place

Also, look at your wide players' player traits if you find them doing weird things

Interestingly, these are all things that I've tried on different occasions - changing to a DLF saw my wide players dribble excessively to the byline and shoot from crazy tight angles into the side netting, presumably as they had no-one to pass to. Changing defensive distribution/play out of defence seemed to give my GK and defence a license to smash the ball up the field looking for Sancho to win a header. A standard width attack seems to make the AML and AMR play extremely wide and therefore out of range of short passing, and the split block seems to make my front players run round like headless chickens while the opposition rack up Spain-esque passing numbers in their own half (it's impressive really - even average-to-poor sides never, ever make mistakes in their passing).

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3 hours ago, Haribo1681 said:

Interestingly, these are all things that I've tried on different occasions - changing to a DLF saw my wide players dribble excessively to the byline and shoot from crazy tight angles into the side netting, presumably as they had no-one to pass to. Changing defensive distribution/play out of defence seemed to give my GK and defence a license to smash the ball up the field looking for Sancho to win a header. A standard width attack seems to make the AML and AMR play extremely wide and therefore out of range of short passing, and the split block seems to make my front players run round like headless chickens while the opposition rack up Spain-esque passing numbers in their own half (it's impressive really - even average-to-poor sides never, ever make mistakes in their passing).

It might have been those TI's that did it, or they might have done it in unison with another TI, PI or player trait. So you can't 100% for sure say, that they don't work for you

 

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50 minutes ago, Mr_Demus said:

It might have been those TI's that did it, or they might have done it in unison with another TI, PI or player trait. So you can't 100% for sure say, that they don't work for you

 

I think this is my problem more than anything - I find it impossible to get all the different instruction options to work out the way I would like as they seem to counteract each other, so it ends up all being a bit nothing, which then makes it feel as though I could change anything and nothing would actually be different.

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10 minutes ago, Haribo1681 said:

I think this is my problem more than anything - I find it impossible to get all the different instruction options to work out the way I would like as they seem to counteract each other, so it ends up all being a bit nothing, which then makes it feel as though I could change anything and nothing would actually be different.

Could you perhaps benefit from going back to step 1?

Remove all PI's and TI's, analyze your players (also looking at player traits), then make sure that your 3-4 best players are utilized to the fullest (not looking at green dots, but actual stats and traits) and then add perhaps just a couple of PI's and TI's and then add a few more as you see what works/doesn't work in matches.

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@Haribo1681 don’t get too disgruntled, if you lost the league on the last game of the season you are clearly doing a lot right. 
dig into the analysis a little more, how are you conceding goals? Whilst FM is geared towards pressing & high defensive lines, you still need the right players. Not sure on Felipe attributes but Hummels has the pace of a snail doesn’t he? 
Use split block closing down to encourage your forwards to press even though you’ve dropped the high LOE. 
Your last attempt at a tactic imo looks less balanced then your original, and looks like you’ve tried to force some changes. Revert to your successful original and make a tweak at a time. 

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5 minutes ago, dazza11 said:

Use split block closing down to encourage your forwards to press even though you’ve dropped the high LOE

Well, the split block actually works better - and makes more sense - when the LOE is dropped slightly, because it gives you better compactness. For example, higher DL + standard LOE + split block is my preferred combo when managing top teams. 

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10 minutes ago, dazza11 said:

@Haribo1681 don’t get too disgruntled, if you lost the league on the last game of the season you are clearly doing a lot right. 
dig into the analysis a little more, how are you conceding goals? Whilst FM is geared towards pressing & high defensive lines, you still need the right players. Not sure on Felipe attributes but Hummels has the pace of a snail doesn’t he? 
Use split block closing down to encourage your forwards to press even though you’ve dropped the high LOE. 
Your last attempt at a tactic imo looks less balanced then your original, and looks like you’ve tried to force some changes. Revert to your successful original and make a tweak at a time. 

Well, having just finished the sixth season it seems like a good time to refresh and go again - I think I've ended up trying to create a tactic that's neither one thing or the other, so it's a good time to freshen up the squad (I have some money in the bank and a few players who I could do without) and then see what would be best with what I have, like it was a new game.

You're right - Hummels is not quick, especially at 35 years - 10 for pace and 7 for acceleration - so it's time for him to step back. My other CBs are all much quicker so a higher line is still option, IMO. There's definitely other players in the squad that I'm probably asking the wrong things of so it's time to effectively start from scratch.

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