Salzburg Hatred, A Broken Foot, and Hidden Diamonds

156Well, we’ve reached the halfway point of the season, 19 games into the Bundesliga. How have things been going? Well, pretty well but it’s not been easy and there’s been challenges along the way. Looking at our record, you probably would think it’s been plain sailing, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

As I said in my first post of this save, I was planning on using a formation and tactic that was a combination of a 4-4-1-1 and a 4-1-4-1. A bit hipster-ish perhaps, but I’ve got a problem when it comes to Football Manager, and I can’t bring myself to use something simple. I’ve always got to try to make it complicated or different.

Anyway, the 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1 worked very well at the beginning of the season. It was very much a work in progress, but we played good football using the formation, so well that I was planning on doing a tactical post on it after a few more games.

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As you can see, there’s some good results there. The Salzburg game aside, we were defending very well, keeping a good number of clean sheets. The Salzburg game was just a freak game where they scored everything they had, and we didn’t. They also scored two from corners. You can also see we were scoring plenty, and most of the games look pretty comfortable. That would be a fairly accurate assessment if I’m honest. I was very happy with the tactic and was planning on building the club around it as the season went on. I had no plans to change whatsoever.

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I want to keep back most of the information about the 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1 for the inevitable article I’ll do on it, but here’s the basic shape of the team. As you can see we form a nice hybrid formation. You could call it 4-4-2, 4-4-1-1 or 4-1-4-1 depending on what angle and perspective you look at it from. It still needed work (evident by the 4-1 loss to Salzburg) but it does have potential.

Something I didn’t quite realise when I devised the tactic was quite how important the AP-S role was going to be in the AMCR position. He turned out to be vital in linking the entire team together, ensuring that Djuricin upfront didn’t become isolated from the rest of the side, which can be an issue with 4-1-4-1. By sliding one midfielder further up, I was attempting to avoid this.

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Here’s the man I utilised in the AP-S role, Marko Stankovic. He was simply fantastic for us at the beginning of the season, in that completely unnoticeable way that players control games. Stankovic wasn’t the one scoring the goals or always making the assists, but he was the key part of how we played. Our Number 10.

The astute among you will notice that he’s currently injured. He sustained a broken foot in the 3-1 win against SV Grodig. He’d be out for 5-6 months, and I knew we were in big trouble. None of our other players who can play AMC are anywhere near the level of Stankovic, or the type of player required to play the AP-S role. The others are more dribbling types with low ratings for passing. Nevertheless, I had such faith in the 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1 that I felt I could plug anyone into that role and the formation would still perform well. Not so much. As you can see by the last game in the fixtures above, we required penalties to beat Wolfsberger AC in the cup. Wolfsberger aren’t a bad side at all, and for a while were 2nd and unbeaten along with Salzburg, but we beat them only weeks earlier in the most comfortable 1-0 I’ve ever seen. It also didn’t help that this was just a few days before playing Austria Wien in the league, leaving my players shattered for that important fixture. Thanks FM.  After that struggle, I knew the 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1 had to go on the back burner, at least for now.

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 23.59.24After a few games of experimenting with wide Back 3’s (immensely fun, but you’ll get destroyed on quick counter attacks) I decided to get serious again, and devised this on the right. The idea actually spawned from a discussion I’d been having with a friend in the pub the night before. He was looking at his tactics from his Hearts save, and I suggested this formation to him. The formation along with his ideas worked with great effect, as he achieved promotion through the horrible Scottish play-off system to the Scottish Premiership. Knowing that the formation worked, I decided I should try it with my own team.

It’s perfect for the squad I have at my disposal right now. Beichler is a flashy AMC (14 for flair), but isn’t that good at passing (only rated 11) so is basically there to link with Djuricin and play as a Second Striker. Sturm have a bunch of good central midfielders, and this formation allows me to fit them all in, particularly Lovric, who is really starting to improve as a result of all the game time he’s getting.

This tactic also gets the best out of Offenbacher, who I identified in my opening post as one of the players I was looking at as key to the club’s future. He’s absolutely fantastic in the RPM role in what I’ve started to call the ‘Hidden Diamond’ (because Offenbacher’s hidden inside the diamond…..yeah). Offenbacher’s played so well that he’s gone on to become the best player in the league on average rating. He controls our entire team with his passing, moves from box to box, scores key goals and makes assists (9 in total, 1 off the top player in the league). He’s one of the reasons I’m debating whether to stick with this as the season goes on and Stankovic returns, or to return to the 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1. Choices, choices. There’s also a Central Winger in the Hidden Diamond, so there’s that.

So how did the Hidden Diamond work for us?

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Again, pretty well. Ignore the results against Austria Wien and Altach, because they were my attempts at using a wide Back 3. Successful yes, but the pragmatist in me isn’t comfortable with that level of openness, and if I’m honest, we could easily have lost both games.

The first match with the Hidden Diamond was the 5-2 win against Neustadt, and one of their goals was an own goal. We completely dominated the game, and went on from there, winning 4-1, 1-0 and 3-2 in the cup in a tough match. We were on a great run of form, and then Red Bull Salzburg ruined it. With a near post corner. Needless to say, I was livid. Once I’d calmed down though, I realised that Salzburg hadn’t beaten us in open play, meaning there must be something right with our setup, particularly in contrast to the 4-1 demolition at the start of the season, using the 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1. Another reason to stick with the Hidden Diamond.

The mid-season break really is coming at a good time for us, because we limped to two 1-0 wins after the Salzburg game, with the players noticeably playing worse. It feels like that period you get in FM games just before you go on a run of losses, and so I’m thankful to have a break to allow the players to recover, and for me to start looking at potential additions for next season and build up my shortlist.

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Of course, that would be easier to plan if we actually had some money. I was given a budget of 0 to start the game, so have had to rely entirely on the players I started with. If I’m honest, I don’t mind that too much, as I rarely make more than one signing at my first season at a club. I prefer to get used to the squad, and figure out who’s going to be key for us going forward. As you can see above, I’ve had the transfer revenue reduced to 30%. Great. Hopefully CL qualification can get us some much needed cash into the club, and allow me to fulfil my idea of having a club full of German speakers. Of course, to achieve CL qualification, we have to do well in the league, so how are we doing?

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 10.25.15Much better than I’d have expected at this point in the season. We are keeping pace with Salzburg, but I don’t for a minute expect to be able to overtake them and win the league. We’re comfortably 2nd by 13 points, and I’m happy with that. Unless we collapse towards the end of the season, it looks as if we’ve achieved CL qualification for next season, bringing in much needed cash.

Salzburg are just way too good though. For a while, we were 5 points behind, and I never expected to be in with a shout. They then lost and drew a game, giving me some hope, until they beat us 1-0 with that corner. They regularly win 4-0, 6-0, and are the dominant team in the league right now. We’re close on points, but miles away in quality. All I can hope is that we get some cash in to allow me to build around what I already have, and Salzburg lose some players.

The performance of the Wien teams is surprising, as Rapid and Austria find themselves in 6th and 8th respectively. The FAK boss constantly finds himself almost sacked, so I can see that happening some time soon. Rapid are tough to play though, and I’m not looking forward to the second time we play them.

So, stick or twist? Do I go back to the 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1 or stick with the Hidden Diamond? I think it’ll be decided by how well Stankovic plays in the Hidden Diamond once he returns. I do like narrow formations as you can see from the majority of the posts on this blog. I like to control the centre of the pitch both offensively and defensively, and then late on have support from the wings. It’s why I’ve got WB-S’s, not CWB’s, who I feel are too high up, too early on. The only issue is that the AI seems far better at moving the ball from sideline to sideline this year, which pulls narrow formations out of position a bit more. Still, I can hardly complain with our defensive record since the tactics switch.

I’ll update again at the end of the season, hopefully qualified for the CL, having decided upon a tactic to move forward with. As always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

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