Apologies to everyone for the wait for this article, but there’s been a few reasons why it’s taken me until December to write this. Firstly, I’ve wanted to make sure I get this right after the success of the FM14 article, and have all the material needed to show why the Central Winger is such a fantastic role. Secondly, I’ve actually had some problems using the Central Winger on FM15. I developed a 3-6-1 on the BETA with Manchester United, with Angel Di Maria as the CW. I’ve always said that Angel Di Maria was the archetypal Central Winger, and to my surprise, well, it didn’t work very well. Januzaj ended up being far better in the CW role, but on the whole, I didn’t see many of the movements I saw on FM14, and I worried that my favourite role was going to be largely useless on FM15.
In the end, I figured out that the CW’s ineffectiveness was as a result of two things, both my fault in a way. In an attempt to avoid horrific Back 3 spreading that I’d seen on FM14, I decided not to ask the team to ‘play wider’, condensing the diamond midfield in the centre, meaning that the Central Winger didn’t have the space he needed, and therefore was largely useless.
Before I go into the Central Winger for FM15, I’d like to sum up how I developed the role last year, and exactly what it is, for those that didn’t see the FM14 article. The Central Winger came about when I first saw Angel Di Maria play central midfield for Real Madrid in their 4-3-3. Being the football hipster I am, I went on Twitter and said that Di Maria played almost like a ‘Central Winger’. Naturally from there, I wanted to develop this role and style of play on Football Manager, and create a midfielder that ran directly at defences, moved out wide at times, and provided a goalscoring threat from midfield, bursting past the forward line. I developed the role in my save at Red Bull Salzburg *spits*, and it became a key part of many of my tactics towards the end of the game. I tweaked a CM-A, with ‘get further forward’, ‘press more’, ‘run wide with ball’ and ‘dribble more’ selected.
The story of the Central Winger on FM15 is largely a result of my save with Sturm Graz, and the 4-1-4-1 I’m using. As those of you that have read will know, it started off as an attempt to recreate Real Madrid’s 4-4-2, which moulded into a 4-4-1-1/4-1-4-1, and eventually into a conventional 4-1-4-1. Until moving to the 4-1-4-1, I hadn’t used the CW, but next to a Roaming Playmaker, I felt I needed vertical movement, and so the Central Winger was my only option. I had my reservations though. Once again, it’s gone on to become a key element of my tactic, and I’ve finally figured out what makes it tick in comparison to FM14.
Here is how I set the role up this year. As before, it starts off as a CM-A. I select ‘dribble more’, ‘close down more’ and ‘run wide with ball’. I would have selected ‘get further forward’ as before, but this year, it’s already selected. I select ‘dribble more’, rather obviously, to get the dribbling and running at the defence that I’m after. Funnily enough, this didn’t happen that much on FM14. I select ‘close down more’ in order to increase the pressing, which is a direct influence of me attempting to make this role play like Di Maria. Di Maria would often move out towards the left with the ball as well, which is why I selected ‘run wide with ball’. This was something that wasn’t overly obvious in gameplay last year, but things have changed this year.
I posted this screenshot in my latest Sturm update to illustrate how I’d been using the Central Winger, and it really is the CW at it’s very best and most direct. Alar, the CW, picks the ball up in central midfield and spots the hole in the defence between the FAK left back and centre back. He then drives with the ball into that space, running directly at the defence. This threat is so severe that five defenders track Alar’s run, completely ruining their defensive organisation. A simple square pass inside to Schmerbock, and we get a decent shot on goal. Very simple, but very, very effective. The CW running at a defence, committing bodies, before laying off a pass to allow us a shot on goal. Exactly what I want. This utilisation of space is far better than it was on FM14, and the right CW will be able to spot these open gaps in defences.
Because of his instructions, the CW will also be very effective when play breaks down. Here, we’ve had a shot on goal and the ball has rebounded out to Alar. He’s pressed by 2 defenders, with one covering deeper. Alar however, recognises the space in the centre and dribbles his way into this space. The defender next to Molina comes across to block and Alar simply squares the ball to Molina, who finishes easily. Again, simple but effective. Directly running at a defence, and laying a simple ball off for a goal. Perfect Central Winger play.
I’ve always found the CW to be most effective when combined with a striker that drops deeper off the front line. In my 4-1-4-1 with Sturm, I’ve used a CF-S and DLF-S, both designed to break off the front line, and create space either in front of, or behind the defence. Here, you can see very basically how well this works. Our RPM Offenbacher plays the pass in white into the DLF Molina (don’t ask me why he’s facing the wrong way). Seeing this, Alar breaks forward, and moves past Molina making the run in red. His marker doesn’t go with him, leaving Alar completely open. Unfortunately, Molina’s pass is poor and Alar is forced to pick the ball up out wide, but the threat is always there. This happens less than it did last year, but it’s still a key element of what makes the CW so effective.
The Central Winger is not just a threat when dribbling with the ball and when near a striker either. The Central Winger contributes to the overall play of the team by providing vertical movement throughout the attacking phase, starting from deep. Here, the CW Alar has picked the ball up in his LCM spot. Rather than dribbling this time, he moves the ball out wide to the winger Akiyoshi, who subsequently moves the ball inside to our other central midfielder, Schnaderbeck. Once again, the CW Alar moves without the ball and bursts forward making the run in blue, moving past Schnaderbeck as the ball comes to him.
Here is the continuation of the above move. Schnaderbeck is pressed by 3 defenders and smartly moves the ball into Alar, who then spots the pass in red into our right midfielder, who unfortunately is offside. However, this shows the movement of the CW within the attacking phase, following the ball forward, from central midfield to the edge of the box, and creating good chances for our goalscorers. In a few seconds we’ve gone from central midfield to the opposition box. The CW is not necessarily a ‘creative’ role, but it will create chances for other players simply by committing opposition defenders.
The CW will also move into the Number 10 zone at times, which can cause absolute havoc for the defence. Here, the CW has moved into this 10 zone late in the attack, and receives the ball from Schnaderbeck. The opposition defence can either come out and close him down, leaving space behind them, or allow him to keep running (which they do). He then moves forward towards the edge of the box and fires a shot past the opposition keeper. It’s always a danger with a 4-1-4-1 that the striker can become isolated, but the CW’s fantastic movement avoids this problem.
I will admit that the Central Winger has changed somewhat from FM14. I wouldn’t say it’s quite the same goalscoring threat as before, but it has become so much more effective in overall play, dominating midfield, working box to box, creating opportunities for other players, and completely ruining the opposition’s defensive organisation. The right player in the CW role will constantly commit defenders, eventually leading to someone being unmarked. When 5 AI defenders cover the run of one man, you know the role is effective. Combined with a Roaming Playmaker, the Central Winger will run your midfield, and cause serious problems for the opposition.
I have always said that the ideal Central Winger would be Angel Di Maria, and on FM15 it remains the same. Classic winger/inside forward attributes are needed, with good finishing ability and decent passing. In simple terms, a box to box midfielder, with better dribbling. Having said that, in a midfield 3, the CW’s tackling really isn’t important. Although he presses the ball, it’s a bit passive in my system, in order to retain shape. Increasing the pressing of the CW would be a very interesting experiment, something I might have to try someday.
I hope you all enjoyed reading about the Central Winger again for FM15. If you have any questions about how I use the CW within my tactic or anything like that, please don’t hesitate to ask.