One of my absolute favourite improvements that Sports Interactive have made this year when designing Football Manager 2018 is the improvements to goalkeepers.
More specifically, I absolutely love the improvements that have been made to the role of ‘Sweeper Keeper’, and the way that the role now plays on FM18. Previously, I’ve flip flopped between using a standard Goalkeeper, and perhaps a Sweeper Keeper on support, but realistically, I rarely saw much difference between these roles, especially once I gave my G-D instructions to pass to centre backs. I rarely ever saw the kind of football that I wanted from my SK, but all that has changed this year, to the point where I now consider my Sweeper Keeper one of the most important positions in my system I used with Bournemouth. This article is going to cover how I use my Sweeper Keeper, why it’s so important and give examples of why the role now adds so much to my team’s play (and importantly the style of our play).
An absolute bargain. I would highly recommend him to any FM’er.
Firstly, this is who I use in the role, Timo Horn. Signed this season for £15.5M from Köln, he’s been an absolute steal, and one of the best signings I’ve ever made on Football Manager period. A quick look at his profile shows that he has a lot of the key attributes required for the Sweeper Keeper role (and room to improve at only 25). He’s fantastic at one-on-ones – something a SK often faces – is excellent at distribution by throwing, has excellent composure and anticipation, and is steadily increasing in terms of his first touch and his passing (which he’s having additional training on). He isn’t perfect by any means, but he’s very good at the key attributes that the role demands.
In the past when I’ve used a Sweeper Keeper, it has almost certainly been on ‘support’ duty. However, this year I wanted to really test out how much I could get from Horn with his ability on the ball and to help us play out from the back. As a result, I’ve used a SK-A. Below is the description of a Sweeper Keeper on ‘attack’ duty:
What I will say as a precursor to the analysis of what the SK-A does for me, is that I don’t see as much of the ‘he will sweep up balls in front of and wide of the penalty area’ bit. The next development that I’d love to see from SI is to get the SK to be more proactive in defence, and rush out from his box to cut out through balls from the AI. This is how the historical Sweeper Keepers such as Grosics, Jongbloed, Gatti, Valdes and Neuer play(ed), and it’s the next logical progression for the Sweeper Keeper’s replication in Football Manager. Behaviour that Kenneth Wolstenholme described in 1954 as:
“Unorthodox, but effective.”
That quote refers to the use of Gyula Grosics – who I have previously written about for These Football Times – for the Hungarian Aranycsapat or ‘Golden Team’ in 1954, and how important Grosics was to the way Hungary played. In the same way Grosics was vital to Hungary – and Honved – Timo Horn is much the same for my title-chasing Bournemouth side.
Here are the instructions that I give to my SK-A. I have lately considered that these may even be a little cautious, and once I train up Horn’s passing (and hopefully his vision improves) I can remove pass it shorter. As it stands, I ask Timo to ‘pass it shorter’, ‘distribute to centre backs’, as well as the default instructions of ‘dribble more’ and ‘more risky passes’. These instructions mean that he’s a little more Valdes than Neuer when we pass out from the back, in terms of he focuses on making his passes to members of the defence, but that works wonderfully within our system itself, and for now I have no need to ask him to expand his range of passing.
When analysing anything in Football Manager – or football in general – you can’t look at it from an isolated point of view, you have to analyse how players or roles fit within the larger system. I could design the most perfect role for a Number 10, but if he doesn’t have the correct surrounding cast, he’s useless. It’s much the same with the Sweeper Keeper. In my system with Bournemouth, Horn sits behind a back 4, with a BPD-D, a CD-D and two WB-S’s. I’ll cover the shape that this usually creates for playing out soon, but it provides the proper environment to allow Horn to get on the ball, and make the correct passes to carefully progress the ball up the field and utilise his skillset effectively. Lewis Cook in the DLP-D role is also extremely important within this system as you’ll see later.
You also might think that I use ‘play out of defence‘ as a team instruction in order to effectively use the SK-A, but I realistically have no need for it. I constantly see my side play out from the back, and that’s largely because I use ‘pass it shorter‘ as a team instruction, meaning that the entire side look for the pass close to them, meaning that the defence logically pass it to each other. With a ‘control’ mentality and therefore a higher level of creative freedom, the team are also given the opportunity to make a longer pass should the opportunity arise, and Horn has taken advantage of this before as you’ll see later.
Earlier, I said that it was important to surround any role in FM with the correct surrounding cast. As you can see here, the Sweeper Keeper is no different. In this example the SK has come to claim a cross, and moves towards the edge of his box looking to launch an attack – after all, Sweeper Keepers are the first attackers – and has several available options. Because of his high mentality he chooses to throw to the full back with the yellow pass (showing that he won’t always give the ball to the centre backs), but he also had the CD-D making himself available in orange, and the DLP-D dropping slightly deeper to provide another option in red. With these options available, the opposition’s Number 17 can’t cover them all, and Horn can use his high mentality and high composure and decisions to pick out the correct pass. This seems obvious, but this approach is applicable to every other role in FM – make sure they have options around them to pass to. This isn’t totally different to what a standard G-D would do, but it’s an important part of building from the back, and something you’ll see in each of these examples. In this example, Smith makes the pass to our left sided SS-A, and we’re instantly on the attack.
This is perhaps an even better example of what I said above regarding options and surrounding cast. In this example, the ball has been played to Retsos our CD-D, and he is about to be pressed by Number 17 of Huddersfield. However, Retsos has several available options, in our WB-S, the CAR-S, the DLP-D and our SK-A in red. This is an example of how we effectively create a diamond shape centrally with which to build play (with the SK, CD, BPD and DLP), whilst also having the WB-S’s there should we need to move the ball wide to avoid pressure as Horn did in the screenshot above.
At times, the SK can also be extremely adventurous with his positioning, though this isn’t as often as I’d like. In this example from the same game, you can see how with Huddersfield sitting off, Horn is comfortable enough to move forward with the ball at his feet, ahead of even the BPD-D, and has options ahead of him. This is fantastic to watch, and something I’d honestly like to see more often from the role, so SI, more please. ❤ Horn deals badly with the ball in this example – irritatingly – but you can see that the potential is there (especially if I could sign someone even better on the ball) for the BPD or WB to be freed up by the SK passing late to avoid any press from Number 17 or Number 9.
What all the above images regarding options give us is the ability to play out from the back with ease, even without that TI selected. Here is a perfect example of what the SK gives us:
This example is from a Europa League match against Celtic, and as you can see they’re pressing us quite aggressively, trying to close down Retsos, our CD-D, with the ball. However, we are consistently able to comfortably deal with this kind of pressing, as Horn steps up into the purple zone to make himself available, and Retsos makes the correct decision to pass him the ball. Horn then very quickly switches our angle of attack by passing to Aké, our BPD-D, and we’ve quickly and easily avoided Celtic’s high press. Aké passes the ball out wide (out of shot) to our WB-S, and the ball them moves into the attacking players and we’re threatening Celtic’s third of the pitch. Again, this is simple, but shows how the SK adds so much to our play by being an extra (willing) passer in our build up, and switches the play to the other side of the pitch, acting as an extra pivot in our ‘diamond’ of SK, CD, BPD and DLP. Against teams that attempt (foolishly) to press us high, the presence of the SK is absolutely invaluable to us. We keep the ball and move it at relentless speed, and the SK constantly allows us to do that, without Retsos having to make a rash decision or a risky pass.
In the right circumstances, the SK will also turn defence into attack. In this example (those of you that follow me on Twitter (@JLAspey) will have seen this before) we’ve had a throw in deep in our own half, and our DLP-D Lewis Cook plays the ball to Nathan Aké at BPD. Bravely, Aké spots Horn who has made himself available for the pass, and plays the pass in red to him. Horn utilises his composure and decision making and makes the pass in yellow to our AM-A and we’re on the attack. I must stress from this example that Horn did not clear the ball and it just happened to go to the AM-A, it was very clearly a deliberate pass. This helps us evade the press yet again, and our front 3 then combine to create a goal which is scored by David Brooks, our right sided SS-A in this example. Whilst Horn did not receive the assist, he absolutely made this goal. This is the example of where a Sweeper Keeper does what a standard Goalkeeper may not have, and his play directly leads to a goal for us.