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.

So, Change Of Plans….

In my FM15 preview post, I said that I would be starting this year managing Austria Salzburg in @Shrewnaldo’s edit of the Austrian league structure. At the time of writing, Shrewnaldo planned to put Salzburg in the Bundesliga, however, when he holidayed the Austrian leagues, and saw the level of the club in general, he decided that it would be better to put them in the Erste Liga (the second tier).

That left me with a bit of a dilemma. I’m notoriously slow at completing seasons on Football Manager. I spend too much time messing about trying to make the tactics perfect, daydreaming about how to make them better. Plus, with the tactical ideas I had in mind, the level of players at Austria Salzburg wouldn’t have allowed me to have it play quite how I’d like. To me, tactics is everything in Football Manager.

So Here’s What I’ve Been Up To

In my FM15 preview post, I spoke about wanting to do something along the lines of the current Real Madrid setup, which is basically a 4-4-2. I’m an avid supporter of 4-4-2, and I’ve always believed that the formation gets a bad reputation, especially amongst British fans/media (I’m looking at you Gary Lineker). I’ll go further into my support of 4-4-2 when I do the full article on this tactic when the game releases, but I believe Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan are one of the best teams to watch that I’ve ever seen, and they used 4-4-2. It’s about the system, not the formation. I’m sure Pep Guardiola could use 4-4-2 at Bayern, and they’d still produce wonderful football.

Anyway, back on topic. After a brief dabble with my 3-6-1 with Manchester United, I switched saves to try out this ‘4-4-2’ with Real Madrid. I put 4-4-2 in inverted commas, because it’s not a standard 4-4-2 and is quite asymmetric. I’m not doing this just to be complicated (although that’s probably a factor), I’m doing it to try to accurately recreate the performances of specific players, particularly Kroos, Modric and Ronaldo.

The Mjallby 4-1-2-3-0

Image result for mjallby logoThis was without a doubt my favourite save on FM14. I wouldn’t necessarily say it was my best, because I only won one trophy and the save itself only lasted one season, but it is certainly my favourite. At a lull point in FM14 midway through my Salzburg save, I began to search around. I’d recently read @MerryGuido’s article on his narrow 4-1-2-3-0, and decided that I wanted to use the same formation, and incorporate the Central Winger, which I had just released an article about.

Just to give you a bit of context, when I joined them, Mjallby were predicted to finish 12th in the Swedish League and were a largely average team, nowhere near the level of Elfsborg, Malmö and Helsingsborgs. Starting the save, I put the players into the narrow 4-1-2-3-0 and happily decided that a mid-table finish would do me fine. Well, that didn’t end up happening. For anyone who was following me on Twitter at the time, you’ll have seen what happened. We challenged for the title, joining the race with about a month and a half to go, and won the title on the last day, needing a win to confirm ourselves as champions.

What’s more, it’s not as if Mjallby were one of those teams with good players that FM underrates (like Southampton) that are more than capable of winning the league. Mjallby’s players are mid table standard at best. The title win also wasn’t due to my (usually terrible) man management. No, the title win was entirely due to one thing, the Mjallby 4-1-2-3-0 (Mjallby Mjölnir for Guido).

What You Can Expect From The Tactical Annals Through FM15

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As FM15 inches ever closer, I thought I’d summarise some of my plans for this blog through FM15, and let you all know what you can expect this year. There are some fantastic ideas going round the FM scene right now, and tactically speaking, if the ME works correctly, it’s going to be a great year for Football Manager.

Firstly, I’ll go into what I’ve always done – tactics. In the last post I talked about an asymmetrical 4-1-2-3-0, utilising the new role the ‘Raumdeuer’. That is still very much in my plans, but a thread over at The Dugout (http://www.thedugout.tv/community/showpost.php?p=4276293&postcount=8) talking about footballing philosophies led me to go through mine, and by the end of writing it, I was so excited to try it on FM15. It’s a 3-6-1 with a midfield diamond. It’s possession based, but not entirely, as I’d want my players to counter attack when the opportunity presented itself. That would probably mean an ‘attacking’ or ‘control’ strategy, but then again, the defensive strategies lead to possession also, and ‘counter’ has the counter attack box ticked as standard. We’ll see. It also highly depends on how Back 3’s work this year. Last year they were pretty poor, and required you to be on defensive to make them work (or as @RTHerringbone discovered, play a Back 5). I would rather not have to work so hard to make my tactic work on FM15.

My Thoughts on FM15, and Some Tactical Ideas Going Forward

So, we’re now on the run up to the new Football Manager, FM15. I thought I’d summarise some of my opinions on the new roles for FM15, and preview some potential player roles that I’m looking at creating. I’ve reached a point now on FM14 where I don’t feel there’s much more that I can do, and save one more project for an upcoming article, I don’t expect to play the game much in the coming weeks. As much as I love Football Manager, I rarely end up playing in the period before the new game.

Despite this, there’s some new player roles that have been announced for FM15 that really have me interested. Those of you that have followed me on The Dugout, Twitter and Strikerless will know that I do enjoy a good strikerless tactic (not as much as Guido though), and I’ve already got ideas for my first tactical project on the new game.

The Narrow 4-1-2-2-1 – Expanding Upon Defensive Football in FM14

Image result for keckemet logoThose of you that follow me on Twitter (@JLAspey) or have read any of my recent articles will know that I’ve started to become very interested in defensive football in Football Manager. I wrote an article a few months back, trying to create a side that was uber defensive, and designed to be impossible to break down, and steal 1-0 wins. Since then, I’ve wanted to expand on that idea, but take away the negative aspects of it, whilst still retaining the defensive stability. The original article was inspired by a fantastic thread by @Cleon81, where he achieved a fantastic season with his Sheffield United side, utilising a defensive 4-4-2 diamond formation. Another inspiration for my tactic came from @MrEds, who combined aspects of Cleon’s ideas and tweaked my ‘defensive diamond’ in his save with Ujpest in Hungary. Like MrEds, I’ve recently been drawn to Hungarian football, but with Kecskemet (or KTE), a team predicted to finish 13th, and tipped for relegation by many. This seemed like a perfect situation to develop some defensive football, with a team that will need to be defensively solid in order to avoid relegation.

‘The Great Wall of Italia’ – Parking the Bus in Football Manager

The legendary Italian sports journalist Gianni Brera once stated that the perfect game of football would end 0-0. That is perhaps a strange thing to say, but if you look at it from a certain (defensivist) point of view, then you can begin to understand it. In theory, both teams have attacked very well, but both teams have also defended perfectly, denying the opposition chances to score. It is perhaps a more ‘perfect’ game than a 5-5, which would suggest both teams have defended poorly throughout the match. A more entertaining game perhaps, but not a ‘better’ game in Brera’s eyes. This is also a key insight into the mindset that has long existed in Italian football, a mindset that has become increasingly stereotyped over the past 20 years or so. In John Foot’s Calcio: a history of italian football, Foot claims that Italian teams have not always been defensive, but they are ‘simply much better at defending than other European teams’. Italians highly value a good defensive performance. Compare this to England, where this season Sam Allardyce was once again branded as ‘old-fashioned’ when his team sat back and defended to gain a draw against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, and you can see the cultural differences.

However, this season many have grown to admire the Atletico Madrid side of Diego Simeone, who has put together a fantastic hard working, counter attacking, defensive minded side. I’ve said on many occasions that I love watching Atletico defend, the way they press the ball, but retain their classic 4-4-2 shape that Europe’s top teams found so hard to break through. Contrast this to Football Manager, where I can’t bear to watch my teams defend. This is likely a by product of the fact that my teams are usually quite attacking, and therefore defensively suspect, but whenever the opposition have the ball, I’m always waiting for us to concede.

Recently though, I’ve been reading several articles on defensive football, particularly Cleon’s fantastic thread focusing on his efforts to create a defensively strong side, and I’ve been inspired to create a tactic that is designed to be defensive, to not concede goals, be incredibly tough to break through, and win games 1-0 or 2-0. It also includes one or two catenaccio features. I’ve also been wanting to do an international save recently with the World Cup coming up. The perfect team? Italy.

Utilising the Central Winger

Those of you that follow me on Twitter (@JLAspey) will know how much I’ve banged on about the ‘Central Winger’ these past couple of months. It’s something I originally said whilst watching Angel Di Maria’s early performances in central midfield for Real Madrid, saying that he was playing almost like a central winger. It’s also a position FM Analysis has been analysing, particularly with Peter Pawlett of Aberdeen, a natural winger who has been moved inside into a midfield 3, much like Di Maria.

Although the term itself may sound like football hipster mumbo-jumbo, it actually has a lot of reasoning behind it. In its basic nature, it’s the idea of playing a competent dribbler in central midfield, who can beat players and get to the byline to cross. Anyone who has seen Madrid this season can see the effect that Di Maria’s vertical and direct running has had on the whole team, and therefore it has made them extremely dangerous on the counter attack, something that has carried on from Mourinho’s Real side.

In theory, the role can be so much more dangerous than just a normal winger, or a box to box midfielder. Defenders are unable to use the sideline as an extra defender (as they would against a normal winger), and instead are forced to engage a fast midfielder dribbling at pace, something no centre back would be comfortable defending against. In addition, the player also has a much wider range of passing options, especially if he has additional players breaking forward with him, especially in wide areas, and runners from full back. A setup utilising a CW has the potential to completely overrun the opposition defence.

For a while now I’ve wanted to utilise the role on FM, but I’ve never really felt I had the correct players to allow the role to reach its full potential. I did use it in a save at Racing Club in Argentina, and whilst initial results were promising (for the role at least), the save was soon binned (my last attempt at a back 3). However, I’ve now started a new save in Austria with Red Bull Salzburg in 2018, and I believe I’ve got the CW working extremely well, and it’s become a key part of my tactical planning. The players I’m using aren’t even my ideal players for the role, but it’s still working extremely well.

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