I have never been good at pinpointing weaknesses in my next opposition or changing my tactics to make them play into my hands. I usually have a very, very good Plan A based on devastating attacking movement and passing, but if I come across an organised team who can comfortably deal with my threats, a perplexed look spreads across my face. I have no idea how to find the gaps in a 4-2-3-1 or what to do about speedy wingers, and this is usually the death of me, especially with smaller teams when I can’t rely on my attack to pull me through.
The recent revamp of the opposition scout report has changed all this. But I don’t have any interest in the squad depth screen, nor the tactic history of my opponents; it is the team comparison sub-tab that is key to my gameplan. There are six tabs to look at here: general, all positions, goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and attackers, and in most cases, the latter four are the ones I use. General and all positions can tell you what kind of player your opponents have – for example, you can find out whether you’re playing a team of midgets, passers or 11 Joey Bartons – but the key problem with this is that blips can hugely influence the attributes shown. Gerard Pique, at 6 feet 4 inches, would bring up the average Barcelona height by a couple of inches probably, which, if they weren’t so obviously small, would give you a slightly skewed view of them.
Here, I am Manchester United and look to be a bit weaker than Arsenal. My players are younger, smaller and many of my players are unavailable (although most of these are out on loan, not injured).
In the all positions tab, again we look like underdogs, being stronger in only two attributes. If you actually look at what this tab is claiming, you begin to realise that it’s not really worth trusting, since it takes into account players outside your first XI and subs bench. I know for a fact that my squad is brimming with strong players, working players and teamwork, especially, is key to my style of play. That Arsenal, renowned for lacking guts and grit in recent years, are looking dominant in these attributes should tell you all you need to know about the trustworthiness of this tab. It considers too many players to make it viable.
This is one of the most important tabs to look at if you’ve got a number of different strikers. I have a number of different options – Wayne Rooney offers pretty much everything, Berbatov is a little more technical, and I have a regen who is brilliant in the air – so I always check this tab to pinpoint any weaknesses in the goalkeeper. Of course, this doesn’t completely dictate who plays, since Rooney can score against pretty much everyone, but it can make up my mind if I’m undecided. You can’t go wrong with a good finisher against a goalkeeper who has poor reflexes and agility, and I always select my targetman against keepers who have poor aerial ability and command of area. I use common sense and logic here- if you can see a weakness, think carefully about where this guy is likely lose the ball, make a mistake or gift you a goal. In this case, Szczesny looks solid so I take a look at the next tab, defenders.
The attack tab corresponds to this one, so you should compare your attack to their defence, and vice versa. My key weakness in this tab is Jumping in which my average is only 12.13 but after taking a look at Arsenal’s attackers’ Jumping (12.50), I didn’t consider it to be a problem and ruled that out of my team selection. Since I couldn’t see anywhere to exploit in the goalkeeper tab, I was hoping to find one here to save myself a selection headache. Pace and acceleration looked pretty decent for their defence, despite being low compared to mine, but I took a gamble and guessed they’d play Mertesacker, the German being an important first team player and 100% match fit. He’s a very good defender but the chink in his armour is that he moves like a tank, with 7 acceleration and 8 agility. Put that together with the poor marking of the Arsenal defence, and I’m sure you’ll agree that Javier Hernandez, with all his pace and intelligent movement, was the correct choice.
This tab shows how the two different midfields face up to one another, making it the most useful of the comparisons. The patterns here show Arsenal in a much more truthful light; good on the ball, but weak in the tackle and poor as a combative unit. The midfield would be the battle-ground, more literally than Mr Wenger would’ve liked perhaps, but this is where I’d win the game. Rather than Albin Ekdal (13 tackling, 15 teamwork, 15 work rate, 7 aggression), Andrea Bertolacci (14 tackling, 14 teamwork, 17 work rate, 12 aggression) partnered workhorse Anderson in a much more industrious, in-their-faces kind of midfield. By demoting Ekdal to the bench, we lost a lot of creativity and vision, so Michael Carrick was chosen to play in DMC to compensate.
Here you can see how we lost very few tackles in the middle of the park, and only 31% overall. Anderson won 7 of his 8 before he came off injured in the 78th minute, which is justification enough for my selection of him, and Alex Song (with 6 of 7 tackles won) was the only thorn in the side of my midfield, as Bertolacci won 80% of his tackles and Rooney did a decent job high up the pitch. Compare those green circles to Arsenal’s tackling:
The number of red circles in the middle of the park surely lost the Gunners this game. Hamsik and Ramsey made a habit of losing out in that key area and van Persie, despite only losing two tackles, contributed to my first goal.
This tab dictates my centre-back pairing, defensive line and width. The Arsenal front-line looks speedy, not so much from Robin van Persie but from Gervinho and Walcott supporting from behind, so I played slightly deeper and narrower to prevent through balls in behind Vidic and Evans, who were the fastest fit CBs available to me. Here you can see the defensive line, which may not look very deep but considering Arsenal had just 9% of their possession in my defensive third, it is a lot deeper than normal.
It is the poor long shots and finishing of the Arsenal attack that allows me to sit back like this without any worry of a 25 yard piledriver ruffling David de Gea’s hair. Hamsik is unlikely to find a way through my deep-sitting defence, and when they resort to pot-shots, I’m more than happy to watch them fly into the crowd. Arshavin hit the target once from three from outside the area, and Ramsey and Song both tried efforts that reeked of helplessness. Arsenal’s only goal came from a lovely cross behind my defence, that perhaps, ironically, should have been a tad deeper.
What to look for and how to take advantage
- Low agility, low reflexes -> good finisher, take long shots
- Low aerial ability, low command of area -> cross the ball in to a big man
- Low handling -> high closing down for your striker
- Poor marking -> lots of roaming
- Poor pace, poor acceleration -> fast striker
- Poor jumping, poor heading -> big striker
- Poor tackling -> strong, aggressive midfield
- Good long shots -> close down
- Good passing, creativity and technique -> stifle them with an industrious midfield, close down if they have poor composure, don’t close down if they have poor decisions
- Good pace, good acceleration -> play quick defenders and a deep line
- Good movement -> play intelligent defenders with high positioning and marking
- Good heading and jumping -> play your strongest, most physical centre-backs, and your quickest full backs