Something I have always struggled with in FM is being able to watch a match and find places where my tactics could be improved for that particular situation. Recently I’ve begun to pay more attention, stop the match in places, and understand why something is, or more usually, isn’t working for my team. This is an adventure into my current save and my thought patterns, which will hopefully give you some ideas and for me, stir up some ideas from you readers on how I could’ve adapted better in places and prevented goals and so on. I’ll be writing it live, explaining things as I go along and posting some screenshots of how the match progresses, with the .pkm file at the end so you can watch it if it interests you.
I’m in January 2012 with a Manchester United side that some will be amused by. Zeki Fryers, Guti, Jari Litmanen (the Jari Litmanen), Will Keane and Davide Petrucci have all featured more than once and it’s quite often that one or two of them will start for me. We’re on the back of the Christmas spell of congestion and have ten days off to prepare for our next match, a home fixture against Tottenham, who are not really threatening our title bid, but do have pace to burn and could offer a potential hiccup.
Fortunately though, they have a League Cup game three days before our match (I got knocked out in a pretty ludicrous 3-2 loss to Wolves), and an FA Cup Replay three days after, and this is something I plan to use to my advantage. Whereas we have plenty of time to rest and recover from the fatigue of three games a week at Christmas, they will have to make sacrifices in one or both of the matches. It’s probable that they’ll prioritise the match against me because it’s a bigger match for them but they will still have a fair proportion of the team that take part in both games and will be tired – I’ll also keep on eye on substitutes to see if anyone goes off early.
I often take a look at a team’s mental attributes to check if they’ve got anybody who could be susceptible to mind-games and media comments. Pressure is the hidden attribute which dictates whether a player will strive or crumble under the media spotlight, but determination, bravery and composure can be good indicators of this, so I order the team in ascending order by determination and look at the latter.
Anyone who has low numbers for all three is someone who is worth targeting in the media. I do sometimes go wrong doing this and pick on someone who loves the spotlight but by and large it’s fairly sensible. Aaron Lennon looks like the kind of person I want to target, and checking his media handling style (Level-Headed) and personality (Fairly Ambitious) gives me as much confirmation as I need. If he had an unflappable media style or a determined personality then I’d probably leave him be but the chance of him reacting well is low, so off I trot and tell the media he’s comfortably Tottenham’s main threat. I’ll return to look at Tottenham’s squad just before the match to see if anyone’s definitely not going to play, to help me form an idea of what starting XI they might put out.
They drew their Cup match with a pretty inexperienced side, so I can expect Modric, Defoe, Adebayor, Van der Vaart and the like to face me. Kaboul and Walker both featured though, and I’ll keep an eye out to see if they play again against me.
My scout report of Tottenham confirms my suspicions that they will play some form of 4-4-1-1 against me. They’ve played with that shape for 7 times more minutes than any other so it’s very very likely that they will at least start out with it at Old Trafford. I expect that Van der Vaart will sit behind one of Adebayor or Defoe, with a strong midfield of Bale, Modric, Parker and Lennon, so a pacey side is a cert. Last time we faced Spurs we were really troubled by the aerial threat of Adebayor so I’ll watch this as we start to ensure Vidic and Ferdinand deal with him as well as they should, if he starts.
I’m caught slightly off guard by how Spurs line up. Modric takes the role I expected VDV to have, and my media comments about Lennon prove to be pointless as Redknapp keeps him on the bench. The centre midfield pairing is much more combative than I expected but this is potentially more dangerous as Tottenham have their creative threats in space or on the wing – I don’t have similarly hard-tackling midfielders so my plan will be to keep the ball, rather than fight them for it.
My only opposition instructions are to close down Parker, show Gallas onto his left foot and hard tackle Ledley King. Parker is the weakest on the ball so I feel it should be easiest to stop his passing; Gallas is out of position at LB so I’ll show him down the line, and Ledley King has a notoriously bad knee. Those three are the easiest to quell on the ball, so we’ll at least restrict some of Tottenham’s passing and stop the ball getting to Modric and Adebayor. The latter is a big problem in the air so I bring Carrick’s mentality down to hopefully pick up any loose balls that result from the striker’s battle with my CBs – Carrick’s positioning is top class so Modric should have no chance in getting to those first. Let’s kick off.
As soon as the game starts, I use the shouts ‘Retain Possession’ and ‘Exploit the Middle’. I don’t want Tottenham to have the ball at all if I can help it because they have a lot of dangermen going forward. I have the patience and confidence that we’ll find a way through without being direct, and the main route to goal against Spurs is the middle, in my eyes. Huddlestone isn’t great at keeping to his opposite number, as shown here after 1 minute in:
Huddlestone (near the ref) has pushed onto Carrick and left Rooney in acres, with only Parker around to mark him. If this keeps happening then eventually Rooney will find a way past Parker. Rooney actually plays it safe here and plays it backwards to Carrick, before the defence move it around and Giggs eventually combines with Evra to find Nani on the left. Nani comes inside on his favoured right foot and plays in Welbeck. I had hope that Welbeck would use his pace to get in behind Dawson and King and he does. Remember, this is still a minute in and I still don’t have a clue whether he scores.
I never imagined this would go so well – Welbeck scores an easy finish despite Dawson tracking him surprisingly well. This goal puts us in the driving seat after just 1 minute and 56 seconds, and our plan of retaining possession and keeping Modric, VDV and Adebayor out of the game will be much easier.
After 11 mins, I check the match stats again to see if there’s any patterns occurring. We aren’t actually dominating much on possession but Tottenham haven’t had anything to worry me yet, and their defence’s pass completion is so bad that I have no worries about the dangermen. I am worried, however, that Tottenham have apparently won 100% of their headers, so I check the match analysis tool to see if it’s Adebayor causing me trouble again – fortunately it isn’t so I don’t need to change anything.
The next highlight once again shows Huddlestone putting Parker under pressure. Modric isn’t doing a lot of marking so Huddlestone has pushed onto Carrick again, with Parker occupied by Rooney’s movement, leaving Giggs free on the left of the midfield triangle. The move is eventually stopped by a horrible Ledley King challenge, as he tries to stop Welbeck from linking up with the onrushing Rooney. I was so sure we wouldn’t score from the resulting free-kick that I didn’t think it important to mention it, but Giggs actually curls a beauty into the top corner, past Gomes. 2-0.
I now expect the AI to change formation or strategy now to try and get back in the game; the formation widget is always open and I’ll stay aware to any major changes.
Here we can see that Huddlestone is once again getting forward but I don’t have anything much to worry about as Carrick is on the same side and should be good enough defensively to cope with the running. Giggs’ own defensive inadequacies are shown here as both Modric and Huddlestone get in behind him – Rio Ferdinand is covering but all it takes is a good Van der Vaart pass and a good interchange and Tottenham are in. If Giggs continues to make positional errors like this I might want to drop deeper or pull Rooney a bit deeper to support the Welshman, but this time Evra makes a good challenge to save us.
The ball finds its way back to Tottenham’s defence, and they use a series of give-and-go passes to pull Evra out. The Frenchman closes Van der Vaart down much too readily, and Adebayor drifts into the space, and runs at goal. De Gea saves comfortably, but I feel the move was dangerous enough to justify upping my CBs’ closing down. I have lowered it a notch more than the default so they sit deep but this time they didn’t close down quickly enough which allowed Adebayor to run at goal pretty freely.
An Evra throw-in reveals our attacking shape. We look pretty good here, with Nani in plenty of space if he can spin away Debuchy. The space between Parker (the lowest Spurs player on the screenshot) and Huddlestone (top, middle) is encouraging, and it seems that my midfield has continued to stretch them. Welbeck misses the resulting chance, and I don’t feel the need for further changes.
I check the match stats once more and see little encouragement in the passing stats. We have had only 52% possession but Tottenham have completed only 77% of their passes – I’m a little confused as my defence, midfield and attack all have a brilliant pass completion ratio.
I’ll take a stab and say its because of our cross completion and players trying to dribble too much, so I shout “play through defence” to reduce dribbling, and reduce Nani’s crossing as he’s to blame for 3 missed crosses so far. Just seconds after this change, Nani threads Welbeck through, who hits a shot straight at Gomes, disappointingly. Whether he would’ve chosen to run with the ball if I hadn’t used the shout is debatable, but chances are always encouraging.
Close to half-time, the Manchester rain makes an appearance. I won’t go as extreme as shouting “get the ball forward” but if I see some passes beginning to “stick” on the ground then I might cancel the “retain possession” shout to return to default passing. At the moment, I think my players are clever enough to adapt to the conditions on their own so I won’t make a move just yet.
At half-time, morale seems good and the performances are as good as I’ve thought. We’ve won few headers through this match so I’ll check where these are being lost – it turns out they’ve mainly be lost in the attacking third so nothing to worry about. Ferdinand has lost just one header against Adebayor, but this was quickly picked up by the midfield trio.
Tottenham come out in the second half playing a 4-3-1-2, which makes me reconsider a few shouts.
The threat now comes from their numbers in midfield – they have Modric, Huddlestone, Van der Vaart and Parker in close proximity to one another, so I need to tighten up in there to prevent them from finding one another. I shout “Play Narrower” and “Exploit the Flanks” (as opposed to Exploit the Middle which I was using earlier), to make the defence and midfield squeeze closer. To block as Modric’s passes from deep, I pull Carrick back to DM and Rooney back to CM, retaining their roles from before so they perform much the same jobs but add some protection. I expect Young and Nani to give Spurs hell down the wings as they are severely under-represented there; we can really stretch them and create gaps if the wingers stay as wide as they should. Valencia may make an appearance later as he can do this much better than Young and Nani, who have inclinations to come inside.
Nani’s dribble inside three minutes into the second half confirms both – Tottenham do look weak in wide areas, but Nani’s reluctance to cross prevented a chance from developing.
Hardly anything happens until close to the 60th minute mark. Here we can see how Tottenham’s new shape looks compared to mine, and this encourages me that exploiting the flanks is the way to go. Young and Nani are in acres on the wing, absolute acres, and if Evra can find Nani (I should hope he can) then all it will take is a decent pass and good movement from Welbeck. You can see the congestion in midfield, and this is the reason why I want to go wide with our passing. We don’t look much overwhelmed centrally but there is a huge risk of losing the ball with 7 players condensed in that area.
In reality, Welbeck moves wide-ish into the channels, behind Debuchy, and Evra smacks a lovely ball to him. He isn’t in a good enough position to score himself so he waits for Nani to arrive and the winger scores from a rather fortunate deflection. I actually laughed when that one went in, crazy. Another shape change wouldn’t surprise me.
In a similar circumstance to the one in the screenshot above, Evra gives Nani the ball but he has no intention of finding Welbeck and instead comes inside for a mazy dribble. It amounts to nothing more than a weak shot that goes wide, but it shows that I was right to worry about his desire to cut in, the only problem being that I don’t really have an alternative to him. I have a dilemma on my hands in that I’m severely limiting Nani if I reduce his run with ball instruction as I’ve already reduced his crossing, but I can’t put him on his natural right side because Young would do the exact same when on the left. I decide instead to allow Nani to make his own decisions, and put his run with ball, through balls and crossing at mixed, and instead take off Young and allow Antonio Valencia to stretch the other side to aid Nani’s inwards running. Before any changes take effect, Giggs chips a ball over the top for Nani, but a poor shot makes it easy for Gomes.
Late on I notice that we’re actually being dominated on possession (only just). I sort of expected that to happen since Tottenham were now much narrower thanks to the 4-3-1-2 shape and could therefore restrict my passing options and find each other much easier. I dropped the mentality to Standard just in case and allowed the game to fizzle out.
The match finishes 3-0, which is a really good result against tough opposition. Our passing clearly reduced in effectiveness in the second half as a result of Tottenham’s new shape but we continued to make good chances and stretch Spurs’ defence without being unduly aggressive.
Anyone interested in watching the match for themselves can do so here by downloading the pkm file here. I’d love to hear what your readers think of the match and how I coped with Tottenham, and how you’d have done so personally!