Match analysis: being the underdog

This is similar to our last “Match analysis” which we feel was a great idea and would like to carry it on. Being the underdog in Football Manager and playing against tougher opposition is never easy; your players often get nervous and their players are of a much better quality than yours. It takes near perfect teamtalks and very clever tactics to get a point in these games, never mind a win.

I am currently managing Everton and, despite an opening 3-0 loss to rivals Manchester City, have made a very good start to the first season. I am 11 games unbeaten, playing teams like Chelsea and Arsenal away. A few frustrating draws but all in all a good start. I am looking forward to my first derby next week to hopefully get a tiny bit of revenge on the red side of Merseyside for the other day – I have to focus on my game against Manchester United firstly, though.

I have also made an effort to do well in the Cup competitions and, 3 days before my big game against Manchester United, I beat Leeds comfortably. I did know the United game was coming up and rested players accordingly but to win I felt I needed some good players in there. This has meant the likes of Seamus Coleman, Magaye Gueye, Royston Drenthe, John Heitinga and Phil Neville had to be started with my younger players and may not be 100% fit for the United game.

Results so far

There are no players out injured for the game but plenty doubtful. Tim Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Leon Osman, Steven Pienaar and Shane Duffy are all players who have just returned from injury and are lacking match fitness. I’ll have to really think about which of these players get to start or even make a sub appearance.

There’s not much else I can say about my team, I have a preference to play a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1 but I like changing things based on my opposition. Manchester United haven’t been in great form so far this season, infact if I beat them I go one point ahead of them into 4th. Not that there’s a chance of me holding onto that position.

And so I began looking at their team. Their form hasn’t been incredible and they’ve lost their last two games; an embarrassing 1-0 loss to West Brom and losing 1-0 at City, despite City having 10 men for 52 minutes. A week before that they lost 1-0 to Swansea so it’s safe to say they’re not on form. They also have the Champions League to contend with, a mere 3 days after our game

they  play Lyon which will secure their passage into the Knockout rounds should they win or draw. They almost always start with a 4-4-2 which suits me with 5 in midfield. Another thing that jumped out at me was their Morale, we’re on a great run of form and mostly Very Good/Superbs but they’re all Poor with a few Very Poors. I’m not sure why because they’re not doing terribly, but hopefully we’d be more motivated.

Man United’s results so far

Their goalkeeper, David De Gea, looked set to start and has only conceded 2 goals in 6 games. Infact United have conceded the second least goals in the league this season, this isn’t looking great. Chris Smalling has featured in 12 games, 9 more than Rafael, at right back for United and looks set to do so again. We’re not going to get much luck out of the physical defender, but he won’t go forward much, meaning we just have to worry about their right winger.

Patrice Evra on the other side is a quality fullback. It would make sense to play someone like Coleman high up making forward runs behind him when we counter and closing him down when he has the ball. However he’s pretty incredible defensively and even if he gets into really advanced positions, with Distin at the back, I don’t think I have to worry about his crosses. Again, this means I only have to focus on their left winger.

Ferdinand misses this game through injury and so it looks like Vidic will be paired with Phil Jones. We won’t get any luck in the air but I am quietly confident Nikica Jelavic can exploit Jones’ unreliable positioning. Getting past Vidic may be next to impossible but Jones is inexperienced. In midfield I believe they’ll play Carrick and Giggs, two very good technically and mentally midfielders. My AMC and 2 MCs will hopefully do well closing them down.

On the wings I am expecting Nani and Young. Interestingly Park has as many appearances as Young but is not fully fit (92% today, the day of the game). I can expect a lot of pace and trickery but forcing them wide and doubling up on them making them cross to their strikers should work well enough.

Berbatov and Rooney are set to be the strikers. What can be said that hasn’t already been? They’re both creative and deadly link-up players but can both finish. It will take a lot of luck for a clean sheet against these two, especially against my defence who have been leaking a lot of goals this season.

How I predicted the match would play out

So now time to focus on my own team. I went 4-4-1-1 for this game, my wingers are going to be set to man-mark their wingers and will double up on them with my fullback, leaving their fullbacks free, hopefully for the greater good. We should have a spare man in midfield and chase Carrick when he drops deep, then we have 2 MCs facing Giggs or Rooney or Berbatov should they come deep.

I went for the standard back four, Jagielka wasn’t fit enough to start so the in-form Heitinga got another chance to impress alongside Distin. Royston Drenthe played a massive part in my win over Leeds and was also only fit enough for the bench and Steven Pienaar and Magaye Gueye were too unfit to start.

This meant Leon Osman stepped in at left wing, an unfamilliar position but one he is Accomplished at playing in. His work rate and playmaking abilities should be good enough to help Baines and Fellaini get the ball off Nani and play in Jelavic. Coleman will have to work hard to keep Young out of the game and make sure Evra doesn’t get too advanced.

I was spot on with my line-up prediction, Manchester United played exactly as expected, apart from Giggs in the MCr spot and Carrick MCl. Just a small difference, but it does mean Nani, Rooney and Giggs are all on the same side which may be a nightmare.

A few tweaks to my wingers’ marking settings and using opposition instructions to show their wingers onto the foot they’re playing on and we were off. As our Morale was mostly Superb, the teamtalk was quite easy. I didn’t have to guard against complacency as these are a team with a better rep and our players were unlikely to get nervous, I just had to tell them to “do it for the fans”.

The midfield battle

How the teams lined up

Apologies for the big screenshot, the rest will be in 3D and a lot smaller from now on. But that was the general shape of the two teams. Both Rooney and Berbatov dropped deep, something that my aggressive centre-back Heitinga didn’t seem to like. Their wingers were picked up by my wingers and it looks like we are not able to make the most of the extra man in midfield as in this screenshot Rodwell (#26) is torn between Berbatov (#9) and Carrick (#16). United’s quality and ability to have numbers in midfield despite playing a 4-4-2 is something that surprised me.

The first chance of this game shortly after that screenshot was taken. Smalling made a pass to the deep forward Rooney who turned and played a pass to Berbatov. Heitinga made a half-attempt to tackle Berbatov but he moved to the side really well, dribbled forward and tried a spectacular 25-yard shot that went way over. I felt my midfielders were too advanced here, maybe if they were deeper Fellaini could intercept Smalling’s pass or Rodwell could have intercepted Rooney’s.

Another demonstration of this was a few moments later when Carrick fed Rooney an excellent through-ball that split my defenders. Carrick did really well to somehow get by Tim Cahill.

Carrick plays a wonderful through-ball to Rooney

Fellaini and Rodwell were way too high to intercept the ball and this prompted me to change their roles to more defensive ones. No RFD and very low Mentality. Thankfully Rooney hits the post and we’re let off.

Carrick is someone we have to watch, I thought Cahill’s Aggression, Bravery, Determination, Work Rate and Strength would put him off running the game and making these through-balls, perhaps not. I don’t have any options on the bench that can make his life miserable either, perhaps Royston Drenthe with the same attributes (except Strength) but with a lot more Pace. Playing him down the middle might not be the best with his poor intelligence and ball control. Hmm.

The Wingers’ marking

Another thing that stood out was this bit of defending from Seamus Coleman. He is set to tight mark Ashley Young and does exactly this, following him from one side of the pitch to the other before making a tackle. He follows him from the left all the

Coleman follows Young from the left to the right to make this tackle – watch out for Evra in space on the left though

way to the right and eventually wins the ball. The problem being, as you can see, their left back Evra has no marker and could make a run. But as touched upon before, I am not worried about the damage he can do on the ball and I’m fine with him having that much space, I’m confident his crosses will be met by Distin or my goalkeeper, not Rooney or Berbatov.

This is something the 4-4-1-1 has that the 4-2-3-1 doesn’t, or at least isn’t as good at doing. It would be foolish to want this behaviour from your wingers consistently, but against the big teams having your winger mark their winger can be a massive load off your defence. My back four have two men to mark, rather than four.

Coleman catches Young up and makes a great tackle

Another great example of this is when my right-back Tony Hibbert makes a (rare) bad decision to tackle Berbatov, gets skinned and he plays a cool ball into Young and Coleman somehow catches him up to make a wonderful sliding challenge. Would have easily been 1-0 there and then.

Jones’ positioning

This was touched upon before and is something I was watching out for. Getting past Vidic will be extremely difficult and with Ferdinand out injured getting past Jones should prove to be easy. Jones was led out of his position far too easily and left his

Jones is way, way out of position here – also look for my left winger finding  space because Smalling has had to cover for Jones

team wide open. Often this gap was filled by Carrick or Vidic shuttling along and Smalling coming narrow. If Osman had a bit more Pace we could really trouble them. And so I decided the best thing to do was use the “Play Wider” shout to really stretch them.

Another example of this happening is when Jelavic was holding the ball up. He’s really good at playing with his back to goal, dribbling, turning around and scoring, or playing a 1-2. Jones seems to buy his turns really easily.

Jones follows Jelavic who he should leave for Vidic and leaves a massive gap for Cahill

Unfortunately instead of playing Cahill or Osman on the left wing in, he turns and tests young De Gea who makes a solid save early in the game. Consequently I turned down his long shots, he’s good at them, but when you’re the underdog, you want more clear cut chances.

United attacking

Manchester United didn’t have many options for attacking. Their plan to drop both their strikers deep wasn’t really working now my midfielders were deeper and Carrick was more closely looked at. Their wingers were showed wide whenever possible and followed inside by my wingers whenever they attempted it. Their only “free” men were their fullbacks. One was trying to cover-up for the liability Jones was proving to be and one was Evra, a perhaps world class fullback but lacks an end product. He can’t shoot, can’t pass exceptionally and his crosses are inconsistent. Today his crosses would need to be great to reach Rooney or Berbatov, which they simply weren’t.

Nani beats Baines and bursts into the box, Osman is nowhere near Nani

Nani gave us problems when he drifted inside, Osman hasn’t got the legs to keep up with him and he’s an excellent dribbler, he almost scored here but his shot is well saved by Howard. Nothing to worry about, just hope Osman is a bit more alert when Nani gets the ball.

United had some good options on the bench; Hernandez, Owen, Valencia and Anderson, but right now they were not troubling us at all. It would have to take a moment of genius, something Rooney, Young, Nani, Giggs and Berbatov are all capable of.

Giggs plays a nice through-ball to Young

These flamboyant, high Flair players are what make United a nice team to watch and are devestating. Giggs here nearly puts Ashley Young through on goal shortly after a game of head-tennis in midfield.


As mentioned before, Man United had really poor Morale when I looked before the game. They’re on a poor run of form at the moment and that’s likely to bring out a reaction in some players. Your Rooneys and Vidic’s and Evras were always likely to respond well, having their backs to the wall should make them more determined and strive to achieve better. The more quieter, inexperienced and younger heads were nervous though, playing without confidence.

Our motivation widgets

Ashley Young got slide tackled a few times and Coleman seemed to be first to every ball when this screenshot was taken, hence why he is nervous. We, on the other hand, were mostly okay, our players didn’t know whether to be confident because of our form or nervous because of the big game we were playing.

If I could somehow get Jelavic to get all fired-up, playing against those defenders will be a lot easier. I’ve had quite a problem motivating Jelavic so far though, whenever I shout at him aggressively he doesn’t listen and gets complacent very easily. He is nervous at the moment so I tried calming him down (and the team) with a calm overall teamtalk, and told him”Unlucky”, let’s hope he stops being so nervous and doesn’t think he’s doing so bad (He was on a 6.9, as high as anyone else on my team).


United drew blood first. Howard cleared the ball and Cahill put Osman in a heap of trouble by heading it back into our area

Berbatov with a nice finish

towards him. United substitute Fabio out-paced him, cut it back to Berbatov who finished it as calm as you like. 1-0.

The goal didn’t bother me too much. Sure it could be the end of my 11 game unbeaten-streak, but United are a quality team and accepting defeat is part and parcel with the game, and football. Manchester United have gave me a really good game and despite some cunning tactics have managed to score using their substitute, something I never saw coming.


That was my reaction. My teams reaction? Do you really have to ask? Straight from kick-off, a long ball to Jelavic, a backheel to Coleman (not so nervous now, eh?), a cross to Cahill, a volley, a goal. 1-1. His first of the season!

The Overview after 48 minutes!

Cahill makes it 1-1!

Man United changed tactics drastically. They actually went 5-3-2. It took me by surprise too. Evra and Fabio were the wingbacks, Anderson and Carrick behind Giggs behind Rooney and Berba. Jones, Smalling and Vidic at the back. I certainly did not see this coming!

Drenthe came on and I was tempted to bring off Cahill, he had the lowest condition by far and we could use something extra up-front, but he had just scored that goal.

This led me to going 4-1-2-2-1-ey shape, I wanted my wingers to really get at the fullbacks now, beat them for pace and make sure we don’t lose the battle in the middle.

“Play Narrower”, “Exploit the Flanks”, “Get Ball Forward” and Counter Strategy.

Rooney with a great run, Anderson with a superb pass and a tidy finish – much to my dismay

Most of my attempts at counter-attacking were blasted away by their 3-man defence. They won every ball, were first to every pass and my wingers couldn’t get past their fullbacks. This can be the problem as the underdog, they have world class defenders who are great on the ball and there’s just no beating them sometimes. Especially when there is 3 of them.

Anderson then played this delicious ball to Rooney and we were behind again.

I decided to go 4-2-3-1, Giggs was roaming about and Fellaini wasn’t really marking him and we needed another option up-top. I didn’t have many options on the bench (someone like Pienaar would be great) so had to take a risk on 17 year old 5 star potential youngster Ross Barkley. Magaye Gueye was also brought on for Seamus Coleman, hoping he’d bag a goal as he was in great form before his injury.

They made their final change – Antonio Valencia replacing Patrice Evra and a return to 4-4-2 (Smalling RB, Fabio LB, Jones and Vidic CB, Carrick and Anderson MC, Giggs LM, Valencia RM and Berbatov and Rooney upfront). In a way I was glad Hernandez didn’t come on, he’d destroy my knackered defence.

After their goal we kicked-off brightly again. Magaye Gueye beating Smalling, giving it to Fellaini who won a free-kick. The ball got played out and made its way to Ross Barkley’s feet, almost playing in Jelavic but just couldn’t quite make it through.

We couldn’t get any luck after that, Rodwell played a couple of nice balls through to Gueye and Drenthe but their touches were too heavy and if they weren’t, Gueye can’t cross and Drenthe can’t shoot. We lacked any end product with Cahill off and Jelavic nervous and couldn’t really get forward.

And so it finished 2-1 in the end. A horrible loss, a rather sloppy goal and one that could have been avoided. A narrow loss but I was disappointed with the performance, it felt like we had nothing going for us.

Where we went wrong

Injuries cost us I felt; Drenthe, Gueye and Jagielka could only make the bench and players like Pienaar didn’t even make the squad. Not to mention Coleman was only 85% match fit.

The quality of Vidic, Rooney and Nani also made it incredibly difficult, the money spent on those players’ wages and transfer fee would sink our club, they’re a class above anything we’ve got. Their depth and being able to bring on players like Fabio and Anderson, who got an assist each for their goals are also the reason for their success and our downfall. That’s the thing I hate most about being the underdog, knowing they’ve got subs just as good or better than your players.

I also blame myself, I believe I concentrated too hard on stopping them I didn’t plan on attacking them enough. This led to them getting the ball off us easily and having lots of possession, leading to their two goals. If we’d had players like Drenthe and Pienaar fit and starting we’d have been able to counter attack and keep the ball better. Again this was due to injuries unfortunately.

Anyway for those interesed, the PKM can be downloaded here! I’m really interested to see what you all think of it, maybe I could have attacked Manchester United more, maybe going 4-4-1-1 was a bad decision.

The Boy Done Good‘s analysis

There are times when the passing maps generated by Football Manager fall short of giving us a full impression of the how the two teams have performed.  Viewed in their entirety the maps can be untidy, hiding the influence on the game that individual players have made with, not only their passing but their positioning and availability as a target for teammates too.

Against Manchester United, concerned with the pace and trickery of Ashley Young and Nani, Everton set out to nullify their opponent’s threat on the wings.

Seamus Coleman and Leon Osman were placed on the flanks and instructed to track United’s wingers back, this meant (with the help of the fullbacks) Young and Nani often had to contend with two markers.

The success of Everton’s approach in shutting down the flanks is illustrated when we chart the successful passes made and received by each player:

Man Utd Passes Made as a % of Total and Passes Received as a % of Total


Everton Passes Made as a % of Total and Passes Received as a % of Total 

We can see from the first chart that 60% of all Manchester United’s passes were made by five players: Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs, Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney – the same five players accounted for 50% of all passes received.  Four of these United players occupy positions in the centre of the pitch; in fact the only ‘wide’ player amongst the quintet is Evra.

With Everton’s chart we can see that the distribution of passes made is more even and their top five passers account for just 50% of the team’s total.  Again central players are the favoured targets, but here Everton had an “extra man” with Tim Cahill, Jack Rodwell and Marouane Fellaini all patrolling central midfield.

And what of those United wingers that Everton were so keen to control?  Well Nani, Young (and later Antonio Valencia) contributed to just 6% of United’s passes and were the target of only 13%.

To further illustrate the reliance on central players during this game I’ve plotted a “player influence map” below – this offers an alternative to Football Manager’s passing map and is used to display each player’s average position together with their impact on distribution as both passer and recipient.

I think this also nicely emphasizes Everton’s team ethic.

Passing Influence Map

 Unfortunately for Everton, United are a team of many strengths – despite effectively marking the wingers out of the match United’s core of Carrick, Giggs, Berbatov and Rooney are all comfortable ball players.

John Heitinga and Sylvian Distin were defensively solid throughout, but still there were times when United’s final ball would cause them problems and (with some better finishing) the Manchester team created enough chances to put the game beyond doubt.

At half time United made a crucial change in switching to a five man midfield – this gave them extra attacking impetus and matched Everton for numbers in the centre of the park.  Whilst their opening goal may have been a gift Rooney’s winner came from an inch perfect through ball by Anderson – underlining the threat posed by United’s midfield distribution.

Man Utd passes to create a Clear Cut or Half Chance

By stretching their opponents wide in attack Everton aimed to create space behind Jelavic but ultimately they lacked the pace to get the midfield forward into positions of real danger – perhaps best highlighted by the position of their scoring chances.Nonetheless Everton were impressive – they worked hard as a team where United relied on moments of individual brilliance.  This is accentuated by the player ratings, none of Everton’s outfield players scoring less than 6.9

When Gueye and Drenthe came on in the second half, and with United reverting to a 4-4-2, Everton seemed to offer more on the wings but they couldn’t capitalize – which was a great shame because their endeavour deserved some form of reward.

Many thanks to Dan, from for his additional statistic analysis. If you’re impressed (you should be!), go and take a look at his site; there’s articles on what makes a player good at headers on FM, the best places to get value for money for regens and much more. 

2 comments on “Match analysis: being the underdog

  1. Pingback: FM12: Improving The Match Analysis Screen (Passes Received & Passing Relationships) « The Boy Done Good

  2. Pingback: Improving The Match Analysis Screen (Passes Received & Passing Relationships) | Football Manager Mind Games

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