An unconventional system: lessons from van Gaal, Ozil and Barcelona

I always have my most success on FM when I experiment with tactical theories and ‘devices’ to see how they work and interact with one another. Setting up a 4-4-2 with auto assigned roles is not my thing; it neither works for me nor gives me enjoyment, as much as I wish it did, so I seek my FM ‘thrills’ by obsessively messing around with roles I’ve seen in action or covered by the likes of ZM and fellow FM blogs. This system is a medley, a hotpot of separate ideas that interact with one another wonderfully well.

The original reason for this little escapade was a spontaneous re-remembrance of a very small mention of one of Louis van Gaal’s philosophies in Brilliant Orange. I have no idea how it came to me, but it did; the concept is a very simple one based on a logical assumption. van Gaal ordered his wingers, including Marc Overmars, not to dribble when faced by two players as this meant there was a teammate nearby not being marked. This was not in keeping in with the Total Football that had been Ajax’s trademark in the 70s, and though I can find no evidence of this, did upset the more skilful players at the club who felt restrained by such a move.

Beautiful or not, I had a go at setting this up in FM- with Ajax, naturally.

As I said, this is a system that doesn’t conform to tactical conventions! We have a 4-6-0 formation that will really open up passing angles for every player, making possession play easier and more effective. I want this tactic to play slowly, and bring out the defenders so El Hamdaoui can find space. The inside forwards are the main players of interest as these would’ve been the players that van Gaal would’ve looked to use to play in others, though I’ve taken it one step further to see how applicable such a concept is.

These guys are designed to be my assist machines. They will take up a position just in front and inside of the opposition full-backs and centre-back and use their trickery to keep the ball until my False Ten gets his engine going and sneaks in behind the defence who have doubled up on my inside forward. On the outside of my IF, the wing-back on that side should be steaming down the wing to open up another passing option.

In a perfect world, this is how the system causes damage. The inside forwards hold the ball for as long as they can, before unleashing a killer pass to whoever’s in space; this is why van Gaal ordered his wingers not to dribble too often, it just isn’t needed most of the time. Catch the attention of two players at once and bingo.

This goal against ADO Den Haag shows the simple but absolutely devastating power of this. The wingers (Boerrigter and Sulejmani) start out wide but when Sulejmani receives the ball from Lodeiro, he feels this is an appropriate time to dribble – I agree, there’s only one player closing him down and I’ve got faith that he can take him on and go inside.

He does take him on, but waits too long to find El Hamdaoui who is sneaking in behind the LCB. In fairness, there is only a window of about half a second when a through ball is viable.

van der Wiel is open on the right and receives a fairly poor pass from his Serbian teammate. He thinks about it, and plays it back to Sulejmani as soon as the opposition full-back leaves a gap.

There are three Den Haag players marking no-one on the far side, but we are creating space so effectively, it’s no surprise. As Sulejmani picks up the return pass, he is hounded by the defenders and El Hamdaoui’s marker comes across, giving his teammate the responsibility. This is stretching at its best – when you see defenders swapping attackers between themselves to try and block gaps, you know it’s working.

4 men surround Sulejmani, while only one has El Hamdaoui loosely marked. Game over.

We made a longer job of that than we should have, but we still did exactly what I aimed for us to do – attracted defenders to the ball and took full advantage of the space left behind them.

From a small, simple concept that van Gaal drilled into his Ajax players in the 90s, I’ve mixed in a False Ten Ozil like role, and wing-backs in the mould of Dani Alves to make a wholly more effective tactic. This isn’t the only way to make space and overload and confuse defences, but it’s an unconventional one that shows that anything goes in tactics and FM tactics, as long as it makes sense.

 

4 comments on “An unconventional system: lessons from van Gaal, Ozil and Barcelona

    • Not necessarily, though I have changed the settings for my false ten to be a bit more of a playmaker. I use the false ten as a term for a player who accommodates the space traditionally taken by the no 10, ie AMC, but instead moves beyond that position and more into a no 9 role.

  1. That means he has less defensive duties, yea? does he press really up…like Wayne Rooney does in real life?

  2. About the same as a striker, yeah, so he just tries to make life difficult for the defenders. The role is very similar to Rooney, definitely – but El Hamdaoui isn’t quite so good!

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