Benjamin Franklin’s pearl of wisdom that “failing to prepare is preparing to fail”, oft wrongly attributed to Roy Keane, the hardman who uttered it hundreds of years later, is as applicable to Football Manager as anything. The best, most experienced players tweak from game to game as opposed to most new players who download a winning tactic that sees them through each match through match engine exploits. Indeed, there is nothing wrong with that but if you’ve created your own tactic (which I think is the most rewarding to play FM) it is very hard to go from match to match playing the same way. You WILL get inconsistent results even if you have a great team because, at any level, different teams have different ideologies and will play differently against you. Forget the doom and gloom though, simple and basic changes are mostly the best to make to get a result.
A lot of people play a reactive game where they will make wholesale changes depending on the opposition; this can be extremely effective if you get your plan right but a lot of the time you won’t have a team that are professional and good enough to play a 4-1-2-1-2 one week and a 3-6-1 the next. If you do (lucky you!), you may well be interested in FMAnalysis’ series on Reactive Tactics, please do check that out.
As I said, for us mere mortals, it is better to make simple changes to protect your obvious inadequacies and exploit the opposition’s obvious inadequacies. I don’t think anyone will argue that a fully fluid formation is better than one which is ‘awkward’ – players look much more comfortable and confident in their instructions and they clearly perform much better. I like to use only one or two shouts based on the pitch size and the weather and then rely on something wholly more powerful than tactics – players.
Players ultimately dictate the result of a match. In previous versions it may have been possible to win with a perfect tactic as players did not think for themselves and you could effectively control them; in recent versions players have had their own brains and freewill and the game is more than tactics nowadays. If used correctly, aided by tactics and motivation, as both of these factors still hold importance, players are usually the swing of a match and can mean the difference between a drubbing and a good win. It’s really important to try and build a versatile squad with a number of different options for each position. Furiousuk (@furiousukfm if you’re on Twitter) wrote a very good thread about Squad Building on the SI forums, take a look at that.
The match I’m going to use as an example is a Europa League clash against Fenerbahce. My Tottenham side were close favourites due to the home advantage but the opposition gave me plenty to think about; looking at their team report, they possess a strong, aggressively pressing side which could be a problem. I’m using an update so they have the newly signed Dirk Kuyt to add to long standing servants Gokhan Gonul and Volkan Demirel and the speedster striker Moussa Sow.
Demirel is a solid goalie, with few weak spots. The only place he might be a little suspect is from long shots as his Composure is only 14 and Concentration even lower at 10, but not bad enough to consider channeling my whole strategy towards exploiting it. If he was slow then I might consider playing more through balls and if he was poor aerially I might do the opposite and opt to cross it in but he’s solid at pretty much everything so all I did was put Sandro’s long shots up to Sometimes.
At the back Fabio Bilica is an ageing centre back who lacks pace but is composed and brave. He’d deal with pretty much anything aerially and I’ve not got a striker who could beat him in a header. I expected Joseph Yobo to start alongside him, an equally strong centre-back aerially but one with more pace – he didn’t actually start as it turned out but I didn’t think he was fast enough to change my decision anyway so it wasn’t an issue. They instead started a grey fake player (I didn’t load Turkey so they didn’t have a full squad) who lacked pace just like Bilica so they played right into my hands.
Gonul is reflective of the team as a whole – aggressive, fast and hard working. Not much new there, and ahead of him was the workhorse Kuyt, who would surely be getting right in our faces and making it hard to play. The other main threat was from Moussa Sow who possesses just as much physicality but less work rate and more pace and trickiness; he wouldn’t be too much of an issue when we had the ball but he would certainly pounce on any loose ball Kuyt et al managed to scavenge for him.
- Aggressive pressing side
- Great goalkeeper
- Deep 4-2-3-1 which would protect defence well
- Slow defence
- Possible susceptibility to long shots
- Pressing would leave space behind for pace
- Kuyt is relatively poor when attacking
The formation is one I use in nearly every match, and was by no means set up for Fenerbahce. I’ll go into it more in another article so I won’t mention that. The main premise for each selection was that we need to be composed. Some of the best sides in the world at the moment press high but Fenerbahce have aggression that the likes of Spain and Barcelona lack so it was all the more important to pick players with good Composure who could relax on the ball and not be intimidated or pressured. The lowest Composure across my team was 13 and many of my players were preferred to the alternative because of their composure.
Defoe was one of the key selections that I perhaps wouldn’t have made if I didn’t do a little preparation. I was fully aware that Bilica was lacking in pace and would probably play, and Defoe was the only realistic option to exploit that issue. I could’ve perhaps played Steven Fletcher who has decent pace and would give them a bit more of a battle in the air, but Defoe’s tendency to Break the Offside Trap swung it for me. He is a classic speedster, a classic poacher and a classic goalscorer.
van der Vaart
With only one attacking midfield spot, and Modric playing well recently, the only real possibility for ‘VDV’ to start was on the right wing. An alternative would’ve been a classic winger like Aaron Lennon or Andros Townsend but a playmaker seemed like a better choice to me. I suspected Modric’s impact would be less than spectacular because of the two DMCs Fenerbahce played but at the very least he would’ve kept them occupied; ergo, the creativity to put Defoe through had to come from elsewhere. The Dutchman went on to get the man of the match award as well as an assist.
The selection of van der Vaart is, essentially, what I’m trying to put across here. It demonstrates how you can change your team’s dynamic purely by selecting a different player – he has the PPM to cut inside and by the nature of his game, he came inside more than Lennon would have. I didn’t disrupt the team’s fluidity by changing his role, I just allowed him to perform out how he would, and how most natural AMCs would have, by coming inside and by putting balls through the defence, as opposed to endlessly sprinting down the line and knocking the ball in. I’ll stick my neck out and say selecting Lennon would have led to a less favourable result; whether you agree with that or not is up to you.
Did it work?
Yes. We won 3-0 with goals from van der Vaart, Defoe and Gareth Bale – almost perfect. The first goal came from van der Vaart rejecting a cross opportunity, turning inside and putting a curler in the far corner, Defoe’s was a lovely individual goal in which he used his pace to full effect, dashing past 3 or 4, and Bale finished the win slotting in after a goalmouth scramble.
For two players who were specifically tipped to have an effect on this game, to play well and be involved in goals is surely testament to this kind of strategy. It is not so important to change your tactics as to change the players within them. This is a perfect way to play in most matches in my opinion, though of course there will be occasions when your base strategy just doesn’t fit. It is learning to know when you need to make big changes, and having the restraint to stick to small, logical and sensible changes that will dictate your success.