Tactical development: surprises and gameplans (by LPB)

This great article was written by one of our fans, Lóránd Péter Bob. He was worried about his written English but we think this is thoroughly interesting and insightful and we’re sure you’ll enjoy it. Thanks Bob.

Did Athletic Bilbao play good football throughout last season? Yes. Did they deserve to win the EURO Cup? Yes. Did they deserve to win the Copa del Rey? Yes. Did they deserve a CL place? Yes. Is Bielsa a genius? Yes. Yet why were none of the previously mentioned achievements conquered by the Basque side? In my opinion, in today’s football you cannot win if your team can only play one kind of football. Choreographers are a thing of the past, tacticians win trophies these days. You need to be able to surprise your opponent, and not give them any chance to learn your game or be too prepared for you. For years  my favorite club Arsenal have failed at the highest level because of these issues, and in the spring I had to witness the dazzling Bilbao side’s demise by a tactically brilliant At. Madrid. Or I can even mention Del Piero’s last game, the cup final against Napoli.

Since I started playing with this game, my aim or dream has always been to have a side that is tactically good enough to be able to play many types of football. Of course the previous engines did not really like the idea, but as the game progressed  it became more and more plausible. You can imagine that receiving 2 extra tactic slots was like a gift from the gods for me. I tried to do the magic with many teams, of course always taking into consideration what kind of players I have at my disposal, adapting the tactic to them at first, and as the seasons pass by, gradually transforming the squad to my taste. In the latest version I played mainly with Juventus, Valencia and Arsenal. At Juve I have downloaded the tactics of Conte, and 1 from Prandelli, so I won’t discuss what I achieved with the club. At Valencia I made my own game plans, adjusting it through the season, but it was an unbelievably hard year, and managed only the 3rd spot in the league. Of course in Spain that is quite good, but at certain stages the team was terrible, and I had a hard time even deciding who is in my best 11.

Arsenal is a completely different story. With them being my favorite club, I know the players inside out, and yes, real life knowledge works in the game. Trust your instincts, and your knowledge of your favorite players and clubs, no matter their standing on the world stage, because usually what I think would work with a given type of player actually does work in the game. You can have a lot of fun this way. I know it’s a game, and as such players tend to try and reduce as much as they can to simple numbers, but that should never limit your ideas.

I have 3 tactics created for the Gunners: an attacking, free flowing 4-2-3-1, a suppressing, counter-based 4-4-1-1, and a 3-4-3. The latter is there to smash the small teams without much fuss, as they tended to give me quite a grief during the seasons. I’m currently pushing my 3rd season, and so far managed to win the CL in the 1st one, and an FA and league double in the second. Usually the first 2 seasons are heavily transitional, and any final success achieved is sweet as honey. Come the 3rd one, and the team is the exact outlet of how they should play in my head. They are galloping to victory, and you can see on the pitch exactly what you want them to do. And unfortunately, usually that is where I get bored with the save, and start a new one.

In the 1st season I played mainly with the 4-2-3-1, the counter tactic came around spring, but it salvaged the year for us. I used Rosicky on the right and Kranjcar (got him on a bargain in January) on the left as wide midfielders. In the 4-4-1-1 the main objective was to limit the attacking space as much as I can, and furthermore, to cover the flanks as best as 11 players can. I bought Azpilicueta at the beginning as an understudy for Sagna, but the left flank was very unstable; so much so, that against Manchester Utd, City, Chelsea, and even Liverpool, I couldn’t field Santos or Gibbs at left back. They were regularly demolished by the right wingers. I started pushing Vermaelen out there on important matches, but that broke up the pretty effective partnership with Koscielny, and his speed was still wanting. But the system clicked from day one. Top teams were drawn into the trap, and playing Walcott at the top, Rossi behind him (expensive, but worth every penny) as Trequartista, gave the team the speed to make a counter tactic work. Sometimes I used the shout “Get ball forward” and “Pass into space”, and let the speedsters run onto it. In the CL we smashed everybody, and in the final we were standing 2-2 with Barca after extra time, to win it with penalties. We got behind 1-0, then had to change, to 4-2-3-1, then went ahead 2-1, but at the end they drew level again. You can also do some simple, yet very effective tricks to mix things up a bit. For example in the final I switched Gervinho and Walcott playing 4-2-3-1, and Barca got caught by Walcott from the left. This nuance has worked for me in the past as well.

Surprise bargain signing for Arsenal

In the second season, Rosicky started to fade physically and Arshavin was very inconsistent, so I let them both go on a free at the end of the year. The counter tactic suffered, and in the quarter finals of the CL, we drew Barca again. At Nou Camp in the first leg, went with the counter, came home with a 2-0 defeat. In the return leg, came my biggest epiphany of the game. Figuring that I have nothing to lose, I went with the 4-2-3-1, a very creative, and fluent version, and basically just let the boys loose on the Catalans. The game was frenetic. They literally battered Barcelona (wish I could see this from any other team in the world in real life), throwing waves after waves of attack at them. We quickly went up 2-0, but then they scored one. We scored another 2, but they scored again. So at the end we got eliminated but the lesson was learned. If you have a creative squad, trust them. Before that match the 4-2-3-1 was pretty dry and mechanic. After that I have adjusted it, to give the most reasonable amount of freedom to the players. It salvaged the season again, we started winning big, hammering the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea, to overtake Man Utd at the last fixture of the league.

In the 3rd season there were serious personnel changes. Schürrle came in from a relegated (!) Leverkusen side, for a club record fee, but he was worth every penny. He scores 1-2 goals, or assists in every game. Rondón came as a bargain too, Vass the season before and Lansbury, Miyaichi, Bartley, Wilshere were promptly integrated in the first team. Makeev came the previous winter to sort out the left back problem, allowing me to let Santos go instead. Fabió came too, from a relegated Villa side; Azpilicueta matured and got consistent during a long injury to Sagna, and is now ready to replace the Frenchman. The goalkeepers went (bar Szczeszny of course), Jaaskelainen came as experience, Delac and Turnbull from Chelsea as bargains. Have to admit that the reserves and the youth setup is a bit shallow at the moment, so I’m investing the money in the second line.

Bartley and Lansbury: underrated

What I want to tell you about the players is that skill and stars don’t really matter that much. They have to fit the system. For example, a theoretically not top-player, Lansbury, does a great service for me. He is very clinical on the flanks, scoring goals, and quite reliable and consistent if played in the middle. He was in the system even at the lower level. Bartley needed around 2-3 matches, but now he’s keeping Djourou out of the starting 11 (Koscielny is injured). And if you look at Song and Vass, the African is lot better then the Hungarian on paper, yet Vass makes the system work better and profits from it more. He regularly scores from a distance, and works tirelessly. In the previous version of the game I did the same experiment with Valencia. In the 3rd season I was able to beat the 2 big teams in the league (in the second we won a CL final against Real), with pretty surprising players, but with the same system. Meireles was considered a squad player when I bought him, but in a 4-2-3-1 he soon became irreplaceable next to Banega, keeping also Vass, Gago and Kucka out of the squad, being older than anyone of them.

Ramsey matured as well, and is more effective now than Arteta, but he loses heart easily. So I brought in Honda, to cover for the impending departure of the Spaniard, and also for Wilshere to have someone else behind the striker. Jack is by far the best in the advanced role, and of course is useful anywhere else in the midfield. The season started quite bad, after a falling out with Kranjcar which led to his leaving. Interestingly in the CL group we smashed everybody with 4-5 clear goals, winning every match, even though the last 2 were effectively played with a B-team. Rondón gives a vital new dimension to the game, as he likes to play with his back to the goal, holding up the ball for Gervinho/Walcott/Schürrle.

The 4-4-1-1 starting being useful again, as the team scored a 3-0 victory with it at the Bridge against Chelsea, ending their run that saw them win the first 10 games, and starting our climb from mid-table.

System, system, system. Can’t put enough accent on it. Also don’t overlook older players. I had a real dilemma letting both Rosicky and Arshavin go at the same time, because the patient tactics work best with older, more experienced players. I have this 2 very different gameplans of battering attack, and suffocating counter, so the team needs different kind of players. Even in domestic cup games, I never field a whole youth team. Of course Ramsey, Wilshere, Lansbury, Bartley, Azpilicueta all started in these competitions, but there was always some old head around them. Delac is my cup-keeper, but I signed Alex on a free in December, to keep him at the center of defense when the young guys are out. We are at a level, where I can calmly trust Lansbury, Miyaichi, Bartley in league games as well. There is never more then 1 maybe 2 young heads out on these matches, but this way I can give them more chances to integrate in the team, and also rest key players if necessary. In my experience, this method is even more effective in blooding in your youth into the squad then mentoring.

Don’t get anchored at one gameplan. Especially now, that the program even supports you in experimenting, it is a sin to not live with the opportunity. Have a main one, a general one, that best suits your team and your results, but create surprises, and always adjust them to needs.

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