The modern game is so tactical and cagey that it can be very hard to score goals. With elements like team talks, press conferences and team meetings in FM, this is more evident than ever. The most successful strikers in the modern game – Rooney, Messi, Falcao, Benzema, Ibrahimovic – are so successful because they serve a much bigger tactical role than strikers of different eras, including even relatively recent frontmen like Michael Owen and Andy (or should that be Andrew?) Cole. Easily the most successful of this era is Lionel Messi, partially because of his incredible talent but also because of the role he plays, which enables him the space and time he needs to be so effective. Excluding Falcao and Ibrahimovic, all of the listed strikers can be placed into a broad category of ‘Creative Forwards’ so it is a role that needs to be seriously considered when building a team.
The Creative Forward
In the past, the space for creative players tended to be in the attacking midfield and defensive midfield positions. Having creative players here meant that there was no need for a Messi kind of player up front, and instead you could have a Heskey-Owen type partnership to feed off the supply. Now we have more 4-2-3-1s and 4-1-2-2-1s so there is little space for creators in AMC or DMC, and it takes more intelligent movement for players to find space; for example, the AMC will be far too close to the defensive central midfielders in the 4-2-3-1:
The striker in this picture, meanwhile, is occupied by two central defenders which is a clear loss in one of the key tactical battles, but the advantage of a creative striker in such a position is the distance between himself and the centre mids. He has huge space to take advantage of, and as per a false nine, he can drag one – or both – of the defenders with him, whether he gets the ball or not. If he does get the ball, then he will have as many as two or three players ahead of him, who should really take advantage of the space created; it’s an extremely simple ‘play’ but it can be lethal and effectively smashes the supposed defensive stability of modern footballing formations into smithereens.
The role in FM
Your imagination is your biggest tool here. I go with a simple ST-Trequartista role as it perfectly fits the kind of Creative Striker I like, but you can go with any of Complete Forward, Deep Lying Forward or Target Man if you have a little fiddle around. One thing I really do insist upon, whichever player or style you go for, is that you keep Run From Deep to Rarely, or at the very most Sometimes. It’s really important to ensure that your player drops back into space at times so he can pick up the ball and spin on it, as opposed to running behind the defensive line.
Other important instructions are Creative Freedom and Roam From Position. This two go hand in hand to ensure that the player has a free role to get away from his set instructions and use his own intelligence, which he should really have if you’ve done your homework and found a suitable player! The roaming is an almost cert to be set to ‘Yes’ and the creative freedom is up to you, but I’d recommend anywhere above 15 because you want to encourage them to play with a certain degree of liberalism to allow them to play clever passes, follow their own instincts and make clever runs.
It’s probably more important, compared to decisions on the smaller instructions, to consider the runs from other players around the striker. I’d opt for wingers or inside forwards in the AML/AMR positions with high mentality and high runs from deep; these are the real ‘strikers’ in the team and will get a fair few goals from what the forward creates. Some might say that a ‘False Ten’ is good from the AMC position when combined with a creative striker but I prefer not to go with one because they can often get in each other’s way; two players in central areas often run the same channels and you end up with a wasted player. Instead, I suggest using a Central Midfielder-Attack or similar, so you have a player truly Running from Deep which can be tremendously dangerous with no-one taking responsibility for picking the runner up.
Berbatov – the best creative forward around?
I started a classic save (great fun by the way) with Fulham for this article so I could use Dimitar Berbatov as my creative forward. The guy has 19 First Touch, 16 Passing, 18 Technique, 17 Creativity, 18 Flair, and 15 Off The Ball, the real epitome of class and style, of touch and finesse.
The first chance of this match comes in the 18th minute. Lazovic slides the ball to Sidwell who looks to Berbatov, coming deep.
Berbatov stays cool and waits for runners from midfield; Lazovic arrives in seconds. Look at #31, Kacaniklic who is pushing inside into the space created by Berbatov who’s pulled away the CB on that side.
Berbatov puts a lovely weighted ball in front of Lazovic so as to keep the speed of the attack. Very clever by the Bulgarian, because if he puts it straight to feet then his marker has enough time to get back and Noble, behind Lazovic, can probably get a tackle in. Lazovic then spots the run from Kacaniklic and slots the ball into the corridor of space.
The pass goes straight through the space and Kacaniklic is through on goal. He misses, obviously; a goal would be too convenient wouldn’t it Alexander?
This one has less impact on the game itself but it shows Berbatov’s tactical role just as well. Ruiz is playing on the right wing as an Inside Forward so his natural inclination is to come inside and look for a pass before marking a run. Berbatov is the first one over, pulling across and out Collins (#19) who is naive to come out when #16, Noble should be dealing with it. Anyway, the ball gets played into Berbatov. Check the run of Sidwell (#7) into the middle; superb movement from him and Berb, but it comes to nothing as Berbatov is too slow to offload and Sidwell’s run is too central. Despite this, it shows that we’re making space in the middle and our midfielders are ready to take advantage of it, as well as the inside forwards as shown in the last one.
Berbatov just played against me on my United save, with Jol playing him up front in a 4-4-2 formation alongside Petric. I thought it was really interesting to see how he played with a strike partner and it was; he played a few lovely reverse passes to bring in the Croatian:
He’s one of two Fulham players who played a key pass, a second half through ball into the path of Petric who squandered the chance, otherwise Berb would’ve had a much higher match rating. You can see from this average position map how deep he played too:
The advantage of playing him as Jol has here is that he has a direct partner to play through, whereas in the 4-1-2-2-1 that I had him in, he had to stall on the ball a little to get his teammates’ support. It’s not quite a 4-4-1-1 but he drops off just enough to get that time on the ball that is so important to a creative forward, and he would surely have had an assist to Petric if the latter man hadn’t been caught offside FIVE times. Imagine him (or your equivalent) with a poacher though and you can smell the goals tallies.
That’s my take on the creative forward. It’s not a role or type of player that fits everyone’s tactics, and penchants for that matter, but it can be thoroughly effective and impressive to watch if you get the right kind of player; there’s not many Berbatovs around but players like Vagner Love, Giuseppe Rossi, Alex, Helder Postiga, and even Bobby Zamora at a push, can take it on. Just remember the players around your creative forward are just as important, and you’ll have a ball.
This article goes really well with FM Analysis’ post on Poachers so if you want something further to read, maybe if you’re considering a strike partner for your Creative Forward or you want to look at the alternative, Lee’s post is perfect.