‘The evolution of tactical systems is also something that’s being worked on right now. Three at the back is a system that’s being talked about amongst the FA coaches a lot. German football is very professional like that, very good at looking at the finer points that can give you an advantage. You’ll always need luck. But, first of all, you owe it to yourself to make sure you get the best odds possible.’
It’s time to actually put some plans into motion, and we can’t get very far without some tactics. In order to create a coherent tactical identity that runs throughout the club, there will be a core set of instructions that will set out the way I expect to play. From there, it’ll be about tweaking shapes, roles, and making small, opposition dependant changes to the instructions to enhance our performances.
PLAYERS IN POSITIONS
There’s no point diving straight in and creating tactics that we don’t have the players for, so my first stop is the Squad Depth screen to assess our options. Immediately I can see that our main strengths are in attacking areas and through the spine of the side. This leaves our full/wing-back areas as our ‘weakness’, but we still have at least three good options on each flank so I’m not too concerned. The chart immediately screams 4-2-3-1 to me, so that’s probably going to be something we look at right off the bat. I’d also say a back three/five is do-able with some combination of attacking players, and I think I’d like to have something in place to use a front two.
These are my initial thoughts for the shapes we’ll rotate between throughout the season. I’ve kept the roles quite basic on purpose, I don’t know the players at all yet so I don’t want to try and use a load of more specialised roles only for half of the squad players to be incapable.
4-2-3-1 – I think this will be our starting shape for the majority of matches, especially early on. I’ll look to get the full-backs pushing on to support the wingers, with a solid double-pivot sitting to protect the centre-backs. Since the wingers are being encouraged to stay out wide and not tuck in there’s no need for the full-backs to look to get to the byline but I will change them to an attack duty if I feel they aren’t contributing to attacking play. Through the middle I expect the creativity to come from the number 10 as the sole playmaker in the side, but also for them to link with the striker and get into the box to give the wingers another head to aim for. Again this role could change, I did think firstly of a Shadow Striker to run the channels and cause defenders problems, but we’ll see how the playmaker acts for now.
5-2-3 – Probably my favourite shape when using a back 3/5, the playmaking responsibilities have now moved back into the double pivot because of the loss of the 10. I’ve also switched the right-sided winger to an Inside Forward to get another body in and around the striker and getting into the box, which I’ll also do on the left if I feel the striker is still isolated. From there the emphasis is on the wing-backs to provide the width, but in tighter, or tougher away games, they may be dropped back to form a flat back 5 and then given an attacking duty to change it back to a three in transition.
5-2-1-2 – To try and get a system in place that had two strikers, I was torn between this and a 4-4-2 diamond. Since we’re stronger at centre-back than defensive midfield it made more sense to just drop the base of diamond in and push the wing-backs on more. The onus truly is on them to provide the width for us in this system, with the idea being that the PF(S) and AP(S) will link up and wreak havoc in behind the most prominent forward, but also be available to get onto the end of crosses and outnumber the opposition centre-backs.
Much like the player roles, I’ve intentionally kept the instructions basic to begin with. Nobody gets their identity right straight away, it’s all about evolution and making changes over time. Ever since writing ‘How Mentality Affects Player Roles’ and ‘Applying a Pragmatic Approach to Football Manager’ for FM21, I’ve found myself increasingly playing the game with a more pragmatic approach without making the intentional choice. I very rarely start a match on a mentality other than Balanced, and if I do it’s only ever Cautious or Positive. It’s far easier to lose a match in the first 10 minutes than it is to win it, so going too far in either direction (defensive or attacking) is just something I’m not too comfortable with.
IN POSSESSION – This is where I feel an ‘identity’ comes across most prominently, as there is more variation in attacking tactics than defensive ones. Mine is fairly simple; I want my sides to get their foot on the ball and keep possession well, so we play shorter passes, but to avoid needless sideways passes and to transition quickly we also use a higher tempo to encourage the side to get the ball up the pitch and into the forward players quickly without lumping it route one. I also want the side to have a lot of width, whether that be from the wingers, or full-backs, or a combination of both. I’ve only gone for wide, and not anything more extreme, as I don’t want to encourage pockets of space for the opposition to exploit in transition when we lose the ball.
IN TRANSITION – Nothing too complicated here, I want to encourage play to start from the back rather than having long balls bypass the midfield, so distributing to the full-backs and centre-backs makes sense. We’ve also chosen to counter when we’ve won the ball to take advantage of our desire to move the ball forward quickly, hoping to catch the opposition out before they regain their shape. I did consider also choosing to regroup after losing the ball but have kept it off for now, I’ll monitor that as time goes on.
OUT OF POSSESSION – Same as the In Transition section really, all nice and simple. I discussed in 0.3 | Squad Analysis how I was worried about our lack of aerial ability at either end, so forcing opposition inside seems the logical choice to try and limit the amount of crosses we have to deal with. Having quite a defensive double pivot as we do in our shapes will help to congest the middle of the pitch too, and have players running into dead ends. I haven’t changed the height of the defensive line, if anything I’d look at dropping it back, but we all know how successful that is in Football Manager. I have lowered our line of engagement but we’re going to trigger the press more often; I want to draw the opposition out before winning the ball back, giving us spaces to attack on the counter while players are out of position.
One technique I’m looking to utilise more this year is ‘game management’ – reacting more to what I’m seeing and making smaller, more frequent changes to try and keep the balance of the match in our favour. I’ve actually written about this process using the Match Plans feature, which you can see HERE or over on Football Manager’s The Byline blog. With the addition of ‘match momentum’ to this year’s game, there is now more tangible evidence of whether in-match changes are working or not, so I’ll be looking to use this as much as possible and try to find a pattern of what works and what doesn’t in certain situations.
I’ll be looking to pick and choose my moments to increase and decrease tempo and pressing intensity to give the players spells to ‘rest’ by knocking the ball around, as well as what I’m going to refer to as ‘style modifiers’ – instructions such as work ball into box, hit early crosses etc. that I think can be effective as situational additions to the system, rather than a core part of it.
I’ll also be creating, tweaking and adding new set piece routines when I think what we have is going stale or being figured out by opposition. Early on I don’t expect to get huge success from set pieces as we aren’t great aerially, but we’ll look to out-think I never pay attention to set pieces usually, but they can reap high rewards and working on ‘creating marginal gains’ was a huge part of the German model to rebuild, and it’s something I’m keen to bring to the save.
The tactical identity at Volendam will of course evolve over time; as we sign and produce better players we can look to add some instructions or change some roles that play to greater strengths and look to gain a constant advantage. This is my early blueprint though, if you have any thoughts please leave them in the comments below or over on Twitter.
Thanks for reading, and until next time, tot ziens!