GOALS FROM UNUSUAL SOURCES – THE INVERTED WING-BACK

TIME TO CATCH UP…

For the first time probably ever, I went months without playing Football Manager this year. After my FC Volendam save came to an abrupt halt I had a 4 or 5 season personal save with Newcastle and their millions, and then nothing. No desire, no inspiration, and quite honestly no time. I went from mid-March to late July with my beloved Football Manager just sat unused in my Steam account. I finally started to get a bit of an urge back by throwing myself back into reading a few blogs, and then I started binge watching Zealand’s Dorfers save. (I’ve been watching the recap vids, full streams are also available!) I still didn’t really have the time to go into an in-depth save and build a club the way Zealand has, but I wanted that feeling of being an underdog in a European campaign, so I started a save as Rangers to get myself back into the game. I’m not going to talk too much about the save as a whole (it’s not the aim of the post and I only played one season) but I won the domestic treble and reached the Champions League knock-out rounds where I narrowly lost out to Napoli, a very successful season I’d say! Instead, I’m here today to talk to you about one man…

SUPER JAMES TAVERNIER

Captain. Talisman. Goal Machine?

Stats courtesy of whoscored.com

I don’t follow Scottish football very closely, but I do know that James Tavernier produces an incredible amount of goal contributions from right-back. He was the only real deciding factor in me choosing Rangers over Celtic for the save, as I hoped I could try to get him as involved going forward as he is in real life. I’m no tactical expert, I’ve mentioned that countless times on the site, so I wasn’t confident it would come off, but boy howdy did he produce!

This is the tactic I used for the season, although the In Possession instructions did change slightly over the course of the season. There really isn’t anything special here, a bog standard 4-2-3-1 that allowed us to use our superior talent to overwhelm most teams in the league. The only things I added that I wouldn’t usually were to use Tavernier as an Inverted Wing-Back on Attack, and to ask the team to look for underlaps on the right-hand-side. This caused Tavernier, who is an incredibly offensive player anyway, to become the side’s focal point, making forward runs to the edge of the area and taking up positions in and around the AMC.

This man had it all throughout the season; long-range screamers, delicately lofted one-on-one finishes, penalties, free-kicks – there was nothing Tav couldn’t do as we rampaged towards the treble.

I’ve honestly struggled to get my strikers to convert this well in the past few editions of FM! To score nearly 20 open-play goals in a season from right-back is absurd, and although if I’m being picky I’d have liked him to be a bit more of a creator, you can’t argue that he was exceptional. Without a doubt the best season I’ve had from a player since an old Manchester United save way back on FM11, and even then it may still be top of the list! To top it off, he wasn’t just Rangers’ top scorer, he was the league’s top scorer too!

Almost a clean sweep!

STRENGTH IN DEPTH?

One of my big concerns early on, especially once it was clear I was onto something with the tactic, was how well we would cope in Tavernier was unavailable. I’m pretty hot on squad rotation, I don’t like to force tired players into action, but in the case of Tavernier I felt obliged to as we didn’t really have a proper alternative.

John Souttar, although a CB by nature, actually offered a fairly solid option despite lacking the attributes to offer the same goal threat that his captain does. I also spotted a youngster in the B Team right at the start of the save who was ready for some first-team minutes by the midway point of the season. Mateusz Żukowski is a natural right-winger, but his well-rounded attributes and not hideous defensive ability meant that in a side like ours, that dominate the majority of games, we could afford to gamble that his attacking talent would outweigh any defensive problems he would cause us. (Polish Trent, anyone? 👀)

The drop off in performances when either of the two had to play instead of Tavernier was significant, but only in terms of their individual contribution. Ironically, we were actually unbeaten in all competitions in games where Tavernier was unavailable. He did tend to miss the ‘easier’ games though, and apart from a blip against Dundee United the only clubs to defeat us all season were Celtic, Barcelona and Napoli.

At one point Tavernier was playing so well that I was worried the role was exploiting a weakness in the match engine, so although I wanted better performances from John and Mateusz than I got it was a slight relief to know it was just down to the players and not anything else. Clearly the reason for the drop off in performances is the fact that the role was designed for Tav and played to his strengths, and to expect the same performance from an out of position CB or a youngster who doesn’t yet have the ability to take a game by the scruff of the neck is unfair. However, they weren’t entirely unsuited to the role and in such a dominant team I’d have expected more than 4 goals and 4 assists from the two of them combined.

WHERE’S MY TIN FOIL HAT?

To round off, I have a quick conspiracy theory…

I’ve always found penalties to be a bit of a dark art in Football Manager, sometimes my most successful takers have been below average at best, and other times I’ve been blessed with multiple great options who have all decided that penalties are unnecessary stat padding. Generally, I find that a few too many penalties are missed in game, but probably not by much.

With the recent advancements in using data and analytics in football, particularly xG, we know that on average we can expect 76% of penalties to be scored. (There are a few different xG models around which have slightly different values, but 0.76 is generally accepted as the value assigned to a penalty). I’d argue that anybody with a penalty taking attribute of around 13-15 would be considered a ‘good’ penalty taker, and would probably hit that percentage, and anybody with an attribute above that has a good chance of scoring 80 or even 90%+ of their penalties.

James Tavernier has 18(!) penalty taking, and scored a measly 56% of his penalties in all competitions this season! Now I know, I know, that a lot more than just the penalty taking attribute contributes to a player’s success from the spot. Finishing, composure and technique are all attributes that will also affect things, plus hidden attributes that will determine how a player handles pressure and performs in big moments.

Another look at Tavernier’s profile shows that all of his attributes are fairly good to back up his outstanding penalty taking. 12’s and 13’s in finishing, technique and composure aren’t world class but certainly good enough, and although it isn’t instantly obvious from the screen shot in his pros column in his coach report he is a player that enjoys big matches, which is another really positive sign. Add in other factors such as him being an experienced player, the club captain, and arguably one of the best players in the division and I think he should be scoring far more.

So why do I think he’s been failing? I think that because of the tactic’s focus around him, and the amount of goals he was scoring from free-kicks and from open play, that his penalty output was suffering as the game doesn’t expect a right-back to be scoring as many goals as he was. I have no evidence to back that up, this may be a commonly known thing that I’m just not aware of, or I could come out of this sounding completely insane! Either way, it’s something that I just kept coming back to as the season went on, I just didn’t have a better explanation!

That’s it for this post, I hope you’ve enjoyed my little look into James Tavernier’s season and his exceptional goal-scoring exploits! It feels good to dust the keyboard off and get back to writing some FM content, and although this will be my last FM22 post, there is plenty more on the horizon with FM23 almost here! Make sure you follow me on Twitter and join the On the Break Discord so you don’t miss out!

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