FM19 save will be a journeyman, but I need ideas to make it unique
Some of you might have noticed the lack of blog posts over the last month. The main reason is my transition to University, but it’s also due to my failure to adapt my writing style around a new lifestyle.
Your first goal in any creative hobby should be to enjoy yourself. That’s how you create good content. During the first weeks at University, I made blogging into a chore. Almost every game I played came with some sort of preparation or lengthy write-up I had to complete before I could move on to the next game. Coming home tired after Uni with an hour or two of free time and not being able to play because I had to write something up made me abandon FM for a week at a time. When I started blogging, I had a clear idea of the content I wanted to produce and had a plan of how to fit that around a busy schedule. Over the last month or so that plan has been abandoned.
So what does this mean?
The Aberdeen adventure is over. I’ve managed to suck all life out of what was shaping up to be an incredibly enjoyable save.
So what’s next?
Most importantly, I’m changing the way I blog. I’ll play my save in the background almost, and write when I find something worth writing about. This way I can play the game as much as I want, and never be forced to write unless I’ve found something I’m truly engaged with.
Well, initially I wasn’t going to be buying FM19, but after my FM18 save fizzled out, and after seeing the massive changes in the game, I had to buy it.
During the beta I will be playing with Liverpool, focusing specifically on applying a gegenpressing style. I chose this save because I think that it’ll allow me to test the new tactics and training systems. I am to have my first FM19 blog post, introducing Gegenpressing and the save, out by the end of the weekend.
My main save? Well I know for sure I want to be changing jobs pretty regularly. This gives me the chance to work in new environments and embark on new challenges, while never losing continuity in the save. The last two years I have done my own version of Lollujo’s ‘non-league to legend’ series, but now that I’m blogging my escapades I thought that I should do something a bit more creative. I’ve got a few weeks to figure something out, but I’d love to hear you guys’ suggestions! (bear in mind I’m running FM on a shitty laptop).
Thanks for all the support guys, hope you’re all enjoying the beta as much as me.
I wanted to start off the blog by thanking everyone for the insane support for my first blog post of FM19. The numbers and feedback I got surpassed my wildest expectations. For all of you that read or shared the blog, thank you, and for the new readers, welcome.
So why choose Liverpool?
Quite simply, they are a team set up to gegenpress. After several years in the job, Klopp has shaped his team to fit his ideology, recruiting players capable of playing a gegenpressing style.
Here’s a table I made looking at how Liverpool stack up against the rest of the league in the key attributes behind the four types of gegenpressing. As you can see, Liverpool rank 1st in the league in several key attributes, most notably first touch, dribbling, determination and off the ball. They rank in the top four for most other key attributes. (Notably, Manchester City, another team that utilise gegenpressing, rank first in many other attributes). What should also be noted is that most of the key attributes are mental, once again showing that gegenpressing is best utilised by tactically-intelligent footballers.
The new FM19 tactics system
Those who have been playing FM19 will be aware of the changes to the tactics system.
The immediate change you are confronted with open entering the tactics screen is the introduction of tactical styles to build around.
The styles present themselves on the left-hand side of the screen, with a couple of brief bullet points introducing the style.
Upon selecting your style, you are barraged with additional information further explaining the style, alongside possible instructions, mentalities and formations alongside a short GIF showing the style in action.
Football Manager suggests three formations that will work for a gegenpressing style. Note the word ‘suggest’. Gegenpressing can work in almost all formations.
4-1-4-1 DM wide and 4-2-3-1 wide
I wanted to discuss these two formations together as they are very similar. The obvious difference is the positioning of the third midfielder. The 4-2-3-1 offers an additional player in the first line of pressure, while the 4-1-4-1 offers greater defensive solidity. What is also notable is the positioning of the wide midfielders. The widemen should be positioned high up the pitch so they can instantly engage the opposition fullback. If they are in the wide midfield strata then they will take longer to reach the opposition, leaving a gap as they press. The role of the wingers is generally to engage with the opposition fullback, or tuck in to block central passing lanes.
The bonus of the attacking midfielder in the 4-2-3-1 is that he can either aide the striker in pressing, or block off the passing lanes to the centre of midfield. The bonus of the defensive midfielder is that it enables the two players in the central midfield strata can press more aggressively in the knowledge that there is a player behind them to control space and sweep up. You could say that it’s a choice between pressing styles- the 4-2-3-1 is more conducive to winning the ball in the opponent’s final third, while the 4-1-4-1 looks to win the ball in the midfield. To visualise this concept, consider Jürgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund side compared to his Liverpool side.
4-4-2 diamond narrow
This formation’s quite hard to dissect. It can work well as a gegenpressing formation in real life, as can be seen with Red Bull Salzburg, but has never translated well into FM for me.
The immediate weakness is down the flanks. Your fullback can easily be isolated and outnumbered. Furthermore, the absence of wingers means that it comes down to the central midfielders to close down on the wings. In real life, such a team would be drilled to shift across as a unit, but in Football Manager (2018 at least), the whole affair is wholly uncoordinated, meaning not only that the press is co-ordinated, but gaps are left centrally.
For reference, I will be using the 4-1-4-1 as I’m looking to create a style of something in between Klopp and Guardiola, who both use the formation.
Points to consider: Guardiola’s defensive principles
When Guardiola moved to Germany, he entered a footballing environment based heavily on counter-attacking. To allow his team to stick to his general footballing principles, while not opening themselves up on the counter, Guardiola consolidated his 3 defensive principles, as outlined by Martí Perarnau in his excellent book Pep confidential.
The defensive line
The coordination of the defensive line is key. Your defenders must act as links in a chain, moving in tandem to prevent the channels becoming too wide. What’s also important is that the closest defender to the ball always sets the line. This firstly means that the defensive line is organised in relation to the ball. Secondly, it provides greater cover, as shown in the diagram below.
Now how can I implement this in FM? Firstly, I plan on not pushing the pressing slider all the way up, as I don’t want the structure of my backline to become disjointed. Secondly, I’m going to experiment with telling my four defenders to close down less, which admittedly may seem counter-intuitive for a gegenpressing system. Finally, the defensive line won’t be pushed right the way up, to limit the space we leave in behind.
The theory here is that a minimum of 15 passes is needed to secure transition from defence into attack. It allows a secure structure to be formed around the ball, to prevent the opposition from counter-attacking if possession is lost.
Guardiola says “If you lose the ball, if they get it off you, then the player who takes it will probably be alone and surrounded by your players, who will then get it back easily, or, at the very least, ensure that the rival team can’t manoeuvre quickly. It’s these 15 passes that prevent your rival from making any kind of coordinated transition.”
In FM? With the ball, my approach will be closer to the patient approach of Guardiola than Klopp’s ‘heavy metal football’.
Managing the free man
This is probably the hardest concept to convert to Football Manager. The key idea is not to lose the ball in key midfield areas. If the ball is lost in key areas, then the opponent who now has the ball. In reality, this is just an extension of the 15-pass rule.
In FM? This is one of the main reasons I’m using the 4-1-4-1. The defensive midfielder allows the two central midfielders to press with greater intensity.
Things to note:
Attacking width is set to fairly narrow, so the team is more compact when the ball is lost
I’ve added the instruction ‘play out of defence’ to reinforce my desire to build-up play in a controlled manner
Shorter passing to reduce the distance between players when the ball is lost
Reduce tempo to ‘higher’ to reduce the number of unnecessary turnovers
I’ve added the instruction ‘run at defence’ as we have the best acceleration, first touch, and dribbling in the league
As previously mentioned, the defensive line and line of engagement haven’t been pushed to the max. In my few beta games with Sociedad, I found maximising these sliders really limited the space available to attack in.
Defensive width is narrow, once again to ensure a compact defensive shape (probably my favourite tactical change in this years’ game)
Pressing is on more urgent, rather than extremely urgent, in the hopes that this doesn’t drag my back-four out of shape
Alisson is a sweeper keeper on attack, to sweep up any long balls played over the top of our defence
My two centre-backs are standard centre-backs rather than ball-playing centre-backs, to limit the risks my centre-backs take on the ball
My entire defence is told individually to close down less, to prevent the shape of the back four from being compromised
Keita is a Mezzala. Firstly, his tendencies to drift into the half-spaces means he is ready to press in wide areas when the ball is lost. Secondly, I find an attacking mezzala is perfect for driving into the half-spaces, drawing out opposing fullbacks, and slipping through attacking wingers, such as Mo Salah
Fabinho is a central midfielder on support, with the PIs to close down more and roam from position. I chose this over a box-to-box midfielder as I couldn’t up his pressing urgency. The tweaked role should perform fairly similarly.
Firmino is a pressing forward on support, so he can drop in and link-up play. The pressing forward is a fantastic addition, as in last year’s game, the defensive forward role would have been inadequate for Firmino as it had the ‘fewer risky passes’ PI.
The popularity of gegenpressing is arguably the biggest tactical switch in football over the last 5 years. That’s not to say that it’s a new concept of course. The reasons for its prevalence at the top-tier of European football are the same reasons for its rise during the 70s and 80s under Michels and Sacchi.
Cruyff famously said that he wanted to maximise the space for his team to play in, while minimising the space for the opposition. This is because in a constricted area the technical, mental and physical superiority of his side would shine through, while any weakness in the opposition would be cruelly exposed.
The point of gegenpressing, as described by Adin Osmanbasic in a fantastic video that inspired this blog, is to force an opposition action.
The concept is simple yet brilliant. Within seconds, the player on the ball will be swarmed from all directions. Within seconds, men will be surging at him from all directions, and with teammates covered and options limited, the player on the ball will be forced into an action. Normally, this is an inaccurate clearance which should fall back to the pressing team. But, if he tries to play in his panicked state, there is a greater chance of him making a mistake, either being tackled or playing an inaccurate pass. If he plays an accurate pass to a teammate, then the cycle starts again. This cycle usually ends up with the pressing team regaining possession.
To try and explain the concept a bit further, I’ll first try and explain the four phases of the game.
The majority of the game can be split into the possession-based phases, when one team is either in or out of possession. Between these two phases, there are two transitional phases, representing when a team either wins or loses the ball. These are the phases in which gegenpressing operates. (If the wording’s a bit vague, I think of the ‘in possession’ represent stable possession, while ‘transition into possession’ represents unstable possession). If you imagine, as above, that the four phases work in a cyclic motion, then gegenpressing looks to win the ball back during the ‘transition out of possession’ phase. This is to ensure the opposition can’t build-up stable possession, and therefore cannot counter-attack. (gegenpressing translates as countering the counter).
Now that we know about the phases, let’s discuss how gegenpressing works within these phases. It’s quite hard to explain simply, so I created a flowchart which can be seen below. (The underlined phrases summarise the main goal of each phase).
Well, I guess this depends on the manager. The overall goal of this phase though is to gain control of the ball and ultimately score goals. One advantage of gegenpressing is that it guarantees a large chunk of possession in the opposition’s half beause the opponent can’t effectively counter-attack. This allows the attacking team to pin the opposition defence back and create numerical superiorities in the positions they want. Another advantage of essentially playing in the opposition’s half is that there should always be a few players in the immediate vicinity to press if the ball is won. (I’ll discuss Guardiola’s 15-pass rule in the next blog post).
Transition out of possession
As stated before, the goal of this phase is to win the ball back. When the ball is lost, the attacking structure should ensure that there are a number of players able to press immediately. Osmanbasic suggested that when setting Klopp set his team up to attack, the shape was just as focused on winning the ball back quickly rather than scoring.
Out of possession
Once the opposition has achieved stable possession, the end-goal remains the same, but the intensity of the press is reduced slightly.
Transition into possession
When the ball is won back in dangerous areas, the team drives forward at speed. This is to create positive forward momentum, while forcing the opposition to run towards their own goal. This panicked state inhibits the oppositions positional sense and decision making, create gaps to be exploited.
One thing that Adin Osmanbasic emphasised in his video (view below) was the 4 aspects of gegenpressing.
The top two are described as ‘on the ball’, meaning that they are ‘active processes’, engaging with the ball. Attacking the ball carrier reduces his time on the ball but leaves gaps in the defensive shape. Intercepting the pass may be better for the shape of the team, but with the caveat that the intercepting player will face immediate pressure from the recipient.
Alternatively, off the ball actions are more passive processes, looking at controlling space rather than actively seeking to win the ball. In the process of cover pressing, midfielders and defenders cover any gaps left by the pressing attackers, achieving greater solidity but reducing the number of players pressing. Covering passing lanes is arguably the most widespread aspect of gegenpressing used worldwide. With his options blocked, the player in possession panics, and resorts to an inaccurate clearance. The obvious downside is that it gives the player in possession more time on the ball, leaving you vulnerable to technically gifted players.
Practised in schoolyards everywhere, ball-orientated pressing is the concept of gegenpressing in its simplest form. It’s a blind, unstructured rush towards the ball. When first used by the Dutch during the 80s, it proved fairly effective due to the technical weakness of the opposition and the limited level of tactical knowledge at the time. Unsurprisingly, this technique is rarely used anymore due to the physical effort required, and how easily several players can be taken out of the game.
just look at them go!
Space-orientated pressing is similar in many ways to ball-orientated pressing in that the ball carrier is principally targeted. The idea, as executed brilliantly by Klopp’s Dortmund, is to close in on the ball carrier from all directions, exerting maximum pressure. Not only is the player immediately pressured, but all passing options are immediately cut-off. This kind of press is incredibly hard for the unlucky player to escape. Furthermore, efficient set-up and good structure mean that if done correctly, the rest of the team should be on hand to sweep up if the press is evaded.
Man and lane oriented
I’ve combined these two as they both focus on reducing the options of the player in possession. In a man-orientated system, the ball-carrier is pressured by one, maybe two players, while the rest of the defending team man-marks his possible passing options. Therefore if he tried to find one of his marked teammates, there will be an opponent on hand to intercept the ball or tackle the recipient. Lane orientated, as seen in Pep’s Barcelona, is far more sophisticated and therefore much harder to train and pull-off. While one or two players press the ball-carrier, passing lanes are strategically blocked or left-tantalisingly open, with a player ready to intercept just out of view. Without wanting to sound like a broken record, the two end-goals are the same. Either the player punts an aimless ball upfield, or he loses possession in a dangerous area.
Why FM19? well, for one thing, FM19, beta, Liverpool and gegenpressing are a search engine’s wet-dream (capitalism, bitch). More seriously, major changes have been made to the training and tactics systems. Attempting an ambitious project like this should hopefully let me learn the ropes of the new mechanics by the team the full game drops on November 2nd.
On that note, I’m still interested in any suggestions for how I could spice up my journeyman save. Any suggestions are appreciated down in the comments below or on my twitter @ScottishFMer.
The Champions League group stages were never going to be kind to a side the size of Aberdeen. Such defeats, such as the 4-0 defeat inflicted by Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool, should perhaps be expected, and by some would be written off by a quick glance at the balance sheets. While such defeats might seem disheartening, especially considering the positive performances against Porto and Bayern, setbacks like this are a fantastic opportunity to learn and improve.
Sure, we got royally pumped this time around, but maybe we can learn some lessons so that when Liverpool travel to Pittodrie in a few weeks, ……..
Firstly, let’s look how I thought Liverpool would play and the tactic I used to try and nullify them.
This is a crude diagram I came up with to try to articulate how Liverpool played, without relying on a block of text. In the diagram, grey arrows represent a players movement, while black arrows represent common pass combinations.
So at a glance, Liverpool’s shape is characterised by attacking fullbacks in the form of Nathaniel Clyne and James Milner, powering into spaces left by the movements inside of Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho. This diagram also shows the influence of Liverpool’s key player, Jordan Henderson.
Here are a few more characteristics of Liverpool’s play and how I aimed to counter them:
Emre Can plays an influential role as either a regista or roaming playmaker, linking defence and midfield- A defensive forward would reduce his time on the ball, as well as reduce the time on the ball for the ball-playing centre-backs
Liverpool’s two fullbacks look to progress high up the pitch, creating a number of chances this way- A wide midfielder will be used to prevent Clyne receiving the ball in space down the right. A Winger will be used on Milner’s side as I see him as less of an attacking threat, and I thinking Mackay-Steven could exploit his lack of pace
Jordan Henderson is the metronome of this Liverpool team. Much of their play comes through him- Jordan Henderson will be man-marked so he receives the ball under pressure
Philippe Coutinho looks to drift inside and receive the ball in the half-spaces- Coutinho will be man-marked by the right-back Shay Logan. Milner’s more conservative tendencies should mean that the space vacated will not be exploited.
Due to the lack of pace from Coutinho and Lallana, I decided to be a bit bolder with my approach, pushing up to a normal defensive line.
I was given a major selection dilemma in the lead up with the game after Greg Tansey was ruled out for several months with a broken ankle. This resulted in Graeme Shinnie being moved back into the DM slot, leaving us with a far less combative midfield.
While this game plan was far from perfect, I still feel it would have done a decent job against the Liverpool side I anticipated. I’m sure you can imagine my anguish when they lined up with a 4-2-3-1. While it may seem that I’m using this formation change as an excuse, this problem is ultimately my fault. If I’d taken the time to look at a few games against lower reputation sides, I would have seen this 4-2-3-1 in action.
The above diagram is from the game against us. What is noticeable is the number of passing combinations Liverpool where able to create. For reference, a combination gets a line if it is repeated 15 or more times.
In fairness, I did make a few adjustments to deal with Liverpool’s new formation, but I didn’t do enough. My only changes were to move the back-line slightly deeper, and change to a flexible shape, both in an attempt to reduce our vulnerability to the counter-attack. Here are a few things I should have changed.
Quick word of advice: never tell your fullback to mark the opposition winger. Especially when the opposition winger in question is Philippe fucking Coutinho. As I previously eluded to, it may leave one of your defenders isolated against a few better opponent. Secondly, it leaves your backline out of shape. Honestly, if I had just left it, Logan could have had free choice whether to go tight on Coutinho or drop off. Having him follow him into the midfield left a gaping hole for Liverpool to exploit (thankfully Hendrix was playing at left-back). Finally, consider pace. Man-marking gives both players roughly the same starting point, so if the opponent is faster, and more importantly has the advantage of choosing when to run, it is the attacker who almost always possesses the upper-hand.
Here’s a perfect example, where Logan’s positioning allows him to be isolated against Coutinho, leading to a goal.
The second tip I would give in regards to man-marking is to consider the wider context. While my instruction to McLean to man-mark Henderson may have limited his influence, it tied my left-sided central midfielder up, leaving Salah a gaping hole to cut into unchallenged.
Quality of Player
This links both into team selection and recruitment policy.
Jonathan Medina is not good enough for the Champions League. That is not up for discussion. I recruited him to solve my left-back problem but instead, I have signed someone considerably worse than what I’ve already got.
The initial problem is that he’s at the club at all. That’s a recruitment issue. Medina was the first decent option that came up, was available on a free transfer, and had a few nice ttributes that clouded my judgement. To prevent future Medinas, important scouting assignments will be started months in advance of the transfer window, to prevent any more rushed decisions. Furthermore, once I decide I want to sign a player, I will request a further three scouting reports, just in case I’ve missed something subtle, or in this case, totally obvious. Finally, I will be viewing first team signings under the microscope of ‘are they good enough for the Champions League?’, or more accurately ‘would I be willing to play them in the Champions League?’. If not, I shouldn’t be signing them. This means for defenders defence solidity is the main quality.
The next problem is that I played him against Liverpool, up against Mo Salah. What am I doing playing a defender with 9 positioning in the Champions League? Especially considering I have the defensively solid Andrew Considine at hand. Furthermore, why am I playing an attacking full-back against Liverpool in the Champions League?
In the 45 minutes Medina played, he made 0 tackles, 0 interceptions, missed 2 interceptions, made 3 mistakes and recorded an average rating of 6.0. I’m not saying he looked vulnerable up against Salah but Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge were seen offering him a drink at half-time.
In a previous blog post, I discussed the battle between ideology and compromise, and where the latter is necessary in Football Manager. Well, this game is a perfect example of where I could have done with a bit less style and a bit more substance.
If Klopp’s teams are known for one thing it would be the counter-press (watch this space). From the outset, it was made clear that we would not be given the time and space to play out from the back.
Liverpool’s shape meant that either centre-back would be pressed immediately upon receiving the ball, while simultaneously blocking passage into the midfield. Well, passage to the central midfielders wasn’t totally blocked, but our centre-backs consistently panicked under pressure and usually ended-up hoofing the ball up the pitch. This merely allowed Liverpool to win and consolidate possession in our half. In took half an hour, far too long, for me to give up and tell Joe to just launch it.
Full back duties
Another issue I noticed was the support duties of the fullbacks, or perhaps more importantly, Logan’s ‘get further forward’ PPM.
His PPM means that when we regain possession, his first instinct is to bomb up pitch. In a game against Liverpool, who look to win possession and exploit holes the opponent leave in transition, this presents a serious problem.
Here’s a screenshot I took after just a few minutes which shows my issue. Immediately after losing possession, Liverpool have 4 players in behind our midfield. The number 9 you see? That’s Adam Rooney, my striker.
Here’s my issues with our shape:
Medina and Logan caught out of position
Logan drawn out of position man-marking Coutinho
McLean absent, leaving massive gaps in midfield to mark Henderson deep
DM out of position pressing
Lack of midfield presence
Here’s the steps I’m going to use to try and sort this mess
Fullbacks on defend duty to prevent them from being caught upfield
Abandon individual man-marking, with midfielders and defenders at least
Static defensive midfield role focused on control space
Slightly deeper defensive line to limit space
Change in team shape? One on hand structured would prevent players bombing upfield on masse, but in theory should leave larger gaps between the lines (experiment)
Change formation? Left mids’ role limited, perhaps change to attacking midfielder to have a body to prevent the opposition building up from deep. Could also do a job man-marking. Main issue would be leaving a fullback isolated (experiment)
Thanks for reading, and sorry for the delay in posting. The first three weeks at Uni have been hectic, and with freshers’ flu I’ve had little time and energy to put into the blog. I’ve got a few longer term ideas in the timeline, which should take 2-3 in game months to do properly, so until they’re done, I’ll try and put out a few more shorter blogs like this.
Preparing for the Porto tie was made a lot harder by the fact that I had no idea what formation they were going to use. Most signs pointed to a 4-2-3-1 with 2 defensive midfielders, but the tactics screen, and in the last game, they used the dreaded 4-3-3 narrow. I decided to prepare to play the 4-2-3-1.
Injury and suspension just made matter more confusing. Oliver Torres, who I had identified as a key player in the number 10 position, was missing the game through injury. Attacking left-back Diogo Barbosa and winger Ricardo Horta had minor knocks, meaning they may or may not feature midweek. Most importantly, however, was the suspension to attacking right-back Miguel Layun.
During analysis, I noted an emphasis on attacking down the right-hand side, with a number of key passes coming from the right-back. It appears that 34 year-old Maxi Pereira would be Layun’s replacement as the end-to-end dynamic wingback. The Uruguayan has superb mental stats but is lacking in pace and positioning. Therefore, I’ll look to find Gary Mackay-Steven in behind the veteran as often as possible.
I was watching a video from ‘The coaches’ voice’ in which Pako Ayesteran discussed how he set up his Valencia side to beat Barcelona. One concept I found interesting was the idea that you have to decide which players you can let have the ball.
For Porto, the centre-backs are fairly innocuous, so I’m happy for them to see the ball. Maxi Pereira is hardly a supreme attacking wingback, so I don’t mind letting him get on the ball either. But the left-back, whether that would be Barbosa or Konan, offer a severe attacking threat, so I don’t want them receiving the ball in our half. Porto’s two defensive midfielders, usually Erick Guttierez and Nikola Vukcevic, act as deep-lying playmakers, holding back, pinning the opponent in, and recycling possession. I’d obviously like to starve both midfielders off the ball, but this is unlikely. From watching a few highlights I could see that Vukcevic was slightly more advanced in position and positive in possession, so it is him I’ll look to nullify. I’d love to man-mark both, but with at least one inside forward cutting in, I need at least one midfielder to force him wide without compromising the shape of the team. The attacking midfielder seems to be the key component of the team, registering more than 150 pass combinations in all the games I’ve looked at. As mentioned, Oliver Torres is injured, so I expect Otavio to play in this role. He’s not great, but I think the role is so crucial to the team that it needs excluding from the game anyway. A defensive midfielder to cover the space in front of the back four is crucial. Furthermore, a disciplined low block should mean that he should receive the ball with 3-4 markers around him. Finally, Porto have an exhaustive list of wingers at their disposal. I couldn’t possibly predict which combination they’ll use, but I know they have one thing in common- They’re all rapid bastards. So it’s crucial that I don’t allow them to turn and run at my fullbacks.
This is the defensive, dirty set up I’m going to go with. Rooney plays as a defensive forward to break up the opposition’s build-up and hopefully limit passes to the defensive midfielders. GMS is pushed right up to exploit any space Maxi Pereira leaves behind. Barrera is dropped deeper, and will be asked to man-mark the opposition left-back. I’ll play by ear what I want my midfield pairing to do in regards to man marking. Graeme Shinnie plays in front of defence, ready to pounce on Porto’s attacking midfielder. Fullbacks will be told to close down more, to limit the winger’s time on the ball, but also will be asked to ease off tackles, so they don’t get left on the floor as the winger speeds past. I will order the opposition wingers to be marked tightly in the opposition instructions screen to prevent my fullbacks from being dragged excessively out of position. I wish I had someone a bit quicker at left-back, but I just don’t think Medina’s good enough defensively at this level. The most important TI is close down much less, as I feel Porto have the players to find and exploit any gaps we might leave when pressing.
Luckily, Porto are using the 4-2-3-1 I prepared for. Unfortunately, Oliver Torres is fit to play, despite being listed injured the previous day.
The first 10 minutes gave me plenty of confidence. Porto controlled the ball, but our defensive structure meant that their possession came in innocuous areas.
It was actually the home side that created the first good chance of the match. Kenny McLean caught Porto’s left-back napping, and played an excellent ball in behind for Jarlan Barrera. Presented with a clear shot on goal, the young Colombian rushed his shot and saw his effort tipped wide by Iker Casillas.
After 20 minutes, I noticed a fundamental flaw in our build up. Our instruction to pass into the space was resulting in far too many slack balls in the midfield. My intention for the instruction was to inspire more long balls to Barrera and GMS in behind, but if we can’t keep the ball for long enough to create these opportunities, then what’s the point. The change instantly gave us far more control. Surprisingly, it was us controlling the match, not the seasoned Champions League side. My fears that by taking the game to Porto would leave us vulnerable on the counter were entire unfounded. Yes, they possessed lots of pace in attack, but rarely did their players try to get up to full speed.
At this point Porto were being reduced to speculative longshots. They had one or two good chances though, Pavon curling a cross into Lewis’ arms from a well worked throw-in routine, and Felipe’s free header from a corner that ended up in the same place.
Meanwhile, we were finally converting our dominance into chances. Gary Mackay-Stevens had the best chance of the first-half, when he was slipped in by Ali Crawford. His shot was tipped over by the experienced Casillas.
Crawford had himself an excellent opportunity, but fired well over from the edge of the box. Kenny McLean also came close, his volley somehow clawed out by Iker ‘fucking’ Casillas yet again.
At half-time I had no concerns. In fact, I was delighted. All our performance was lacking was a goal.
Looking back, it’s fair to say that half-time came too soon for us. We’d bossed the game for the previous 15 minutes. Half-time gave Porto a chance to rethink and regroup, while for us, it killed our momentum.
The first twenty minutes of half-time were cagey. Our control of the game was gone, but Porto didn’t do enough to take control of the game themselves.
After 65 minutes, the game changed. I had singled out Maxi Pereira as a possible weakness, citing his poor pace, positioning, and aggression. I thought GMS’ blistering pace and trickery could cause him serious problems.
And quelle surprise, Porto were down to 10 men.
It’s often said that it’s harder to play against ten men. Before, I would have instantly dismissed this. How could this be the case? But over the last few months, I’ve seen two examples that suggest there might be some logic in this statement. Firstly, when Celtic’s Jozo Simunovic got sent off against Ibrox with the scores tied at 2-2, it seemed as if Rangers could go on and win the game. With 11 men, Celtic felt the need to pin Rangers high up the pitch, playing a possession style. With 10 men, Celtic retreated into their own half. Rangers, whose previous plan focused on catching the hoops on the counter, didn’t know what to do with their new-found possession. As a result, they pushed too many men forward, and got caught on the break, Odsonne Edouard killing any faint hopes of the Ibrox side claiming number 55. Another example came just last month, much closer to home. Gerrard’s Rangers dominated the first 15 minutes at Pittodrie, but soon found themselves reduced to ten men after Alfredo Morelos’ petulant kick at Scott McKenna. Aberdeen, who up to that point were sitting about as deep as the Mariana trench, suddenly found themselves with the ball and without a game plan. They, too, were mercilessly counter-attacked by a well drilled Rangers side. So there’s two real life examples suggesting it may actually be harder to play against ten men. Here’s another from Football Manager.
I switched up to control and flexible, looking to attack more but not leave us more vulnerable on the counter-attack. Porto had sacrificed their attacking midfielder for a right-back, but kept a striker and two wingers high up the pitch.
My new found optimism lasted two minutes. Dutari was out-jumped by Felipe, whose header fell neatly for Erick Guttierez to blast through a sea of bodies and into the net. Shite.
This was nightmare timing for us. Porto now had the incentive to sit back and defend their lead. I moved up to the attack mentality, and changed to some more attacking duties, but we created very little. The only chance I can think of came from a corner, Scott McKenna’s near-post header directed straight at Iker ‘I’m sick of your fucking face’ Casillas.
So no points on the board, but a thoroughly heartening performance. I thought we defended, excellently, largely nullifying the players I highlighted earlier, while creating chances of our own.
Now to get fucked by Bayern.
First, let’s try and find a weakness in Bayern’s team.
Nope. Can’t see one.
Two main weaknesses stood out from watching their 1-1 draw against Liverpool. Firstly, both central midfielders, in that match Vidal and Kimmich, were given freedom to join attacks, leaving a massive gap in the centre of the pitch. I saw Juventus do this against my during my beta save with Fiorentina. I responded by leaving an attacking midfielder with an attack duty in this space to catch Juve on the counter. It worked to great effect there, but I’m not confident enough to leave two central players forward in this game.
While watching Liverpool’s chances, almost all came due to mistakes from the Brazilian right-back Mario Fernandes, either letting players run in behind him, or getting drawn into the midfield. This is just about the only flaw with their backline, so I’ll try to exploit in.
By looking at their passmaps, heat maps, and key passes, it’s clear that Bayern like to hit their wingers early, especially Kingsley Coman on the right-wing.
It’s a very similar set-up to the game against Porto actually. The two fullbacks will be asked to close down their opposing wingers, as the last thing I want is Coman and Insigne running at our defence. I’ll instruct the opposition wingers to be marked tightly on the opposition instruction screen, as I fear that using mark tight PIs will leave them following players into the midfield. Shinnie controls the space infront of the back four, on hand to absolutely half James Rodriguez as soon as he gets on the ball. Barrera sits deeper on the right-hand side and man marks David Alaba. McLean plays a shuttling role, while Crawford looks to exploit any spaces behind the opposition midfield. Scott Wright is pushed right up to exploit any space Mario Fernandes leaves behind. The inside forward role was selected so he would cut inside and pull Mario Fernandes centrally, as I saw Liverpool do to great effect. A support duty was chosen rather than attack as Fernandes offers a very credible attacking threat. If he’s getting too much space, I’ll ask Scott Wright to man mark him. Finally, Rooney is once again chosen as a defensive forward to disrupt the opposition’s build-up. The waste time TI shows how scared I am of Bayern. I’ve added the ‘prevent short keeper distribution’ as I think we can win the physical battle in midfield, if nothing else.
Bayern unsurprisingly dominated possession in the opening quarter of an hour, but unlike Porto, repeatedly got into our box. James Rodriguez fired an early warning shot that was well blocked by Scott McKenna. Müller should have done much better when he found himself in behind our defence, but his delicate shot came off the underside of the bar and came back out. One early change I made was the decision to remove the instruction to mark Insigne tightly in the opposition instruction screen. I thought this would mean that the player nearest Insigne would keep tight to him, but instead the game designated a player, defensive midfielder Shinnie, to mark him. This obviously compromised our defensive shape, so I removed the instruction.
One thing most Football Manager players agree on is that sometimes the flow of the game just changes. In this case, it wasn’t anything I changed, and didn’t be anything the opposition changed either. Either way, after being pinned deep around our own box for half an hour, we suddenly found ourselves further up the field, pushing Bayern back. In fact, the best chance of the first half fell to our side, and Scott Wright. Ali Crawford created space for himself in the ‘golden zone’, which allowed him the time and space to play a cutting through ball behind Joshua Kimmich. Scott Wright found himself face to face with Neuer, but panicked, shooting straight the German international. We were now string passes together with surprising consistency, siphoning the ball into dangerous areas in front of the back four. Ali Crawford was the next to come close, hit shot from range clawed out of the top corner by Neuer.
The first half ended with one more chance for Bayern, Lewandowski jumping above McKenna to direct a header just past the post. It was a sign of things to come.
Perhaps Bayern had taken us lightly in the first half, presuming easy victory, but they started the second half like a freight train. Müller fluffed Bayern’s first clear-cut chance of the game, heading straight at Lewis after being played through by a glorious lobbed chip courtesy of Thiago. Bayern suffocated us during the first ten minutes of the first half, offering us no escape. But occasionally they did leave gaps. Scott Wright found himself one-on-one against Neuer once again, but bottled his effort for the second time that evening. It was a superb counter attacking move, from the hands of Joe Lewis to very nearly the Bayern goal in the space of seconds.
Seconds after were nearly went in front, we found ourselves behind. Considine was caught narrow, leaving a gaping space for Joshua Kimmich, who curled a fantastic ball towards the back post for substitute Kingsley Coman to tap in. After defending so well for an hour, in was so frustrating to be let down by Logan’s lapse of concentration.
I changed the mentality to standard, thinking we had very little to lose, and also pushed the defensive line slightly higher, to stop us from being pinned in. We did create a few opportunities, Crawford shooting wide from outside the box, and Wright denied another one-on-one opportunity by a great David Alaba tackle.
But Bayern were properly dominating now. Lewandowski and Andone both headed efforts over the bar, before Thiago’s curling effort came off the post.
In my last blog, focused on the summer transfer window, I made the perhaps surprising admission that I had little interest in domestic matters over the upcoming season. Group stage football, whatever competition that may be, was my top priority. The reasons are entirely financial. The top clubs in England, Spain, Germany, and Italy can fall back on extravagant TV deals, or foreign investors, but in the rest of Europe, clubs look at European competition to balance the books. In many cases, the consequences of failure are grave. Look at current Scottish Champions Celtic as an example. After being knocked out of the Champions League qualifying rounds by AEK, immediate questions were asked about the club’s short-term financial future, leading to rumours that key players like Olivier Ntcham or Moussa Dembele would be sold to make up losses and fund other transfers. This case study shows the fragility of the European football landscape outside of the big leagues. If Celtic are forced to sell Ntcham or Dembele, then they will struggle to replace them accordingly, making the team weaker, therefore reducing the chances of the team qualifying the next season.
Walter Mischel developed the Marshmallow Test during the 1960s to investigate delay gratification in toddlers. The premise of the experiment was simple. A child would be left with two plates in front of them, one with one marshmallow, and another with two marshmallows. A bell was also placed in front of them. The experimenter made the conditions of the experiment very clear- If they waited for the experimenter to come back (they weren’t told how long they would be away for) they would get the two marshmallows. But, if they gave into temptation, they could ring the bell, bring the experimenter back early, but only get one marshmallow. It aimed to test the children’s ability to resist immediate gratification for long-term gains. Mischel and his team then tracked the children for several decades. Unsurprisingly, those who could resist the lure of the marshmallow for longer generally did ‘better’ in life, earning more money, getting better SAT scores, registering lower BMIs, experienced lower rates of depression and divorce and generally said they felt happier than those who gave into temptation quickly.
Resisting your hot system can earn you sweet treats, but it also helps you resist temptation and make better long-term decisions. The results of the marshmallow test clearly show the benefits of long-term thinking and decision making, which is exactly what I want to be doing in the save.
I’m at an awkward point in the save where my squad is good enough for Scotland but is not ready to qualify for the group stage of the Champions League. The Champions League is the promised land. That’s where the money’s going to come from. But at this point, I don’t think the squad’s strong enough to qualify. Furthermore, with a far smaller budget than Celtic and Rangers, we risk losing our place at the top of Scottish Football, and access to the Champions League at all. So I need to find a balance- Improving the squad without bankrupting the club. If I had to sum it up in one word, it would be ‘sustainability’.
The three-year plan
I like to create ‘3-year plans’. It’s not exactly goals to achieve, but what I expect will happen. I consider three main factors- Budget, transfers, and competitions
The 2018/19 season is simple enough. I have been given a transfer budget of 1.76 million pounds, with an additional 10k p/w on wages. This should be enough for one or two decent transfer fees, plus free transfers and new contracts. In the market, I know I need to replace two departing loanees and have identified one or two weak links in the team. I also know that the team’s age profile is acceptable. Competitions wise my main goal is to qualify for the group stage football in some form, probably Europa League, but the Champions League would be unbelievable. Domestic competitions are not the priority.
So when considering the 2019/20 season, I am assuming I have succeeded in securing group stage football. I, therefore, should have a budget of 3-4 million pounds, plus a larger wage budget. What I am conscious of is that a number of key players (Rooney, Logan, Lewis, Considine) will be approaching or passing 30.
Therefore the majority of the budget will be spent signing young players to replace the aging stalwarts. The ideal age for me to buy would be about 22. What I would like to do going forward is upgrade the bulk of the team every 5-6 seasons. Therefore, by signing 22-year-olds and similar, when I want to replace them, they will be in their prime and be at their maximum transfer value. Again, the main goal will be to secure European Football.
I’m conscious that the rebuild may take more than one window, so the 2020/21 season will look to replace these aging players, as well as look forward to the future and begin extensive youth recruitment. If we’ve achieved our goals over the last two seasons, we should have the budget and reputation to improve facilities and set up a successful recruitment model.
As you can see, the further I look into the season, the more I leave unplanned. This is because there are so many mitigating factors that it will be hard to predict where we are in three years.
But the goals for this window are simple- replace what we have lost, and improve the squad on a budget. The big spending will come in the coming seasons.
I have two priorities when entering a transfer window
Replace what we’ve lost
Improve weak areas
Once I’m happy on these counts, I’ll start looking at improving existing players and signing young players.
Replacing what we’ve lost includes both players joining other clubs, and, in my case this season, loanees returning to their parent clubs. It just makes sense to me that If we’ve got gaps in the team then they should be plugged first. If I was to splurge on some wonderkid out of impulse I risk leaving myself short-changed and unable to replace the departing player.
I then look to improve on weak areas. I could spend big on a star striker to get ten more goals, but if I neglect defensive weaknesses for too long, we’ll suffer when we face better teams in the future. I always look to build a solid team with no obvious weakness before I splurge on some fancy Brazilian teenager.
What is ‘weak’ is up to you. You could judge it on star ratings, average ratings, attributes, or, in my case, stats. For example, I was deeply disappointed with Greg Stewart’s contribution.
A lack of goals and assists was the obvious, surface level problem, but by looking at his stats I notice low key passes, plenty of mistakes, and an awful shots on target ratio. If Greg Stewart wasn’t on loan and leaving at the end of the season anyway, I would certainly have looked to replace him. To make sure I didn’t sign a player with the same problems, I first identified his failings.
My main grievance from watching him was his lack of pace and acceleration. When we broke at speed, he just couldn’t keep up. The shots on target ratio was definitely down to the shoots from distance PPM, which I genuinely despise. I promise never to sign a senior player with this PPM. Call me out if I ever do.
I was also not convinced with my centre-backs. Scott McKenna is a fucking dreamboat, but I couldn’t find him a consistent partner.
Reynolds was too short, with a poor headers won ratio and tackle success ratio. Arnason stats suggest he was solid enough, but he was far too slow, and anyway, announced that he was to retire at the end of the season. O’Connor’s stats are impressive, but he didn’t really stand out, and 8 acceleration, paired with McKenna’s 10, meant that the duo was often exploited over the top.
Long story short, my main issue was that I lacked a centre-back who was both fast and strong.
But perhaps I had the answer right in front of me? Andrew Considine played the majority of his career at centre-back, but has been forced out to the left in recent seasons. He has the physical attributes I want, plus recorded decent stats (I’m hoping low tackle success was due to facing quick wingers). Another issue I noted was a lack of attacking threat from our fullbacks. By moving Considine central, I open the left-back position to bring a new player in. I wasn’t entirely happy with right-back Shay Logan either, but I’ve already identified a target who we could sign next summer, so that can wait.
So the targets are, in order of importance:
Replace Ryan Christie
Replace and improve on Greg Stewart
Sign an attacking left-back
Sign another centre-back
Back up right-back, right midfield, attacking midfield, and central midfield (loans?)
Look towards the future
The majority of free departures we youth players who never looked like making the grade, the most notable probably Connor McLennan. Kari Arnason retired at the age of 35 and has become an assistant manager (shite). After a grand total of one competitive game last season, Nicky Maynard was released and has since joined Bristol Rovers. Finally, Craig Storie was released as at 22 I didn’t feel confident putting him in the first team, and any chance of him developing was fading fast.
The only cash sale was Mark Reynolds, who joined Millwall for £525k, rising to £650k. With Considine moving to the centre and another centre-back joining, that left me with one centre-back too many. Mark Reynolds was sacrificed due to his age, poor performances, and surprisingly high value. I am absolutely delighted to get in excess of half a million for a 31-year-old, especially one who was not important to the first team. As he was a team leader, I was concerned that I may have caused a revolt when Joe Lewis came complaining about selling a senior player. Luckily, he was similarly satisfied that Mark Reynolds wasn’t good enough for the first team. Incidentally, Kenny McLean stepped up to become a team leader in Mark’s absence.
Transfers in (the exciting bit)
Charlie Todd- Tweedmouth Rangers(free)
I found this lad while flicking through the various divisions’ media dream teams. As a 15 year old goalkeeper, he stood out like a sore thumb. His attributes were hidden from me but when I saw that Rangers were interested I knew that there was something about this kid. He comes is with the magical 5* potential alongside some very solid attributes. Like most regen ‘keepers, he has a few weak points (first touch, one-on-ones, and anticipation), but at 15 he has a lot of time to develop. Determination and personality are middle of the road but I will get him tutored by Danny Rogers. My only real concern about this move is that we now have Mair, Main, and now Todd competing for one position in the youth team.
Jonjoe Kenny- Everton (loan)
JonJoe Kenny returns on loan from Everton after a very solid first season. While his attacking threat is limited, he is very solid defensively and will provide reliable back up to Shay Logan. No loan fee, but we are paying all of his £2.5k weekly wage.
Francisco Dutari- Guillermo Brown (pre-contract)
Let’s just get the elephant out of the room- Francisco Dutari is 30. The plan is for him to help us achieve group stage football for the next two years, at which point we will have the funds to replace him. Age aside, Dutari is an excellent free signing. His jumping reach is somewhat low, but at 6’1″ and with 13 strength this shouldn’t be an issue. He also fits my demands for a centre-back who is both fast and strong. Mentally he is very consistent, with no glaring weakness. Technically, his defensive attributes (tackling, marking, and heading) are excellent while other attributes such as technique, passing, and first touch are precisely what I want for a centre-back in my possession orientated system. Free transfer as previously mentioned, but very reasonable wages at £2.6k per week plus a decent potential sell-on value.
Jonathan Medina- Gimnasia y Tiro (pre-contract)
Ugghhh, least favourite signing by far. I just feel that I could have signed someone better and younger if I’d been more patient. I basically just rushed into signing the first decent attacking left-back available. His dribbling is awful, his mentals mediocre, and he hardly fits my AberDNA. I’m sure he’ll do bits in Scotland but I’m not sure I want to try him in Europe. Genuinely might try to replace him as early as next season.
Jeff Reine-Adelaide- Arsenal (loan)
In a similar vein to JonJoe Kenny, Jeff Reine-Adelaide was signed after playing a successful supporting role last season.
Jarlan Barrera- Junior (£350k)
Absolutely delighted with this signing. Admittedly, I complained at large about Greg Stewart’s lack of pace, only to sign someone who’s barely any faster. But ultimately I feel Jarlan Barrera is a far better player. Those four technical attributes (crossing, dribbling, finishing, and first touch) give me confidence that he’ll be far more productive than Greg Stewart (I don’t want to spoil the next blog, but I dare say I was correct with this prediction). Jarlan fits my transfer strategy perfectly. Signed for relatively little (although he is our highest earner by far), he will excel for us, and when it’s time to replace him in four or five years, he’ll be right in his prime so we can get maximum value for him.
Nicky McDonald- Ross County (£500k compensation)
Yes, he’s really 15. Nicky McDonald is one of those regens you see lucky gits get on Twitter/Reddit who are generated at a first-team level. It was a long courting process, with plenty of rejected contracts (he insisted on being a key player), but we eventually got our man. I was going to say something about his mental and technical and mental attributes being solid but unremarkable before I remembered- HE IS 15 YEARS OLD. Plus, with an ambitious personality, and regular first-team minutes, he can only get better. My only concern is a £2.5 million release clause imposed by his agent. He’s on a youth contract until 2019, so we’re safe for the time being, but as soon as he turns pro removing that release clause will be a top priority. Even in a worse case scenario where the clause gets met before we can remove it, we will stand to make our investment back five times over. Best case scenario? We’re in the money.
Ali Crawford- Hamilton Academical (pre-contract)
Say hello to Ryan Christie’s replacement. The player of the year winner was always going to replace, and I soon had to come to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to be able to find a carbon copy in terms of attributes and PPMs. What I did was consider the attributes that made Christie so unstoppable, and try to find someone who rated well in these attributes. These attributes were: Dribbling, finishing, first touch, passing, technique, composure, decisions, flair, off the ball, teamwork, vision, acceleration, agility, balance, and pace. Initially, I was worried that my replacement wasn’t going to have the save PPMs as Ryan Christie (Plays one-twos, runs with ball through centre, and dictates tempo), but now I see it as a chance to reinvent our attack. My favourite of his PPMs is ‘Tries long range passes’, as I’ve seen him switch the play on several occasions.
Harry Wilson- Liverpool (loan)
The final transfer sees youngster Harry Wilson on loan. After Stevie May was ruled out for two months with injury, I needed another striker to act as backup for Adam Rooney. In fact, I had had my eyes on Harry Wilson as a possible Christie replacement, before deciding to go for Ali Crawford. He offers fantastic depth up front or in any of the three positions behind the striker. His attributes are actually excellent, and in a similar mold to Ryan Christie.
Overall? I’m very pleased with the window. I think I’ve recruited well, and improved the overall quality of the team.
Creating an age profile also helps streamline recruitment. I can immediately see that I will need a centre-back (maybe two), right-back and a striker in the near future. Greg Tansey is also aging but I have Dean Campbell coming through. I can also see that my central midfielders and central defenders, in general, are getting on so I should start getting a vague database of possible players.