Welcome back to Football Manager Ambition. It's been a tricky season, and now, I guess, I've created a rod for my own back.
I've added some significant silverware to the trophy cabinet, and had some major success in the league, as you will see. But I've also been turned down by Man City, Arsenal and Tottenham. Where does this leave me in terms of achieving my crazy ambition?
Well, at Aston Villa, I now have two domestic trophies in two seasons, I have stunningly over-achieved in the league, and attendances are averaging around the 40,000 mark and are sure to increase, as big matches have been selling out. The board have just sanctioned a £27 million stadium expansion.
It looks as though instead of moving on to a big club, I've turned Villa into a big club. This has been a somewhat unexpected development. But I'm now in the realm of attracting top players, and competing with the elite. It's a step toward the ambition. So here is the dilemma: Do I continue applying for jobs at bigger clubs, all the while not really pressing Villa forward to my ambition's end? Or do I settle at Villa, and use the club to achieve my ambition?
With the work I've done so far, I think I know the answer. For me to move clubs now, it would take a phenomenal opportunity. So, let's get on with Aton Villa!
In today's blog, as well as our usual regular features, I'll be talking about tactics in light of a discussion about how to break down packed defences. But for now, let's have one of our...
As I mentioned at the top, I've had some major success in the league, and added some significant silverware. Let's take a look at the results for season 2023/24.
As usual, I played a large number of pre-season friendlies, against clubs of varying stature, before heading into the league campaign and remaining unbeaten through August despite tough matches against Liverpool, Man City, and the previous season's over-achievers, West Ham. So far, so good.
Throughout the autumn, I began to realise my players had clicked with my tactics. I was controlling games, and proving very difficult for anyone to beat. Big wins against Leicester and Palace - two teams who have been known to cause me problems - were enjoyable, but the 3-1 win over Arsenal was extremely satisfying. At the end of autumn, I was the only unbeaten team in the Premier League.
Results through Winter were a bit more mixed. The first defeat finally came, disappointingly - to an average Newcastle side. The League Cup loss to West Ham was also annoying, as they were struggling this time around. But at least I had this:
I was optimistic going into the business end of the season. Flying high in the league, difficult to beat, no European competition to clog up the fixture list... I doubted I could hold on to top spot in the league, but maybe, just maybe, I could qualify for the Champions Cup?
I took 3 points from Manchester United, and had an impressive win over Chelsea, although Arsenal got their revenge over me in a 4-0 drubbing. To be fair, I played back up players in that match. Why? Because by that point I had clinched 3rd place in the league, with 2nd place definitely out of reach. And... I had the FA Cup final on the horizon!
What a journey with Villa! From taking them over with the brief of avoiding relegation, the club has now been transformed!
To summarise, then...
I'm satisfied with that.
I had some amazing results over the season, so there's a lot to choose from. The FA Cup final against a Barnsley side who just parked the bus was a bit underwhelming in terms of spectacle, so for the match of the blog, I'm going for the drubbing of Leicester...
By the end of the season, my job status with the board was untouchable. As you can see from the shot below, I had applied for the Man City job, but was unsuccessful. Well, those top teams are going to get knocked off their perches in the next few seasons. Just watch my Villa team go.
Typically, the chairman has to find something to moan about, but I stick by my decision to field the reserve players in that ill-fated Arsenal match. My players needed a rest, and the fixture was a dead rubber. Still, confidence in me is high, so it's all looking good. Plus, the board continue to sanction my requests for improvements...
Business has been done... How much of it was truly successful, however, I'm not sure this time.
The goalkeeper Onana was bought after Timo Horn became unhappy on the back of a bid from Man U which I refused. Eventually, I had to get rid of Horn because of dressing room disruption, but he ended up at City. Similarly, the leftback Arana was brought in to replace Ben Davies, who also left for Man U. Mason Mount was an error of judgement on my part. He wasn't good enough, and has now departed.
The young striker Falcao is an excellent, if injury prone, striker, who I will make a serious profit on at some stage. At the time of writing, he's unhappy because he wants a new contract. He won't get it.
As for the others, Stengs has underperformed, and Cragno was signed as second choice keeper after the departure of the unhappy Freddie Woodman. Jonjoe Kenny did play an active part in the campaign, and has proved to be a good buy. The others aren't really worth talking about.
Net Spend: £28M
I've been taking part in a really interesting discussion on a Sports Interactive forum. The original post in the thread was a question from a gamer who wanted advice on breaking down packed defences. He was managing Bayern with access to some world class players, but clearly had some concerns. After some discussion, he posted a screenshot of his revised tactics:
My reaction was that he was going to get regularly caught out on the break, and so I posted this:
As the discussion progressed, one contributor asked me to elaborate on my tactical approach, as I had been pointing out how well it works for me. So, for your pleasure, here is how I explained my tactical approach on Football Manager...
To try to sum up my approach, I believe in keeping a lot of possession, but not to the extent that you don't make attempts on goal. Obviously, every time you cross, through ball, or shoot, you risk losing possession and getting hit on the counter, so there's a balance to be struck. I find the 55%-60% possession level allows me to really frustrate opponents, while still getting plenty of attacks in.
I like to confuse opposition by having a very fluid style of play. My Complete Forward and Inside Forwards have licence to roam. I play a left-footed IF on the right wing, and vice-versa, which encourages roaming and cutting in. By definition, the box-to-box midfielder roams, too. Also, my fullbacks are hugely important to attack, but I put them on support rather than attack duty, as I want them to spring into space rather than take opponents on with a dribble. (As far as I'm concerned, if a fullback is dribbling and gets tackled, they have failed to do their job properly. This is taken directly from a rule I had when managing a Sunday League side IRL; fullbacks were not allowed to attempt to dribble past opponents; it's too risky. I like my team to keep the ball moving.)
I digress... In attack, I generally have one or two fullbacks, a box-to-box midfielder, two IFs and my striker; 5 or six men forward. My BWM holds the centre of the park, and generally mops up panicked clearances from the opposition when a move breaks down. My DLP supports play, but I expect him to always be behind the ball, rather than running on ahead. A DLP with great positional sense and a support mentality usually accomplishes this.
In my usual slow build up, I have two fullbacks supporting midfield from deep, three men in centre midfield, the IFs cutting in and roaming, and the CF dropping deep and roaming. It sometimes means I have up to 8 men in midfield, keeping the ball and making the opposition chase shadows. A common outcome is play is concentrated in midfield, drawing opponents out of position, and then the ball gets slapped out wide to one of my onrushing fullbacks who now has acres of space to cross in.
My central defenders and BWM (and to a lesser extent the DLP) form the structured spine of the team.
I only ever play with the one formation. I have three tactics, but they all have the same formation and player roles; I just ever so slightly tweak mentality and instructions. My main tactic, Control the Game, is currently played with a 'balanced' mentality (I tried positive for a while, but it didn't quite yield the results). My Go For It version is played with a 'very attacking' mentality, and my Park the Bus version is played with a 'very defensive' mentality.
When I lose possession, I like to press and win it back quickly, either high up the pitch or by mopping up long, panicked clearances. This is why my forwards are maxed out for closing down.
For opposition instructions, I base them on opposition positions, rather than individual players; the point is that regardless of how good my opponents might be, I want to handle them by making them play into my hands, not just by nullifying them. There's a difference. So I instruct to max pressing intensity and show onto weaker foot for the following positions: DR, DL, (C)WBR, (C)WBL, DM (central only), MR, ML, all AM positions, and all Strikers. That's it. I think if you try to constantly press ALL positions, you lose your way. My plan is to make opponents drive the ball infield where I dominate, or give it away in a panic. Or both.
I never play with 'between the lines' positions, and I also keep to very basic, player roles. You'll never see me use a false 9, a Mez, an inverted fullback or a segundo volante, for example. Over the years, I've developed this formation and style using basic roles, support duties, and possession play that without fail gets my team performing way over expectations. It doesn't mean anyone else's way is wrong; just that this system works brilliantly for me.
Here's the tactics I use:
As you can see, three tactics all using the same formation, just slight tweaks to use in different circumstances. Below, you'll see a slideshow of player instructions as used in my main, balanced mentality tactic.
I wouldn't be me if I didn't make observations about the annoyances and absurdities within Football Manager...
Take this, for example...
I had agreed a loan deal for this player, and also offered him a new contract while waiting for the loan deal to go through. And because he signed a new contract, the loan deal was cancelled? Why? It's daft.
And then this:
Jarvis is a great prospect, but I couldn't give him first team football. I wanted to loan him out, but he became unhappy as a result. We had a chat, in which he said he'd rather stay here. I agreed to it. I liked his ambition. But when I agreed to his request to stay, he responded with this:
Player interactions on the game are becoming a real problem, and can undo hard work done by managers. SI need to sort this nonsense out. I'm not going to post it on the bugs forum, because their response to it will be to ask for a save to be uploaded. No. Go and revisit the whole interaction module, please. Loads of people are posting about interactions on the forum. This part of the game is broken, I'm afraid.
So, where am I now in terms of achieving the stated ambition? Here's the updated checklist...
As I mentioned earlier, I have now transformed Aston Villa into a major club. The next step is to create an English player bias in the squad. So far, it's like this:
I don't think the squad is going to be good enough to win the Premier League or Champions League yet, so my targets for the next season are to again finish in the top four, and to again win either the League Cup or FA Cup. We'll see.
Okay, that's all for this time. Thanks for stopping by. Until next time, may your game never crash unsaved!