Hello, and welcome back to Football Manager Ambition.
I don't know how the rest of you feel, but my current FM save feels like it's speeding up. It's like I'm trying to find more time to play more matches and accelerate toward my ambition before FM19 comes out! Anyway, there's plenty to talk about for FM18 yet, but we'll start off as usual with...
GREAT FOOTBALL MANAGER QUOTES
"If history repeats itself, I should think we can expect the same thing again." ~Terry Venables.
Well, I've reached the end of the January transfer window, 2027-28 on my save, and it does feel a bit like Groundhog Day. For those of you who have followed previous blog posts, you'll no doubt have a chuckle when I tell you that it's been a winter of discontent as I have yet again failed to sign world class midfielder Shane Fuller from Chelsea.
It just doesn't matter how much money I throw at them, they're not budging. Sigh. Nevertheless, I did manage to end up spending more than any other club in the window...
How did that happen, when I can't even land my numero uno target?
Hunter came in as my new second-choice keeper, and he'll definitely give my first choice Gabi Bonner a run for his money. Goodwin and Harrison came in to replace the outgoing, ageing, Eric Dier and Harry Winks. It's my policy to try to move on ageing players while I can still get a fee, rather than let them run down their contracts because of warm fuzzy feelings of loyalty. This is business. Connor Willet came in, similarly, to replace Kyle Walker-Peters. I didn't really need another striker, but George Gascoigne was available at a knock down price that was too good to say no.
£110 million brought in through sales and loan fees, and my squad is stronger than it was before. It means I've still got loads of unspent cash in the kitty, for that day when Chelsea finally accept an offer for Fuller. I can hope. More to the point, I'm doing great on FFP now, having got rid of some of those doddery old big-earners!
On the pitch, things aren't too bad. Crashing out of the League Cup to Chelsea was disappointing, but the board don't see that competition as important, so it wasn't too damaging. Also, the early defeats to Man U and Atletico burned somewhat. But I'm still in with a good shout of retaining the Premier League, and progressing nicely in the Champions League.
What does the future hold for the rest of the season? Well, my attention is drawn to a tasty fixture against Man City on 18th March, which will probably determine whether I retain the league title.
I'll let you know how I get on.
TRICKS OF THE TRADE
Something some FM gamers might not pay a lot of attention to. Depending on the status of your club within the footballing world you may find it easy or difficult to find good staff, but one thing is for sure; the more you progress and achieve success, the easier it becomes. When I go to a staff search screen these days (season 2027-28) I can easily locate high quality staff who are unemployed, or are nearing the end of their current contracts. Now, if you can tie your staff down to long-term, well-paid contracts, and you start to achieve success, you can expect at some point a bigger club to poach your better staff away, giving you a nice profit in terms of the compensation fee. Then you can dip into the staff market and pick up an unemployed replacement for free. It's something that can make a huge difference to your finances at a smaller club. I always consider the financial impact of everything I do in the game.
TACTICS SCHOOL: FORMATIONS
I would imagine that for most FM gamers, your first decision when it comes to tactics is what formation to use. But it's worth bearing in mind that the formation does not operate in a vacuum - it's not a separate tactical entity that you can just graft team instructions onto. Team instructions and style of play affect your the effectiveness of your formation. FM18 actually does a pretty good job of reflecting the dilemmas this can create. Have a look at the two screenshots below from my save:
Okay, so in the screenshot above, we see advice saying I'm not exploiting the attacking midfield area; I don't have anyone playing in the AMC position, and two of my three central midfielders play deep. There is indeed an attacking potential in the role of the BWM, and you would think in a tactic like mine, which presses high up the pitch, that I might want to utilise that. However, there are other things to consider, including what you can see below:
There are also issues with the defensive midfield area of the pitch, although my BWM mitigates the vulnerability there somewhat. But he can't be everywhere at once, can he?
This dilemma is at the heart of all decisions about formations, both in Football Manager and in real life. And if you're not switched on the fundamental problem - that you can't deploy a player in every area of the pitch when you've only got ten outfield players - you're going to have problems.
Many years ago, I was player-manager of a pretty poor Sunday league side. One match, we played a ringer - someone I knew who usually played to a much higher standard. As I was giving my pre-match team talk, I explained to the lads how we were going to operate; using the 4-4-2 we'd been using all season, but I, playing on the left of midfield, would be pushing forward to support the attack a LOT, seeing as we'd got our superstar ringer in central midfield. Our ringer burst out laughing, and said, "So it's 4-3-3 then."
No, mate. It wasn't 4-3-3. It was 4-4-2 with a bit of fluidity. He was a great player, but he hadn't got a clue about tactics.
There numbers we use to describe formations; 4-4-2, 5-3-2, etc, don't necessarily really reflect what's going on in a match. How many times have you heard TV pundits debate whether a team playing with three DCs is three at the back or five at the back? Even the experienced pros struggle with it.
The key to understanding this is to realise that you will always be playing with two formations: the formation you have when you defend / lose possession, and the formation you have when you are attacking / have possession. Fortunately, Football Manager lets you handle this with player instructions.
The fullback position is one where player instructions can massively affect your 'real' shape on the pitch. By choosing an 'automatic' duty, your fullbacks will behave differently - get forward more or less often - depending on your team instructions. You can also do that in central midfield, if you give a player the basic 'central midfielder' role (the preset roles do not allow an 'automatic' duty).
Something else you can use to change your shape is the 'roam from position' instruction. Used wisely, this can be a great attacking tool.
So, if you can't always have a player in every part of the pitch, how can you capitalise on your strengths, and mitigate your weaknesses? There are probably as many answers to that question as there are football managers, but here's how I went about choosing my formation.
I wanted to be hard to beat, and to be able to score goals from different positions around the pitch, not just over-relying on strikers. How to do this?
BEING HARD TO BEAT.
You can do that by playing extremely defensively, by putting five (or more) players in defensive roles, and parking the bus. The problem here is you sacrifice attacking impetus, and actually make it harder to win games. For me, a better option was to make attack my best form of defence. How do you do that? Well, if you just overload the attacking areas of the pitch with your formation, it might work, but you've now got the opposite problem: you're sacrificing defensive stability, making it more likely to concede goals. What's the answer to this dilemma? I decided the answer was to keep possession of the ball as much as possible, and attack with unpredictability.
Most FM gamers, if selecting a strategy of keeping possession, will obviously use the 'retain possession' team instruction, use shorter passing, and probably a lower tempo. All very sensible and correct. But many, for some reason, also select defending deep, keeping defensive shape, and standing off the opposition. I think this is an error. I think part of retaining possession involves winning it back quickly on the occasions you lose it. This means pressing the opposition (closing down), and forcing errors. This in turn means pressing high up the pitch, and to do that properly, you've got to have players in forward positions.
So, does this mean you play two up front? Depends on what you want to do in midfield, because if you want to retain possession, you're going to have to flood midfield. So if you're playing two strikers, and putting, say, five in midfield, that leaves you thee at the back, which poses difficult questions about the fullback areas.
I knew that to retain possession, I needed three players in the centre of midfield. If I wanted to press high up, that also meant I needed to employ at least three forwards. What did this mean for the wide areas in midfield, though? I could push the fullbacks forward into midfield, but that would leave me with just two at the back quite often. So, I had to be careful about how often, and exactly when, I let the fullbacks go. I didn't want to sacrifice anything in wide areas, and I knew that pressing high up would almost never be about stopping opposition centrebacks pushing forward; it would be about limiting the opportunities for opposition fullbacks / wingbacks, or exploiting the space in those areas. So, I would play with one central striker, and two wide forwards.
Having three up front meant I wouldn't have to let all my midfielders charge forward in attack. I would opt for a BWM to mitigate against counter-attacks should my attacking fullbacks get caught out. I'd also have a deep-lying playmaker who would add to the caution in the centre of the park. The other man in the middle would be a box-to-box player, supporting both attack and defence.
Wide attackers (wingers) are actually counted as midfielders in FM. And fullbacks who attack also support the midfield. With three central midfielders, this would mean at times that I had seven in midfield; the perfect midfield overload for a possession based game. But how to turn this into a useful attack?
My aim, as I said earlier, was to be unpredictable in attack. It is also my philosophy that my opposition should be worrying about me - not the other way around.
With a good quality box-to-box midfielder, you already have some unpredictability in attack; late runs from midfield. I also gave my wide attackers Inside Forward roles, playing a left-footer on the right, and vice-versa, with these instructions:
Note that when we lose possession, the IF is instructed to close down much more, and to deal with his opposition fullback. In possession, he moves inside, and roams, as well as gets forward.
I also gave my deep lying playmaker a support rather than defend duty, meaning that although he'll never abdicate midfield, he will sometimes carry the ball forward, or move up behind possession.
I gave my lone striker the role and duty of Complete Forward (support). This means he will roam from position, and occasionally drop into midfield, flooding that area even more.
With three central midfielders, two wide men cutting in, and a forward dropping deep, that is a lot of unpredictability going forward. But where this formation really comes into its own is the way it drags opposition players around the pitch. I play with a short passing, possession focused system, flooding the middle of the park. So you'd expect me to instruct the team to 'exploit the middle'. No, my friend. Get this:
That's right - I instruct to exploit the flanks, even though it looks like I've got everyone moving to the middle of the park. This is where the fullbacks (usually on automatic or support duty) come into their own, on the back of the 'look for the overlap' team instruction.
My players knock the ball around the middle of the park in intricate little patterns, with players roaming in and out of position, sometimes with six players involved (three central midfielders, two inside forwards, and the striker), dragging opposition players into central areas... then PING! The ball gets spanked out into acres of space on the wing for an onrushing fullback, who plays in a low, hard cross, for someone to score at the near post. I score countless goals like this. The off-the-ball movements, and careful passing in possession, coupled with a lot of closing down out of possession leaves the opposition asking all kinds of questions, and struggling to find the answers. It's how I keep winning trophies, season after season. And it works because it obeys one simple rule: The FORMATION suits the STRATEGY.
Thanks for stopping by, I'll see you soon.