If there’s one thing Football Manager players always moan about, it’s conceding soft goals. My personal experience has been largely similar; at times, it’s felt like whatever risks I have taken, to enable my team to dominate possession and attack, have always been exploited by the opposition. However, recently things have taken a turn for the better.
This achievement means that my team had 10 clean sheets in a row. Currently, the run stands at 13. Obviously, it’s bound to stop soon, once the opposition find ways to counter my team and their tactics, but it’s time to explore some of the strategic changes which contributed to this run.
- Don’t over-compensate to achieve your desired playing style
By this, I mean have players predominantly dedicated to keeping your defensive shape intact. Have others building your attacking moves. If you like building your midfield around playmakers, having some deep-lying playmakers on defend is something to consider, as is using the covering duty for ball-playing defenders. These types of players will allow you to build a swivelling defensive shape that has players covering anyone who ventures forward.
Try to keep five of your players dedicated to building attacking moves, and five covering. It creates the perfect balance.
This is my adaptation. The covering ball-playing defenders ensure that through balls and passes hit to the channels are snuffed out, while the deep-lying playmakers cover the wing-backs, trequartista’s, or both, when they’re caught out of position.
Ultimately, these two players are only able to cover the four others because the formation is relatively defensive, and the pressing settings are extremely aggressive. If you wanted more out-and-out attackers to start attacking moves, you’d be best advised to cover the wide areas even more and go with roles that complement a more direct tactic.
- Don’t leave wide areas too open
This needs to be emphasised for wide areas, more so than others. The reason? DISCIPLINE. If a player, whether it’s a full-back or someone else covering, is too late getting to grips with the opposition winger, what happens? Without doubt, a hacking down, a booking; taking one for the team. The opposition will then try to get that player sent off, and even if your player is given more protection, the opposition are left with far more space than they’d otherwise have.
Furthermore, relying on wide areas too much in an attacking perspective is problematic. If wingers or wing-backs are set to go down the line too often, they’ll inevitably lose the ball more through unsuccessful dribbles and crosses. If they’re set to come inside too much, they might leave space out wide if the ball is lost. The best way to not rely on the wide men to hug the touchline by themselves is by utilising their movement and quickness on the overlap, when the space has already been created by other players.
My wing-backs are not picked by how comfortable they traditionally are in that position. They’re meant to be equipped to cover the entire flank when needed. I always try to pick the best naturally left-sided player at left wing-back, and the best naturally right-sided player at right wing-back. Preferably, the wing-back is able to play well at wide midfield on the same side. That gives them the best chance of being able to cover as many phases of the game as possible; spotting danger and opportunity the entire time.
- Preferably play with one striker
This seems like a blanket statement but hear me out. If you play with a structured team shape, as I do, then the strikers tend to stay upfield when you lose the ball. Many variations of two or more strikers work well, but forwards in FM18 don’t precisely replicate real life; that’s why the nearest equivalent of a wide forward is a wide attacking midfielder, and the closest thing to a striker who drops into midfield is an attacking midfielder in an aggressive role.
The plethora of roles are mostly variations of what the striker does on the ball. If you have a striker with a PPM of ‘likes to break offside trap’, that’s exactly what they’ll do off the ball. Even if you play them at false nine. In other words, there’s no such thing as a ‘half striker’. The more players you commit to staying forward during the opposition’s attacks, the less margin for error there is by any other player.
- Spend time setting up set pieces
For some reason, so many managers don’t bother doing this. It’s like playing a chess game without paying attention to where the knights are. Set pieces are scored less in FM18 than real life, but they can still define a game, independently of your strategy in open play. It’s doubly important to get them right when you want to cover every threat the opposition might pose. In addition, it’s a cromulent goal source when five of your players are primarily committed to maintaining the defensive shape. It’s harder to keep this strategy up when going behind, so conceding through a set piece is like giving the opposition a charity donation for all their pain and suffering up to that point.
When setting set pieces up, it’s important to keep in mind what the game expects you to do. The most common area for corner deliveries is apparently the six-yard box; when defending corners, I have five in a line defending that area zonally.
On my attacking corners tactic, the six-yard box near the goal is loaded because the players set to ‘go forward’ simply find space to drop off in and collect possession. That much is clear from the description accompanying the instruction to aim deliveries towards the penalty spot.
Free kicks are simpler, because there are so few instructions available for attacking and defending them. However, having enough men to make the most of any situation that might arise in either penalty area is a possible way of maximising your chances. Never said it had to be sophisticated.
Neither team can hold a high line or instruct their defensive line at all; situations in the opposition penalty box are what you’re hoping your team can create. Hopefully, if enough opposition players are occupied, your best player might be able to win the header. By the way, avoid letting the opposition do any of this. Having a tall, heavy team helps.
Throw-ins are also important. While being counter-attacked is more common than with other set-pieces, it’s not difficult to indirectly create goal-scoring opportunities with enough players looking for spaces in and around the area.
This routine also moves the opposition defensive line deeper. As with the corner tactic, the players set to go forward are looking for space to drop off into. Only the central defender attacking the near post is looking to score. If the first ball lands to one of your own players in the opposition penalty box, he’s lost his marker. There are so many other players waiting to pounce that the opposition are trying to re-adjust as if they’re a drain about to explode. Keeping two outfield players back helps if the opposition do manage to break away, though.
- Be flexible about players’ positions, so the perfect player can be picked for every role.
This is essentially an extension of how I pick wing-backs. For every position, I think about what the player will be required to do and who the most comfortable players are at doing that. I try to pick the best 11 players, if possible. Playing natural DM’s or even CM’s as ball-playing defenders is common; if they’re brave on and off the ball, they’re likely to be used to snuffing out opposition counter-attacks and building our own attacks from deep.
On the other end of the spectrum, I commonly play natural strikers as trequartista’s in an attacking midfield position. Trequartista’s are used to finding space off the ball, rather than sitting deep, and making the most of any opportunity they catch in an advanced position. Flair is imperative for these players, who can turn our attack into a front three when we have the ball. The trequartista’s are only playing as attacking midfielders, instead of strikers, so possession is lost less, and more men close the opposition midfield down.
Of course, this is just a summary of the most essential points specific to keeping clean sheets. I haven’t even touched upon other features of my tactic, my training, how I interact with players, or how I scout them. These invaluable parts of the game will also define your success at achieving any goal. Below is a summary of our team statistics over the course of the season, to shed some light on what you might expect with this approach.
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