Hammer and Anvil -Guardiola Masterclass – Guide to Creating Overloads in FM19

There seem to exist many misconceptions out there about what exactly it means to overload in football and how to create overloads within football manager tactical engine. This article is meant to be an easy to follow, step-by-step guide on how to successfully create overloads with any team and at any level. It does not present an exploit win-all plug-in tactic but it should hopefully make scoring goals, and winning, more consistent for your club.

What is Overload?

In football, an overload can be defined as the intentional tactical ploy used by an attacker to force the opponent to over-commit more players on one side (hence overloading that side) while at the same time leaving his other flank or central area more open to be exploited by the attacker. This way dangerous 1v1 or even 2v1 situations can be created on the exposed flank.

Essentially any situation where more players than usual penetrate a zone, can be called an overload. Thus flanks are often used as the usual zones for overloading by wide players and central players moving wide. In response to this threat, the defending manager has no choice but to react by directing more players into the area or allow the attacker to outnumber them in this zone. If they let the opponent’s central midfielder drift wide unmarked, his presence with both the winger and the full-back will create a three-on-two out wide, putting a lot of pressure on the defender’s wide players which could lead to a goal. Or they could tell their own central midfielder or defensive midfielder to move wide so as to prevent the opponent in getting numerical advantage there. Albeit at the expanse of leaving space in the center of the pitch for wingers or onrushing midfielders to exploit. No matter how the opponent reacts, you will be causing a lot of trouble for them the moment you decide to overload one flank. So far so good?

There is more to it though. The other, and by far the more dangerous, aspect of overloads lies in how you decided to take advantage of the space that is invariably freed up in the middle and on the opposite flank from the overloaded one. The careful use of roles and player instructions is essential here and makes all the difference between unlocking the opponent’s weaker flank or conceding an important goal during their counter-attack.

Effective overloads are not as simple as putting all your players on one side of the field and hoping that it will attract the opposing team there and leave them wide open elsewhere. If not done correctly, the opponent might just think you are being barmy, see your attempt to overload them for a feint that it is, and instead hit you hard on your own exposed center or flank. In reality, as well as in Football Manager, you need to convince the opposition of the seriousness of your threat to force them reallocate players there.

How to overload? – A Three Pronged Assault Method

A threatening overload can be created via three principal methods. Alone, none of them are guaranteed to shift your opponent’s attention to one flank but a combination of two or all three should effectively lead to an overload. Here is how.

1)Using Specific Roles

Concentrating playmaker roles to draw the ball and other more cautious supporting roles to tie up the opponent on one side of the field is one important way to create overloads. In on itself it can be effective in bogging the opponent down on one side of the field, but without dynamic attacking options and runners on the opposite flank it can be more of a hindrance than help. So when you decide to go with the strategy of using roles to create overloads, make sure that you put at least one role with an attacking duty on the flank which you want “unlocked” (the one opposite from the overloaded side). This can either be a raumdeuter, poacher or a winger. Those are just examples, as there are several options here as long as you choose a role that directs the player to go forward, actively looking for free space from which to attack the goal. Even a more creative role such as a trequartista or inside forward (attack) could theoretically work here.

I chose a raumdeuter for my own experiment, because it is the original “space investigator” role, made famous by Bayern’s Thomas Muller and as such is hardcoded to roam around in the half-spaces and take advantage of overloads. Bayern’s tactical system has been made famous in how it utilized inverted wingbacks and wingers to create overloads and unlock defences.

Under Guardiola, Bayern’s Lewandowksi, Lahm, Boateng and Muller would overload one flank, allowing another player, a winger (usually Costa due to his power and speed) a clear 1v1 on the other flank, potentially leading to a scoring opportunity or a good cross.

Overloading is a common strategy for big sides like Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Napoli, who are usually a favoured side and thus need to find creative ways to play through the low defensive blocks, parked buses, used by most other clubs they face in the league. Pep Guardiola pioneered the strategy of shifting the opponent’s defensive block during his time with Bayern, mostly through the smart use of roles rather than intentional asymmetric formations. A practice he took with him to Manchester City where it allowed him to win two league titles and three league cups so far.

Pep Guardiola – The Grand Master of Overloads

2) Using Asymmetry

On its own the use of an asymmetric formation might not guarantee an effective overload. Yet I have found that when coupled with the above-mentioned ball-magnet and support-focused roles, the tactical shape you use can aid in shifting the defensive block to the side of your choosing. You do not need to make drastic changes or form completely unbalanced formations. I often see the so-called Plug-and-Play tactics where the creator positions the majority of their team towards one flank with only one lonely attacking winger or wingback on the other flank. At first it might seem like a clever exploit but it will not actually work at all. If anything it will make your defence more exposed and help you to leak a lot of goals, not to score them. The formation you create still needs to be balanced and realistic without being too wild. Some slight asymmetry can definitely help though, especially when there is good synergy with custom Player Instructions and Preferred Player Moves (PPMs) on some players. As an example, here is the formation that I am currently using with Fiorentina.

Note the roles and their locations on the field. Also keep in mind that while I’m trying to show the roles and the general asymmetry, the tactic is still a work in progress. Thus the team instructions shown here are not necessarily the ones I will be using, but more on that later.

3) Using Player Traits and Instructions

Player Traits, Team and Individual Instructions are important but will not in on themselves guarantee overloads. Nevertheless, let us take a look at how they can help. In my Viola save, this is how a typical overload will usually progress. My advanced playmaker, Matias Vargas, has Likes to Switch Ball to other side trait and I have him shifted to the right side to best take advantage of it. At times when he is in possession of the ball and surrounded by opposition players, he will act on his PPM to launch a direct pass to the other exposed flank where my wingback or raumdeuter are ready to pounce on the goal. My raumdeuter, wonderkid Federico Chiesa, has the Gets forward trait which is invaluable in helping him get into dangerous attacking positions on that wing. For him to be effective, I need him to be aggressive with his forward runs and not have him hesitating with the ball. Using asymmetry, my striker is also shifted to right flank. He is instructed to stay wider to the right which will hopefully draw more defenders to that side. The idea is simple. As I build up play, slowly moving the ball through the players on the right side of the pitch, I pull the opposition defensive block from the center to the right flank in reaction to my build up. When the ball is switched quickly to the left side, it is likely to pit my best wide attacker in a favorable 1v1 against the opposition’s full-back and/or winger.

I’m not a fan of using many team instructions in my tactics, usually preferring to set up how I want my teams to play through the specific use of roles and mentality. Already by having the right combination of support duties (on the side you want overloaded) and attack duties, you should see overloads happening. Yet the following suggested instructions would still help in enhancing your overloads and help them occur more frequently.

Some might argue that you want to Focus play down the wing that you want overloaded (so Right wing in my case) but I believe that it is better to focus it down the wing which you want to unlock. This instruction is basically telling all your players close to the selected flank to play with more attacking mentality than what is signified by the general mentality (Positive/Control in mine). This means that these players will be making more forward runs, trying to get into goal-scoring positions. This is exactly what I want my raumdeuter and attacking wingback to do. On the other hand, my right flank players I want to be more patient in their slow build-up approach. I need them to be the anvil to the hammer of my left flank. All of my other instructions will be used to enhance this basic idea.

Having Counter-Press is actually counter-productive in creating overloads as it instructs the whole team to actively press and chase the ball around the field, breaking from their formation in the process. On the other hand, I want my team to work in two distinct halves. The Overload “Anvil” flank will be doing most of our pressing and closing down, and in general retaining the ball as long as possible. It helps to put Close Down More individual instruction on all these players. The other “Hammer” flank should focus purely on making runs into space and to “envelop” the enemy on their exposed flank. If possible, tell these players to Close Down Less.

Hammer and Anvil – The concept of Tactical Envelopment

In essence, this is an ancient military concept, used as far back as 4th century BC by Alexander the Great. The idea being that you want you main force of heavy infantry to tie up the enemy forces while your lighter strike force of fast cavalry flank them on the side. Known as the Hammer and Anvil or the Envelopment Attack, it was used by a multitude of commanders to cause devastating loses to the opponent. Having evolved out of horse and pike battles of Ancient Era, it transitioned into the modern tank warfare and now onto the football field.

Pass into Space, Low Crosses and Be More Expressive – are all useful to have. In combination these instructions will hopefully encourage more adventurous passes to my raumdeuter once he is good position to receive them. For this reason, it is very important that this player has good acceleration and mental attributes (especially Off the Ball and Anticipation).

Having your team Play Wider will also hopefully allow more space to be created for your left wing attacker while the ball is drawn to right wing and the opponent is stretched in that direction.

Using Lower Line of Engagement and Counter is there to create more space for my left wing to exploit. The idea being that we want to draw the opponent deeper into our half before trying to win the ball back but when we do our left wing needs be quick to transition into a counter-attack. Please note that while in the screenshot I have Higher Defensive Line active, it might need to be lowered to further help with creating exploitable space behind opponent’s defensive block.

Having revealed the major ways in which you can use the tactical system to your advantage in creating overloads, I encourage you try these tips and to see for yourself why Guardiola has been so successful at Bayern and Man City. Overloads have been central to his tactical vision and while the pure concept is not original (is Pep secretly a student of military history?) it can be deadly effective with the right team. Yet it is probably a concept that will not work every time and with every team. In order to tie up the opponent’s defensive block on one side, you need players with the right combination of attributes to facilitate possession and retention of the ball for as long as possible. They will need relatively good (around 15) values in Passing, First Touch, Composure, Agility and Balance. Of course this can be adjusted according to the level at which you are playing. So as long as you keep that in mind I wish you fun experimentation and good luck in your own field general career. Thank you for reading and let us know your thoughts @ Dictate The Game’s Facebook and Dictate The Game’s Twitter

Pep Guardiola – A portrait of a triumphant general directing his troops to yet another victory

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