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Counter-attacking slickly in FM19

What a surprise, huh? I’m used to describing my possession tactics every week; now I’ll tell you about counter-attacking slickly in FM19.

Strangely, my WBA side is still set up to control possession patiently. However, there are a few alterations, which have made the passing style slightly more mixed. Obviously, I will explain this in the article below!

Hamburg 1-5 West Bromwich Albion

Counter-attacking slickly in FM19
Hamburg 1-5 WBA- Stats

I did not expect to concede 56% of the ball in this game. I also didn’t expect to counter-attack so devastatingly. However, I have some idea why the game worked out this way. I will show you the goals below.

Edit: after re-reading this, I have just realised that I’ve just said I’d show you the goals without actually showing them! Here comes my crappy explanation…

The GIFs are time-limited and they all show the build-up to the goals right up to the ball settling in the back of the net. Think of the GIFs as flashbacks to the goals amongst a ‘scrupulous’ tactical analysis, rather than orthodox highlights- aka Match of the Day.

Hamburg’s opening goal came from an intricate passing sequence, while ours came from blazing counter-attacks and cromulent set pieces. You’ll be thinking ‘I’ve seen all of this before’- you’re right!

The key ingredients for counter-attacking

Counter-attacking slickly in FM19
Spain

My West Brom side average 62% possession and an 85% passing accuracy. Something must have been very different; my only tactical change prior to the Hamburg match was my corner routine!

I’m thinking that it must be something to do with my player selection. You see, I build my squads with 22 players; two for each position. Whenever I have a midweek match, I rotate my entire XI, as far as I can. It’s more about keeping everyone fresh than playing weakened teams.

In the Champions League, where I haven’t played my settled league side in any of the games so far, we average a paltry 53% possession. Our passing accuracy drops down from 85% to 82%.

In the last game against Hamburg, we also had to contend with injuries and suspensions. The rotation accordingly led to an XI as scattered as this:

Counter-attacking in FM19
The worst (or best!) XI ever

‘Twas a very attacking side!

How did this affect our performance?

It could have been that, due to a combination of Hamburg’s high pressing and the relative uncomfortability of my players, we simply ended up giving the ball away more. To mitigate that, we had an extremely wide team shape and passed into open spaces; this gave us clear counter-attacking opportunities. In addition, my WBA side counter-attacked in transition by instruction.

I give players a lot of individual freedom in their player instructions. Accordingly, they probably find that different passing options suit them in different games. Furthermore, they’re probably more inclined to dribble in some games than others. For instance, in the Premier League, we average seven dribbles per game; this is mid-table. In the Champions League, however, we only average six dribbles per game, and that is after completing eight against Hamburg. Sekou Koita, our man of the match with three assists, completed four dribbles in total.

In summary, part of what makes a counter-attacking side is having a setup which gives your players the flexibility to play to their strengths and adapt to the situation, within appropriate confines. Another part is picking the right players for that to be a viable option. Loading your midfield with either defenders, or attackers, who have more direct playing styles and used to playing in different areas might bizarrely be a good idea!

Digging deeper

Counter-attacking slickly in FM19
Hamburg 1-5 WBA- Detailed stats

There’s not much difference in either side’s midfield passing accuracy. The main differences are in defence and attack. Wonder why?

To me, this clip shows that playing natural attackers in midfield heavily contributed. After Cesar passed to Village, he made a forward run expecting a one-two. A natural midfielder might have spread out, but stayed back so that Village could easily see him and return the ball. This change in my midfielders’ approach made passing out of defence more difficult, but worked out to our advantage.

In attack, well, by the time possession had made its way there, Hamburg were usually vulnerable. In other words, we were trying to take risks and score. See how little our attackers touched the ball:

Counter-attacking slickly in FM19
Hamburg 1-5 WBA- Player stats

In the longer term

Money grows on trees

It’s important to emphasise that this performance was an anomaly. In the games since, including the one where I rotated my side, we have invariably dominated possession. Nonetheless, this taught me some important starting points for setting up a devastating counter-attacking side.

If you want to have a game-plan of soaking up pressure and hitting the opposition on the counter, you don’t need me to tell you that setting a deeper defensive line and more direct passing might help!

The important distinction to nail in your side’s blueprint is that between making direct passes and giving the ball away. It’s amazing how people think that leaving a target man on his own up front and hitting the ball to him will, on its own, provide a formidable counter-attacking force.

Try to keep your players compact enough. It might prevent your tactic from becoming disjointed. Shadow strikers and raumdeuters are fantastic roles for counter-attacking sides: they dedicate themselves to finding space and take risks from their deep positions once one of your midfielders recovers possession.

Conclusion

Most importantly, however you choose to set up your side, be creative! If there’s anywhere to test your idiosyncratic ideas on football, it’s on this game.

If you ever have any questions about any of this, or anything you want to discuss, feel free to start the discussion below, or contact us on our social media channels!

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Written by Ben

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