This article is dedicated to that amazing team from 2004 which was able to take Czech Republic national football to heights it never experienced since. I believe that modern managers can learn something from the Czechs tactic. Recreating this 4-1-3-2 Velvet Blitzkrieg Tactic, as I like to call it, will be the focus of this article. It will be my last tactical experiment in Football Manager 2019. It is also my attempt to get back to the essence of what makes attacking football so great. That is playing for the love of the game with its eternal goal; scoring more goals than the opposition. So get your game on and read on!
I recently visited Czech Republic and its beautiful capital of Prague. The trip was actually planned before I had the idea for this article. But quite coincidentally it solidified my keen interest and respect for the football culture in this small Eastern European nation. Being a country with a very turbulent history, Czech football went through its share of triumphs and losses. The 2004 Euros in Portugal, were definitely a time of its greatest success.
Team of the Decade
Czech Republic’s team from 2004 Euro tournament was not just my favourite team of that tournament but my top football team of all time (both professionally and nationally). It was a team that was not afraid to improvise and take risks, and at the time was the most exciting offensive team to watch. Due to their wealth of world-class attacking talent, in Nedved, Poborsky, Rosicky, Grygera, Koller and Baros, Czechs were able to play with a lot of panache and technical mastery. This made them almost impossible to defend against, as both Netherlands and Germany discovered the hard way. The Czechs blitzkrieged past the two football giants before coming up against Greece in the Final. In their run they took the concept of attack as the best defence to a whole new level. Before ironically getting stopped in their tracks by the “boring” parked bus of the eventual winner Greece.
My intention going into this tactical experiment will be to create a tactic not only effective in FM19 but in any future variations of the game engine, including the upcoming FM20. Thus the concepts I use here are intuitive and general with least amount of instructions. In a way, I tried to make it as simple of a tactic as I ever made. I used the Czech Blitzkrieg inspiration to set 3 general waves of attack.
The front five consists of 2 strikers, 1 attacking midfield and 2 mezzalas to spear head our attack. This is to reflect the unstoppable power of Koller, Baros, Nedved, Rosicky and Poborsky. Behind this front spearhead, we have the defensive midfielder and inverted wingbacks. Their job is to take advantage of the chaos caused by the front 5 and pounce on any loose balls or tackle the opposition players who got away and are trying to start a counterattack.
So while my formation might not reflect the exact shape of Czech Euro tactic, it is strongly evocative of its style. I believe the reason why the Czechs were so hard to play against was due the shear amount of players moving into space behind the two strikers. They were exceptional in their off the ball running and high pressing. The midfield core of Nedved, Rosicky and Poborsky were extremely hard working and intelligent players. With so much talent concentrated in the midfield the Czechs could not be outnumbered there. Despite playing in very attacking, risky formation, they were able to maintain control over their opponent. It was truly an example of creating superior defence through “balls to the wall” offence.
Their Greatest Match Ever
And there is nothing more ballsy than fielding two strikers and three attacking midfielders against a side like Holland. Arguably, it was the greatest match of the 2004 Euro and the decade. Holland desperately needed a win, while Czechs only needed a draw to advance. Remarkably Czech manager Bruckner still decided to put all their guns out and beat the stalwart Dutch side 3-2. At one point in the game, Bruckner had three natural strikers, four attacking midfielders and a winger (as a wingback) playing a weird 4-1-3-2 or 2-3-3-2!
After Baros’ equalizer, Bruckner refused to settle for a draw. The new formation switch overloaded the Dutch in the midfield and the Czechs continued to attack. The winning goal came two minutes from end time, as Poborsky masterfully set up Smicer for a simple tap in. The Czechs had qualified from that competition’s Group of Death with a game to spare! In the final game of Group D, Bruckner’s gamble paid off again to shock the German side.
Then they breezed past Denmark in the quarter-final, before coming up against Greece. And, of course, that was where it all went wrong. Injury to Nedved, forcing him to leave the game after only 40 minutes, and the Greeks insistence on playing their brand of ultra-negative football, both extinguished the Czech dream that day. In the end, it was one of those games where anything could have happened. Pavel Nedved was the beating heart of the team’s midfield core. One might argue that with him present for the full 90 minutes, a victory was within reach. But nothing is a sure thing in football. The Greece went on to win Euro that year and cemented their own legendary status as one of the greatest teams of the decade and shining example of an underdog success story. But that is a story for another time.
Football Manager Recreation
How does all this translate into Football Manager you may ask? Actually quite simple. Its a little similar to my Porto Recreation, with a few key differences. So if you already have a team familiar with that tactic, then it should be easy to implement Velvet Blitzkrieg. Naturally it has to be a narrow formation with all the talent that Czechs had in the midfield. The best instruction to emulate their style is in my opinion to play attacking, possession-focused football. This includes high pressing, short passing, building attacks from the back, and most importantly lots of smart off the ball movement. So make sure that your front five are very good in this attribute, as well as Anticipation.
One key aspect I want to recreate is the speed of Czech attack. Even-though I tell my team to start out with patient build up, I want the ball to be moved faster and more direct as it moves closer to opposite goal. To help with this I instructed my midfielders to pass more directly as well as favour players with essential PPMs like Tries killer balls often, Plays One-Twos, and Likes to Switch the Ball to the Other Side. The better Off the Ball attribute of your strikers and midfielders the more likely they will pull these moves off and penetrate the opposition defence. I cannot stress the importance of Off the Ball enough. The higher it is the better.
To be completely fair I need to state an important caveat. This is probably not a tactic that you can download and plug into your Bolton side and expect instant results. Or even to expect it to win more games than your usual tactic. For it to work as intended you need a very good midfield. Also essential are a pair of strong, technically well-rounded strikers capable of holding up the ball. It helps if one striker is tall and strong. The Czech “gentle giant” Jan Koller was so essential to their control of the ball.
Most importantly, you need a Pavel Nedved “fantasista” type player (read this if you are not sure what that means). Luckily I have my current “Next Totti” candidate Zaniolo who I think is more than good enough to fill Nedved’s role. Just like “Furia Ceca“, Nicolo has the shooting ability, strength, pace, and determination. Couple that with exemplary defensive and offensive work-rate and you get an atypical complete midfielder capable of playing anywhere in the midfield. With still room to develop, Nicolo’s technique, dribbling and passing are only bound to improve, to make him into a true fantasista for this team.
In conclusion, the results started coming in and it is looking rather good, although its only been half a season of using the new tactic. By the middle of December we are in firm position to defend our Scudetto from last season.
The highlights so far have been beating Napoli 5-3, Fiorentina 6-1, Inter 4-0 and 6-1 againt Udinese. It definitely has the potential to be a high-scoring tactic, given the right players and time. But then we also lost against Juventus and Cagliari (surprisingly a title contender this season). Both were games where we controlled much of the ball but barely saw any good chances. So there is still plenty of work to be done with this tactic. You are welcome to try it out for yourself and let me know what you think. All suggestions and improvements are welcome. Feel free to post them @ Dictate The Game’s Facebook and Dictate The Game’s Twitter