In the past, I have put a lot of emphasis into playing football “the right way”. In my FM18 save, I played Total Football with Ajax, the founders of the Cruyffian way of playing. A year later, I was experimenting with Arrigo Sacchi’s variant of total football in my save with Uniao de Madeira. In my current Moneyball save I have gone with a spin on the Hungarian Golden Team’s fluid style, an attacking 4-2-4. A change was required. I wanted to try something different. Welcome to Anti-Football.
As a Newcastle fan, I’ve known my fair share of attacking teams, with great flair players such as Laurent Robert, Hatem Ben Arfa and Alan Saint Maximin holding a dear place in my heart. But by far my favourite side from the past few years was Rafa Benitez’s 2018/19 squad. The combination of a deep compact 5-4-1 out of possession with fast coordinated counter attacks worked wonders, and a newly promoted side finished above their means at the heady heights of 13th. The crowning achievement, a 2-1 win against the eventual champions Man City.
I’ve written about Jose Mourinho’s Anti-Football in the past. Whilst he was widely derided for his style of play, he still finished 2nd in 2018. With the benefit of hindsight this seems like an impressive result. Another man with a firm grasp of the dark arts is Diego Simeone.
Liverpool 0 – 1 Atletico Madrid
Just the other night as I write this, Diego Simeone’s Atletico completed a defensive masterclass and put Liverpool to the sword. Their narrow defensive shape using two banks of four combined with intelligent pressing stifled the European Champions and gave Atleti a great start in the tie.
With the new Match Engine update, I’ve had to tweak my tactics slightly, and have taken influence from Simeone’s 4-4-2. To start my journey into Anti-Football, I found a League Two side with tall strong Centre-halves and a connection to Tony Pulis. Newport County.
Anti-Football & Pragmatism
Key to Anti-Football is the art of pragmatism. In the world of football, this was pioneered by Herbert Chapman, the creator of the W-M. Widely criticised for its perceived cynicality and lack of aestheticism, Chapman insisted there was no need to “change a winning system”. True Anti-Football is founded in the belief of winning by any means. The style, the aesthetic, the “right way to play” is all secondary. This was at the forefront of my mind when designing my tactic at Newport.
The Modern 4-4-2
At the base of the tactic is a standard no nonsense 4-4-2. The roles are fairly basic, the full-backs are asked to run wide with the ball to overlap the IWs on each side. I opted for IWs because I want to get crosses into my front two more often that not. The DPL here is the Thomas Partey role, sitting slightly deeper than the hard tackling BBM along side him. Upfront we have a TM-Su and a PF-At, a classic pairing.
In terms of instructions we start with a Cautious or Defensive mentality depending on whether we are Home or Away.
- Play for Set Pieces – We are strong in the air
- Be More Disciplined
- Narrow – Allows space on overlap and also compresses the pitch
- Distribute Quickly – Launches Counter Attacks
- Counter – This will be our main outlet for attacks
- (Add Regroup when ahead)
Out of Possession:
- Defend Narrower – Again compresses the pitch
- Lower Defensive Line
- Lower Line of Engagement – Compresses the pitch, leaves space to counter
- Slightly More Urgent Pressing – Press in areas where we can win the ball
- Get Stuck In – Intimidation
We look to sit deep and spring counter attacks in the wide areas. Our main focus is to keep it tight at the back. If you don’t concede, you can’t lose. It will be dirty, defensive and direct. Does this matter if you win 1-0 every week. As Machiavelli would say, one judges by the result.
As of January we sit 8th in the table, just outside the playoffs on goal difference. A tough September and November really hampered our automatic promotion hunt, but we are only five points away with a lot of games to go.
For a team that is predicted 10th, reaching the play-offs would be a great finish. If we can correct our form, we can push on to a better position in the league.
Thanks for reading I hope you enjoyed this piece. I’m really enjoying implementing the dark arts with long throws, set pieces and hard tackling. There may be more to follow. If you have any questions let me know @FM_Vars