It is that time again! The next release of our favourite football manager is around the corner. Time when many football fans start thinking about new saves, tactics and challenges. For me its a been a time of tactical introspection and tying up old saves. Looking back at what I achieved last year, I have to say that I mostly enjoyed FM19. It had its share of challenges and triumphs. Although I did not get a taste of success until the end of its cycle. My enjoyment stemmed mostly from the journey of tactical discovery along the way. Now as I set out for another management journey with FM20, I look to integrate what I learned in FM19. So starting with this FM20 Prologue will hopefully show you how to combine FM-tested real football ideas into a new FM20 tactic with a new club.
I will introduce the new tactic, before introducing the new club. So first things first. I need to be completely honest, it is not a very original tactic. I will be emulating Bielsa. Incidentally, Marcelo “El Loco” Bielsa is one of my favourites of the current manager crop. And it is not only because I enjoy watching how well Leeds is playing under his direction. But also because I like a manager who is not afraid to think big with a small club. Especially because Bielsa believes in the importance of a fast-paced attacking system. This is rather remarkable as most modern managers are interested in winning through careful possession and statistical superiority. However, with Lille and Leeds, Bielsa found a way to combine aggressive attack with careful possession. Those who followed my Running with The Wolves Roma series won’t be surprised by my choice.
In a nutshell, Bielsa favours direct, attacking football. At the same time, he likes his teams to play at fast pace while retaining possession. Other features of his tactics include building from the back, use of width and constant player movement (position switching). So naturally, creating overloads is very important. Some of these strategies I already tried in FM19. Now in FM20 I intend to use them with a distinct Bielsa flavour.
Please keep in mind the following. I do not intend this to be a pure replication of any specific Bielsa tactic. It is rather a tactic that was inspired by his ideas.
As you can see above, I decided to go with the 3-3-1-3 formation. One that Bielsa keeps coming back to over the years. Although on paper Leeds starts in 4-1-4-1, during possession they transition into 3-3-1-3 with the wingbacks aggressively pushing up and the defensive midfielder dropping down to help the central defenders. The front three attackers is the classic element in any Bielsa tactic. With all his teams, Bielsa prefers to use one central striker flanked by advanced wingers. This allows him to stretch the opposition fullbacks and defenders. And with both wingbacks pushing high up, overloads are possible on both flanks. At the same time central space is opened to the striker and enganche to exploit.
The enganche playmaker is another aspect of the tactic that I intend to recreate as a tribute to Bielsa. Most teams managed by him feature a player in this iconic Argentinian role. It turns out that you can take a manager out of Argentina but you cannot take Argentina out of the manager. It is essentially a pure playmaker who acts as a creative pivot or hook that the rest of the formation moves around. A complete heartbeat of the team. Enganche’s defensive responsibilities are limited while his passing and creativity are turned up to the max. As a comparison, think of how aging David Silva is played under Pep Guardiola.
Another feature that defines Bielsa tactics is how much he demands from his wingbacks. When watching Lille play it was often difficult to distinguish between wingers and wingbacks. Bielsa’s instructs his wingbacks to push very far up the field. As a result the distinction between them and the more advanced wide midfielders is often blurred. It is a very demanding role that basically requires the player to perform two distinct jobs. And as I discovered in FM19, you will need a very special player like “Energizer Bunny” José Luis Gayà. He will need to cover defensively like a fullback as well as aid in attack with forward runs and crosses.
I always wondered how well Bielsa would do, had he a truly world-class team, at his disposal. What I find fascinating about his approach is in how he tends to take an average squad without any real stars and fashions something greater than the sum of its parts. When Marcelo Bielsa’s tactics work they are superb to watch. Also, sides coached by him quickly become adept at fast possession-oriented attacking football. But this does demand great amount of technical and physical skill from his players. The two qualities that tend to be in short supply on mid-level clubs that Bielsa favours. But what if he wasn’t limited in players and budget? Without further ado I present the club I chose for my Bielsa experiment.
It was a hard choice between United and Real Madrid but in the end Manchester won out as I think it will be more of a fun challenge. And because in my opinion Premier League is a much more competitive league. My main aims for this Red Devil long-term experiment are to:
1) Maximize Goal-scoring from the central striker. So far this season Manchester were able to score only 9 times in 8 Premier League games. Which is a rather pathetic record for a club of their stature. To this effect Bielsa’s philosophy as discussed above will be used to improve upon this.
2) Use Bielsa’s tactical philisophy to develop an attack-oriented tactic. In short, to play direct and vertical football while trying to get the ball up to our striker as fast as possible. In typical Bielsa fashion this needs to be done through possession, pressing and passing on the run. And definitely not by kicking the ball up the field ala Tony Pulis. Also, cannot forget about stretching the wings with our fullbacks and wide attacker to create overloads and valuable space for our striker.
3) Develop our “young devils”, teenage wonderkids! The first team squad needs a much needed injection of youth. Young players have been languishing far too long under Mourinho’s watch. And even Ole has been too cautious and hesitant in giving youth a chance. It has been my experience in Football Manager that young players with potential will develop best when given opportunities to play at higher level. That is exactly what I intend. Greenwood, Gomes, Garner and Chong will be my subs on the bench and starters for cups. In future articles I will show how to use the new playing time pathways feature to plan and monitor their game-time and development.
4) Enforce a 5 Year Plan of Winning Silverware. The aim being to win at least one of each: Champions League Cup, League Title and Domestic Cup within the span of 5 years. Domestically, I expect the competition to be fierce as we will be up against Liverpool, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham. It does not help that we have not won the Premier League since 2012-2013 season. While it has been almost a dozen years without a UEFA Champions trophy. On both counts it’s been far too long for a club with a cabinet of 20 League titles and 3 Champions League trophies. Five years is more than enough time to improve this record. My task is to revitalize the culture of winning at Old Trafford through careful use of tactics and youth development.
I will be expounding more on how I plan to achieve all these goals in future entries of what I hope will be a long series. For now stay tuned for the next part where I will be giving a proper introduction to my squad and their roles.