Welcome back to “No One Likes Us”, if you haven’t read Part 1 you can find it here. We’ve had a decent start to our Championship season, and we’ve almost reached the January window. In this post I’ll outline the tactic I’ve settled on, a defensive 4-4-2, and explain the instructions and roles I’ve selected.
When designing my tactic, my main concern was the new Match Engine. To understand how it works, I watched my first few games on full match, slowly adding instructions and tweaking roles and instructions to find the exact instructions I wanted. I also knew that the strengths of my team lay in their ability to defend crosses and set pieces, and therefore we would have to design a tactic suited to these strengths.
Roles and Instructions
Initially, I began with a basic 4-4-2, similar to the one I used last season at Newport.
Reading from the back, we start with a fairly basic back four. I often change the instructions on the full back depending on the game state, but my DL Murray Wallace is much more suited to a defensive Full Back role, almost a NFB. Centrally we have a pairing of a DLP-De and a BWM-Su. This double 6 gives us a strong centre of the pitch making it difficult for teams to play through us. Out wide we have two wingers, the left the more functional of the two. Up front we have a classic pairing of a TM-Su and a PF-At. The only PIs I currently use is “Get Further Forward” on my ML.
In possession we aim to play More Direct with a Standard tempo. Relating to our approach play or play in the final third, you’ll see I’ve left these blank. I see so many tactics full of instructions, where people have clicked every single option available. I prefer to start with a cleaner tactic and add instruction where I feel they are useful. If we come up against a team playing 3 at the back, I will play wider and focus down the wings, aiming to exploit the space in behind the wing backs. Should we come up against a team that we have a significant height advantage over, Hit Early Crosses is a great option. “Play For Set Pieces” aims to make the most of our significant height advantage over other teams, and “Be More Disciplined” helps to keep the team structured.
We aim to Counter aggressively when we win the ball back. When losing the ball, the players make the decision as to whether they can win it back quickly through counter-pressing, or whether they should regroup. Should the Goalkeeper have the ball, he will aim to hit the Target Man quickly in order to start a counter attack.
Out of Possession
Without the ball we aim to force the opposition wide, trusting in our ability to defend crosses and set pieces. Pressing intensity is Standard, too much pressing could see us lose our structured shape, but too little and it provides better players with the opportunity to score long shots. “Get Stuck In” adds that aggressive edge I’m looking for from my Millwall side. This is the platform which we start our games on, but often, it’s not how we finish. The beauty of this tactic is how we adjust when we’re ahead.
Key to this tactic is game management. Our squad is not good enough to blow teams away. We need to manage the game in order to see out the result. Should we go ahead early on, there are several changes I will make in order to try and protect our lead, and add that defensive solidity. I often make these changes slightly later if we are drawing.
- Lower Tempo (When Ahead / ~60′)
- Time Wasting Frequently (~70′)
- Time Wasting Whenever Possible (~80′)
- Regroup (When Ahead / ~60′)
Counter(~70′) Distribute Quickly(When Ahead / ~60′)
- Slow Pace Down (~70′)
When hanging onto our lead or point, I tend to drop roles to be more defensive variants, which leads to something like this towards the end of the game.
This often leads to very few late goals. So far this season we’ve only conceded 4 goals in the last 15 minutes of games. From winning positions, we’ve dropped a total of 8 points, including two losses. One against Norwich, who are top of the league, and the other coming away at Barnsley who scored two outrageous long shots. The xG showed a traditional FM’ing.
It took us a while to get going, but the last month has been tremendous. Our strikers have started firing and we’re keeping plenty of Clean Sheets to boot, tied second in the league. One thing I am noticing is that headers seem to be difficult to score this year. Jake Cooper for example, my 6’7″ Centre Half, has attempted 35 shots, most of which were headers. Of these 35, 13 were on target and a grand total of zero ended up in the back of the net. This could just be his poor Finishing, but on most highlights I see, headers are ballooned over the bar from all of my players. Speaking of Cooper, let’s check in on those three key players I highlighted in Part 1.
Cooper has started well so far, playing in all 21 League Games. He’s had 126 key headers, almost 30 more than the next player in the league, and is also top for headers won with 102, and clearances/90 with 15.81. Overall, he’s an absolute rock and often comes out as my best player on the pitch.
With just 4 goals and 1 assist, Wallace has been somewhat underwhelming. Whilst he does lack impact at the top end of the pitch, his Work Rate and Determination means he contributes in defensive phases as well. He’s got room to improve for the rest of the season and could yet get into double figures. Here he is combining with my next key player.
Parrott has been great so far. It took him a while to get going, but paired with Kenneth Zohore up front he’s really come into his own. He’s improving tremendously, and has assisted four and scored five so far in the league, including this beauty, a 95th minute winner against Rotherham in Gameweek 2.
As of Gameweek 21 we sit 6th in the League, having won ten and drawn three. The play offs would be a huge achievement, and if we can hang on in there we might be in with a chance of Promotion in our first season.
Here are the goals from a recent 2-1 victory against Forest, one from a long throw. The removal of the time bar makes it really difficult to show highlights that I would rather include, such as full build up play and how the shape of the team functions, though you can see the counter attack in full flow in our second goal.
Beta the Devil you Know
Finally I thought I’d splurge some thoughts that I have on the beta experience. Overall, I’m really happy with it. The new ME is mostly great, and it looks incredible. Ball physics especially seem hugely improved. I like the variation in terms of how my team performs. Sometimes, as in real life, the team just doesn’t get going, we create 0.04 xG and get stomped. Other times we put in a stellar defensive performance and come out on top. The game feels much less grindy than it did in previous editions and I’m thinking a lot more about how to approach each game.
Defensive football isn’t as effective as I would like it to be, similar to my experience in FM20. Keeping clean sheets and retaining leads is achievable, but it seems our effectiveness from Set Pieces is not. So far from 127 corners I’ve scored 0 goals.. Headers seem underpowered, but maybe that’s just my players, I’ve scored just four headed goals all season. Below is a full list of associated stats from games played so far.
I’m a big fan of all the QoL chances and SI’s attempts to make the game seem “more realistic” when it comes to interaction and meetings, some key additions such as squad promising when conducting team meetings, or the recruitment meetings that have been added before transfer windows. I do find myself clicking for buttons that no longer exist, but I’m sure I will get over this in time.
A few glaring omissions in my eyes are the time bar and the analysis tab. For us content creators it makes it quite difficult to export highlights without the time bar. Similarly the analysis tab is extremely useful for viewing what is happening when you are watching a game on highlights only, meaning you’re often left scratching your head for ideas as to why your tactic isn’t working. As I understand it, these will be included in full release so shouldn’t be a problem going forward.
Overall, I think we’ve made a great start to our first season despite limited means. I often look at wage budget as a means to estimating where a team should finish, that table would have us in 19th. This defensive direct approach is getting the most out of our functional and hard working team. With January on the horizon, my next post will outline Transfer Targets and the key attributes I will look for in new players. Thanks for reading.
- No One Likes Us | Part 1 | The Art of Pragmatism
- A guide to xG in FM21
- Five Uncommon Fallen Giants for FM21
- Goalkeeper Resiliency: Measuring Game Difficulty
- FM21: 10 Unusual Leagues for any Football Manager