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Winning titles with ‘unbeatable’ tactics, and how to get the most out of your FM21 saves.

Firstly, Happy New Year you Tactical Masterminds!

I was really struggling for ideas; Christmas has been and gone, Coronavirus is apparently still and thing and is worse than ever in the UK, and New Years at Home seemed like hell on earth.

I thought about making some stupid tactic using 6 midfielders or 2 defenders, “that’ll make for a funny article, that might even help some people”, I thought. But alas my horrific attempt of a “around the midfielder tactic” ended in complete failure. Sacked by November with pretty much all clubs, no control of games and no control of my team.

So I thought to those click-bait articles and those plug-and-play tactics. The ones which show newcastle coming 2nd in the premier league first season and peter crouch coming out of retirement to score 35 goals in 3 matches. The “UNBEATABLE 100% POSSESSION MONSTER 4-2-3-1 GOD TACTIC” or equivalent. Now I’ve never published a tactic before, but was I prepared to try a few? I tried three out, all did pretty averagely but weren’t by any means as good as they advertised. That got me thinking about what you can do as a manager to put more effort in the right ways to your game, and then I started reminiscing!

A long long time ago…

I wrote an article way back when Football Manager 2019 was new, it was a training guide for developing youngsters and you can find it here:

The relevance of this? Read here what I said about putting in effort to your saves:

As with lots of creative or inventory management games (in this case footballers) there is a ‘golden rule’ for success:

Input = Output

What I mean by this is that if you decide to plug in a tactic from a content creator, leave your assistant to run training and tactics and just meander through the season, you’ll probably do alright. Perhaps you’ll do a bit better than expected or maybe a bit worse, but you’ll do alright.

If however you decide to fully invest into the save and create a detailed tactic, scour nation after nation. Find the perfect player and micro-manage your imaginary staff to an infinite degree. You might find that results will tend to go your way, and the payoff is ecstatic. You might still do worse than if you coasted through, but you can safely say it was you doing it and can be proud of the commitment.

Me – 2018

2018 me was along the right, and the article still holds true for the training side of things however in this article I’d like to focus on what “putting more effort” into your save looks like, and how it can make a difference.

Whats the goal here?

The first thing you should think about when you join a club, or start a new season is to set yourself a few personal goals. These can be direct copies of what your board expects, it might be to have a certain player score 20+ goals this season or to beat someone 8-0 using my awful tactic. The point is you’ve started with an aim and it will help you to stay motivated in your save, as well as give you ideas on what to do next. These goals should be measurable and challenging but achievable, without causing you too much stress on top of managing and imaginary team of footballers.

Tactic fit the Players, or Players fits the Tactic?

Similarly, new season or club usually requires you to look the tactics screen again and either change the way you play entirely, or improve on what went wrong. A big question I ask other players is do you come in with a style and impose that on your team, signing players to match that philosophy. Or do you look at your squad and learn new tactics and styles to better match the current crop? I think both can work depending on the teams you are working with; hoofball won’t ever work at Barcelona (Although FM Tahiti might like to think so), but you can use a tall striker in a tiki-taka formation to hold up play.

Another reason why a “one-tactic-fits-all” formation might not work; your players just aren’t suited to it. If you are going to use a tactic from the web, ensure that the style can be played by your team!

I usually identify 3/4 key players who aren’t injury prone to base a tactic off, maybe a really good winger, central midfielder, striker and a full back. Look at your squad depth and finances to decide if you can bring in more cover in positions you are using and begin to build your team from the ground up. (Hint; if you need inspiration for tactics, you are on a football manager website).

Tinker till it breaks, then Tinker some more

This is my main issue with plug-and-play tactics; assuming one tactic will work for the rest of time and nobody will ever work out how to beat it. Eventually the AI will adapt to your strategy and begin to beat your so-called unbeatable tactics. I remember played as Manchester United and in my 5th season I managed to go the first 10 games unbeaten in the league, and I was sure as anything I was winning the title. My reluctance to change/adapt my tactic to the AI meant they worked me out, and went on to lose the title on the final day. Check your tactic before every game, check the opposition instructions and individual player instructions to match their role. How much effort do you want to put in? Well.. how badly do you want to win?

Scout Scout Scout

Aside from Brexit-land, most clubs have good access to the world for young talent and the further you look, the more you’ll see. I’ve had wonderkids from Luxembourg to Liberia and it just takes time. Here’s a few players from all sorts of places that I found! (This isn’t click bait I swear it works look here).

Stavros Ioannou: My Cypriot CAM signed for £5.75m from Anorthosi
Aaron Clarke: My youth intake prospect from Montserrat
Daniel Barro: The Burkina Faso Goalkeeper who wouldn’t join Man Utd..

Obviously your bigger clubs and nations will give you more consistent worldies, but a these players will often be much cheaper and less likely to join bigger clubs. So again the more you put in, the more you get out!

Don’t forget about Staff as you grow

An often-overlooked feature of FM is the staff screen. Staff have a huge effect on managerial life, from training performance, youth intakes and advice on who to sign. The better your staff, the easier your job is. When you get promoted you should look to replace a few members of staff or at least done this before you were promoted. Set a reminder each year to replace your staff members who are on the wrong end of good.

and Training?

I shall refer to my previous article:

Your assistant will more than happily do this all for you and you won’t really notice a difference. If you want to commit to half of this article, I wouldn’t touch the calendar. But if you’re as crazy as I am… welcome to a living hell. Imagine planning a weekly training schedule for little imaginary computer people running around on a screen kicking an equally imaginary football? Bizarre.

The weekly planner is splits each day into 3 parts. Each part can be changed to suit what you feel your team is lacking. Fitness is primarily focused on early in pre-season. I’d suggest tactical work early on with some set-piece or team cohesion sprinkled in. Throughout the season you can adjust depending on how the season goes.

How does it compare to just plugging in a tactic?

Well I’m glad you asked, I put this to the test by simulating using 3 tactics at Chelsea for one season. This is not a focus on the specific tactics but the idea of directly downloading and not thinking about other peoples work.

1. Obelisk (4-5-1) by Zealot

I liked the asymetry, and no-attacking wingers are largely out of fashion. So I started the Simulation and see how we got on!

4th in league, with a champions league win. Board weren’t too disappointed, but I was hoping to finish top 3 at least in all these saves.

2. FM21 Double Broken Tactic

“Over 100+ Points in 1 season, 110+ Goals and positions. These tactics have aggression and brutal form with More and More Possession and Goals.”

Finished 6th and got sacked, not exactly “plug and play”. Only note I will say here is that it suggests using two/three tactics to download but I only used the main one, maybe that would’ve saved my job!

3. Quicksta’s Gegenpress (4-2-3-1)

Again nothing special.

Again, I’m just re-iterating that I’m not bashing these three peoples work. I think the tactics are fine with tinkering based on how you play, the club you are at and a plethora of other factors. But downloading a one-formation-fits-all tactic needs to stop in the same way.

Written by Dom


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  1. If you want a “5 midfielders” tactic you should look into the inverted double pivot line of tactics that employ two attacking center midfielders and midfield wingers with a single defensive center midfleider and an advanced forward to stretch the center and give your penetration some depth. You end up with pressing wingers compressing against your fullbacks and the same wingers making late runs in space with no defenders in the box able to pick them up and the wingbacks being busy with each other. If you can’t afford the wingbacks you can retrain midfield destroyers as Inverted wingbacks and recycle clearances really good.

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