I'm pleased to say in my very first attempt I got close. Close enough for people that are trying something similar can at least look at what I've done and maybe see something they can add to their tactic or try to use mine and tweak it and improve it themselves whichever works is a positive for me!
My intentions for writing this is to help those that would love to get their team playing to this sort of style and find themselves banging their head against a brick wall trying to get it to work in Football Manager.
Video AnalysisIf prefer watching and listening, here's the relevant video analysis for you. Otherwise, simply keep reading.
Differences between real life and the gameThere are a few things we should note before we go any further about the differences between real life and the game which we need to accept on some level.
Possession statistic - People become obsessed with the possession statistic itself in FM. Now the last time I had checked (and I could be wrong) Football manager still calculates possession in the original way by a timer & time of possession.
For example, if 10 seconds have gone in the game and you've had the ball for 8 seconds and the other team has it for 2 the split in possession would be 80% to 20%. In real life possession is determined differently. After the timer system, it was calculated by totaling the number of completed passes by a team then dividing by the overall number of passes in the game. Since then Opta (who I believe were a major part of the initial change) may have adjusted their system again, but either way it still involves completed passes in some form I believe.Not saying we should ignore it, but if I feel I've dominated a team and we've played some excellent Pep recreation football and the opposition has 48% possession, it still frustrates me intently. It doesn't matter how much logic I try to apply to what I've seen! We don't have to disregard it, but we just need to be accepting we may need to take a couple of percentage hits due to the way it's calculated and the way the match engine is played.
Player Instructions - We're not having real conversations with the players to ask them to do specific things in specific moments, so we need to rely on a combination of Position, Role, Duty, Mentality & player instruction to try and get the player to do what we want them to do In Possession, Out of Possession & Transition. We may need to be prepared to trade off exactly what we want from one area to get more from the other.
Match Engine limitations - Absolutely not here to knock anything by saying that. It's just obvious there are things that happen in real life that are hard to replicate. So we need to be realistic about what we can expect to see.
My Analysis is on City as a whole from Pep's second season 2017-2018 until now. They've evolved a lot and changed since then but there are also some things that have remained the same. I'm starting off talking about them generally then towards the end we talk about this season specifically and that is what we're trying to recreate.
Now this is supposed to be a blueprint. What I'm hoping is that people can look at what I've done, see where I'm close and how it could fit them & their team while also where they feel they could change it to get better results.
Analysis IntroductionCity have evolved and changed a lot even just in the last year or so. When I first started analysing them (for fun more then anything else) I noticed how -no matter what- the build of the attack in Pep’s “positional play” they had similar “patterns” to exploit a back 4 that nobody seemed to be able to stop once they got you into certain situations.
City in possession seemed obsessed with the half space and getting players to exploit the gap between the FB and the CB. I’ve lost count the number of times I would watch City in the 2017-2018 or 2018-2019 season where a winger would go high, drop deep to get on the ball brining the full back with him & then watching Kevin De Bruyne burst into that gap and create deadly situations. I saw this exact pattern happen multiple times per game. This of course wasn’t the only pattern they had and if the FB decided to stay narrow and not create that gap they had good solutions to beat you other ways too with their wide players which we will look at.
In my early studies of Guardiola I remember Henry doing a piece of analysis for sky sports. He talks about having to stay wide and that’s what he was asked to do and how it creates space for Iniesta. The conversation goes onto describe almost a T shape on the pitch for how freedom occurs in a 2008 - 2009 Guardiola system and the final third previous rules that are applied in the building of an attack no longer apply.
He also talked about dummy or decoy runs. He said he would be sometimes asked in a game to keep making the same runs over and over again knowing full well to not expect the ball but this was to create space and patterns for other players to exploit and get on the ball. When combining this information to what you see now you start to understand a lot more of the purpose behind what City do even if it is done differently to the 2008-2011 Barcelona team(s).
Even just watching that clip back again now, I see the same things from his wide players that I see at City and the same exploitation of the gap between the FB & CB over and over again. If this isn’t exploited and the full backs stay narrow, the wingers then are open to break in behind on the outside of the back line with a ball in a position where even if the FB is with them, a good first touch takes them into an immediately dangerous position.
The last thing that’s noticeable in his teams today and since he joined City, Is also when these opportunities occur normally the opposite winger is arriving in the back post area. So if the winger is played a pass on the outside of the back 4 all he needs is one good first touch towards goal and he should already have a low crossing option to the back post. There is a third common outcome where the winger himself makes the run in between the Fullback and Centre back & we will get to all of this in a minute.
Despite all of Guardiola’s and City’s mesmerizing football up to this point, it’s unbelievable how many of their attacks ended up in similar ways. I know I’ve oversimplified it but there’s lots of analysis on the internet about Pep and here we’re going to look at what the end goal is and work back from there. We will also focus on elements of the building phase, including how Pep uses his wide players as outlets when pressed & the initial role of the inverted wing back and how it’s evolved this 2020-2021 season.
Exploiting the back 41.
- If possession is built up wide players are expected to be wide to stretch the back 4 and occupy the fullback.
- If the wide player is on the ball, the player in the Central midfield role or half space on the ball side is expected to make vertical runs and exploit the gap between the Fullback and centre back if there is one. This is to either get on the ball if in space or to drag runners with them to leave space for other players to exploit.
- Generally speaking the closer the ball gets to the goal the narrower the opposite winger is expected to be to make sure they are in a scoring position if the ball is cut back or crossed into their area.
- If the wide player has occupied the Fullback & a gap Is created but for whatever reason ( could be designed could be not ) there is no player to make the vertical run, the wide player will now either retain the ball or make this run and look to receive a pass beyond the backline to break through onto goal. He could alternatively look to take the fullback on 1v1.
- If the wide player moves central there must be a player to now occupy the wide position resulting in a potential “rotation of positions” between the wide player and the central midfield player or another player in the area.
- If there is no gap the wide player will preferably look to link with a central player and look to receive the ball again on the outside of the backline looking to take a positive first touch in behind them and penetrate this way.
- Alternatively the winger can look to take the fullback on 1v1 on the outside.
It must be noted these scenarios are for when city are building attacks when organised. The same rules don’t necessarily apply to counter attacks.
Also without wanting to go too far into this but one of the principles of pep’s positional play philosophy is to overload one side of the pitch to get the defence to overload that side then look to switch the point of attack and attack down their “weak” side. If this was to occur the switch to the other wide player may result in them being a lot more direct running at the backline rather than waiting for patterns or scenarios mentioned to occur.
Exploiting the half spaceWhy does exploiting the half space work so well for City and why don’t more teams stop it?
This is due to how teams particularly in England set up to defend in a back 4 with 2 deeper central players. Could be 4-4-2 , 4-4-1-1, 4-2-3-1 however you want to call these formations and set ups there’s a flaw in how these systems tend to defend.
I first noticed this flaw at this standard of football when studying the Manchester City title winning team in 2011/2012 and how they would exploit this in the opposition. I also noticed it when studying Leicester’s title winning team in 2015/2016 and how they defended when organised.
When a team in one of these systems is out of possession and defending in their own half when organised they mostly tend to do similar things.
Base 442 Example:
- Here is an example of how a team defending deep in their own half could look in a 442. It’s the standard “width of the penalty box” shape when defending centrally. I’ve taken the defenders and forwards out to make this clearer.
Base Example of defending when ball is wide:
- Now here we’ve played the ball to the left winger. The right back has moved out to engage him creating this gaping hole in the backline.
- Most teams defending in this scenario tend to ask their central midfield player on that side to now drop into that area and be the cover for the RB.
- The problem with this system is quite often it takes a fair few seconds before the central midfielder gets from where he is, into a position to be effective in plugging that gap.
- Not only that but if blue CM makes a hard aggressive run into that gap he’s got a running start on the red CM and is probably going to beat him to a dangerous position regardless of the speed difference.
I remember when being fascinated by and happy for Leicester winning the league thinking I can’t believe teams aren't noticing this and looking to exploit it. I thought maybe I was missing something and I wasn’t fully understanding the whole picture.
So when Pep came to City and I was seeing this pattern over and over again from a CM running straight into this gap I was delighted and felt vindicated but you can also see why teams don’t do it the way he does.
Firstly you need to be able to successfully retain the ball in your attacks. You need to build up possession to get them in these scenarios and have your wingers high and wide.
Secondly if you do choose to play a single pivot 4-3-3 against this type of system and you do use your CM’s to make these runs you need to make sure your team is set up to defend the counter if you lose the ball. If you lose the ball after your central midfield player just made a run behind the defensive line there’s a good chance on that side of the pitch there’s some gaping holes waiting to be exploited and it’s something we’ve seen even city struggle with at their low points under Guardiola.
Alternative ways of defending with a back 4:
Another way you could defend the situation is to have the back 4 move as a unit across with the full back when he looks to engage wide.
- This is exaggerated but you get the point. You can see the issue with this it becomes very easy for a team to over commit leaving lots of space on the opposite side for switches of play and crosses to the back post.
Also by doing this if you have bigger slower central defenders you could be asking them to move lots across the pitch and defend in wider areas which they may not be suited to or comfortable with
Alternative Way 2:
- You could ask your opposite winger to drop into the back line on the outside of the RB leaving you in a 5-3-2 sort of shape. This plugs the gaps well but puts you into a deep defensive shape early and you could find it hard to get out from this quickly. A quick switch would also could leave a 2v1 very quickly if the opposition were to use both of their wide players. Again there are many problems with not only this but all ways.
By analysing teams that play in a variant of a 4-4-2, 4-4-1-1 or 4-2-3-1 is they very much prefer the first way and as we’ve seen like all ways here it has a weakness. That weakness just happens to be very well exploited by the way city use their wingers and central midfield players.
The only thing City when balancing this all up purely from a positional stand point, is they need to be wary of is when their central midfield players make such aggressive vertical runs. If the ball is turned over they must have a set up behind them that allows them to counterpress & prevent counter attacks stopping them having to go to and defend for a prolonged period out of possession.
The Inverted Fullback & A look to City in 2020 - 2021As soon as Pep came to England and his full backs wouldn’t do what orthodox fullbacks would do in England it was instantly talked about. We’re going to look at how it benefits a pep type system, how originally it was used in its simplest form and then how it’s been used this season to an even more extreme.
Now for the purpose of this analysis I’ve avoided going back before Pep’s time at City because it’s relevant to where he is now and the player’s he uses or has used here.
This season in particular the Full backs and normally one side more then the other has been so effective not just from what they do but how pep’s readjusted other parts of the set up. Just by the different zones and areas the Full back moves into has a connection to where other players can move and when.
We will look at some simplified examples of how a traditional back 4 used to look and how the inverted wing back helps with creating central overloads and better angles to switch the play. We will then finish with a detailed look at an example of the first half of City V Everton from 2021 at Goodison park.
The average set up
Now here we have a scenario where a hypothetical team might have their team set up in a 4-2-3-1 type of shape. Let’s say for an example here City are organised and the opposition want to move city to one side then look to switch the play and attack down their right and City’s left.
- To switch the ball to the winger you need to either hit one ball all the way across the pitch where not only by the time it comes out of the air will city have pressure on the player, but the risk of a bad touch or the ball being off target is massively increased.
- There’s also the chance even if all this goes well his own team mates may not have got there quick enough to support him In the attack
- The only way to switch this for the reds is for the back line to drop creating more depth and switching across the back line. Because Jesus is stopping them playing straight across.
- By the time they get the ball to their wide man, city should have moved across and the picture wouldn’t really have changed it will be the same just on the other side of the pitch.
Original Use of the Inverted Wing Back by Pep at CitySwitching quicker through the middle and allowing for a double pivot system in build up
- Here we will start off with city in a hypothetical base set up and look for one of the many benefits for City to have an inverted WB
- Going back to one of Pep’s principles of positional football in attacking the weak side, let’s assume in this scenario that this is the desired outcome and we’re looking to switch out to the RW.
- Here we can see the RB and the RCB just simply out of the game we can’t get them the ball, they aren’t involved and if we were to switch through them it would take multiple passes and too much time to get the ball to the RW
- Now here the CDM Fernandinho could go and move across to help create an overload or drag the CAM with him by moving to the ball side.
- If he does however there will be a huge gap in the middle of the field in front of the back 4 which is terrible if city were to turnover possession or even for switching itself.
- The LW for the reds is currently occupied by depending on their game plan to be watching for sterling at RW or the full back.
- Fernandinho could move and you could bring one of the two advanced central midfielders back to make a double pivot so you can now switch through the centre and you’re better set to defend a counter attack.
- The trade off for this is if we are successful in our switch to the RW there’s a chance now he won’t have support in the half space zone which is an integral part of City breaking apart a back 4 so this solution doesn’t help us in the long run.
- Instead we move our RB Walker up to now making a double pivot with Fernandinho. He now can move to the ball side and not have the concerns in the previous scenario.
- We keep Kevin De Bruyne high and ready to be apart of our attack if we’re successful. The left winger now has a problem with whether to follow walker as his “man”. Or stay and be apart of the zonal team set up.
- Here let’s assume the Left Winger worried about De Bruyne and their role in the teams shape stays and lets walker move un opposed into this area. We will look at the opposite in a second I’m not trying to make things too easy for myself in my explanation!
- Here with the pass back to Zinchenko Fernandinho being city’s 4 or CDM is being marked by the opposition 10 or CAM. He’s dragged him into an area where now we have a lot clearer of a lane to switch. Now this is actually a horizontal pass which some coaches absolutely hate due to the potential for someone to step out and intercept I’m just trying to make a general simplified point of a example scenario advantage of the Inverted wing back.
- Walker now under can get on the ball and play a pass to sterling with not only this switch happening quickly but the pass to sterling is on the floor and at a perfect angle for him to take a positive first touch out of his feet and I think we’ve seen this scenario before with now a midfield player in a half space or Zone 15 making a run behind the backline between the FB & CB.
- We were only able to accomplish this by having a second pivot. It allowed Fernandinho to roam and drag a player with him. This then made a passing lane safer and clearer from Zinchenko to Walker. By having walker in there this also allowed De Bruyne stay in a more threatening position for when the ball was switched. Lastly once walker moves into that position the LW has to make a decision and here he stayed.
Now let’s look how this same scenario would look if the LW would have chosen to mark or use Walker as his man & one of the problems with just treating the inverted full back like a central midfield player.
- This time in the same scenario the Winger has gone to walker to man mark & treat him like a central midfielder.
- Now he’s left his shape if the ball goes centrally he’s now no longer screening the ball into De Bruyne or Sterling leaving it a lot easier to get a good pass into either of them.
- Here now Walker could move even more centrally to get on the ball or to drag his man and Laporte would in this scenario drop to make an angle to pass so he’s not marked by the striker
- Now the striker is dead either way, he either stays with Laporte and we go straight into Kompany, or he stays where he is and we go to Laporte and then to Kompany.
- Ether way the ball is getting to sterling, in space and with immediate support. The extra pass to Laporte first would give them a little extra time to get back across but we have immediate support and we are still set up well to attack them down the right hand side
Football Manager 2021 Tactical RecreationI've tried this before many times and never really got close. I played the game not really expecting to get what I wanted and it was more out of interest than expectation.
With this in mind I bought and sold players not thinking too long term and just wanted players I thought would be good enough to carry the tactic if it was flawed and struggling in the match engine.
My hope was if what I had set up wasn't working at all in the match engine, at least the player quality could carry the odd result and give me more time to tweak it.
My Football Manager History
My first game was back with Championship Manager 01-02! I've had every game since & I would say I've been successful on previous FM's playing partially how I might set up a team if it were real life & combining that with what I feel works in the match engine.
I have however not had success at all with creating a possession based football manager tactic. I think in FM 15 I had a 3-5-2 tactic that dominated the ball with any team not just the top teams and that's probably it!
As you can see I am by no means a Football manager match engine expert. There are many people on here who have a better understanding of the Tactical creator and it's relation to the match engine and the trade off's involved when changing things and i hope they contribute to this thread!
Reason for posting
Since Pep took charge of the first team in his first year at Barcelona ( 2008 - 2009 ) there have been people on these forums trying to recreate something that resembles what he has done with his teams. Lots of people have done very well and got very close but at the end find themselves underwhelmed due to the limitations of the game going against their vision of what it should be.
Let me be clear, I haven't discovered a wondertactic that's going to win 38 games a season and win cups this tactic won't be on the same level as the tactic creators in the download forum. People like Knap etc are absolutely fantastic and he in particular is excellent at identifying how to create tactics that work and win in that particular version of the game and match engine.
Here though what I'm hoping for is to help people and whatever way that looks like. If you're already attempting it yourself you can see what I've done & how parts of my tactic got success and maybe you can take parts of what I've done, take some ideas and tweak it to yours. Or you might see your way in a particular area is better then mine and you've given yourself certainty on looking at other areas to tweak your own tactic.
I'm open to suggestions with everything and anything. My biggest hope is by the end of this thread someone has taken on all of the suggestions ideas and comments from everyone and finds the perfect combination and achieves a perfect recreation. Failing that it would be great to see how close we can get with it.
Manchester City 2020 - 2021
Well I should probably point out a few things off the bat that might give you a better chance & make a difference to the success rate of the tactic in general and the Statistics of it.
I used my real life qualifications to start the game ( UEFA B, Sunday league footballer ) if you start your saves with higher then that, you will probably have a better chance of success in the early periods!
I was tweaking my tactic up until game 5 of the Premier League season. If I had of had this tactic learnt in it's final stage from the beginning, we might have started better and our average possession & Pass completion might have been higher.
I rotated whole teams often. Every early cup round & Champions league group stage match I played a full "B" team. I also did this in the premier league for the games in and around the Champions league semi final and I may even have done it in the quarters.
This also would play a factor in the results and by results I don't just mean scoreline but all the other statistics too. Combining these games with the start of the season there could be 8-10 league games that I didn't even have my final tactic being used to it's full capacity.
Other notable things for us to consider with the game are:
Possession statistic - I mentioned before that we need to be aware that possession is calculated differently from real life. Now I say that and even when I tell myself that if my City team play a poor team and we haven't got more than 60% of the ball, it annoys me beyond belief. I'm not saying it doesn't matter but I know this is the first thing people look at then they see a "pep" tactic.
What I am saying is not only the limitations of the match engine but the way possession is calculated we need to be prepared this stand alone statistic probably isn't going to be as high as real life and we need to be ok with it if it ends up that way.
Trade offs - I will use this term a lot in my explanations. In my previous attempts at recreating a Pep style there's always something I've felt i have to give up to a degree to get something else.
Out of Possession - Now I've deliberately not touched on this at all purely because to get certain things in from real life like how the opposite winger tucks in like a central midfielder at times, will be too much of a constant balancing act with the tactical creator and how our team will play in possession.
If we can press high with intensity and force mistakes or risky passes under pressure then I'm happy. I do have analysis for this with city but like i said for me in this recreation I'm not overly bothered by it until the in possession part is perfected then i would look at this closer!
Previous Tactical attempts & Premeditated Changes
In my attempts at recreating this in previous years & previous versions I've always traditionally used a 4-3-3 set up like this (ignore instructions, roles and duties I'm just talking about the positions of the players) :
Now the main issue I've found with this is when you play a team with a lower mentality is that when they get the ball with their backline & goalkeeper it's a lot harder to get the ball off them with this set up then in real life.
When they're playing non threatening passes around the back normally (especially in older versions not as bad in this version) the striker and wingers are the only ones who initially press and the central midfield players here don't go and press the back line until much after if at all.
This results in quite often a 3v1 or 3v2 in their favour where they string multiple passes between them normally before hoofing it away but sometimes they play out from it also.
This is incredibly annoying for two reasons. One on any football game when a team that isn't the 2009 Barcelona team start to play like it against you and play out like them it's frustrating.
But when we remember how possession is being calculated I know I'm watching a game that my team has dominated in every way and statistically it's going to say mid 50's % of possession. This is exactly why we really shouldn't care about the statistic itself there are so many other things that matter and where your possession is & what areas and "positions" you dominate for a start is more important.
But lets not pretend it's not something we do look at even as a arbitrary statistic especially when trying to play this kind of football . And let's be honest Nobody's reading about a Pep recreation tactic that averages 45% possession! I'm going to prevent the Burnleylona's where possible and that reflects in how I set up this time around.
First attempt & First two games of the season:
* This was a blind start with no testing and the tactic does change with different results as the season goes on.
- I wanted to play one of the Central midfielders in the AM strata. This was due to previous attempts I noticed that to get the vertical run beyond the back line early and exploit gaps made by a wide player, when moved up into these roles I seemed to get more success. The other reason was to press out of possession on their backline with two central players to not allow the opposition to keep playing safely around the back.
- I really wasn't sure about the wide players. I wanted to see what roles and positions would get them wide early, but allow them to cut inside. I also wanted to avoid them dribbling too much with the ball resulting in loss of possession. The fact i'm playing positive with attacking duties meant this was likely and I knew this was a possibility but we needed to win the first game at home to Leicester.
- False 9, I've hated this role on FM for a while and felt you in previous editions would have to go out of your way to get some sort of decent production in terms of goals from this role. I'm not saying nobody's been able to do it! I'm just saying in my personal experience. However after using it a couple of times on FM21 i feel it plays a little different and is more of a threat on this edition of the game.
- Not full width, In previous experience i've found even though in theory that's what you would select for a pep team, that sometimes this resulted in the team trying to get the ball to the wingers and full backs to early too often. That's why one notch down is my starting point but more then happy to change!
- Work into box, Please no unnecessary non threatening crosses.
- Tempo/Passing, Going very short and then very slow i've found to never be majorly succesfull for me. Planned to start short passes but at a quicker tempo and adjust from there if needs be. More explanation to come later if wanted.
- Play out of defence. I know this is overkill and people on the forums don't like to have that with much shorter passing, I just wanted to ensure Ederson would keep his distribution short on goal kicks and felt with this there's no excuse for anything else!
That's generally it. Remember this was a blind start and i was always going to tweak from here I didn't expect it to start so well I actually thought it might go terrible and I'll get close on the second save attempt!
I know this isn't a career thread but i think this is relevant to this. I didn't plan on this working out the way it did and I may have made one or two transfers that's going to get a lot of hate. I was purely trying to put the best team together to get this whole process to work. I tried to buy the best players that fit what I was trying to do and separately one's that would help us succeed early on even if they weren't the absolute best fit for the tactic.
One of the ones I'm going to get hate for is selling Gundogan. The reason is on both FM 20 & FM 19 when playing as city i've had him be out for the season with damaged cruciate knee ligaments & I can't risk losing one of my two central midfielders on that side.
End of season stats:
Possession End of first season
As of Boxing Day Second Season:
* Right now City are at 62.6% Average Possession according to who scored. If you factor in all my previous points about starting with a lower reputation and the tactic being tweaked for the first few games of the season and the fact I rotated a lot, I believe you could easily make that up with the correct tweaks! I'm surprised it's that low in real life to be honest.
Game Overviews from Season 1:
Season 1 Competitions
New version with some tweaks
In short the out of possession is a lot more stable with less all out press and in this version the striker role can be changed to suit.
The DLF-A seems to get the patterns and movements out the best but the Poacher weirdly gets the best overall results and all types of strikers seem to be able to score with the poacher role.
I leave training to the Assistant. No OI's.