It was one of those options each season that I simply clicked to get rid of figuring that if I leave it as it is then my virtual players will feel right at home with their virtual pitch being the same size as it always has been in their virtual memories.
But then I got to thinking (a rare if not miraculous occurrence for me). Why would they put it in as an option if there wasn't a benefit to it? So I thought some more and after a few days rest to get over the trauma I decided to look into the possibilities an option like this gives a club.
Using a variety of sources: t'internet, my own saves, common sense and outside of the box thinking I was able to draw some conclusions on how making the ground staff work for you can help your team to dominate at home. However these are just my opinions and I've been wrong on at least four occasions in my life so please feel free to draw your own conclusions through experimentation or stubbornness.
Pitch Size Options
Please note: The English Premier league has a standardised pitch size, all clubs must use the same dimensions of 105m x 68m or as close to that as they can if there isn't room for it.
When prompted by your groundsman, via mail early in a season, you can select from a range of options, or simply leave it as it is currently.
Your options are currently limited to 'smallest possible', 'largest possible', 'average size' and 'current size' which is a real shame if you wanted to play on a long but narrow pitch. However even with these limited options you can really start to develop a tactic to suit your home ground and thwart your visitors.
So what is the point though really… is it just a case of giving your groundsman more or less grass to mow, save money on paint for the lines or simple aesthetics?
Well no, it really isn't.
Depending on your choice of starting team you can use your pitch to really gain an advantage when playing at home. For the sake of keeping it simple I will refer to the pitches as small, medium and large which will be defined by the options listed previously. Current pitch size will always be a separate entity as the team you start as will define what this 'current' value is, in this instance you can compare it to the standard options and use the following information for the one it most closely resembles.
SmallSmall pitches are very useful for teams who like to control the ball with short passing play. Your players will require high levels of technique, first touch abilities, dribbling skills and passing accuracy. It also works well for lower league teams or young teams who suffer from exhaustion easily as there is less running room overall.
Using shouts to encourage your players to play out from defence, pass their way into the opposition box, control the ball and otherwise frustrate the opposition by closing them down are key to making this work. Tempo is up to you and the skill of your players, a good team will be able to play this style at a fast tempo with little danger of losing the ball in key areas of the pitch. Lesser skilled teams are advised to play slow build up play in order to better control the ball.
Formations best suited to a small pitch are tight and compact ones that control the key areas of the pitch. 3-5-2 works well here by flooding the midfield with your players and still being able to support your defence down the wings with your wide players who will expend less of their precious energy running up and down a small field. I've used 3-3-1-3 to devastating effect with this sized pitch in the past. With your 3 central defenders holding the back line, just in front of them is a CDM with 2 wide wing backs, in the centre of the field is an accomplished central midfielder for distribution and up front you have your wingers and a central attacker. While this can leave you exposed in the middle of the park you can play around with instructions and roles to keep things pretty covered.
In summary a small field of play is ideal for teams that like to control the ball, stop teams from playing long-ball tactics against them and teams that have fitness issues. It is also useful for teams with a strong core of players but not much on the wings as the 'wide play' will be restricted on a small pitch naturally.
MediumMedium pitches can be suited to pretty much any style of play. If you don't know what your end goal is tactic-wise you are advised to stick to your current size or go for the standard size. There is enough room to exploit the flanks, not so much that you will be exposed should you want to control the middle of the park, enough length for a bit of long-ball but not so much that you are overly exposed to it on the counter.
This really is the jack of all trades pitch setup and I'd advise it to be used whenever you don't want to have to develop a tactic to suit your home pitch. This can be especially useful when you are already dominant at home and want to ensure that your tactics can apply to the majority of other grounds out there. Those away points are vital at the end of the day!
LargeLarge pitches are exhausting, even for the fittest players. But if that is what your team has a lot of you can really take advantage of the fact that the rest of the league probably doesn't. Nothing gives more late, second half goals than a large pitch and fit players. When the opposition is literally falling to their knees your strikers can waltz past and have plenty of scoring opportunities. Just be aware that your defence really need speed and fitness/stamina to ensure they can compensate for the long-ball tactics that a large pitch often provokes.
Your players will generally need stamina, pace, passing, decisions, positioning and anticipation to make the most of a large surface area. Determination won't hurt either.
Tactics well suited to a large pitch are 5-4-1, better known as parking the bus and hoofing it long, or my preference is 4-5-1(or 4-4-1-1) with these you get a good solid defence against the opposition but by flooding the midfield you also have a great chance to control the ball and thus the game. Your lone striker needs to be exceptional however as chances may be few and far between but get a good one with high off the ball skills and a midfield of great passers and you can really exploit the other sides offside attempts and leave him through on goal more times than not.
Be aware that with a large pitch you run the very real risk of being outflanked or even having your midfield and defence simply bypassed by a well placed pass. For the former the key is to ensure that all areas of the pitch are covered by at least two players, a wing back and a wide mid for example as well as holding the centre of the field with good defensive players. For the latter it is often worth exploring the option of a 'fly keeper', a goalie who can successfully act as a sweeper can be a life saver in those key moments.
Other Pitch Related Options
There are other factors than can affect your team, their tactics or even your match schedule.
Pitch ConditionThe most obvious of which is the condition of the pitch. A poorly maintained surface is a career death-trap, more injuries will occur when the pitch is in a poor condition and more passes will go astray by bobbling around. The simple fix is to request that the surface is relaid, however this isn't always an option for smaller teams with no budget for such things, in those cases keep the ball in the air and protect your players with a good amount of squad rotation. It won't stop injuries but it will keep your squad available with match fitness when the worst happens and your top strikers go down with broken legs from a sinkhole in the oppositions box!
Undersoil HeatingSomething for the big boys here as smaller clubs will no doubt have much more important things to spend their hard earned money on. Depending on your league of choice this will be more or less of a necessity but for most european nations it can mean the difference between a nicely spread out schedule of matches and a hectic last month of back to back games.
Snowy or water-logged pitches can be avoided with a bit of heat run under the field of play preventing those winter matches from being postponed to a more inconvenient time, it also has the added benefit of drying out a wet pitch generally which keeps its condition up when playing in wet or recently wet weather conditions. For high volumes of games this can actually avoid the need to relay the turf as often which goes some way to offsetting the cost of installation/running of the system in the first place.
Alternative GroundsMost teams won't have a problem with this but smaller teams can sometimes have their reserve/youth teams play on the same pitch as the senior squad. Training is almost exclusively off-site but could also be worth checking on. The net result of your other squads using your pitch is that it will get worn out very quickly.
Currently there is nothing in game that can be done about this, meaning that if you have all three playing in the stadium as it stands they will continue to do so forever more, even if you hit the big time and end up building a new state of the art stadium. The only thing you can do is keep an eye on your pitch condition and request to have the turf relaid as often as required.
Using the editor you can set an alternative stadium for your reserves and so if you are planning on some LLM and are confident that you are going to reach the dizzy heights of the top league then it might be worth investing a few minutes to customise your database to give your team an alternative stadium for their reserves and youth sides… even if it is just a local playing field or the park!