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Tactical Development Workshop - LESSON 6: Attacking Myths

Busting common myths about attacking midfielders which prevent you from troubleshooting inefficient play and ultimately improving the offensive formation of your team.

By on Jun 08, 2021   932 views   0 comments
Tactical Development Workshop - Tactical Development Workshop - LESSON 6: Attacking Myths
Welcome to the sixth lesson of the Tactical Development Workshop.

Today we will force your brains to be a little equilibristic: forget all you have learned so far about attacking midfielders in Football Manager and at the same time call very thoroughly to mind our former lesson about strikers.

We already know that the position and movement of our striker is firmly related to the opponent’s defensive midfielder. While setting the role and duty of the striker one must always take into account the rival’s defensive formation, in which the position of defensive midfielder is determining the actions of our strikers.

When we exclude the roles that that won’t do against a given rival, still there seems to be a wide range of choices. It turns out, only apparently.
The reason is that the behaviour of our striker is to the same degree associated with the rival’s defence, as to the behaviour of his partners, including all attacking midfielders (central and wingers).

If we use the formation not utilizing attacking midfielders (4-4-2, 4-1-4-1, 3-5-2, 4-5-1), the influence of the partners playing in the second line will not be so clear and we will be able to choose the role for our striker basing just on the rival’s defensive settings.

The difficulty in showing the influence of the offensive midfielders on our striker’s play is that the number of possible connections is enormous (I analysed 163 from 240 possible patterns). Showing them and describing in such a terse form as our short lecture is virtually impossible (in any case, in all the other forms as well).

Therefore, taking a step towards increasingly frequent asking for the specific answers and solutions, we will approach the problem systematically and instead of describing all the noticeable connections we will focus on two topics:

1) Busting several common myths,
2) Breaking rival’s defensive positions.

In today’s lesson we will deal with three myths, which while functioning in the widespread awareness of players, in a great deal do not allow to achieve satisfactory results in constructing the attacks, but above all make it difficult to identify the reasons for inefficient play, resulting in problems with improving the offensive formation of your own team.

Let’s start with the most important one.

MYTH 1: WIDTH OF PLAY

In each (literally: each one) self-respecting Football Manager guide there are at least several paragraphs describing that issue. Authors try to keep the balance between the flanks and the middle of the field, ensure the passing options in each zone of the pitch, and some even convince that the lateral sectors guarantee the success. Nothing confirms that.

DEFENCE

Both while selecting the roles for the attacking players and while deciding about the width of play you have to realize that width of play attribute concerns team positioning only in the attack.

It is very important to get free from the false belief that while choosing the very wide play variant (or playing against very widely positioned rival) we will face widely stretched defence line.

While in the defence, team always adjusts the formation width to the events on a pitch. If rivals will attack by the line, our defenders along with belaying midfielders will also position wide irrespective of the wide or narrow play instructions.

Similarly, during opponent’s attack through the middle our defenders will stay close to each other focusing their attention on the central part of the pitch.


Marked red are the mean positions of our defenders without the ball, mean positions on the ball are marked green. To the left rival plays wide while we play narrow, to the right the opposite: we play wide, our rival plays narrow.

ATTACK

It works exactly the same to the other way. If we choose the variant of very wide play, we can expect our rival to stretch his defensive line in the attempt to seal lateral sectors of the pitch. If we play very narrow, rival’s defence will play accordingly.

There is yet one valid premise resulting from this, and it is named: raids from the deep! By stretching rival’s defence we create natural gaps in the middle for players entering from the deep sectors of the pitch.

Therefore in all “wide” tactics utilize such roles as box-to-box midfielder, central midfielder with attack duty, shadow striker, inverted wing back or offensive midfielder, also with attack duty. In each match they will find at least several suitable chances to score.

Remember that in “narrow” tactics similar raids from the deep may be ensured by offensive full backs (complete wing backs and wing backs, or full backs with attack duty), which thanks to the narrower positions of the rivals will find a lot of space on the flanks.


Marked green are mean positions of our players on the ball, without the ball – on the red. To the left rival plays narrow while we play wide, to the right the opposite: we play narrow, rival plays wide.

SPREAD

Contrary to appearances, between extremal settings (very wide and very narrow) are not several meters of the difference.

Very wide play does not mean that our wingers would storm the flanks scratching the chalk from the lateral lines, and our defenders would be forced to look into the eyes of supporters.

The narrow variant, on the other way, does not cause such a congestion in the middle of the field that our wingers would play closer to central midfielders, and full backs closer to stoppers.

The width of our play is decisive for our passes, not our position on the pitch. How close the player will be to the by-line is determined by his role and chosen playing variant.

Classic wingers will look for offensive entries on the flanks even when the team plays narrow, and inside forwards will look for every occasion to aggressively cut to the middle even in the very wide variant of play.


Map of the players’ activity in the narrowest setting.


Map of the players’ activity in the widest setting.

DIRECTION

Please remember that the width of the play will determine the way we pass the ball! Even if we order short passes and slow tempo, but set the wide play, don’t expect the ball to be passed around along the lines as in FC Barcelona.

Similarly, in the narrow tactical variant, but with quick direct passes, don’t expect many long balls played above the second line. Our playmakers, regardless of whom we will choose, will look for longer and direct passes on the flanks in the wide variant, and for short balls played towards the striker in the narrow one.

It depends not only on the chosen style and direction of play, but also on the distances between players. So don’t be surprised anymore that the number of clear chances is inversely proportional to the width of play: the narrower, the more.

In other words – the intensity of our attacks increases in narrow variant and decreases in the wide one. This does not mean the increase of quality (clarity) of those situations, because they greatly depend on the rival’s formation and their chosen defensive style, but facts are facts.

Narrow offensive and wide defensive tactics will be generally better than their mirror images.


Map of our rival’s activity with wide play and standard mentality.


Map of our rival’s activity with the chosen narrow play and standard mentality.

ROLES

Actually, the result of our remarks stated above should be the suggestion to adapt the width of the play to our style: wide play with quick, direct, counter style, narrow with control and short, slower passes.

Nothing could be further from the truth. It turns out that well-chosen players’ roles against the specific rival allow breaking that pattern and achieve satisfactory results (read: statistics).

Explanation is simpler than it looks: for the wide variant choose roles preferring the width of the pitch (winger, trequartista, complete forward, deep lying forward, wide playmaker), and for narrow play choose roles ensuring the movement in the middle of the pitch (enganche, inside forward, advanced playmaker, poacher, advanced forward, false nine, pressing forward).

Among those roles raumdeuter and offensive midfielder create an exception pleasing the manager, for being versatile enough to adapt to any game variant.

In the narrow system look for the play thanks to the full backs, in the wide one ensure that the centre of the pitch is occupied by midfielders connecting the space and able to stop the rival.


Map of the activity of our players: wide roles + wide play.


Map of the activity of our players: narrow roles + narrow play.

MYTH 2: DUPLICATING POSITIONS

Myth much less harmful, though consuming our time and resources. Football Manager engine does not allow to duplicate positions of the offensive players.

In the extreme situations it causes that a player nominally devoted to another role starts to behave (position, movement, direction) in a different way than nominated.

It does not matter if it concerns our two poachers positioned one next to another, three deep lying forwards, or even two wingers, not in a single moment of the game will they be doubling each other’s position (each one will stay in the own zone), nor will be moving the similar way (each move will result from the partners’ moves) nor will be duplicating the direction of the attacks (they are changed).

In that case decisive (for their position) will be the zone determined on the formation screen. They will take the position according to their setting. Movement will result from the partners’ mobility and the course of the action.

If one of the strikers moves forward, the other will move laterally or withdraw. If one winger will wait by the line, the other will rush ahead. There was no moment or configuration that I could observe running in each other’s back, or playing shoulder to shoulder.

The only problem is that one cannot predict, and therefore forecast, how which player will behave, as this will result from the course of an action, which player will get first to the ball and which variant will he choose.

I encourage, however, to experiment, because rivals will be as much surprised as we, managers of the team surprising us.

Among many observed variants I especially recommend combination of the winger with complete wing back (great overlapping and securing each other in attack), inside forward with poacher (switching positions and poacher behaving as complete forward), false nine with advanced forward (great cooperation in front of penalty box, exchanging passes – AF as playmaker) and two deep lying forwards (unpredictable moves, switching positions, double actions).


Map of activity and mean positions of two poachers playing together (playing with ball and without the ball connected with the black lines). To the left defensive variant with one DM, to the right without DM.

MYTH 3: CREATOR AND SHOOTER

Another little dangerous and unnecessary Football Manager myth was introduced by Llama3 in his Pairs and Combinations guide.

While earning respect of many players, including myself, for many novel insights, discovering and organizing many dependencies between players’ roles on the pitch, and different than before approach to the game mechanics, he included in his guide the rule of strikers’ cooperation: creator and shooter.

This idea, obviously incorporated from the real pitch, is not relevant in Football Manager. Not only that: cooperation of two/three creators, or two/three shooters occurs in the game without harming statistics, and hence the team results.

Let me remind you. Shooters include poacher, advanced forward and inside forward with attack duty, while creators include trequartista, deep lying forward, false nine and inside forward with support duty.

A complete forward, pressing forward and raumdeuter (in certain cases also deep lying forward) can incorporate both functions depending on the situation and teammates’ positions.

In variants presented to us cooperation of both shooters (P with AF, P with two IF/a’s) or both creators (DLF with T, F9 with DLF or T with two IF/s’s) seemed to be ruled out. I checked it.

All those variants work perfectly, as similarly to presented above example of duplicating positions, one of players (shooter or creator) adopts certain role depending on how the situation unfolds.

At the end of the season poacher may have as many assists as goals, and deep lying forward may achieve a golden boot award. Moreover, if we possess only creators in the attack, and in the second line we place players aggressively entering from the deep (SS, BBM, CM/a, AM/a, IWB), we achieve not only unpredictable moves of our players, but also competent shooters.

It works similarly if we have only shooters in the attack, and we place creators behind their backs (AM/s, T, AP, DLP, RPM, EG). Strikers will perform well in front of the opponents goal.

Although using such variants should be reserved only for the special conditions and circumstances, I firmly stand there is no reason to avoid them. I strongly recommend it in the situation of having several exceptional shooters or creators in the squad, and the rule of complementing the specialties would interfere their simultaneous presence on the pitch.

That’s all for today. The seventh lesson will be devoted to breaking through the defensive positions of the opponent in relation to the typical styles and formations used in Football Manager by AI. In other words, we will learn to set up our attack according to the certain rival.

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