This is written by guest author @DistanceCovered who is a very talented football writer. You can check some of his work out here;
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For those that aren't aware, the club that I'm currently managing in FM18 is Deportivo La Coruna in La Liga. Dépor are a side that I remember fondly from the early 2000s, both in real life and in Football Manager. I loosely recall skilful attacking talents such as Diego Tristan, Juan Valeron and Djalminha, as well as the crazily entertaining score-lines in the Champions League, including the 5-4 comeback win over AC Milan, the triumphs over Ferguson's United and the 8-3 loss to AS Monaco.
My somewhat vague recollection of Deportivo effectively formed the overall motive behind my save - To rebuild Dépor and reconstruct that creatively offensive style of play through an obsession with attacking. After playing through one season and signing a few of my own players to better suit the desired style of play, I now believe that I've created what I want to see. So without further ado, let’s get into the tactic.
The formation of the tactic is 4-2-2-2, but this obviously shifts depending on the match situation. When defending, the formation appears and acts almost as a 4-4-2, which is one of the most stable defensive shapes largely because of its natural inclination to mathematically cover the pitch appropriately. In simple terms, the 4-4-2 allows 60% of the pitch to be covered by 60% of your players, with your four wide players then covering the remaining 40%. However, when in possession, the formation moves into a 4-2-2-2 and occasionally a 4-2-4 depending on perspective.
I haven’t labelled the tactic as a 4-4-2 because I think there’s a common misconception attached to how it operates, which I think is related to the classic English style of play. I believe the common understanding of the 4-4-2 consists of two limited full-backs, two one-dimensional wingers, a target-man and a poaching striker, but that’s far from how my system operates, as shown in the picture below, so I wanted to stray away from that tag.
The movement of the players can be much more complex than shown above, but to keep things simple I’ve limited each player to the two most primary movements that they make during matches to give a general idea of the zones they occupy.
Those that follow my Twitter account (@DistanceCovered) will know that I'm an avid Liverpool fan, and that's where the inspiration behind a 4-2-2-2 formation originated. Jurgen Klopp employed the system after the 4-1 defeat to Spurs, and Liverpool have since demolished most sides through excessive goal-scoring whilst remaining balanced defensively. RB Leipzig also regularly employ a 4-2-2-2 formation, and they're another one of my favourite stylistic teams to watch. I find how they use the shape to press almost as a 4-2-4 particularly compelling, as shown below, and that’s something I wanted to adopt at Deportivo.
Roles & Duties
Here are the roles and duties for the players in the tactic, and I’ll describe the reasoning for these below.
Sweeper Keeper (S) – I’m operating with a SK for three reasons really; firstly because I’m playing with a high defensive line, so there’s a lot of space that the keeper may be needed to cover. Secondly, the role is a lot better in FM18, so the keeper will actually contribute to build-up more so than in previous releases. Finally, because I’ve somehow managed to sign Ederson in my second season and giving him any role other than SK would just be wrong. I only attach one PI to this role and it’s to distribute to the defenders so that we build from the back, but I’ll sometimes remove this depending on the match situation, as Ederson’s Kicking attribute is 20 so it can be particularly useful.
Wing-Back (A) – I’ve opted for wing-backs over full-backs in this system, largely because I want the wide areas nearer the touchline to be occupied by these players in possession, and by doing so they’ll then force my more forward wide players inside. In terms of the duties, I’ll always have one WB on Attack and the other on Support, but I’ll swap and change depending on the players involved and the match situation. By selecting a WB on Attack, this player will provide the width but will also penetrate more so than normal, thus adding an attacking outlet for the opposition to somehow manage.
Central Defender (D) – These next two roles speak for themselves, a basic central defensive pairing really. I may look to incorporate a Ball-Playing Defender once I’ve improved the quality of my players, so that the vertical passing aspect of my play is emphasised further. The key attributes needed for these two players in order to fit the style include Positioning, Pace, Acceleration, Jumping Reach, Heading and Concentration amongst others.
Central Defender (D) – See above.
Wing-Back (S) – On the opposing side to the WB on Attack duty will always be a WB on Support and this is for two main reasons. Firstly, I never want both my flanks to operate in the same manner, as I want to pose as many threats to the opposition as possible through variation. So, if on one flank my WB is providing penetrating runs, then I want my WB on the other flank to instead provide a deeper crossing threat or a simple passing option. Secondly, I’ll mostly use the WB on Support on the same side as the Segundo Volante, as that player requires more cover than the Defensive Midfielder does due to forward runs. So, the Support duty WB will provide more protection by operating on a lower mentality than the WB on Attack duty.
Defensive Midfielder (S) – The player in this role is intended to be one of the few that doesn’t have an attacking obligation. I want to score lots of goals and attack through many different ways, but to do so I also need a few players to think a bit more carefully. By using a Defensive Midfielder, this player will be a lot more cautious than the players around him with more licence to create, which is especially necessary considering he’s playing next to a Segundo Volante. I’ve selected Support as my duty for this player largely so that he remains involved in group pressing and passing, as the same player on Defend is less likely to do so.
Segundo Volante (S) – This is the player from my midfield two that is allowed to get more involved with attacking, and he’ll often make forward runs or carry the ball forward himself. I was thinking Naby Keita at Leipzig with this role to be honest, so basically a player that is absolutely a central midfielder, but one that can also occasionally join up with the front four to provide another means of penetration. Also, some may have noted that my two central midfielders are located in the DM slot, this was intentional and to provide more defensive stability in the match engine, which is needed as my tactic is clearly an attacking one.
Inverted Winger (A) – I wanted this player to have a different role to his teammate playing on the opposite wing, but I also still wanted him to cut inside and avoid endless runs down the flanks. The reason for wanting a different role to the opposite flank is simply to add further variation to my already widespread attack, as I believe in attacking through numerous different means to provide the ultimate defensive problem for the opposition. I opted for an Inverted Winger, as the role encourages the player to cut inside, but also allows a crossing threat especially depending on the preferred foot of the player selected, as well as any relevant Player Trait. I also chose an Attack duty, so that this player operates as one of the main threats in the system by getting forward and operating with a high mentality.
Wide Midfielder (A) – This is perhaps the role that seems to thrive the most in the tactic. Those that have joined my channel in FM Slack will be aware that I’ve labelled this role as a ‘Raumdeeper’, and Cristian Pavon is the player that the role has been tailored for. I initially wanted to operate with a Raumdeuter in the AMR slot, but that role wasn’t defensively stable enough to use when playing as Deportivo on an already high mentality. To provide more security, I instead selected the role of a Wide Midfielder which is placed further back in the MR slot, and added all but two of the player instructions that are attached to the Raumdeuter role. The two PIs that I decided not to add are Cross Less Often and Moves Into Channels but there are reasons for this. I didn’t add Cross Less Often because Pavon’s crossing attribute is 16, so I didn’t want to take that away from his game, and Moves Into Channels is a PI that I would’ve added but the option is unavailable for the Wide Midfielder role. However, Pavon already has Moves Into Channels as a Player Trait, so it’s a movement that he’ll make regardless of PIs or TIs, and by doing so he operates as my Raumdeeper. I’ve attached a screenshot below showing Pavon’s first season playing the role to show the effectiveness of it.
Shadow Striker (A) – I operated with this player in the ST slot for a while with various striker roles, but this has worked the best so it’s what I’ve stuck with. By selecting a player in the AMC slot, I’ve found the ball to progress up the field better, as I now have players positioned in every level of the field. The ball often moves forward very quickly using this tactic, mainly because of the mentality, so it’s important to have players well positioned in order to let the passing flow. The Shadow Striker thrives when partnered with the Deep-Lying Forward, which I’ve described below, as the forward runs of the role become effective due to the DLF dropping deeper and thus moving defenders out of position which creates space.
Deep-Lying Forward (S) – This is the role that is the most advanced in terms of positioning, as the player in this role is already high up the field most of the time. The three closest teammates behind this player all play with an Attack duty so they’ll be inclined to get forward and score goals, so to allow them time and space to join attacks, I want my main striker to hold up the ball, to drop deeper, to move defenders about and to link play. For this reason, I opted for a Deep-Lying Forward, as the role fulfils all those requirements.
I’ve included the screenshot below to sum up which roles in the system thrive most, and which are generally more important in terms of getting results and goals. In the image, you can see the average rating of each role in the team following the 5-0 away win against Athletic Bilbao, with the two inside-out wide attackers evidently being the major threats. FYI – the player with the 9.80 was Cristian Pavon.
Below, you can see the mentality, shape and team instructions that I’ve selected for my tactic.
Mentality: Attacking – This is vital to the system and highly influential on the style of play. This also coincides with the overall motive behind my save, which was to create exciting attacking play at a high tempo with no fear. By using Attacking as my mentality, that then acts as the base from which my team work from. Play is faster than normal with an increased level of risk-taking, and passing is particularly impacted which is crucial to what I was looking for. A team's passing style forms a huge part of that team's playing identity, so it was an aspect I watched carefully. I wanted vertical play, transition football, and lots of forward intent with speed and link-up play. Using Attacking naturally produces that type of passing, as demonstrated in the images below which were taken from the big win over Bilbao.
This first image below is the amount of forward passes made by my players in the 5-0 win. Overall, we completed 205.
Now, compare that to the amount of backwards passes we made in the same match, just 52.
This is a very apt representation of Attacking as a mentality and how it influences a style of play. I tweaked my passing further by using the Retain TI, but I'll go into that later in the article. Overall, the Attacking mentality provided my team with the vertical passing style and aggressive intent that I was looking for.
Shape: Flexible – In the past I’ve been an avid user of Very Fluid as a team shape and that’s essentially because it’s how I believe real football should be played in an ideal world – as a team unit. However, this is FM and I’m only managing Deportivo, so I had to opt for a more realistic shape and selected Flexible. This shape allows my mentality to be distributed throughout the team fairly evenly, so I can attack through various different means but I’ll also defend with good numbers too. It’s essentially the 50/50 shape and it works well especially considering the regular speed of my attacks, as they often don’t allow enough time for every player to become involved.
Now, in terms of team instructions, these are often overused but they’re best viewed purely as a means of further refining and polishing your team’s style of play. If you don’t know how you want your side to play, how can you select a team instruction? Never mind ten or twelve of them.
I’ve selected five for my tactic, and I’ll explain why below.
Width: Narrow – I've selected Narrow as my width largely for pressing reasons, even though it’s purely an on-the-ball instruction. My system is proactive and encourages my players to press the opposition to regain the ball. My team has to be compact in order to do this, and there's two different ways this can be achieved, through vertical compactness or horizontal compactness. Vertical compactness refers to the spacing between your outfield players from front to back, so basically the distance from your strikers to your defenders. That type of compactness is mostly related to the team shape you select, with Very Fluid being the most compact and Highly Structured being the least. However, the shape I've used for my system is Flexible which isn't overly compact, so to make up for that I've opted for horizontal compactness which is basically the distance from side to side. The narrow width doesn't negatively impact my attacking play either, because my formation is already a wide one, and the wing-backs in the side occupy the flanks.
Below is a screenshot from the Bilbao match highlighting the average positions of my players. Notice how narrow my team is which consequently means we’re well positioned and compact enough to press if the ball is lost. Another thing to notice is the multiple levels of the pitch that my front four occupy, which allows the ball to flow forward comfortably as I mentioned earlier in the write-up.
Closing Down: More – This and the next TI I'll go on to describe are both very much linked. I selected this level of closing down so that my side behave proactively without the ball to win it back through pressing. By selecting this and pairing it with the mentality I opted for, my team will be forceful when trying to regain the ball, and the width I chose means that my team will be compact enough to press the moment the ball is lost.
Below is another screenshot from the Bilbao match, in which you can see the amount of high ball recoveries which indicates the pressing intensity. Also, notice the amount of central regains due to my team’s narrow focus, as well as the amount of regains on the halfway line which is due to the opposition regularly being forced to go long due to lack of space to play through.
Defensive Line: Higher – Now, as I want to be forceful in regard to winning back the ball, my defensive line has to coincide with that. For example, it'd be conflicting if I asked my side to press but also instructed them to drop off by employing a deep defensive line. This TI comes into play when my side loses the ball, so by instructing my team to stay high, that then allows my players to press because the space should be compact and therefore difficult for the opposition to play through. Occasionally I'll drop my defensive line to Normal depending on the match situation, but as I've said I want to create an aggressive attacking system, so I'll look to stay on Higher.
Retain Possession – This is important and it's a TI that I'm personally fond of, but it's often viewed negatively. When playing without Retain Possession, I found my build-up play to be too impulsive and wasteful, and the overly direct approach didn't work well against weaker sides that had to be broken down. This problem was also largely due to the mentality I'd selected, but the general aspects of playing on Attacking remained suitable, I just felt they had to be tweaked and better utilised. So, I added Retain Possession and since doing so, my players have basically made better decisions on the ball than they were doing beforehand. The reason for this happening is because the Retain Possession TI basically reduces the likelihood of your players trying risky passes, which is usually considered a bad thing. However, due to my mentality being high on Attacking, my players do still try risky passes but they do so with greater consideration and with a better balance than before.
Play Out Of Defence – This TI essentially reduces the average length of the passes made by the defenders in your side, as they’ll look to play short more often than not. However, due to the fact I’m operating on Attacking, which is a very vertical mentality, my defenders will still try longer passes when appropriate. So, the influence of this TI is similar to what I’ve described for Retain Possession, as I’ve found it to basically improve the decision-making of my defenders when building up play from the back.
I don’t currently operate with fixed opposition instructions, as I think they should only really be used situationally unless your tactic is very specific. I’ll occasionally used them to set pressing traps, or maybe to mark specific players, but in terms of regular instructions I don’t really use any.
However, there is one common OI that I use, and it’s when I’m facing an inferior side that are playing with a lone striker, as I’ll instruct that striker to be marked tightly or tackled hard. The reason for this is because against these sides I’m more than likely to dominate the ball and the territory, so if the weaker side manages to escape their own half with a direct pass, I don’t want their striker to have any time to turn or hold up the ball and I instead want it to come straight back.
In regard to other opposition instructions, the followers of my FM Slack channel will be aware of how I alter things from game to game in order to take advantage or influence the opposition, but they aren’t systematic enough to include here.
I’m at around 3500 words here so I’ll leave it there for now, as I think the majority of the aspects attached to the system have been covered. I may follow this up some time with an analysis piece showing how the system plays out in the actual match engine. So to conclude, here’s a screenshot of my system in its entirety:
Overall, the system I’ve created allows my team to play in a direct manner with an added emphasis on forward passing and attacking through multiple channels, rather than being reliant on one or two means of scoring. Obviously no system is perfect though, and using this tactic won’t result in simply winning every single match. All matches will still require some form of management, but the 4-2-2-2 that I’ve created provides a solid foundation to work from, especially if the right players are used.
If you’re the type of person that enjoys attacking football, goal-scoring and fast play, then you’ll certainly enjoy playing with this system.
Here’s the download link for those that want to use it: http://www70.zippyshare.com/v/WDdc0qRp/file.html
Be sure to let me know how the system works for you on Twitter - @DistanceCovered. Enjoy.