Forged In Steel – The Deep-Lying Forward

Understanding the player roles of on Football Manager can be hard to do especially as the descriptions aren’t always the best and can often ignore important factors about what they do or don’t do. So to give you a better idea of the roles and how they function, I’ve decided to write about them. I will be doing this for every role I use in the 3-5-2 that I posted about earlier in the series. People should then get a sense of what to expect from a specific role and allow you to understand the basics of the roles. Which will in turn help you out when deciding which role best suits your needs for the tactic you are creating or the style you are trying to implement. This should make creating tactics a less daunting proposition.

I’ll also be discussing how I utilise this role, how it links with the rest of the roles around him and explaining everything about how it functions. I’ll include examples too. I think it makes sense to speak about player development too in the article seeing as it’s all linked to how I play. I have no time scale for when this series will be completed though as it’s a lot of hard work to get done.

The Deep Lying Forward

This role is all about the link play and its primary goal is to provide a link between the midfield and attack. It’s a very creative role and is often used when you lack bodies in and around the attacking midfield areas of the pitch. The deep-lying forward will look to drop into this space and provide a link as well as looking to create chances for their teammates. You should expect him to be more focused on creating for others than scoring but that’s not to say he can’t score lots of goals.

In any two-man formation you’d look to use this role if you had him partnered with someone more attack minded like an advanced forward or poacher. It’s very rare in a two-man striker formation where this role is used that the second striker would be anything than an attack minded one. The only time he would be played alongside another deep creative type of striker would be if you was creating something specific or looking to use strikers but give off the effect of playing strikerless.

It could also be used if you had a rampaging attacking midfielder like a shadow striker or even a goal threat from wide like an inside forward. The main factor to consider when using the deep-lying forward role is, who are the support players going to be who are getting beyond him to be a goal threat, as you will need those types of players to play off the deep-lying forward.

This role comes with two duties;

Support - On this duty the player will have these instructions active, hold up ball and more risky passes. With this duty the player will be responsible for dropping deep and linking play. They can and will score goals but creating and playing others in is more the focus and aim of the support duty. You can expect to see them dropping off into little pockets of space and roaming around looking for the space. They’ll look to spray passes out wide or to the oncoming players who are looking to go beyond him into more dangerous positions.

Attack –  With this duty the player has three  player instructions active, hold up ball, gets further forward and move into channels. On this duty the player won’t drop as deep as the support one and he will also be slightly more greedy in terms of taking shots or having chances himself. He will still do the above but he’ll do them from areas slightly higher up field and might be slightly more biased and selfish towards taking shots and being a goal threat compared to the support duty.

Those are the basics of the role that should give you an understanding of how the role functions and what to expect. But for more advanced stuff you’ll have to read on.

The shape you use will also impact how the role functions as will the roles and duties used around him and in the setup generally. For example a deep-lying forward as a lone striker will act a lot differently that in a system that uses two strikers. The reasons for this are due to what the player actually does during the game and the space he’ll be dropping off into as well as the space he will be running into. The dynamics are vastly different when you add someone else into the mix alongside him or even just behind him from the attacking midfield position. We also then have the players attributes, which determine how he will interpret the role himself.

Lots of people think that a player must have ideal attributes to play roles and be successfully in them but that’s not true. A player with a different attribute set will still be able to play the role and do well but how he plays the role will be a very different interpretation. I find myself saying one sentence quite regular in comments on the blog and when replying to people on the SI forums. That sentence is - Any player can play any role, the only thing that differs is how he interprets that role. I think a few people forget this at times when you see them posting.

The Development Side

During the first season, Billy was the player I used as the deep-lying forward for most parts when he was fit. The image was him at the start of the game. I wouldn’t say he would be the first choice deep-lying forward for many, especially when I use an advanced forward in the side already and this is clearly Billy’s best position. One of the reasons for not using him was his PPM’s or more importantly a specific one of them.

The plays One-Twos PPM is great for the deep-lying forward role and allows a quick change of pace when he uses the PPM. I felt this was better utilised on the deepest forward and not the highest because space would be limited for this PPM to even work.

As for Billy’s training it was just relatively simple due to him being already developed and if I got promoted, likely surplus to requirements. However this is how he was set up;

In season two I brought a new player in for this role and we will talk about him in a later article when I really focus on the development because I approach it differently for this player. But for now, it was all about maintaining Billy’s attributes and just focusing on the advanced forward role.

The Analysis

Remember in the first article (I think it was the first one) I mentioned that I wanted to get at least 50% of all the teams shot on target. This means that the strikers are responsible for a lot of these shows and are the ones who will have the most shots as a rule.

The most important stat here is the shots the player has. Billy has only had 63 shots in 31 games, which doesn’t seem much at all but I wasn’t after quantity, I wanted quality. Scoring goals was only his secondary job, his first job was creating space and playing the other striker in on goal. His assist rate is low at seven but that doesn’t mean he didn’t do what was expected. He also scored 18 goals which is a decent return for someone who isn’t set up to be my main scorer.

Out of 63 shots though he had 45 of them on target and scored 18 goals. These are excellent stats especially as 71% of all his shots were on target. It shows that he wasn’t wasteful with his shots and when he did have them, he was being productive and hitting the target. Anything over 45% here is classed as really good, so to have 71% is exceptional.

To add real insight into these stats though we need to take a look at how he functions in the 3-5-2 system and see exactly what he offers the side.

This is the heat map and also shows where he had all 190 of his touches during this game against Millwall. As you can see he is very much playing outside of the box and taking up the kind of areas I’d expect a deep-lying forward to take up.

Average position screen just confirms what the heat map does and shows that with the ball he plays just outside the box. While without the ball he is deeper areas while searching for the ball.

On this screen we can see the passes completed that Billy Sharp has done. He completed 59 of them in total.

Those are his intercepted passes.

One of the most important analysis screens for any link player is the screen above, the passes received one. This tells you in what areas he receives the ball and give you a broader idea of how he is functioning with those around him. Above I’ve highlighted a specific area as the player seems to receive the ball frequently in this kind of area.

Now if you click on any of these dots you get an option to see linked events or watch the highlight of the move. If you choose the linked events then you will see something like this;

It’s a great screen for seeing the full move and seeing just how involved in the build up the specific player was.

If we click on the number 10 icon on the linked events screen, I can then watch the move that Billy Sharp was involved in and see what he did. In the above screenshot he is just dropping off the front to find a little bit of space.

By dropping off the front he became involved in play and was a passing outlet for my midfield to link up with. So when he receives the ball, he has a little look around and sees David Brooks in lots of space and a simple pass plays him in on goal. Brooks then scores by hitting it the first time.

When I selected the clip I didn’t know it was an actual assist for Billy as I was going to highlight the more dangerous passes in the key passes screen below.

Key passes are a great snapshot to show us the passes that are, well, erm key. We already saw one of these in the example above but let's have another look at a different example this time.

Here we have Billy dropping off the front again and taking the defender with him. You can also see the passing triangle we have here and options for retaining the ball or being attack minded.

Due to him dropping off the front and the defender coming across to mark him, this opens up a huge gap for my central attacking midfielder to run into. All Billy has to do is play a simple pass and he is through on goal, which he did. But unfortunately Carruthers wasn’t able to score. While the move is simple and very basic, it highlights how Billy creating space by dropping off the front and either taking his marker with him or making his marker shift across. This creates space for others to then run into.

In my set up you’ll remember that I don’t really have much support from my midfielders and just have one attack minded central player. However this is the reason why. It allows the other two central players to stay deep while the attack minded one bombs forward. And then if we add Billy into the mix, it’s a good strategy to use. If no move is on, then we can easily retain possession and play it safe if needed. But it’s the movement of Billy and the running of Carruthers that make moves like this possible.

Someone dropping off the front makes the defenders step up or shift across. While at the same time having players run towards the defence makes them make choices, which is what I mentioned I wanted to do in the very first article. The opposition's players then are either caught out of position, flat-footed and can’t change direction to deal with the second threat quick enough or get run ragged and stretched in doing so. This move doesn’t work all the time but is does frequently.

Hopefully this gives you a little insight into how he works in the 3-5-2 setup. I’ll be expanding on the players used in this role and their development in future articles. I will also cover the role again when I analyse the system and do a proper match analysis. But for now, I just wanted to share with you the above.

14 thoughts on “Forged In Steel – The Deep-Lying Forward”

  1. This is great Cleon!

    So even with an attack duty, a DLF is not the best option if you’d want him to be one of the main team goalscorers? If I have a supporting AMC behind him, can’t he still score loads of goals?

    I’m asking this because for example, the only difference between a DLF on attack and Advance Forward is that one holds up the ball and the other runs with it.

    Thank you

    1. While that is the only visible difference, you have to remember that all these PI’s all have different weights for different positions. So under the hood of the game, it’ll be more than just that setting that is the difference. As it’s coded to play in a different manner even if the PI’s all look the same.

      He can still be the main scorer, it just depends on the support and supply he has. If the AM behind is a support one, he will need someone to get up along side or from wide areas to provide him support so he doesn’t get isolated.

      1. Thank you Cleon! I understand.

        So someone like an attacking IF or even a Shadow Striker are good options to help?

  2. Wow, this is really great! Thanks a bunch for this.

    Focusing on your Shadow Striker comment, the game itself even mentions pairing a Shadow Striker with a Deep Lying Forward … so, realizing it all depends … would you go with either SS-A/DLF-S (dropping the AF-A back to SS), or could AF-A, DLF-S and moving the CM-A up to SS-A work as well? Or would that be too crowded? Assume you are confident enough in the other 8 players covering defensively for the sake of argument.

    1. Well it’s all about providing the right balance. If you used AF and SS then both are attacking and not dropping off and creating space. This might not be an issue but in quite a number of games it will, especially when defences sit deep against you. Who would be creating space high up? You might get away with it for most parts, it’s just how reactive you’ll be when it isn’t working, how quickly you notice and can change something so you aren’t struggling.

      DLF support and a SS is a good combo.

      1. Thanks! To clarify, I meant AF-A/DLF-S/SS-A, all three, so the DLF would be the one creating the space (I’d hope). So no CM-A, he moves up to SS. What issues would you see with those 3 together up front?

        1. The same principles apply that I mentioned in the original opening posts and in this article. It’s all about the balance. If that’s the roles you want/have to use then the roles around them have to be set up to utilise this and provide the balance those front 3 wouldn’t offer.

          You have to think about who is providing the support and giving those front 3 the ball. Who will link the midfield to the attackers? As moving the CM up to SS you lose your link player. So who is going to take on that responsibility now?

          1. Thanks that helps a lot. I’ll try to find a role in midfield to provide the midfield – attack link. Thinking a Roaming Playmaker as one of the MCs, a Carrilero/RPM combo might work.

  3. Hi cleon.

    Regarding Billy’s training, did you traim the AF role instead of the DLF role because of the attributes AF training focuses on?

    Is there no role familiarity bonus you get from training him as a DLF that would make that training focus more desirable?

    If you had picked no role focus in training does it then default to the role the player is utilized in?

    1. I trained him as a AF because that’s his best position, meaning the attributes he currently has are all weighted towards that role already. Considering he is 30/31 years old, he is likely at full potential and it’s all about maintaining his attributes at that age.

      It doesn’t make much sense to train him for something else because he is too old to be mould into a another role and has no CA left.

      No there is no role familiarity as such but training him as that.

      If you pick no role, the player is still trained on his basic attributes for the position he plays. So all strikers would train the bare minimum for finishing, off the ball and composure.

      1. Hi Cleon
        You mentioned above that a deep lying forward would play much differently in a single striker system. I’m also reading your 4-2-3-1 system and see that you use him there with an attack duty. Am I correct in assuming this is because in that formation he needs to provide more attacking presence due to the lack of a second striker as in a 3-5-2?

        1. Kind of. But his job in the 4231 is different to the one I use in my 352. In the 4231 his job is to occupy the defence to the IF can run into space created and use it.

          1. You use a deep-lying forward instead of of a complete forward set on support. The game seems to describe a complete forward as a striker who can and is smart enough to “do it all” so to speak. Is this because the deep lying forward drops deeper on a consistent basis?
            I apologize for some of the simple questions. I live in the US and only could start watching football when they started televising the premier league here 2 years ago. I have a ways to go before I understand the nuances of world football.
            I also do appreciate the time you take in these forums to answer all the questions you do. I can see it’s a big commitment

          2. Don’t ever apologise for asking questions. There is no such thing as a daft/silly/simple question 🙂

            The DLF drops deeper yeah that’s his main role. The CF will be more attacking even on a support duty. I don’t need the role to do a bit of everything. I need him to drop deep and create space while linking up with the midfield by coming deeper. A CF wouldn’t do this frequently enough.

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