Context in Football Manager is everything and sometimes we don’t realise this, for example, you could go two goals up and think you are playing well. Or you could go two nil down and think you are playing poor but like everything else, it isn’t that black and white. It is quite possible to be losing by playing well and winning while playing poor. There can be hundreds of reasons to why the scoreline is what it is, so we need to understand how we are playing in order to know what changes we need to make and why. How well do you understand exactly what’s happening in your own games?
I recently played a game in the League Cup, I am League One Sheffield United and I was playing The Premier League’s Swansea City. Now if I didn’t understand what was happening in this game I could have panicked and made changes just for the sake of it. I see a lot of users panic when they score or go a goal behind and instantly make changes, this can be a bad idea sometimes if you don’t understand why it happened. If you’re playing well and go behind then why would you really make a change instantly? Surely if you’re playing well then you have just been unlucky? No amount of tactical instruction we set can control player mistakes these will happen regardless. At least that’s how I see it.
Let me show you an example of what I’m talking about based on a game I played recently against Swansea. To give you a bit of background about the game, I was the away side and with thirty minutes of the game left I am trailing 3-0. These were the formations both sides used;
These were the stats for the first half in terms of shots both sides had;
As you can see in terms of shots it was pretty even on the face of it. I actually went into halftime two nil down though. The first goal Swansea scored came from a fantastic ball from one of their players out wide and then as a result of a cross that my keeper didn’t deal with they scored a really easy goal. I put this down to a goalkeeper mistake as I expected the keeper to deal with the cross much better than he did. I can’t show you the video of it just yet as it’ll give the scoreline away but I’ll link it at the end. The second goal was a good bit of skill from their striker although he hit his shot from 20+ yards out so I’d expect my keeper to save these kind of shots more often than not. So again I’ll put this down to a mistake or being unlucky.
So even though I was two nil down I didn’t feel the goals I conceded should have happened in the first place so we can count ourselves of being unlucky with the scoreline. But what about how I was playing? Well I didn’t think I was playing that bad, we had our own chances of scoring during the first half and my side generally defended well considering the gap between League One and Premier League standard players. I’d have liked to have a couple more shots on target but it wasn’t a big deal as I felt I was both creating enough and that the goals would eventually come.
When half time approached I had a choice to make, do I stick or do I twist? Well considering I was play well (in my mind by watching the match and not just judging by the stats, as they can be very misleading when looking at them in isolation) and I felt the goals would come I decided to do nothing. Other managers would maybe change things around here as they are losing two nil and need to score. But if you feel you have played well and not been outclassed then why change? Yeah I get that you might think you need to go more aggressive due to chasing the game but I don’t see the point of changing anything based on what I considered to be two bits of poor play from my keeper, that’s all the really separates us. If my strikers were better I could have easily gone into this half two nil up myself I felt. I don’t like to panic, if I make a change it’s because I want something that the current tactic/settings don’t currently offer but I truly believed I’d been the better side and was more than still in this game.
With all that in mind no changes were made and I continued into the second half.
The second half went much the way the first half did but I didn’t create that much going forward and neither did Swansea. Then around the sixty minutes mark Swansea scored their third goal of the game and I was three nil down. This was really their first effort at goal in the second half. Now I had a choice to make do I still stick or do I twist? I still hold my nerve and not panic and keep things the way they are, I have the long game in mind here and don’t want to rush. This might sound strange to a lot of you but I still believed I can win the game in the latter stages when tiredness is an issue. So I kept things same for the next ten minutes.With twenty minutes left to go however, I definitely twisted as I need to score four goals to go through, it seems unlikely doesn’t it? Well no, I feel I’ve been the better side and created the better chances. Swansea are also tired now but my side seems to have conserved their energy throughout the game a lot better. With this in mind I decide I can move from the counter attacking strategy to a more attacking one now as the players still have the energy for it but Swansea are looking tired and have quite a few players with low condition compared to my own. So I thought I’d exploit this fact and went attacking.
On seventy-five minutes I scored a really well worked team goal that split open Swansea’s defence and we took the chance well. Ten minutes later I score the second goal that puts me back in the game with five minutes left. Two minutes later, from the result of a corner we score the third goal and it’s now 3-3!!! We are in dreamland the comeback is complete and it looks like it’s heading to extra time with three minutes remaining of the game.
By this point Swansea are rattled and look lost and tired, in the last ten minutes or so they’ve been penned in their own half and the odd times they have ventured forward they have offered little threat due to their players being tired. With one minute left of normal time the unthinkable happens, I score a FOURTH GOAL! I now lead the game I was losing three nil, 4-3. The more or less straight from the kick off Swansea go up the other end and equalise, what a game this has been so far. It’s weird because twenty minutes ago I’d have took this result all day long but now I’m a bit disappointed after going 4-3 up. The full time whistles blows and it finished 4-4 in normal time, that means another half hour of extra time to be played.
The second half shot stats looked like this;
I had seven shots and scored four goals, that’s not a bad return at all. I mentioned during the first half that I felt I played well and the goals would come. I feel the second half we played a lot better and became more clinical in front of goal.
After the excitement of the first ninety minutes extra time was quite dull as both sides were really tired and offered nothing going forward really.
As it finished 4-4 after extra time with no further goals it went to penalties and I actually lost them lol. After all the drama that the game brought I lose on penalties! Ah well at least we showed character and there isn’t anything you can really do to influence penalties its just the luck of the draw on the day. These were the full stats from the game;
These are all the goals from the game
The first Swansea goal 1-0;
The second Swansea goal 2-0;
Swansea’s third goal 3-0;
Blades first goal 3-1;
Blades second goal 3-2;
The Blades fourth goal 3-4;
Swansea equalise 4-4;
So what’s the point of this article? I guess if there was one it’s that you should understand how the game is going and not take the stats or scoreline at face value, context is everything. If you know you are playing well and just been unlucky then I see little point in changing things around to chase something that you don’t need to chase. I’m not saying everyone should do that but this works for me and how I play. Also if you are to make changes then make sure its to either change something or take advantage of a situations. Some people might have panicked at half time and done drastic changes and they could have got a better result than me, they could have also got a worse one. Timing and understanding are everything on a game like Football Manager, they are the fine margins between winning and losing. Sometimes we can be too quick to change things or sometimes we can be too late to change things.
What we should do is view how the game is going them come up with a plan. My plan was simple, stick to what I know works and don’t panic. Then with twenty minutes to go, go all out for the win after I knew Swansea would tire and have players with low condition. On another day I might decide to go that little bit earlier to win the game with changes I make. But whatever I decide I’d have a clear plan throughout the game of when I’d make changes based on how the game was going. I’m not saying the changes will always work and they could backfire but I find that I can often clawback results like this.