The Spanish Libero and the Invisible Wall – Part Two

In the last article I gave a brief introduction on the kind of attributes I like the libero to have. In this part of the mini series I’ll be focusing on all the aspect of the libero that either don’t work, hinder the libero’s game or work but not very well. I’ll also be touching on shapes, as some of them are far more accommodating for a libero than others.

Team Instructions

One of the main complaints I see associated with the libero is that he isn’t really involved in build up play like the user would like. In almost all the cases I’ve seen where someone has claimed this, they’ve had a whole host of team instructions which really don’t aid his game. I class team instructions as extremes as they try to force that particular tactical action more frequently, which isn’t always a good thing. If we take a look at the team instructions we can then see which benefit the libero and also see which don’t.

Defence

The only one under this section that’s really worth mentioning is the defensive line. Having a deep defensive line can see the libero starting much deeper than usual. And while the same can be said about the other defensive players too, it means that the libero is starting/staying deeper initially. This means it can be slightly harder for him to get forward as he’s not positioned slightly higher.

It also worth remembering that a deep defensive line in a control and attacking mentality structure will still be quite high. It’s only on the lower end of the mentality structure were this could become a major issue. So if you use defensive/counter attacking mentality, then a deep line might make him a bit more passive than usual due to everything being more passive on those structures.

Build-Up

Under this section we have quite a few instructions which I class as being bad for the libero’s play. These would be;

  • Clearing ball to the flanks
  • Exploiting the wings
  • Pump Ball into the box

All three of these settings impact the libero in the same way. If you clear the ball to the flanks or pump it into the box, then the libero will be bypassed. It also means the ball is being cleared from the defensive areas towards the midfield quickly, meaning he can’t really join play as it’s all happening around him too quickly and giving him little incentive to venture forward. If the libero isn’t immediately involved in play then he will be more cautious, so you’ll see him hang back, not make those runs and he will rarely go beyond the half way line.

Exploiting the wings is the same but this time you’re putting emphasis on play in these areas. Again this doesn’t really help the libero as he won’t be able to help as a support option because the ball will be out wide. These instructions take play away from the central areas and try to force play wide, for the majority of the match. Which is bad for a player who plays centrally and so deep to begin with. It makes play very hard to keep up with and there’s no real benefit of the player going forward much regardless of his tactical settings and player preferred moves.

The key to getting a libero involved in play is to have players in the side who look for him to recycle possession, start attacks, act as a support player and so on. It’s all about giving him as  many options as possible around him so that the role, is properly integrated into your system. The more options he offers the players around him, the more likely you’ll see him do what you want.

I think I mentioned it in the last article but without the libero having these options and getting forward he is just a poor man’s deep-lying playmaker but without the playmaker attachments. He still functions and does stuff but it’s not the things you expect a libero to do. This is why it’s important to understand the role and what it actually offers because if he isn’t doing those things, then other roles do what he will be currently doing far better. So it would make little sense to use a libero over those better suited roles.

The other settings under the Build-Up section aren’t really that bad and won’t really restrict the play of the libero. Instead, the rest of the settings will just change the ‘how’ of certain things but regardless, he will still do them.

Attack

Under this section the settings get a bit more muddled up and blurred. As some of these could enhance the libero if he was the player on the ball. But if he isn’t then it could possibly be a bad thing.

The looking for overlaps/underlaps shouldn’t impact the libero much unless this makes the ball stay out in the wide areas longer, which it really shouldn’t. But the settings like hit early crosses will see the libero bypassed and unless he was really advanced to begin with, which is highly unlikely, then he will struggle to get into good areas to be of any use. Players who start deep have more ground to cover, so when play goes forward too quickly, those players are always playing catch up. And for some, it’s unrealistic to be of any use during these moments.

Those are the team instructions which would be the biggest worry for me

Positions and Player Roles

Getting the best out of the libero is a complicated process because we have the shape, instructions and player roles all having a deciding factor on what your libero does, the how and the why. It’s hard to look at just thing and say ‘I need to this’ because everything is linked. Really it comes down to seeing the bigger picture when deciding to use the role or not and thinking about the way everything links up. This is where player roles become an obstacle.

Depending on the type of libero you are wanting to use, then you need to pay careful attention to how the roles all function and link together. I did an article about this subject a bit back so to save going over old ground you can just check out the article to get an idea of what I’m talking about.

Piecing It All Together

I’ve mentioned it a few times in this piece and the article before but there are some roles that I will not use when using a libero. The simple reason is they either restrict the libero’s movement by playing a similar area to what the libero would use. Or they take away from his game by bypassing him due to attracting the ball or because of how they drive forward with it.

The key here isn’t what a role does specifically (unless it’s a, playmaker) a lot of it, is down to the space the roles use or occupy which is the main issue. You might think differently to me here but from all my testing over the years and using the role regular, I find that the best things to avoid for me are;

Defensive midfielders

This includes all of the DMC roles. When using a DMC regardless of which role, they all start off in the same area you are encouraging the libero to initially be in. This can cause the libero to pass the ball to the DMC instead or that the DMC takes away the space the libero had to move into. What you end up with is the libero not venturing forward past the defensive midfielder and never really bringing the ball out from the back. Which in turn makes the player himself act like a defensive midfielder, which defeats the original purpose of using him in the first place.

Even if you choose one of the more aggressive roles like a Segundo Volante or a Regista, it negates the use of a libero because it does everything that you’d want him to do. And there isn’t really any room in any system for two players like that due to the lack of intelligence the game has. In an ideal world it could work if it existed though because when one went forward the other would hold back and vice versa. But we don’t really see this kind of stuff on Football Manager.

Playmakers

Playmakers are something I try to avoid in general because they attract the ball. If I was going to use a playmaker then I’d choose a deep-lying playmaker in the central midfield positions. I find due to the deep-lying playmaker being less aggressive than the others and not really venturing forward, this can actually help your libero. It gives him passing options and he also because a passing option for the DLP. Not only that but he can also turn into a runner then, especially if he knows the playmaker will pass the ball to him. They can work quite well together.

I don’t find that an advanced playmaker work well with the role though as it’s a more aggressive role, in terms of how it works and uses the ball. If the advanced playmaker plays in the attacking midfield position, then you might see the libero give him the ball then either drop further down the pitch or hang back.

Depending on what you are actually wanting from the libero that might be fine for you. But I want the player to score goals, provide assists, provide through balls and generally be an integral part of how the team attacks. This is one of the reasons why I’ve mentioned a few times about it all depending on what type of libero you want.

The wide playmakers also make life difficult by attracting the ball to the wide areas and not really linking with the central players who will mostly play behind him. This makes life difficult because the libero already has a lot of ground to cover but if play isn’t happening around him and he isn’t initially involved, then he has no way of progressing up the field.

Target Men

I’ve tried for years to implement a traditional target man with a libero and had it working to some extent but it still didn’t work like you imagined. The libero is barely involved and struggles to keep up with play, but the times he does manage to, then it works okay. But for most parts a standard TM in the striker position doesn’t really help with what we are trying to create.

I know this article is focused on what doesn’t work but I have a found a way of using a wide target man to great effect and it allows the libero to push on and become involved in the wide target man play. They actually link together brilliantly and compliment each other. If people let me know either below or on Twitter, I might expand on this kind of set-up and combination play more, if it’s what people want to read about.

The Wide Split

This is one of the areas of the game that I think needs a complete overhaul. Not just for the libero but in general. The defensive aspects of Football Manager are still very basic and there is no real intelligence with how they play. I can understand the two centre backs splitting but they don’t have to cover the wings as this makes me vulnerable to central attacks. Especially as I use wing-backs who offer cover already. I’d expect the centre backs to split every so slightly or go wide to cover space if they really have to. But not for no apparent reason, other than to split wide. It makes no sense at all, especially considering that you are encouraging the libero to go forward. So if he goes forward and the other defenders cover the wide areas, then we have situations like this;

The libero is highlighted in red and the two other centre backs are circled in white. You can see that when the libero goes forward the players still stay wide and don’t really compensate for the libero’s movement. This is a regular occurrence and shows that the game doesn’t really have intelligent defensive behaviours, were players really cover for each other.

This sort of behaviour actually happens quite a lot, meaning you can be vulnerable centrally at times and really get stretched, should you lose the ball fast and the opposition directly attack this space. It runs you ragged.

You’d not actually believe that this screenshot is from the same move would you? This was about 10 seconds after the first screenshot and the libero has regained his position and everything now looks normal. While the initial split is problematic and a cause for concern, it’s not always a threat. However it is still risky and something that I’d like to see FM work on going forward.

I keep mentioning the word intelligence and that is what I think the game is lacking overall. Instead of robotic behaviour like the initial split, it would be great to have some kind of mechanic in the game that recognises there is no need to be that wide as there’s no danger, yet there is a threat immediately from the central player of the oppositions in the first screenshot. I’d have no issue if the two outer centre backs split wide if there was danger, as then the responsibility for leaving the central player unmarked would be a downside of the libero.

But there is zero cohesion between players. It’s the same for other positions too. You can’t really set up to say ‘lads, if one of you goes forward, then one of you must cover and stay back/more central’. This is where the game really needs something that allows us to set defensive behaviours. If we can’t have that kind of freedom ourselves, then SI need to implement something into the roles so the game knows that someone should be covering based on the passage of play that is currently happening. This kind of happens now to some extent but it’s still very basic and this match engine is limited in what it can do.

That’s not really my issue though and people get paid good money to try to solve these issues and implement them in a better system. We all know there’s been a new match engine being worked on for some time now and that should make things better. But as the world of football moves on and we see new concepts, then this is where we really see the limitations on Football Manager.

I’m hopeful that in the future we will see a more robust match engine though that is more flexible. This isn’t some direct attack towards those who work on the game, far from it. We all want a better experience right? And these are some of my concerns and major issues with the current engine. Which sets me up nicely for the next section of the article.

The Invisible Wall

If there is one thing I don’t like about this game, it’s the invisible wall. Now if you’ve never used a libero before then you might not realise this issue. Rather than explain this issue it might be best to just show you a small clip of what I’m talking about.

Regardless of how good/poor your libero maybe, you will see him do this kind of thing constantly. He hits a certain point and abruptly stops even if he space to run into. There is no reason at all, in the above example that he can’t venture further forward and continue his run. No-one is occupying the space he has to run into and there is no danger that makes his defensive instincts kicks in, as you can see in the screenshot below.

You see this every single time, it’s like he gets pulled back by a bungee rope or hits some kind of invisible wall. The strange thing about when this happens is, that sometimes he will then start his run again and get into a much deeper position and even get into the oppositions area. It’s really strange behaviour. I could take a look at any game I’ve used a libero for and I will see this happen 10-20 times a game minimum.

What I’m going to do it collect all the info accordingly and make sure it’s as detailed as possible then submit a bug report about the role. Despite all of the concerns and issues above, the role still works as intended fantastically. It just doesn’t play as fluid as you’d expect. It’s not fluid in the initial play at all and is something I’d love to see addressed for FM19. Now I’ve covered what the libero role doesn’t do well and discussed it’s faults, the next part will be the total opposite. I’ll focus on everything it does well and much more!

To give you a little taster of his contributions to the team, these were his goal and assist stats for the first season, when I was still implementing the role and working out a few kinks with the team as a whole.

Not a bad return eh?!

5 thoughts on “The Spanish Libero and the Invisible Wall – Part Two”

  1. I started messing around with the libero because I liked the idea of having a playing step up into the space behind my 2 central mids. As, you said, the first thing I noticed was the wide gap that from the CBs. I’ve moved my WBs back to the FB slot and it looks like it’s helping (at least it is in FM16).

    It was interesting reading your thoughts on how to set up the players around the libero to get the best out of him (if you want him scoring, assisting, generally involved in player). Especially the use of aggressive playmaker roles and defensive mids.

    I happen to use a roaming playmaker, or regista depending on the player, at DMC so I had a bit of a chuckle. So I see everything you said first hand. But for me that’s ok. Because that means the player I have playing as my ‘libero’ is filling the role I want him to. And that’s simply stepping into midfield and behaving like a defensive mid while my team has possession.

    I really appreciate the articles. It’s amazing what a libero can do at the most effective. And without them, I wouldn’t have even considered utilising one.

  2. The invisible line observation is very true, it seems like you need to keep the CM’s moving up the pitch quicker than the libero to me. If he moves past the last one then he panics & stops. I only play with 2 CM’s but might tweak their roles to push up quicker & see what happens.
    Like Aderow I kinda use him as a holding midfielder but would be good to get him to sit a bit higher sometimes.
    Great article as always, looking forward to the next part especially the roles that he works best with in your opinion.

  3. If the CM’s go really high the libero still doesn’t push on initially as you can see in the example. You can’t do anything to stop it from happening. The libero will join in the attack again but he always hits the invisible wall first 🙁

    1. Man that’s crazy. Must be a pure code thing of when he hits a certain spot or only leaves so many people behind the ball he stops. Really looking forward to seeing what roles he performs best with in your opinion & how you get the best out of him in terms of attacking. I’ve only managed to get him to work as a supporting midfielder so far.

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