It’s been a while, but I’m back. I may not have blogged in a few weeks, but that doesn’t mean I’ve not been playing FM. I’ve been firing through the save at the same rate as before, but finding it difficult to remember to screenshot, and document the save at the certain popular periods for an update. When you last heard from me at the end of season 3, we’d just won the Scottish Premiership in our first season in the league. What an achievement.
Since then, season 4 has also been completed. Heading into our first Champions League campaign as a club was always going to be tricky. Especially having to negotiate a few qualifiers to start the season. We came through those, and made the group stages. Bayern, Benfica and Olympiakos was a very tricky group for little old Greenock Morton. 2 draws from 6 games, both against Olympiakos, and we were out.
Juggling a European campaign with trying to successfully defend the Premiership title was always going to be tricky, and we couldn’t manage in the end. Falling 4 points short of Rangers, their 2nd win in 3 seasons, but we did finish 5 ahead of Celtic, who had a massive end of season collapse, to end the season in 2nd place. Our exploits in season 4 took us above Celtic to become Scotland’s 2nd most reputable club. Outrageous.
Why the blog today then? Well, firstly, I’m feeling inspired by #wearethecommunity kicking off and seeing some of the brilliant, positive reactions to something that I believe is going to be massively beneficial to everyone in the FM Community. But also, unusually for me, I wanted to talk tactics.
Now, I set out right at the beginning of writing this blog, that I consider myself useless tactically on Football Manager. I decided I’d much rather leave the in-depth tactical posts to the experts, Cleon, FMAnalysis, JLAspey, Guido. However, if you’ve been following the Morton save updates since the beginning, you will know that I made a confession that I had downloaded and was, rather shockingly for some, using StatApp’s 4-3-3 that he began with on his brilliant USV storytelling save on YouTube. Say all you want, but the man knows how to put a tactic together, and it worked wonders for my Morton side. The proof is there, I consistently overachieved playing with it:
- Season 1, fight relegation, Championship playoffs.
- Season 2, mid-table mediocrity, Championship winners.
- Season 3, fight relegation, Premiership winners.
- Season 4, consolidate, CL group stages and 2nd place finish in the league.
My strikers and wingers have scored 20+ goals in seasons. My playmakers consistently hit huge average rating numbers. My full backs both laid on 10+ assists a season.
Despite making a few tweaks here and there, it’s not my tactic.
So from season 5 in the save, that’s 2019/20, I’ve made an effort to become my own man tactically.
I want my defence to be solid, stay firm, but the full backs can join in with the play further forward if they want to. I always want a player in the defensive midfield position, giving that extra cover when needed. Someone in the centre of the park, with the ability to get up and down the pitch. Players on each flank, getting and staying wide, providing chances. A maverick, playing in front of the main midfield and behind the striker, with the ability to unlock defences at his own free will. And a focal point, the main man, the lone striker.
This is the output of those thoughts.
Asymmetry at it’s finest. These are my lop-sided 4-1-2-2-1 formations. I always know how I want my teams to play in my head, but getting that across in FM terms has always been Achilles heel.
I like my teams to control the play, have possession of the ball, but not for possessions sake. Just like FM keeps asking me, and just like I keep telling them, if we’ve got the ball, we’re not going to concede.
Like I said, I like wide players. I appreciate a narrow formation, but ultimately, I’m not a fan. I love it when a winger gets the ball and just runs at the opposition defence, but there’s got to be an end product. I’m very much a manager that chooses his players based on form, I believe I’ve got the players at my disposal so that one week I can play the formation on the left with the left sided wide man being further forward, and if that doesn’t come off, the next week I can switch to the right side playing further forward. One thing I don’t like is that the ‘cross from byline’ instruction is pre-set for a winger. I said I want my wide men to run the defence and have an end product, yes this sounds like running to their hearts content and then crossing it, but if the cross is on from deep, then I want them to play that ball and get it in the box.
Whichever variation I play, the side in which the winger is pushed forward also includes a slightly more advanced role for the full back on that side too. Now I’m sure I’ve seen somewhere before, but this isn’t really the done thing to do. Normally you’d have on one side, an attacking role for a winger coupled with a more defensive role for the full back, and on the opposite side, you would have a more attacking role for a full back coupled with a more defensive role for a winger. I might be completely making that up, but that’s how I’ve always set my teams up. The change here is that I want my full back to move into that vast space vacated by the winger playing further forward as default. He can get up to support the attacking play, and provide an extra outlet for crosses.
One of the issues I had with Luke’s 4-3-3, and I think Luke had this occasionally depending on the player he selected in that position, was with the centre forward. I often found because of the role selected, complete forward on a support duty, that he could be isolated at times. I’ve tried to remedy that here with an amended role for the front man, advanced forward, and by advancing a midfielder into a role behind the lone striker. I’m looking for them to work closely together to be our main outlets for goals.
So how does it fare in-game? Let’s have a look at our recent match against Celtic at Cappielow.
Our keeper has the ball, so it’s the perfect time to see how the formation sets up. I always like my keepers to play the ball short to defenders, so hopefully he does that here, he’s got options at centre back, and potentially, at left back too. Celtic play with the classic 4-2-3-1 formation, the ideal formation for my defensive midfielder to pick up their man behind the striker. We’re playing with the left sided version of our formation here, and you can see my left winger is the more advanced of the wide midfielders, albeit slightly at this point.
Moving on, play progresses through our centre midfield. James Morrison, number 8 tries a raking long ball to Jason Cummings, but it’s cut out by Saidy Janko at right back for Celtic. When Stuart Armstrong picks the ball up, we can see how we’re set up defensively. As I said, this is the left sided version of the tactic, so our number 3, Benedetti had started advancing to support Cummings. Morrison, in the box to box midfield role, applies some pressure onto Armstrong, while N’Golo Kante, our 24, stays close to Celtic’s 56, Henri Saivet.
Armstrong finds some space and another long ball is attempted out wide, but that’s cut out by John Kavanagh at right back.
Kavanagh plays a short ball to Callum McManaman who’s playing in the deeper right midfield position. Finally a shorter pass. And again, a short pass forward finds Zelalem in a pocket of space behind Celtic’s midfield. Remember, possession, but not for possessions sake. One of Celtic’s centre backs has to come out and apply pressure onto Zelalem, which allows him to do this.
Find the feet of Sturridge. Yes, that one. Liverpool’s signings of Gabigol and Vincent Aboubakar rendered him not needed and his contract expired. Not in the plans at all, I’d splashed a bit of Champions League prize money on Cummings, but what a signing Danny has been so far. Ideal to spearhead the tactic. He picks up the ball and has 4 Celtic players around him, with not much support. He moves inside, and into the box.
He holds onto the ball, and fires it past the Celtic keeper at the near post. What a goal. You can see the set up of the tactic brilliantly here too. That left side has really got forward to support the attack, the box to box midfielder and advanced playmaker sitting just outside the box waiting to pick up any scraps, the right sided midfielder has also got forward to support, picking the right moment, and the defensive set up is solid with the DM protecting the centre backs.
The game ended 4-2 to us. It could have been so different however, with Celtic being 2-0 up. You need breaks in football, and Coll Donaldson’s goal came from a corner. Sturridge, like I said, is the ideal man to spearhead our attack, what a performance from him.
Here’s the stats from the game and the key thing I notice here is, what I’ve been banging on about. Possession but not for possessions sake. 56% of the ball, but a higher number of shots, a good shots on target ratio and a good number of chances created, whether they’re clear cut or half as the game distinguishes them.
Like I mentioned previously, I’m not the most tactically minded person there is. I don’t think this is the perfect system, but I just wanted to introduce it to you today, as I’m actually really pleased with it. When you create your own tactic, and you gain results like the one I detailed, it’s the reason why we all play Football Manager.