January 22, 2013 by Wayne.
EDIT: Due to popular demand, you can download the tactic directly here without having to read through the ramblings.
So in my last FM post, I tried out a striker-less formation which led to lots of possession but a dire lack of goals (~1 per game). After switching the anchorman for a deep-lying forward (amongst numerous other changes), I got a much better return of 2.7 goals per game on average and ended up winning both the Carling Cup and the EPL. Definitely not a perfect formation though and I did suffer some painful losses (to Tottenham in EPL, knocked out of FA Cup by Arsenal, knocked out of Champions League by eventual winners Real Madrid). Here’s the formation:
I swapped the back two roles – Vidic has better attributes for a stopper and he excelled in that role throughout the season, having one of the highest average ratings and getting into the EPL team of the season etc. I also fine-tuned their roles a bit more to cover for the loss of a solid anchorman in front of them. Consequently, I usually assign Vidic to closely mark a mobile forward and get him to close down quickly before the other attacking players can rush forward to support.
The ball-winning midfielder now has increased defensive responsibilities, having to track the advanced playmaker or any of the opposition players that look to exploit the hole. Thus, I had to get him to mark players more closely, close down more rapidly and adopt a more defensive approach to the game. While this negates the offensive abilities that helped tremendously in the previous formation, it does provide more defensive stability and fluidity to the team.
The player in the hole now nominally plays an ‘attacking midfielder’ role, though that’s a bit of a misnomer. I customized nearly every aspect of the role to get the best out of Rooney in that position. Essentially, he plays as a striker starting from deep who consistently looks to drive the attack forward. When paired with a deep-lying forward who also runs from deep, the opposition is usually highly vulnerable through the middle. The DLF regularly drops down to look for the ball and provide an easy outlet for Rooney, then proceeds to hold up the ball while the other attacking players stream forward. This presents a dilemma to the centre backs – do they follow the DLF or stand back and lie deep? If one of them decides to track the DLF, he has the option of returning the ball to Rooney who relishes the opportunity for a one-on-one with the remaining defender. If they sit back, United gets to play with two players in the hole and ping the ball around before either sending it wide or breaking through the centre.
My regular starting 11:
- Keeper – De Gea
- Centre backs – Ferdinand and Vidic have been immense. There’ve been plenty of opportunities for Smalling and Evans to star though, due to the packed fixtures and Ferdinand’s fitness. I might have to gradually give more playing time to one of them in the coming season, Rio has been slowly declining in his stats.
- Left wing back – Evra really stepped up his game, carrying out more successful tackles than any other player in the league. He’s had a few assists too, though he doesn’t overlap and rush forward as much as IRL. A bit of a sacrifice had to be made there to strengthen the defence when the inside forward drifts in and the opposition counters on the flanks.
- Right wing back – Rafael started most games and played brilliantly. He links up with Nani really well on the right flank and constantly sparks off a lot of attacks with his clever runs and crosses. Phil Jones has covered in this role too sometimes when I’m looking for a slightly more defensive approach.
- Ball-winning midfielder – Having signed Fellaini, I now have 4 contenders for this role: Jones, Fellaini, Cleverley and Fletcher. They’re all great for the role but I’ve been retraining Fletcher for the deep-lying playmaker role and he’s been making some real progress (learned the PPM to dictate play too). A bit of an oversimplification but, in general, Jones breaks up opposition play more effectively while Fellaini is slightly better at linking up play and providing an aerial threat during set pieces. Cleverley is more balanced than the rest but does require a bit more training to excel.
- Deep-lying playmaker – One of the most important positions in the squad. The back two and the BWM aim to make quick, short passes to the DLP who then dictates the play from the middle of the pitch. Carrick excels at this role but Fletcher is doing surprisingly well too. For some bizarre reason, Chelsea transfer-listed Hazard and I managed to buy him for relatively cheap – he’s another player that actually works really good in this role.
- Left inside forward – Welbeck has been an absolutely beast since coming back from injury. He’s now the top scorer for United (probably since most of the strikers were injured), regularly cutting in and overloading the defenders, before bursting past into one-on-one chances against the keeper. While Young started the season horribly, he’s also shone in this position in recent games.
- Right winger – Valencia started well but quickly faded. Nani’s been excellent on the flank and I’ve taken him off the transfer list. An integral part of the squad now.
- Attacking midfielder/withdrawn striker – Rooney’s been great, contributing plenty of assists and goals. Kagawa doesn’t exactly fit nicely into this role but he performs decently enough when he plays.
- Deep-lying forward – Bought Falcao in the January window and he’s scored 10 in 12 appearances. Van Persie links up play better but he gets injured pretty damn regularly.
Here’s a breakdown of a sample game – a 4-1 win against Juventus:
As with most games, we controlled possession better and had a lot more shots on target (more than double). Since my team works the ball into the box more (as opposed to the ton of long shots in the old formation), we’ve managed to convert a lot of those chances to goals.
I went with a slightly modified line-up to try to break their flow of play. Fellaini played high up in a modified Rooney role – he stuck closely to Pirlo to prevent him from playing threatening balls and looked to burst past Pirlo during attacks. Pirlo got an early yellow card for bringing him down and Fellaini consequently had a lot more freedom in attacks for the rest of the game.
Buttner and Jones played more defensive roles than usual and took turns to rush in and prevent Marchisio/Vidal from bringing the ball forward. Fletcher played brilliantly, rushing back and forth to assist in every area of the attack/defence. Check out his heat map:
Jones had a similarly impressive game, contributing to plenty of attacking movements while carrying out his defensive duties. His average positioning turned out to be like that of a right-of-centre midfielder, sticking closely to Marchisio and breaking down attacks:
Giggs, on the other hand, was allowed to roam further up the pitch to conduct the counter attacks.
According to the FM stats, I’ve scored a goal every 33 minutes with the new formation and conceded one every 103 minutes (ie. scored nearly 3 goals and conceded less than 1 per game):
Most of the final third crosses came from the right flank, but there were plenty of deep assists from Evra and Welbeck too.
Switching from an anchorman to a deep-lying forward led to a lot more goals without compromising defensive stability at all. The wingers performed brilliantly, of course, and helped overload the opposing defense.
What next then?
Our next aim has to be to get into the Champions League finals at the very least, as well as maintain our stranglehold on the EPL. The other teams have been buying up lots of players and I’ve started my first couple of forays into the transfer market too.
Sadly, Hernandez had to go. He doesn’t fit into the formation at all and spent the season on loan at Real Madrid who offered to purchase him after the season ended. With Falcao in and Angelo Henriquez getting some playing time, I have way too many strikers to justify having an extra one that doesn’t quite fit. I’ll be using the cash to buy a couple of young players that have been on my shortlist for some months now.
When I started the FM game, Anderson was already on the transfer list. He’s finally getting some solid offers now, and I’ll be letting him go soon. Ryan Giggs decided not to renew his contract (hopefully I can rope him in as a coach soon) and I received a good offer for Valencia from Bayern Munich. He’s been pretty off form for most of the season and after a good amount of consideration, I had to let him go.