I’ve been talking about it for a while, and it’s finally here! It’s my second post for FM17 on the tactics I’ve been using in my save. It was initially adopted by RBL during season 3, but I’ve also been using it to great effect with RBS since I took over there too. Of course, both teams playing the same way will only help us to develop players who can easily slot into both of the clubs.
Let me introduce you to “Between Two Shadows”!
The formation is a variation of a 4-2-3-1. Where the majority of this kind of set up has wide men as part of the attacking midfield trio, I’ve gone for a central trio. Why? Read on and find out!
Roles and Player Instructions
Here’s the roles then, and the reason it’s called Between Two Shadows (thanks to Marc Bowen for the name)! The previous tactical attempt played on the brilliantness of the targetman/shadow striker combo, seeing that work so well led me to this. Why not add another one into the mix?! The striker role did originally start out as a targetman too, but with the big man, Yussef Poulsen, leaving the club, I decided on a move away from the role that has served me so well in my FM17 life so far.
In that previous tactic, we ceded possession quite a lot. I set us up as the underdogs. Sitting back, soaking up pressure and then making it count when we did go forward. The switch to packing the middle of the pitch is with the aim to control our matches a bit more. It’s crowded, but there’s a lot of movement, especially from the two shadows. They’re who we look upon to create and get things going.
Going through the player instructions I have set then. Starting from the back, we want to control matches, meaning keeping the ball, meaning my keeper is set to play it out from the back to my full backs. No changes to the base roles of either central defender, although you’ll notice that the LCB is on cover, with the RCB on the standard defend. My thinking here is being a bit cautious. The left back is our more attacking of the full backs, so a little bit of cover on that side for him when he does decide to advance.
Thinking back to the my tactical set up again, the full back roles were very conservative, so any shift here would have been ground-breaking! Our left back is now a wing back on support! With the right back being a full back on support. They’re who we rely on to provide width, and they’re a key part of the entire set up, both offensively and defensively. The only tweak to their roles is that they’re encouraged to cross the ball more. I’m also in the process of testing out whether instructing them to stay wider gives us some more width and options going forward.
The two central midfielders are just that, central midfielders. One on support on the right hand side, with the left sided one being on defend. He’s our defensive cover in the middle, winning tackles, recycling possession and providing the base for which the remaining 4 midfielders have the freedom to go forward and create. He’s instructed to shoot less often and pass it shorter. While his midfield partner is instructed to be more direct and shoot less often. He’s more direct, to get the ball moving forward more quickly and take some risks when doing so. Shoot less often is a recurring theme for my 6 midfield and attacking players, I want them to be more patient and seek out the right opportunities rather than shooting from god knows where (although that still happens anyway!).
The central attacking midfielder was originally an advanced playmaker on support when I first put this tactic together, but he’s recently been shifted to just a standard attacking midfielder on support. The reason behind this? I felt by having a playmaker in the side it wasn’t actually helping us, we were trying to find him too often. I know that sounds silly, because that’s the whole idea behind a playmaker, but it makes sense in my head! Teams often play with one or even two defensive midfielders, and when they were, our playmaker wouldn’t get to create. The attacking midfielder role also gives you more freedom over player instructions, I’ve gone for shoot less often as I mentioned already, and also telling him to roam from position. Giving him all the potential to act like a playmaker, without the requirement for my players to constantly look for him with the ball.
On to the two shadows then! I’ve already mentioned that they’re who we rely on. For their movement, creativity and their goals too. The shadow striker role in-game already has a few instructions pre-set like moving into channels, making more risky passes, dribbling more and getting further forward. They certainly do all of these things, and of course, I’ve got them set to shoot less often. I’ve never written this term out before, but it’s quite apt to use in this situation, but they definitely adopt the half spaces. They’re movement between the lines is a joy to watch at times. They’ll go wide, they’ll come inside, they’ll string passes together, they’ll be on the end of those passes and of crosses. I can’t recommend this role highly enough on FM17. I’ve loved it so far.
As I mentioned, the striker role initially started life as a targetman, but a shift away from Yussef Poulsen saw me adopt a complete forward role on attack, with of course, the only extra instruction being to shoot less often. Shoot less often, for a striker? Yes, I want him to make better decisions when it comes to taking his shots. Roles for my strikers is something I constantly battle with, and it was the same for me on FM16 too. I can never quite nail down one I think is doing well for us, and I’m having this same dilemma right now.
Again, following on from my previous set up, there’s very minimal team instructions set. The mentality is standard and the shape is flexible. The roles I’ve set and the couple of player instructions I’ve chosen really set the tone for how we play. The only instruction given to the team is to play it out from the back. Again, this is to really maximise us trying to control matches. If we’ve got the ball, the opposition don’t!
So how the hell does it play?
Here’s some examples of in-game situations from our domestic cup final victories in season 4. RBL impressively beat Dortmund 3-1 to secure the DFB-Pokal, while RBS overcame Admira Wacker 3-0 in the OFB-Cup.
Here’s our opening goal against Dortmund.
You can roughly see our defensive shape following a long kick from Dortmund’s keeper. Aside from our RCB coming over to challenge both our RB and Vietto for the ball, we look good. Our CM(D) has dropped in to provide some extra cover, and our CM(S) and AM(S) are occupying more advanced slots to link the defence, midfield and attack. Both shadows are in promising positions should the ball break, especially our number 10, Timo Werner. Dadachov, the CF(A) looks slightly isolated in this scenario. Dortmund win the second ball, but a poor attempted pass is cut out by one of our hard working shadows.
The break is on and we pounce. Dadachov picks up the ball from Timo’s great interception and releases Oli Burke down the right, our other shadow striker. He makes the right decision to move into a wide area, hits the byline and fires a brilliant ball into the danger zone for Mihalcea, our AM(S) to finish. At the end of the move, we’ve got four players streaming into the box to get on the end of it. Great movement, great goal.
Salzburg’s second against Admira was a beauty of a team goal too. Patient in the build up, but decisive.
Kalkan and Radosevic, our CM(S) and CM(D) calmly slow the play down, but as soon as it hits Rotariu, one of our shadows, the move gets going and quickly. Sosa, our CF(A) drops off and shows for the ball, creating space in behind for Plavsic, our AM(S) to run into. A great through ball takes out the entire defence and Plavsic has time to power it into the net. Another great example of the movement and interplay on offer between our front 4.
At times, we can be caught out when facing opposition playing with out and out wingers or inside forwards cutting in. Especially so from advancing full backs bombing on.
Here’s a Dortmund attack above illustrating that. Dembele’s received the ball and has moved inside. You can see Passlack behind him with acres of space to run into, but Dembele chooses to hit a cross field ball to Guerreiro, who’s also wide open on the left. Dembele is occupying out left back, Jannes Horn, while Schurrle has Klostermann tracking him as he advances. Guerreiro eventually finds Schurrle in the box, but he can’t in turn find a man, and the move comes to nothing. The shadows do work hard to close down and win the ball back, but with them being set up as AMCR and AMCL in the line up, and with no width in midfield to support the defence, we do struggle defensively out wide at times. Quite a few of our goals conceded are from wide.
At other times, there’s also an issue when facing teams playing their own traditional versions of 4-2-3-1, complete with wingers (as above) but with the added issue of an opposition player in the AMC slot. Because of our lack of defensive midfielder in the DM slots, they often find quite a fair bit of space to operate. It’s always a tricky match when we face Hoffenheim and Nadeem Amiri. I knew I should have signed him…
Dortmund’s consolation in the match comes from their player in the AMC slot, Mario Gotze.
Dortmund have a thrown in on the left. For some reason, Oli Burke (#19) is marking Gotze, and is in a deeper defensive position that Klostermann (#2) from the throw. Anyway, Gotze receives the ball, and runs inside. Naby Keita (#8), our CM(D) on the day is already occupied by facing up to one of Dortmund’s CMs, Kagawa. This means it’s left to Oli Burke, one of our shadows, to track Gotze. Not ideal. Keita stays in no mans land as Gotze makes space and fires a long range effort into the top corner, albeit it looked like Vanja in goals should have saved it. A consolation on the day, but a warning shot that AMCs can find space against us.
Width. Despite throwing a tad more caution to the wind with my choice of role for my full backs, I still think it’s stifling us going forward. Yes, it’s worked fine so far, but there’s still some improvements that can be made with this. It’s by no means perfect. I’m still choosing a bit of defensively solidity as opposed to increased options going forward. This leads very nicely onto the next issue.
Long shots. If you’ve stumbled across a way of playing that means you don’t take loads of long shots, then fair play to you! They are particularly an issue for me right now in Austria, where Salzburg are one of the more reputable teams in the league, and teams just sit back when they play against us. It really harms our creativity and I haven’t been able to come up with a proper solution that works for it yet.
On the surface while long shots may look to be an issue, are they really though? You could be looking at the stats for one of your matches and have completely dominated shots-wise, but look down and see that a huge percentage of them are classed as long. You might also be only watching the matches on key highlights. I watch mine on comprehensive, and the number of the long shots that are counted that end up to just be those free kicks you see being casually floated over the bar is quite outrageous. Keep this in mind, it’s something I don’t always do. Are these set pieces hiding an issue with your ability to create chances from open play?
Of course, if you’re trying out this tactic, I’m 100% not guaranteeing success. Yes I might have played 92 times with it over the course of two seasons and only lost 11 times, plus secured my first Bundesliga title win, but it’s not perfect. If you do try it out though, I’d love to see and hear how you get on.