Sempre Vitória | The 3-5-2 Tactic Returns

It’s very difficult to put the heartache of losing out on winning the league title on the last day of the season followed up by losing a cup final a week later to one side but a new season rolling around goes a long way in helping to forget what had come before.

We ended season six trophyless after a very successful couple of years prior. The aim for season seven is obviously to wrestle at least one of those trophies back into our cabinet. We’ll be looking to do it with a new tactical approach.


The 3-5-2 returns

Loyal readers will remember way back to the 4th of November 2018 when I joined Vitória and outlined the tactic I was looking to play. The key aspects of it were the three central defenders, wing-backs that were expected to defend and attack in equal measure and the forward three, who were either two up front and one behind or two behind and one up front. It got us where we needed to be in that first season, a third place finish.

That was back when the game was first released though and there was a few issues with movement up front. In season two I switched to the very successful 4-1-2-3 and the trophies started arriving in Guimarães. I always spoke about moving back to the 3-5-2 though and after writing this piece for the Football Manager site I made the switch ahead of season seven.

One of the big reasons why I wanted to go back to it was to play two up front and pair Dejan Joveljic and Pedro Ferreria together. I always had a tough choice picking between them for the lone striker role in the previous tactic. I reckoned they’d be a danger for any opposition defence and that’s been the case so far as they’ve scored 21 goals between them across the first half of the season. It hasn’t all been easy though in terms of the switch back to 3-5-2. It’s taken a lot of tweaking to get to the point where the tactic looks like the below.

Despite a positive start to the season I’d spotted a few issues with how I’d initially set this up. Issue one was the attacking midfield role. I’d selected a Shadow Striker, as I’d done in the tactic I’d outlined for the 3-5-2 article on the FM site. This is a role I’d used extensively back on FM17 and had great success with but looking at how it plays out on FM19 it’s not quite the same.

My perception from the previous game was that it was all action and moved very fluidly across the front line, making excellent penetrating runs and getting into great positions in and around the box. What I was seeing on FM19 was nothing like this. There was flashes, like Lovro Majer’s lovely finish on the break against Estoril or his 90th minute screamer against Academica to snatch the win in the Taca da Liga, but on the whole it was ineffectual.

The below screenshot is an example from the 0-0 against bottom of the table Tondela. Majer was getting on the ball but just continually playing it out wide, presumably to our wing backs who were constantly in space. Crosses are a big aspect of our play and I don’t mind us attempting a lot of them but there was very little central danger.

I’ve shifted the role to being an Advanced Playmaker on Attack. Ensuring he attracts the ball, plays a little bit deeper but is constantly looking for options ahead of him has seen his influence on matches increase. Passes, key passes and chances created are all up versus the previous role. When analysing the AM role it also led me to look into issue two, the forward roles.

I really struggled to settle on the roles for the strike duo. Complete Forward on Attack did so well as the lone striker in the previous formation that I wondered whether I should incorporate it into the new duo? I knew I wanted one being the out ball and one linking with the midfield. A Poacher doesn’t move into channels so I stuck with that for a good portion of the season but there would be matches that would just pass him by. A Deep Lying Forward on Support would certainly drop in and contribute to our approach play but would it encroach into the space the AM is operating in?

Eventually I settled on the Attack version of the DLF partnered with an Advanced Forward. The DLF is still linking well with the rest of the side but finds himself getting on the end of chances too due to his position higher up the pitch. The AF does move into channels which goes against one of my ideas for the tactic but paired with a DLF who does the same, more often than not one will make that move and the other will stay central, and vice versa.

Issue three was the balance in central midfield. I knew I wanted to keep a Mezzala after how well the role had performed previously but partnered with what other role? With the back three providing more than enough defensive cover, my initial thought with the second CM role was a ball winner. I’ve eventually settled on the Carrilero, similarly to my initial 3-5-2 attempt. He’ll provide support for the LWB bombing forward and link well. I tried out a Ball Winning Midfielder and just a standard Central Midfielder, both on Support, too, but I’m finding the balance of the side overall much better with the Carrilero there. Plus it means I’m playing a Carrilero and a Mezzala together. I’m so hipster.

Results

Has our new style led to positive results?

Things have been really positive on the whole. We started the season excellently as new formation bounce took hold before new formation fatigue set in at the beginning of October. A couple of poor results, including our only domestic defeat of the season so far, saw me tweak a few roles and instructions. It wasn’t until the 1-1 draw with Gil Vicente followed by the drab 0-0 with Tondela though that I took the time to properly analyse how we were set up and looked into tweaking how we would look going forward.

The best time for reflection is when you’re on top.

With me going through those issues previously you might have been thinking we were languishing low down in the table. We’re top at the half way point, albeit Benfica have games in hand that will take them level with us if they win them. Defences win titles and ours have been rock solid so far. Absolutely no issues at the back at all in the new tactic. As is customary, we’ve also made it through to the Taca da Liga semi final and Taca de Portugal 6th round.

We were drawn against Real Madrid, Lyon and Mainz in the Champions League group stage. Would you look at these results and think we would qualify for the knockout round?

Because we did. Somehow.

Despite Mainz being Germany’s new powerhouse after consecutive top four Bundesliga finishes I hoped we could take at least four points from them, we only got one. We took four points from Lyon in last season’s group stage and none this season as they topped the group. Despite Real battering us for 180 minutes home and away, we managed to steal six points from them and finish 2nd on the head-to-head record. I don’t see us doing the same to Man City in the first knockout round.

After around six seasons playing the same way I’d slipped into an FM comfort zone. Stepping out of that by changing the tactic has woken me up and, at a time when it looks as though interest in FM19 is waning for so many other people, kept me keen to keep coming back to Vitória. Bring on the second half of the season.


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