When you last heard from me on the tactic I was playing in the ‘Ton save, we’d just won our first Scottish Premiership title, at the first time of asking no less. The tactic I won the title with wasn’t the one I chose to tell you all about. After the title win, I took the decision to totally revamp the way I wanted the team to line up on the pitch. That decision led to my beautiful asymmetric tactic. What followed that was two consecutive 2nd placed finishes in the Scottish Premiership. In one way, this was perfect, it allowed us to establish our place in the league after the surprise win in our first season back in the big time. On the other hand, this is Football Manager. Those 2nd placed finishes hurt, I wanted the top spot again. What we went on to do was special, and if you want to read about a tactic that won two consecutive domestic trebles, you’d better keep reading!
Before we look at the tactic, a caveat. The initial base for this tactic very much originates from StatApp’s 4-3-3 from his USV save. However, beforehand, when it won us promotion to the Scottish Premiership and that league in our first season of competing in it, it was very much still Luke’s original tactic. Now, I’ve made tweaks here and tweaks there, and I see it as my interpretation of what he’d put together for USV. I’ve put the FM Samo stamp on it.
So, the tactic. How does it look and what are the roles we’ve got selected for the players?
Just like I did when I wrote about what makes a Morton player, I’m going to steal a quote from my original tactics post.
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.
The majority of that is still true, apart from one aspect, the wide midfielders getting and staying wide. I’m not opposed to them doing that from time to time, and when they put balls into the box, I couldn’t be happier. But they’ve got two main roles in this tactic. One is to vacate the space out wide so our wing backs can bomb on and provide chances, and the other, is to occasionally get on the end of those chances.
The wing backs are a huge part of this tactic, as are crosses. You don’t need me to tell you that FM16 and crosses are either a match made in heaven, or the main reason why you just threw your laptop out of the window. This tactic is a bit of both of those. When it comes off, it’s great, I love assists coming from crosses. However, because those wing backs are set as wing backs on attack, we can, quite often, be caught out from wide areas by the opposition.
On to the advanced playmaker and the deep lying forward then. Or the maverick and the focal point as I named them previously. While the advanced playmaker isn’t positionally right behind the striker in the tactic, he plays close enough to him for my liking while also being involved in almost every aspect of our attacking play. The lone striker role has been a problem for me ever since FM16 was released. I’ve tried most roles, but I think I’ve finally settled on a deep lying forward here. If I could find a top class striker (Sturridge left way too soon) then I think I’d have it nailed. Can I complain about my not-so-top class striker having 57 goals in 2 and a bit seasons? Course I can, but it’s a pretty decent record.
That’s enough of that, you really want to know how it plays in-game with a few examples, don’t you?
Let’s look at an away game at Ibrox. A tricky one, and despite our domestic dominance, the matches against Celtic and Rangers are always potential banana skins. This particular match finished 3-1, to the ‘Ton of course! On first glance, I was really pleased with our performance here. We dominated the match in all of the vanity stats apart from one that I wasn’t best pleased about, possession. Over the last couple of seasons I’ve really looked to dominate domestically possession-wise. I’ve done that, but we’re 15 matches into the 2022/23 season, and I’m sitting at 51% average possession so far. Something to just bear in mind and potentially come back to at a later date if it continues. Overall, we had more ‘chances’ than Rangers, but they had two clear cut ones to our one. Again, something to note, but not worry about too much right now.
I just wanted to come back to the final part of the quote I haven’t addressed yet, the defensive midfielder.
First in-game screenshot for you, excuse the unsteady triangle drawing but I just wanted to highlight something I always look for. My defensive midfielder, the anchorman, should always be providing cover to my two central defenders. It’s essential as, it’s not so prominent in this example, but our wing backs are usually in-line with the play, leaving that triangle exposed at times.
To continue on the defensive side of things, but this time a negative. Let’s look at Rangers’ goal, and I think it’s something a fair few of you will recognise.
The Rangers right back, Brezina, has picked up a loose ball in our half. Our left back, Tyrone Mings, does well to push him out wide, and everything looks fine and dandy in the middle. Our central defenders are man marking the Rangers forwards well. Mings doesn’t get the tackle or a block in though, as Brezina fires a cross into the box. As is so often the case, all hell breaks loose in the middle, neither our number 6, Cameron Humphreys, nor our right back, Davide Calabria, decide to track the run of the now veteran, Lucas Pratto, and he scores into what may as well be an empty net. A classic FM16 goal to concede.
In the summer of 2022, I decided to splash some cash on a player hopefully most of you will recognise, mini Messi, Ryan Gauld. I actually didn’t need him all that much, but with him being on the transfer list at Sporting, the lure of bringing him home to Scotland was too much. He’s already contributed 6 assists in just 6 league starts, including one from a corner in this match, but he also decided to score his first league goal in this match.
Our deep lying forward, Paul O’Leary, a cracking Scottish newgen prospect, has just received the ball from number 13, Ayoub Abou (check him out, starts off at Porto in-game), the box-to-box midfielder. He’s got a number of options open, as he holds the ball up well just outside the Rangers penalty area. Look at the space Tyrone Mings is in on the left wing, acres. Davide Calabria could also be an option with a long ball out to the right, but he choose to play a short ball into Gauld’s feet. One touch, bang. Gauld fires the ball in off the opposite post. A piece of magic from mini Messi and worth shelling out £6.5m for.
That was a piece of individual magic, but what about the tactic? Our first goal in this game came from a corner. I’d encourage you to pay attention to both your attacking and defensive set piece routines as is so often the case, they can be the difference. Gauld rounded off the scoring and secured the win with that peach I just showed you. But our second goal. Our second goal was exactly how this tactic should work.
The advanced playmaker, Lucas Andersen, has the ball just outside the D. Looking at this again, he should probably just shoot there, but I’m sure there’s something out there about working the ball into a better position to shoot. So he does, and he picks out Davide Calabria, the right wing back who’s bombed on into the space vacated by Gauld moving into the box. Calabria only has one thing on his mind, so he hits the byline and fires a cracking ball into the box. I said the inside forwards were expected to get on the end of these crosses, and Murat Yildiz does. Calabria’s excellent cross gives him an easy tap in just inside the six yard box. I said we loved getting crosses into the box, and if it happens for the ‘Ton more than it does for our opposition, I’m a happy manager. Calabria ended the match with an 8.8, the wing backs really are key to this tactic, and he’s a recent signing and a huge upgrade attribute-wise on my previous player in this role.
Is this tactic perfect? Most certainly not, there’s still a few questions I have over it. Could we tighten up at the back more? What role should my second central midfielder have? Right now he’s a box-to-box midfielder, and he’s previously been a deep lying playmaker. I think with the right striker up front too, he could be consistently scoring 25+ a season but that’s more of a recruitment issue that one with the tactic. As like I said, the tactic has managed to get this man to score 57 goals in 3 seasons.
Please do give me a shout on Twitter if you’ve got any suggestions for tweaks to the tactic, or alternatively, if you’d like to give it a whirl for yourself and test it out for me. Thanks for reading and as always, a share on Twitter, Tifo or Facebook would be much appreciated.