If you read my last random ramble, you’ll have noted my admission to not being very good with tactics. I hate to write another blog about tactics creation (not least because I just admitted to knowing nothing on the subject) but i can’t help but share my recent experience, in the vain hope that someone out there might find it useful.
There’s some great content on tactics out there, but for me, some of it lacks the explanation of how you apply it to your save. I don’t want to plug in someone else’s tactic, i want to create my own, but I need a little help to get me there. So this is my attempt to explain how i used the sage advice of Cleon, FM Pressure, DGear86 and others to create my very own tactic from scratch.
I don’t pretend that any of the ideas here are entirely my own, they’re not. Rather, it’s an explanation into my process of applying what I’ve learnt from others. As always, your feedback and comments are very welcome!
Getting into the Mindset
It was a grey Tuesday. At dawn. Due to illness, I ended up taking a sick day from work. We sent my eldest off to school and in between looking after my wife (who was also sick), and the two youngest children, I fired up FM.
If you’ve been following my save this year, you’ll know I’m currently in Finland with KuPS (if you’re not following, join the other 7 that are!). We had a fairly average start to the season and I felt a change was needed, which got me thinking about creating a new tactic. I wanted to do more than be average, i wanted to win well and with a style of play that i could be proud of!
My approach to tactics has always been a bit hit and miss. Sometimes it works really well and other times it’s a disaster, but if i’m honest I’ve never understood the inner workings of tactics and so can never pinpoint why something works, or doesn’t. I blame a lack of time for that, but there’s also a lot of information out there to digest which can be contradictory.
Cleon’s recent blog about Creating a Tactic the Paysandu Way seemed as good a place as any to start. I read through the first few paragraphs of the blog, down as far as the section “Copying/replicating real life” and I stopped reading. This is where i always get stuck, i don’t really know what it is in real life that i want to replicate.
There’s a lot of chat on this topic on FMslack as well. Dgear86 and FMPressure in particular talk a lot about thinking about what you want the team to do, rather than just randomly assigning roles. Taking a methodical approach to how each role interacts with another seems obvious but is not something I’ve really put a huge amount of thought into, beyond reading the role name, which can be misleading as we’ll get to later.
I sat and pondered all this for a good hour while I had a bath and felt sorry for myself (I was sick remember). I started to think about my real life team, West Ham, and the way they play – or at least the way I like them to play when we do well. I began to make some mental notes, and little did i know at the time, i began to create a tactic, all on my own.
Perhaps a bit unorthodox, but the first thing I thought of is what we do when we’re out of possession. I love it when you see the players giving 110% to win the ball back. I also love it when we win it back, and quickly transition into a fast-paced attack. I want the team to play positively (as opposed to defensively) and to quickly, but safely, move the ball up the pitch to try and score. There’s a handful of things that I’d like my team to do on FM.
In addition to these ideas, I also thought about what i don’t want the team to do, and i think this is the bit that often gets missed out when people talk about tactics. Here’s what I came up with:
- I don’t want the fullbacks running forward with the ball – i want them to pass to the midfielders or the wide men.
- I don’t want my wide attackers running to the byline and crossing the ball in – i want them to cut inside and score or play a through ball
- I don’t want my centre back hoofing the ball from the back to the front for my striker to try and control – i want to keep the ball and play our way to the front
- I don’t want my defence to be caught out by pacy wingers or a killer through ball – i want to close down quickly or match them for pace every time
- I don’t want my midfield so far up the pitch that we’re under staffed in the middle if we lose the ball – i need someone i can count on to sit back, just in case
- I don’t mind about possession too much, i’d like us to have the ball more than the opponent but equally soaking up the pressure of a better opponent and then hitting them on the break is just as satisfying
There’s nothing wrong with any of these playing styles by the way I’m just trying to illustrate some of the things I personally want to avoid with our gameplay.
I carried on reading Cleon’s post and got all the way to the end of the first part. By now, I’ve got in my head a team shape. I’m picturing a flat back four with some cool heads in the middle, and a bit of pace from the full backs. Sat in front of the defence is a Declan Rice or a Michael Carrick, reading the game, harrying the opponents and winning the ball back. I’ve dubbed this role the Disruptor.
My all-time favourite hammer is Joe Cole. I loved it when he played for us, how he could turn a game with some creative genius and i need that flair and creativity to be the primary outlet when our Disruptor wins the ball back. He’ll be my Playmaker.
The final piece to the midfield puzzle is the Engine Room. I can see a Mark Noble or a Scott Parker, running tirelessly up and down, providing support in attack, and being an outlet for the other midfielders.
Up the top, i want a dynamic attack. When we don’t have the ball I want the wide men to drop back and help get it back again. When in possession, i want them coming into the middle and supporting the lone striker, either making that crucial through pass, or having a go themselves. That striker role needs to be reminiscent of Di Canio or Tevez, or even the Arnautovic of last season, with strength and pace but also the determination and desire to succeed.
With all of that in mind I created a new tactic slot and set the playing style to Vertical Tika-Taka. Normally i would never opt for a style like this – in fact i’ve never bothered to read the description of it. Previously i have always gone for Wing Play or Control Possession but that was before I’d given it any thought!
In my mind, Vertical Tika-Taka is what the top top teams, like a Barcelona or a Manchester City side would play, definitely not a second-favourite Finnish team, but reading the descriptions of each of the base styles, this was the one that jumped out as doing what i wanted. It does the positive, forward passing when we have the ball, but doesn’t risk losing it with a looping over-the-top pass you might get with Route One.
I opted for a 4-1-4-1 formation with a a flat back four, a DMC, two MCs, two wide AMs and a lone ST. Obviously this is not how West Ham set up at the moment, but in my mind it’s what makes the most sense to me in terms of what I want the team to do.
Positions, Roles and Duties
As i continued through Cleon’s post I quickly realised that almost everything i have described above is what Cleon had already blogged about. Just for the record, I’m quite chuffed i thought this up on my own, but I have to say that it doesn’t hurt that Cleon clearly thinks it’s a good system too!
With the formation set, I started allocating roles. If you read through Cleon’s section on “Understanding The Roles And Team Instructions”, he shares some great advice which is to ignore the role names, and instead focus on the descriptions and instructions of each role. The template had set the goalkeeper up as a Sweeper Keeper. I hadn’t given much thought to the keeper and so switched him to a GK-D as the instructions seemed to make the most sense to me. I can always change it later if I want to.
For the fullbacks, i will admit to pinching this from other FMers. I’d recently read some advice on Slack from FMPressure and DGear86 that seemed to coincide with Cleon’s article and thinking about what i expected the role to do. I was looking to play narrow and so I opted to use inverted wingbacks and avoid the fullbacks running up the line. I thought it was worth trying as it seemed to coincide with my theory on how the system should work. For the central defence pairing, i opted for a BPD-D and a bog standard CD-D, nothing too fancy or revolutionary and the BPD choice was mainly because i have a decent centr back capable of playing this role well.
For the midfield trio, i set the DMC (the Disruptor) as a Defensive Midfielder – again the instructions and description seemed to be the closest match to what I wanted. In front of him is an RPM-S (Playmaker) and B2B-S (Engine Room).
Both the AMR and AML are set as IF-S, while the lone striker is set as an AF-A. The striker was the hardest role to choose as I’m not exactly sure what I want him to do. I assume a CF would be best but i really don’t have anyone capable of playing that role. A Poacher might be a more apt description but i worried it was too one dimensional, so the AF seemed a good place to start with.
And with that, I was ready to play my first game. I changed one thing in the default team instructions, which was shifting the mentality from Balanced to Positive. My reasoning here is twofold: 1. on paper we are the one of the better sides in the league and so should really be able to match or better most teams, and 2. I want to play progressive football, but am not so daring as to go Attacking just yet. A positive mentality implies we’ll be forward thinking, rather than sitting back and letting our opponents come on to us. Other than that I left everything else as is as I wanted to see how it would go first.
This is definitely the part I’m worst at. Usually I watch the games on key highlights and so I miss most of what’s happening, although I’m never convinced I’d spot it anyway. I started as I meant to go on and set up to watch the games on comprehensive highlights and away we went.
First up is SJK, a fairly strong side who are usually in and around the top 3. Taking Cleon’s advice on the analysis bit, I paused the game quite a lot in the first half. I was looking at the shape of the team, particularly when we didn’t have the ball, and when we had just won it back. Without the ball, the lads were chasing down the opposition, putting them under pressure and generally looked like they were giving 110%. The Disruptor was winning the ball back in front of the back four which is what i wanted, and then was quickly getting it to our Playmaker who was holding it up while the IFs got into position. So far so good. Plenty of shots from the IFs and the AF too, around half of which were on target which I thought was good.
As i let the rest of the game play out we were hit by two very similar goals. SJK had clearly identified my fullback as a weakness and played a through ball inside him for the winger to run round the outside and pick up near the byline. A cross across the 6 yard box and a tap in for their centre forward made it look easy. Then they did it again, almost exactly the same. At this point, I’m not sure I understand why it happened yet but have made a note to watch for it in future. SJK got their third from a free kick and so not much i could do about it. Although we lost, I thought we played really well, or at least in the style that i wanted to play. We hadn’t scored, but created chances and we conceded two goals in a similar way that i hope to eradicate later on.
Next up were three time champions and league leaders HJK with a 100% win record from their opening 7 games. I didn’t change anything from the previous game and once again i was pleased with our play. Good hustle to get the ball back, nice passing and plenty of shots on target. We’d eventually lose 2-0, with one of their goals coming from a wide cross into the 6 yard box – clearly this was a recurring theme.
In the next two games we drew 0-0. Again the play was good in both matches, and the the clean sheets were a nice bonus. Both opponents are good sides and regularly finish in the top half of the league. I figured that the team were starting to adjust to the new system and that surely the goals would follow.
Our fifth game had us up against Honka. Could we build on our two clean sheets and score our first goal? In short, no. Another 2-0 defeat and another goal from a wide cross.
5 games, 3 losses and 2 draws. Not a good start at all, but success can be measured in more than just the final score.
Make That Change
I’m pleased with the teams performances to date and feel like I’m close to a winning tactic here, but there are some obvious flaws that a better tactician would have probably resolved by now.
I switched the DL and DR to full backs and initially set them as Defend, but decided this went against the Positive mentality that had served us well so far and so changed it to Support. I hoped that as more traditional FBs, they would not sit so narrow and not get caught out as much by the pacy wingers and this cutting inside through ball.
As for the lack of goals, we had plenty of shots and more than half on target. A lot of them were long shots though, including from my AF. I looked at the average positions and found the IFs very deep which i thought might be whats making them shoot from distance. I changed them to IF-A, and i changed my AF to a Poacher. My reasoning for this is he looks too deep as well and with all theses shots coming in, surely a Poacher would be able to snatch a few goals from rebounds and deflections.
Analysis: The Sequel
Back into the fire and this time we had a fairly average foe in FC Inter. We started bright again, breaking down their attacks and then countering with gusto. I was watching the fullbacks closely and they seemed to be in a much better position to make those key interceptions. At the other end, plenty of shots but still no goals until a penalty comes out way. Up steps out lone striker and tucks it away. Not the goal i was looking for but i’ll take anything at this stage, we were off the mark. Not long after, a second goal for our poacher. Now we were in business! We finished comfortable winners at 2-0.
I kept it all the same for the next game but our turn in form was short lived as we were beaten 1-0 away from home. I wasn’t disheartened though, the team looked really good and much like the other defeats, we were beaten by their only shot on target. I looked again at the average positions and liked what I saw. My only issue was my poacher now seemed too far forward to be effective. I’m relying on my midfield trio to distribute the ball to the 3 forwards. If he’s too far forward then he can’t get the ball. I switched him to a DLF instead, and here’s why: my IFs are running into the box and shooting. If they score then great, but if the ball is blocked or saved by the GK, my DLF is there to pounce on the scraps. Let’s see if it works.
Into the next game and another solid performance. A deserved 1-0 lead going into the closing stages, courtesy of my left IF. We ended with 2 goals from my DLF in the last 5 mins and a resounding 3-0 win.
And from there it was plain sailing. This proved to be the start of a 13 game unbeaten run in all competitions, with only 3 more losses for the rest of the season, one in the Europa League qualifying and 2 in the league.
Incidentally, in preparation for our 2nd Qualifying Round Europa League fixture against highly rated Romanian side FCSB, I duplicated the tactic to create a backup system. In this second tactic, the mentality was downgraded to balanced and the Wide AMs switched to an MR and ML. I thought this might be handy if we struggled in the opening exchanges but in truth i was relishing trying the tactic against tougher opposition. Turns out we were superior, comfortably winning both legs, with the score 4-1 on aggregate.
All told, this has been a fun exercise for me. I’ve learnt a lot about what I want from the team, but also what I don’t want. Although the season was a success in the end, I want to work on converting some more of our chances into more goals but overall we’re looking good.
More than anything, i proved to myself that with a bit of application I can create a working tactic. If, like me, you’re a little overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, here are my top tips from what I’ve learnt so far:
1. Start with an idea of what you want the team to do. Everyone says this and it’s essential to get you started. You don’t need to think of what all 11 players will do, just start with one basic principle and go from there. For example, do you want to run down the wings and cross in for a target man, or play through balls for your fast striker to run on to?
2. Consider what you don’t want the team to do. This is as useful as working what you do want them to do. For example, if all your strikers have a poor first touch rating then drilling in crosses for them isn’t going to work very well.
3. Ignore the names of the tactics, roles, duties and instructions. Instead, focus solely on the descriptions of what they do. This is the best advice and i wish I’d done this sooner!
4. Don’t change the system until you know why you’re changing it. It took me 5 games to work out why it wasn’t working, but in the end the changes I made were spot on. You need a reason to make the change, even if it ends up being wrong, that way you get a good sense of why things work or don’t work.
Huge thanks to Cleon, FMPressure, Dgear86 and the whole FM Slack community for helping me to learn more about creating a tactic and the theory behind it all. You can get a lot of insight from just reading articles and other people’s conversation threads and hopefully my very basic approach and relative inexperience might help someone else to find some success.
Thanks for reading this update. You can follow me on Twitter @FM_athlete and on my FM slack channel #FM_athlete if you want to keep up with my save updates and any other Random Rambles in the future.