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“The pocket” is a term which is more readily associated with American Football, used to describe the space which is created by the offensive line and within which the quarterback operates, finding time to pick the right pass. In our brand of football, it is probably more often referred to as “playing in between the lines” or “playing in the hole”. However, these terms are either too cumbersome for repetitive use in an article or something which I have an illogical aversion to and so, for the next two and a half thousand words or so, I’ll be referring to it as “the pocket”.

Here you can see a typical example of a player utilising the pocket. The opposition is playing a standard 4-4-2 whilst our AMC has picked up a position in acres of space waiting for the turnover. When this turnover is achieved, the ball is quickly fed…

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Mechanising the Play – The False 9…

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To this point I’ve avoided writing anything about the ‘false 9’ not wanting to seem to be pandering to the latest tactical craze. I think though that we have now come to the point when the terms has become almost synonymous with modern football. For those that are unsure, the false 9 is a player situated nominally in the traditional number 9 position – or striker. Unlike the traditional variant though the false 9 will look to drop off the front line both to draw opposition defenders out of position and allow his fellow players to stream past and overload the defence. The position has of course come to be defined by possibly the greatest player of his generation Lionel Messi and as success breeds imitation we have seen a plethora of other sides throughout the World looking to capitalise on the space and invention that can be found in such a system.

As a general rule Football Manager closely imitates real life in terms of tactical innovation. As such forums around the FM Scene have seen threads and tactics appear as people looked to recreate the false 9 in the game. I thought it best to share one or two of my own thoughts on the system with you. First of all I think it’s important to realise that you can use a false 9 without necessarily having the new Messi at your club. For that reason alone I decided to run the test and take the examples from a save using Schalke with the less than mobile Klass Jan Huntelaar in the lone striker position.

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Mechanising the Play – The Mats Hummels Role

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Ball playing defenders are very much in fashion in the modern game. From Gerard Pique at Barcelona through to Jan Vertonghen formerly of Ajax and now Spurs the ability of a player in the last line to cycle possession quickly and effectively is one that is seen as synonymous with the modern trend towards possession based football. It’s not necessarily a new role within football though as I’ve grown up watching players that were comfortable with the ball at their feet from Paul McGrath through Franco Baresi to one of my favourite players of all time in the German Matthias Sammer. These are players that can make the difference in a match with their ability to bring the ball out of defence and accurately distribute to their teammates this is a role that can be incredibly effective within Football Manager and indeed is one that I use on a fairly regular basis.

Once again though there are a number of extra layers that we can look to add to maximize the ability and potential.

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Mechanising the Play – The Jordi Alba Role

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I should probably start this article with a small welcome back message. As many of you will know I took a fairly long break from the blog and from writing about football at all. With the dawn of the new season I’ve found my interest coming back though and as such felt that it was time to restart FM Analysis. How better than to look at a role and at a player that lit up Euro 2012 and see how the role can be implemented and used within Football Manager. That player of course was none other than Spanish left-back Jordi Alba.

As far back as 2009 the brilliant Jonathan Wilson wrote an article for his “The Question” series for the Guardian which was titles “Why is full-back the most important position on the pitch?” The general assertion is that with space being such a premium on the pitch in the modern game the full-back is the player that can receive the ball with space to move in to thus offering an interesting tactical proposition. Indeed were you to view the modern full-back through the prism of chess it would appear that gone are the days when their only role was to move in long vertical lines over and over, indeed there is a strong argument that given the options and space available to the full-back they are not unlike the Queen in terms of movement and effectiveness. How does any of this apply in Football Manager though? In truth there are a number of small adjustments we can make to shape and settings to maximize the impact of the attacking full-back, indeed there are a couple of variations to the way we set the full-back that lead to very different outcomes.

The Wide Full Back

Let’s start as we always should with the basic formation view

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Very much self explanatory. I’ve set up a very basic 4-3-2-1 with the emphasis very much on showing the attacking potential and movement of the left-back. We should however take a closer look at the movement that I do expect from the left-back and indeed from those that provide close connection options with him as the play develops.

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Here you can see a map of what I expect from each player in close proximity to the left-back. The left center-back and the defensive midfielder will both be set to ‘hug touchline’ in their wide play settings. The idea is to have them drift to the left from their central starting position to provide cover from our extremely offensive left-back. Further up the field the left-winger is expected to empty the space on that side of the pitch – hopefully also dragging a defensive player out of position whilst the left central midfielder is expected to retain a central position to offer a passing option to the left-back. Let’s see if it works in practice.

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Here you can clearly see the idea behind the system taking shape. In defence Adil Rami has taken up a position to the left of the field which provides cover for Jordi Alba whilst also allowing him to maintain a connection with the opposition striker. The left flank has been emptied allowing Jordi Alba the freedom to move vertically and the left central midfielder has maintained contact with Alba to give the passing option.

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Here again you can see that Jordi Alba has again held the line and moved right up into the attacking zone. He has isolated a single defender giving him the choice of either moving towards the line or cutting inside towards goal. I have also highlighted the positions taken up by Piatti (left-winger) and Banega (left central midfielder) as you can see the former has moved inside taking up a position in space within the penalty area whilst the latter is available should Alba choose to play the pass infield.

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Now again we can see everything coming together. Here we can clearly see the left-winger moving to empty the wing dragging the opposing defender out of position and freeing the space for Alba to move up the field. We can also see once more that Rami has taken up a position to the left of the field giving him options to close down the space out wide.

As you can see there are a number of layers that you can apply to any tactic in order to improve certain aspects of your play. By implementing a role like the ‘Jordi Alba’ role and building in certain mechanisms to enhance that players situation you can really make the difference and it could well lead to 3 points instead of 1. If you think about how different players can be used to complement one another then there is no doubt that you can build layers into your tactic that will make you far more successful than the AI. Not only that but it can lead to your teams playing some truly excellent football as well.

Hope you enjoyed this reintroduction to the blog, there will hopefully be far more to come in the near future.