A few weeks back I was commuting home from work and half listening to the usually excellent The Game podcast from The Times. The panelists were discussing the ongoing problems at Liverpool and their need to invest in a new striker as quickly as possible. One of the guests stated that Liverpool needed to sign a striker that could thread the play together and play with his back to goal, the assertion was made that the era of the pure goalscorer was at an end. Teams could no longer afford to carry a player whose only role, only purpose was to put the ball in the net.

If this were true though then how would we explain the likes of Falcao and Klaas Jan Huntelaar and their continued presence amongst the cream of European strikers. In Football Manager the goalscorer or indeed poacher is an important part of the virtual managers squad and can often mean the difference between 3 points and 1 or even 0. The purpose of this article is to simply share a few of the tips I stick to when setting up a poacher within the game.

The System

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In truth there is little point in my showing you the system other than to point out that you need to create a supporting structure that will play to the poachers strengths. Here I am using Athletico Madrid to showcase the settings using Falcao. The Colombian is an all round phenomenon capable of scoring a variety of goals, as such I am using wingers as the main supply line. In leaving the AMC position empty I am deliberately creating space for the poacher to exploit.

When I set up a poacher there are only two instructions that I always keep the same regardless of the type of player.

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Creative Freedom and Closing Down are the two settings that I consider the most important for the poacher role. Creative Freedom is always maximized – or at least almost. This is to allow the poacher to drift across the line and in to space as well as dropping deep to play off the line. Closing Down is always minimized as frankly we do not want the poacher to expend energy chasing down opposition defenders. The poacher should not partake in the defensive phase of play at all rather he should always be looking for space to provide an instant attacking outlet.

In Game 

Image and video hosting by TinyPicHere we have the moment as defence turns to attack. The ball is cleared in to space on the right wing with Arda Turan chasing the pass down. As you can see Falcao is occupying a central role but is covered by the centre back with the right back tucking in to provide an extra layer of defensive strength. How though does the play develop?

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As the play develops the centre back that was covering Falcao is dragged to the ball and at this point the creative freedom that we have assigned to the poacher comes in to play. Instead of running aimlessly to the ball to try to provide a supporting connection he hangs back holding his central position. At this point he is able to drive in to the central zone.

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This time we can see the benefit of having the poacher set up to continually look for space in and around the box. With the ball deep on the left wing the easy option for Falcao would be to position himself in the centre of the two defenders. Instead he pulls off to the shoulder of the left back and is in position to move towards goal to gather an excellent deep cross and finish effectively. By allowing the poacher to think and act with intelligence you are opening up new attacking options tactically.

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The ball is being contested on the left wing and the natural inclination for the two centre backs is to drop deeper to prevent the deep threat. At the same time we have two runners from deep moving at an angle to draw the defence further out of position. Falcao however choses to maintain his deep central position. As the play flows around him he has identified the position that will offer him the most space and allow him to cause the most damage. He picks up possession free in space and is able to score from distance.

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Finally we can see another example of the poacher using his in game intelligence to take up a position in space. Falcao has taken up a central position where he is not being picked up by any of the AI’s defensive players. As the play develops Falcao will therefore be able to move in a variety of angles towards goal to find space closer to goal.

Finding and capitalising on space really is the key to the poacher position. You may be giving up a defensive weapon by setting up a purely attacking player but the added attacking threat makes it more than worthwhile.