For me this started in the same way that so many theories on football tactics do..with chess. I’m a huge chess fan and I find the differing strategies within the game completely fascinating. When I play I tend to favour a more measured game building slowly and probing my opponents defences across the board as opposed to choosing a single file to focus my attack on. I guess that in this sense I’m more Arsenal than Borussia Dortmund, strange given my preference for heavy metal over the orchestra.

This may seem a strange preamble to the start of an article on tactics within Football Manager 2014 but bear with me. When I’m building an attack in chess there are a variety of tactics within the overarching strategies that I use. They all tend to revolve around a single piece that I choose to build my attack around this piece is not necessarily always my strongest piece and its range can vary from game to game. At times I choose to use a bishop or rook to sit relatively deep and cover my pieces as they attack, at other times I use a knight or even a rank of pawns to connect my attack in a higher position…wherein we can turn our attention (at last) to football manager.

Connecting players don’t have to be your best or most talented player, they can also operate across almost any strata available on the pitch with the exception of goalkeeper. Over this series of articles I aim to show you the benefits of using a player in each strata as your connecting or reference player. I will look at using a centre back, defensive midfielder, central midfielder, attacking midfielder and striker in this manner and how best to set your team up to both support and take advantage of the connective properties of this player. To do so I will take real life examples to best illustrate how I would set up various tactical strategies – starting with the Arsenal and Germany player Mezut Ozil.

The Beginning.

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I’ve tried to loosely replicate the basic shape that we see this season from Arsenal when they are in the attacking phase of play with the three attacking midfielder in a relatively central area and this is where we are looking to take advantage of the close connections between Ozil, Cazorla and Ramsey to create angles and depth as we attack. With the starting shape we have three seperate phases of play that give us connections. The primary connection is the closest in the attacking play with Ramsey, Cazorla and Giroud all looking to offer options as Ozil is on the ball. The secondary phase comes from the central midfielders who are staggered with Flamini as the ball winning midfielder and Arteta as a supporting central midfielder to add depth. They will also hold a strong base should Ozil need to recycle the ball backwards, The tertiary and most tenuous link will come from our attacking full backs who will look to push forward and offer an overload on the wings where we have empty spaces as it is. These fullbacks operate largely in the same manner as the Rook in chess looking to assert their dominance on their file or wing. As usual though I think that it’s best to show the play in action.

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Here we see the play in an established attacking pattern with the initial attacking having broken down we are now in the second phase. Ozil as our connecting player has collected the ball in the inside left position. The two other central attacking players have shifted forward to stretch the defensive line and support Giroud. Because the play is on the left side the dynamic has changed and Gibbs has gone from a tertiary to a primary option as he moves in to the open space Arteta is now the tertiary option as we are clearly looking to pressure the AI and not look to needlessly recycle possession. Cazorla is the secondary option as the pass to him is dangerous given the close proximity of defensive players. It’s at this point that we can see how all the other players tend to flow and move around the connecting player who in himself acts as a pivot, given his advanced attacking starting position though he is a very offensive pivot.

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Above Ozil has collected possession again and this time we are in the initial attacking phase and as such the primary options for the connecting player are in the attacking strata with Cazorla, Ramsey and Giroud all looking to capitalise on the spaces in the AI back line as they seek to assert a defensive position. You can see that the three are in a staggered position to create angles to enable the attack. In this example as we are looking to attack and pressure the AI the secondary option is provided by Sagna as he attacks the space down the right flank.

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Finally I’ve captured an example of our connecting player collecting the ball in a much deeper position and there is another distinct shift in his passing options. The most difficult ball is obviously the longer straight pass through to the central striker although the two wider attacking midfielders could cut inside to mover on to any pass that moved along this line, there is still a strong possibility that the AI would be able to put pressure on any ball along this line. The primary passing options are Flamini and Arteta both of whom are close to the ball thanks to the structure of our starting positions. The secondary option are the fullbacks with the left back Gibbs being the most obvious and easiest pass. Again any pass out to the right hand side runs the risk of being intercepted.

It’s at this point that I have to accept that the difference between the connecting player and the playmaker is not necessarily obvious straight away, this is primarily because I’ve started with the easiest example to ease myself back in to writing – it’s been a while!. When I write on the other areas in particular the centre half and the centre forward as the connecting player and I show the way in which I alter the basic structure of the team to support and enable these players then you should hopefully see a more clear and obvious difference. I hope that with this initial article you can see the importance of building a structure around your connecting player to strengthen your side in the attacking phase.

Thanks for reading – it’s good to be back!

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