A Tactical Journey Through the World Cup

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The 2014 World Cup is almost upon us and like many others that play Football Manager I tend to get more attracted to the idea of International Management around the time of the tournament. This time though I wanted to do something different, in my opinion in order to win a World Cup a side has to have a degree of tactical flexibility to alter their starting lineup and system incrementally for each match depending on the opposition. This speaks directly to an article I wrote previously on reactive tactics and switching system mid match to take advantage of the AI’s weak points and I decided to see whether I could win a World Cup playing purely reactive football.

In order to make this work I needed to ensure that I would be able to pick a squad of largely multi-functional players that are able to play in if not necessarily different positions then at least different roles within their specialised position. For this reason I chose to manage Italy with their strong grounding in tactical football I should be able to switch systems easily. At this point I should acknowledge that some of you reading this will be turned off the idea given that I’m using such a strong and successful nation. I can see the point but if you read on then you will see that I suffered a horrific run of fixtures through the tournament that definitely negated any advantage I may have had, I should also admit that my run up to the tournament was disastrous with defeats to Uruguay and Japan as well as a goalless draw against Algeria.

That said the group draw was made and we would be facing U.S.A, Paraguay and Sweden – easy enough, right? Well let’s see…

Italy Vs USA 15/06/2014

So our first game in Brazil was against the Americans, on paper a relatively easy start but as Italians will well remember they have had issues playing against the US in the past. What though do we know of their style of play? As a stereotype we think of the Americans as being a physical and solid team although they may be lacking in terms of creativity and invention, how though did they set up in the match against us?

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Largely as we expected really with a deep two man pivot that is designed more as a defensive screen than a creative hub. They are technically strong in the final third with Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey but there is a lack of pace. How though do would I identify the areas of the pitch that we can capitalise on?

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There are two areas of the pitch that I will look to exploit. First of all I will be looking to position a player in the advanced midfield position in order to interrupt the connection between Williams and Bradley in the deep pivot, this should mean that the US struggle to build an effective and sustained period of possession. I will also be looking to place a creative midfielder in the deep role on top of Clint Dempsey, he may be technically proficient but defensively he is suspect. How then did we line up?

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Our setup is quite self explanatory given the weak points that I identified in the American line up. We start with two centrebacks to counter the US playing a single man up front. De Rossi takes the central midfield point but as a Regista in order to control the game from on top of Clint Dempsey, There were a few options in the attacking midfield slot and I chose Insigne as  Trequartista to make it even more difficult for the American double pivot to defend effectively. How did the game go?

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 Our midfield diamond offers connections in the attacking phase that the Americans simply can’t deal with. De Rossi is in acres of space when he takes possession of the ball from Canderva and as you can see from the two deep defensive midfielders they have completely lost their structure and are effectively positioned on top of one another. If they were positioned properly and in a screen then the ball to the forward that moves in to the channel would be a lower percentage pass, as it was the forward took the ball easily and fed the full back creating an overload.

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Again you can see that our shape enables us to control the game from the centre of the pitch. The deep midfielders for American are effectively out of the game providing no threat at all to our midfielders whilst in possession and not being positioned to threaten our forwards when they take the ball and turn. By controlling the centre of the pitch in this manner we are able to build attacks from a position of strength and the Americans will struggle to transition to an attacking movement should our attack break down.

Strangely Jurgen Klinsmann failed to actually change his system over the course of the match and between them Dempsey, Bradley and Williams failed to complete 50 passes over 90 minutes. The base and point of our narrow diamond were able to negate any influence that those three players were able to exert over the game. A relatively easy start indeed then…

Italy 2 – 0 USA



Reactive Tactics: Against the Defensive Box


The second part of the new Reactive Tactics section. This time we are looking at a defensive setup that can be extremely frustrating to face. Given the hugely positive reaction to this series it will now play a much larger part in the blog.

Have you played in South America before? If so then no doubt you will have at some point come across the dreaded defensive box system rolled out by the AI to frustrate you. The box for those that don’t know is a narrow midfield with two central midfielders and two defensive midfielders that operate very close together making it very difficult for your team to find any space. There are though of course small switches that you can make to effectively collapse the box and negate its strength.


Reactive Tactics: Against Napoli’s 3-4-2-1


This is the first time I’ve written on reactive tactics for this blog so I best give a little by way of explanation as to what all this entails. I think the first time I really became aware of the potential of reactive tactics within FM was during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. I completely fell in love with Chile and of course with their coach Marcelo Bielsa. Following the Chilean match against Honduras in the group stage Michael Cox of Zonal Marking wrote;

Because Honduras started with the one up top, Bielsa did his usual in these circumstances – fielding a four-man defence, rather than a three-man defence. His logic was this is that he always wants one extra centre-back against the opposition forwards. If the opposition are playing with two strikers, he uses three centre-backs, if they are using one, he uses two, with the wing-backs dropping back slightly to become more conventional full-backs (although they still have a license to attack). This means that the shape changes from a 3-3-1-3 to a 4-2-1-3, with Millar playing as the second central midfielder.

The idea of switching defensive setups depending on your opponents formation to always make sure you have the extra man was an intriguing one. As we all know having an extra man in any area of the field leads to an advantage in keeping possession of the ball and putting your opponent under pressure. The importance of the ‘extra man’ can be seen all over modern football with big clubs and astute managers using the extra midfielder especially to control matches as well as to strengthen defensively.

The AI within the FM12 match engine is sophisticated enough to change formation in real time as the game is in progress in order to react to your tactics. This means that by keeping open a window showing the AI formation I am able to change as quickly both to negate their threat and take advantage of any obvious weakness. In some games I change formation upto three times before winning comfortably.