Brazil Vs Germany – Why you shouldn’t believe statistics


Possession: 47% – 53%

Shots: 18 – 14

Shots on target: 8 – 10

Corners: 7 – 5

Final Score? 1-7

The above statistics have obviously been taken from the World Cup semi final between Brazil and Germany and they make interesting reading. The only key statistic that I have missed from the list is pass completion but everything else is there in black and white. Is there anything that you can take from the above to give us an idea as to why the scoreline was so one sided? Germany had 6% more possession and had a better ratio of shots to shots on target but not by much.



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


Everton – The First Six Months



After my Southampton save died a premature death I was searching for something new to hold my interest, I considered Italy and Germany but in the end my mind was made up after listening again to a quite superb interview in which Roberto Martinez answered the questions of a group of Everton fans, if you’re interested you can find the podcast of that conversation here.

As such and despite rarely playing in England over the last few years I found myself starting a new save in the North West of England. Part of the problem with my Southampton save though was that I was too successful too quickly, not necessarily in terms of winning the league but rather with winning the Champions League in my fourth season. In retrospect I think that I allowed myself too much freedom in terms of signing players and spending money so for this save I will impose a few restrictions.

  • I won’t allow myself to sign more than three players in one season (summer and winter transfer window)
  • I will only sign one player a year from outside Great Britain per season
  • By the end of my second season I will look to introduce two players to the first team from the youth team.

For the most part these restrictions are self explanatory. I’m looking to build a team with a nucleus of players from within the country as opposed to opening the check book and essentially buying success. The third restriction comes from the afore mentioned interview with Roberto Martinez in which he states that it’s in his opinion a realistic aim to bring through two players a season – this may well prove to be the most challenging.

To this point I have played the first 6 months of the season to January the first, now it’s time to update on progress so far.

The League

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If I’m honest I was surprised in my Southampton save by just how easy it was to be successful in the league – this time I’m not quite as surprised. We sit top and with Newcastle in second as out only real challengers at the moment I fully expect to be able to retain our position. We’ve been excellent against the top sides with out dropped points coming against Swansea (0-1) West Brom (1-1) and Crystal Palace (2-2) although we only squeezed past Manchester City with a last minute goal to win 3-2 having surrendered a 2-0 lead.

We’ve weathered a bit of a storm over the festive period where a congested schedule and injuries stripped our relatively small squad down to the bones. Now that we’ve emerged at the other side we have players coming back to full fitness and they should be ready to push on from here.

The Capital One Cup is the only other competition in which we have played so far this season and it’s been relatively straight forward with wins against Shrewsbury, Reading, Tottenham and Carlisle taking us through to the Semi Final against West Brom, it should leas to a chance for my first piece of silverware for the club.


In terms of players it’s difficult to pick out a star to this point of the season. Ross Barkley has contributed 12 goals and 11 assists from the Enganche position although his 55 key passes so far is also an interesting return. He’s been ably supported by Steven Pienaar playing as one of my two Shadow Strikers with 11 goals so far. Romelu Lukaku could well have been the pick of the bunch had he not missed 11 games through injury so far. He still has 6 goals and 6 assists in 11 games so far.

Beyond those three special mentions have to go to the likes of Gareth Barry. 91% pass completion and 133 interceptions from the Half Back role, and Leighton Baines with 8 assists and 5 goals from left back.

We obviously face the same issue as Roberto Martinez does at the end of this season with Romelu Lukaku, Gareth Barry and Gerard Deulofeu all due to return to their parent clubs at the end of the season. Out of the three I think that we should be able to retain Gareth Barry as his contract is due to expire with Manchester City and they’ve shown no interest in a new deal to this point. If he does sign though he will be 33 next season and after that we will transition to the exciting Ryan Ledson who could go on to become something special. I should note that if I do sign Barry then I will be exercising a little duplicity in not counting him towards my three players that can be signed.

I would ideally like to be able to sign Lukaku to a permanent deal and he now has me listed as favoured personnel but any deal will be very much dependent on our financial situation and Chelsea’s willingness to make a deal. If he is not a realistic option then I have my eye on a couple of potential replacements with one of his Belgian team-mates at the top of the list.

Gerard Deulofeu is not a regular starter although I would be very interested in extending his loan deal as he has been excellent when called upon. If this turns out to not be an option then George Green will step up to fill his playing time from within the club.



During my Southampton save I was asked several times via twitter if I would write about the tactics being used and I always said that I would and never got around to it. As such I thought I would include a sub section here to show the system in use in a little more detail. Let’s start with basic shape.

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In the attacking phase Barry tends to drop in to form a three with the two DC’s giving a base for the attack. Both fullbacks occupy extremely high positions causing overloads and adding a significant attacking threat. The two central midfielders are the pivots around which the play flows as they feed passes to either the wide full backs or to the three advanced players. As always though I feel that it’s best to give a visual representation of this in action.

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The above graphic show a recurring example of our defensive shape. Playing away against Manchester United we are happy to press them in their own half and although we only use a medium block it is very effective with the more passive attacking players cutting out the easy pass backwards and allowing the central players to press the man in possession. The shape of the back four and the fact that the Half Back is shielding so effectively make it very difficult for the AI to pass through us.

I had originally assumed that the system would lead to a high amount of interceptions from the two central players as they harass the man in possession so frequently. I was a little surprised when I checked the statistics,

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Our top 5 players in terms of making interceptions are actually our back five. It wasn’t until I looked a little more closely that I realised the AI were being pressed so effectively in most cases that they were trying to force passes in to areas that were heavily covered leading to a large amount of interceptions for our defensive players.

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Here’s an example of our movement in an attacking action. Gareth Barry has dropped deep to form a back three with the two DC’s this gives us an excellent base to attack from as the ball can come back and be shifted to either side quickly and safely. The fullbacks are very much involved in the attacking action stretching the AI horizontally. When the ball is played in to one of the two wide players he is supported by the strong side Shadow Striker and Playmaker pulling the AI defensive line out of position. As you can see we have very easily mechanised an overload in the central zone with two players isolating one defender and being able to attack space un opposed.

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Here is another example of our vertical movement in attack. In keeping with my relative obsession with Marcelo Bielsa and Jorge Sampaoli I like to have players quickly move forwards to support the man in possession and stretch the AI defence causing overloads. You can clearly see that with so many passing options and the additional option to carry the ball forwards himself the Enganche has the capacity to pick apart the AI at will.

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 Finally here’s an example of the effectiveness of having an out and out striker playing as a deeper Shadow Striker. It’s interplay between the Enganche and the two Shadow Strikers as the AI DC chooses to close down Barkley in possession he leaves a large gap in the defensive line that can be exposed. The ball cycles through Steven Pienaar who is able to angle the ball in to the path of Romelu Lukaku who has isolated the AI RB and is free to drive in to the space and score a relatively easy goal.

That’s just a small example of what makes this system so effective, I am planning a longer and more specific post on these tactics so if there are any elements that you’d like to see explained in more depth then please let me know.

I’ll leave it there for now but I’ll update again at the end of the season and you can keep up to date with the save via twitter.

As ever thanks for reading.

A Tactical Analysis of Jorge Sampaoli


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It’s common for young coaches these days to be given the label Bielsaista if they play a certain way – high tempo pressing with a high defensive line, quick vertical short passing in possession with wave after wave of players supporting the attacking movement. Each of these is certainly present in the playing philosophy of the great Marcelo Bielsa. It’s a label that’s been given to coaches like Andre Villas Boas (wrongly) and Southampton coach Mauricio Pochettino who at least played for the Marcelo Bielsa when he was at Newell’s Old Boys. Arguably though there is one coach in football that truly deserves the label Bielsaista – Jorge Sampaoli, coach of Chile.

After Bielsa left Chile there was a brief relatively unsuccessful period under Claudio Borghi before the Chilean FA decided to return to the tactical principles of Marcelo Bielsa as such Universidad De Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli was approached and appointed coach.

With Sampaoli in charge Chile qualified comfortably for the World Cup in Brazil this summer and in recent friendlies against European opposition in England and Germany they have exhibited familiar and extremely exciting tactical characteristics.

In this article I will examine the three main tactical themes of a side coached by Jorge Sampaoli. First we will look at the way they press, secondly we will see the moment of transition from defence to attack and lastly we will look at movement in the attacking phase and in particular the use of overloads to overwhelm the opposition. To look at these properly I will use examples both from Chile themselves but also going further back to look at Sampaoli’s time in charge of Universidad De Chile.


Sampaoli likes his teams to press in a very high block, characteristically he plays with three advanced players although there are various permutations of this and occasional the central player  will drop in to a slightly deeper position allowing the wide players to cut inside and make horizontal runs in behind the defence.

There are three specific pressing triggers which are clear to see 1.) The ball is played to a centreback who is facing his own goal 2.) The ball is played to a player against the sideline and 3.) A difficult bouncing ball is played to a player facing his own goal in the mid section of the pitch. When any of these triggers are activated Sampaoli instructs his players to press quickly and in numbers, there is a tendency for the first three players to pressure the ball and for another 2 or 3 players to hold off slightly adding depth to the press and preventing an easy pass out.

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This is illustrated perfectly by the image above. The ball is played in at chest height – a difficult ball to control and immediately three U. De Chile players press. In the area highlighted in red there are two more supporting players closing off passing angles both vertically and horizontally.

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This time we can see the match between Germany and Chile recently. The press is triggered when the ball is played to a player against the touchline. As you can see the press is right in the German half and 5 Chilean players look to press and cut off passing angles. there are three distinct zones in the above example and each one is being pressed to bring around a turnover in possession.

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Again in this example the ball is being pressed against the touchline. It’s interesting to note the positioning of the Chilean players as the most advanced player is not involved in the initial press but does shift position to cut off an obvious passing option – this has the added benefit of meaning he will be available and in a close position should the ball be won and the phase transition in to attack.

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This time the press is slightly different. The player in possession is still challenged but this time he has two easy short passing options. Not the way that the Chilean players are immediately in position to cut off these passing options and they even have  single spare man (X) who is positioned intelligently to be able to press any of the three players should they be in possession of the ball.

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Finally we can see another press in the match against Germany. The trigger is an awkward pass  being played in to a central position with the player facing his own goal. The initial press comes from the players in the zone highlighted white. There are three supporting players in the red zone that can either press the ball or cut off passing options. Finally the positioning of the deeper player is very interesting as he is positioned to support the press or shift angle should the player escape.

Pressing is without a doubt very important in the modern game and Sampaoli uses pressing to both make up for defensive deficiencies and ensure that his side are on the front foot as much as possible. Equally important though is what happened when the ball is recovered and Chile transition from defence to attack.


In modern football transitions have become an important part of tactical gameplans. How you plan to capitalise on the few seconds in which your opponent is out of position and having to recover a defensive position while you attack is essential. For the most part Sampaoli as with Bielsa favours a very quick transition with the ball being moved quickly and vertically although not with long high balls but rather with a succession of short sharp passes moving the ball up the pitch. This is enabled by the positioning of players in close connection to one another so that they are ready to take possession in transition and change the angle of the attacking move quickly. This close connection not only gives depth in the attacking transition but also in the defensive press.

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Here the player in the centre of the web is the one that will take possession as Chile win the ball and they transition in to the attack phase. He immediately has three short passing options as players are in close support and there are another three slightly longer and more dangerous passes that he could make. This positioning and the options it gives make it very difficult for the opposition to launch an immediate counter press and have it be successful.

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Once again the player taking possession as Chile win the ball back is the player in the centre of the web. This time he has two short passes open given the close connections offered by team-mates. There are three more passes open although it is rare that a Sampaoli side will choose to play the ball backwards in this situation. The two longer advanced passes are unopposed and should have a high success rate, this tends to be the option that is chosen.

Transitions are very important but not every quick transition can lead to a change on goal. Instead when in en established attacking phase Sampaoli likes to give the opposition problems with movement both from his attacking players and players moving from deep to support the attack.


Movement is an essential part of Chile under Sampaoli and at times the attacking move can resemble organised chaos. Wide forwards are free to either attack infield or hold the width of the pitch either making space for advancing midfielders in the central zone or for wing backs that are attacking along the wide line. Midfielders and especially Arturo Vidal will move beyond the strikers attacking space and creating marking issues for the opposition. Overloads are also used regularly with players moving in and out of the wide areas to create 2 on 1’s and allow penetrative passes and runs.

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Above there is already an overload in effect as the ball is played out to the free player on the left wing. He moves inside mirroring the movement of the player in the inside left half space and the space is emptied for the left wing back who is arriving at space to attack the empty space and he is played in behind the defence.

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This time I’ve capture and attacking movement from Universidad De Chile that led to a goal. The ball is played to the marked player on the inside left of the penalty area, he has already moved in from the left wing earlier in the move and the space is empty allowing an easy pass to be played to the on rushing midfielder who carries the ball to the touchline this movement draws the entire defence over to neutralise the threat and allows the far side attacking player to drift to the far post for an easy tap in when the ball is crossed.

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This image is captured from the recent England Vs Chile friendly and Chile are in the attacking phase. The player in possession is moving forward backing down the highlighted England defender. The two advanced attackers make short diagonal runs, the far side player moves the English supporting defenders out creating space for the deep midfielder whilst the near side attacking player means that the single England defender has to cover two separate runs.

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Finally Chile have the ball in the wide left area, the highlighted area is a half space that offers options in terms of movement and passing angles and it’s attacked by the near side player. The two players further over attack zones of their own and the German defence is pulled apart as they can’t defend movement at so many angles and depths.

These are only three aspects of the obviously more complex tactical variations offered by Chile under Jorge Sampaoli. For me though these are three of the key aspects that make them so interesting to watch.



The Start of Something New..


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Why Brentford I hear you ask? A very good question in all honesty. I’ve been thinking recently about playing a save which is out of my comfort zone and this fits very nicely – I can’t remember the last time I played in the English lower leagues. I’ve also been seeing and reading a lot of good things about Brentford and the way they are trying to establish themselves as a force in youth development. I really have no idea what I can hope to achieve here but at least it’ll be fun finding out!

As with so many other new saves I like to go in with a plan – in this case as with so many others that you see reported in the media it’s a 5 year plan. Where this differs though is that it’s not quite as simple as specifying that I want the club to be playing Premier League football within 5 seasons (I do but that’s not the point) Instead I’ve given myself four specific goals that I want to achieve in this time.

1. Promotion to the Premier League.
2. Regular promotion of at least two players from the youth team to the first team
3. Investment in Youth Recruitment and Scouting Network to be maximised.
4. Integration of a fluid possession based 4-3-3 system.

I don’t for a second envision that it will take me 4 years to promote from League One to the Championship and then one season to make the next step. Instead I have broken my expectations down in that I expect it to take a maximum of two seasons to go from League One to the Championship. At this point I think that realistically we have to accept that it will take at least one season to acclimatise and this initial season will be spent trying to maintain a mid table position. The next two seasons we will set out to finish towards the top of the table and eventually to promote to the Premier League, this may be rendered slightly more difficult due to the recruitment strategy that I plan to implement but that just adds to the challenge.

I have very specific ideas regarding squad management that I’m looking to put in place with Brentford. I’ll have a total of 40 players on the books. 20 of those will be in the first team and 20 in the youth team and there will be a degree of flex between the two as youth team players step up to cover injuries and suspensions. I also plan by the start of season three to be controlling the youth team as well as the first team. This will enable me to keep a very close eye on which of my young players are developing properly also make sure that tactically both sides are playing in the same manner. When it comes to the development of players in the youth team I will be taking inspiration from those that write and practice this most extensively, @Cleon81 @Shrewnaldo and @MrEdsFM all three have a much better record than I do over the last few versions of the game and I will be looking to learn from the way that they develop players. I will also look to draw inspiration from a slightly unlikely source in Thomas Tuchel the Coach of German side FSV Mainz. He was interviewed recently in a program on BBC Radio 5 Live that was looking at whether other nations can learn from the lessons of the Germans in terms of creating a new blueprint for youth development (should still be available as a Podcast). Tuchel has a reputation as an excellent developer of talent and was asked whether he developed his players to fit a specific tactical system and his answer was interesting, I’m paraphrasing but Tuchel said that it would be remiss of him to change the intrinsic nature of a player in order to make him fit. Instead Tuchel said that if a hyper talented player came through the youth system and was a natural number 10 then he felt the tactical system should be altered to incorporate that instead of moving the youngster out of position. To enable this I will be drawing inspiration specifically from @Cleon81 and @MrEdsFM and looking to identify early on what I think a young player could become and developing him for that position and role.

The third point is slightly vaguer in that both are largely out of my hand. I really see the value however in successful and structured recruitment. When I first started playing CM/FM as with so many others I was enamoured with signing players and it would not be unusual to see up to 15 come in during a season, now my approach is more nuanced and indeed no players at all will be signed in my first 12 months in charge. I may have been a little bored at work this week and I’ve created an Excel Workbook with three sheets. The first will be used by me to externally rank the top 5 players available in each position. It also holds information such as personality, age, estimated cost, estimated wages, contract expiry, current ability, potential ability, best role and whether the player would be interested in a permanent transfer or a loan. The list will go from 1) the ideal player to play that position for me and will contain more immediately attainable names as we run down to number 5. To give you an example the right back at number one in my sheet is Seamus Coleman whilst the number three right back is Ryan Jack of Aberdeen. The second sheet is in an identical format and will be used to categorise youth players (15-20) and the final sheet again is in the same format except that it runs from 1-10 and will be used to list the best young talent in Europe (and eventually the World) this last sheet will only really be utilised when we reach the Premier League but you never know when a player will become available. I don’t expect the first two sheets to be fully fleshed out until the second season but at that point I will have a more complete idea of potential targets. These lists will also be fluid with players dropping out or moving up the ranking depending on performance and reports. The aim is to have an immediate list of set options when I’m looking to replace a player that has left either the first team or the youth team.

It may seem strange for a blog largely devoted to examining tactics within the game to have left the tactical aspect of the game to last in the 5 year plan but ah well. I’ve stated that I aim to have fully implemented a fluid and possession based 4-3-3 within 5 years, I’ll be honest and say that I considered building a more functional 4-4-2 but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. When I say that I will look to play 4-3-3 I’m also being slightly misleading as those of you that have been paying attention will have noticed. I’ve already said that I will look to develop young players to their strengths as opposed to fit a specific system and as such depending on talent available the formation could well change. The overarching tactical philosophy however will very much stay the same, we are going to look to play possession football in an aggressive attacking manner and we will look to emulate the Swansea model as we move through the leagues.

I think that’s more than enough for now, If you’ve managed to digest all that information then well done.
The next post will be an introduction to the players at the club and the initial tactical system that I’ll be using. Beyond that each update will be structured to show how we are progressing in terms of the plan with points 1-4 discussed in more depth.

I know this is something completely different to the articles I usually post so I’d welcome your feedback either through the comments section or via twitter.

Mechanising the Play – Using a Pivot

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I blame ‘Inverting the Pyramid’. Since its release there have been countless tactical blogs, websites and twitter accounts created and although many of them are genuinely extremely interesting there are others that seem only to exist to unnecessarily complicate matters and seemingly reinvent language in the process. It’s this breed of blog/site/account that has led to something of a populist backlash against those that like to research and talk tactics with the term hipster in particular being assigned all too readily, from false 9’s to inverted wingers and registas it’s all to easy to lose sight of the fact that football is in fact a simple game. The subject matter of this article however is one that has been a recognised part of football and indeed coaching vernacular long before Jonathan Wilson released his tactical bible (don’t take this as a slight on the book or its author, it remains one of my favourites) this article will look at the nature and the use of a pivot at the heart of the midfield.

There are two types of deep pivot that you can utilise in your games, the single pivot and the double pivot. I myself have a preference to use a double pivot although in truth there is not really one option that is better than the other you just have to decide and choose which of the two options fits your overall strategy better. Before we look at the use of the pivot within FM though it’s worth recognising the use of the pivot in real terms.


Using a Connecting Player – The Ozil Role


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.


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