Auf gehts VfL Bochum – Part 6: Meeting the forwards (with squad summary)

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What is football without goals? Some scholars would have you believe that the best possible result in football is 0-0 as it means the tactical discipline of each side was perfect; others would be more pleased by a 5-5 thriller comprising composed finishes, power headers and 30-yard thunderbastards – I am torn between the two.

The scholar in me likes a clean sheet as much as the next guy but the kid in me wants the joy of the goal and – when it comes to football – the kid in me always wins eventually. The scholar may recognise the need for a sound structure, but it is the kid that drives risk taking on the pitch – be it a skillful take-on, instinctive strike or a daring run. The real skill (of course) is balancing these two strands of thought to create frequent, high quality opportunities without leaving yourself vulnerable at the back.

So after some inner reconciliation between the kid and the scholar (and some theoretical tactical noodling), we are left with a system that should provide at least some chances to score. The only part of the puzzle left to discuss is the lucky lads at VfL Bochum who get to play the hero by converting chances into goals; the forwards; the strikers; Die Stürmern. Continue reading

Auf gehts VfL Bochum – Part 5: Meeting the midfield – The wide men

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Not every team needs a player capable of pulling all the strings – indeed, sometimes it’s better to have capable playmakers all over the park. But to win games you need to score goals, so at some point you start to rely on your players’ brains and feet to fashion chances, be it from a moment of magic or an overall plan coming to fruition. The best strategies normally contain a good blend of both with a well thought out structure/platform that allows certain players to provide the ingenuity needed to beat the opposition defence.

With my decision to mitigate my chosen formation’s weakness by locking down the centre, the vision was to create a relatively consistent platform that allows the two wide men to be a bit more loose in their role. I’m not letting them off the leash altogether, but the Wide Playmaker on the right will Roam From Position whereas his counterpart on the left will be given an attack duty to encourage him to take more risks, be this on the ball by trying riskier passes or off the ball by moving into more advanced positions. We’ll start this section of squad analysis by looking at the candidates for the playmaker role: Continue reading

Auf gehts VfL Bochum – Part 4: Meeting the midfield – The central pairing

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The Midfield. Das Mittelfeld. That crucial area of the pitch that is simultaneously a creative hub and a defensive screen; where passing patterns are woven and opposition attacks destroyed. Usually containing players with talents varied like the instruments of an orchestra, they can be tuned to sound as bombastic as an Italian opera, as balanced as a Viennese waltz or as playful as Brazillian samba. As the cliché tells us – it can be where the game is won and lost. Lucky then that the incumbent VfL Bochum manager built quite a varied midfield for me to work with, combining steely defensive players in the centre with lightweight but creative attackers out wide. In this article, I’ll be looking at the central area of midfield where a trio of very capable players should give me the central lock-down that my tactic depends upon. Let’s take a look at the contenders…
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Auf gehts VfL Bochum – Part 3: Meeting the defence


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There’s nothing quite like that palpable atmosphere in a football stadium – with its tension, mumbles and an energy you can almost taste. My first few times in the Ruhrstadion (AKA rewirpowerSTADION for sponsorship reasons… *grumble grumble modern football grumble*) I was transfixed by the tifo displays, the sea of flags, the constant drumming, the megaphones and the almost other-worldly tunes they sang. Perhaps not as tempestuous as Italy or South America, from my perspective the German fan culture still has an edge that seems to have long left the UK. It doesn’t feel dangerous, it feels alive. And they chant and chant and drum and hiss and cajole and chant some more. The Bochum fans in particular have some great catchy chants and one of them is responsible for the naming of this series of articles.
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The Stoke Chronicles: Tactical Analysis (Part 1)

I’m heading into unprecedented ground here folks. I can’t remember ever churning out articles so regularly as this, it’s a good thing, a bloody good thing. I’m enjoying it and hopefully you are too – long may this continue.

As promised I wanted to provide a bit of in-match tactical analysis to back up my last article where I broke down my team, tactic and instructions. So prepare yourself for death by screenshot.

Here I’ve looked at 2 matches from the 2021/22 season, one of the seasons with a Premier League & Champions League victory. I wanted to analyse matches before this season – but only realised when writing this article that I couldn’t go back further than 4 seasons! Slightly gutting, but a lesson learned. You’ll go on to see that I’ve analysed goals from these 2 games – as this is the easiest thing to do. In future posts I will focus on defence and weaknesses to try and give a really rounded look on this Stoke team.

Champions League Final: Stoke 3-1 Chelsea

I’ve picked this game because it was lovely to revisit, always savor a win over Chelsea, especially with Mourinho still there. We won the game comfortably in the end, 2 goals from set pieces and the first goal I’ve analysed below.

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I enjoy scoring this type of goal and it’s one that’s pretty commonly scored in this Stoke side. It’s fairly simple and direct and takes full advantage of the demonic pace in our wide players. Rene-Adelaide’s starting position between the lines is exactly what we want for him to either turn and run at the defence or to have time to pick a pass – which he does very well.

Champions League Semi-Final 2nd Leg – Stoke 4-0 Dortmund

Now for a lot more insight. Here I’m analysing all 4 goals and will hopefully give you a good idea of how my tactic and instructions contribute to the build-up and more importantly, the goals we score. Buckle up and get ready for a thrilling ride.

Stoke 1-0 Dortmund (Gabigol 4′)

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Another deadly counter-attacking goal. Against a 4-3-3 we are lethal on the break as more often that not, the AMR/AML are caught high up the pitch and leave acres of space down the flanks as the DR/DL tuck inside. I particularly enjoy how Jevdjovic is within the penalty area when crossing and not nearer the corner flag, meaning we’ve a much higher % chance of finding the man in the middle and ultimately, scoring.

Stoke 2-0 Dortmund (Cresswell 29′)

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This is a great example of how the instruction to ask my full backs to sit narrow can have a positive affect in attack. Notice how we have 5 players in their penalty box and a further 3 supporting. If an attack breaks down we may be a little exposed, so it’s a good job we have a good habit of scoring.

Stoke 3-0 Dortmund (Gabigol 51′)

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A lovely goal and an example of how our players can find space both through the initial set up positionally and from their own ability. The triangle between Romero, Rene-Adelaide & Gabigol works very well again.

Stoke 4-0 Dortmund (Gabigol 79′ – hat-trick)

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A fairly straight forward goal but one that comes about through a number of factors. Cresswell starting wide means Sane tucks in, allowing him to break into the box when he skins his man, making the ball to Gabigol a simple pass instead of a low % cross.

I hope this gives you all a bit of an insight into how the tactic works in practice. There’s a lot more to show – but only so much I can do in one post. All feedback appreciated as ever. My next blog will profile a few key players in our current squad, until then!

Auf gehts VfL Bochum – Part 1: The groundwork

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After a protracted reorganising of my life forced me into a several month article hiatus, I felt it was time to jump back on the wagon, dust off my virtual boots and start asking my scouts to find me the next Jamie Vardy. So far FM16 has mostly been about tactics, tweaking and a new level of deeper learning for me, though like many of us I’m still prone to the occasional freak out of frustration when something just isn’t going as planned. To be honest, my most recent Altrincham save was binned when I took a few weeks off, came back and had no desire left to raise the sleeping Chesire giants to the pinnacle of English football, especially as it was something I’d done before. I needed a spark of inspiration… Continue reading

The Stoke Chronicles – Tactics – The 4-4-1-1

So I now sit here in the summer of 2024, in my first installment I caught you all up on the brief history of my time at Stoke. Since then the 2023/24 season has ended and Stoke have gone on to retain their Premier League title for the 5th consecutive season (gutted there was no Steam achievement) & also stormed back to win the Champions League after a 4-3 win over Arsenal (who I also pipped to the title by 3 points). All in all, the Stoke train keeps on rolling.

A big reason for our success is our 4-4-1-1 system that I’ll delve into in this piece. I’ll firstly say a big thanks to Jonathan Aspey (@JLAspey) as it was after his success at Newcastle with his 4-4-1-1 that formed the foundations of Stoke’s success.

So let’s look at the basic structure of the system, instructions & then plenty of in-game analysis will follow over the coming weeks.

Formation

A pretty straight forward set-up. The idea behind my system is to dominate the flanks whilst having plenty of support in the box to aim at. Coupled with my instructions I want to be incredible on the counter attack, press high, have good and meaningful possession (not possession for possessions sake) and most importantly – clinical. Let’s summarise how I expect each role to play out:-

– Goalkeeper – Set to the default setting – all I’ve asked is for him to distribute to our full backs; this way I hope to utilise the wings as early as possible whilst also opening up vertical passing alleys to the central midfielders.
– Full Backs – Fewer Risky Passes & Sit Narrower, the passes instructions speaks for itself, I don’t want him to be wasteful in possession or look to play too long & direct. Sitting narrower may seem a little ambiguous but it’s effective; in defence he will not so easily allow a wide man to cut inside and shoot or play a through ball, in attack he dovetails well with the W/WM – often starting in a different, more narrow channel than the winger allowing him to underlap, provide a passing option AND overlap where the winger is either forced or dribbles inside.
– Central Defenders – no frills, no spills, be solid defenders, keep it simple, break up attacks, mark the forwards etc…in practice if I can also have centre backs who are confident on the ball and can distribute well – then fantastic. Otherwise, just play it simple to those who can do it better.
– Right Midfielder – a lot of people will ask why this chap isn’t set to a winger, the main man I use there (Jevdjovic) is a perfect winger, not necessarily a wide midfielder. The answer is, mostly, balance. I find his starting/defensive positions are far better, he will occasionally sit narrow allowing the wing back to support, however I also want him to be a winger so I also require him to Shoot Less Often (not unnecessary shots from stupid angles, ideally!) , Dribble More, Roam From Position & Cross From Byline – and boy, there aren’t many better than Jevdjovic at crossing from the byline.
– CM-D – the midfield needs balance and can’t be too gung-ho – this chap is there to shore things up in transition but also be a key cog in our build-up play, always offering a passing outlet when possession needs recycling from side-to-side, something we do extremely well.
– BBM-S – arguably the most important player in the team. He needs to support both in attack and defence, so just has to be a fantastic all round player. Lucas Romero made this position his own.
– Left Wing – other than also asking him to Shoot Less Often (wide men do it far too much), all I want this player to do is give the opposition full back absolute hell. Raid that wing, get the ball in the box and also support attacks from the opposite wing.
– Trequartista (AMCR) – this position is lob-sided to the right to allow the BBM to break into free space ahead of him and also allow the striker to drop off without the AM-strata becoming congested. I want this player to always provide a passing option between the lines, look to play in the striker and also be someone who can score plenty of goals himself when presented with the opportunity.
– Striker – get me goals, goals, goals. Get on the end of all those crosses and be the one to take all the glory. I want this player to be quick, able to beat a man & most importantly, clinical. He’s also the first line of defence and a high work rate to close down the defence and block passing channels, forcing them to play long is key in allowing us to strangle possession.

Instructions

As you can see, setting player roles shouldn’t just be something you do idly, each should have their place within the tactic as a whole – just like the instructions above.

– Mentality – Control – I want to be concise in possession and also look to dominate weaker teams, we’ll take slightly more risks and the full backs will often look to overlap. I know that we will be susceptible to counter attacks – but the goal is for my attacks not to break down and result in a goal 🙂
Team Shape – Very Fluid – this will allow my players to break out of a strict 4-4-1-1 setup to press the ball, close down channels whilst also roaming from their position to provide passing angles & allow for high creativity in our passing. It also ensures all of my team contribute to defending. Winning the ball back as quickly as we can is important to me.
– Shorter Passing – don’t hoof it long boys, be visionary, make good decisions and build the attack concisely
– Pass Into Space – I like to think that this instruction coupled with my other ones means that we’ll only do this when the pass into space is our best option and not just an aimless hoof into space.
– Play Out of Defence – again, shorter passing is encouraged, I don’t (usually) use a target man so long balls aren’t going to be successful
– Exploit the Flanks – we want to utilise our wide men and whip those crosses in, over and over again
– Much Higher Defensive Line – encouraging our high press and forcing more of the play into the oppositions half of the pitch
– Close Down Much More – press players, close down channels, win the ball back as soon as possible
– Prevent Short GK Distribution – another instruction that encourages the opposition to play long and preventing build-up play. I’d be much more happier with their GK lumping it onto the heads of my defenders then moving my players out of position with short build-up play

Opposition Instructions

Often overlooked but bloody important. As if telling my team to press & close down more wasn’t enough – I’m reminding them again. I want my defenders not to let their attackers out of their sight. I always want to close down their ball players and if I can force their full backs and wide midfielders inside then I can congest the pitch and hopefully turnover possession. I will also look at the opposition and ensure that strikers are shown onto their weaker foot. With players in the opposition AMC strata I will look at their system and see if they play wingers or inside fowards, it’s important to discover this as you may want to force inside fowards wide & wingers inside – and this can change from player to play, tactic to tactic, team to team.

I hope you’re still with me and have found the above insight interesting – and I know what you’re thinking – you want to see how this all works in practice. Well, conscious of my word count and the fact only half of you may have read this far, never fear – that’s coming next. Some key match analysis will follow next week where we’ll see how the instructions and player roles come to life on the pitch and all contribute to our success.

Until then!

 

The Versus Series – Ed’s Stoke take on Chris’ (FM_Samo) Morton

FM Versus Competition – Ed v Chris

Stoke vs Morton

Welcome to a brand new feature some of us within the FM blogging world are looking to bring to you over the coming weeks and months where we pit ourselves, our teams, tactics & pride against each other in a one off, winner-takes-all-the-bragging-rights match.

However this competition is different in that it’s not the result that matters the most…ok it still matters – but what we’re looking to mainly provide is a bit of an insight into our thought process as FM managers as well as a rundown on our team, tactic and in-match analysis when standing on the touchline with each other. So without further ado, let’s stop Ed from waffling on. When you’re done reading this make sure you check out Chris’ take on this game here.

So to kick things off I’m up against Chris Samson (FM_Samo) and his overachieving Morton side. To set the scene my Stoke side have, for the most part, been laying to waste most of the PL & Europe for a few seasons now, so the match-up is slightly skewed, however as mentioned before, it’s more about the journey than the destination (big hint: I won the match, go Stoke!).

So here’s how the teams looked before kick-off:

FMV - lineups

So as you can see I’m in my beloved, slightly lob-sided 4-4-1-1 formation & Chris has gone for a 4-1-2-2-1 / 4-3-3 formation. On seeing Chris’ formation before the kick-off I didn’t make any changes, I know that my team has fared fairly well against this system in the past with the only real threat coming on the counter attack if my full backs have bombed on too bloody far and we for some reason don’t put the ball in the back of the net. Yet I know that Chris had more to worry about that I did (that sounds awful but really no offense is meant Chris). Mind games ey?

And here’s my instructions:

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Stoke’s key men:

Keyman - Jevdjovic

This is the main man right now. My best player and a bloody awesome regen. He dominates the right flank with his pace and power. I play him as a WM-A which may surprise some who would no doubt look at him and cry out that he should be a winger, but hopefully all will be revealed later. He also does a damn good job if getting on the end of left wing crosses from…

Keyman - Sane

This chap, my first love (not strictly true) and you’d be hard pushed to find two better wide players. Sane is the source of most of my assists because he’s bloody brilliant at whipping in them crosses. Most of them to…

Keyman - Barbosa

Gabriel Barbosa, Gabigol, Sexy Beast – he goes by many names & he’s nothing short of fantastic playing as an AF-A up top for Stoke. Morton, you have been warned.

Stoke 1-0 Morton (Barbosa – 9mins)

1st goal initial

So here we are in the build-up to our first goal, Chambers has played the ball into Lucas Romero. You can see how Morton are set up with quite a structured 4-3-3 and quite narrow sitting full backs and inside forwards. My 4-4-1-1 becomes a 4-4-2 here with both wide men sticking very wide and stretching the pitch. The three danger men are circled, all of which are available to Romero who has a plethora of passing options. The filled boxes also demonstrate just how much space Sane & Jevdjovic have should they receive the ball.

Romero decides to switch it out to the danger man; Jevdjovic (as we look to exploit the flanks).

1st goal 2nd

Jevdjovic takes one touch to control it and then his 2nd touch is shown above, lightning turn of pace and he’s beaten his man with ease with acres of space to run into. Romero (circled in white) who played the pass has already bombed past his man to provide support in the attack.

1st goal 3rd

Jevdjovic actually slowed up to allow the defence to get back at him, but he was just toying with them as he gets to the byline and whips in a beauty to the near post as Gabriel Barbosa heads in ahead of his marker. 1-0.

Stoke 1-1 Morton (Kyle Walker O.G – 38mins)

It wasn’t all plain sailing after this as Morton grabbed an unlikely equaliser after 38 minutes through a Kyle Walker own goal.

morton goal 1st

Their deep lying forward picked the ball up between the lines and plays it square to an advancing central midfield player in Kern, instantly I can see I’m in trouble as Walker goes to press the ball due to my instructions to close down like f*cking crazy. Jevdjovic is fantastic but he’s not completely enamoured with the idea of tracking the full back here and he has oh so much space to run into.

morton goal 2nd

Mings is let loose down the touchline and he fires a cross into the near post, as you can see Walker has done his best to get back into the box to defend but right now he’s not even looking at the ball…and doesn’t look at it once as it cannons off his knee from the edge of the 6 yard box and into the bottom corner past the despairing Rulli. You can argue I was slightly unlucky with the nature of the goal however I was caught out by clever overlapping by Mings and also a victim of my own philosophy to press the ball extremely meaning Walker was caught out.

Stoke 2-1 (Barbosa – 58mins)

3rd goal 1st

A rather fortuitous, if not well deserved lead came about from a throw-in deep in Morton’s half. Chris will no doubt be annoyed at his team’s desire not to clear the ball as it ultimately ricocheted into Barbosa’s path who lashes a volley into the far corner to give Stoke the lead.

Stoke 3-1 (Barbosa – 68mins Hat-trick)

4th goal

Not a lot to analyse with this goal either, after a lot of pressure by Stoke on the Morton goal Chris will again be extremely annoyed with the marking at this corner. A simple cross to the 6 yard box and Barbosa is unchallenged as he heads into the top corner to settle the tie and bag a hat-trick too.

Summary

As a side note I’ll be showing more of Stoke’s tactical shape and build-up play in a separate blog post in the near future (honestly), but this was a game where we were helped by Barbosa’s clinical finishing as well as some abject defending. We didn’t create a hell of a lot as the stats show:

summary stats

We had the lion’s share of possession though as you can see we don’t complete many more passes than the opposition; I’m ok with this as I play quite a high risk style of football with the aim of getting the balls quickly to the wide men and letting them attack their man or work the ball around the box till we find an opening. Only two clear cut chances were created and neither of them resulted in a goal funnily enough, with Angel Correa thwarted by the keeper from a corner and Barbosa somehow missing from point blank range after Jevdjovic had yet again skinned his man.

Barbosa picked up PoM however Jevdjovic was the one who really caused problems and indeed completed 12 dribbles in the match, his finishing was woeful given 3 reasonable chances in scoring positions but I’d much rather he look for a pass/cross than attempt to score (he is instructed to do so in his PIs).

As for Morton they rarely troubled us but I put that more down to individuals than anything else, my average player is worth £30m+ so there was always going to be a gulf in class. It has to be said that his deep defence on what I believe may be a counter tactic stifled much of my attacking play and indeed Leroy Sane has a very quiet game and was hooked at half time having only made 1 dribble and offering very little. We struggled to create and had a number of crosses intercepted.

Morton’s full backs were by far their biggest threat to my formation and it was interesting to see how when their striker comes deep, the two inside forwards would tuck in to create space for the full backs as they’d sometimes drag my full backs inside with them.

If I were to play against Chris or a similar system in the future I would definitely worry about how gung-ho my full backs are and may even suggest switching them to defend duties and to sit wider to counter the threat posed by the opposition full backs.

If he were to play me again all I can think of is that he hope Jevdjovic has a little niggle and fails to make the squad.

Analysing Altrincham: The Wing Backs

Ahhh, much better to jump in with a post after a few days rather than weeks! You join me on my quest to turn an old tactical idea into a functional tactical reality – the catch being I’m managing Altrincham who are relegation fodder in the Vanarama Conference. After putting the finishing touches to the basic 4-1DM-3-2 outline, my initial idea was to provide a broad analysis of the tactic in action with pointers as to what is working and what isn’t. However after reading several articles recently that champion the merits of breaking down the tactic into its constituent parts, I felt it would be a nice idea to write a series of posts about each position and the issues I found. First up: The Wing Backs.
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And Now For Something Completely Different

It happens to all of us at some point. You have a phase where you don’t play the game and it just doesn’t grab you; the thought of starting a new save seems desperately long-winded and your current saves don’t quite have the “X” factor. After the Wolfsburg experiment hit a brick wall, I drifted away from FM, had the obligatory crazy back half of December (flights, booze, flights+booze) and came back to it in January with minimal desire to perfect the disciplined 4-2-3-1. I’d been away too long and couldn’t get back into the rhythm of testing – the lack of Bundesliga at the moment certainly doesn’t help either!

But never fear, I’m going to continue my tactical blogging with something that I just have to do every year – take the helm at my beloved Altrincham FC and (attempt to) mastermind success with their astonishingly limited resources. I usually go for a classic 4-4-2 as their squad is geared towards it, but after tidying my desk I found some scrawly notes from a few years ago (that’s how often I clean up) and decided to resurrect a tactic I used in FM14 in the Belgian lower leagues (hipster alert).

Now as the game changes slightly with every edition/update, it’s important to use my notes as a starting point and not simply copy the tactic over from a previous version and expect it to function well. Also, it’s much more exciting to go on a tactical journey rather than plug-in and let the points rain down (or more likely, slip away). So, what was contained within these scrawly notes?

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