#FM17: Managing Morale, Pragmatism and revisiting Opposition Instructions

Hey! It’s been a while eh? I believe I apologised on Twitter, but if you missed that: the AFC Orient save died because of a terminal error with the custom database I was using. Rotten luck, but we move on.

It’s been an interesting few months for me, but I’m finally back to where I feel like writing about the game I love again. For now, this is a one-off post detailing some of the issues I’ve had to deal with in my most recent save with Tottenham Hotspur, with a bit of squad management and tactical analysis, if you hadn’t already guessed from the title.

Football Manager 2017 – and probably every FM ever made – is an incredibly frustrating experience at times. Your team can dominate a match but still come out of it on the end of a disappointing result. Lord knows the expletives I’ve shouted at my tiny dotted strikers after losing 1-0 despite several chances to score. But I play on. The challenge to beat the computer is set and I can’t give it up.

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In my latest season at Spurs, we went on what constitutes a terrible run of form for us despite winning the first two games, and the Premier League title the previous season, reasonably comfortably. It came at the end of August after a poor 0-0 draw at home (a fortress usually, where we hadn’t lost in the league since moving to New White Hart Lane) against Newcastle:

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You can see from the astonishing amount of red and yellow in there, it was not good times. Where did this run of form come from? I had promised Virgil van Dijk, James Ward-Prowse and Leon Bailey that I would improve our strength in the Defender department, but failed to do so. I wanted to promote youth (namely James Buchanan, here) but this annoyed them. Ward-Prowse, being our captain, and van Dijk, our vice captain, naturally claimed the support of their teammates in this argument. I had failed my squad, and it seriously hindered our performances. We played well, but a lot of the time the finishing or the defending let us down. The team wasn’t playing as a team anymore. It was them vs me. And I was losing.

I dropped JWP, VVD, and Bailer from the team when I could afford to with fitness, suspensions and injuries, so we still managed to pick up some good results, like the NLD win against Arsenal. I feel this is the best way to manage the team. Take the troublemakers out of the team for a while – JWP even dropped to the U23s to be made an example of, I’m in charge – and trust in the rest of your squad. Buchanan came into the team, as well as fellow English wonderkid Ollie Phillips. Morale is incredibly important in FM (some may say too important), and doing this helped to keep it from going below an “Okay” level, and we kept our heads a bit. We progressed from our Champions League group – the one competition we haven’t won yet.

The issue was still there though. We were having to fight really really hard for every scrap of points, and I was worried the season was running away from us. I’d arranged to sign Daniele Rugani, a fantastic defender, but this didn’t improve the situation until finally in January the players forgot about the broken promises and focused on what they knew best. Before January though, we had four more games of December to play. I knew we were still in a fight for points, and I needed to change how I was preparing for games to ensure we took as many as possible. I decided to revisit using Opposition Instructions, but in a different way to how I did in this post.

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Like I said in the above tweets, I used to make a point of looking through opposition players to spot weaknesses to exploit. I remember a thread I started on one of the old FM forums too, where I explained how and why I made certain decisions. Let’s take that Liverpool game for example:

 

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This is how Liverpool lined up, and I want to bring specific attention to Klaassen and Asensio. Both are incredible players, in fact Klaassen is player I simply adore. They are however both limited defensively. It makes sense for a Jurgen Klopp team to go with a risky 4-2-3-1, even in a difficult game. But putting two defensively poor midfielders in your midfield two is suicidal. At this point I was a couple games into my experiment in pragmatism – making small tweaks to how the team play with the opposition in mind – and was feeling comfortable.

Noticing the poor defensive capabilities of Liverpool’s midfield duo, I decided to focus our attentions down that avenue. I ticked Exploit the Middle and told our AMC Marcus Edwards and Ollie Phillips to dribble more, in an attempt to get them to dribble past Klaassen and Asensio and into the dangerous space in behind. From there they can pull the strings, with our wingers and strikers able to manipulate L’pool’s defenders out of position. Fair to say with a 3-0 victory away at Anfield, it worked.

A quick sidenote on the two goals we conceded against Stoke: they were both stonking free-kicks from Vincenzo Grifo. An annoying blotch on an otherwise incredible run of clean sheets which continued into the January until a 2-0 loss against Hull where I made mistakes in judgement. I’m about to play Brighton away from home, a game which should go well, but before I play it, I’ll go through some of the decisions regarding Opposition Instructions that I’ve made and try my best to explain why. This piece is already longer than I expected, so I’ll just focus on Brighton’s defence for now:

Line-Ups

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Brighton are playing a 4-2-3-1, and we’re playing a tactic that I’ve been developing since the second season. Always strive to improve. From here, we move onto the Opposition Instructions screen, where we’ll look into the potential strengths/weaknesses of Brighton’s defence and what I tend to do when I spot them. So this is what the screen looks like before we make our changes:

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First things first, I don’t care what my assistant says. I’ll be making the decisions here. Here’s a closer look at their back four:

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The attributes I look for when looking at all opposition players are: First Touch, Passing, Tackling, Bravery, Composure, Decisions, Flair, Agility, and Strength. I feel if a player is low in any of these areas (there are probably more but these are the ones I’ve focused on so far), then there is something to exploit.

For example, looking at Shane Duffy and Amavi in the above screenshots, I notice their Composure attributes are 8-11 (a bit on the low side). A lack of composure could mean that under pressure they might make mistakes, even if their decisions attribute is high, they need the composure to make the right decision under pressure, rather than panicking. Therefore I set OIs on these two players to “Always” closing down. It’s especially helpful here on Shane Duffy, who also has low stats for both First Touch and Passing. We can force him into giving the ball away quite easily, I feel.

Mitchell Weiser’s Bravery and especially his Strength attributes are on the low side, so with him we’ll add Hard tackling. It should be easier to dispossess him this way, his Bravery means he won’t want to get stuck in to a challenge, and if he does get stuck in, his Strength should prove his downfall. The only weakness to Jorge Mere’s game might be the combination of his low Aggression and his Jumping Reach, and with the right personnel I would consider going direct to a Target Man and getting plenty of crosses in, but that doesn’t suit our style of play. It may still happen, but it’s not something we’re going to look to exploit unless for a last resort. After the defence, I look through each of the rest of the players and use the same methodology, and then head into the game after a convincing team talk. This is how the Opposition Instructions look come kick-off:

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A quick run-down I guess, Nouri, Carroll, Donoso and Morin all have poor Strength, so get Hard tackling and Gregor Jack has the deadly combination of poor Composure AND poor Decisions. I should point out that of course Brighton aren’t expected to be difficult opposition, but this is one of those away games that could present a potential banana peel should we not approach it the right way. With that in mind, how did the game go?

We took the lead after two minutes through Harry Kane, but Brighton score with their first shot (Oh FM… you minx). We gave Carroll too much time on the ball in the centre of the pitch, he found Jack on the left who evaded our right back’s attentions and slipped Coman into the channel. Coman managed to find the byline and get the ball across and a failed clearance by our left back fell kindly to Morin who volleyed home. Annoying, but we can learn. We were too passive in defending, on every pass. There was also too much space for Coman to get to the byline, and we are away from home? I think rather than mess with the Team’s closing down settings, I’ll just tell the defensive line to sit a little deeper. Our right back missing the challenge against Jack was key to the opening, in my opinion, so hopefully sitting deeper will help our right back make a better decision about when to be active and perhaps not leave so much space.

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After the first half I’ve seen that Brighton are distributing short from their goalkeeper. With the way I’ve set the opposition instructions to close down Duffy and Amavi, I feel it’s sensible to test out whether we can’t force more mistakes by trying to prevent those short distributions. It sounds a little bit contrary to sitting deeper, but really it just means that my advanced 3 players will be closer to Brighton’s keeper and ready to impose themselves. The rest of the team should remain in a good shape and ready to collect clearances or long balls should they come. Half Time.

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I was holding off on my next change until now to see how the game went, as I didn’t want to directly copy what I did in the Liverpool game, but look at Nouri and Carroll’s Tackling attribute. We know how to exploit this.  We’ll exploit the middle and tell Edwards+Phillips to dribble more again if Brighton don’t change their formation.

My fears are answered when Brighton decide they’re happy with a point against us. It’s understandable so they move to a very defensive 4-1-4-1, bringing on a defensive midfielder for their goalscorer Morin. The substitute gives us a new player to look at. His Bravery and Tackling aren’t great, so we’ll go Hard on him and continue with the central dribbling plan. If it’s not as effective as it was by perhaps the 75th minute, then we’ll change it back and, at least we’ve learnt something else: that it’s not as effective when playing against a defensive leaning team than it was against Klopp’s ultra-aggressive style.

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The stats perhaps suggest we were the better side on the day and Brighton scored with their first shot of the game. These things happen. But earlier in the season, and in my time playing this game, I could very easily have lost that 1-0 too. We definitely took too many long shots, although many of these came in the second half after Brighton had changed to accept the draw. We became frustrated.

These kind of results are good though. More opportunities to learn. The changes that worked so well against Liverpool proved ineffective against a deep defence. In future, I’ll probably consider attacking the wings instead. It was also probably a mistake to wait until we had conceded to change to a deeper line away from home, but at the time I felt comfortable. These things happen, this is football. This may look like a failed experiment, but it has offered an opportunity to learn more about what works, what doesn’t, and what to do instead in the world of FM. It’s also Just One Game™ and for a fairer example of how preparing suitably to combat your opponent’s weaknesses can benefit your game, I point you to a) The aforementioned Liverpool result and b) our form before and after I started on this adventure:

I think the sheer change in number of clean sheets is particularly evident of the turnaround we’ve enjoyed. Hopefully we can catch Utd and Chelsea and at least, in a very Spursy way, put the pressure on.

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Right then.

Thanks for reading this far. If you have then you are amazing and probably as addicted to this game as I am. I know this is a long piece so it is massively appreciated. If you want to talk more about this, enjoyed the content and want to know when more is out, or if you want to tell me that I’m pumping too much time into this game, then please follow and message me on Twitter.

#FM17: Managing Morale, Pragmatism and revisiting Opposition Instructions

#RiseAgain S2:3 – The first of many? #FM17 #WeAreTheCommunity

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Let’s get the big news out of the way:

Yup. With 7 games of our season still to play, we’ve won it. We’re promoted to the phenomenally dizzying heights of the Ryman League First Division. The league is split into North/South teams, and I expect we’ll be placed into the North side like FC Romania were. And yes, they are still set to be promoted again. Good omen for us perhaps?

In the previous post I was concerning myself with whether I thought we had improved since our inaugural season as a club. I’d like to think at this stage we have. We’ve been a lot more consistent this time around, not dropping points in silly games as often as the season prior, and it’s led to a relatively stress-free season. We’re comfortable.

If we continue the way we are, we might even be able to break the points record FC Romania set last season, and that now is my short-term goal. 104 is the target, 18 ahead of our current tally. Meaning we must win 6 of our last 7 – and remain unbeaten during that period – to get past the mark. I’m not settling for matching anyone. We’re better than them and we’ll show it.

Some sadder news, and you may have already seen this if you follow me on twitter (@footballcjw – where are you if you’re not already there, seriously), but 24 goal striker Tristan Abrahams left us in February, leaving a gaping hole in our striking department. We of course had two back-ups, but neither had impressed me all season, albeit they struggled to get any game time at all with Abrahams around. Javlon Campbell did bag a hattrick in our first game without Abrahams, but it was a hattrick of penalties. I didn’t even think he played very well. In the same week, we lost two centre-backs in Ryan Bernard and Joe Tennent to other clubs too. Bernard was very much a back up player but dependable when called upon, whereas Joey boy was our starting centre back. That left us very short at centre-back so I needed to sign people here too.

Having been deeply hurt by Tristan’s departure, I sought vengeance. Unfortunately for Sawbridgeworth, our main rivals over the course of the season, that meant signing their top scorer for the season, Will Bird. He’s nowhere near Abrahams’ level, but he was scoring plenty of goals and I decided why not bring him in, at least until the end of the season. Also, quite brutally, it meant worsening our opponent’s (incredibly) slim chances of ever catching us. We were 13 points clear of Sawbridgeworth when we signed Bird. Now the gap is 21. Sorry, not sorry.

To replace Bernard and Tennent, in came Sean Connor and Jack Broadhead. No real stats involved here, Broadhead was available on a free and has very appealing stats at this level, even if his Jumping Reach is oddly low for someone who’s 6ft3. Sean Connor is also 6ft3 but has an even poorer jumping reach and is probably better suited to playing right-back, but I like the versatility he provides that way, which is vital down in these leagues. You only have 5 slots for substitutions and having players who can play 2 positions or more is very helpful. Coming in at right-back does mean however that we have 3 right back options. Donny Barnard who, while a club icon apparently and our leading appearance maker, is steadily declining, and I’ll be looking at asking him if he wants to be a coach to keep him around.

And this is kind of the thing about amateur contracts. We could lose any player at any time to someone offering bigger wages, better bonuses, long-term stability, full-time training and therefore development and the like. Abrahams was always going to upsticks and move on. Fair play to him, I’d have done the same. There are advantages though.

All transfers in are very low-risk. You can sign a player just to find out how good he is, and if it doesn’t work, you release him. There are always more players out there too. Tons slip through the cracks every year, it’s just my job to find them.

That said, I am very looking forward to being able to offer longer-term contracts, and have a better chance of holding onto players like Tristan. Being able to become a club that develops young players is always something I like on FM. And it’s self-sustaining too. The more players we bring through; develop; give gametime to; the higher their stock rises and therefore their value. As things stand we lose everyone on frees. When we can start making profits transfer wise, we’ll really boom.

Thanks for reading. There’ll probably be one more update before S3, another scouting based one probably. If of course there’s anything else you’d like to see me write about, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or get at me on Twitter. Anything to make the posts more entertaining or insightful. Feedback appreciated. (:

P.S. I’m sorry that this may have taken a little longer to come out compared to previous updates. I lost a bit of motivation and took a bit of a break. 

#RiseAgain S2:3 – The first of many? #FM17 #WeAreTheCommunity

#RiseAgain s2:2 – Vultures, Wolves, Wyverns #FM17 #WeAreTheCommunity

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The season’s going really well. I can’t complain about that. We’re halfway through the season and, as expected, we’re sitting pretty at the top of the Essex Senior Football League. But have we made progress since last year? Knowing that we’re probably the best team in the league, we could probably expect some complacency to creep in. I don’t want that. I want continued improvement, year-on-year regardless of how well we’re fancied.

First of all, some more transfer news. Once again, clubs in higher tiers have come like vultures circulating over Leyton, trying to pick at the best worms to bring back to their own nests… why am I talking about birds?

Left-winger Ellis Lentell was the first to leave. Making 21 appearances before moving to AFC Rushden & Diamonds, he bagged 4 goals and 5 assists last season with an average rating of 7.16. Decent, but certainly not irreplaceable. Before the end of last season I made sure to identify replacements for every position based on my statistical performance indicators, and three options caught my eye for the AML position:

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Billy Carter was my initial target. He met all the requirements, albeit to a slightly lower standard than Hoban and Chapman, but his assists per 90 mins number is much better than the other two. In the end though it wasn’t to be, deciding that East London wasn’t for him. So instead, Luke Chapman joined us. Averaging 4 dribbles per game and with the best Cross Completion % of anyone, he’d fit in nicely. He was also much higher rated by our scouts than Carter, not that they matter 😉

About a month of trying to hold onto everyone, keeping them close, offering them an extra biscuit at HT, we finally let a couple slip. Unfortunately for us they were both fighting for the same role in the team, so it was a bit of a double whammy all of a sudden that left us scrambling to cover our midfield. Jordan Copp and Drew Gibson moved on. Copp had come in last season to replace someone else leaving, and was fantastic. He played 22 times for the club, scoring 5 and assisting 6, averaging around a 7.25 rating in his year at the club, earning himself a move to Heybridge in the division above us. Drew Gibson was a player that again we signed in the middle of last season, but with Copp doing so well he found his chances limited at Leyton Recreational, playing just 7 times and averaging a below average 6.70. Still, he filled his role adequately when called upon, and Level 8 club Barwell decided to take the gamble on him.

I delved back into my folder of stats to find replacements, but our scouts recommended I sign free agent 18 year old Luke Russe. Well, they more screamed at me and banged pots and pans until I listened. I told them I’d take him on trial and see what he was about first, at which point they sent the physio in with some paracetamol and let me be. His trial showed him to be a good player for the division above, and with other clubs interested I offered him a contract. A couple of days went by where news items of other offers for him came through, but in the end he decided he rather liked Leyton. Take that Billy Carter.

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We also took a gamble on Callum Weiss. As we were looking for defensive-minded players, Callum fit the bill. A high number of tackles per game is exactly what I want from my midfielders, but he also can pass the ball well, completing 50 passes per game at a ratio of 81% and producing 15 key passes. The stats show him to be a good player for my system. He’s only 18 too, so he’s got time on his side.

Finally, our back up right back Aidan Spratt – a poor player by all accounts – was getting hugely frustrated at a lack of game time, so was released. In came Mark O’Brien, another player signed for his performances, not necessarily for his ability. He appeared on our list when looking at centre-backs, but I decided against him back then due to him being a better right-back. Now, needing a right-back, he’s in. It just made sense.

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At this stage last year, we’d lost 4 games. We’d also drew 3 though, but as you can see this season we’re turning more of those draws into wins. We seem to be a little bit more consistent this year, but we do still have some off days. To be 4 points better off at this stage compared to last year is pleasing, but it’s not exceptional. In fact, I get the feeling that it might simply be because FC Romania aren’t there anymore that we’ve done better. Hey ho, next season we should be playing at a higher level. A bigger test.

Speaking of the enemy, actually, how are “The Wolves” doing up there?

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Ah. Right. Okay.

I hope you don’t mind the new skin. It’s nicer than the previous one. A very cool person that goes by @bluestillidie00 on Twitter made it and it’s very very good. Go give him a follow, if you want. 🙂

#RiseAgain s2:2 – Vultures, Wolves, Wyverns #FM17 #WeAreTheCommunity

#RiseAgain S2:1 – Losses And Gains #FM17 #WeAreTheCommunity

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If you are reading this and have somehow missed season 1, I’d recommend going back and reading through that before continuing back here.

We’re managing AFC Orient, a protest club born out of frustration at the owners of Leyton Orient football club, still in tier 9 of the English football pyramid after last season’s Essex Senior Football League title went to runaway champions and now mortal enemies FC Romania.

One of the many disadvantages to being an Amateur football club is that you can only sign players on Non-contract deals. This means that if a semi-pro or the unlikely professional club wanted to sign one of our players, they’d get them on a free and it’s very hard to persuade anyone to stay. After what I think was a successful campaign last year, I was expecting to lose a few of our stars.

As of writing this (there is no transfer window this low down, players can be signed at any time) we’ve only lost 3 of our star performers from season one so far. Miguel Pascal-Johnson being the most irritating to lose. He was our gigantic rock at the back, standing at 6ft5. He basically won everything in the air, with his aerial reach of 15. He was superb and at 20 years old still has a lot of time to grow. I might have to look at signing him again sometime in the future. But for the present I had to turn my attentions to a replacement. I made a whole song and dance about scouting through stats last time, but this signing didn’t come about that way.

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Charlie Brownlie was a player we had scouted during the season. I didn’t feel the urge to look at his performances when the time came to replace MPJ. He looked perfect. Coming in at 6ft4 makes him ever-so-slightly shorter than MPJ, but he makes up for it by being ever-so-slightly better at jumping. Yep, he can jump 1 unit higher than MPJ. He’s also quicker, and far far better at marking. I’m happy.

Before we signed Lucas Rodrigues mid-way through after we lost our back up right wingers to other clubs, we had Shaun Robinson playing most of our games on the right flank. Scoring 5 and assisting 11 in 33 games is pretty good, and that attracted the attention of Evesham United from the tier above. Off Shaun went. This time our replacement did come from the land of statistical analysis.

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Our scouts rate Dan Cotton at 1 and a half stars out of 5. And at 29 he doesn’t have potential to grow either. He’d been directly involved in 18 of Yaxley’s goals before he joined us, and was managing 3.29 dribbles per game and his cross completion ratio was above 30%. All the stats pointed to him being a great player, even if our scouts didn’t rate him.

He signed in time to start in our final two matches of season one, and in the second of those two games he made a huge impression, scoring 4 goals and bagging an assist in a 5-0 thumping of West Essex on the final day. I already consider him a success for the statistical method. I can’t wait to see him fight with Lucas Rodrigues for a starting berth during this coming season.

The final star performer from last season to leave us was Matthew Mattis. Signed to score goals, he did just that. 12 goals in 27 appearances is a decent record – if not exceptional – scoring at a rate of just under a goal every two games. We also released Craig Phillips, a forgotten man really after the signings of Mattis and Campbell, who with a smaller amount of game time scored 7 goals for us, at exactly 1 goal every two games. So that meant we needed two new strikers, preferably one to be our main striker and another as back up to him and Campbell. We didn’t go for a statistical approach, instead deciding to source a couple of youngsters from a nearby club. That nearby club being Leyton Orient’s youth team.

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We’ll start with the back up. Michael Obafemi comes highly rated for potential, although whether I can trust my scouts to be accurate with anything is debatable. Still, I like him. He’s pacey, two-footed (I love that in a striker) and has the technical ability to finish. His mentals are really lacking, but there’s not a lot I can do about that as all of my current strikers aren’t old enough to tutor. ‘Femi as I’ll affectionally call him will be third choice, behind Campbell and our big big signing of the summer.

 

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I’m honestly not sure how we’ve pulled this off. Tristan Abrahams comes in at 5 stars current ability and at 18 years old has a lot of room to improve. I fully, fully expect him to leave us at some point during the season once he finds out that being able to nutmeg every single opposition player twice before lobbing it over the keeper every week isn’t challenging nor very fun. In fact that might be considered unsportsmanlike. But for now, I’ll stand watching, hiding my laughter and surprise that we’ve got someone of his quality to play amateur football.

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We’ve also brought in Sam Roach (another former Orient academy player, sue me) to be our back-up ‘keeper; fabulously named Paul Desormeaux to be our back-up left back and Ryan Bernard as further defensive cover. Ryan Bernard, the centre-back who “shoots from distance” and has a rating of 18 out of 20 for long shots. Sounds exciting, that is at least until he ends up smashing 40 shots into Row Z. If his 41st shot results in a screamer though it’ll be worth it right? Right?!

The squad now looks like this:

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There’s a lot of quality in there now, and I’m very confident that by May, or maybe even April or March, we’ll know what league we’ll be playing in during the 2018/19 season. You may notice a lot of “wnt” symbols next to names. That means that clubs are interested in signing those players. God, that’s a lot of interest. Hopefully we won’t lose too many, but our scouting is gonna have to be on point so that we can source replacements ASAP in the event any stand out players do leave.

It’s at this very moment of writing that I notice that my starting creative midfielder, 17 year old Raymond DeFreitas (another fabulous name) is FIVE FOOT ONE INCHES tall and weighs in at a tiny tiny tiny 114 pounds. Madness. He’s very good at his job though…

Five foot one, my god…

 

 

#RiseAgain S2:1 – Losses And Gains #FM17 #WeAreTheCommunity

#RiseAgain (Again) S1:3 – Rough Diamonds Waiting For A Polish #FM17

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Well… The season is basically done and dusted. It hasn’t actually finished yet, there are still 4 games to go, but FC Romania have done it. We just couldn’t keep pace and a horrid period of poor form through January and into March cost us big time. FC Romania on the other hand just didn’t stop. And when Andrei Pavel returned from his injury, he continued his superb form.

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We only managed to draw with FC Romania in that big game after the last update, and then started the poor run of form. Losing 4 times in 8 games was a massive set back, and having done so well to get to within 6 points at the halfway point, it’s massively disappointing that we undid all of that work. 4 games remaining, we’re 14 points behind FC Romania in the table. Barring an awful end to the season, we’ll still finish 2nd, which is pretty good nonetheless.

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I’m certain that if FC Romania hadn’t existed, we’d have won the league just as easily as they did. We’re just unlucky that we’ve had to come up against them. Next year is our year.

With the rest of the season not having much meaning, I can turn my attentions to the playing staff, and what to do with it next season. When I first started playing FM, I took what my scouts said as gospel. Anyone with a really good star rating from my scouts are the best players, and must be signed. Nowadays, with experience and having studiously read about Chris Darwen’s (@comeontheoviedo on Twitter, follow him, seriously) Searching The Stats™ method, I tend to rely on how well and how often a player is playing for his current club from his playing stats, and not necessarily his attributes. This is especially useful in the lower leagues, where the quality of the scouts available to you render them basically useless.

It’s always important to tailor the stats you search for to the style of football you want to play. For example, if you’re playing a possession based game, in my opinion you’ll want your defence and midfield to have exceptional Pass Completion Ratio and a high Passes Completed Per 90 Minutes rating. A player with low numbers in these areas would not fit your system, so don’t buy him! I say defence and midfield because these are the areas where build-up play occurs, and the players will usually be under the least amount of pressure from the opposition. A striker or winger can probably be excused for poorer numbers in these areas, as they’re operating in more congested areas of the pitch. If you do find a striker with good numbers here though, that still scores and creates goals, then by all means sign him up. It’s just not the most important part of a striker’s game.

In my case, we’re playing quick direct football, so these numbers aren’t essential, but I do still want my midfield trio to have decent stats here. But they also need to have high defensive numbers, so I would add in Tackles Per Game and Interceptions to the mix, as well as Distance Covered Per 90 Minutes. If a player can’t be arsed to get about the pitch, especially in my midfield, then they’re not a good option for a high pressing, aggressive tactic. Sounds simple. Identifying all the stats that I feel are important, I put all these into a squad view, which comes out looking like this:

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Numbers, numbers, numbers!

What I like to do is get a squad average for each stat I think is key for each position. This way when searching for other players I can compare against my squad average for that stat, if a player elsewhere is playing above or close to my squad average, they become a target. Or at least that’s how I’d usually go about it. Quite often, because the average is specific to my squad and my squad’s play-style, the player search filter often doesn’t throw up any players. Which leads me to reducing each number to a level where we get some players appearing. Frustrating. I don’t want too many players to show up, but I would appreciate a couple.

So this year I’ve tried to adjust the squad average to allow for more results. So for certain stats, I multiply the squad average by our average possession* for the season as a decimal. For example, our squad average stat for passes completed per 90 by our defensive midfielders (I’m including the Defensive Midfielder and the left-sided Centre-Mid in this category) was approximately 61, and our average possession for the season was 55%. 61 multiplied by 0.55 is around about 34, so this will be our starting point for looking for new defensive midfielders in this area. Combined with the other adjusted KPIs for defensive midfielders, these are the players that come up that had played at least 1000 minutes for their respective clubs this season:

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Yup, just the two. I have no idea whether these two are good options, but the stats are there. High Passes Completed/90 and Pass Completion Ratios, high defensive numbers and they don’t mind putting a shift in. Scouted as a precaution, and shortlisted as potential targets for next season. They’re possibilities. I’m actually rather happy with the options we have. But if anyone is poached by a bigger club, then Misters Hickman and Helsdown are prime targets to replace them. They don’t even have high average ratings or points per game numbers, but that’s the beauty of this recruitment method: these are just rough diamonds waiting for a polish.

I hope that ramble was at least a bit insightful into how I go about transfer dealings on FM. In fact if you stuck through that then thank you very much for reading. Big credit to @comeontheoviedo for the inspiration behind the recruitment stuff.

If you have any questions about anything at all or just want a mate to talk to, you can catch me on Twitter too: @footballcjw

*Disclaimer: I have no idea if adjusting like this helps or hinders yet. I just thought it a good way to lower the boundaries to allow for more players to appear in the search filter. It made sense to me to adjust by what we were doing rather than what anyone else was doing. If you have any feedback or ideas or whatever, don’t hesitate.

#RiseAgain (Again) S1:3 – Rough Diamonds Waiting For A Polish #FM17

#RiseAgain (Again) S1:2 – The Unfair Game #FM17

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Sometimes in football you just have to accept that there are better teams than you. Occasionally, of course, a smaller team can overachieve. In Level 9 of the English Pyramid lies a team so dominant that it honestly doesn’t feel fair. Even more unfortunate for me, we share a league with them. First of all though, the transfer business. And oh boy has there been a lot of it:

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In the previous post, I identified 3 players as our best: Tony Bentley, Ryan Cousins and Zac MacNicol. I knew they’d get attention from clubs above soon enough, but I was still hopeful we could hold onto them. For a while it looked like we would, but then the offers flooded in. Cousins left first, off to East Thurrock United and Zac Mac followed him out the door just 3 weeks later, joining former Leyton Orient legend Matt Lockwood at Merstham. The biggest tragedy however was Tony Bentley’s move. Penned as the best player in the club and filling an important role in our midfield really well, I was devastated to see that he had moved on to join Cousins at East Thurrock. We had to move on quickly. There was a glut of other players moving on, including 6ft4 centre back Emmanuel Musa, but a lot of these weren’t getting gametime so we didn’t really need to keep them on.

Coming in, Miguel Pascal-Johnson came in to bolster our defence, as well as former Leyton Orient right-back Donny Barnard. I had actually tried to sign many other former Os, but Donny was the only one willing to sign. Only 32 aswell, I had thought he was way older by now. Javlon Campbell, and later Matthew Mattis, came into strengthen going forward, as after looking a bit closer at my strikers, I found a desperate lack of pace, and these two would cause a lot of problems for the kind of defences we were to come up against. Michael Peacock was our initial replacement for Ryan Cousins, and after Zac MacNicol left, we needed another defensive-mid, so in came Lewis Hayward aswell. Both capable at this level. James Needle is a fantastic goalkeeper for this level, strengthening anther huge area of weakness. Harry Phipps added even more depth to a growing midfield department, Balogun came in to bolster our left-back slot, and finally Jordan Copp was our big Bentley replacement, joining from Weymouth, a team two tiers above us in the pyramid. That’s one of the easier things managing at this level, at least in FM terms, in that clubs in higher divisions still have players on Amateur or Non-Contracts, making them easier to sign. The squad is now looking a lot stronger:

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So even though I feel we’ve lost our 3 best players, I do think we’ve come out the other end with a stronger side. Time will tell of course. I’m still looking for one more player, actually, as whilst Jordan Copp was a great replacement for Tony Bentley’s ability as a centre-mid, we still need a new left winger to cover for Ronnie Garner – who’s been doing excellently for me this season. In fact the entire team have been doing pretty well this season, showing the form of champions really. There’s just one problem. That one team that’s always there to ruin the party.

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We’re halfway through the league season. And there’s a lot of green on that page. Great! You’re well on your way to promotion right? 

Wrong!

Problem is, ladies and gents, the Essex Senior Football League contains the best team in Level 9: FC Romania. They beat us on opening day and never looked back. They have players that would be good enough to play in Tier 5, let alone down here in basement football.

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Yeeeeeaaah. One promotion spot really doesn’t help us. No play-offs like in the Conference and EFL. Just one spot, Champions go up. And Romania look to be running away with it. We’ve only just managed to close that gap to 6 points, it having been as wide as 12 points at one stage earlier this season.

Our only saving grace is that their top scorer so far, Andrei Pavel, who started the season with 16 goals in the first 17 league games, has now picked up an injury and will be out for the next 3-4 months. It’s a massive opportunity, as without him FC Romania look to be struggling. Having won 15 of their first 16 games with Pavel, they’ve started to slide a bit, winning just 2 of the 6 games without Pavel so far (D3 L1). We have to capitalise, or at least draw level again. And that starts with out first match of the second half of the season… against the Romanians themselves. Perfect time to play them hopefully, morale low and star striker injured. Fingers crossed.

 

#RiseAgain (Again) S1:2 – The Unfair Game #FM17

#RiseAgain (Again) S1:1 – Squad/Tactical Discussion

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We start with a rag-tag bunch of players really (all generated randomly by the game). The lack of quality is quite clear compared to professional football, but that’s the way it has to be. Below is what our squad looks like, featuring senior players and players that will be immediately promoted from the u23 squad:

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Tony Bentley and Ryan Cousins (click their names to see their in-game profiles in a new tab) appear to be the best players. Tony’s preferred role is out on the wing, but being our highest rated player I want him playing centrally, to get him the ball most often. He will be our Advanced Playmaker. Ryan Cousins will play his natural position of defensive midfielder. Hopefully these two can boss the midfield, as I feel it’s the most important part of the pitch. I do fear though, that they may be poached quite quickly by clubs above us. Let’s hope not, but I’ll have to make sure I have some replacements in mind should they leave us.

Looking at the rest of the squad, with a couple additions I feel the squad will have enough depth to play the 4-5-1 I want them to play, which is great. At this level, it’s really hard to judge quality, but I get the feeling that physical quality will be more important than technical, so I’ll be asking the team to play direct football and close down LOTS. This seems risky, and I accept that, the players will get tired quickly during matches and with the club being only semi-pro, there won’t be a lot of training time available to us. This is something I’m just gonna have to manage carefully I think. This style of play is probably my preferred style in general, and is one I’ll look to be keeping throughout. I think it will be important therefore to have a fairly large squad, even at this level where finances are poor, if I can pick up some cheap non-contract options we should be able to rotate the squad enough and still remain competitive. At least, that’s the plan anyway.

The most concerning area of weakness is defensively, I think. We have a couple of massive centre-backs, which I like as I’m expecting a lot of high balls down at these levels, but apart from that there really seems to be a lack of quality. What I’m looking for here is good height, strength and the ability to tackle and mark. That’s it. Players won’t be expected to play out from the back, just keep it away from goal. The 6 players ahead of them will do the chasing. Kick and Rush. Feels like primary school football all over again.

We have an Aussie “centre-back” by the name of Zac MacNicol, who is highly rated by our assistant manager. But at 5ft7 he’s really not tall enough to be a defender in my book, even if his attributes may suggest otherwise. I’ll be retraining him to play defensive midfield, which means I hopefully shouldn’t have to bring in anyone to cover there.

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So here it is. My preferred tactic. As I said, kick and rush. We’re looking to play more direct, high tempo football, and when we lose the ball I want the players to be in the faces of our opposition. High-risk, but hopefully big reward too. I’ve always thought with an aggressive pressing tactic on FM, you need to make use of the Opposition Instructions.

A lot of people will tell you there’s no need, that your players should be focusing on their own game and not the opposition. But I think when you’re looking to stop the opposition from playing their game like you do with a pressing tactic, they’re actually vital. So here’s how I set mine up:

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This may look extreme. But that’s what we want. So we close down everyone. Doesn’t matter who they are, or where they play, we close them all down. The key components here though are the tight marking and show onto foot settings.

First, by telling the players to never stay tight to any of the deep players (in my opinion anyone playing DM or further back), we can keep our shape better, with players returning to their original positions – or to their specific markers, more below – and therefore we should rarely be caught with too many players marking opposition players that are now behind the play. We only tightly mark the most central players; again, I prefer to dominate these areas, so if anyone is playing here, they need to be marked out of the game.

Showing players onto specific feet is also key, as we can almost direct where our opposition move the ball. In this case, we’re looking to force the opposition wide, where they’ll have to cross into a box full of 6ft+ giants. So we force anyone on the right side of the pitch onto their right foot, and anyone on the left side of the pitch onto their left foot. Forcing the central players onto their weaker foot won’t necessarily affect where the ball is played, but it may force them to play a wayward pass to be intercepted, or they might not release the ball quick enough and we can steal it with a well timed tackle. That’s the theory anyway.

To add to that, I always tell my wingers to mark the opposition MCs or DMCs. For example if my oppo use the same shape we do, my wingers will mark the MCR and MCL of the opposition. I like to dominate centrally, and don’t want my wingers staying wide in the defensive phase too often. This is my way of getting them narrower. It effectively becomes similar to zonal marking, and because we’re closing down every opposition player, the opposition’s full-backs still end up being closed down, either by a winger – who’s marking role can then be temporarily filled by one of our centre-mids – or by a centre-mid themselves, perhaps if a winger has tracked a run by his midfielder instead. It all looks a bit crazy, but I hope future results can assure you that it’s well thought through.

Thanks for reading that, it was a bit of a mammoth of a post. If you stayed through to this far, i’m impressed! Hope you enjoyed, the next post will probably be around halfway through the season, to see whether all that tactical nonsense really works! Time will tell.

#RiseAgain (Again) S1:1 – Squad/Tactical Discussion