November 2, 2009
Duties are an important new concept in the tactics creator in FML and FM10, and this article explores the best way to deploy them. The information here is taken from Tactical Theorems ’10, available now for free at FM-Britain.co.uk.
Duties affect what the primary attacking a defensive duty of the player is on the team. They come in three types: attack, support, and defend. It is also possible to set certain players to “automatic”, which means the creator will choose the most appropriate duty depending on the strategy employed.
Players using the defend duty will have lower forward runs and run with ball instructions. They are asked to concentrate on staying back, keeping their shape and making sure that the team has enough cover when the opposition has the ball. Their role will affect the specific placement of the classic tactical sliders.
Support players are required to hang further back than the attackers, but play ahead of the defenders. Their job is to receive the ball and find good passes when in attack, but to track back and act as the first line of defence once possession is lost. Because of this, they will be asked to play more through balls than anyone else, looking for the right pass to open up the defence, but will also have fewer forward runs than attackers so that they can offer an outlet should possession be lost or should the attackers need a passing outlet behind them to recycle the ball.
Finally, attack players will look to get forward whenever possible and put pressure on the opposition’s defence. They will tend to play with more forward runs (unless their role already places them on the shoulder of the last defender) and will be looking to score goals or set up fellow attackers.
Assigning duties, alongside roles, can really add spice to tactic building. Changes to duties can dramatically change the shape and feel of the side. These changes can help players push forward, push wide or pull back from their proscribed position on the tactical diagram. For most managers, this will allow subtle but important changes in shape, effects that in the past could only have been achieved by changing formation or using the “arrows”.
It is very important that the team has the right balance of duties depending on the match strategy. Unsurprisingly, attacking tactics will need more attack duties, while defensive tactics will need more defend duties. Last year’s guide recommended that defensive tactics have around 5 defenders, 2 support players and 3 attackers. Attacking tactics would have 3 defenders, 2 support players and 5 attackers. And the tactics in between would have more support players.
The creator will look to assign roles like this anyway, and may also assign some automatic roles. These are generally given to the full backs, who will then be defensive in cautious tactics, look to get forward a little more in standard tactics, and look to attack the wings in attacking tactics.
This is the key word with everything in football tactics. Finding the right balance between attacking intent and creativity on the one hand and defensive shape and stability on the other is the ultimate juggling act. In general, it is important to use the duties to make sure that nobody on the team gets isolated and that there is always cover in key positions on the park. This is why the choice of duties is so vital to tactical success.
It is certainly not the case that all defenders should be on “defend”, all midfielders on “support” and all attackers on “attack”. This would leave the team very static and with no communication from one stratum to the next. The following outlines the standard practice for setting up the basic duties for a 4-5-1 or 4-4-2.
Defence: As has been explained in the previous section, full backs tend to be given “automatic” roles in FM10. This is because attacking full backs add necessary width to a team: and, usually, if you are attacking the opposition will be defending, meaning having four players permanently stationed in a line can unnecessarily restrict passing options. However, the two centre backs are told to stay back during open play. Their extra duty options are therefore variations on the defensive roles: stopper and cover. The stopper will look to step out of defence and confront the attacker as he comes through, while the cover will look to take a yard or two back in order to “sweep” up any through balls.
Midfield: It is important that the midfield has both support for the front line and keeps somebody back to patrol the centre of the park. In previous guides, you may have heard this referred to as the “MCa” and the “MCd” system.
Having one of you central midfielders use a defend duty (be that a DMC or an MC) is incredibly useful in acting as a holding midfielder. This means that if the opposition do launch a quick break there should be enough men back to at least slow down the counter attack until the support players arrive. In attacking tactics, the “defend” central midfield would be the third of the three players on the defend duty, along with the two centre backs.
Similarly, having the other midfielder on a support or attack duty acts as a good link with the central forwards. In a 4-4-2, support may be enough – the second forward can act as the proper link between attack and midfield. However, in a 4-5-1 or other lone striker formations, having an attack minded MC or AMC can help bridge that gap and supply the forward with passes as well as passing options.
Wingers or side midfielders are very often given attack duties, since it is important to allow them to get forward whenever possible and cause trouble out wide. Not everyone may be given the attack duty (especially in a 4-5-1 where you have more options), but attacking wing play can be very useful in breaking down the opposition or giving you the option for the counter attack down the wing to exploit any space left by marauding opposition full backs. Alternatively, when playing against defensive full backs, it may be necessary to use the support duty to find space in the resulting hole in front of the defence.
Attack: With two forwards, it is important to “split” the duties. One will usually act as a support player, the other an attacker. This serves two purposes. One, it can create the link between the midfield and the attack. And two, it staggers the attack which makes it difficult for centre backs to defend. Remember, of course, that the “two” players up front may be arranged in a AMC-FC combination, which would allow the AMC to be a support player and the FC to be the attack player. Usually, the attacking player will be the goal scorer (the quicker player or the poacher), while the support player will be the link forward (the creative forward or the big target man who flicks the ball on).
With a lone forward, it is important to either give him an AMC in support or to give him a support duty of his own. Attack duties will make him press on and play on the shoulder of the last defender, but they will also leave him isolated if there is a huge gap between him and the midfield. If there are no AMCs in the formation, one of the midfielders will almost certainly need an attack duty in order to give him the required support.
How you set up your duties ultimately is up to you. Strategy and other playing style changes will tend to keep players further back or further forward in different tactics anyway – but keeping a balance is always useful in making the team work well as a unit.
The information here is taken from Tactical Theorems ’10, available now for free at FM-Britain.co.uk.