December 2, 2009
A lot of manager have said they want to “keep things simple”. They’re not looking for endless tweaking or a degree in football tactics. Which, I think, is fair enough. So, how do you keep things simple – in England, how do you get a simple 4-4-2 set up and running so that you don’t have to spend hours moving individual sliders or studying replay after replay?
Well, the first thing to say is that this is more than possible. In fact, it is a myth that you have to endlessly tweak at all. Of course, you stand more chance of winning games if you do (at least, if you do it well), but if you’ve got a good squad, a good base tactic and can spot obvious glaring errors when the opposition do something unexpected, there’s no reason why a bog-standard 4-4-2 can’t be just the job.
OK, to start with. The 4-4-2 has four defenders in a “flat” line – a DR, DCr, DCl and DL. In our simple 4-4-2, these will be two full backs and two centre backs. The full backs will have an automatic duty, and the centre backs will be on defend.
The centre backs form a partnership. Usually, one will be a “man mountain”, aerially dominant with good strength and jumping, probably over 6 feet (180cm) tall, and willing to put tackles in. The other might be a little more mobile, with higher pace and acceleration, better marking and tackling skills, and overall perhaps a little shorter. The idea being that one can deal with the aerial threat of an opposition target man – the other can cover any through balls to a striker playing on the last defender.
Of course, different teams have different ways of dealing with this. But, providing your players match the key attributes as highlighted by the creator, then you’re all set.
The full backs will tend to shuttle up and down the wings, covering the team from the threat of the opposition’s wingers, but also providing extra men in midfield when the team attack. With an “automatic” duty, they will be able to push forward in attacking tactics but will automatically be held back in more defensive ones. This makes strategy changes so much more simple, and therefore keeps the 4-4-2 tactic very simple.
The midfield is also in a “flat” line, with a MR, MCr, MCl and ML. Once again, to keep things simple the wide players will be designated as wingers with an attack duty, whilst one of the MCs will be a ball-winning midfielder with a defend duty and the other will be an advanced playmaker with a support duty.
The wingers will usually be very pacy with an eye for a cross and some good dribbling skills. They will be required to add width to our tactic and supply the forwards with chances. They also form a partnership with the full backs, receiving the ball from them, as well as using them as a wide outlet if they find themselves under too much pressure. In attacking tactics, they may even find themselves playing an overlap with them.
In the centre, however, we have another partnership – the “holding” midfielder and the more creative midfielder. The ball-winning player will look to stay in the midfield when the team attacks, providing cover for any breaks. He will also put in the majority of the team’s tackles, trying to stop the opponent’s midfield supplying the strikers. For that reason, he will need to be strong, a good tackler, and probably quite fit so that he can keep going all game long.
The playmaker, however, will look to receive the ball in the centre of the park and lay it off to the strikers or the wingers. The ball will come to him from all over the pitch, and then he can look to start off more penetrating attacking moves. With a support duty, he won’t stray too far out of the midfield (providing defensive cover), but he will also concentrate more on playing good through balls and incisive passes than arriving late in the area to bang in shots. This provides balance and stability – crucial in any simple tactic like this.
The final partnership. The FCr and FCl will be set up as a deep-lying forward with a support duty and an advanced forward with an attack duty. Others may prefer a “big man, little man” combination with a target man (support) and a poacher (attack). But this is down to personal preference. For now, as I’ve stated throughout, I’m looking to keep things simple.
The deep-lying forward looks to come back from the forward line into the gap between the midfield and the attack. From here, he can lay the ball off to whoever is in the right space for a pass. This could be the midfield, the wingers or his striker partner. In any case, he is looking more for key passes and assists than he is for shots on goal himself – though, of course, if the need arises he can stick it in the net.
The advanced forward, on the other hand, is there to play off the last defender and latch on to through balls from those behind him. He is the main goalscorer, and as such will do less tracking back. The two forwards will therefore have to work well as a partnership in order to create chances for the team. Providing the team get a lot of goals, it doesn’t matter too much if the deep-lying forward only gets a dozen a season.
With the framework and starting line up decided, it’s then a case of responding to the demands of the match. Because your team with a simple 4-4-2 should be well-balanced, the key is now to make sure any major gaps are plugged and that the right strategy is invoked at the right time.
In general, if the opposition are attacking very hard, are a better team or are at home, it is probably best to be more defensive.
If the opposition are hanging back, are a weaker team or are away, it is probably better to go more attacking.
If the opposition keep hitting you through the centre of the park, play narrower.
If the opposition keep hitting you down the flanks, play wider.
If the assistant or yourself note that one or two players are posing a specific threat, use opposition instructions on them.
Of course, all of this is very simple advice. It will not work 100% every time. But this is about keeping things simple. Providing you have a balanced starting tactic, reacting throughout the game using touchline instructions (and even then, mainly just the “strategy” changing drop-down menu) will help combat any general threats that occur during the match.
Keeping things simple, in Football Manager 10 really is simple. From there, you can learn the game and go on to more complex and in-depth changes.