January 20, 2010
No sooner had I written this article than I saw Fantastic’s post on his experiments with a libero in Football Manager 2010. Great minds think alike, as they say. So I would urge all of you to join in the debate on Fantastic’s thread.
This week’s download is about the libero, or “free” defender. This article comes at the problem from the point of view of converting a DC into a libero. Fantastic has gone down the sweeper route. In any case, at the end is a download link to the latest version of the Arsenal tactic in the TT10 Appendix. You can debate all this and much, much more over at our forums.
The libero is one of those football concepts that has stayed around the Football Manager community for a long time. It’s up there with catenaccio and total football for “things we saw in the 1970s that we’d like to see again, please”.
For the uninitiated, libero is Italian for “free”. It refers often to a side’s sweeper who is given the freedom to step out of defence and join the attack when his team are on the ball, but sags back behind the centre backs to cover once possession is surrendered.
Franz Beckenbauer, World Cup winning captain and coach with West Germany, is often considered the archetypical libero. With his immense skill on the ball, he acted not only as a play maker but also as an effective sweeper in dealing with the threat from the opposition.
The decline of the libero
Since the early 1990s, however, the 3-5-2 has gone steadily into decline in favour of formations loosely based around the classic “back four”. As teams have dropped the sweeper, there has been little opportunity for teams to play with the old-style libero, and the role has virtually been eliminated from world football. Even in countries where the 3-5-2 had traditionally been strong, such as the ex-Yugoslavia, national squads have opted to play with four at the back. Success for Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia in recent years suggest that they will not be returning any time soon.
And yet, the trend which killed off the libero in the 1990s may well revive it in the 2010s. Most sides now line up with some form of 4-5-1. This has tended to come from two routes:
- One of the centre forwards has become withdrawn in the simple 4-4-2 to create a sort of 4-4-1-1, or even flat 4-5-1 shape
- The wider-most forwards in the 4-3-3 have been pulled back to the AM stratum, leaving the centre forward alone up front.
For some rough examples of this in action, one can look at the 2006 World Cup Final. France played with wingers providing wide support to a lone forward, whereas the Italian essentially played 4-4-2 with Totti dropping into the hole.
This made the 3-5-2 redundant – why have three centre backs marking one man? But it also makes one of the “back four” free again. Why have two centre backs always marking one man, regardless of where the ball is?
The libero as centre back
Since it is unlikely that the sweeper in its classic form will return to top flight football soon, the libero, if it is to rise again, will have to come from one of the two centre backs. In effect, this is already happening at Arsenal, where Thomas Vermaelen has often been seen popping up in the opponent’s penalty area during open play. It requires a lot of running, a lot of fitness and a lot of discipline, but it can be done.
Unfortunately, within the tactics creator in Football Manager 2010 at the moment, the libero is not available as a defender role. It is possible to make them a ball-playing defender, but this does not really do justice to what the libero does. Advanced instructions may therefore be needed until FM allows us to play with liberi at the DC position.
In creating those individual instructions, you would have to consider the following:
- The player would probably need a higher mentality than his centre back partner to get him to move forward and join attacks.
- The player would need to make many runs from deep.
- The player needs to be creative.
- The player will probably need zonal, loose marking if he is to truly be “free” as well as provide cover.
- And therefore, closing down settings will need to considered carefully – should he close down everyone? Or sag back to his position to help cover?
There have been debates about how to play with a libero on the FM tactics podcast, and also some informative views on Los Wonderkids in past months.
So, continuing on the excellent discussion on the forums about Arsenal, this months download is the latest version of the Arsenal 2009/10 tactic as discussed in the Tactical Theorems ’10 Appendix.
Over to you!
What we’d like to debate, however, is how exactly would you get a libero playing from defence in your team? There’s some very interesting thoughts and debate at The Dugout right now about the libero in FM2010, from a forum which seems to favour the “classic” slider approach more than playing with the tactics creator. But what would you do?
Here is the Arsenal 2009/10 tactic as created from the input from members here at FM-Britain. We’d like to see what modifications you would make, if any, to use one of the defenders more as a libero type of player. The basic tactic uses Vermaelen as a ball-playing defender – but is this enough? You can find more tactics and discussion like this one in the TT Research Forum.
Download the Arsenal tactic
Discuss the Arsenal 2009/2010 thread
Discuss Fantastic’s Libero role theory