Push Them Wide

FM14 Tactics and Training Blog

It’s been a long time now since Football Manager 2014 was released, and even longer time since we last put up a post on PTW, so it’s about time we explained both, since they are inter-related.

Match Engine

As ever, and as expected, SI boasted about a revamped match engine with more realism and fewer problems. Unfortunately, I don’t  think this has been one of the best years for the ME.

The defending of through balls, particularly between the full backs and centre backs, is simply awful. FM has never really coped that well with this kind of attack, but this year it is infuriatingly bad. Great defenders look flat-footed, unaware and slow, making attackers look like geniuses. I was put off one of my best saves this year, with Granada, by constantly conceding goals caused by horrendous positioning, even when my players should’ve been reasonably expected to deal with the danger. Coming up against teams like Sevilla who have decent passers and very quick wingers was a nightmare. Defending deeper tended to help – I beat Real home and away in the first season sitting as deep as possible – but a lot of teams had a variety of dangers and were able to adapt. A lot of the time when I sat back and tried to keep shape to prevent wingers getting in behind, a cross into the box would undo me quickly.

It could sound like sour grapes, but after a couple of seasons of that save, and even in many games with bigger teams, it was clear that my defenders were not as aware as they should be. In a piece I’ve collated for the next edition of Clear Cut Chance, nearly every blogger we spoke to complained about defending; Ed, from FM Coffee House, puts it perfectly, complaining that, “at times it feels as if your defenders…are just completely brain-dead”. I couldn’t agree more.

You can, admittedly, get some good attacking play. I have enjoyed a lot of what I have seen played out in the match engine this year – particularly the interplay between forwards, attacking midfielders and wingers – and it is important not to fall into the trap of thinking the ME is completely broken. It is all too easy to overreact about the goals we concede, to remember all the mistakes and to forget about the fantastic football our teams have played. The defending is not always terrible, and goals resulting from defensive stupidity are not a 60 goal per season problem. Grit your teeth and it’s a decent play; we just think and hope SI can do better. 

Tactical system changes

The overhaul of the tactics system was undoubtedly the most controversial feature of this year’s game. Everyone seems to have an opinion, and it has been really fascinating to see people’s opinions fluctuate as the year has passed. Personally I like the new system; I think shouts are the best representation of what a manager would say to his players, or at least better than the notches. Clearly, though, there are problems.

The new shouts-based instructions use real football language

Firstly, we have the issue of not knowing the exact definitions of shouts. For example, it would be fair to assume that Shorter Passing simply reduces passing across the board – right? It does, but it also reduces tempo and width, to bring players closer together and make them act less urgently on the ball. There is no way of knowing this for sure without looking it up or from knowing how it worked in previous versions. If you are a new player, you receive false information from a friend or otherwise, or SI change the effects of the team instructions, you are working on a false premise that will screw up your tactical vision. You might notice when playing and take appropriate action, but that’s not a definite, and even if you can identify, in this example, that you are too narrow, you might blame other instructions. Diagnosing a problem does not mean you know the cause, nor the cure.

Secondly, the instructions assigned to players are calculated as part of the system. A few variables collide and average out to create, say, a player’s passing length. Your team’s Fluidity, Mentality and Team Instructions, as well as the player’s Role and Duty, can all play a part in an individual’s instructions, and we no longer have any indication of the final result of this pretty complex mix. I don’t think anyone could consistently, accurately and with any precision predict what a player’s instructions will be as a Complete Wing Back – Attack in a Very Fluid Attacking system with More Direct Passing and Roaming. Isn’t knowing what the final result is a  crucial part of the process? Coming back to the definitions problem, we don’t know how the game interprets each instruction, and there will never be a time when we all agree about what Fluidity should do so I think we need some indication. Otherwise we’re trying to see to the bottom of a very murky lake, and we have to do some splashing around to get close to knowing what’s there.

Who knows where this leaves Rafael’s passing…

Interaction

One of my key activities in between matches is to chat to my players and to the press. I’ll praise good performers for their form and their previous game, and criticise those who haven’t done a good enough job, and talk to the press eagerly about upcoming opposition. We can now also talk to players about loan spells and their international performances, which is a nice touch, and which appears to help build good relationships with players, so long as they don’t get defensive. It’s a nice move forward, but we need more.

In previous games, we could start conversations about the opposition about the press, picking out danger men and weak-links, and playing all-important mind games with other managers. Now I have to wait for the press to discuss weak links, and as far as I can see, I can’t tell Jose Mourinho that we’re going to obliterate his side. This is a real step back, in my opinion. So much of the media coverage and fever surrounding matches nowadays comes from managers trying to wind each other up, and the FM database easily has enough personality attributes to represent managers realistically in media conversations, and it would spruce up the ever-disappointing press conference feature.

I want to be able to tell title rivals that they’re bottlers, tell my rivals that their relegation battle is going to go poorly, and more easily befriend managers when I want to. Currently if I want to build friendships with another manager (usually because I want one of their players), I have to build my reputation and not talk shit about them. If I could praise them on a wider range of topics, and they judged whether I was being genuine or a dick, that would add some variety.

 More realistic transfer negotiations

The improvements to the transfer market this year have been very welcome and are undoubtedly better than previous editions. The clauses added in the game are nice but, for me anyway, are not as useful as they can be and I can get quite annoyed seeing a team asking for a friendly when I am trying to poach their young winger. I have used the loan back to the original club clause once with Balanta though, a centre-back who had no chance of competing with Jones, Smalling, Vidic, Ferdinand and Evans for a place in my team. He came the next year and I let Vidic and Rio go so he got plenty of game-time so I can certainly see the benefit of some of them. I am just glad that none of them are buggy and allow you to offer the sum over 48 months and have it blindly accepted like on older editions because it was the same amount. That made it too easy and it was possible to buy a player for £20m with a £5m budget. Our favourite addition though is being able to see exactly how much will come out of your budget when negotiating contracts. You can now see just how much agent and loyalty fees will take from your budget and you can adjust accordingly.

I am still not completely sold on Agents and find them irritating, particularly when they ask me to set the squad status first, then the rest of the contract. I prefer it much more when it is already set and you can negotiate from there but that’s nothing new to this edition, just something I hope will be improved in the future. The “live” transfer negotiations merely act as a time-saver but are a nice feature nonetheless. I am not sure how, if they choose to, they can develop it further – maybe negotiating with a Chairman the way you negotiate with Agents? A crying Chairman trying to hold on to his best player would make me laugh.

Bill Kenwright – According to Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography, he cried when selling Wayne Rooney. Wouldn’t it be fun to negotiate with a Chairman that has a voice like Agents do in Football Manager?

Training

I used to love Training on the older Football Manager’s. I released Schedules on the official forums but enjoyed (yes enjoyed!) making Schedules for all the players at my club, maybe barring some U18s who were not going to make it. Being able to make decisions on what my players improve at and measuring the knock-on effects that had was a very enjoyable part of the game for me and I was disappointed when they removed that way and implemented the role system used now. While it is not necessarily a more realistic simulation of actual training, it is very useful and is much better to shoehorn a player into a role than trying to find a good combination of sliders to do the same. A lot of good centre-backs were ruined if they had poor Composure on FM10, I remember, when that was part of the Shooting category and thus useless to train your CB at so the benefits of this system are clear and I’d argue is an improvement as this no longer happens. It can be further improved, though, as some roles are pointless unless your player is miles away from their PA because they have so many attributes but hopefully this means more roles will be introduced soon.

The only actual additions to this FM made were in Overview screen. Being able to easily see notable training performances, squad fitness and happiness so easily is very welcome and, while I spent less time here than I thought I would in my long-term careers, it is very useful when starting out at a club and being able to pinpoint any issues quickly that could have an effect on team morale. It is fun seeing the green gradually become the dominant colour in the training happiness pie chart.

Other additions we liked were Testimonials and the Tutoring options on the individual training screen. Testimonials could perhaps be better if teams the player has played for or has on their favoured clubs were more eager to participate but the idea itself is good and is a nice subtle addition.

Final thoughts

We like FM14, but neither of us have clocked up major hours on it like we did on the previous three or four games. We have, admittedly, both had busy years with a lot of other things to worry about, but when we have had time, it has been very tempting to return to previous versions for our fix of FM. A lot of realism has been added this year, and we welcome that, but the little kinks that need ironing out become all the more frustrating when you have to spend so much time getting things set up and moving. Had we not been busy I’m sure that we would’ve enjoyed this game an awful lot more. There’s not much we or SI can do about that.

That effectively explains the lack of posts on the site in the last year. We have spent more of our free time on other things than previously, and so have played less FM. It’s difficult, and unfair, to write posts about FM when you’re not playing a lot of the game, and we’ve always tried to avoid posting stuff without providing examples or real cases, because being overly theoretical is probably the quickest route to boring you guys.

We haven’t taken any decision on the future of the site: we’re not going to take it down because we think there is an awful lot of decent reading on this site and it’s well worth the cost of keeping it all freely available. The simple truth is that we don’t know whether we will return to posting regularly, but we will post when we have something to post. We really enjoyed writing this post, so hopefully we can get back into regular posts for FM15 and beyond.

Jad and Sean.

I’ve seen a lot recently of “Stoke are overrated on FM” “Stoke are overpowered” “Stoke are too good”. Well, no, they aren’t. Not if you defend against them properly and cut out the long balls. When you play FIFA against Stoke they play all cutesy like Barcelona so it’s simple to defend against. Not so on FM, they play in the proper Stoke style, West Ham play in a very similar way, long ball and knock downs. You’ll see Crouch getting 10 and sometimes 15 assists a season at times, and there’s a reason for that.

Every virtual, and real, manager hopes to leave a legacy at their club by developing a squad – and reserve squad, and youth squad – that will be so beautifully, so carefully constructed that it can take care of itself for the next ten years and then carry on long after leaving. It seems particularly apt, considering the big news of the past few days, to talk about this subject.

I’m conscious of the fact that when I have written about asymmetry previously, I have stayed away from the Premier League, where most people play, thus making it potentially not as useful for everyone who is struggling tactically. However, another reason for this was that until recently I have struggled to get asymmetry working in the Premier League, therefore I wasn’t confident to release something about it without some serious work.

What this article will display is that even a simple alteration to a very basic tactic and setup to make it slightly asymmetrical can devastate the AI and its hold over a game, whatever the stature of the club you are playing with.

I hate numbers. I was always terrible in maths, especially when we got to the formulas and stuff; I wondered where the hell would we be using in the rest of our lives? After the 3rd year in high school, I had zero idea of what our maths teacher was talking about in front of the blackboard. Honestly. Now I’m even dizzy when I have to write down a phone number.

A lot is written about tactics and training, especially on this blog, but when it comes down to it, a successful team tends to be greater than the sum of its parts. There is no quick fix to how to get the best out of players, or which player types are best, but there is enduring and sensible football logic in placing fast by slow, big by small and creative by prolific. It is combinations such as these that form the basis of all success. What they do at a basic level is protect your greatest weaknesses by allying them with your greatest strengths.

It’s not a la mode but I’ve had a load of fun with the 4-4-2 recently. It can be tough to avoid the lure of the 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 variants but it wasn’t so long ago that the world’s best coaches relied on the 4-4-2 for its stability and pitch coverage. There is something charming about it that has drawn me to it, and perhaps more significantly, away from 4-3-3s and 4-5-1s.

I recently came across an article by Jonathan Wilson, which spoke about the key weakness of the 4-2-3-1 – wingers can find an awful lot of space if they drift away from their full back. In fact, that space between full back and winger is probably the only real space that the 4-2-3-1 offers to its opponents; it may well be out wide and away from the goal but there is still an opportunity to really hurt teams by using a winger that drops deep and uses the space gained to run at his opposite man and inside.

For a long time, it’s been OK to not understand tactics in FM – you could still win with the help of good signings and a downloaded tactic. That’s still true to a certain extent, but the times are a-changing; tactics are becoming a key element of playing, as they should, and reacting to in-game situations is something that is becoming more of a necessity than an optional luxury. And as people rush to try and work out where they’re going wrong, they’re finding a lot of incorrect information at one place and a lot of verbose and complicated information at another.

Reading FM and tactics posts when you’re at your PC is all well and good but what if you’re out and about or catching up on some reading in bed? We want our articles to be as accessible as possible and available in a number of formats so you can get the most out of what we have to say. That’s why we want to mark our 50th post by making our articles available in eBook form. All the images and formatting are still in place so you can enjoy everything just like you were visiting us online and you can comment and access links by saving them as bookmarks and loading them when you’re back online.

Push Them Wide is an approved Football Manager fansite. Since setting up in 2011, we have published over 50 articles dedicated to Football Manager and the wider game. For more details, visit our about page.

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