Push Them Wide

FM14 Tactics and Training Blog

The 4-4-2 Diamond is my current formation of choice, and I think it’s a system that definitely warrants a good discussion. It’s probably fair to say that a lot of people see it as a flawed and easily exploited formation due to its lack of coverage on the flanks, but my experience suggests that this is a crude assessment that fails to take into account the complexity of the formation and its ability to protect its vulnerabilities quite handily.

So, how did I end up with the Diamond? It was 2032 and I’d just taken over the reins at Manchester United after Jurgen Klopp’s retirement. I’d just enjoyed three successful seasons at Juventus employing an aggressive 4-2-3-1 which had an emphasis on high-pressing and quick attacking, emulating to some extent the gegenpressing style of Klopp’s Dortmund. The success of this approach was a little surprising, but primarily refreshing, as I usually tend to flit between more traditional counter-attacking and a slow, possession game, as I’m sure many others do.

I was keen to keep it at my new club; Klopp’s lengthy tenure had been marked by a remarkably effective diamond – I conceded 5 goals against it, twice – and so it seemed like a good experiment to attempt to replicate Klopp’s Dortmund style in Klopp’s United side.

It’s positively surprised me – in my first season, we scored 125 goals in 38 Premier League games, set a new Biggest Win record (10-0) and went on a 25 unbeaten streak, pipped only to the league title by an Arsenal team that set a new record points total. We won the FA Cup, League Cup and only lost the Champions League thanks to a penalty loss in the final (my second such loss in a row). The season taught me a lot about the formation, and some further tweaks at the end of the season seem to have strengthened my system defensively with little loss in the attacking phase.

As I mentioned, the flanks are what people worry about most with a diamond. It’s extremely common for teams to play with inside forwards and overlapping full-backs nowadays, and a formation that has half as much coverage on the flanks as a 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 does seem dangerous. This is not something I’ve noticed as a particular vulnerability for the most part – see this diagram of assist locations for the last 50 league matches:

Apart from the obvious imbalance between left and right flanks (almost certainly accounted for by my left back having “Gets Forward Whenever Possible”, a PPM neither of my right backs have), this isn’t an awful spread. In fact, only two of these goals are from crosses, and six of them are set-pieces:

A question worth asking when thinking about exploiting another team’s weakness on the flanks, or worrying about your own weakness on the flanks, is: how does one actually exploit this massive gap? If you overload me on the wing with a full-back and a winger, the winger could stay wide and the full-back can underlap, or the winger can cut in and the full-back can overlap, but either way the main danger is me giving away space for you to put a cross in from one of them.

That doesn’t worry me one bit. I’ve got these two monsters at centre-half, both good in the air and impeccable readers of the game:

The fact that these are highly valued and highly paid players, amongst the best in their position should not serve as proof that the diamond is merely a rich-man’s best friend. This guy, a backup CB bought for £5m and paid under £20k/week, has been imperious in the air:

With these guys waiting in my box, I’m quite happy to be attacked down the flanks:

Thanks for coming, lads.

My real worry was the flipside of the one most people have: that the formation was too narrow when going forward. We’ve all had those games when the opposition sits back and tucks in tight and makes it really hard for you to find any space to create chances – it’s a pain in the arse and the usual advice – stretch them by going wide and dropping off a little – doesn’t always work. A formation designed to pack the middle seems like it’d be the worst option for these cases, and these cases are the norm when playing as such a big team.

But I’ve actually found this system gives me some of the best attacking play I’ve ever had on FM. My system is Very Fluid, Attacking and my players are told to Close Down More, Push Higher Up, Play Wider, Pass Into Space, and Work Ball into Box, with others added depending on the opposition. Very Fluid allows maximum positional fluidity, and an Attacking mentality combined with a high line and closing down ensures we do everything at a high tempo – we win the ball high, and we punish mistakes swiftly and ruthlessly.

As expected, I am playing with attacking full backs (Wing Back-Attack to be exact), but we avoid relying on their crosses too much with Work Ball into Box, which encourages cut backs and short passes. In addition, Play Wider and our fluidity offers us outward movement from our central players too, particularly the two strikers:

My Advanced Forward (left ST) moves into channels and attempts to go behind the defence, offering both depth and width, while my Complete Forward (Support, right ST) drops off a little and roams around, opening up space for a Shadow Striker to attack from deep. The two strikers work really well with the full-backs, either playing them in or receiving cut-backs. See here:

My CF-S (Serban) goes wide to work with my right back (Ayele), occupying both of their left-sided players and opening up space for one of my CMs (Gutierrez) to whip in a cross to the back post, converted by the other striker (Eleilson).

Midfield roles are the final thing I want to talk about. I’ve changed mine around so much that none of my original choices (made a season and a half ago) remain in place now. I have always considered the diamond to have a fairly set pattern: intelligent playmaker/anchor at DM, athletic shuttlers at MC and a trequartista type No10 at AMC. With this in mind I started with a Regista at DM, an RPM and a BBM at MC and an Enganche at AMC but found this to struggle in the attacking phase; the Regista would push too high and leave us exposed if counter-attacked, the RPM would sit too deep when the ball was with the full-backs, and the Enganche was too easily marked out of the game by a defensive midfielder, and lacked enough positivity on the ball even when unmarked. The Enganche was the biggest problem, by far, since it cut us off from our strikers if a team sat deep.

I now have the following:

The DLP sits nice and deep and helps circulate the ball if my players need an outlet; the CM-S balances out the attacking runs of the AP-A, and stays out of the way while remaining close enough to help win back the ball; the SS-A sits in space and then bombs forward into the box when given space to dribble or when the ball goes to the full-backs or complete forward. It’s by no means an orthodox diamond, but as you can see from the positional diagram above, it still offers a great shape when defending, and gives us good variety, of runners and creators, of roamers and holders, of aggressive and cautious.

This obviously isn’t some “magic mix”, but it does make a very good point about not following “expected” or “traditional” roles for this formation or others. If you’re using a formation for something other than its usual use – as I am – it makes sense to switch things up to get what you want.

It’d be good to hear others’ views and experiences of the diamond, and open this out to a discussion. It’s a formation I’d really recommend giving a go, since it has some really nice advantages, regardless of the wider system, and I’d be happy to talk through my personal experiences on some more specific issues.

If there is one tactical concept in Football Manager 2014 that is discussed – and misunderstood – more than any other, it’s surely fluidity. It’s poorly named and poorly described, with little practical information and advice offered within the game. Recent discussions, especially on the official Sports Interactive forums, have shed a lot more light on how Fluidity affects your tactical set-up, but I remain confident that the best way to understand the effects of fluidity is through examples which can help you to identify and resolve the differences between what you want and what you’ve got. I’m sure most avid Football Manager players have read the same sort of explanations for Fluidity, but are still a little confused about how the different fluidities look and play, and that, really, is what you need.

This is the first article of a series looking to answer the questions that rarely or insufficiently get answered. Here we will explain why we have fluidity, where it comes from, and why it is an important tactical setting.

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.

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.

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