In all my years of playing Football Manager, I’ve never achieved a completely unbeaten league season. Until mid-March, we remained unbeaten in all competitions and I was getting pretty excited at our chance. Then came a loss against Conte’s Bayern (who we’d battered 6-0 and 4-1 earlier in the season). We went on to win the league very comfortably, as well as adding the DFB-Pokal to the trophy cabinet.
With an average of +2 Goal Difference *per match*, it’s fair to say we destroyed the German league.
The only thing that would’ve made me feel slightly better about missing out on the unbeaten season would’ve been a Champions League win. Unfortunately that was even more frustrating as Arsenal came to park the bus and play for the 0-0. After 120 minutes they had indeed kept a clean sheet, and despite not scoring themselves, were favourites in the penalty shootouts. With our penalty takers having an average Penalty Taking stat of just over 10, we were always going to struggle, and we did, as Joachim Low’s Arsenal walked it. Gutted.
Despite losing only one game in ninety minutes all year, I was still pretty disappointed. This is despite having probably my best ever season on FM, based on relative squad quality. At Wolves on FM13, I won plenty more trophies, but this Dortmund squad has no right to dominate the league to the extent they did, or to be favourites in a Champions League final.
Our overachievement largely stemmed from the success of the 4-1-4-1. This was what it looked like most of the time.
The main focus of the 4-1-4-1 is to have quick attacks with lots of dribbling. I’ve left the ‘Higher Tempo’ TI unticked as I want us to be patient if the opposition defense is solid, as we have plenty of creativity in the team. But as the team is packed with excellent dribblers (Tielemans: 16 dribbling, 17 acceleration, 16 flair; Odegaard: 16 dribbling, 15 acceleration, 17 flair; Brendel: 16 dribbling, 16 acceleration, 13 flair; Kagawa: 15 dribbling, 14 acceleration, 18 flair; etc. etc.). This is largely because I’ve found the Match Engine really does love those guys; when setting up a plan to halt the opposition, we always find those players the hardest to deal with. So I’ve packed our team with them, told them to ‘Run at Defense’, and it’s worked.
Another happy side-effect of this is how much better we are at countering from opposition corners. On previous editions of the ME, counter attacking from one end of the pitch to the other was almost non-existent. No matter how good the players involved, counter-attacking was largely impotent, a far cry from the poweful, purposeful fast transitions we see from the likes of Real Madrid in real life. However, this has slightly improved lately, and I consider us more of a threat from opposition corners than they are of me. We hardly ever concede, but the man on the edge of the area (whoever is your smallest, quickest, trickiest player) makes you a great counter-attacking threat with another quick small guy left up front.
I think I may have a problem…
.. I think I’m addicted to buying central midfielders.
With the 4-1-4-1, there’s incredible versatility in the midfield trio you can use. My preferred system when the going got tough was DLP-D, BBM-S and CM-A. But throughout the season we used a huge number of combinations depending on the form of our players and the qualities & weaknesses of the opposition. Tailoring our approach evidently paid off, and I feel it’s one of the reasons we were able to get so close to an unbeaten season.
Sometimes it was necessary for the deepest midfielder to be a ‘destroyer’, in which case I’d use a BWM-D. Or sometimes the opposition played without a CAM which would present the opportunity for using a Regista and allowing them to run the game. But this flexibility means we need a number of different options. And we’ve certainly utilised the transfer market to this effect.
On top of the central midfielders we already had, a few new first teamers have found game-time. Jacob Alexandersson, Rafael Sprecher and Andriy Yakovenko were all mentioned in the screenshots of young prospects we were hoping to bring through. Alexandersson and Yakovenko both found game time, with more than 1000 minutes over the season each. However, I had massive hopes for Yakovenko, and he’s improved very little in his time at the club. His attributes don’t really lean towards one particular role, and the coaches seem to think his potential isn’t as great as my scouts thought. Largely disappointing, but we’ve got lots of other options.
One is January signing, Ademar Aparecido:
Ademar Aparecido: featuring my brand spanking new player profiles — lovely looking, if I don’t say so myself
With a work rate of 19, and a flair of 10, Aparecido comes from the Willian & Oscar school of Brazilian talent, rather than that of Ronaldinho & Neymar. With a huge amount of potential to fulfill, I believe Aparecido is the player I wanted Yakovenko to become. Because of his wonderful mental stats, the Brazilian will act as a ‘facilitator’ in midfield, recycling the ball in possession and doing the hard yards when the opposition have it.
I’m fairly sure at this point that as this point it’ll be pointed out that his positioning (7) and tackling (7) are fairly poor. For me, the tackling is an issue but the positioning not so much. Because we operate a high pressing system, only the central defenders and pivote should be holding their positions. This means that for everyone else, I’m looking for work rate.
If a player has neither work rate nor positioning, it means he’s likely to sit back; but also sit back in the wrong position. This is bad as it effectively means we’re playing with a man less, and in a pressing system there’s no place for that. Even the key attackers need a good base work rate level, and the team’s stars, Tielemans and Odegaard, have 13 and 15 respectively.
Luckily, our new prize central midfield asset Emmanuel Boateng has 17 work rate at age 17, which should end up as 19 work rate at peak.
Emmanuel Boateng: Dortmund youth product & dubbed the next Gunter Netzer, a man who almost tempted me to start a long-term Gladbach save
Boateng will gain some first team experience this year, and the other young player to feature will be Josef Baumgartner. Aside from the wonderful name, Baumgartner has massive potential as a future right-back and captain of the team. With Lukasz Piszczek due to leave the club on a free transfer due to his extortionate wages, Baumgartner will push Hirving Lozano at right-back.
Josef Baumgartner: Germany’s new Lahm?
The rise and rise of Youri Tielemans
With the abundance of midfield options comes an increasing difficulty to play your best players every week. In his second year at the club (2017/18), Tielemans was used almost exclusively as a playmaker. Because of his quality, he excelled in this role, finishing as the league’s top assister.
But this quality led me to believe it’d be beneficial to the team to give him a larger role. And then I read this excellent, as ever, article from @JLAspey: https://cdeekyfm.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/utilising-the-central-winger-on-fm15/ which outlined the ‘Central Winger’ role in FM15. So it was time to turn Tielemans into the team’s focal point, as a Central Midfielder – Attack in our 4-1-4-1.
And it worked.
From a classy playmaker who could more than take on a man, Tielemans has exploded into a world-class do-it-all central winger. Defensively he’s tasked with pressing like a maniac and relying on the other two central midfielders to provide the solid base. On the ball he really came into his own, and was the key to the team’s attacking flair; dribbles, passes and shots galore.
In a 4-1-4-1 where the striker is so far apart from anyone else, vertical movement from midfield is vital.
This sort of vertical movement is why the DLP-D, BBM-S, CM-A midfield trio is my favourite. The deep playmaker sits back and dictates play, whilst the Central Winger gets forward very early. Box to box midfielders have massively grown on me, and if you can find a player who fits the role and has good Off the Ball movement, then they can make some excellent late runs into the box if play between the Trequartista and Central Winger stagnates. As well as this, the positioning of the wide men is also crucial if we find it difficult to break through the opposition defense.
Having recently read ‘Pep Confidential’ (which I’d highly recommend to anyone), his use of full-backs was particularly interesting for me. One of the things he repeatedly told his team was that it’s important for his full-backs and wingers to play in different ‘channels’. So if his full-back was in the channel by the touchline, it was the duty of the winger to occupy the channel inside of this to create a diagonal passing option. And vice versa, if the winger is wide, the full-back should tuck inside.
My ideal tactic would have one full-back tucking inside, with the winger on that side staying wide, and on the other wing, a wide full-back and a narrow winger. Now, unfortunately, SI have rather fucked up with the Inverted Wing Back role. So it’s pretty much impossible to create a Full Back in the narrow channel (the ‘Sit Narrower’ PI just doesn’t really cut it for me). So for now, both full-backs provide the width and the wide midfielders drop into the hole.
Another key theory mentioned by Pep, although not expanded upon by the author, is his striker’s ability to “occupying” the opposition back four. He mentioned his dream striker, who would be able to play on his own, but have movement so good that he can tie up the entire defensive line of the opposition. In games where he felt tying up the opposition defenders was particularly important, he’d even use two strikers; Muller and Mandzukic.
“Two guys occupying four defenders. Muller and Mandzukic need to tie up the entire back four. If they manage it, think of the space that Robben and Ribery will have to receive the ball wide.” – Pep Guardiola.
In the screenshot above, the striker, central winger and wide playmakers are doing an excellent job of occupying opposition players. Between Lucas Boye and Youri Tielemans, the entire Karlsruhe backline is tied up. Jordy Clasie and Ademar Aparecido are the wide playmakers and drop inside, occupying at least one player each. This leaves space for my two attacking full-backs, and is one of the main reason for our excellent goalscoring record (goals in every game but two). When the opposition defended well, and played narrow, the full-backs provided the out-ball, with whipped crosses in (out strikers can’t jump particularly well so I use either whipped or low crosses). If the full-backs were on support duties, then they’d hold their position and it’d be far more difficult for them to create a dangerous cross in.
Tactical Alterations and Squad Management
In a bid to get even closer to the magical 0 losses mark, we’ll be making a few alterations to the side. Given we have a fairly young squad, there’ll be a few natural improvements; Robert Wechner, my prize asset, managed to bag himself 28 goals in all competitions, with no penalties — essentially a goal every 90 minutes; at 18 years of age! If he improves any further, it’d make a massive difference. Aside from players naturally improving, there’s certainly a few tactical alterations we can make to further tighten up the defense.
Of the 28 goals we conceded in the Bundesliga, 20 came away from home. A major reason so many of these were conceded was because of a central overload — a single pivot wasn’t enough. One of our central defenders would have to press high, leaving a gap in the defense which the opposition were able to exploit. For this reason I’ll go back to using a double deep-DM pivot in away games, whilst keeping the 4-1-4-1 at home.
As well as this, I’ll look to use Gaston Gil Romero as the pivote more permanently. Captain Ilkay Gundogan has been complaining about wanting a move to Barcelona recently, and at age 28 I feel it might be time to oblige him if they cough up a good amount. The only area GGR really lacks is in his first touch (13), meaning if pressed high, he may struggle slightly. But I doubt that anyone comes to the Signal Iduna Park and presses us *that* high, and if we’re away from home we’ll play with a double pivot anyway.
The aim for the year is total domination, and to avoid losing in all competitions. Tricky but doable.