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Tactical Visions

An Introduction to Football Tactics


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Tactical Visions

Tactical Visions
Football Manager 2010 sees a seismic shift in the way tactics are approached from the human perspective, seeking to replace slider think with football speak. The focus is no longer on finding the correct settings to master the simulation, but on understanding how to create a coherent tactic using proper football terminology. The best way to understand the new tactical system is to look at what the real tacticians do. The aim of this article is not to tell you how to play, or which system is best, but to provide a solid platform on which to build your own ideas. If youve read books such as Jonathon Wilsons Inverting the Pyramid then hopefully this serves as a handy reminder. If not, then hopefully this will give you some ideas how to put your tactics together. You might agree with some points and disagree with others in which case I have done my job, because you are thinking about football and not computer games.

Beginnings
As an Englishman I am obliged to stipulate three things. 1. We werent the first people to think of kicking a ball around. 2. We were the first to have a hissy-fit about rules and threaten to take our ball away, thus creating the modern version of the sport played worldwide. 3. We dont understand how our own creation works and our tactics have the subtlety and sophistication of a herd of stampeding elephants with toothache. Which is pretty much how we do everything round here. The rudimentary form of the game adopted within public schools in the early 1800s involved a senior pupil dribbling the ball towards the goal (by which I mean nothing more technical than propelling the ball forwards), with the younger boys backing up lining up behind him in order to pick up the ball if it bounced loose. Kicking lumps out of your opponents shins, or hacking, was perfectly legal at this time, while passing was considered unmanly though long forward passes would come to be grudgingly accepted. Football was quite simply a charge towards goal, based on bravery and iron will. For all the technical innovations of the last century or so, the only change in requirement to describe the modern English game is to replace the word was with is.

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Formation A Means to an End


Formation Neutrality Ideally your first question should be how do I want to play rather than what formation should I play. Though formation is the first step in the Tactics Creator, this is merely functional as player roles and duties cannot be assigned without defining the formation first. Throughout the history of football the great tacticians have used formation to answer a specific problem or requirement, usually finding space to attack or denying space for opponents to attack. The formation should come about as a conclusion to your chosen style of play and overall aims and in itself is neutral. That is, no formation is overtly defensive or attacking, but rather it is the instructions that are issued to the players that make it so. Rappans Verrou (a.k.a. Swiss Bolt) employed the same 1-3-3-3 formation as the imperious Dutch brand of Total Football that dominated the 70s, yet it was employed as a rigid spoiling tactic and was vastly different to the fluid football of Cruyff and Neeskens.

Likewise, playing more forwards does not automatically mean you will be able to attack more. Indeed, it may be difficult to get the ball far enough forward to take advantage of the extra men. Withdrawing forwards may actually increase possession and therefore create more attacking situations. Formation is, as the heading suggests, merely a means to an end.

Tactical Visions

Pragmatism and First Steps Before you get too carried away, it is worth noting two things - firstly that you will be inheriting a squad designed to play your predecessors preferred formation and secondly that most tactical innovations came as a result of subtle alterations to the previously employed formation. Alterations to style and formation may require some aggressive action in the transfer market, so in the meantime it is worth considering the formations suggested in the Backroom Advice section, if only as a pragmatic short term solution. New managers playing players in their preferred position is often credited with a turn round in form. Notation versus Shape As football fans we have become accustomed to referring to formation by numerical notation. Many of the top managers see this as a rigid media device that does not reflect the true complexity of their tactical master plan. Alex Ferguson claims that he has never played a standard 4-4-2 at Manchester United, but rather he has always employed split forwards. In fact, it could be argued (and has been) that the formation employed in the midnineties was actually 4-2-3-1 and not a 4-4-2 at all. Eric Cantona played in the hole behind strike partner Mark Hughes, Ryan Giggs and Andrei Kanchelskis played as advanced wingers, and the central midfield partnership of Roy Keane and Paul Ince took up deeper positions. It may not have been as explicit as the formation that featured Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez, but there is no denying the similarity.

Likewise, the 4-2-4 employed by Brazil in winning the 1958 and 1962 World Cups could just as easily be described as 4-3-3 or 4-5-1. Attacking shape is a product of situation or context rather than explicitly defined as a secondary formation. In other words, it is the

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instructions given to players and the way they react to them as opportunities arise or their path is blocked that defines attacking shape.

Jose Mourinho talks about breaking lines. The 4-3-3 formation he employed at Chelsea does exactly that by employing two wide players who operate between the midfield and forward line. If you could freeze the action during the match then sometimes it would look like a 4-1-2-3, but at another time would look more like 4-1-4-1. While Bolton played the same formation under Sam Allardyce, in this context it was more commonly referred to as 4-5-1. The difference perhaps, is the aggressiveness with which the Chelsea wingers would attack, rather than merely offer support. In case you are wondering, that is a none-too-subtle clue as to Football Manager 2010s approach to changing from a defensive shape to an attacking one. Like real football, assigning duties produces more dynamic and less robotic movement that is, it is contextual rather than predefined. Matching the Opposition In setting out your teams formation it is easy to forget that it does not just define how 11 players play, but that there are 22 players to consider. That may sound like stating the obvious, but it is easily overlooked, even by real life managers. To demonstrate this, we need to look at an example rather more mundane than those discussed so far. Paul Hart, in employing a 4-4-2 diamond for Portsmouths relegation six-pointer against Bolton in September 2009, neglected to take the opposing 4-5-1 formation into account, placing considerable stress on his defence and midfield and resulting in a 2-3 home loss. With no width in midfield, the full backs were over exposed against Boltons advanced wingers, while the midfielders on the right and left side of the diamond were left to deal with a central midfield opponent and an advancing full back.

Tactical Visions

Meanwhile Boltons lone striker regularly drifted into the space occupied by Portsmouths defensive midfielder, taking away valuable cover for the overworked pair in the centre. Worse still, as Bolton frequently got behind the full backs the nearest centre back was drawn across and with him the rest of the defence, leaving Portsmouth vulnerable to the ball being switched to the opposite flank.

Managers are often left perplexed when individual errors consistently affect results, but this can easily be explained as a failure of system placing defenders under undue stress. The aim of formation is to somehow create a spare man in both attack and defence something that cannot be achieved without first taking the opponents formation into consideration. The easiest way to match an opponent is to play exactly the same formation (which explains the widespread adoption of successful formations, even without the elements that made them work), though this can reduce the game to a simple test of quality rather than system something Portsmouth would be ill advised to attempt when facing Chelseas diamond system. Balancing Requirements Throughout the history of football, the greatest triumphs have come about by balancing attacking play with defensive structure. Brazil may have placed an extra man in defence, but it allowed the full backs scope to attack from deep positions. Herbert Chapmans WM (3-2-2-3) withdrew a midfielder into the defence, but compensated the loss by moving the inside forwards back into the midfield.

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Coming up to date, the 4-2-2-2 that has become popular in Brazil balances two overtly defensive midfielders with two out and out attacking midfielders and the 4-2-3-1 maintains a similar balance of attackers and defenders.

Defensive Structures
Situational Defending Speaking to forum member footynut, Ray Wilkins describes how the defence react in one given situation: If the ball is coming down your left hand side your left back presses the ball, your left centre back is marking his player, your right centre back is slightly deeper on the cover in a position that he can see his left centre backs shirt number and your right full back would be pushed up in level with your left centre back. In this example, it is not clear what marking system the defence is playing (though it sounds a lot like zonal), but it seems that players are not glued to their marking responsibilities in text book fashion. Instead they are reacting according to the situation - closing down, marking or covering according to both player and ball position. Much of the defensive work that takes place during a match simply comes down to common sense - positioning, anticipation, decision making and good old fashioned teamwork (coincidentally all player attributes in Football Manager!). The covering centre back will position himself with reference to his man or zone, but will anticipate the threat in behind his partner. Zonal Marking These days it is relatively uncommon to find a team that does not employ a four man defence marking zones. Man marking is largely consigned to the past a legacy of Brazils most dominant years. Zonal marking is often conceived as two banks of four covering one entire half of the pitch, but in reality is a good deal more dynamic than that. Applied in such a basic manner it would result in large gaps appearing. Zones expand or contract according to demand, allowing defenders to cover each other as the situation demands, whether it is to cover a team mate in an advanced position, to back up an overloaded zone or to close down an attacker who has bypassed another zone and poses a significant goal threat. Zonal marking allows the defence to react to dangerous situations rather than dangerous players. Loosely speaking, zonal marking relies on anticipation and communication rather than speed though with the pace and athleticism of the modern game, speed has to be taken into account. The primary function in an attacking strategy should be allowing the full backs to get forward and attack or to support the midfield (again, Brazil are one of the best exponents of this), whereas more defensive teams may prefer to use zonal marking to maintain defensive shape and form an impenetrable barrier to goal.

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Man Marking Global man marking systems employing the whole team as man markers may be rare in modern football, but that is not to say they are unheard of. Man marking can work very well when formations provide an obvious player for player match up as two opposing WM formations would have prior to the formations demise in the 1960s.

However, the system can be broken down by pace and movement (and red cards!) as Reading found to their cost when Manchester United beat them 3-2 on New Years Eve in 2006. Wind the clock back to 1953 and Hungary provided an early warning of the deficiencies of man marking as they destroyed England 6-3 and a year later 7-1 by instructing players to interchange positions or to drop into the hole causing much confusion in the English defensive ranks.

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That defeat owes a good deal to the naivety of the English in failing to adapt to the situation closing down or marking players when they should have been covering. Fortunately, FM is a good deal more sophisticated, limiting how far players will stray from their position to follow their man and maintaining a degree of common sense, whilst still prioritising the man more than zonal marking does. It should be noted that man marking in this sense applies purely to the overall team setting and not individual player settings (player x follows player y wherever he goes) or opposition instructions (the whole team keeps a close eye on player y). Coaches and fans alike will often refer to getting touch tight (mark the player tightly, rather than stand off him). This is not specific to man marking and can apply equally to zonal marking remembering that zonal marking still requires the defender to close down or mark attackers in certain situations (such as having the ball). Mixed Marking Sweeper systems such as Catenaccio place a zonal marker behind three or four manmarkers, ensuring that any break down of the man marking system is covered, though again it should be noted that the original asymmetric nature of Catenaccio pitted the defensive side of the team against the opponents attacking side, providing a player for player match up.

When Greece won Euro 2004, they employed a sweeper behind three man markers, a five man midfield and a lone striker in essence, the formation was much the same as Rappans Verrou, but with the wingers withdrawn into midfield, and perhaps a flatter back four. The five man midfield suggests that the extra man acts as cover for four more man markers, but that is speculation on my part it may just be a way of packing the midfield. While Greece were undeniably superior to the Swiss team of the 1930s, their success owed something to the surprise element.

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During the 1980s and 90s the sweeper was commonly deployed in a 3-5-2 formation and was often referred to as Catenaccio, though it bore little resemblance to the original system beyond the spare man. Sweeper systems deal with the opponents attacking unit as a whole by adding a zonal marker to a man marking system. This combination can be reversed, adding a man marker to a zonal defence to deal with a specific individual threat. Manchester United did this against Barcelona in 1994, using full back Paul Parker to mark Romario, while the remaining three defenders retained their zonal responsibilities though a lapse in concentration allowed Romario to run onto a through ball and score. Most real life mixed marking systems only employ one defender and perhaps one midfielder with different instructions to the rest of the team. That is not to say you should only stick to systems that real managers have used. Football Manager 2010s Default marking assigns zonal or man marking according to position, role and duty and could result in a 50/50 split. If you are comfortable with that (i.e. it seems to work, or it fits your tactical vision) then there is no reason to change it.

The Transition Phase


Space Management For the past few years I have been a season ticket holder at my local club, Portsmouth. There is a middle aged woman sat behind me (and a few seats to the right, thankfully) who yelps every time the ball enters our penalty area, even when there is clearly no danger. Now this may be an over-reaction, but there is generally a stage in the match, shortly before conceding, where the yelping increases and the passage of play is generally characterised by one of my friends using the phrase were sitting too deep. The defensive line is all about controlling the space and while the failure to control it may result in conceding sloppy goals, it can also be used to turn defence into attack. Herbert Chapmans Arsenal team did this by sitting deep, drawing the opposition out of defence and holding them at the edge of the penalty area, before launching a swift counter attack into the space created. Valeriy Lobanovskyi took the opposite approach with Dynamo and USSR, playing a high line in combination with the offside trap and aggressive pressing. This meant that possession was won higher up the pitch, placing his teams in a much better position to attack and containing the opposition in one half of the pitch. While this was successful in Europe, it was referred to as the donkey line in Brazil as it was considered stupid pass one man and you pass them all.

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Both strategies require a strong back line, but are not necessarily the preserve of world class teams. Equally, both strategies require concentration as there is less margin for error. Where they differ is in their approach to possession a deep line prioritising quality of possession over quantity and a high line the opposite. Defensive Midfielders You are probably wondering why I have singled out just the one position. This is because of its importance in making the whole team function. When the England team lacks a good defensive midfielder the question is often asked why do we need a holding player anyway? The answer is perhaps that we dont necessarily need one but it doesnt half help. Brazils rampaging full backs and the artistry of Pele, Zico or Ronaldinho are made possible by the protection that a defensive midfielder (or two) offers when play breaks down, covering the empty space left behind and snuffing out attacks before they get started. The 4-2-3-1 formation used by France in the 1998 World Cup uses two holding players as a platform for the four attacking players, who are afforded greater freedom than they would have in other systems, and also allows the full backs some attacking scope. When possession is regained the defensive midfielder becomes the fulcrum around which the midfield pivots. This is particularly true in a three man midfield where a triangle will frequently exert greater control than a flat line. Football Manager distinguishes the defensive midfield position from that of a standard midfielder, but to all intents and purposes, a standard midfielder with a defensive duty is performing the same task in the attacking phase- staying behind the rest of the midfield. The only difference comes with the position adopted in the defensive phase

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the defensive midfielder covering the hole while the standard midfielder who defends forms a line with the rest of the midfield.

Attacking Play
Possession Football Losing managers are often asked why their team did not win a match that they seemed to control. Somewhere amongst the rambling excuses there will most likely be some kind of reference to having the lions share of possession (i.e. more than the other team). Occasionally a more pragmatic manager will simply say They scored more goals than us. Goals win football matches, not possession, or for that matter shots (a common complaint on Football Manager forums). The relationship between possession and goals is not clear cut. Counter attacking football actually relies on having less possession than the opponent, but it is quite obvious that you cant score goals when not in possession of the ball. You may remember we started this article by talking about the English predilection for moving the ball rapidly in one direction only. It came as something of a surprise then in the 1880s, when Scotland lined up in a 2-3-5 formation and used short sideways passes to maintain possession of the ball and patiently wait for an opening though the game ended in a goalless draw. Austria and Hungary then showed the true potential of the passing game, by realising that a good first touch meant that the ball could be released quicker. Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil took it a step further, celebrating the technique and artistry of football more than winning though they frequently did win and taking their time over possession, thus creating better quality chances. If it is true that attack is the best form of defence then possession is the mechanism by which attack and defence operates. English fans may get impatient, boo back passes and yell get it forward, but paradoxically they still expect to retain possession of the ball. The Long Ball Game Teams adopting a long ball game are often derided as playing anti-football partly because it goes hand in hand with a more physical approach, leaving the opposition battered and bruised. Its certainly not pretty, but as Wimbledon and Watford proved in the 1980s, it can be highly effective for teams looking to punch above their weight. Charles Hughes, who unfortunately was made Technical Director of the Football Association, analysed 100 matches and concluded that 80 percent of goals come from three or less passes. On the surface of it, this appears to support getting the ball forward quickly, but his deeply flawed analysis fails to properly account for another statistic that 91.5 percent of moves consist of three or less passes, which actually means that there is an 11.5 percent shortfall in the number of goals that should be scored.

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Long ball football is likely to produce a high turnover of possession and that is perhaps why the more successful exponents (as Graham Taylor was, at least at Watford) tended to play a pressing game to re-balance possession in their favour. What it does give you is penetration of enemy territory, provided the long balls are not just aimless that is, they either have a specific target, or in the case of David Beckham, the passing is of a high quality. Both Wimbledon and Watford had big, physical target men to look for (as Bolton do today in Kevin Davies) and willing runners from midfield to collect the knock downs, achieving a good deal of success without relying on technically gifted players. That is not to say that it couldnt fail spectacularly when meeting a team with enough technical ability to maintain possession under pressure. While long ball football does not necessarily have to be about analysis, statistics and percentages (it is doubtful many lower league managers take such a scientific approach), Football Manager 2010 does give you some pretty useful data in the match day Stats tab. Strike Partnerships While 4-5-1 is gaining in popularity, many formations still rely on a two man strike partnership. The key to any successful partnership is division of labour and this is perhaps what makes it easier to get two men working than a lone striker. That division most commonly comes in two forms the creator/scorer combination, or the big man/small man combination (small man usually implies pace). This will often see one man drop into the hole as deep lying forward, support striker or trequartista (three-quarters), while the other takes a more advanced role. In Football Manager, as in real life, it is much easier to mark two strikers who play in line with each other. There are other combinations that work of course. Real Madrid won La Liga five times in a row in the 1980s with two strikers who didnt even like each other and rarely dovetailed, but in Hugo Sanchez and Emilio Butragueno they had a power and subtlety. Arsenals Bergkamp/Henry combination is perhaps one of the most complete partnerships. At first glance they could be described as a typical creator/scorer combination, but that doesnt take into account Henrys blistering pace or Bergkamps aerial ability, which made them as effective as any big man/small man combo, or their ability to swap creative and goal scoring roles. At the other end of the spectrum, Portsmouth found moderate success due to Kanus flair and Benjanis work rate and determination. Perhaps the only quality they shared was the ability to hold the ball up, but there is no denying that the almost total split of abilities worked to good effect. The apparent exception to the rule is the partnership of Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka. Many pundits doubted that they could work together, considering them too similar in many aspects of their game. However, this ignores their obvious qualities beyond mere goal scoring. Like the Bergkamp/Henry combination at times they can be a

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big man/small man combination and at other times a creator/scorer combination. Though the lines are much more blurred (particularly since both can operate as lone strikers or do each others job when playing together), they are there. Universality versus Specialisation The heroes of the past were the wingers, playmakers and goal poachers, but the modern game is an altogether different beast that does not allow room for so called luxury players. Improvements in physical fitness and defensive organisation mean that space on the football field is limited, there are fewer mistakes and less gaps (even if the Match of the Day pundits would have you believe otherwise). This has given rise to two very different types of footballers. Complete players, or hybrids such as Christiano Ronaldo, Thierry Henry and Wayne Rooney combine multiple abilities creativity, dribbling and finishing that mean they can pop up in different areas of the pitch and be equally adept as a playmaker, winger or striker. Didier Drogba is another take on the theme, complimenting his power and strength with moments of finesse. Valeriy Lobanovskyi called this universality - to which the specialist would be the philosophical opposite. The universal player is unpredictable and, at his best, unplayable, while the specialist plays purely to his strengths. Emile Heskey, Michael Owen and Stephane Guivarch are perfect examples, much derided for their limitations, but frequently the key component in victory in Guivarchs case, World Cup victory. Further back, Claude Makelele was often held up as the perfect example of a defensive midfielder in his heyday, doing little other than breaking up attacks and playing short simple passes to his more creative team mates. Even so Jose Mourinho (Makeleles manager at Chelsea) is quick to bemoan English coaching for failing to create young players who are multi-functional. Most players, of course, fall somewhere between the two extremes and the top teams employ a mixture of hybrids, specialists and general purpose players. If you are lucky enough to have a hybrid or two it is worth remembering that, since their abilities blur the lines between midfield and attack, their position tends to follow as does withdrawing a striker. Manchester Uniteds front four of Rooney, Ronaldo, Giggs and Tevez interchanged between three attacking midfield berths and one strike position (more on this in a minute). At Arsenal, Bergkamp dropped deep and Henry drifted out wide. Maradona was a midfielder who could play as a support striker, explaining why a long line of Argentinian playmakers have failed to become the next Maradona.

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Drogba, again, is an exception, operating on his own as an out-and-out striker under Mourhinho, but in partnership with Nicolas Anelka under Carlo Ancelotti. Movement and Interchanging As we have already seen with Hungarys destruction of the English, good movement and good attacking play go hand in hand. Rigid formations have their place, but stationary players can be easy to mark. This is perhaps why many teams employ a big striker to hold the ball up, concentrating on grinding the opposition down rather than pattern weaving. Total Football is often seen as the ideal defenders attacking and attackers defending in one fluid formation. The reality was a good deal more organised than it sounds, even if it would be difficult to implement at the pace the modern game is played. Players in the 13-3-3 formation interchange along vertical lines. For example, if the left midfielder came forward, the left wing forward would cover. It was different to merely swapping positions as two wingers would do, having more to do with balancing forward runs and freedom to roam with defensive responsibility. Revisiting another of our previous examples, Manchester Uniteds front four used a similar interchanging of roles to good effect, but left the remaining six outfield players out of the equation, defending, supporting or attacking within their normal roles. The aim of this type of movement is to present defenders with a threat that is unpredictable in its direction and nature, with much of the work carried out off the ball. Even then, it is not totally without structure. Alex Ferguson maintains that it is better to have forwards attack from wide positions and move into the centre towards goal, than

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to start in the centre and move away from goal. This may indicate why the 4-5-1/4-3-3 has become so popular, as it uses two advanced wingers that converge on the goal.

Looking beyond the obvious wisdom of Fergusons point, it is also fair to say that defending teams looking for an out ball will have greater luck finding strikers who have drifted wide, while Arsenal echoed their counter attacking ploy of the 1930s by allowing Thierry Henry to drift into wide positions to devastating effect. As with all tactical elements there is no definitive rule Ruud van Nistelrooy is a good example of a striker who starts in the middle and stays in the middle and gets a lot of goals, though he would have had another striker to run the channels, such as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The Numbers Game The title of Jonathon Wilsons book Inverting the Pyramid is a clue as to how the balance of attackers and defenders has changed. From the time the first formation was dreamt up forwards have been withdrawn into midfield to look for space and midfielders withdrawn into defence to deny it. Teams once attacked with eight players and defended with five (midfielders in a 2-3-5 operating in both phases), but this is generally reversed in modern football. The 4-4-2 defends with two banks of four, but at the most will only send three of the four midfielders forward to join the two strikers

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This apparent trend towards negativity was set in motion by a change to the offside law, reducing the number of men required to be goal side from three to two and precipitating Chapmans WM. I say apparent, because as we have seen, withdrawing players does not necessarily mean teams are less attacking. Shifting the right numbers between attack and defence is perhaps the key component of style of play more so than starting formation. Argentina found this out to their cost as they lost the 1930 World Cup to Uruguay. Both teams liked to attack in numbers, in an attempt to overload the defence, but crucially, only Uruguay gave any thought to defending. Brazil attacked in numbers, winning the World Cup three times between 1958 and 1970, but this is generally recognised as the end of a more nave era. Defenders sat deeper, so Brazil were less likely to be caught on the break and their world class players consequently had the kind of space the modern game rarely allows. It shouldnt be forgotten that they also defended in greater numbers though again the less frenetic style of play made this much easier. Italian football is often seen as overly defensive and negative, characterised, not by formation, but by the use of just three attacking players. The first aim is to avoid conceding you cant lose if you dont concede. Scoring is almost a secondary aim and the national side in particular are famed for their 1-0 wins.

A Final Word
My own management career (from the first Championship Manager to the current Football Manager) has followed a similar path to the development of tactics in the real game. Early on, I simply found the best players I could, seeing football merely as a test of ability. Then came the 4-3-1-2 formation and a desire to create beautiful football, albeit it through text commentary. The luxury of a playmaker gave way to grinding out results;

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or rather fear of losing took over, leading to a more defensive approach and thankfully plenty of 1-0 wins. I finally feel that I have reached a point where I understand why my tactics worked and why they subsequently stopped working which is why I am genuinely excited by the prospect of taking over a Portsmouth team that has sold a team and a half of quality players and replaced them with second rate journeymen. One line of thought is to create a spare man in attack and exploit gaps in the opponents back four without sacrificing my own defensive stability - which I would hope to achieve by employing a 4-4-2 that morphs into a 4-3-3 using duties and individual width to reshape the formation. Another approach is to control the midfield space and play to individual strengths in a 42-3-1 that uses two playmakers, three willing runners and a target man. In both cases the formation is the end result and not the starting point. Both methods also require one or two additional signings to make it work, so with no money to spend it may yet be back to the drawing board!