Creating a non-hoof-ball direct attacking style | FM22

Published on 15 December 2022
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During the past versions of the game, I have created a couple of projects aiming to create a direct brand of football. On FM20 it was a "hoofball" style with Milwall, and on FM21 it was a wingplay focused direct style loosely based on Gerardo Seoane's Young Boys' team. Both were modelled on a 4-4-2.

However, as we progressed through the seasons, the long ball style was quickly rendered obsolete and was binned. That made sense as the overreliance on playing target man makes the team easily nullified on the top level where hulking defenders like van Dijk, Koulibaly, Konate and Upamecano are playing.

Given the time to reflect, this made sense. No "ambitious" team at the highest level, play that brand. On the contrary, many top teams attack directly like Inter, Liverpool and even Man City at times. It hence struck me that direct football does not necessarily equate to long/hoof ball. Quite simply, direct teams do not rely solely on transitioning by humping it forward. Here is the key difference. Long ball teams simply defend the ball and hoof it forward as soon as possible after it is won, while a direct team doesn't do ONLY that. Direct teams realize that, theoretically, a direct ball is the quickest and efficient way of scoring, and as such look to play such balls when possible. A great example is recent Liverpool goals scored from 2 or 3 passes. A long pass by Allisson, van Dijk or Trent Alexander Arnold to the forwards are a common sight in this Liverpool team that results in some beautiful goals.

Following further research, I have come across this brilliant article on spielverlagerung describing the "art of long ball". The title may sound weird, given that the concept of long ball means giving up some control in getting the ball into organized situations. However, the concepts explained in the article provided me with some ideas of how I want to improve my direct style and form the basis of my first FM22 project.

Playing style - theory

  1. The first concept I want to implement is NOT using a 4-4-2. 4-4-2s has been a sort of a comfort zone for me in the previous games, and whenever I want to apply a direct attacking team I usually default to a 4-4-2. 4-4-2 is a great defensive shape, but it can get rigid in an attacking sense, especially when going direct.

    By not playing in a 4-4-2, I will have the opportunity to apply many of the concepts discussed in the spielverlagerung article above.

  2. Another important point is that I want to avoid creating a hoofball team. I do not want the team to lump it long unnecessarily to the target man. Instead, I'd like us to have variety and be able to play controlled football when required. In any case, the core intent of the team should be to penetrate directly and as quickly as possible.

    This is quite difficult to balance, and will most probably require careful adjustments on a match by match basis.

  3. Another concept I wish to recreate is the creation of counter-pressing opportunities high up the pitch if a long ball is failed. In other words, I envision us winning most of the second balls from the opponent. This requires highly intelligent and physical midfielders.

  4. It goes without saying that after a direct long ball, sufficient support should be offered to the player receiving the ball. In a 4-4-2 this usually comes from the striker's partner. This is not enough for me, I want to have 3 or 4 options with variety around the offensive pivot.

  5. This gets me to the next concept, in which I want to include the midfield in the attacking process, both providing assists and scoring too. I flirted with the idea of having a goalscoring midfielder, but never took it seriously enough to implement it in my projects. I look to implementing it this time.

Playing style - blueprint

After some deliberation, I decided I will use Fiorentina for this project. Reasons for this are simply:

a. Distinctive, beautiful colours b. Midtable team with a nice budget c. Good squad with a great offensive pivot (Vlahovic) d. One of Salah's previous teams e. Never managed them before, and are largely unknown to me

Before applying any of this to football manager, I'd like to share a blueprint of how I visualize the team's shape in line with my vision discussed above.

It was clear that I wanted to use a single striker system supported by wingers and 1 or 2 midfielders. I was intrigued to use a 3-5-2 but decided to try it in a future project. For this one, it was a really hard choice going between a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1, but I decided to go for a 4-3-3.

Realizing that my required vision resembles Mourinho's famous Chelsea team, it was a good call to have a reference point. Another factor was that the 4-3-3 gives us the ability to commit two midfielders in support, allowing us to achieve more support as required.

Putting it all together, here is a blueprint of what I want to achieve. Translating this to football manager will be the topic of the next post.