Football Manager 2017 – Mid-Season 2016/2017

The January transfer window has just shut up here in Scotland so its time to give an update on my Football Manager 2017 career so far.

I didn’t realise that the Scottish league season started earlier than in England so as I loaded the game up to start on 01/07/16 for the English leagues the Scottish clubs had already started playing friendly games.

When I took over at Stirling Albion they had already played 3 friendly games, wining 2 away to even lower league (non playable) Scottish teams and lost at home to English League One side Swindon. The Scottish Betfred cup had also started, this is a league format at the start where 5 teams play each other once. Stirling had already played 2 and lost both of these.

With the friendlies and 2 cup games already played, I had no way of finding out my best team or tactics in meaningless games, i was plunged straight into competitive football with not much time to prepare my team.

Shortly after taking over at Stirling, the board gave me their expectations for the season. I was expected to reach the league playoffs (top 4 out of 10), reach the 4th round of the Scottish cup, the 2nd round of the Scottish League cup and be competitive in the Betfred cup. I was given a transfer budget of 20k and a wage budget of 4.2k.

Before continuing the game, I needed to sort everything out as mentioned in my previous blog. First I looked at my staff to decide who to keep and who needed replaced. I decided to replace my chief scout, fitness coach and head physio while also bringing in 2 scouts, a goalkeeping coach, a physio and a head of youth development. Shortly after my u20s manager got poached by another team so i had to bring a new one in, it turned out that ex-Scottish international striker Chris Iwelumo wanted the u20s job so i signed him up. If you don’t know who he is, he only got capped 4 times for Scotland but he is infamous for this amazing miss in an international game against Norway in 2008.

After sorting my staff out I looked for some players to improve my squad and offered trials to 27 players, eventually signing 6 of them and missing out on some as other clubs offered better deals. I also started scouting some potential signings and sending my scouts out hoping i could find some cheap players to improve the squad. My scouts are only able to scout in Scotland so I’m limited on finding players which makes things harder, i did ask my board to expand the scouting range but got refused.

Next up was creating some tactics, usually on Football Manager games I like to create similar formations that usually work and stick with them. In this case i created a 4-2-3-1 formation to use at home based on a more attacking approach while away i focused on the same formation which was more defensive. On paper i thought they looked like they could produce results and usually I’d try them in friendlies and tweak them if needed, you can see them in the screen shots below.

Now that tactics were in place, staff offered contracts and offered trials to players I could go on with the game and play some matches.

My first 2 games were in the Betfred cup, I drew away to Queens Park in the first game which then went to penalties. I thought this strange for a league format and then after I’d won on penalties I was awarded 2 points. Looking at the rules I found its 3 points for a win, 2 for winning on pens and 1 for losing on pens, seems fair. After that game I was already knocked out of the cup due to the 2 previous losses before I took over. My final game was also a loss away to Motherwell who are one of the top teams in Scotland so it was to be expected. The board expectation was to be competitive, I don’t think the club was losing 3 and only winning 1 on pens but the board confidence shows they are pleased with the teams attempt so no worrys there.

Following the Betfred cup my next game was also a cup game, this time in the Challenge cup against Hamilton under 20s. This resulted in a close defeat where although I dominated the game i conceded 3 from 4 shots on target and lost 3-2 at home. The board were disappointed with this but understood the team had a difficult draw so again no worrys there. At least that’s 2 cups out of the way so as the old clichĂ© states, i can concentrate on league games!

The league games started quickly after the cups giving me no time to make many changes to my team. By this point I’d only managed to sign a young defender on loan from St Mirren who was injured for a couple of weeks so I had to make do with what I started with. The first game was a typical FM game, away from home i was winning 2-1 and looking comfortable before conceding in the 93rd minute, still it was a good result and better than starting with a defeat. Analysing the game brought some concerns as although i had 26 shots with 15 on target, 17 of those were long shots which made me think there was something wrong with the tactics.

Things in the league then just got worse, I lost my next 3 games and was struggling to score goals while conceding too many. I managed to sign 5 players on free transfers and on the transfer deadline day i got 2 promising youngsters totalling 9k. This used all my transfer budget as some also got transferred to wages. I was optimistic that my squad could now compete and I’d get my first win soon but I wasnt happy with my tactics, each game I’d lost my team were taking too many long shots and not creating enough clear chances to score while at the other end teams were finding it all to easy to score past me.

Over the next few games I tinkered with my tactics, using all my knowledge from previous versions I tried everything I could think but I couldn’t get anything to work and in the next 4 games I lost 2 and drew 2. At this point, in total the team hadn’t won in 13 matches, morale was poor and I was closing in on a club record for games without a win (14). My next game was at home against Berwick, the bottom club, I was second bottom and the way my team was playing I didn’t expect too much. Trying another new formation I got off to a good start and was 1-0 up at half time. Shortly after half time they equalised but on 74 minutes I took the lead again hoping this time I would go on to win, then in the 87th minute I conceded again, now expecting to draw or lose I get a break and score again in the 90th minute and won 3-2. Looking at the stats I was very lucky, I’d only had 3 shots on target all game and they were the better team.

Next up was the Scottish cup 2nd round against Cove Rangers in the non-league, winning that 2-0 it looked like my fortunes had changed and my new tactic was working. Unfortunately it wasnt to be and I went back to the league games struggling again and by the start of December I was sitting second bottom of the league and I’d lost in the 3rd round of the Scottish cup to St Mirren. Surprisingly by board were content with my league position, probably because somehow i was only 8 points away from the playoffs and they understood why we were knocked out of the cup.

At this point I was getting frustrated with the game and needed to find a way of getting my team to start winning so I decided to take some time and look online for some help developing my tactics, I didn’t want to just copy someones tactics but i did need to try and work out what was going wrong and how to fix it. Looking on the Sigames forums there is a lot of advice and guidance on creating the right tactics and I decided to try and take things back to basics and create a simple formation which would hopefully not concede too many goals and then I can build on it from there.

I decided to try a 4-4-1-1 formation as having 2 banks of 4 should keep it difficult for the opposition to score, if I can stop them scoring them I’d have a chance of nicking the win. The advice I read also explains about having player roles which compliment each other and getting the right balance between attack, support and defend and I also found out that the large number of long shots I was having is because the players have no other options, for example the striker could be isolated up top so just shoots from range.

Taking all this on board I set my 2 centre backs as Defensive Centre backs as they are not very good so I wanted them to keep it simple and just defend. I gave my right and left defenders the Full Back roles on support so that they will provide crosses from deep and support the midfielders as wells as performing their defensive duties.

In midfield, I gave my central midfielders the Central Midfield role, one has support duty and the other defend. Usually I use more specific roles like Deep Lying Midfielder, Ball Winning Midfielder or Box to Box but with keeping it simple I just want them to do a normal midfielders job, one support and the other defend should compliment each other.

For my wide midfielders I set them to attacking wingers. This is way I’m hoping my goals will be created from them. The players behind them and in the middle are supporting or defending so it should give my wide men freedom to attack.

In front of my midfield I have an Advanced Playmaker with the attack duty just behind a Target Man with support duty. The Advanced Playmaker is there is pick the ball up from the midfielders and spread the ball around and get my wide men onto the ball. The Target man is there to hold the ball up allowing the team to get around him and when the wide men have the ball he can be a focal point for their crosses.

I have set the team up with a Control mentality as I want them to control the ball in possession and not needlessly give it away, for the same reason I have the team shape set to Highly Structured so that the players have less freedom to move around, the team will keep its defensive shape and the players are responsible for the roles I’ve set them so off the ball they will be hard to break down.

Finally I have given the instructions to play at a lower tempo so that they are not rushed, giving the ball away or getting out of position, I have a balanced width to keep it tight but still provide some width, I play a slightly deeper defensive line to compensate for slow defenders, closing down is set to sometimes as i want my players to keep their shape and not chase after the opposition as this may leave gaps to exploit, I’ve asked them to pass it short which should help them keep the ball, for the same reason I’ve also asked them to dribble less so they don’t lose the ball, i want them to work the ball into the box to cut down on long shots and finally I’ve asked them to be more disciplined.

I’m hoping that the formation and instructions will allow the team to keep its shape when defending making us hard to break down and when we have the ball it should make sure they don’t needlessly give the ball away avoiding counter attacks while working the ball into the box to create chances.

It all seems good in theory and I’ve nothing to lose as everything else I’ve tried hasn’t worked but then all my other formations were based on previous games where I’d won easier, I don’t think I’ve ever really thought this hard about tactics before. I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that in the past I’ve been too quick to start new games when things have gone bad so I’ve never had to really work out a tactic when the team is struggling. It’s also the first time in years I’ve used wingers which aren’t in the advanced position. I’ve put screen shots below:

My first game with my new tactic was a success, I won 1-0 away from home, albeit against a team who were below me but I was pleased with the tactics, I had 51% possession but only created 8 chances with 3 on target, however only 2 were long and 4 were half chances scoring one of them. Defensively the opposition had 16 shots with 8 on target but 10 were long shots and they only had 2 half chances.

The next game was at home and it was also a 1-0 win, my first back to back league wins of the season. I again only had a few chances (5 shots, 2 on target) whereas the opposition had 20 shots but 10 were long and only 5 on target. This showed my tactics were keeping my team defensively good while nicking a goal to win the game.

Since then I’ve won 2, lost 2 and drew 2 and my team is playing much better, even in the games I’ve lost the team has been competitive and unlucky to lose. So far I’m happy with my tactics.

January Transfer window has just shut and I managed to sign a better back up goal keeper and a new left winger better than what I had. I’m currently in 7th place only 2 points off the playoffs and 9 off top with 14 games left to play. I’m also only 6 points off the bottom so the league is very tight and its hard to predict where I’ll finish.

I’ll leave this with some screen shots below and I’ll write my next update at the end of the season.

– Sparko Marco

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