Rebuilding the Thames Ironworks – Tactical Settings

This is the latest chapter from guest writer Herne79.

How Do I Want the Team to Play?

Good question. So far I have only looked at how I want individual players to behave on the pitch. But what about how I want the team to play? What about pressing, tempo, counter attacking, creative freedom and so on?

Well, I’ve been very focussed on how I want players to play and interact with each other, so why not use that as my starting point? I have very specific player roles in mind, with specific duties attached to control how they should play. So why confuse things with trying to overlay all sorts of fancy tactical settings? I plan on watching matches (well, the first 15-20 mins or so) and potentially adapting things as I see matches develop (more on that later), so I need tactical settings to be fairly basic to start off with. If I throw too many team settings at the tactic, I won’t be able to see the wood for the trees when the action starts. I like the word “basic” so lets start there.

Team Shape

To me, Team Shape is simply about individual player creativity and space. More structured systems have less creativity and more space, more fluid systems the opposite.

Before Cleon’s The Art of Possession Football thread (…ssion-Football), I would have said it’s about player creativity and contribution to different phases leading to team compactness. But now (rightly or wrongly) I simply think of it in terms of creativity and space. In more structured systems, players play a bit further apart (ie., more space between them), with the opposite being true of more fluid systems.

For my tactic, player roles and duties are taking the lead and most individual creativity will stem from that. I don’t need to artificially add much creativity, therefore I will play with a Structured Team Shape. I won’t go the whole hog and set Very Structured, as I don’t mind letting the players off the leash a bit – I just don’t want them moving too far from their set roles.

Now, and this bit is important, because I am going with Structured, I have to be very aware of the fact that this forces my players a bit further apart, thus creating extra space between them. In a 4-4-2, where players are fairly spread out by default and there is no DM to protect my defence, this can be bad – so I need to take account of this in the rest of my tactical settings.

I have one other consideration here as well. If I watch matches and make adjustments, I may come across opponents who are hard to break down. If I have set a low/neutral Team Shape, I could easily add creativity to help break down these sides by simply changing Team Shape. If I had gone with a more Fluid Team Shape, I wouldn’t be able to do that, and I’d find it more complicated to work out. I like basic .


My player roles and duties help me here. I already know which players I want to attack, which ones I want in support and who is going to defend. I don’t need to add in under-the-hood settings to get my players to act in a more attacking or defensive manner. It will just add an extra layer of complication that would be a stumbling block to me seeing what is actually happening on┬áthe pitch. Standard mentality it is, and again I can change this easily in a match if I think I need to be more or less attacking overall.

Team Instructions


I’m starting with just these 3. I’m keeping them fairly basic so that they won’t distract me too much from what my players are up to on the pitch, but they also need to compliment my other tactical settings and help me play a bit of football. I also want them to help me define how my team will play – I know how I want my players to play, but I still want an overall theme for the team.

I have in my mind that I would usually like to have the majority of possession. I’m not setting out with any intentions of 70% possession or keeping the ball just for the sake of it. Far from it. But I do want my players to have the ball so that their roles and duties can really kick in. To do that, I can’t be too passive from my neutral mentality / team shape starting point.

1) Retain Possession. I am not using this TI to help me “retain possession” – that is a side effect as far as I am concerned. Rather, I am using this to help reduce the space between my players. Remember what I was saying about using my Structured Team Shape above? My players are going to be a bit more spread out in a formation that already has a fair amount of space between them (the 4-4-2). So this shout is primarily being used to reduce that space – it makes the players play shorter passes. If you kick a ball less hard so that it goes a shorter distance, the intended recipient has to come closer to you to receive the ball. Therefore, the space between players is reduced.

I may add in Shorter Passing as well, as that would have an additional effect in reducing the space, but I’ll leave it as just Retain Possession for now.

2) Push Higher Up. Again, this is about space. In a 4-4-2 there is no one in the DM strata to protect my defence from those pesky attacking midfielders. The Structured Team Shape will move the lines further apart. If I tell my defence to push up a little bit, I’ll reduce the space for those attackers to play in. The downside will be balls over the top or passes in behind, so I’ll need to watch for that, but with a Standard mentality my defence aren’t going to be overly aggressive so I should be ok.

3) Close Down More. Finally, something that’s not about space! I would like to have the majority of possession, so if I can force some turnover ball by being a bit more aggressive with the opposition and closing down their space to force errors, then I’d like to do that. Hmm, so this is about space after all….

Player Instructions

This is where I need to get a little creative with a couple of positions to get players playing in the way I originally envisioned. 4 of my players will get PIs.

1) Left Wing (Wide Midfield attack). I want him running at defenders with pace, scaring the life out of them and getting into the box to support the strikers and be a threat. I expect assists and a few goals from this player. I therefore instruct him to
Dribble More
Cut Inside
Cross Less Often

Complimentary PPMs and attributes will be of benefit here. Di Maria comes with Knocks Ball Past Opponent; Runs with Ball Often; Cuts Inside; and Tries Killer Balls Often, along with 18 for Dribbling + 17 in Acceleration and Pace. Great stuff.

2) Right Wing (Wide Midfield support). This Winger is about passing, crossing and work rate. With a support duty I’ll expect him to help out almost as much in defence as in attack. So he needs great crossing ability, passing and vision. His Player Instructions are:

Shoot Less
Dribble Less
Cross More

The PPM to Switch Ball to Other Flank could also prove useful and will be taught to the player if he doesn’t have it already. James Ward-Prowse is my pick here, thanks to his work rate, passing, vision and a massive 18 for crossing. Perfect.

3) Roaming Playmaker. He’s the runner and creator, I don’t really need him shooting as well, so he gets Shoot Less Often.

4) Goalkeeper. Goalies can waste silly amounts of possession by just hoofing it up the pitch. I tell him to:

Distribute to Centre Backs
Roll It Out
Slow Pace Down

And that’s it.

As West Ham’s replacement, the Thames Ironworks have entry into the Europa League qualifiers. This is great as I can use some early (and easy) competitive matches to see how the tactic performs. This will help me iron out kinks far better than friendlies would, so that when the season proper begins I should have an almost complete tactic.

I will also need to spend most of pre-season working on Team Cohesion (all the players are new to the club so there is no cohesion at all) and getting the tactic as fluid as possible. Again, that will take a while as there is always little tactic familiarity at the start of a save, but even less so when there are loads of new players.

3 thoughts on “Rebuilding the Thames Ironworks – Tactical Settings”

  1. Really enjoying this and love the simple approach. As you say you can end up getting so cluttered with instructions that it’s difficult to see whats working and what’s not

  2. If you’re going to go with Structured, playing 442 and NOT possession football you’ll need to shorten the distance between your back four to players further forward, in order to shorten the pass and completion, I would would suggest your players dribbling with the ball. I’ve coached at a very good level for many years and have always encouraged players to dribble forward into space in order to shorten the pass to draw opponents towards the ball then creating space for team mates.

    Looking forward to your next chapter.

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