This is the latest chapter from guest writer Herne79

Testing the Theory

It’s all well and good making these plans, and setting up the system, but at some point I actually have to play some matches and (more importantly) win them. All the planning and theory in the world is pointless if the team wilt quicker than a wet lettuce.

Friendlies can usually only tell you so much, but luckily the Thames Ironworks launch almost immediately into competitive matches for the Europa League qualifiers. They’ll (mostly) be against weak opposition, so I shouldn’t be too concerned about losing, and the players will actually be trying a bit so I can start to see how the system works in a fairly safe environment.

Watching Matches

This is where I know a lot of people struggle, as did I for a very long time (and still do on occasion). But I realised I was over complicating it. I was trying to see everything, which for me at least is just impossible – far too much going on.

Eventually I stripped it all back and started to just focus on what my players are up to. Cleon especially talks in terms of this, but I could never quite get the hang of it until I started to understand that rather than trying to look at how my players are acting in terms of the overall team system, I started looking at how they are playing almost individually.

Let me explain. Throughout this thread I have talked about how I planned what I want my players to do individually before creating the tactic and linking it all up. Because I know how I envision my players to play due to all the planning, I should therefore be able to see if they are behaving like that on the pitch.

I don’t mean “is the defensive line high enough”; “are we closing down as expected”; “how do the Team Shape and Mentality settings look?”. None of that. I’m simply talking about “is my STCR dropping deep”; “are my left and right wingers behaving as their PIs tell them to”; “do we have decent passing options”; “is my right fullback providing overlaps”. That kind of thing.

Further, if at any point I miss something, or something looks a bit screwy, I can hit the Pause button and Rewind the action. I can even review the match after it has finished by watching it over again.

Once I started breaking matches down into these more simplistic terms, the fog lifted and I started to take notice of how things play out.

Prozone Analysis

To back up what I think may or may not be happening on the pitch, I can look at some Prozone reports. In particular, I want to look at:

– Movement. Is my left winger making more dribbles than my right winger?
– Crosses. Is my right winger doing this.
– Average Positions. To get a feel for overall team balance I’d expect to see some depth variation, For example is my STCR deeper overall than the STCL.
– Completed Passes. Do we really have the passing options I’m expecting.

I also use an in-match Widget on-screen to keep an eye on things when I switch to highlight mode.

Enough Whaffle, How Does it Play?

OK, first up is Europa FC in the EL qualifiers. Things I particularly want to look out for:

– My DLF dropping deep.
– Left winger scaring the life out of defenders.
– Right winger providing crosses and passes.
– Right fullback overlapping.
– Left fullback in support behind the left winger.
– Not many hoof balls (related to passing options).

Screen Shot #1

This is just 30 seconds into the match after Europa kicked off. We just won the ball with Gil Romero in possession. The DLF is directly ahead of him, but if we let play continue, the DLF doesn’t drop to find space, he runs forwards pressing the backline deeper. Gil Romero runs with the ball a little before eventually offloading it to the right-winger. Not happy with that, but we’re only 30 seconds in…


However, this keeps occuring during the match – the DLF (support) isn’t dropping deep as I would expect. In fact sometimes the AF seemingly drops deeper. Here’s the average positions – look how level the 2 strikers are (numbers 19 and 27):

Screen Shot #2


I’m not panicking just yet, but it looks weird behaviour and I need to watch that really closely next match.

Screen Shot #3

Remember me talking about my left winger running into cul-de-sacs? Here’s one with Zivkovic on the ball – but look how far away my supporting fullback is. That’s him in the bottom right of the picture – way too far away and so offering no passing option. Zivkovic launched a speculative cross instead which was easily defended. Again not panicking yet, but there may be cause for concern here. The average positions report also looks to support this and so something else to watch.


Screen Shot #4

Here we can see how many dribbles my 2 wingers have performed. Left wing at the top (loads), right wing at the bottom (one bad one). Just what I want.


We did of course run out very comfortable winners (6-0) and overall I am pleased with how the tactic is playing out. Plenty of passing options for players (86% of passes were complete), with by and large players behaving how I anticipated. The right wing especially is looking good through the combination of the overlapping fullback, right winger and BWM, although the DLF on that side is a concern.

Things I was not comfortable with, and requires another couple of matches to see how things work out are:

– DLF not dropping deep very often.
– Left fullback perhaps too far apart from the left winger.
– Players perhaps a little too spaced out.

I’ll report more after a couple more matches.

2 thoughts on “REBUILDING THE THAMES IRONWORKS – Testing the Theory”

  1. I’ve been trying to develop a 442 that resembles something close to Atletico Madrid. I started using Counter/Balanced, but currently on Standard/Fluid after watching games for about half a season – lines weren’t close enough together defensively, offered very little going forward etc etc. So one by one eliminating issues slowly but surely. This is all great – the ‘watch the games, and slowly adjust’ method works. One thing I haven’t quite sussed yet is why my Advanced Forward is often the one who drops deeper to get the ball into feet, whilst the Complete Forward (support) holds his position higher up the field, similar to the issue you highlighted in your write-up. Perhaps it is the fluid setting allowing him to drop further than expected? Perhaps is is the player roles I have behind the strikers? I’m not sure. Looking forward to see how you analyse this. Great articles as always. Cleon, you are superb as well 🙂

  2. Love this. Coincidentally I’ve been attempting to play a very similar style with my AFC Wimbledon side, but seeing the way you (and Cleon) analyse matches and the expectations you have is really helping me see my tactics in a new light. Much appreciated and I look forward to seeing how this continues to pan out for you. Good luck!

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