Another post in the great series by guest author Herne79.

Watching Matches and Tweaking Things In Play #2 – “Playing Cleon”

Why “Playing Cleon”? Here’s how West Brom are lining up against me:


Look familiar?

And here are the match stats (we won 2-0):


In all honesty, West Brom didn’t come out playing like Cleon’s own 4141 in his counter attacking thread, I’m just being a bit cheeky. West Brom had little to no interest in getting out of their own half, let alone trying to score. They were however clearly trying to stay in a solid cohesive shape, dropping deep and hoping to hit me on the counter.

I was going to have to work hard for my goals (15 shots with just 6 on target is poor for me), and I’d need a tweak to get past the bus. But first I need to understand what is happening on the pitch.

Screenshot #1. This just seconds after we kick off. My right winger has the ball, but he is coming under no pressure from the opposing left wing, who just keeps his distance and stands off. In fact the whole of the West Brom defence is more intent on keeping a defensive shape (look at how those red shirts are positioned) than doing anything overly aggressive. My TQ simply drops deep into the space ahead of Ward-Prowse and receives the ball.


Already I am thinking – even this early in the match – that I’m going to be facing off against the parked bus.

Screenshot #2. This is about 3 minutes in. My central defender has just made an interception. All the West Brom players have turned to start running – but they are not running to close down my players. They are running to get back into their defensive shape. We play it out to the left wing, by which time all West Brom players (except the striker) are back in their own half and in their defensive shape.


Screenshot #3. Again, just a few minutes into the match. Here, West Brom are in possession. I like my defensive shape (2 solid banks of 4), and you can see how West Brom’s midfield are clearly retaining their line of 4 players when in possession. To me, this shows they are only advancing in a careful, low tempo way, without players running ahead of the ball. There is no midfield runner, and no overlapping fullback. Watching the action, West Brom just play short low tempo passes to each other until they inevitably lose possession.


I’m going to be in for a long match – and unless I’m careful I could be on the wrong end of a nasty West Brom counter and score.

I need to decide how I’m going to tackle this without leaving myself open. These are my options:

1) Go more passive myself in an attempt to draw out West Brom and hit them on the break instead. The idea has merit, but I instinctively don’t like it. I also doubt that this well-drilled West Brom defence are going to fall for it. At most they are using a Counter mentality, and possibly even Defensive. They may even be using a quite structured Team Shape as well, as I’m not seeing much evidence of individual player creativity. I don’t think it will work.

2) Go more attacking and cut them down with faster paced, more risky attacks. I think that’s just what Cleon (err, West Brom) are hoping for. Leave myself exposed at the back and hit me fast on the counter – probably down my left flank where their very pacey winger is. I’m not falling for it.

3) Change some player roles and duties. More attacking players? I already have 4, plus that could start to unbalance my team which wouldn’t be good. Add a more creative player or two? That might have potential, especially changing my left sided WM(a) to a Wide Playmaker (attack), and/or my BBM back to the original RPM. Perhaps even my attacking fullback to a complete wingback. These ideas have merit, and I’ll keep them on the back burner for now because of what I choose to do first:

4) Change my Team Shape to add creativity to all my players. I like this idea the most. Giving everyone a little more creative freedom whilst retaining my overall shape and system I think will help to break down even the most stubborn of defences. We attack in a variety of ways anyway – so that variety of attacking play plus some additional creativity could bear fruit.

BUT (and this is important), if I do this I have to be aware of what else upping the Team Shape will do – it will make me play in a more compact fashion. I have already added in two TIs (Shorter Passing and Retain Possession) to make me play more compactly, so I need to remove one of these TIs at the same time as when I change Team Shape otherwise my players won’t have enough space to play in.

I move to a Fluid Team Shape and remove Shorter Passing. Whilst West Brom remain stubborn to play through, we do score 2 goals (my B2B gets both from open play).

One other thing to note. If I had been playing with a more Fluid system in the first place, I wouldn’t have been able to do much with the Team Shape when trying to add creativity in matches like this. This is what I wrote back in post #6 when discussing how I decided to play with a Structured Team Shape:

“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 love it when a plan comes together .

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