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Recreating The Welsh Tactics of Euro 2016

This is written by guest author  Ö-zil to the Arsenal! who has wrote a few brilliant tactical pieces over the last year or so.

Welcome to my first article of Football Manager 2017. If you’ve been reading along so far you’ll know that I’ve enjoyed re-creating the tactical styles of some of my favourite teams using the Football Manager tactics creator.

If you’ve yet to read previous threads, I recommend that you start there in order to understand the background of the concepts I am talking about:

  1. Johan Cruyff’s 3-4-3 Diamond
  2. Arrigo Sacchi’s 4-4-2
  3. Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles
  4. Brazil’s Jogo Bonito style

Now, in a list containing Cruyff’s Dream Team, Sacchi’s Milan, Wenger’s Invincibles and Brazilian Jogo Bonito – whilst a fantastic achievement – Wales’ team of Euro 2016 isn’t necessarily the next team to roll off the tongue – so, why Wales?

Previous threads have inspired some great discussions and choosing Wales is a response to two common pieces of feedback:

  1. So far I’ve always chosen and developed world-class squads and regularly been asked how I’d play with lower quality teams.
  2. I’ve also played varying styles of attacking, attractive football and yet to talk about anything on the other end of the spectrum.

The most common queries have been about recreating Simeone’s Atletico, Ranieri’s Leicester and – lately – Conte’s Chelsea. I think that the points covered in this thread should offer insight for anyone looking to re-create those styles.

Resources on Wales at Euro 2016

Theory

As usual, the formation Wales used is highly subjective – different people will see it differently – could be described as a 3-5-1-1, 5-3-1-1 or 3-4-2-1.

Using the excellent analysis from Spielverlagerung, this is the shape we’re trying to create:

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Here is a summary of some of the interesting traits I will be looking to implement in my own team:

  • Off the ball:
    • Compact 5-3-1-1 shape in defence.
    • Low / Medium defensive block – medium defensive line, low pressing to retain shape.
      I like the Spielverlagerung description – “a fairly passive medium-block”.
  • On the ball:
    • 3-4-2-1 shape in attack.
    • Wingbacks providing width.
    • Bale playing a free-role, primarily off the shoulder of the striker but also threatening wide.
    • Ramsey as a more advanced playmaker and Allen as a deep playmaker.
  • Transitions:
    • Fast transition in counter-attack aiming to use Bale’s pace and dribbling in space behind, or running at the defence.
    • More controlled build up play through playmakers, Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey with wingbacks providing width and Bale making runs.

In Football Manager 2017

Before I take about tactics, let’s take a look at the squad. As you can see, 2-years on and we’re playing a similar squad to the Class of 2016.

Notable changes:

  • Cardiff City are now in the Premiership, although both Cardiff and Swansea are fighting relegation.
  • Injury to Taylor, replaced by Declan John.
  • Ashley Richards has now overtaken Gunter as my right back, currently playing Premiership football at Cardiff.
  • Captain, Ashley Williams is 33 and slowly deteriorating but still first team at Everton. Likely to be his last international tournament.

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Key

  • Dashed yellow lines indicate divisions, grouping relevant attributes together to allow for easier analysis:
    1. Work rate, determination, fitness.
    2. Technical ability.
    3. Defensive ability.
    4. Attacking ability.
  • Green boxes indicate strengths.
  • Thick green boxes indicate major strengths.
  • Red boxes indicate weaknesses.

In previous threads, at this stage I am talking about world class, complete players. In this case, Wales are more of an underdog so it’s a case of playing to their strengths and mitigating their weaknesses.

Strengths

  • Work rate, determination and fitness reasonably high across the squad.
  • Ramsey, Allen and Ledley are all reasonably ‘complete’ midfielders.
  • Strong defensive unit and an intelligent back 3.

Weaknesses

  • Poor ball-playing ability in defence.
  • Declan John is potentially a defensive weak spot (forced change due to injury to Taylor).

Major Strengths

  • Outstanding attacking attacking talent of Gareth Bale.
  • Aaron Ramsey is an excellent playmaker.

Mentality, Team Shape and Team Instructions aka Playing Style

Continuing the theme of previous discussions – I see Mentality, Team Shape and Team Instructions as the backbone of my tactics yet also one of the most commonly overlooked aspects of the game, particularly team shape.

In my opinion – Mentality is the most significant single decision you’ll make inside the Tactics Creator. Quite simply – no other single setting has anywhere near as much influence. As you are probably aware by now, your Mentality determines:

  • Base individual mentality.
  • Defensive line.
  • Closing down.
  • Width.
  • Tempo.
  • Time wasting.
  • To a smaller extent – passing.

As with most things in FM, nothing is set in stone. Defensive line, closing down, width, time wasting and passing are all easily modified by Team Instructions however I am increasingly finding that selecting the appropriate Mentality a much simpler solution than applying extensive Team Instructions.

In my summary of the traits Wales played at Euro 2016 I identified two which I can implement using the mentality:

  1. Low/Medium Defensive Block – medium defensive line, low pressing to retain shape.
  2. Mixed transition play:
    • Quick counters exploiting Bales pace and attacking talent.
    • Controlled build up through Allen & Ramsey.

Mentality: Counter

Tactics Creator description:

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Team Instructions base settings in the Tactics Creator:

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Overview of Settings:

  • Medium defensive line.
  • Low closing down.
  • Pretty narrow width.
  • Lower medium tempo.
  • Medium passing.

The counter mechanism means that when the counter-attack is on – i.e we turnover possession and the opposition has over committed forward – we play direct, fast and attacking football to take advantage of the situation.
Summary:

  • The medium defensive Line and lower closing down gives me the low / medium block or, as per Spielverlagerung, the “passive medium block”.
  • Lower medium tempo and reasonably conservative mentality gives me the platform to combine with playmaker roles to create the controlled build-up through Allen & Ramsey.
  • The counter attacking mechanism gives me the quick counter attacking play, when the opposition overcommit.

Team Shape works hand-in-hand with Mentality and influences two key factors:

  1. Determines the distribution of individual players mentality across your team, based on your overall team mentality.
  2. Creative freedom across the team.

Essentially, Team Shape determines how far individual mentalities deviate from the base mentality set by your overall Mentality.

The mentality of the player still matters, so on the same setting, you should see a difference between a Structured set-up with an attack duty up top and a Structured set-up with a support duty up top. Right now, team shape works like this:

Very Fluid = Most Compact

Fluid = Compact

Flexible = Default

Structured = More Depth

Highly Structured = Much More Depth

However, within that, you also have the effect of duties so the ST’s role/duty in particular will have a big influence on how stretched you become in build-up play. So, for example, an F9 is still going to be an F9 on Highly Structured whilst a Poacher will still tend to hang on the last defender on Very Fluid.

The underlying design philosophy seems to be that Role/Duty are primary, at least in terms of build-up play, with everything else being a smaller modification.

My Interpretation

This could easily be an entire thread. The above definition is excellent, but the key – for me – is to tweak the definition above so you’re considering how far individual player’s mentality will deviate from your base mentality rather than “compactness / depth”.

Very Fluid = Very low deviation
Fluid = Low deviation
Flexible = Standard
Structured = More deviation
Highly Structured = Much more deviation

There are a few reasons I prefer considering deviation to compactness / depth:

  • Compactness is a positive term – who doesn’t want their team to be compact?
  • Team Shape is not the only way to achieve compactness.

An example of a common confusion would be wanting to play a compact, defensive system. Logically, you could select a combination of Defensive mentality for the low-block and mentality, then Very Fluid for the compactness. Given that Very Fluid organises your team as one unit, this sets every player – including strikers and attacking midfielders – to a significantly lower mentality. Very Fluid also gives a higher creative freedom to every player. If you’re playing a defensive system, you’ve probably got more limited players – do you really want to give them a “licence to thrill …. slowly”. Not saying it could never work, but it’s extreme to say the least.

In addition, and more of a personal bugbear, but how many very fluid defensive teams do you see in real life? Personally, I can’t think of too many free-flowing defences! :lol:

Methods of achieving Compactness

  1. Team Shape – yes, it’s very effective at achieving compactness. Just be aware it effects your entire team and their creative freedom.
  2. Player Roles – here’s a pretty extreme example but regardless of team shape, this is going to be pretty compact:

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3. Formation – this 3-man defence with a 4-man shield in the DM strata will be pretty compact, regardless of team shape:

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Putting this into application..

Key Considerations for Wales’ Team Shape:

  • Already decided that I am playing a Counter mentality.
  • My squad contains a number of players who are very limited technical ability, including first team and particularly defence.
  • I do want compactness but I also want my star players – Bale & Ramsey – in attacking roles.

Team Shape: Highly Structured

Ignore the middle paragraph of the description. Not accurate. See THOGs description above.
Ignore the middle paragraph of the description. Not accurate. See THOGs description above.

Summary:

  • We have a Counter mentality which sets my base mentality slightly lower than average.
  • Combined with Highly Structured means my individual players mentality will have a high deviation from the base mentality – in other words, setting an individual to Defend, Support or Attack is going to have a greater influence.
  • We will play precise and controlled football, with low creative freedom.

Team Instructions: None

Simple :)

The mentality and team shape above combine with the formation and player roles coming next to give a balanced system that plays as I’d like it to. Team Instructions remain good options for game-to-game tweaks but not required as a key component of the system.

 

Formation, Player Roles / Duties and Player Instructions

Playing a Highly Structured team shape means we have additional considerations, in comparison to previous systems using Very Fluid or Fluid.

  • The high deviation of individual mentality from the base mentality – counter – means that I need to use formation and duties to achieve compactness.
  • Low creative freedom across the team means I need to use Playmaker roles to add some spark to the team.
  • Highly Structured allows me to assign Gareth Bale an aggressive role to take advantage of his world-class ability.

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Experimented with a 5-3-2 which also worked well however I found the 3-4-1-2 above more compact and the wing backs offered better width.

Player Instructions:

Goalkeeper (Defend): N/A
Central Defender (Defend): N/A
Central Defender (Defend): N/A
Central Defender (Defend): N/A
Wing Back (Support): N/A
Deep-Lying Playmaker (Support): N/A
Ball-Winning Midfielder (Defend): N/A
Wing Back (Support): N/A
Advanced Playmaker (Attack): Get Forward More
Shadow Striker (Attack): Roam From Position
Defensive Forward (Support): Move Into Channels

Gareth Bale

In previous threads, we have been talking about squads containing generally world-class, ‘complete’ players. We’ve talked about attacking using intelligence (Ajax & Milan), rapid pace (Arsenal) and flair (Brazil) all generally combined with movement and technical ability. This time around, Wales have a more limited squad with a world-class talisman – Gareth Bale.

Gareth Bale is an absolute beast – he’s quick, strong, great on the ball, great finisher, great movement, dangerous from long range, set-pieces, good in the air and – crucially – versatile enough to play through the centre or both wings.

My ‘plan A’ is always that he plays through the centre, in a free-role off the shoulder of the striker with Ramsey providing attacking support in his Advanced Playmaker role from midfield.

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The main risk of relying heavily on a world-class talisman is that the opposition mark him out of the game. I also notice that – particularly at international level – opposition defences regularly have a defensive weak spot which I can use Bale’s versatility to exploit.

Bale can be lethal cutting inside onto his left-foot from the right-flank as an Inside Forward (Attack) with Ramsey moving left to attack the space.

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Alternatively Bale can move left and play the Winger (Attack) he originally broke through as world-class at Spurs, targeting the opposition right back and stretching the defence for Ramsey to attack from deep.

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Always roaming from position, although sadly never quite as much as I’d like.

In-Game Analysis

Defensive Shape

When talking about Team Shape, I made some bold claims about compactness. As a reminder, I am playing the “least compact” team shape available – aka the team shape that distributes individual mentality with the highest deviation from your core mentality – and I am using a tight formation, and conservative player roles to create compactness.

The screenshots below are taken from my defence’s greatest achievement, shutting out Argentina and the best player in the world – Mesut Ozil Lionel Messi.

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Argentina are attacking down the left-flank.

  • Wing backs have dropped deep to create a solid 5-man defence standing firm just ahead of the 18-yard box.
  • Ramsey has also fallen back to join Allen and Ledley in a compact 3-man midfield triangle ahead of the defence.
  • Bale and Vokes are also deeper, troubling the Argentinian holding midfielders.
  • The measure at the bottom shows the compactness of my entire team.

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Argentina now attack down the opposite flank.

  • This time my left wing back has been drawn out wide to press the opposition.
  • My centre backs have compensated by shifting left as not to leave any gap.
  • The opposite wingback has tucked in as a right back, creating a solid back four – again – standing firm just ahead of the 18-yard box.
  • Ramsey has once again combined with Allen and Ledley creating a compact 3-man shield ahead of the defence.
  • Attackers aren’t as deep this time, but not a major concern.
  • This time the measure at the bottom shows the compactness between my defence and midfield.

Here’s our average defensive positioning from the game.

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A nice, compact 5-3-1-1 shape as we discussed at the start.

Heartbreak

Ultimately, this game ended in heartbreak for Wales. Despite Argentina’s 62% we managed to all but nullify the attacking threat of Messi & Co. for 89 minutes, before Captain Ashley Williams was sent off for a two-footed challenge and conceding the winning penalty after having missed one ourselves just 10 minutes earlier.

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Despite the disappointment, it was a fantastic tournament and the Welsh fans repeated their Euro 2016 performance with messages after every game about their delight from the results – even after the defeat.

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Attacking Shape

One of the pleasant surprises of this experience has been the attacking shape. A highly structured, counter-attacking 5-3-2 variant hardly screams, “great football” but I really enjoyed the way we played. Particularly given that we were using largely inferior quality players to much of our opposition.

At the out-set I defined two distinct approaches Wales showed in possession:

  • More controlled build up play through playmakers, Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey with wingbacks providing width and Bale making runs.
  • Fast transition in counter-attack aiming to use Bale’s pace and dribbling in space behind, or running at the defence.

Highlights

How we got here..

Road to FIFA World Cup 2018…

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Wales’ World Cup qualifying campaign was an interesting challenge. With a reputation clearly enhanced by the success of Euro 2016, overcoming lower-ranked yet equally-matched opposition became difficult. We started in the 5-3-2 I mentioned briefly earlier. The 5-3-2 worked to an extent but was somewhat disjointed; the wing backs weren’t providing enough width and we weren’t compact enough with the opposition finding space between defence and midfield – the result being 3 draws in our first 4 games.

We moved to the 3-4-2-1 in order to offer more width and a compact block in-front of the defence – the result being 5 wins from the last 6 and an unbeaten qualification.

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FIFA World Cup 2018 – Group D

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Wales first World Cup appearance since 1958. The World Cup group stage continued where the qualification campaign had left off. Comfortable qualification with 2 wins and a draw. 3 goals and an assist from the first 3 games for Gareth Bale.

Knock-Out Stages

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The knock out stages were my highlight of Football Manager 2017, so far. We started by holding Holland to a 0-0 draw where we defended very well and created a few chances to win outright but in the end it was heroics from Hennessy – saving 3 penalties in the shoot-out – which sent us through. Spain was the performance of the tournament. You can see from the highlight reel that it could easily have been 3 or 4 against them. Argentina – as you’ve heard – solid for 89 minutes with heartbreak at the end. We then finished strongly with a comfortable 3-1 win over Norway courtesy of a Gareth Bale wonder-goal.

Speaking of Gareth Bale, his talisman role went rather well and earned him this little accolade.

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2018 World Cup Review

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That’s quite enough from me. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading and hopefully there’s some useful information you can take away to apply in your tactics. Lots of you have asked me about tactics that’d lean towards the structured end of the scale – Simeone, Ranieri, Conte, Mourinho etc – and a common misunderstanding is on ‘compactness’ so you should be able to use this.

Cheers, everyone :thup:

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4 thoughts on “Recreating The Welsh Tactics of Euro 2016”

  1. Such an interesting article. Thoroughly entertaining and I leave feeling like I learned something! Thanks for making the trip to work this morning a lot more bearable!

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