Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

This is a guest author entry written by simonmwuk. If you enjoy the article then give him a follow.

Let me introduce myself, I have played CM/FM since the very first one in 1992. I remember that first save well, built up C. Palace and made them league champions. It was a memorable save and laid the foundations for my addiction!! Thanks to the guys at @TheDeepLyingPod, I have been made aware of a thriving FM community, and so thought it was about time I shared my experiences and how I play the game, especially as I’ve been playing the game for 24 years! Forgive me if this is not as well written and coherent as some of the brilliant articles. I want to take you through my approach to FM and FM16. I’m hoping this will reach out to new players of the game as well as more established.

FM16 challenge

Like many I have found FM16 a challenge. In fact, it took me a while to get into a save. On previous FM versions I have found that I can get by on key highlights and utilizing some of the data/stats available and that was enough. Even plug-and-play tactics that worked with just small changes save-to-save was fine. I could continue to be a success. This was useful for me, I have a family, a busy job and it fitted in well and I could go through the seasons with relative ease. However, this version of FM is different.
At his point its worth saying, I didn’t want to use a slimmed down version of FM, I wanted to continue with the full-fat version. My approach has changed a lot. It had too as I it wasn’t working; I couldn’t get all the information to work out what was going wrong. I now find I am more successful using comprehensive highlights and making full use of the prozone stats available. It of course means I don’t get through the number of games as I did, but I’m more successful and better tactically.

Approach to FM16

Let me explain my approach. When I struggled I took a step back. Like most I blamed the game, the match engine, SI, Miles etc. The reality is it was down to my approach and how I was (or rather wasn’t) getting the most out of the game. After reading some great articles by Cleon it inspired me, I realised that I needed to think more about my tactics and what I’m asking the team to do and what I want them to do, not jut the team as a whole but each player too. That was the problem. As a test save, I set out using Arsenal. The players fit into how I want to play, and it’s a good starting point. The idea, if that works is to take that tactic to another team, mid table team and see how we do.

How do I approach a new save?

Well, the first thing I do is assess the squads (first team, U21 and U18). Make a note of the best positions the players can play in (accomplished) as well as preferred moves and any strengths and weaknesses. It takes a while, but from this it makes it easy to see how the players fit into what I want to do. Offer contracts to key players and players with expiring contracts and transfer list those players you do not need.

Once I’ve analysed the players, I then look at the staff. Starting with coaches/training. I look at trying to make sure each training category is at least 3 1/2 stars (4+ preferentially) and no more than ‘average workload’. Again this takes time, and using the menu screen see how it compares to the rest of the league, the aim to have the best coaches possible. When searching for coaches, I use the help on FM as it tells you – determination, discipline, motivation as high as possible is a must, then the appropriate categories for the coach you need e.g. defending is defending and tactical. Once the coaches are sorted I look at the head of youth development and then physio’s. Finally, the scouts. The scouts are important, as it is vital to get good scouts from as many regions as possible as it increases your chances of finding gems. Then along with chief scout set up scouting plans.

This can take at least a couple of sessions/evenings (5 hours+) to sort out if you are to do it properly. But the advantage is that you are immersed in the club of your choice and you know all the strengths and weaknesses and you have all the staff you need and want. The importance of the staff can’t be underestimated as the further you go into a save the more important it becomes for improving player performance, health, development etc.

Tactical set-up

So the most important part of the whole of FM16 is tactics. I spent a while on this, working out how I want my team to play. The brilliant articles written by @Cleon81 inspired me. Also, Miles himself gave hints where he said pay attention to player roles. Simple but vital, I’ll come onto that.

So I took Arsenal as a test save. I had an idea of how I wanted to play, hence why I chose Arsenal. For example getting Arsenal to play a direct long ball wouldn’t utilise the players they have. I wanted to play a short passing, possession based game where the team press to get the ball back. Very similar to tika-taka if you like. I opted to play with control, and have a fluid set up, so players can fill in for each other where need be, good for defense and attack. Arsenal is the best way to play this way. The final instructions were derived after a pre-season.

This is what the team instructions looked like;



It is always best to have more than one tactic, again its about trying to stay ahead of the AI of the game.


Tactic 1: 4-2-3-1

In terms of how the team is set up. I opted for 2 tactics a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3. The 4-2-3-1 was to play against teams where I thought I could win. The latter, for tighter games where I wanted to dominate the midfield area. It’s important to have more than 1 tactic as the AI of FM is improving and you’ll soon be found out.

Within each tactic, the player roles were not stuck to and pre-defined. For example the 2 wide positions would be an inside forward, winger or advanced playmaker – depending on what role the player was best suited to. However, they are all instructed to play narrow. Over the season, this was changed depending on what role the player was performing best as. For example Campbell when played as AML was initially a winger (support) but after playing him as inside forward (attack) he was better and as a result the team was. Now this approach goes against some of the things I have read in the community. However, what I find is depending on the game players can have an impact for example I can play Ozil as AMR as a playmaker, but change him for Walcott as a winger and change the dynamics of the game and tactics within the same basic shape. It also helps you try to stay ahead of the AI.

In midfield there is more structure, especially important with 4-2-3-1. In fact one of my failings before was not having structure in the midfield 2. I always have a ball winning midfielder, playing as defend. He will literally sit in front of the back 4, winning the ball with the remit to then give it to the more creative players. If the BWM is support, he wins the ball higher up the pitch, but I find he is too often caught out of position and it pulls other players out of position. It’s vital he is set to defend duty otherwise it doesn’t work. The other midfielder I like to have as a DLP (sup or defend – depending on opposition and game situation). This player essentially sits deep, holding position.

The defense is easier to set up. The CD plays with defend duty, to maintain defensive line. I don’t like stopper or cover as they play in front or behind too much and I find can cause problems with shape. The CD will play as BPD, LD or CD again based on what the player plays best as. The full backs, I like to have ones that play as support, so they can provide width to the attack and support the AML/AMR.

The forward I like to have as support, I always played as attack previously, but the problem with that is they can be isolated especially if they are upfront on their own. Having them in support duty can help them link up with play better. For Arsenal the challenge was how to get Giroud in as I felt a target man wouldn’t work and he needed a more direct approach. It wasn’t the case, but I found playing him as target man, with a support duty, actually worked well and it led to more goals for Sanchez (IF) who fed off Giroud and also meant we retained possession.

The AMC is important too, and the role here can define team shape a lot more. The AMC can be difficult to get right. So one of the key aspects to a working tactic is what I call triangles. So if you look at your average player position if you see lots of triangles then it generally means that possession is retained better and you are more of a goal threat. Playing the AMC in support provides a good base for this, although attack can work – see how the game situation is working out.

Tactic 2: 4-3-3

With the 4-3-3 formation, the same principles for Defence, FB, AML/R and FC stand. The midfield set up though is different. I have a deeper, defensive midfielder often a BWM set to defend. I have a DLP is support role, who could also be a BBM (support). The final midfielder is AP, set to attack duty. Its important this is attack, it means they can get forward to support the FC when are in possession and it means the FC is not isolated. Again, think triangles and look at the average player position and see if you have close triangles between the players. If so, the man on the ball is likely to have options and no players are isolated. It’s vital for a possession based game. The example here is from a game in which I scored 4 goals in a first half against Southampton. The tight triangles are essential for ball retention. It’s not uncommon to see larger triangles in games in which I have struggled.


Be comprehensive

In fact, generally I find playing most players in support helped the team shape and us keep possession a lot better. This is something I learned as I played the game more. The instinct, especially when behind in the game or playing a minnow is to attack, attack, attack. But having control means that the team is still attack minded but you have more coolness on the ball and I actually find it means you are more likely to score

Evolving your tactic and player role is vital. Watching games on comprehensive allows you to see this a lot more quickly, it also allows you to see in-game issues that can be fixed. For example if the opposition AMR is finding space, changing your full back role and BWM position from right side of two to the left side really helps. Also, use the Prozone, analyse where mistakes are being made, where opposition get more crosses in etc and compare it to player positions. Are they getting more crosses in on the left side because your AMR is set to attack and not tracking back exposing your full back. Simple tweaks in-game can stop this. Having the flexibility of player role within tactic and making in-game changes helps to beat if you like the AI of the game (which has improved massively).

Also, watching on comprehensive you notice how well certain players play together, for example Bellerin, Walcott and Giroud linked well. As did Ozil, Sanchez and Giroud. In fact Giroud was a key player in linking a lot of the attacks. In midfield Coquelin’s link play between defense and midfield was superb. All round you could see a great team shape forming, and as the season wore on it was more apparent. Equally, problems could be seen easier too. All of this was because of watching on comprehensive highlights, I’m not sure how easier I would’ve picked some of the tactical things without watching on comprehensive. It means seasons take longer, but because you can tweak things and see things quicker or more easily it makes the save more enjoyable. It does mean I wont get into 10 seasons plus, maybe only half that but its worth it.

Opposition plans

In terms of the opposition – take advantage of the pre-match stats and information you get to identify strengths and weaknesses of the opposition in terms of types of goals scored/conceded. Look too for form players and try to exploit weaknesses and strengths. All sounds obvious and is worth taking the time to organize pre-match.
It’s so easy to get angry with the players with team talks and shouts. I find it better to encourage players when they go behind on team shouts and at half time. I only set an aggressive/assertive shout if it’s truly warranted and the performance is poor. I have used this 1-2 times a season. It keeps player morale high. Something I have found vital.

Test with Arsenal

I used this approach and went through a season with Arsenal. The season went well, I won the FA cup and Community Shield, I got to the ¼ final of the Carling cup and I got to the Champions League final, where I narrowly lost 2-1 to a Juventus side that won the treble. I finished 4th in the league, but that didn’t tell the whole story. For a lot of the season Man City and myself were 1-2.

However, Man United, who won the league, only had league games to focus on from early March and City and ourselves were fighting on 3 fronts. Liverpool had a great season, ¼ final of Europa League. The final day of the season, Liverpool scored a last-minute goal to win and finish 2nd instead of 4th. Ultimately, fighting for trophies on 3 fronts had an effect on us winning the league. However, this was a really enjoyable save and I was constantly evolving the team and tactics.

I think if I was to continue this I would do even better in season 2. However, the aim is to take this tactic to another side, I’m tempted to take it to Napoli. If there is enough interest I will write about how I get on. Thanks for taking the time and reading this blog.

4 thoughts on “Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks”

  1. Thank you very much. Started Napoli save, just 2 games into season but going ok. Been more of a challenge but keeping principles going it’s been fun.
    I’ll start writing on this.
    Big thanks again to Cleon, the way he promotes new sites and people like myself is amazing.

  2. I can see why Cleon published this on his blog. Good write-up and I like that you’re not just creating a tactic and leaving it there. You’re looking to see if it’s working as you expect it to and also if there are any issues you didn’t/couldn’t foresee when you created it.

    Good stuff and good luck for season 2.

  3. Thank you. When I had initial issues with FM16, reading a lot of Cleon work made me realise it was my approach and me not being flexible enough in my tactics. Even now it’s changing. I dare say it will be similar but some instructions even now are changing as I work out what works better, or doesn’t work. Watching on comprehensive is definitely helpful for me, I see so much more.

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