Football Manager 17 tries to mimic or simulate real football where it can, and once again I’m going all thematic with my posts. For the last few weeks, nearly every post on Torino has focused on how I’ve slowly evolved the team into a Counter Pressing side. If you need to catch up on some of the principles I was discussing then you should read a few threads. The one in particular where I break things down is the series when I started doing the Crossover Event with Wolves. Here I discuss the principles, the posts then evolve as I lay more and more layers to it, finally culminating in a test where I ask the ass man to manage the side while I go on holiday.
So why did I start this series? I reckon there are so many ways of playing this game, the challenge is for people to let go of their preconceived notions of the sport. You may be right in how you see the world of football, but not everyone may share the same view. So I don’t expect anyone reading this to think that I am trying to assert a specific style for people to follow. In fact I believe there are many ways to climb this mountain, I just love finding different paths to the top. So take everything I say, consider it, but please, don’t ever presume that I am asserting there is only way to play. This is probably one of the more advanced ways of playing the game. Where we tell beginners not to mess with Team Instructions and Player Instructions, here we are telling players that we can. So one needs to know what they are doing.
Counter Pressing isn’t a new thing, the principles have been at play for a long time. The saying “defend from the front” is a form of counter pressing. The whole goal is to win the ball and do something with it. Now in my posts I did say I was looking into mimicking three different styles Sacchi, Guardiola and Klopp, it’s possible to do all three, however I also feel they have intrinsic weakness. The objective of this post, isn’t to talk about this in isolation but how we can apply it to different systems. The first thing we need to know is whether we can.
Key Attributes : Teamwork/Work-rate, they need to be +1 above the mean for the league. So if the mean for the premiership is 12, then we want 13. If the mean for non league is 9 then we want 10. These are the two key attributes I look at.
Block Players: In other threads I spoke about the High Block, Medium Block and Low Block. A high block is one where the front attackers do close down much more and hard tackle, a medium block is just close down much more, and I don’t play with a Low Block. Players who are required to Block need Teamwork, Work-rate, Composure, Concentration, Passing, Tackling. Where they do not have acceleration they need positioning. I still feel though, that a Counter Pressing system requires that you have players with acceleration, off the ball, stamina. The differences between the quality of block will lie in other attributes, each attribute does different things. A player with all these and high decisions and passing will probably play the good pass after winning the ball. A player with good anticipation positioning and acceleration could probably cover huge tracts of ground and be almost anywhere. The combination of attributes and player preferred moves just makes the sheer variety of combinations so interesting that simplifying it to a list just seems wrong.
Block players need to get in, they need to close down. When they don’t that’s the time when you start evaluating them. These players should typically get 5 interceptions a game. If they don’t you need to start observing them in games. These players will not do pressing for 90 minutes. You can’t expect that. What you should be looking for is lane blocking and interceptions. There will be plenty of moments when they look like they are pressing but the key here is to look at whether the lanes are being blocked. If they aren’t then you need to start looking at whether it’s worth going up a notch in mentality.
Once I have identified the players then its time to look at our system. I have tested out counter pressing on various systems and they all play differently.
Tactics handle Counter Pressing in different ways. Any system that is overloaded in front can counter press and leave you with easy balls to pick off in midfield, provided your players work hard. Systems that have less then 2 in front are challenged with other factors, such as loss of positioning in midfield. If you counter press hard in a 442 that is played on structured you could gift space. So here you could be looking at counter pressing in key areas of the pitch. We can add this form of pressing into most tactics but it’s how we adapt to changes that will see you nett the results you want. I have used elements of counter pressing on all shapes, and it plays out differently.
When you use counter pressing with a very fluid system, you tend to create systems that will appear to be more congested. This will force you to pick roles. players or both that can make space for others. If you are playing with a narrow system, then it gets that much harder. Assume you are using a 4312, its narrow, and you go very fluid, then those gets upfront, they usually will have a much harder time. So you need really good players or you need to adapt your system.
Let me explain:
Let’s say you are playing a team thats very good and you have a 4312 or a 433, you’ve set up a defensive/very fluid system You’re faced with a team thats a lot better than you and seem to be able to attack you along your defensive line easily. You are spending a lot of time in your half. You could change your passing to more direct. You could go to the TI or your system could be embedded with key creative roles that have not had their passing changed. Then once you go direct, only these roles are affected. You could also choose to set your frontline on attack duty. In this case, you could be defending deep, and while you are deep you win the ball. Your transition could be lightning fast because the ball goes to your playmaker and because passes are direct and your attack line is on Attack duty, you could open them up in a hurry.
You have another option. You could leave everything unchanged and step up mentality and go wide, and then you start observing how deep your backline can go without being isolated by adjusting the defensive line.
And there’s yet another option. You could go take a defensive mentality, maintain the short passing PIs, except for a few key players you depend on for key passes. Make sure that you have at least one support duty in every strata and then go Structured. In this scenario, your team opens up a bit more. Can your players take advantage of the spaces? This will be entirely reliant on what you are playing against. Have you ever noticed the glee in my voice when the AI changes to a 4231, it’s like a see “WIN”. Whenever I go structured, I am usually worried about the Middle Block. There is a distinct possibility any aggressive closing down opens up too much space.
There are two ways I handle this: If I were playing structured I could use a high block and a low defensive line with a Low Block. Here my midfield is around only to mop up loose passes from the AI. My low defensive line acts like a zone that isolates systems that play with lone forwards or in this case a system that has a distinct attack and defend group. Once again we need to observe how the AI handles transitions, you want to hit the AI when its transition from defence out. In other words I want to force the AI to play the long ball from their backline because their attack is isolated. Here my goal is to make sure their 2 CMs and the two fullbacks don’t get to play or influence the game.
Another way of playing it is to go very fluid, and once again like in a previous example, turn my frontline into attack duties with some key players on direct passing.
Counter Pressing in itself works well, when you think things through. It can work with a lot of tactics, but you need to plan the grids where you want the battles to be played out. And you need to observe.