This is a massive update to season 2 It picks up from my last blog but it covers two thirds of the season and stops with 10 matches left to be played, I pick a few games apart to show what I did ingame, and for one game I list out what i did over 90 minutes
Season 2 was also going to be much harder; you’re a newly promoted side in a league where everyone has a better side than you. A cursory look at all the other sides shows us having one of the worst sides in the league, and we have small diminutive players as well.
I’ve read a lot of crap on the forum pages. The notion that LLM sides cannot play a short passing game is ridiculous. IRL have you ever been able to play direct football in school? At work we had a football team made up of some average players and we managed to get into the finals of a competition. We played a simple short passing game, because it was far more easier to play in small triangles than it was trying to find someone 30 yards away with an accurate pass. Average players don’t hurl 30 yard passes accurately. The key to a short passing game is the shape of your formation when you have the ball and when you are defending. You can’t play a wide formation with short passing, unless you have one or two players in midfield who can string a 30 yard pass.
So far Stafford have had to adapt against better sides, I’ve haven’t started a single game without analysing the other sides strengths first. I need to find some area of the pitch where we can at least go toe to toe with them, and it appears to be the flanks. So one approach I took this season was to play a system where I lock down one area of the pitch and force them to play down the middle. My narrow shape and fast tempo, short passing game can at least get something out of this. The formation we’ve been training this season has basically been: 41221 and a 4312.
The 451 was the shape we started with, but its very defensive in orientation, we don’t have much height nor a lot of pace to really make use of the deep lying forward. So I’ve decided to play a 41221 which locks down the flanks and goes through the middle and a 4312 which does the same and I use that a lot at home. The 451 is still there for matches where I could end up facing a strong team or a relegation battler.
We started the season deep in relegation, within 7 games we have moved up to 16th, we now almost halfway through the season and are 4 points off the playoff slots. If we maintain strict discipline in our play I am cautiously optimistic of making it to the playoffs.
Stafford v Chester (1-0)
Our next game is against Chester who are second on the table. In our previous encounter they used a 442 at home to defeat us 1-0. It was a poor game by us and we hardly managed any shots on goal. They have a good flank attack and a creative player in midfield. We approach the game with a simple plan, set up a formation that will shut down their 442 and their fulcrum in midfield.
We OI their fullbacks and wingers and keep our fullbacks back at all times and drive through the middle, the strategy works as we rip through them to score our first goal before the end of the first half. Throughout the match Chesters attack is rendered impotent, we create a few more good chances and manage to walk away with three points and another clean sheet. Chester only have 2 shots on our goal and neither one of them is from close range. Their midfield pass completion rate is a woeful 60%. We’re 4 points behind the playoff spots, and have lost a key defender, its certainly proving to be quite a season
Woking v Stafford (1-3)
We lost our previous game to them 2-0 at home. Woking used a 352, its a formation I have a hard time against because it overpowers me in defense. I review the footage from our defeat at home to Woking earlier in the season to look for areas I can exploit.
The 352 builds from the back, and if you can apply pressure to their backline, you can at least force them to hurry clearances, Wokings creative fulcrum comes from one of their MCs as well. So i set up the OI to shut down their keeper and the 3 DCs and I tight mark, close down, wrong foot their central man. To shut down the defenders I need to use a formation where players can actually reach them..so I switch to my 451 formation which has 2 AMs and a DLF.
Within the first few minutes we concede a stupid goal, our defender takes the ball to the corner flag and STAYs there. Ultimately he loses the ball and we concede. I am livid, but I’ve also noticed that they haven’t really created much. I use the shout, play out of defense and run at defense and 2 minutes later we are 1-2 up, what a turnaround. The pressure on their DCs has worked, both goals coming from us closing down their DCs. We enter the halftime break with a one goal cushion, and i calmly tell my players not to let their guard down. Out of the break we almost score another goal. Our fullback gets injured and i decide to wait till the 70th minute, cos his rating is 7. The time comes and I make another change, i tell my players to work the ball into the box and exploit the middle. Logic is simple, work into the box buys me time, but I need to guard against the break if we lose the ball in a dangerous area, especially since we are trying to exploit the middle.
Our short passing game and high tempo create a perfect tick tock passing moment, as we score our third goal and put the match result beyond doubt. Woking have been beaten at home. We exact revenge. 2 wins on the trot, and against fellow playoff chasers. Its a good week, we’re now 2 points behind the playoff spots, 11 points behind the league leaders Barnet and 28 points clear of cellar-dwellers Dartford. Its now 3 wins on the trot in the league since our away defeat to Salisbury.
I get a nice surprise when I visit the boardroom to check on my job status :- UNTOUCHABLE!
There is some aspect of the game now that I am not enjoying, my squad size is huge, I don’t really feel like I’ve gotten into player development as much, but the reality is I doubt its going to have that much of an effect since my facilities aren’t even there.
Stafford vs Macclesfield (1-0)
Our next game is against Macclesfield, a side we failed to beat on opening day. Leading up to the match a key player was unhappy with my team talks, whilst the whole squad seems to be doing well for morale, his was low. A quick private chat later and he’s happy with me, lol.
Heavy rain and a bad pitch, I had to make some minor adjustments and go back to my 451 for this fixture, we don’t expect a lot of quick short passing, so I adjust my sliders so more balls can be played off the ground. I expect Maccelsfield to play a hoofy game of sorts. Playing a 451 with emphasis on locking out with their wings should focus the play in the middle of the pitch, but playing a flat midfield could get me into a world of trouble. I adjust that to make one of the MCs always stay back. (done by setting his role to defensive)
Its a bruising game, 2 players get stretchered off, we win the game as expected from a long through pass down the middle. 1-0. We are now 4 points behind second placed Chester and 8 behind league leaders Barnet. Results have gone over way and we are within touching distance. With 20 games left in the season, we now boast the best defensive record in the league, but we are 15th in goals scored, its time to shift the focus of training away from defensive positioning to attacking movement. Its been a month of defensive training, something my team sorely needed since we conceding so many goals at the start of the season
Morecambe v Stafford (1-1)
This is gonna be short cos i screwed up. We both came with a 41221 so i expected a complete grind-out. This team was fighting relegation, but when the season started they were tipped for a playoff berth. Their position has nothing to do with their form, so I expected them to come firing out of the gates.I did what I always do. Shut down their fullbacks and wingers. We take the lead and I am get the false confidence that this should play out in my favour, I also become impatient, cocky in the confidence that we are a great team and start going to key highlights.
What i fail to notice during the course of the game is their switching of MCs in midfield, what i don’t notice is their desire to win, and what costs me the game is that I fail to notice that they have adapted their game to go through the middle like me. 89th min they score their equaliser, I am fuming at myself. A chance to narrow the gap with the leaders is lost.
Always pay attention to swings in a match, It will screw you over. Next game away too…
We won the next game and moved into a playoff spot, now with some 16 matches left in the season, I need to make sure that we stay here. When you start to tinker as much as I have, sometimes you forget what system was the most effective, so I turn back to my tried and trusted 451 formation. I know I can grind results with it and the season is so far in now that using a 4231 is scary, but that formation isn’t fantastic against the big sides, I need the extra security of a DMC, so I start looking at my 41221 as well.
We’ve been grinding out some results and I’ve been tinkering as well…but with less than 15 games left and a playoff berth mine to lose, I need to make sure we settle on a formation i reckon is the most solid defensively and offers me the most number of options to handle the bigger teams like Luton, whom i have not beaten yet. I’m sticking to my TC based 41221 and using the shouts as much as possible. I have made slight adjustments to passing..but nothing revolutionary, but if there is a possibility i need to grind out a match desperately I will turn them back to default.
Stafford 3 Dartford 0 (Park the Bus achieve)
Home games now are going to be a more conservative affair, no more swashbuckling attacking. Henceforth we start with a balanced setup first and see how the game pans out. We just beat cellar dwellers Dartford 3-0, but it came at a price. We lost a key player in Casper Hughes, he is one of my midfield fulcrums and a vey important source of a lot of my attacking play. Its a big loss and, his absence leaves a big gaping hole in our team. Hopefully one of the players I recruited in December can fill the slot…got the FA Trophy 4th round match against Hednesford next but thats not the biggie..3 days later we got a home game against table toppers Barnet.
We rolled over and died against Hednesford, the reserve team was a complete shambles, although it was a derby game only one player managed to stay motivated the full 90 mins, he’s going straight into the first team. Time for some serious match preparation..and if you want to know exactly what I did read this fantastic thread by lam on the Training and Tactics forums at SI, its the same approach.
Stafford v Barnet – THE BIG MATCH (90 min recap)
Huge match for us, I tell the players we are huge underdogs and then individually tell them they have it takes. Within 10 mins i can see the opposing team is getting frustrated, 5 of the players are already frustrated
This is a match we absolutely have to win..so I will watch the whole game on full so i can be as near perfect as possible. My starting shouts are planned to hold possession and create havoc. I opt to Go Narrow to keep it tight, Play out of defense so that we stay composed as far as possible and don’t give up possession, Go through the middle and run thru defense..this is to irk the other team cos the referee loves to give cards. And finally, pass to feet, cos this team is way better than me, and i want to keep possession as much as possible.
The run through defense works and we get a yellow card early on the left midfield, so i focus my best runners there, and i swap my lone forward with the AML through player swapping I do this twice cos the players are running through this specific area. On the 25th minute the same midfielder who has been getting frustrated picks up his second yellow..its a red..Yeah its dirty football but i want to give winning the league the best shot possible.
I maintain my counterattacking stance, 5 mins later we rip through the midfield which only has 3 across it, a wide right and left and an mc. If i can isolate their MC the AMC is isolated, its an option i can try..I am so tempted to go to key highlights cos i want this game to end NOW, but Barnet make a change to their tactic. They are probably going to push up higher so I keep my counterattacking shape and try and spot if my defensive line has to track back for through balls, if it has to then I will go defensive.
I decide to change one of my shouts to Work ball into box, and then i notice that we waste a good breakaway by trying to build up play in their third..hmm really bad idea now I could get caught on the counter. Their left fullback and the inside left defender are motivated, but the ones on the right are anxious i may try to go down the right exclusively, so i change my roles to lock down the fullback on the right and move the BWM to the left while I launch overlapping runs from the left..down the side where their defense is shaky.
40th minute, the AI does a counter down the flank i am attacking, its a hairy escape. I will need try and hold this till half time. We get to halftime against the leaders a goal to the good, but each time they attack i worry they will score some flukey goal from the halfway line. Time to talk to the boys, Barnets 10 are better than my 11 players on the pitch.
We come out second half AI has changed its tactic..it looks like a giant I ?? 2 strikers 1AMC, 1MC, 1DMC and 4 defenders.. I swear they are trying to score a rugby scrum goal, it looks just like that..one guy barges drops to the other player all the way to the box..this is so annoying both of us are trying to go down the middle. I wait.
60th and they are still pouring everything at me..i stick to my counterattacking stance cos we need an outlet or we are toast. Our right flank shows a lot of weakness so i swap my BWM and DLP again. Its time to shut this team up. I hop onto OI and close down their fullbacks
70th min, my DLP although having scored the goal isn’t doing a good job holding the ball up so i make some changes, I also sub out the right inside forward for another player who can tackle. That locks up the right and I decide to remove the instruction pass to feet, they are a man down and its now time to exploit space they have been attacking me non stop since the half began, its time to hit back!
77th min..we score our second my sub becomes the SUPER SUB, a beautiful ball is played into space behind the defenders that he runs onto and beats the keeper. This dude has one of the best goals to shots ratio in my team, but I wanted to keep him on the bench for when I had tired players to run against.
You got to love the OI their fullbacks have been neutralised, Barnet have lost their discipline and the cards are flying. Woot!
Match ends Stafford 2 Barnet 0. Its a match which is won in the middle of the park, few chances as two teams cancel each other out, we take advantage of the extra man and walk away with a well fought victory. The gap is now 4 points! The win is marred by the loss of another DLP, Boothe who did so well in that position, is now out of 5 weeks, damnit!. My fulcrums are going down one by one..thats two of my best players out for 5 weeks!
We are now unbeaten in 12 games, and where we were once deep in relegation following 5 matches without a win, we have soared up to second spot. The league title is there..omg I need to watch each game on full to achieve that? This is a significant game, in my last few games I have strived to keep a clean sheet. My goal is not to concede, so I spend most of time shutting teams out. Since I was regarded a relegation candidate, I had to work a defensive plan into my system. Whats happened in the last few games shows that whilst we may not create much by way of chances the AI is usually in the worst possible situation, and I love it when a plan comes together.
I am especially thrilled to see my playmaker having a good game
This was how we started our league matches, and that does not include the string of 4 defeats we had in preseason.
Our next game at home we win that and Barnet lose..the gap is now 1. With eleven matches to go we can’t get ahead of ourselves, there are 33 points at stake and a lot of football left to be played, but hey guess whos near the summit 🙂