The year is 2022, and, we’re now in our 8th season with WBA. We have joined the billion dollar elite group and are close to being the most reputable side on the planet, only Real Madrid stand in our way.
If there’s one thing I hear on the forums that’s annoying is the contention that a bad run of form is inevitable. I find that to be the most misleading statement I’ve ever heard on the forums, its been a myth for almost as long as I can remember. The game isn’t hard and we’re on a 126 game unbeaten run, my focus at the moment is to keep this run going for as long as possible. My prep work for each game is super simple – nothing.
I don’t do an iota of research. We keep things simple, and line up with the best possible combination of players we can each game. Our next match is against Real Madrid, its a home tie against the most reputable side on the planet. We are the best side on the planet having won the ECL now 6 times in a row.
We have had some challenging matches this season, which needed a reaction: either a substitution or a change in strategy. We have kept things simple by following a certain logic.
We are playing my 4312 system which is slightly different from the Samba system I put up, but it still attacks the same way. It differs slightly in the way the trident attack force works and in how the central midfielders cover and close down.
The goal of my system is for chances to come from two important areas: Crosses/Cutbacks from the fullbacks or killer balls from my AMC. The MCs act as a fulcrum to recycle possession. When we look at succession planning, I replace like for like where I can. So if I am using a ball winning midfielder in the mould of A, then when his time is up, his successor should have similar attributes where possible. As far as PPMs go these will depend on the player, however the ppms of my strike force and fullbacks I will ensure get adopted by successive players in the position.
In game changes
During the course of any match, knowing my weaknesses is key. By using two complete wingbacks I am well aware of the fact that my flanks will face pressure. If I am playing against any side it will be important to monitor how they are doing, if I find that they are always tracking or trying to race back to catch up with an opposing player thats broken in behind them, then I know the strategy needs to be changed and they should be dropped down to a fullback on support. The FB(S) duty has a deeper starting point for defensive coverage than a CWB, this will ensure that he is slightly deeper on attacks.
If at any point I find that we are being overwhelmed, and a side is indeed getting the better of us and are more attacking than my attacking strategy, it can only mean that this side is willing to throw a lot of risk at us. At this point we will drop down to counter and try and hit them off the break.
Our strategy in attack will be to play at a higher tempo with more closing down. This makes sense since we will be in the opponents half, but, when we are counter, we will close down by the default amount and will also play at the default tempo. If for any reason during the course of a match I find that my attack is having to wait to catch up with the fullbacks too often then I will also drop tempo, but maintain our attacking intent. Tempo will also be reduced for matches where I reckon players conditioning is being threatened.
Since we are playing a narrow system, there is a heavy requirement that my MCs get in the game, they need to win the ball and work the ball. In fact I expect them to. This means atrributes like high work rate, anticipation are vital, and if at any point I notice that my MCs are not putting in their defensive shift they will need to be replaced. There is a strong possibility that the MC in the middle who is a designated PM may find himself with little to nothing to do in matches we completely dominate, so his rating will not be something I worry about.
In a nutshell:
Against a good side that’s attacking me down the flanks and playing with an aggressive posture where I am close to 50% possession but not exceeding it, I will drop to counter and tell my CWB > FB.
Against a side thats not attacking me as much where I dominate possession I will stick to Attacking and play with CWB. If this side plays with AMs that threaten my CWB, I will change them to FB(S) and monitor. We should regain the flanks 9 times out of 10.
We will monitor the two flanking MCs to ensure they put in a defensive shift, and when needed we will adjust tempo to suit the situation in the game.
WBA v REAL MADRID
This is how we plan to lineup, we have a few key players who are injured, but we will strive to play the same way.
I expect to see Real Madrid play off the counter, and try and work the ball quickly to their forwards. I don’t expect this to be much of a problem. We should work a good few chances. After 15 minutes I notice we are completely dominating the match, so I elect to drop tempo. This should allow us to build up more quality chances.
A minute after making this change, a patient passing pattern unlocks Real Madrid for our first goal on 17 minutes. 6 passes to 10 who finds 9 to score the opener.
A minute after the first goal we score our second. At this point I start paying attention to what Real Madrid will do. Madrid stick to their game plan, we maintain ours as we are literally camped in their half looking for a 3rd, which we find 5 minutes later.
Real Madrid are now playing more direct football, they find Ronaldo with two passes from defense, and I begin considering going counter, but withhold that decision unless my flanks are threatened. I see no point in going counter because by playing in their half I make it harder for them to build up play, the pressure we exert force Madrid on the back foot. Ronaldo does give us a few moments of angst as these deep balls keep finding him, we almost concede a goal when the ball is bundled clear of our goal line, but we still maintain the aggressive posture.
We concede a goal on 31min as a midfielder dallies on the ball while in possession, I imagine him slipping on his butt while in possession and gifting the ball to Rodriguez who gleefully scores. The rating of my player doesn’t drop drastically he’s at 6.7 which is good.
We are 3-1 up on the break and go 4-1 up minutes after the restart. I am waiting for Madrid to do something different, but we are disappointed. We see the match out 4-1. We are now 127 games in without losing a match in all competitions.
Our next match home to Spurs, who are one of the few sides this season to deny us all 3 points. Spurs are lining up with a 4231. Now in most cases even without knowing their specific duties, I will always convert my CWB to a FB when I face a wide 4231, and maintain our attacking intent. However this is one match where I will pay attention to the start to see if I need to drop to counter. We shall start on attacking and adjust if I find that my FB(S) need more support from my MCs.
6 minutes in and one my MC’s rocks their upright, we are firmly entrenched in their half. I know that a 4231 is best neutralised if you can isolate their AM strata from their defense, if you force the gap, they need to launch balls up which is why we convert our CWB. For now we will keep attacking to isolate them further, while being on the lookout for a counter.
16 minutes in we take the lead, and we drop our tempo, with the return ECL leg next, we can afford to be patient.
36 minutes in and Spurs have yet to record their first SOG. We add a second. I make changes to my trident strike force, they have had a long season, and these players need to be looked after. At the interval we take them off. Spurs maintain their system of play. We add a third but Spurs pull one back from a set piece. Its not enough to warrant a change in strategy. The Lily Whites are decimated 5-1. Now we’re off to Spain.
The Spaniards are down 4-1 from the first leg. And they are lining up in a rather attacking system.
Now without knowing their roles you can tell simply by the way the FBs are positioned that they are playing with an attacking FB on the left and with that DLP surging forward I should expect to see Ronaldo cut in a lot, this could prove to place considerable pressure on my right flank, which is my most creative attacking outlet.
We will stick to attacking, but will play with the left CWB converted to a FB(S). Out right CWB is just way too important, we will keep our tempo up and hope to secure the first goal. We will also standby to drop to counter quickly if needed.
6 minutes in, and against the run of play we score the first goal off a corner. Real Madrid immediately change tack and go on the offensive. Its clear even without seeing the roles that a few players are now positioned higher than before. We drop to counter
The first clue I had that we were in trouble in spite of taking the lead was our low possession numbers. Its not something that should bother people, but in my system of play, I am not used to seeing less of the ball. Our system relies on ball retention and recycling. 5 minutes after making the change, we build play up patiently to score the second goal.
Counter is a mentality setting which tells your team to use the ball wisely and not give it away and when the opportunity arises to strike the team from deep in your own half, to move the ball quickly up. Our system is already extremely offensive as it strives to overpower certain areas of the pitch, however we remain cognizant of the threat that will come from yielding some possession.
They score 5 minutes from the break, possession is pretty even. The half time stats aren’t impressive. My defense and midfield are not doing as well as I normally expect. The pass completion rates of my fullbacks aren’t good, so we elect to drop them both to FB(S) and return to an attacking mentality played at high tempo. My strategy of going counter may not have been the right one. If my backs are not getting in the game we are not going to exert the pressure on their backline.
We managed to improve our passing percentages, and keep them at bay, but lose two players in the process – the downside of playing an aggressive game. Our unbeaten run continues. West Brom book a place at the Stade de France for the final. 129 without loss. We have 3 games in 5 days, time to give my players an extra day off from training. An exhausted team time to give the youth a chance.
Next up Watford, can they just give me 3 points? Why do they have to give me a headache before the game even starts!?! This system should isolate itself! However, if that attacking strata gives us a headache we will convert the CWB to a FB.
That right AM of Watford could be an issue so I make two changes.
It had to be Watford, we start the game, but they have the better start as they score from the expected interplay of their attacking strata. This is going to be a game which i will need to play at low tempo, with so many of their players back we are going to have the build the ball and work it into the box. We managed to equalise off a penalty and then miss the next penalty.
We are doing better with the ball but are missing a lot of clear cut chances, I know that the game should be won, so I make no changes, these are mostly my reserves so I do expect this to be a grind.
We go into the break even, and minutes after the restart we go a goal up. Two of our players seem to be struggling, even though they are pushing 6.6 in ratings, one of them is playing a key role in midfield to cover for the fullbacks. As a ball winning midfielder he should be doing more so I make 2 subs, and I am glad to see, moments later that the new player is covering more blades of grass. We manage to extend the lead with 15 left on the clock. Watford are deflated as we extend our lead further with injury time looming. The changes made proving crucial, this run is proving to be extremely stressful, time to take a break. We have reached 130 games without loss.