A friend on the forums, suggested it would be more helpful for me to detail the process on how the system evolved. I wanted to stay true to the spirit of Simeone’s system, but at the same time it had to do well within the restrictions imposed by the FM match engine. Any successful translation of the system would depend on how much we understand it, and this would be a litmus test for the engine to see how well it can be used to create real life systems. I do feel that the match engine is restrictive in some ways, but there are always little things we can do.
I was always an opponent of dumbing the game down too much, and whilst I felt the inclusion of roles was a good thing, too many would make it too confusing. Roles really need to be effective; as it stands now there are quite a few roles that do the same thing to some extent. The only way we can make new ones is via the player instructions screen. I had a good idea what I wanted to achieve within the style that Diego Simeone has used, and we would be need to assess the success of that tactic within his philosophy. The first thing that challenged me and which caused me to chop and change was the shape. Simeone isn’t Pep Guardiola, from what I can see the team does not play a tight tactical game built on specific instructions for players. Instead I see a more dynamic fluid approach. However the biggest challenge lay in funnelling play to the two side midfielders in Koke and Turan, to do that we needed either a structured shape which would have reduced the dynamism somewhat or a fluid system. Furthermore, the biggest headache I had was the front two strike pair.
Its not always possible to recreate a system perfectly, you may watch one game where they play brilliantly and then try to work off from there, and in another game they could vary the way they play so much that it won’t even look the same anymore. When Pep ran Barca during his last season, at times, his side would change things around, players would change roles or the whole system would morph in a game. IMHO we need to get the overall flavour done right, if the system favours a certain style, then thats what we should aim for and then accept that there can be slight variations. For me getting Atletico to work accurately was simply a case of ensuring that most of the goals would come from crosses, cut backs, set pieces. I have scored goals where my MCs in the middle of the park suddenly start acting imperiously, something I wasn’t planning on, but it kinda happened. You just need to look at one game, identify the theme or general approach, and then do your best. You will make errors.
My biggest mistake I did with this system was the front pairing, and how they should work. I have tried quite a few combos, in one game I changed the combo six times to get it to look the way it did, but I only did that once i felt assured I could make those kind of changes. In fact my preseason was a XDWDWW, and then the first match of the season was against Real Madrid a 1-1 draw, which didn’t go according to script.
This is how we started our supercup first leg match. I was specifically targeting Koke and Turan at this point. First I needed to make sure those two clicked the way they were supposed to. In what turned out to be a near disaster that was only saved by a set piece, I had ended up isolating my front strike pair.
We had just survived. Playing FMC means I have no heat maps, in a way this makes it harder for me cos I can’t see individual performances nearly as well. So I had to drill down to the player stats, and what I saw was disturbing. I had made a crucial error of judgement. I had isolated my players. For a counter attacking system to work well, just recall how Pep did it with Barca, he reduced the distance between the strikers and the defenders to such a point that passing between lines would make it super easy. The challenge was to maintain the Atletico spirit and not blindly copy Barca of 2011.
I had opted to go with a front strike partnership that ended up failing as a pivot with my midfield, I played Gabi as a BBM, we managed to hang onto a 1-1 draw. I wasn’t very happy with that set up as it felt different from what they do irl, but what worried me more was the frailty of the system. The two strikers were far too isolated from a midfield that was being packed close to the defense. So in our next game i changed it by turning Manduc into a DF(D) and lo and behold the two went from 30 passes in total to 100 in total between them. Koke entered the game more and now had targets to play to.
In our second game we were away to Rayo Vallecano, the lesson learnt in the first game would have to be applied in the next. So it was time to modify.
This would be a good test, Rayo were playing a 4231, and we stuck to the structured system because I still wasn’t convinced I needed more creativity yet. I wanted to reduce the X-factor.
The difference was glaring, this time Mandzukic, Koke and Arda Turan had become more influential on the game, bringing the attackers closer to midfield had the effect of increasing passing opportunities, and this more than doubled the passes for the striker pair. It was working, but I still wanted to see more, Mandzukic had only completed one tackle.
Our next match would be the return leg of the Supercut.
Me never satisifed, decided to try something different up front again.
This time setting Griezmann up as a shadow striker, but even though he produced an impeccable performance, I still wasn’t happy cos I really wanted Mandu to be the deep one. We won that game. 2-1. The side may have won the match, but we still hadn’t found what we were looking for, cue Bono.
The problem here I realised later was that my front pair wasn’t in asymmetric harmony with my midfield so I was back to requiring play to be funnelled through specific key players. And so we took a big risk by shaping formation and shape in the next game.
Supercut Part 2 vs Real Madrid
We were up against Real Madrid and I was worried bout my right flank, so I decided to go to a more orthodox shape, but with essentially the same instructions. Would this fare any better? The logic in my head at this point suggested it would after all, we were away, they would be more attacking and I would strengthen my left flank.
It was a game that was tight, denying R Madrid any easy chances. This was the game Koke became a god. He played beautifully centrally, scoring one, and then getting an assist with an IFK. This was a match where Koke and Cani who was playing as the MR ruled the pitch with their passes. We managed to create better chances than Real Madrid.
This system stayed for a few games, it proved resilient and did a good job of winning us a fair few games, by now i kept the formation, but starting testing the side on fluid, because I believed strongly that it would be the shape that suited Atletico. During that time I experimented with a F9 Pair, a DF and an AF pair, but I still wasn’t satisfied. the solution would lie with Koke.
A goalless draw against Bayer Leverkuesen and I started considering the asymmetric 442 again. After all, that system came to me @church. In our next game we narrowly edged Getafe 3-2, and by then I was already planning to return to that system in our next home game.
My first goal was making sure Mandzukic was playing a bigger role in games. He does that in real life but always less than Koke, Turan and the central midfielders.
In our next game, Koke was jaded, and Turan was out injured. Up stepped Saul and Raul, and they showed that we were close to getting it right
I did make some mistakes along the way most notably with the shape settings, starting with structured, then to very fluid, then back to structured and finally settling on fluid, which is really just structured but with a bit more creativity. We have eventually settled on a system, a style which doesn’t see me make any drastic changes in the game. Our biggest test would come a few weeks later, an away trip to Barca.
It was a game, that would be decided in midfield, so i made a few changes, this time electing to have a more ball winning orientated side in midfield. I knew we would give up some chances. We would need to work harder and win more challenges, get in more crosses and essentially try and win the possession war.
While the player stats showed how prolific Koke played, i was even more happy with the general performance of the team. It had embodied the hard working, dynamic ethos I was aiming for.
Defensively we were a rock. I may make some minor changes here and there, but we learnt our lesson. Focus on what you want to achieve, and work on it in stages. Doing it on FMC just makes it a lot easier, to test concepts out. The only downside I am noticing is our high percentages. I know this is due in large part to my shouts and can get them reduced, but ultimately there have been some games that Atletico have dominated in terms of possession, and in games where they have deployed Griezmann as a midfielder they have tended to see possession lost. The possession numbers can be reduced, but I reckon a balanced approach needs to be taken. In tighter fights we do have matches where we have lower percentage numbers. So I guess between removing that one shout and leaving it in..I guess this is what its gonna be.