*Spoliers Ahead for the Stalybridge Diaries*
So the Facundo Gaitan obsession continues. After a scintillating start to his career his second season appeared to be heading nowhere. 17 games played 4 goals in total. This was disappointing. And a consistent training rating of 6.8 was making me worried.
The team was top of the table, Stalybridge, third season in the premiership with a bunch of at best championship quality players had finished higher than Manchester City. This was a team that had beaten Paris St Germain 4-2 in their first Champions League game. After such a start why was Gaitan becoming a glorious footnote?
It had to do with another one of my obsessions, Liquid 4123. This tactic was breaking all kinds of personal records for me in FM19. It was a heavily customised system that depends on a congruence of traits and player instructions. Liverpool had finished a season 38-0-0 with it, Torino finished second on holiday mode. Staly got promoted with it. So we had to use it, right?
Problem with Liquid 4123, the wingers were meant to be creators and goal scorers. The winger on the right was the big creator, he was meant to pull defenders away so that others could score. It was meant to replicate Manchester City in some way. Most of City’s assists are generated by their attacking group of players, unlike Liverpool where the bulk of the assists come from the two fullbacks. By playing Gaitan in the right AMR position, Gaitan was turning into a creator and less of a goalscorer. He wasn’t the immediate assist generator, he just happened to do all the hard work of breaking lines to bring the ball forward before someone else created the assist.
Gaitan’s Dip in Development
In terms of his overall development, Gaitan was seeing increases in decisions and vision, but his overall training rating was now the lowest amongst the strikers. Josh Bowler and Jose Carvalho who were scoring goals were around 9 and Gaitan was consigned to becoming a footnote with a training rating of 6.9. His match performances were hovering around 6.6 – 6.8. Average at best.
The game does not reward the player who drives the length of pitch to deliver a pass to the player who creates the assist. The one who does all the work sometimes gets a lower match rating. And this was happening with Gaitan. The defenders were getting good ratings, the only player in the mix who was being nixed by match rating was Gaitan. If I could get the team to play better and make sure Gaitan was in the mix, then his ratings would go up.
Gaitan has acceleration and good off the ball, coupled with agility, that makes him incredibly dangerous coming in late. He has average finishing which means that he will probably struggle against camped sides, needing to use his technical skills to make space for himself. This makes the Firefox system perfect for Gaitan, while we develop play on the left, the right flank sees chances emerge for our little hero. In fact while Liquid 4123 was a system that could also do this, it was not as predictable as Firefox.
Liquid specialises in spreading goals around, it has quite a few outlets for goals including creating space for players with good long shots. Gaitan was still learning the art of cutting inside from the right wing. Once he had mastered this we wanted him to start working on the left flank as well. This was a big risk as the coaches highlighted consistency as his biggest weakness. Switching him around like that would not be good for his performances.
Up next was Liverpool. Knowing they were going to be a lot harder than the average side, we stuck with Firefox with its simpler attack patterns. In fact in our next match against Liverpool, Gaitan was an anonymous player for most of the match till the 60thmin when he popped out in space to receive this pass to score.
We took a 2 goal lead in this game, but couldn’t keep it as my single-minded obsession with Gaitan again cost us a win when our defence handed a point to Liverpool with a terrible own goal. Gaitan however was now getting higher match ratings. Our Firefox system had done well against Liverpool for 89mins. Once again I had failed to think about closing out a match. We needed more consistency with the system so out went the attacking mentality, in came a more balanced one as we sought to play with less zeal and more control. It wasn’t too different from the Liquid 4123 system, one difference being the AMRs being IFs in one and wingers in another. It was also more structured and disciplined in transitions.
A lingering thought bothered me, could I get him to work with our Liquid System? The Stalybridge Liquid System is a lot more different than the one used by Liverpool. On lower mentality settings it ends up as a flexible system. And to get Gaitan in on the goal scoring action he would need to be placed on the left flank as a winger which is just going to make things even more challenging.
The two systems play as a 4123 but transitionally they are very different. The big clue is what happens in transition.
Our next two matches were both going to be against Swansea. Since our focus had changed, his match performances had improved. I just needed to keep this going for the next two matches and we could see the effect. It was now time to retrain him as a left winger.
The game was only 2 days later, so no team training, we just had one match preparation session before the match.
My head was telling me to go to a system that suited Gaitan a bit better. So it was back to Firefox. For the match I was going to start concentrating on how Gaitan was doing. He performed well providing one assist and playing a key role in our attacks with 3 key passes. In fact when it came to opening up defences he was doing a better job than our Mezzala. His passing completion numbers were only 68%.
He needed to improve at how he played those passes, and playing him on the right as an IF was certainly good for him. The hero of this game turned out to be Lucky Malti, with a brace. I was disappointed but hellbent on making sure my Gaitan would finish the season as a top scorer.
Our attention to Gaitan paid dividends, he finished the month as the Young Player of the Month with an average rating of 7.46. His training would now include getting him to learn the left flank. It was going to be a big risk considering his right footedness.
His training rating had now moved from 6.9 to 7.0 we were doing the right thing. He just needed better performances. I was now going to modify Liquid for him. I definitely have an issue with cakes, I want to have them and eat them too.
We swapped to a slightly modified Liquid system meant for Stalybridge and began retraining Gaitan as an IF(S) on the left flank. Swansea lost two nil again this time, no surprise as our mezzala grabbed both goals by arriving unmarked twice.
As a matter of course we were now going to monitor his training. Each time it dipped below 6.8 we would issue a warning. He reacted well to his first warning nowit was time to adopt a similar strategy with the rest of the team. Twenty games in and still undefeated, this was beginning to get stressful.
3 matches in and two goals later Gaitan was beginning to show consistent training rating improvements. His performances on the pitch were having a knock on effect. The boy was finally smiling. Focusing on a system that allowed him to flourish was beginning to translate into better match performances and training ratings.
For a player who was struggling with downward spiralling arrows he was now back to playing his best and improving off the pitch. The big challenge now is making sure the rest of the team doesn’t suffer for one man’s development.