The RE-Builders of Pripyat: A Valeriy Lobanovskiy tactical recreation

Part 1 – How a 4-4-2 becomes a 4-1-3-2

Little more than nine days after the disaster at Chernobyl, with radioactive isotopes still falling across Western Europe, Soviet Cup Winners, Dynamo Kyiv lined up to play Spanish giants Atlético Madrid in the final of the Cup Winners Cup in Lyon. Kyiv sits only 100Km to the south of Chernobyl and the Kyiv youth sides, including a nine-year-old Andriy Schevchenko, had already been evacuated to a camp near the Black Sea.

Dynamo were coached by football’s premier scientist, Valeriy Lobanovskiy.  His Dynamo side were extremely well drilled, each player a cog in a much bigger eleven-part machine. Kyiv dismantled Atlético 3-0, their relentless pressing and fitness levels, along with guile from Blokhin proved too much for the Spanish. You can watch some highlights below.

Lobanovskiy stands out as one of the greatest managers in the history of the game and is a giant in Ukrainian football to this day. He essentially created three great Dynamo Kyiv sides across three decades before his death in 2002. He won eight Soviet Top league titles, six Soviet Cups, the Cup Winners Cup twice and was runner up in the Euro ’88 finals with the Soviet Union. I remember him as a rather portly gentleman rocking backwards and forwards on the touchline while Schevchenko and Rebrov fired Kyiv to the semi-finals of the Champions League in 1999, there is so much more to this man than I had appreciated at the time. Below is a little montage of his career with a Russian twist.

Systems and evolution

There is a term in biological science, convergent evolution, whereby a similar trait, such as the ability to sense light, has manifested itself in two completely distinct populations, at completely different times, in the evolutionary record. The eye of an Octopus, for example, has developed, evolutionarily speaking, completely separate from the eyes of mammals. Scientists believe the eye may have independently evolved upwards of 50 different times across the geological record. If something is advantageous to a population, it seems, natural selection will select similar solutions again and again.


Convergent evolution also happened with certain football philosophies in Eastern and Western Europe, during the 20th Century. If you mention total football, pressing, and universality people will almost certainly think about the great Dutch sides of the 1970s, they will think about Johan Cruyff and his latter-day disciples. Very few (me included) will think about Dynamo Kyiv, the Soviet Union, and Valeriy Lobanovskiy. But, around the same time as the world was mesmerised by the Dutch World Cup sides of 1974 and 1978, Dynamo Kyiv emerged from behind the Iron Curtain playing their own brand of high pressing, total football. While Lobanovskiy’s sides were known for their relentless pressing and supreme fitness, he was more pragmatic in his approach than the Dutch sides of the time. Lobanovskiy was happy to sit deep and play on the counter-attack when the situation demanded it. The pinnacle of his success came in 1974/75 and 1986 seasons when Kyiv won the Cup Winners Cup with a 3-0 demolition of Hungarian giants Ferencváros and latterly, as mentioned, Atlético Madrid. Lobanovskiy also managed the Soviet Union three times. At the Mexico World Cup in 1986, they played some fantastic football before being eliminated by Belgium 4-3 in the quarter-finals. His most successful Soviet side was the 1988 European Championship side that lost 2-0 to the Netherlands in the final. It’s the game Marco Van Basten scored ‘that’ volley.

Lobanovskiy was a trained systems scientists and he took this into his management. Each player was a cog in a much larger machine. He was one of the first managers to collect statistics on player actions during a game, each position would have targets to meet. While teams in Blightly were spending time bonding down the pub, Lobanovskiy was collating inceptions per 90 data, distance covered, passes completed. This may seem standard stuff today in the Opa Stats era but it wasn’t always the case. Lobanovskiy’s reliance on sports science and data analysts was truly revolutionary, and in a way, truly communist.

If the Chernobyl disaster represented everything that is wrong with unabated scientific advancement and the communist regime that supported it, then Lobanovskiy represents everything that is good about science and the communist ethic of collective success before personal accomplishment.

This save is an attempt to bring the two together.

Tactics Part one – the formation.

Dynamo Kyiv line up and formation as suggested by Johnathan Wilson for the 1986 Cup Winners Cup final.

Where to start with a tactical recreation? My first port of call was ‘Inverting the Pyramid’ by Johnathan Wilson, I remembered he had a chapter on Lobanovskiy. Wilson suggested Kyiv lined up in a 4-1-3-2 formation in 1986, so I was excited to try and replicate something a little different.

Secondly, I recently came across a fantastic website called Footballia It hosts a monumental amount of old match footage. There is even a search function where you can enter a player or coach and results return all the matches they hold with that person involved. I decided to watch the Dynamo Kyiv final against Atlético Madrid to see if it was possible to replicate what I saw.

Tactical recreations are not something I have really done before. So I’ve decided to split this into two posts as it may get a bit wordy otherwise. In this part, I will discuss the formation and roles I have decided to use and how I came to that decision. In the second part, I will discuss Team Instructions.

So upon opening the tactical creator I immediately chose a 4-1-3-2 formation similar to that shown above. I tested this with a number of different teams in Football Manager 2020, with many different role combinations, but I could not really get the same style of play I had watched in the old footage from the 1980s. In fact, very often the players weren’t even in the correct position. I changed roles and duties but was unable to find any combination that adequately replicated what I was seeing.

Dan Gear and DMs.

I recently appeared on the Grass ‘N’ Gear podcast and backstage I mentioned to Gear that I was struggling to make it work as I would like. Then a few nights later I got a notification, someone had crept into my DMs, it was Gear, and I was afraid. He sent a link over to a Spielverlagerung article about Lobanovskiy’s Soviet Union side and the 4-4-2 they played. I made sure the sound was off on my phone before I tentatively opened the link.

USSR 4-4-2

I had already seen the article but discarded it as it was describing a 4-4-2, my thinking was Lobanovskiy may have employed different tactics as the national coach than he did with his club team. But Dan said, “you could still make it a 4-1-3-2 in possession and 4-4-2 out of possession”. Finally, the penny dropped. What followed was a ‘Late night with Gear’ masterclass. I was getting sent colour coded in-game screenshots of his team in, and out, of possession showing how the 4-4-2 transformed into a 4-1-3-2. As I climbed into bed at 2.00am, completely spent, Dan was still banging away at my DMs.

A 4-4-2 that could morph into a 4-1-3-2, suggested by Dan Gear.

A common mistake among FM players (and one I made) is to fail to understand what the tactics screen is showing you. The above image shows how our side lines up in defence. It is the roles and duties that you select that determine how your side look during the attacking phase. I have added arrows to show how the roles and duties, as selected, will affect player movement when we have the ball. So how does this play out in-game?

442 in def final

Here Michael Keane has the ball for Everton in our half. You can see we are in our defensive shape, two banks of four, nice and compact. Now see the difference in shape when we have the ball.

442 in att final

Harry Maguire has the ball for us in this example. McTominay is key here (circled blue) he is the CM-d and holds his position. Both Inverted Wingers move forwards and come narrow alongside CM-s Pogba forming a nice 4-1-3-2.

This will be my starting tactic for my #FM20 FC Pripyat save. I may tweak some things a little, for example, Oleg Kuznetsov very often stepped out of the defensive line to carry the ball into midfield. While his centre back partner, Sergi Baltacha (father of the late British tennis player Elena Baltacha) was often sat much deeper as a Sweeper. It may be too much to ask fourth-tier players to do this so I will implement that over time perhaps. I’m still to be totally convinced on the two striker roles but I will keep this under review.

Finally a little word of thanks to Dan Gear for taking the time to read around a bit and help come up with this. I’ve listed below some words of advice from the best manager Bolivia ever had.

  • Watch early games slower and on at least comprehensive
  • Highlight important players and watch them (the midfield in this case)
  • Pause at turnovers in possession see where everyone is.
  • Play in FM touch so that familiarity, or lack of it, isn’t an issue.
  • Play 10 games then make small changes
  • Play another 10 games and monitor the changes.
  • Give yourself 50 matches for the tactic to be finally right.

If you have made it this far thanks very much for reading. If you haven’t a clue what is going on you can read earlier posts here.

You can find me on twitter here and I will also be providing sporadic updates about the save and various other things on my slack channel #fmeadster.

You can also follow Ruslan Chepiga on twitter.

Over and out




Author: fmeadster

Long time Football Management Simulator player.

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