It’s (probably not) coming home. Episode two. Diego Mendoza and the 4-2-3-1 Narrow

Welcome to the second instalment of my mini series, “It’s (probably) not coming home” where I ask members of the FM community to take charge of the England national team and guide the country to glory at Euro 2020, or not. If you missed the first episode with FMPressure you can find it here.

In my introduction to the series I said I wanted to bring people on who are well known for a particular style of play. So, who better than Club and Country aficionado, Diego Mendoza to take his turn managing the three Lions. Famous for club and country saves most notably with Caracas and Venezuela,and who could forget the Club World Champions, Al Ahli, of Libya (See a highlights package of this triumph here, as prepared by TedRedwood). If you do not already follow Diego on twitter, then please do. As ever he can be found off the beaten track in FM20 in Japan with Albirex Niigata.

After FMPressure put England on the brink of qualification it is up to Diego to finish the job against Montenegro before returning to England for a friendly with Nigeria. The words below were written by Diego, before I return at the end for a little tactical analysis.

Overview – Diego Mendoza

As many of you know I don’t really manage in England, especially the national side but I thought the opportunity to get involved with a project like this was too good to pass up. Especially when the person I was following was the one and only Pillar* of the Community, FM Pressure.

Now as much as I respect Pressure for his tactical knowledge and his general ability at Football Manager, his tactics were the first thing in the bin as from day one Mendoza stamped his authority on this squad. The team had a week to learn Mendoza ball before taking on a potentially tricky trip to Montenegro in the EURO 2020 qualifiers. The question was which team would be travelling to Eastern Europe and what was the logic behind the 23 that’d be accompanying Mendoza before returning home to play Nigeria at Wembley.

Injuries had robbed former manager FMPressure of Harry Kane and he was the first person back into the squad with some guy called Callum Wilson dropped. Elsewhere in the squad I removed a few others he’d called up for the previous encounter against Kosovo and Bulgaria and went about working out who I needed. England were going to be playing in the classic M-Anchor formation with the key players being the Complete forward, the advanced playmaker and the shadow strikers. We’d press high, run hard and fast, not muck around and hopefully put Montenegro and then Nigeria to the sword.

In Harry Kane you have a great complete forward and his ability in the air is particularly important in how I like to play this year. Leonardo Campana has done a great job as a Complete Target man for Albirex this season and I expect Harry Kane to be even better. His primary job is to boss the opposition defenders, bring the three attacking midfielders into play and of course score goals. Another area that I’ve been looking at a lot more since my brief time managing Morpeth in the NPL E-Cup is looking at long throws and what they can bring to my game. England will be no different as I get my full backs to launch a few balls into the box to see what damage Kane can cause. I looked to bring Andy Carroll in as a backup for Harry but he was having none of it as he didn’t think he was fit enough. Even my pleas wouldn’t change his mind so I made the call that if needs be Rashford can try and play the role should Kane not be able to manage both games.

Complete Target Man

At Advanced Playmaker I was surprised at how few English advanced playmakers there were, James Maddison was the one that stood out. He’d already impressed for FMPressure against Bulgaria and I decided to retain him but push him further forward to play in the hole. His set piece taking was also of particular importance as Montenegro were likely to play defensive against us which would make goals from open play that much harder and make the importance of creating opportunities from quality set pieces all the more important.

Another player also retained from FMPressure’s original squad was Phil Foden as he could ably back up Maddison albeit without the same set piece ability. As it was I decided to start him as a Shadow striker instead.

The attacking four are key to any of my successful sides in the past, and this was no different. I had the creativity, I had the grit and power, now all I needed was the superstars to steal the glory, the shadow strikers. Raheem Sterling was an obvious choice to play in the role as his pace and trickery would make us excellent on the counter or get on the end of crosses from our wingbacks. I wanted to complement a running shadow striker with a more powerful shadow striker who’d not be bullied in the box and hopefully be able to get his head on a few crosses. One of the things I struggle with in Japan is the lack of tall shadow strikers which leads us to be solely reliant on pace and trickery and not have that extra bit of power. In Delle Alli I have the man I think perfect to fit that role and he’ll hopefully give us that variety of options for attacks that is so important against defensive opposition. In terms of backups I’m taking Foden and Hudson-Odoi as back up running shadow strikers and Marcus Rashford as my back up power shadow striker.

The rest of the squad is there to assist getting the best out of the front four. Henderson and Rice are my options for BWM whilst Harry Winks and new boy Sean Longstaff will cover the CM-S position. We also have the Ox who’s come along for the ride. Defensively I’ve brought back Chris Smalling at the expense of Conor Coady. I wanted an old fashioned centre back that could cause problems with Harry Kane on set pieces and keep things simple rather than getting too fancy, I want to leave the fancy stuff to the attacking men. John Stones would play covering CB and then Harry Maguire and Joe Gomez would play backup to those two.

The attacking wingbacks that would see a lot of action were pretty easy to pick with Walker and Alexander-Arnold marshalling the right flank and Danny Rose and Luke Shaw down the left. Trippier and Chilwell missed out through injury. Goalkeepers, I just left as they were with Pickford likely to be number one, and I would rotate one of the other two against Nigeria. So with the squad decided on it was time to go and make Montenegro’s goalkeeper look like a god.

Eng v Mont
How England lined up against Montenegro.

Analysis – FM Eadster

So Mendoza’s England well and truly put Montenegro to the sword with an emphatic 5-0 victory – simple enough it would seem, but was it really? I am going to analysis the game looking at four factors that I believe were key in Mendoza’s win.

  1. Narrow formation
  2. Interplay between front four players
  3. The heavy pressing
  4. Long throw-ins

RESULT

NARROW v NARROW

It is not uncommon in world football for sides to sit deep and defend narrow, especially when faced with the might of the England national team. If bigger sides are not careful, they can become one dimensional and easy to defend against. I wondered if this would be the case here as both sides lined up in narrow formations. You can see from the heat map below that with the central areas very congested England ended up using the flanks much more than I would have envisaged looking at how Mendoza set his side up. Mendoza has used Complete Wing Backs on attack on both sides and while this may leave him vulnerable in defensive transitions this is placated by the additional width they offer going forward. It is important to ensure your tactic has as many routes to goal as possible, this is a theme across Mendoza’s tactics. It is not as one dimensional as you may think on first examination.

Heat maps

I captured the below image from the second minute of the game, but I really could have selected countless examples. In the image you can see how England’s focus on central play has dragged the Montenegrin defence narrower and narrower. In fact, all but one Montenegrin player can be found in the blue box in the middle of the pitch. This has left an extraordinary amount of room out wide on both flanks and England’s wing backs Danny Rose and Trent Alexander-Arnold are free to get forward and roam from their positions to find space and break through the tight Montenegrin defences.

England attack narrow 2
Narrow Montenegrin defence leaving lots of space for the England CWBs

One of the main issues with this plan is that Montenegro are giving up space to one of the best wing backs in world football, Alexander-Arnold, who finished the game with an assist and a 9.0 rating.

This example ended with Dele Alli playing in Alexander-Arnold who forced the goalkeeper into making a save.

TAA shot
TAA gets played in and fires a shot on target

I have decided to also highlight the same image in a different way. To show potential issues with committing your wing backs so high up, so early in a move. If Dele Alli lost the ball, Montenegro could expose the two England centre-backs to a three or four on two, with one simple ball out of defence into any of the blue circles highlighted.

England turnover
England’s high line and attacking wing backs can leave them exposed to quick counter attacks.

Shadow Strikers / Advanced Playmaker / Complete Forward

One of the things that interest me most about the M-Anchor is the relationship between the Shadow Strikers, the central playmaker, and the complete forward.

In this first example below, we can see England have pushed Montenegro back and Maddison (AP) has the ball in the crucial ‘golden zone’. England’s front four are set up nicely in an advanced diamond each offering the man on the ball a good passing option. I have highlighted the four options that Maddison can see.

  1. A simple through ball into Kane (CF) which would surely lead to a clear-cut chance.
  2. A riskier pass to the marked Sterling (SS)
  3. A simple ball retention pass to Winks (CM)
  4. A lofted pass to Alexander-Arnold (CWB) who is in Oceans of space once again.

Although nothing came of this attack this example was typical of how England attacked in this game. Giving an advanced playmaker as many good options as this should ultimately, across ninety minutes, lead to plenty of opportunities for your side.

AP options
Maddison has plenty of easy options on the ball

When we look at the complete forward, Mendoza is clear what he wants to see.

His primary job is to boss the opposition defenders, bring the three attacking midfielders into play and of course score goals.

The fact that Mendoza wanted to select Andy Carroll, and called the position the Complete Target Man, perhaps gives you some insight into what he is looking for here. Quick balls up to a strong, creative striker, not giving the opposition time to set into their defensive structure. Then overwhelming the defence with deep runners (the shadow strikers). If an attack breaks down the advanced playmaker can crowd the opposition ‘golden zone’ pinning them back and picking passes either to the Shadow strikers or Complete Forward. Failing that, the Complete Wing Backs will always be an option in this set up, as described earlier.

In this second example from early in the second half, England are set in their defensive phase and under some pressure. Joe Gomez has the option to play a long pass to Kane (CF) to immediately relive this pressure. In the image below you can see that the very second Gomez plays the ball England counter, as per the team instructions. Both Shadow Strikers are facing the opposition’s goal and sprinting forward along with Alexander-Arnold on the right-hand side. Interestingly Kane is facing his own goal offering himself as a pivot for the counterattack.

Long ball out
Kane being used as a Target for balls out of defence while runners from deep move forward

Later in the move we see Kane has dribbled out wide leaving the middle clear for the two on-rushing shadow strikers who remain unmarked as the opposition defenders are unsure whether to hold their line or step into midfield. Unfortunately, Kane’s cross was blocked but these two examples show how Mendoza’s Anchor can be effective in pinning the opposition back while also maintaining the ability to launch quick direct counter attacks.

counter options
Kane pulling wide leaves space for the shadow strikers

The Press

Mendoza-ball relies on a heavy press, the top-heavy formation is perfect to press high and pin the opposition back in their own third. With the relatively new tactical creator, achieving a high press is easier than it perhaps used to be. Simply by selecting the out of possession tab we can control every aspect of how the teams acts without the ball. So what does Mendoza select to achieve his high press.

out of possession selections
Out of possession Team Instructions
  1. Much Higher Defensive Line – by setting this as high as possible Mendoza is ensuring his England side defend far from their own goal thus automatically forcing Montenegro back.
  2. Much Higher Line of Engagement – this starts the press as high up the pitch as is possible. Mendoza’s front men are expected to harry the opposition into making a mistake or playing long balls which are easily picked off by the defence who are already positioned higher up the pitch.
  3. Tighter Marking – will also limit the passing options to the man on the ball as those players not involved in the press will stay closer to their opposition. This affords some protection to the press which is vulnerable if the balance is not right.
  4. Extremely Urgent Pressing – This is self-explanatory I feel. In for a penny in for pound, I guess.
  5. Prevent Short GK distribution – Using this instruction will encourage forward players to press the opposition defence to make it difficult for the opposition goalkeeper to play it short. Forcing him to play long should make it easier for England to regain possession quickly.

As you can see there are no half measures here and this strategy does not come without risk. A good team may be able to play around your initial press and expose your defence easily.

The image below shows how effective the press was in this match. England regained possession in the Montenegrin half 48 times. What surprised me was how often England won the ball in the oppositions defensive third of the pitch. You can clearly see the difference between where the two sides were winning the ball back.

GAINZ
England regained possession more often and higher up than their opponents.

How does this look in game? I have taken an example from the 57th minute of the game. Montenegro have just broken up an England attack and Bakic has the ball, facing his own goal. He is immediately pressed by Sterling from the left, and Henderson from the right. His visible passing options are extremely limited and easily intercepted by the English forward players who do not retreat, but instead look to counter-press, and mark their nearest opponent, as per the team instructions. In the end Bakic tries to turn on the ball, takes too long, and Henderson robs him in a dangerous position, starting another England attack.

Press
High press in action

So, you do all this, set up a lovely tactic that opens the opposition up, only for the opposition Goalkeeper to make sixteen saves. What do you do then? Thankfully, Mendoza had one more trick up his sleeve.

The Long Throw

I love a good long throw routine, if I were an actual football manager I would 100% be flinging the ball into the box as often as I could from long throws. However, sometimes on Football Manager I feel it can be an exceptionally fine balancing act between being ineffective, and perhaps being too effective and exploitive. I think Mendoza has found a nice balance with his routine below. You can see there is no exploit here, just intelligently positioned players.

THROW INS

England’s scored two goals in this game directly from a long throw. I have included a GIF Goal below of the second one. Shadow Striker, Sterling, who is set to go forward, manages to win the first ball, and finds Longstaff, lurking on the edge of the area, and the debutant fires home for his first England goal.

5039b83df76c7be78ffc529b743d6280
A debut goal for Longstaff

Is it Coming Home?

This emphatic victory has assured England of qualification to Euro 2020 with two games to spare. In fact, avoiding a calamity against Czech Republic, England are all but mathematically group winners. The qualifiers then finish with a trip to Kosovo. I’d like to thank Diego for taking the time to join in with this collab/succession save, in between managing the Japanese national team, Albirex, and Morepth. I plan to now pass the save onto the next member of the FM community before we all jet off around Europe.

tablee


FC Pripyat Update

I am now at the winter break of season five, if you haven’t managed to read about my main FM20 save you can find it here. It has been a bit up and down this season, our first in the second tier. All things considered I am happy with our mid table position. My next post will be out once the season has finished, hopefully we manage to survive, make some money, and start to really RE-build the club.

Winter Break Season 5

In closing, I hope you are doing well. These are strange times we are living through. It is important that we all look after, not only our physical health, but our mental health as well. Please don’t be afraid to reach out if you are struggling. As a society we need to learn to look out for each other better, perhaps the one good thing that can come out of this mess.

Over and out FMEadster

Author: fmeadster

Long time Football Management Simulator player.

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