Welcome to the fourth episode of my series “It’s (probably not) coming home. In episode three England, guided by FMRensie, secured top spot of their qualifying group and were handed the group of life in the Euros.
The next manager to take up this rather important mantle is Oliver Jensen aka @fmfutbolmanager. I first came across Oliver Jensen’s work as a guest author on FMRensie’s website, but he has now set up his own very successful site called There’s only one ball. Here you can find all sorts of FM content, from tactics, guides, save updates, and even a coach calculator. It really is well worth checking out. As ever the words below are written by Oliver Jensen. I will then round things off with some observations of my own.
I have to say I’m a little nervous picking up the first two matches for this series! I have been an avid reader, and I have really enjoyed reading about how different players have approached the squad and their tactics for the matches. Hopefully, I won’t let anyone down.
The Assistant Manager had already picked the squad ahead of the group games, which commence in two game days. Because of this, I have not been able to choose my own squad, but that is probably a good thing.
The first thing I do is head to the Squad screen to check out who has been selected for us, and I am delighted to see that my squad view from my Stade Rennais save is there waiting for me.
With this familiar sight, it is easy for me to become acquainted with who we have. I can already see that we have a pretty balanced squad in terms of the positions the players can play in.
I have no concerns about being able to wedge these players into the tactic, so let’s head straight into my thought process for that.
Following a quick glance at the squad to see what we’re working with, the second thing I do is head to the Tactics screen. I clear the three tactics already loaded and load my Stade Rennais tactics into the vacated slot.
FMFM Balanced 4-3-3 FM20 v6.1
My primary tactic. This is a balanced and straightforward tactic that I have been using at Rennes with some success. I don’t imagine needing to switch tactics over the two games so I will adjust this one as I see fit as we go.
Efficient. If I needed one adjective to describe this system, it’s efficient. Doesn’t concede many shots. Scores goals. Keeps possession. Think Louis van Gaal, just with a little more oomph.
It aims to play a very relaxed and possession-oriented style, keeping the ball from the opposition and working hard to create good quality chances. All the while, restricting the opposition to chances at the other end.
The key to this system is the complete wing-backs and the defensive midfielder. The wide men are the guys who need to give us an outlet and unpredictability on the wings to cause an imbalance in the opposition defence. The defensive midfielder recycles possession, makes searching key passes through the lines and switches the attack from one side to the other.
So, who do I see as my ideal starting XI?
Pickford in goal. Suits the sweeper-keeper role and is better than the other two. To be honest, I don’t really expect to need him much.
Trent Alexander-Arnold is perfect for the right side. I’m super excited to get to work with him for my matches. I cannot wait to see what he can do in this system.
However, it is the left that leaves me feeling a little worried. I see that Ondrej has had similar thoughts, too. Since I cannot change those who have already been called up, it’s a straight shootout between Danny Rose and Ben Chilwell; not an easy decision.
In the end, I have chosen Ben Chilwell for the first match, despite Rose relishing big matches, being statistically superior and having the advantage mentally.
The complete wing-backs will also take all throw-ins on their respective sides.
The central defence was an easy one. Harry Maguire prefers to start on the left of a two-man pairing (player profile > development > tactics) so he will take the central defender position. He also has good jumping reach. His partner on to the right will be ball-playing defender John Stones.
Harry Maguire will be placed on the end of all corners, and free-kicks crossed into the box. His jumping reach being a deciding factor here, so I will be looking for him to cause the opposition problems from dead-ball situations.
I only really have one choice in the squad to play my single-pivot role. Declan Rice will be my Deep Lying Playmaker. He will sit at the base of the attacks, being an outlet to recycle and retain possession, playing passes through the lines and keeping things ticking over. I expect him to be seeing most of the ball in terms of passes, key passes and passes received.
Choosing a central midfield was tough, but I’ve gone with Harry Winks as my box-to-box midfielder on the right of the pair. His primary function will be to keep the ball moving and be around the edge of the box for any long-shot opportunities.
Alongside him, my main creator in the final third I’ve somewhat controversially gone for James Maddison. I was close to picking Dele Ali, but Maddison has all the key attributes I want from this role: dribbling, first touch, passing, vision, flair, technique and agility all being 15 or above. If this is the sword I shall fall upon, then so be it.
With James Maddison also having 15 technique, 16 corners and 17 free-kick taking, he is on all set pieces.
Did I mention he has high dribbling, agility and balance? He should be close to the top for dribbles. I love a central midfielder driving forward through the lines with the ball. In the advanced playmaker role, he will be encouraged to do this.
On the wings, I like to have two technically brilliant players, who can run and get on the end of the ball from crosses. Unfortunately, our wingers are not blessed with jumping reach above 9, so I’m not sure we will be getting many headers in. Marcus Rashford left and Raheem Sterling right. I don’t think there’s much controversial with this. Jadon Sancho is a good backup for either side.
Harry Kane completes the first XI for me. It was a decision between him and Tammy Abraham. I am not sure how the striker role will work out during this tournament. At Rennes, the better we are a team got, the less influential the striker became.
Time will tell…
Failing to plan is planning to fail
Arguably the most comfortable match of the group. With no Preview available for the tournament I cannot see the tournament odds to see where they rank. Still, I would assume not above Scotland or Sweden.
Harry Winks and Sterling lack match sharpness so I’ll need to keep an eye on their condition as the match progresses.
I did receive a pre-match report on Slovenia, but I am not too concerned about their strengths and weaknesses as We Are England and we should have enough about us to win.
Jan Oblak is the only player who concerns me. Goalkeepers have a habit of winding me up, and when you’re facing one of the best in the world, then the chances of that happening are increased.
The lads before me absolutely smashed it, FMPressure, Diego Mendoza and FM Rensie. I hope I don’t let you down.
The first 49 seconds of the match saw Slovenia pinging the ball about like peak Barcelona. I’m not kidding. I was starting to think I should have maybe done a little preparation. However, I don’t think any amount of preparation could have prepared me for what was about to happen in the 50th second. Not prepared.
I don’t know what danger Trent Alexander-Arnold saw here. Still, clearly his life depended on ensuring Verbic didn’t get past the seven red shirts of England out wide on the left. My dream of working with him was short-lived, but I’ll remember those 50 seconds forever.
I scurried through the playbook to see if I had perhaps accidentally told him to use both feet when tackling. But nope, just regular tackles would have been fine.
89 minutes to go and down to 10 men.
As I frantically scribbled 10 man systems down on a piece of paper to work out what we could do, we proceeded to play the next 10 minutes without a right-back. I’d forgotten to press pause and was no further in my quest for a backup system. This isn’t something I had planned for.
It seems the team didn’t really miss having a right-back and our first big chance of the game fell to Harry Kane who, expectantly, fluffed his lines. Great save or bottled finish? You decide.
From the resulting corner, Harry Maguire had a header cleared from the line. I had picked him specifically for his aerial ability at set-pieces. This wouldn’t be his only chance of the match, I just need him to keep getting that beautiful head of his on the end of those crosses.
When I realised the game was still going, about 10 minutes after the red card, Rice made way for Kyle Walker, and we were lined up in a 4-2-2-1 system. Realistically, we didn’t need a defensive midfielder in this sort of match, anyway.
James Maddison was a thorn in their side with some excellent mazy runs and brilliant passes through the lines. His work on the left with Chilwell was creating some good chances for us.
John Stones had the ball in the back of the net on 47 minutes from a corner right on the stroke of half time, but Daniele Orsato decided an infringement had occurred after consulting his VAR TV on the half-way line. Harry Kane pushing Jan Oblak out the way apparently. You just cannot touch ‘keepers in today’s game.
But despite a lot of huffing and puffing, the scores were level at half time. Sterling had picked up a knock in the last couple of minutes which is just what I needed. There won’t be much of an England squad left after I’ve finished here if this carries on.
Nevertheless, Sterling isn’t injured enough to come off, so he heads out with the rest of the boys for the second half.
On 50 minutes we finally break the deadlock through Harry Maguire. An excellently worked set-piece. From the right, a short throw to Maddison is turned to Rashford who crosses to Maguire for a simple header in. I always have my best (at least in terms of jumping reach) centre half up for throw-ins for this very reason. 1-0. It’s coming home, baby!
Most of the threat from Slovenia came from set-pieces. Something I might look at after this game to see if we can better protect ourselves against the Swedes. I fear they might be a little better with their deliveries. Something to ponder.
Talking of deliveries, Maddison is pretty good at them, as proven by a sweet corner delivery onto Maguire’s head on 77 minutes to make it 2-0 to England.
With the game wrapped up, I called Sterling off and smothered him in bubble wrap in the hope that he might make the next match against Sweden. Annoyingly, Rashford also got injured, pulling his knee ligaments which will see him out for anywhere between 10 days and three weeks. Sorry to whoever picks up the next two matches.
Much to ponder. Three key players out and the press were quite rightly questioning Harry Kane drawing a blank and the horror tackle from TAA. I remind them of the score using my fingers as I exit the press conference.
Pick that bones out of that one. We go again.
Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible.
Watching back the tapes of Sweden’s 2-3 loss to Scotland in the other match of the group didn’t really tell me much. Two of the goals they conceded were set pieces, and we know Harry Maguire can do the business there, so that doesn’t change anything unless we play for them. Maybe.
The two goals they scored were also set pieces: A penalty and a free-kick. After searching frantically for the training tab, I realise that we don’t train? I cannot schedule set-piece delivery, attacking corners and attacking free-kick sessions. No match boosts, just good old fashioned English grit and determination. It’ll have to do, but why don’t we do any training?
On the eve of the game, an ex-England star demands we show plenty of passion in the upcoming match. If that isn’t Stuart Pearce, I’ll eat my hat! Still, he’s given my team talk for me.
Quick pick > Clear > Clear entire team selection
With a blank canvas to work with I know the tactics we will use. I know them inside out. It’s the 11 that I need to fit into them that have kept me awake at night. Rashford and Trent Alexander-Arnold are both missing.
Kyle Walker will slot onto an otherwise unchanged backline with Rice getting another shot at lasting more than 10 minutes on the pitch, through no fault of his own, of course.
Oxlade-Chamberlain replaces Winks as the box-to-box midfielder. I want some long-range shots from this role and Winks didn’t really give me that. Sancho replaces Rashford on the left.
All other positions remain. I remind the lads of Stuart’s words and send them out.
Just two minutes into the game and Sweden had easily unlocked our defence. A long ball over Kyle Walker’s head landing at the feet of Emil Forsberg who forces Pickford to make a good save.
“Show some passion,” I bellow from the sideline. “Show some bloody passion.”
It worked. 10 minutes later, we were a goal to the good. We were forced back out from a corner, but the Sweden defence forgot to pick up Maddison who was excellently found by Sancho. Lovely goal. Come on!
Minutes later, and it was two. Kyle Walker excellently gliding past the Sweden defenders and laying it on a plate for Harry Kane to tap home from a couple of yards out. Simplicity. This management lark is easy.
The rest of the half went by with little action. Walker and Sterling on the right were impressive but couldn’t quite open up the defence for a third before half time.
As the lads were sucking on their quartered oranges (half-time if you’re not from the UK), I reviewed the match stats. We’d only managed seven shots on goal with only four of those being on target. We were comfortably winning, but there seemed to be a disconnect between the midfield and attack.
We had 63% of the ball, but just having the ball wasn’t enough, we needed to do more with it. I decided to up the tempo a little to see if we could make something happen in the second half to get the fans off their seats.
Other than that, nothing more to do other than assertively tell the lads not to get complacent and send them on their way. We just had to see out the next 45 minutes for two very ordinary, but comfortable victories.
I won’t bore you with the details, but the second half was a bit of a damp squib. Which is fine. We had 60% of the ball, 16 shots to their 4 so we were in control, but it was another ordinary game.
I’ve not hit continue, so Scotland vs Slovenia hasn’t been played yet. A win for Scotland and we qualify. The final match against them would be for pride (and the top spot). But I will leave that honour to the next manager.
Thanks for having me.
I think OJ has done a good job describing his system and what he is hoping to see. I guess the standout thing for me was the extraordinary sending off for Trent Alexander-Arnold after one minute, and how this caught OJ out somewhat.
I thought I’d write a little bit about my approach to having a man sent off. In this instance OJ changed very little. He removed the DM and brought in a new RB, deciding to keep his wide men high up the pitch.
Personally no matter what formation I start with, if I have a man sent off, I always revert to a flat 4-4-1. Nothing earth shattering here, but, I do not sit back and try and get through the rest of the game. I instead go on the outright offensive, meet fire with fire. Chepiga wouldn’t want to do it any other way.
You can see below the tactic I currently use in my Pripyat save should I go down to 10 men. I keep it in one of my tactical slots so my players are, at least a little bit familiar with it should I need it. Similar to what OJ did I remove the DM from this formation, everything else remains the same.
Having introduced my super tactic I decided to go back and look at some games when I used it to show you all how clever I am…
So, ahem, yeah, one draw and four defeats, make up your own mind. Or go check this article out from FMRensie instead.
A bit of DP (Double Playmakers)
There is a school of thought out there that using two playmakers within one system can be problematic and lead to your play being too slow, or predictable. In OJ’s system we see that he uses Declan Rice as a deep lying playmaker and James Maddison as an advanced playmaker. OJ has asked Declan Rice to take more risks, and James Maddison to get further forward, and roam from position. I think the addition of these player instructions do negate some of the issues when playing two playmakers. Maddison will be looking for pockets of space further forward, while Declan Rice should play a bit more expansive from deep, hopefully finding his fellow playmaker in advanced positions, the Inside forwards, or indeed even the complete wing-backs.
Above I have selected the passes completed by both playmakers. Declan Rice (6) keeping the ball moving just inside his own half. Whereas James Maddison (8) is playing a lot of longer passes especially out to the flanks where the complete wing backs Chilwell, and especially Walker were finding a lot of space.
This observation is further backed up when you look at both teams heat map, by playing two playmakers England gained total control of the centre of the pitch and as a result the attacking third of the right flank.
This is further illustrated when you look at the pass combinations of the match against Sweden. Declan Rice, number 6, is clearly a vital lynch pin in this system. Note Kyle Walker (12) is basically playing in the right wing position and James Maddison (8) is right up with the ‘lone’ forward.
Across both games England attempted 832 passes and completed 709 of them, enjoying 60% percentage of the ball against both sides, despite playing one game with ten men.
When I looked at some of the Team Instructions selected I thought that perhaps the tactic would struggle to make chances but this wasn’t the case in these two games. England out shot their opponents 50 shots to 11, creating 5 clear cut chances and only conceding one.
As Oliver Jensen himself said, “Think Louis van Gaal, just with a little more oomph.”
Is it coming home?
England have now qualified for the second phase of Euro 2020 after two routine wins in their first two games. A game against the auld enemy awaits to decide who tops the group of life (D).
The next community manager will have this game and the first knockout round to play. The FMpressure continues to ramp up, who will finally fail, or will football, finally, come home?
If you have made it this far many thanks for reading. As we wind down towards the end of the FM Cycle I intend to finish this series, and perhaps two more seasons at Pripyat. Hopefully by then FM21 fever will be in full swing.
In the meantime stay alert.
Over and out FMEADSTER!