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FM 2017: Tactical Solutions to Stay Ahead of the AI
Having played Football Manager or Championship Manager from its early glorious days in 96/97, I have pretty much seen it all in terms of the games' evolution. In the almost 20 years from then to the latest release this year I have toyed with many a different tactical approach generally mirroring the in vogue tactical approach of that era. 4-4-2 was the 'sexy new tactic' of 1996 where familiarity and consistency reigned supreme in the tactical world. Generally you found your tactic and stuck to it throughout many seasons with personnel being one of the only changing factors to the approach and this was the remedy to success. Oh how things have changed since then!
In the following piece I will give an overview of my tactical approach with West Ham and how simple tweaks can have a huge impact in terms of staying ahead of the in built AI.
Why West Ham?
West Ham were an attractive outfit to me for a number of reasons. Firstly, they are club steeped in history but are starved of major success recently so there was plenty of scope to grow. Secondly, Dimitri Payet....say no more! Thirdly - the new stadium. Despite me actually hating this stadium in 'real life', in the game the vast London Stadium provides a great new platform for an increased fanbase which brings massive new revenue streams. The new stadium also plays a huge part in attracting new reputable talent to the club. Location of West Ham played a major factor also with players that value quality of life being ever more attracted to the bright lights of London.
You are greeted with a modest budget of £6million so there is a bit of wheeling and dealing required to bring in the players you would like. That said this West Ham squad boasts plenty of talent with the likes of Andre Ayew, Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini leading the way.
My aim was to bring back the eye-catching pleasing quick football that West Ham fans crave. My plan was to have 2 differing tactical approaches, one aimed for home matches and one differing approach for away games. This requires versatile, intelligent players which West Ham had plenty of and I also planned to add to this through the acquisition of some new faces.
Home Tactic 4-1-2-3
Designed to be expansive with wide quick wingers swinging early whipped crosses in for an intelligent striker to get on the end of.
To suit these tactical approaches i needed the right players. Having secured almost £34million through the sales of Andy Carroll & Diafro Sakho I brought in Domagoj Vida for the CB role and Mattia De Sciglio from AC Milan to shore up the right back position.
High intensity quick passing play was the style I was going for which was achieved thorugh the below tactical instructions. Payet & Felipe Anderson (an absolute gem!) provided the skill and pace on the wings to provide for Simone Zaza & January signing Paco Alcacer to bang in the goals.
Away Tactic 4-2-3-1
The away tactic I went for is almost a stripped back version of my home tactic designed to be stable, organised and pragmatic in its approach. Setting up on the counter attack, pressing much more and with width and also instructions to swing early crosses is purely an intention to soak up pressure and catch teams with devastating counter attacks. This proved to be particularly effective against the so-called top sides.
Season 1: This tactical approach brought about a modest 8th place league finish but these tactics brought great cup success with a 2-0 FA Cup final victory over Arsenal and an agonising 2-1 defeat to Fenerbahce in the Euro Cup Final. An encouraging start with this tactical approach.
Season 2: Tactical Tweaks
An 8th place finish didn't satisfy me in season 1 so I set about trying to get ahead of the AI to keep the game guessing and ensure success. Tinkering around with formations can be a last resort after you realise you are in a rut. The key in this seasons game is to make a tweak before the rut sets in. Simple tweaks to instructions can make a huge difference. For season 2 I brought in Romelu Lukaku up front. Taking account each individuals attributes and tailoring tactics to their strengths is absolutely crucial and Lukaku flourished under this approach. The little tweak i made was to go direct and begin games in standard mode as opposed to control. With this I found my team settled better especially at home, soaking up a little bit of pressure early doors to dominating from there on. I would normally change to control early in home games depending on how the team were doing.(See below for full instructions)
I kept my away shape exactly the same as it had worked a treat in season 1. All that changed was to go more direct to get the best out of Lukaku. All instructions otherwise remained the same.
Season 2: This was a highly successful season with West Ham claiming a 3rd place finish in the Prem guaranteeing Champions League Football after a run that at one stage had me convinced we would go all the way only for this to fade late in the season. A triumphant end to the Euro Cup beating Napoli 5-0 in the final this time round however as this distinctive Home/Away tactical approach continued to bear fruit in Europe.
West Ham Transfers (3 Seasons)
Season 3: Tactical Overhaul
Sensing the team stagnating and running out of steam towards the end of the previous season, I took the decision that a tactical overhaul might be the best course of action. We were limping to 1-0 home wins and sometimes being caught out by defensive mid to low level teams countering us and snatching wins. I put this down to the team tiring as a result of pressing for one and also the in game AI catching up with my tactics. With this in mind and pumped by the signing of Roberto Firmino, I went with a 4-3-3 approach. This was to be very fluid and attacking at home aimed at catching teams with high octane football early in matches. Again looking at individual attributes I decided to make the most out of my full backs (Ricardo Rodriguez & De Sciglio) attacking prowess and instructed the team to look for overlaps. These two ended the season with a massive amount of assists in a free-scoring side.
To help endure the pressing tactic for the coming season I prepared gruelling intense pre-season coupled with a number of friendlies against top sides such as Juve and Barca. This seemed to do the trick as we had an electric start to the season with the first 3 home games ending 6-0, 5-0 and 7-0 in my favour!
Season 3: This tactic proved to be a huge success in both the Premier League & Champions League. Again we mounted a title challenge only to fall behind a mighty Man Utd side. Europe was a major success story bringing my West Ham side to the brink of Champions League glory only to fall at the final hurdle limping to an honourable 2-0 defeat to Barcelona.
In conclusion I can't stress enough just how important tactical awareness is in FM17. As mentioned above little tweaks at the right time can have a major bearing in influencing your sides fortunes as the AI in the game kicks in and begins to read your tactics. The most difficult element in this may be knowing when to implement a change to change your teams influence. Trial and error is the best course of action here and trust me you'll enjoy every moment of this game as you tinker to find your best formula.