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Football Manager 2023: Recreating real tactics in FM23 using pass maps

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The introduction of the datahub in Football Manager 2022 has helped a lot of us, who are addicted to analytics, to incorporate data and analysis into our decision-making in FM. The section includes numerous graphics from maps to scatterplots, illustrating all kinds of information about your team’s performance and style. While this has helped the user gain a more detailed perspective of how their team is playing, when related to real life, it can also be used as a guide to creating and developing your tactics.

Pass maps have been in Football Manager for many years, often being displayed in post-match reports. However, with the introduction of the datahub, they have become more detailed and realistic than ever. These maps have numerous functions, from illustrating the volume of combinations amongst your players to displaying their average positions. From a broader perspective, though, they can indicate a team’s entire playing style. While this is essentially translated into tactics, it represents the broader philosophy of football a manager believes in. From structured and systematic styles such as Pep Guardiola to socio-affective and spontaneous principles such as Fernando Diniz, there are various schools of thought in football.

In Football Manager, we often like to recreate our favourite team or manager’s tactics. While formations and possession styles can sometimes get us there, pass maps are much more useful in getting the full picture. The overall structures created in these maps provide a complex insight into a team’s tactics, from collective behaviour to individual roles. This article aims to provide a detailed guide to recreating real-life systems in FM by exploring a few distinct examples.

Fernando Diniz and Luciano Spalletti

Under Fernando Diniz, Fluminense have gained international attention as a result of their extremely distinct style of football. This style has received a strong cult following, especially on Twitter. It represents a lost connection to classic football, where systems fell behind individuals. More specifically though, these styles of tactics are characterised by their fluidity and socio-affective nature. At first glance, this can be quite difficult to replicate in FM. However, with pass maps, it is not so difficult.

Formations are not necessarily are not as important as the overall structure. The structure, which can be seen in the pass map below, can be created from numerous formations. It is characterised by a few factors. First, the fullbacks are the ones maintaining width. Most significantly though, in the midfield, the remaining six players are clustered around each other. This narrow structure, with extreme proximity, goes hand-in-hand with the team’s collective behaviour in possession.

At Napoli, Luciano Spalletti has adopted a similar system. As seen in their own pass map below, the same structure is maintained, with the fullbacks maintaining width and players clustered around the middle. This system has seen Napoli rise to the top of European football, but most importantly, it has seen their individuals shine in their own respective.

In FM23, I attempted to recreate this system with Atalanta using the pass map as a guiding tool. While there are many more tweaks to make, the general idea is already there. The fullbacks are maintaining width in an advanced position while the rest is squeezed inside. There is a slight disconnect between the two sides, so I am currently working on getting them closer. At any rate, the proximity and connection are still there.

I used a tactic posted by Alex Stewart on Twitter to recreate this. The fullbacks are set as wing-backs in order to get the advanced width they must provide. Ahead of the backline, there are three lines of two, with a balance between defend, support, and attack duties. This is done in combination with the instruction to remain narrow and progress through the middle with short high-tempo passes. These instructions combined with the roles ensure the players remain concentrated in the central channels as seen in the pass map. The instructions also ensure the team dominates possession and adopt a controlled approach to possession.

There are a few general rules to follow when trying to recreate Diniz and Spalletti’s tactics in Football Manager, but there is still ultimately a lot of freedom. The roles can also be adapted and best suited to the individuals. The structure in the middle can also be adapted to best suit the team at hand. At any rate, using pass maps as a guide, we are able to select the instructions, roles, and positions in order to recreate this style of play.

Mikel Arteta

Next up is Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal. The Gunners currently sit at the top of the Premier League while playing an entertaining brand of football. Before taking over Arsenal, Arteta was Pep Guardiola’s assistant at Man City and is consequently a disciple of the former Barcelona manager. While there are numerous principles of Guardiola’s philosophy in Mikel’s Arsenal, it has a much more human feel to it. With players like Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko shining after moving to the Emirates, Arteta’s system has much more flexibility to suit the individual.

The Gunners’ heatmap below further illustrates this system. There are certain aspects of Guardiola in this, such as the structured and predetermined distribution of players. However, it seeks to accommodate each player’s characteristics. For instance, Zinchenko is allowed to go into the midfield and explore his playmaking ability while Kieran Tierney looks to remain wide and get further forward. Also, with a fluid and rotational nature, players like Gabriel Jesus are allowed to float as they wish. At any rate, they always look to maintain balance in a 4-3-3 structure.

I attempted to recreate a similar structure with Real Madrid. The 4-3-3 is used as a guide while certain principles are maintained. Most importantly, the width maintained by both of the wide players creates a 7v3 shape, with the three midfielders being surrounded by the remaining players. As in the previous example, there are further tweaks to be made in order to create a more similar structure. Nonetheless, the general idea is still there.

The tactics I used can be seen below. Maintaining possession is ensured with a positive mentality and shorter passing. However, running at the defence and passing into space is still selected in order to enhance the creativity of the likes of Vini Jr. and Luka Modrić. This overall balance is not only maintained by the instructions but also by the players’ duties.

Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal symbolises balance. The overall structure can be met by deploying a traditional 4-3-3 with width and depth. The positional rotation can be difficult to recreate, especially with such a structured and wide shape. Nonetheless, the general ideas are still there.

Pep Guardiola

The final example sees us reach the opposite end of the spectrum. Pep Guardiola is famous for his systematic and rigid structure. With a positional play philosophy, the players are optimally distributed throughout the pitch while the team aims to control possession. In this system, dominating possession is necessary in order to maintain maximum organisation and control.

The initial formation is not important as the desired 2-3-5 or 3-2-5 structures can be created in multiple ways. Their pass map below further illustrates this organisation. The key thing here is the front five, as it ensures maximum width and depth. In this case, it is done from a 4-3-3 where the wingers remain wide, and the central midfielders push up. In the back, the fullbacks can drift inside to join the defensive midfielder and create a 2-3 shape. Another option can be one of the fullbacks staying deep while the other joins the midfield and creates a 3-2 shape. The options are endless, and you can use what best suits your players.

With this one, I have been struggling a bit more to recreate. The structure is much more symmetric and defined than the previous one but recreating the front five is a bit difficult. Additionally, I need to play around more with the fullback instructions in order to create a defined 3-2 or 2-3 structure. Again though, the general principles and ideas are still there. The team seeks to dominate possession and create defined and balanced passing lanes. Numerous triangles are created in a perfectly symmetric way.

The tactics are quite straightforward. Both wingers are set on a traditional winger role in order to maintain width. The defensive midfielder is set as an anchor in order to be the focal point of their structure in possession, similar to Rodri’s role at City. To ensure control of possession, most of the players are set on support. As far as instructions, they all lean towards heavy possession and disciplined structure, without much room for deviation. Of course, it may come with a lack of individual brilliance or creativity.

After starting with Diniz, we reach the opposite end of the spectrum with Pep Guardiola. Guardiola’s system has a much more controlled and disciplined structure. The overall structure in the pass map is much more symmetric and balanced than the other structures. In addition to the structure, this system also seeks to dominate possession and maintain maximum organisation.

Conclusion

With the recent introduction of the datahub, pass maps are more useful than ever. They can be especially helpful when used as a guide to replicate real-life tactical systems. From fluid socio-effective systems to disciplined and symmetric structures, the pass map perfectly illustrates how and where a team plays.

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