This is the second part of the series, titled FM23: Match Analysis. The first part called, FM23: Data and Match Analysis to Enhance Team Tactics and Formations can be found here;
In the first part, we spoke more about what to do before a match and studied the weakness and strengths of the opposition. While also talking about general metrics and suggesting what could or couldn’t be wrong with something.
In this next part of the article, we study the actual football matches and use the data to refine our tactics and spot/fix potential issues before they happen. We also look at how we can use this data to evolve our systems and become even better.
FM23: Match Analysis
Match analysis can provide a more nuanced and qualitative understanding of a match that may not be captured by purely statistical data. For example, match analysis can help to identify patterns of play, tactical decisions made by managers and players, and the overall flow of the game. It can also help to identify key moments in the match that may have had a significant impact on the outcome, such as a red card or a penalty kick.
Additionally, match analysis can provide insight into the physical and mental states of the players, which can be difficult to quantify with data alone. This can include factors such as fatigue, injuries, and psychological factors such as confidence and motivation.
Overall, match analysis can offer a more complete picture of a football match, helping to understand not only what happened on the pitch, but also why it happened and how it impacted the outcome of the game.
First up I’m going to be looking at the matches just to see if I can spot any glaring issues before using the data to delve further. There are also three things from the first article I’ll be keeping an eye on here and those are;
- Not many final third passes attempted
- Low shot quality
- Defensive actions
The first two are likely issues, we determined that in the first article. The third one is a non-issue but just want to double-check.
FM23: Match Analysis – Final Third Creativity
Since we’ve switched to the possession-based system, we have favoured possession above all else. The main aim was to keep the ball as long as we could while maintaining a large number of passes. We’ve achieved that here but when watching games, it feels like we are lacking that creative spark in the final third.
For chances created we are all the way down to 13th in the table, which could be quite telling, especially based on the “feeling” I have when watching games.
As we can see here, for the final third passes we seem to be quite high with being 3rd on the table. What is interesting here is we are high for final third passes yet low for chances created. This seems to suggest that we are prioritising passing the ball over being creative with it. This could be down to a number of factors.
Perhaps it’s down to the players being unable to create chances and the players are poorer than I realise. It is possible, after all, I am attributeless. Let’s take a look;
For open-play key passes per 90, our central midfielder on support duty is ranked 4th. Which is pretty good considering.
Our advanced playmaker is ranked 15th for key passes per 90. Again this is decent for my side and where we are but still far behind a lot of other teams. A few of the teams have multiple players here, something I was hoping we would have. But this is likely part of the problem too that we are having. So far we seem reliant on specific players when I need other players on the side to help with the burden too.
For chances created by individual players, the advanced playmaker has ranked really high again, being 3rd in the table.
What we’ve learned up to now is we do have people creating but it mainly seems to be just two players. We need to perhaps look at spreading this load out more. But first, we need to look at how the others on the side hold up in the creative department.
We also don’t have many shots per game either, we rank 18th in the entire league. But for the percentage of shots on target from the shots taken, we rank 5th with 39% We clearly have issues and are painting a vivid picture of what is at fault here based on the stats.
Maybe our possession team instructions are too cautious now and not allowing us to take advantage of the opposition’s defensive line being out of sync or any positional advantage we have. It is possible we tend to take extra passes rather than releasing the ball to the attackers.
This is a reminder of the team instructions we are using;
- Much shorter passing
- Play out of defence
- Low crosses
- Dribble less
- Works ball into box
- Lower tempo
- Fairly narrow
Out of all of these team instructions, I think it’s only likely that the issue is two or three of them. Possibly all three of them combined. But I think much shorter passing might be making players dwell on the ball more and not being direct enough in their passing, which means we can waste good opportunities in favour of the pass.
Dribble less is an interesting one too as this could be one of the major factors at play here. We don’t allow players to dribble so maybe they can’t create the space we need or create chances themselves because again, we are telling them to pass the ball more than dribble with it.
The last one I think could be and the likely real issue at cause here is; works ball into the box. Again we are asking players to reign back the shots and take extra touches and passes to retain the ball.
Every team instruction I’ve mentioned so far is focused on encouraging more passes or touches over dribbling and taking shots. This suggests the gut feeling about us overplaying the ball is true. The next step now is to see if this is the case in the game and prove the gut feeling as a fact.
The majority of my pass maps are like the above. They show that we play centrally and then out to the wings and then back centrally. There aren’t many penetrations or pass combinations in the final third centrally. This is a real problem as we have two attacking midfielders who should be able to dominate here and dictate the game in the final third.
It seems that the central midfielders have all the influence and everything is going through them. That in itself isn’t a major issue but the fact the attacking midfielder and the advanced playmaker aren’t having the kind of influence I hoped, that’s a real issue. Not just because this is likely why we don’t create much as the team’s creativity is far too deep to do anything noteworthy. But more because how we are playing isn’t really matching the football philosophy I wanted.
Or maybe, it actually is but now I have something else in mind and need to evolve it. That’s probably a better way of looking at it here. At first, we wanted to retain possession at all costs because we didn’t have the players to compete with teams by allowing them the majority of the ball. Perhaps now, we need to take that next step and turn that possession into shots and goals rather than possession.
Before that though, I need to gather some screenshots from a few games to confirm why we aren’t creating much and what we can do to fix it.
Earlier on I mentioned the gut feeling we had about passing the ball around too much and taking extra touches. So here is an example of play I see happening 20+ times a game. I should note that I left it this long before investigating and fixing for the content and examples throughout this article. If you see something you are not happy with happening regularly, do not wait to investigate and potentially fix it. Try to sort the issue out before it becomes a major issue.
In the above image, the advanced playmaker receives the ball and is pushed out towards the wing, as that is the only free space he has. He’s also being double marked so he can’t really do much else. But even without that, if you look at the forward options he doesn’t actually have any realistic options, even if he was facing forwards.
The wingback is lagging behind play so in this scenario, he is only ever going to be a safe sideways/backward pass. Rather than playing a forward pass. Every single option to the wingback requires the wingback to run with the ball once he gets it, to create his own space and movement.
If the advanced playmaker could have got the ball to the striker, then that would have been wasted as he’s actually offside. So again not an option.
The central midfielder with a support duty is also marked so he isn’t an option either.
Options-wise, the attacking midfielder is interesting as he has lots of space and is unmarked. But he isn’t actively involved in play because the advanced playmaker is going towards the wings.
So if we refer back to the pass map above, you can now begin to see why we don’t really have forward passes deep in the opposition’s half. Due to the ball being played out to the wings, then back inside and backwards. With us being deep here then this is clearly a role issue. Yes, we have team instructions that tell us to retain the ball but even if they were not selected, it doesn’t really change the player positioning.
Using the right player roles and duties: Different player roles and duties can affect the way your team plays and the type of passes they will attempt. For example, using a “playmaker” role in midfield can encourage more creative passing, while a “support” duty for your fullbacks can encourage them to get forward and provide attacking options from deep areas.
What we see here is this playing out. The players are just doing what they’ve been instructed to do. We aren’t actually focusing on getting the ball forward with any real intent. This has a knock-on effect on everything else in the tactic and the way we play. When we started out retaining the ball above all else was fine. As we are now getting better, we need to be more proactive with it.
We might have just won the league but the context here is everything. We did it by being clinical with the chances we got which is fine. But then you remember we are passing the ball around more than other teams and struggle to create chances in general. Add this to the shot quality issue we mentioned in the last article too and we have real underlying issues.
We’ve been lucky this season for sure and the strong defensive unit gave us a chance. But what happens when we become less clinical, less solid defensively and create even fewer chances? We’d likely struggle and playing this way with those underlying issues is a disaster waiting to happen. When it all goes in your favour it’s fine but when it goes against you, we’d be in real trouble. The contrast between things going for you or against you is the difference between winning the league and struggling near the bottom. I’m not exaggerating when I say that. In a different season with not as much luck, we could have easily been fighting relegation. This is why I always bang on about the context of the match, statistics and everything in general.
All of our issues are linked and part of the same thing. You’ll have heard me mention before during my articles about the domino effect and how if a player is caught out of position then someone elsewhere on the side, has to cover and then that means someone has to cover for him and so on. This issue here is the same kind of principle. We are passing the ball sideways and backwards, we aren’t aggressive enough with our roles, and we aren’t creating much or taking many shots. It’s not a sustainable way of playing.
This all stems from what we are doing with the ball and the sideway passes, especially when our creative players who have creative roles are in possession of the ball.
Fixing The Issues
There are a number of options we can explore here to improve us as a team and create more chances and score more goals. So what are the options?
Risky approach: Working the ball into the box is a risky tactic, as it involves attempting to pass the ball through a congested and highly-defended area of the pitch. This can lead to turnovers and counter-attacks for the opposition, especially if your passes are not accurate or your movement is not well-coordinated.
Can lead to over-dependence on crosses: If your team is overly reliant on working the ball into the box, it can lead to a reliance on crosses from wide areas. While crosses can be effective at creating chances, they are also relatively low-percentage plays and can be easily defended against by well-organized defences.
If you don’t have players positioned correctly in the attacking phase then it can be quite tricky to retain the ball when you want to work the ball into the box. It can actually see an increase in bad-quality shots and crosses. If the players don’t have options then they’ll revert to these two things by default because what else can you do when you have no other options?
I’m sure my side has been impacted by this and the stats seem to suggest so too, especially with the low-quality shots we have. I could remove works the ball into the box team instruction. We don’t actually create many chances as it is, this will encourage us to take more shots if the player thinks that is the best option. This is likely to impact other areas of the tactic too, especially the player roles. The advanced playmaker might be more open to attempting through-balls without this team instruction activated.
The wingbacks might be happier to whip crosses into the box too or get to the byline and cut the ball back across the goal. I could also change the duty of one of the wingbacks and change it to attacking. That should make him a bit more advanced meaning the advanced playmaker can pass the ball to him in higher positions. Rather than what we see currently, sideways and backpasses. I feel it’s obvious but I’ll still mention it in case; if I do go this route then it’ll be the wingback on the right side of the pitch I change, as he is the one closest to the advanced playmaker.
If I’m more proactive in the final third then I also need to have players in positions to make use of this. Currently, I use an attacking midfielder on support duty. I could change his duty to an attacking one or I could consider changing his role. If we change the role, it kind of picks itself too as there aren’t many role choices. The roles that can be used in the AM slots are;
- Attacking Midfielder
- Advanced Playmaker
- Shadow Striker
From these options, we can eliminate most of them. We already use an attacking midfielder that is the role we are talking about changing. The same can be said for the advanced playmaker, the other attacking midfielder we use in the tactic currently has this role. I don’t feel this setup would work that well with two of them.
The enganche doesn’t feel like a good fit either and is more of a static playmaker, who will just sit and play the ball. I’m not sure this fits to sit alongside the advanced playmaker either. We need more of a runner and someone who can get high up the pitch and act as a second striker.
We could consider a trequartista but he’d likely detract from the advanced playmaker’s game because it can be quite a selfish role. What we want is to pick a role that compliments the advanced playmakers game not take away from it. The role needs to shine and because it’s a highly creative role, ideally he needs runners so he can create for them.
That leaves the shadow striker, who is basically a second striker and will constantly be inside the box. This will add another dimension to our setup, a much more aggressive and direct approach. It comes down to a choice between the shadow striker role or changing the duty of the current role, the attacking midfielder to an attacking one.
I’ve used the attacking midfielder role the entire of this save game so far and it’s done well. But now we are looking to move on from being a side that retains possession above all else and I’m looking to create an attacking identity. I think the shadow striker fits the new philosophy and will give us another direct goal threat. The role also compliments the attacking playmaker, which is a bonus.
In the first article I also said that an advanced forward was an option to use but the reason I didn’t, was due to liking the pressing element of the pressing forward. But if we remove works ball into the box and use a shadow striker, perhaps the advanced forward will be better now. In theory, he’d occupy the defenders and keep them busy while the shadow striker is making surging runs into the box. It just seems a better fit cohesively and each player does something specific that enhances the other roles in the side.
Defensive Actions And Pressing
Opposition passes per defensive action is a statistic that tracks the number of passes made by the opposing team (the team on the attack) for every defensive action made by the team being tracked. A defensive action can include tackles, clearances, interceptions, blocks, and other plays made by the defence that disrupt the opposing team’s possession.
This statistic is a way to measure the effectiveness of a team’s defence in terms of how well it is able to disrupt the opposing team’s passing game. A lower number of opposition passes per defensive action is generally considered to be a positive sign, as it suggests that the team’s defence is able to make more frequent and effective interventions to disrupt the opposing team’s passes. On the other hand, a higher number of opposition passes per defensive action indicates that the defence is not as effective at disrupting the opposing team’s possession and they are allowed to complete more passes.
The opposition passes per defensive action metric can also be attributed to a team’s press, which is a tactic that involves applying high defensive pressure on the opposing team in the early stages of their possession in an attempt to win the ball back quickly. Pressing can be an effective way to disrupt the opposing team’s passing game and prevent them from building up their attack.
When a team presses effectively, they can force the opposing team to make mistakes in their passing, rush their decisions, and limit the number of passes they can make before being dispossessed. The team that press can make the opposing team feel like they have no time or space to pass or build their attack, this is why the press can have a major impact on the opposition’s passes per defensive action metric.
A team that presses high and well can make their opposition make fewer passes, so the ratio of passes vs defensive actions will decrease. In other words, if a team that presses high and well manages to win the ball more frequently, this will decrease the amount of passes the other team is able to make.
We rank the highest in the league for OPPPDA so this shows that our press is working. But again this is an area where I feel the data perhaps doesn’t tell the whole story and my gut is telling me something else.
When watching games, at times, it looks like my players are charging around attempting to win the ball high up the pitch but is sometimes bypassed or unable to get to the player they are pressing. The data suggest we are fine though but I don’t think we are. Let’s have a look at the strengths and weaknesses of a high press;
- Forces mistakes: By applying intense pressure on the opposition’s players, a highly aggressive press can force them to make mistakes or play risky passes, which can lead to turnovers and scoring opportunities.
- Can win the ball back high up the pitch: A highly aggressive press can win the ball back in advanced areas, close to the opposition’s goal, which can create good scoring chances.
- Can disrupt the opposition’s build-up play: By pressing high up the pitch, a highly aggressive press can make it difficult for the opposition to build their attacks from the back and can force them to play more directly or play the ball long.
- Can leave your team exposed to counter-attacks: If the press is not executed well or if the opposition is able to play through it, it can leave your team vulnerable to counter-attacks and expose your defence to dangerous situations.
- Can be tiring: A highly aggressive press requires a lot of physical and mental effort from your players and can be tiring over the course of a game. This can affect your team’s performance in the latter stages of a match.
- Can be ineffective against well-organized defences: If the opposition is able to defend well and maintain their shape, a highly aggressive press may not be effective and can lead to gaps and openings in your own defence.
I’ve mentioned it a few times but you should always trust your gut feeling. Or at the very least, look more in-depth at what is making you have this type of feeling. I wanted to include this example because I think it’s important and highlights why you need to pay attention to what is happening in game. Again, focusing on the actual context.
In the above image the player closest to number 1, starts to close him down as we are using a very aggressive press. As soon as he moves to close him down, he passes the ball to number 2.
When number 2 receives the ball then my player immediately goes to shut him off too. But a simple pass to number 3 and they have the ball deep in my own half. Not only that but they’ve bypassed my entire midfield and initially have a 1v1 down here on my right.
Quite a number of factors can play into why this is happening though. Your press will work differently against all different types of shapes. Here, Santos is using a 4-2-3-1 formation and we are lining up in our usual 5-2-2-1 shape. Naturally, Santos has the advantage in wide areas and this is why our press is easy to play through as they’re using the width of the pitch.
This is why at times I feel my players are running about like headless chickens. But the data overall show we have a really good press on face value. But when our press fails like in the above example, we are left vulnerable. So what can I do about it?
One thing would be to pay more attention to what is happening during the game while it happens. If you see this happening in real-time, you can simply alter your press in general. As we use counter-press, I’d likely remove that and either leave it blank or ask the players to regroup. We’d still concede the same space but the two players who originally went to press the ball, would be in better positions centrally and able to pick up any runners.
If we regroup then I’m sure Santos will find it very difficult to attempt to play through us centrally. This also means any crosses from wide we would be better placed to deal with and we reduce the risk of counterattacks against us because player positioning is just better.
Other options would be to reduce the trigger press and try and engage the opposition in lower areas of the pitch instead. Again keeping our defensive shape allows us to stay compact. If I made this type of change I’d also move to a mid-block. I’d go mid-block as we have four central players with the two central midfielders and the two attacking midfielders. So we have the numbers to dominate the ball in a mid-block against the 4-2-3-1 formation.
If we played in a lower block we’d likely allow the wide players to see more of the ball and we already know, I struggle for numbers outside already. So we’d end up with too much pressure in a low block and that’s why a mid-block would be way more suitable. As that should allow you to cut off the supply to the wide players too.
There is still lots more to cover and we’ve only just scratched the surface so far in terms of data and analysis. But this seems like a good place to end this current article. Then in the next one, we can look at the changes made and see how they’ve impacted the shape and results. We can also have a lot more match analysis too as we discuss more issues.
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