In the introduction post for this Brescia Calcio save, we looked at why I’ve picked this team for my first foray into Football Manager 24, as well as the challenges I’ve set myself.
In case you haven’t read the intro, or need a quick recap, I’m aiming to equal, or better, the achievements of Urs Fischer and Franck Haise at Union Berlin and RC Lens respectively by using a 5-3-2 or a 5-2-2-1.
Now the full game has been released, I find myself in charge of Le Rondinelle (the swallows), a team who barring a few very brief saunters into Serie A, have been a fixture of Serie B.
The first challenge will be to try and achieve promotion in my debut season in charge. You can see from the below graphic that we’re predicted to finish 11th. This puts me at a slight disadvantage in comparison to my two adversaries:
- When Fischer took over at Union Berlin in 2018, they’d enjoyed 6th, 4th and then 8th place finishes in 2.Bundesliga which hints at them being only a few tweaks away from being promotion material.
- Likewise, Franck Haise took over from ex-Nottingham Forest Manager Philippe Montanier with the RC Lens sitting pretty in 3rd position in Ligue 2.
Brescia, on the other hand are coming off the back of a 16th place finish and, as covered in the introduction, lost the resulting relegation playoff and SHOULD be in Serie C this season.
It’s going to be hard work! But I’m definitely looking forward to the challenge!
Whilst we’re talking about Union Berlin and RC Lens, let’s take a high-level, look at the tactical systems used by Urs Fischer and Franck Haise.
THE TWO FORMATIONS
As previously established, both teams play with 3 central defenders. Whilst the similarities are many, each each uses a different formation and style of play.
RC LENS TACTICS
Under Franck Haise, Lens mainly use a 5-2-2-1 system and employs player rotations to create a midfield diamond, as this image below shows:
RC Lens midfield rotations from a box to a diamond
Using the athleticism and strength of the midfield diamond they’re able to out-number and overpower the opposition. Quick, short passes help progress the ball down-field and ultimately create scoring opportunities for a pacey striker.
The two sides of the diamond would also help out in wide areas, creating overloads which allows time and space to deliver dangerous passes and crosses into the box.
With chances being created both centrally and from the flanks, Haise’s system is a dream for strikers. It allowed Arnaud Kalimuendo (32 apps, 12 goals) and Lois Openda (38 apps, 21 goals) to shine and make a name for themselves across the globe.
The main issue with this tactical approach is that when the midfield box transforms into a diamond, it isolates the lone Defensive Midfielder. In possession this meant he was able to be easily marked and taken out of the build up phase. Out of possession he often found himself with too much ground to cover when attempting to break up opponent counter attacks.
UNION BERLIN TACTICS
The Union Berlin tactical system of Urs Fischer is one which aims to maintain a solid defensive base and create scoring opportunities through swift counter attacks. So good are they at this style of play that they regularly outscore their xG due to the quality of chances created whilst the opposition is desperately trying to get back into an organised shape.
The build-up play of Urs Fischers’ 5-3-2 is similar to that of RC Lens, as they play out from the back and look to stretch the play through the Wingbacks to create passing combinations out wide to progress down field. This allows the German side to carve out numerous crossing opportunities for their powerful strikers to attack.
One main difference, however, is that Union looks for any opportunity to play directly up to the two forward players. Whether that be directly into the body of the attacker, where they can use their strength to hold off defenders, or into the channels where their pace can be of danger to defences.
Much a man after my own heart, Fischer’s side aren’t one to engage in a heavy press.
Instead, they prefer to remain disciplined and take away space and passing options and force mistakes, rather than have to rely on tackles and being drawn out of position.
Union cutting off the centre of the pitch. Image taken from Klipdraw.
This tendency to play directly into strikers whenever a good opportunity arises means possession is often lost and they are known to often be nearer the bottom than the top of any possession-based stats tables.
I can see positives and negatives in both systems and could happily use, and adapt both to meet my own needs and preferences.
However, there are external forces at play which will steer my decision… those faceless folks upstairs who may know the game of football, or may not. Nonetheless, my future is in their hands…
You may notice something rather alarming when looking at the Board Vision screenshot below: the current owner is eager to sell the club.
This could work out to be a good thing. A new owner could invest more money into Brescia Calcio. On the other hand they may come in and want to make a statement; which means my neck could be on the block if performances and results aren’t up to standards and I don’t have the support of the players or the fans.
I’d better tread carefully until this situation is resolved and I know how the land lies.
There’s some demands here which will be interesting. Let’s take a look:
- Develop players using the club’s youth system. This area has been a weakness for me historically, as I like players who fit a certain physical profile. As such, I like to sign players who fit the mould which youth team players often don’t. I’m looking forward to this though. Hopefully, through some good youth intakes, astute signings and bringing the right kind of staff in to help the youngsters develop will allow me to keep The Board happy.
- Sign Italian players. This one excites me. I like to see a team made up predominantly of homegrown players. Whilst I can’t always promise to only sign Italians, they’ll certainly get priority treatment. I’ll be doing recruitment slightly differently this year, but more on that later.
- Sign young players to develop and sell on for a profit. This is a given and something I always look to do. Even though sometimes it’s begrudgingly. It also ties in nicely with the first objective.
- Work with the wage budget. Money will be tight at Brescia, especially in the first few seasons. Therefore, I’ll be implementing a strict(ish) wage structure throughout the club. However, as there’s a whopping 17 players whose contracts run out at the end of this season and we’re already spending the entire wage budget, I will prioritise keeping key, and high-potential, players first and worry about the wage structure in season 2.
Of course, there’s a very obvious Board demand that I’ve not spoken about yet. And that’s because it’s the most important in terms of my tactical plans:
Play possession football!
Nothing bores me more than the thought of playing possession football. Endless sideways and backwards passes… What a snoozefest.
However, in reality (or FM terms), this probably only means finishing the season with over 50% average possession and having a decent pass completion ratio.
That, I can handle.
What this Board demand probably does do is rule out using Urs Fischer’s 5-3-2 system as Union Berlin routinely loses the possession battle. Whilst it doesn’t rule out a 5-3-2 entirely, it does veer me towards the 5-2-2-1 system of Franck Haise and his RC Lens side. Another reason for this is my decision to use the Real World set up… which I’ll address towards the end of this article.
No matter which formation or style I decide upon, success (or failure) will depend on one group of players…
The centre of the pitch is where games are won or lost.
My philosophy is that a midfield should contain players which fulfil the following roles:
- Line Breaker
No matter if it’s a 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 or a 5-3-2 those roles MUST be carried out.
In a three man midfield formation, like a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1, the task of providing a goal threat alongside the lone striker would come from the wingers. However, in a 5-2-2-1 we wouldn’t have that option so the fourth player making up the box would be a Scorer.
If you would like me to discuss these roles in more depth, please let me know on Twitter or in the comments.
So, to stand a chance of claiming a first team role and a future at this club, our Midfield players will need to fill one of the three (or four) roles as well as have the ability to play the possession football demanded by The Board.
I’ve created this visual showing all midfield options and how they meet the main attributes needed for each of the four roles:
The darker the colour, the higher the attribute.
Isn’t it a beautiful graphic! I wish I could take the credit but the truth is I’ve shamelessly stolen the principal from my good friend Steinkelsson and adapted it accordingly.
As you can see there’s a lot of green in the Creator section which indicates I do have the players who can play possession football.
I can also immediately see there’s good anticipation, stamina and work rate amongst the group, which can only bode well!
Whilst the Creator role seems to be covered, I don’t have a natural fit at Destroyer. There’s a couple of average options as a Scorer and we have good depth at Line Breaker.
Here’s a very shallow deep-dive into the players who could play a key part this season and where they might, or might not, fit:
Bisoli is a good all rounder who is entering his 8th season with Le Rondinelle. Full of energy and willing to run all day for the team, he has the trait Moves into Channels, which when added to his Off the ball, Anticipation, Stamina and Work rate might mean he’s a better option for a more advanced midfield role than the Destroyer role I initially had him down for. Therefore, his best match might be as a Line Breaker, using his engine and footballing IQ to get up and down the pitch and drift into the channels to help create overloads when available.
Van de Looi lacks the flair to be the creative force who makes things happen in the final third, but could do a job in a deeper playmaking role. He lacks the bravery and tackling ability to be a pure Destroyer but might be able to use his elite (at Serie B level) reading of the game to allow him to rely on interceptions instead. With all the right attributes, he could also do a job as a Line Breaker. His contract expires at the end of this season and at the age of 24, he’ll be in his last season of any meaningful progression, so he’ll need to impress to be part of the squad long-term. A very important season for the Dutchman.
Ndoj has been with Brescia since 2015 after joining from AS Roma for just under £1m. The 6’2” Albanian could fill in at each of the roles, without really excelling in either. Still, he’s a good player to have at the club, especially due to his resolute personality. He lacks the marking ability to play as a lone holding midfielder in a 5-3-2, so would fit best as an “8” who can get up and down the pitch and make the most of his well-rounded skills. This would also benefit his trait of “like to run with the ball often”.
Besaggio is still only 21 and joins from Genoa, after spending last season on loan at Juventus U23’s where he made 33 appearances. He’s got the base-attributes to be crafted into either a Scorer or a Creator and is definitely one to watch this season as he should have the potential to turn into a Serie A-level player.
Fogliata is a Brescia youth product and is another one to watch this season. Like Besaggio, he probably won’t be a starter initially, but he’s got bags of potential. He’s got the attributes to be a good Creator and also the physical abilities to turn into a good Line Breaker. He’s on an expiring contract so I need to get him signed to a long term deal as soon as possible.
Olzer is an AC Milan youth product and is the best Creator on the team. At 22-years-old he’s got time to develop into an elite playmaker from the central midfield or attacking midfield zones. Hopefully he’ll be a Brescia player for some time to come.
Giacomo Olzer – should be a good Creator in Serie B
As for the rest, there could still be some big contributions:
I’m expecting a lot from Icelandic International Bjarnson. He’s now 35 and brings lots of experience for his second spell back with Brescia, having previously spent time in Serie A and in the Championship with Aston Villa. His lack of pace means I’ll have to pick his role carefully but he’s still a high quality Creator and Scorer at this level.
Galazzi is naturally a winger but as I won’t be using wide attacking midfielders he’ll have to retrain to another position. Luckily, he’s very versatile. I like wingers who are pulled back to be attacking wingbacks so that might be an option. Another player on an expiring contract so I’ll need to tie him down soon.
Bertagnoli and Garofalo are decent players but not ones I believe can make it to the next level so I doubt they’ll be around long-term. Bertagnoli is injured so will miss the first couple of months, which could be vital. Garofalo, is a decent Creator and can also do a job as a Line Breaker so he’ll get a fair change in preseason.
Paghera has returned to Brescia this season after starting his career with the club. In six seasons he made only 19 appearances before moving on. Never playing above Serie B and now 31, he’ll be here to provide depth. It would be nice to keep him around until he retires.
Nuamah is a very interesting prospect. At just 17-years-old he could have a really bright future in football. He’s already got elite vision and work rate and is good with the ball at his feet. He needs to improve his passing and physical attributes but he’s one I’m excited about. Will try to get him as much football as I can and then loan him out in January, where he can get regular first team football and hopefully progress well.
As you can see, there’s a lot of options and depth, with potentially 11 players to fit into 3 or 4 roles depending on tactical direction. I’ll ensure pre-season is against some challenging opponents to see who shines in which roles and hopefully I’ll have a rough depth chart before the start of the Serie B season.
In my introduction post I talked about how Union Berlin and RC Lens embodied the underdog spirit and possessed an abundance of hard work, toughness and team spirit to claw their way up the league table and into the Champions League. But what does that look like in FM24 terms?
Well, we can look at how each team stacks up for each of the player attributes to give an idea of how each squad is built and the types of players they recruit and develop:
Ok, that looks a little hectic… however it does give some useful information.
Both Union Berlin and RC Lens share common ground by having strengths in the following areas:
- Natural Fitness
- Positioning (may look low but is well above league average)
- Work rate
- Marking (may look low but is well above league average)
From what we already know about the two teams, none of those should come as any surprise.
These five attributes will help make up the team ethos. Each new player bought into the club will be measured against these, and although I won’t be mega strict, it’ll be a very useful guideline.
The chart also allows us to identify the differences in the way each team approaches their attacking phase. Union Berlin clearly prioritises physical players and excel in Strength, Bravery, Determination and Heading. RC Lens, on the other hand, are more technical and have good Off the Ball, Dribbling and Passing.
When looking at how this Brescia squad compares it’s interesting to see that we roughly follow the trend lines of Union Berlin.
Turning back to the five shared squad strengths, I know I should try to recruit players (where possible) who are above the Serie B average if I’m to succeed in playing with this tactical style. And If I can, even recruit above Serie A levels.
In fact, given that The Board are wanting a possession game, I should follow the trend set by RC Lens in this instance as also add in Off the Ball and Passing.
These are as follows:
Transferring this into the squad view, I can easily see who’s not ready for this challenge and who’ll fit like a glove.
The red squares show the players who are below Serie B average for each of the 7 attributes, whereas the amber shows they’re below average but play in a position where that attribute isn’t massively important.
Tonini is a 19-year-old Central Defender and is desperately in need of first team football to develop quickly. Garofalo doesn’t look like he’ll cut it and at 23, his development time is running out. Nuamah is only 17-years-old so will go out on loan in January. In the meantime he’ll be in the youth set up whilst getting as much first team minutes as possible. I’ll also try to set up a good mentoring program for him .
Other than those players, we’re looking pretty good.
I’m planning a slightly different approach to recruitment in Football Manager 24. Like most people, I usually sign as many scouts as I can and then send them out to various countries. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with this approach, it can be expensive and mostly just leads to an overwhelming number of scouting reports landing in my inbox. Who can be bothered to sift through 100 random player reports every week?
I also don’t fully trust scouting recommendations either. Firstly, the level of scout I’ll be able to entice to a mid-table Serie B team means there’ll always be quite a wide margin of error with the finer details. Secondly, the grade they give isn’t just based on the player ability, it also takes into account how well they fit into your team vision and Board demands. So a player who is actually an A+ could get knocked down to a B+ if he’s over a certain age, wants high wages and isn’t an EU national, for example.
So, spending loads of money hoarding Scouts like Pokemon isn’t going to cut it for me in FM24.
My aim, though, is to do exactly the same thing…. But with Recruitment Analysts.
Using their reports I can find players who are performing to a high standard in specific statistics, relevant to the roles in my system. When players are identified I can THEN assign scouts to go and look at them. Their reports will then give additional validation and let me know the key information, like their personality, injury issues and potential for improvement.
Scouts will still be used for their traditional methods, but mainly to try to identify younger players with potential and those which might not be highlighted via a stats-first based method.
To me it seems a much more common sense approach and one reflected in the modern footballing world.
Here’s how I envisage the recruitment process working.
And let’s not forget, this save is being played in Italy. A place were older players are revered for their expertise and influence, not discarded like elsewhere across the footballing world.
Remember, the legendary ponytailed god himself, Roberto Baggio, didn’t join Le Rondinelle and resurrect his career until he was 33-years-old.
Gheorge Hagi didn’t make Brescia his home until he was 31.
Therefore, we’ll be a place where top class players over 30 can find a home where they’ll once again be respected and valued.
THE REAL WORLD
As mentioned previously, I’m using the Real World setting.
Why? Well, if I’m to pit myself against Fischer and Haise and trying to match their achievements I don’t want any additional unfair advantages. Most managers go through preseason knowing that they’ll be a lot of turnover in their squads right up to – and sometimes after – the end of the summer transfer window.
The Real World option means that between now and the window closing, there’ll be 10 players leaving the club and 7 joining. Gaining tactical familiarity and a close-knit locker room certainly won’t be easy and could cause problems in the early part of the season.
The first competitive game will be in the Copa Italia on the 13th August, with the Serie B season commencing on the 19th. All 7 of the incoming players, 5 of which I expect to be first team players will arrive AFTER the season starts!
With players set to depart the squad before these dates I’ll play the first 5 competitive matches with only 1 right wingback and only 1 striker. Fun times.
Only having 1 striker for the first month means I’ll struggle to play a 5-3-2. Therefore, the 5-2-2-1 will be my main focus, at least initially.
Lastly, the first transfer window has been disabled so I can’t bring anyone in, or send any young talent out on loan until January.
In the next update I’ll be build the backroom staff who’ll support me on my journey. There’ll hopefully be news of some extended contracts for the players who have the potential to be Serie A level, and we’ll start pre-season.
Might even get some competitive games in…