I’ve really wanted to sit down and write some words about my initial thoughts around tactical and training development: from my attempt to mentor first teamers, U19 training units to how I plan to setup both sides on and off the pitch.

Initially, I had hoped to be able to play quite a similar style to Elfsborg but it became abundantly clear, straight off the bat, that it wouldn’t be possible. Previously, Bochum lined up in either a 442 or a 532 shape, neither of which I really feel allow me to demonstrate my tactical ideology that is made up of direct counter attacking play once spaces and avenues can be worked, with a big emphasis on fluidity of movement and positional overloads. The absolute lack of a left back means that my initial shape, whilst also a 433, feels quite different to how I ended in Sweden. I can create a 3-2 in build up, arguably my preferred style through an IFB and two centre backs, making use of the positional play elements, whilst allowing Passlack to get forward and inside down the right. He’s wholly unsuitable to an inverted role given his attributes and traits, which isn’t ideal for me, really but I’ve not yet been able to create a shape that allows for a really offensive wide full back but it is certainly on my list of things to do.

To put it to the test, I invited Schalke for a behind-closed-doors kick about. The shape played out as a pretty basic 3-diamond-3/3-box-3 as I started with just the basic team instructions, those that can’t really be altered by player roles: low crosses, play through the middle, counter and mid block with us balancing risk vs reward on a Balanced strategy. Honestly, it all felt a little vanilla and lacked a bit of inventiveness from my time at Elfsborg but that was to be expected, really. We scored three nice goals and conceded from a mix up in the penalty area from a corner, of which is being trained by a man also new to this job. I was expecting to win this game and win it well but there will certainly be a shift towards experimental shapes within this style as we go forward.

Today I learnt that I am able to play different shapes for my senior and youth sides, by setting the first tactic as the one that the youth side use. Therefore, I can create a shape for my youth side that will both suit their needs, rather than fit into the needs of the first team but also to experiment and try new shapes that hopefully will allow familiarity in certain roles that they could play for me. My intention is to keep the same theme as my first team have – a 433 shape with a counter attacking element, therefore using roles that encourage dribbling and positivity. My first draft looks like this. I want to see if I can create a different pattern to the 3-2 build up, opting here, initially at least, for a 2-3 shape, with the DC and IFB forming the back two whilst the IWB and L join the DM in transition. I do feel that, given my knowledge of shape and how many vertices a square has, that this will not meet that objective of a box midfield, so I may look to use a HB as this project progresses. However, the intention is to then create spaces for the right winger, mainly Molina, who is my most creative player. I have really liked how a T plays so would like to continue with this role going forward even if I’m not quite able to yet use it in the first team.

Like the first team, to test this new shape, my U19 team played a hastily arranged friendly against minnows Hulser SV. The opposition was pretty much irrelevant as I wanted to just explore how we do what I want us to do. The 4-0 result was great, as was 3.39xG at 0.10xG/shot and 65% of the ball. Individual performances were strong, too: Molina accrued 1.10xA in just forty-five minutes, whilst his replacement, Maier, then went on to accrue a further 0.71xA himself. Despite us lining up in a standard 433 shape, our OOP shape resembled a compact 4141, which is ideal for us to restrict space for our opponents. I was most interested in our build up play with the roles I’ve chosen. We start in a 2134 shape, as Thiede, the Libero, is slower at moving forward but are able to go one further than a box midfielder now; enter the pentagon! I’m not – honestly – completely sold on that shape and that is clear in a slower build up, where the CM(a) on the right side of midfield is too aggressive, pushing the left footed Tchetchoua out to the left hand side. My shoddily drawn diagram, where I swap over the two CM roles may allow the Cameroonian forward to move to the right but also continue to give as much space as possible for the AP(s) on the right wing, who is clearly the creative mastermind. It does make us rather narrow there as both players are left footed and are looking to come inside, particularly with an IWB behind them but I feel that the link up between and IWB(s) and a CM(s) on the same side will allow for easier verticality. It’s just one match but there are some interesting observations already: Fischer looks great for his age and Weber broke the lines well with two chances and two key passes. However, it was the aggressive Kuhn, whose Decisions and Technique made him the standout, with seven key passes, four chances, a goal and two assists as often the most advanced player on the pitch.

What is clear to me from these two games – one managed by me and one set up by me, that we are playing variants of the same style, which is exactly what I want:


The left is the Schalke pass map and the right, as expected, is the more ball-heavy showing against Hulser. The back three, #3,#5,#4 makes a nice clear three, whereas, with the Libero as #5 in the second image, this build up becomes ever so more slightly staggered and gives me the opportunity to be more direct as a route to the number six, who remains a DM(s) in both shapes. The difference between an IW(s) and an AP(s) – left to right – is clear but that overload created by the AP/CM is nice, even if I want that with the creative striker rather than a runner, giving me more space centrally for a running midfielder to exploit. With two backs instead of three, the play spreads wider quicker and brings more combinations between my wide men, although the lower risk means that there are also more backwards passes there, too.

From writing this down I can really see that one game is far too early to make wholesale tactical reactions as I barely know the players, their attributes and traits nor the opposition and their roles. What it has done is excited me for what I can create long term and focussed me on the how of ‘how will I get my players better’ – the key performance metric of any good coach. My squad will, all being well, develop and change considerably over the coming years, largely based upon the eight eighteen year olds I have in my youth team – for they will need to be moved on or into the first team squad at the end of this season, meaning that the timeframe for moulding and developing is really short.

To ensure that I do my best here, I’ve spent some time looking at exactly what I want to develop with my youth players. Since going back to attributes, I can now create a nice average of each attribute value within my youth team to check progress and identify whether or not this plan is working, or not. Similarly to the squad building work done by @MattyLewis11, I have always been intrigued by youth attribute development and, with that, you naturally get a link to the Ajax model. I feel that our systems are hugely benefited by speed, technique and intelligence so – just like at Ajax – these are my foci at a formative age. For my youth sides, I’m going to taper the training across the week a little less than I would in the first team and will ensure specific focus on the areas that are key to the development of what we need:


From my averaging, I am already aware that Technique is one of the strongest attributes, with an average of just shy of 12 across all players with only Determination, Stamina and Natural Fitness ahead of that – three fantastic things to see as neither really will grow during these times. At the other end, Corners, Long Throws and Penalties are weakest but my first whole squad area of weaknesses are Composure and First Touch, which both sit below 10. My plan, using the above schedules, with huge focus on Technical work, is to get the players comfortable on the ball as well as used to the kind of styles we play – Direct Attacking and Overlap being key to our offensive structures. This will, in my eyes, grow and develop as I really learn what works best but I must thank the German FA for the relatively easy scheduling, whereby, at this level, I only have to worry about Saturday games and can plan ahead and also bring in Saturday friendlies in empty weeks, without overworking players or disrupting micro-scheduling.

Another element of change, this time stolen from @GIMN‘s PAOK save, is that I’ll be changing the whole-squad additional focus each month. Many, many times have I read that foci are short term but, yet, have forgotten to change them for months if not years; therefore, the plan is to rotate between four: attacking movement, defensive movement, passing and ball control, for a total of three months each per year and see the impact that it has on their positional development and key skills. To help create rounded players, I’ll use quite generic roles for their training – such as CF, RPM and BPD, looking to minimise any really weak areas before they enter the first team at just nineteen years old. Combine this with a monthly note that reminds me to praise and (hopefully not) criticise their performances, along with a three-monthly check in on their progress, should allow me to have a nice tight hold of the players I have in the youth sector of this side.

Once a player reaches the first team, my work with them on the training pitch is around creating the best player I can – traits and roles are then considered plus an even tighter check in with discussions around performances every time they rate below 6.50 or above 7.50. The plan is to really get to know the personalities of the first team as well as create a fit and high morale squad that puts work in earlier in the week before tapering to match day, potentially even using a more aggressive Monday where those involved are rested. This is an area I have seen talked about in professional football but have never once tried to integrate into FM, mainly for fear of forgetting to do the resting! If a player has not exerted themselves over the weekend, then their sharpness and fitness will drop so some more intense training on a Monday may be beneficial to them. It’s an area to really consider. Again, schedules here are built around the core needs: disengaged defending first before engaged defending, lots of shadow play and direct, overlapping attacking. The remainder of the sessions are filled in with needs around technical work and are streamlined with the upcoming opposition and, as such, the match preparation, in mind.

I don’t really know if this has come across as any more than just a stream of conscious thoughts; I haven’t actually settled on a style for my first team nor my youth team but have just expressed an interest in keeping them following the same core ideologies, despite potential differences in roles as well as looking at how I can get the best from my youth development. Now, I need to put it into practice. Sort out the coaching staff, utilise the scouting team to build knowledge of the teams in this league (I use the Team Report feature for every 2.Bundesliga team to get a rough idea of ability etc) and fine tune a few things before we get going, for real..


  • Ben

    Ben has been a long time contributor to the FM community previously on The Dugout and the SI Forums. He is known for his great in-depth tactical analysis and an increasing level of understanding of data led recruitment. His FM saves are always in-depth and he delivers both his knowledge of the game and great storytelling including a talent for squad building, progressing youth players and finding diamonds in the rough. His saves are really popular within the blogging community. He is also the creator of the popular skin “Statman”

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