Yeah – we’re getting there!

We’d have beaten Man Utd in both legs if we were able to execute the final touches to a counter-attack but, overall, to knock out the team who sit atop the Premier League is great and shows just how far we’ve come – however, the form around those games, probably to be expected, has somewhat dipped. With seven games left to go, I need to get Minami scoring again and pick up the confidence and match fitness of a few players who’ve been left on the sides a bit lately. With Napoli – eighth in Serie A – to come next and a Pokal semi final against Bayern Munich, there’ll be more forced rotation as, realistically, we’re fighting for cups and not the league this season. Anything inside the top four is a huge bonus for me and, honestly, finishing fifth but winning the Europa League – thus sealing qualification for the Champions League next year anyway – would be a huge bonus. It’ll be in these last seven league games where we see just how deep the squads of Leipzig and Dortmund are and whether than can overhaul us. Bayern are out of sight – again – but they’re not my focus now and probably not for a couple of years.

There is one particular game I want to zoom in on:


The press might dub this one of the Hamburg(er) feast or similar but I want to highlight this as a game – one of many – where I’ve made some tactical decisions as the game has progressed and they have all turned out perfect. Six nil against the team who started fifth was a real strong showing for us.

We started in our normal build up shape, the 3box3/325 and which morphed nicely into the 4222 defensive shape after some specific marking instructions were applied.  However, the problem that I find occurs with the box shape is that the middle is congested and, as you can see from that image, they’re only leaving one man up field to my three in the build-up, leaving Helmes somewhat wasted out wide. A change to a CWB(a)-BPD-L-IFB shape immediately allowed Helmes to get high and wide and, with the change from the W(s) to a IW(s) on the left hand side – as seen really well here – I was able to ensure that I wasn’t overloading the wide channel but creating another man across the front line. With Ammer playing as a L(s) instead of a L(d), I was able to create a 235 shape with much more width that still had enough cover should there be a turnover. From that change, I’d essentially changed where the box was – moving it to the four most defensive players and creating a natural overload on the left hand side (importantly, I did not choose the overlap function or to instruct play there because I wanted to keep all optionsfluid and open). With the introduction of Ferhat Duran as an SS(a), I was able to use his comes deep to get ball trait to create gaps within their defensive areas and we picked them off, like here, when Hagiwara delivered the cross that Nikolic scored from. In this image, I love the curvature of Hagiwara’s run, who starts narrower but runs wide past Bangura, who, in his altered roles, cuts inside much earlier.

Overall, we controlled the game – 3.51xG to their 0.32 despite having 49% of the possession, some six percent lower than our average for the season. I think a huge part of that was the aggressive gamble to change the roles to ensure we don’t have that lethargic buildup with too many free defensive players. I must add a word about recently recalled youngster Nikolic – his three goals from 15 touches, matching the three goals he scored in – similarly – fifteen touches against Furth, means that even the likes of Erling Haaland would struggle to match the 6:1 touches to goals ratio he’s started his career with us at!

At the end of the day though – the development this season has largely been down to these four:


Eighty goal contributions between the four of them! Arkine, Duran, Bangura, Krassnitzer. Absolutely quality!


Sometimes, my thinking goes full circle and I find myself doing things that I did years ago in FM: this time it’s youth development monitoring. I’m not interested in gaming the game or in any way learning more about the hidden details than I should but I want to know the why so that I can develop my players to the best of my ability. For a long time, I’ve kept a record of the first year growth from all my intake players, with special attention paid to whether I’m building the training correctly to develop specific attributes, such as those key to my DNA (first touch, technique, decisions, determination and pace) outlined in red. Whilst I know that physical attributes grow naturally in younger players and that Determination is unlikely be cultivated through training plans, I haven’t actually done anything about this – until now. However, the most interesting thing and the biggest test of my Excel formula ability was to create a simple tracking tool that looks at the harmonic mean of the key areas as well as the entirety of their outfield attributes. With some indexing and matching, I can create a bit of a tracker for this, as seen here. I’m not intending to share this frequently or, really, dig into the depths of it outside of the game but it’s interesting to track the player development of these youngsters – with two particular cases: Poggenborg and Maik VogelThe former made significant improvements to his all round game – hence my use of the harmonic mean, to add more weight to anomalous values and develop more importance around roundedness of the player whilst the latter has made significant improvements towards his DNA values, but, interestingly, not a huge amount within the first season, with rapid development now he’s exposed to first team football.

Therefore, I’ve developed an idea that I’ve seen floating around before and something that I have used when trying to min/max this process in the past. Players, up until they are 18, will not be trained to be specialists unless they are changing position. This will add further allowance to the time spent developing their additional foci, which are: Defensive Positioning (Marking, Positioning, Decisions), Attacking Movement (Off the Ball, Anticipation, Decisions) and Ball Control (First Touch, Dribbling, Technique). They will rotate on the three month basis with the removal of Passing now meaning that each area gets four months of the year – with Defensive Positioning missing out most in July, when the players are on holiday.


  • Jan, Apr, Jul, Oct – Def Pos
  • Feb, May, Aug, Nov – Att Mov
  • Mar, Jun, Sept, Dec – Ball Control


  • Feb, Apr, Jun, Aug, Oct, Dec – GK Technique
  • Jan, Mar, May, Jul, Sept, Nov – GK Sweeping (Short)

This additional focus on this without the sharp focus on developing a player for a specific area (even when I choose something like a CWB(s) to get a broad range of attributes), I feel that it does pigeon hole the player sometimes. I have no idea as to how well this will work over the long term but I’m interesting in experimenting with this idea with the new youth intake. Sadly, the intake is a little underwhelming…

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A search for Schulz returns 3,670 names indicates that this is just now getting out of hand with a further two Maik Schulz’s in this intake  alone! As for the players worth noting, Mohamed Sulley is the best of the bunch – by far – but his personality will not really help me develop him. Even exporting to the suitability tracker tells me that these aren’t amazing youngsters and I’m very much going to be looking at the develop to keep in professional football mantra for those who even make the initial cut.

I don’t want to jump the gun and be brash about reshaping the youth staff with this less than brilliant intake because I still have an elite talent and several top talents along with a really strong youth academy and quite clear player pathway already established at the club but I do have to admit that there will likely to some external recruitment for this youth team as I look to strengthen further


  • 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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