“Necessity is the mother of all invention.”

I have to hold my hands up and say that I undersold the travesty that the summer transfer window was for Leverkusen. WIthout a replacement sourced for Khuroshvili, unhappy about the progression of regular loanee Schulz and utterly perplexed about the best positions of Krassnizter and Arkine – I went into the season with Duran (AMC only), BanguraKrassnizterSarier and D’Anzi to cover what will hopefully be fifty-plus games across three very demanding attacking roles. Fine. Until the injuries hit. Soon though, I was without Sarier for two months or more with a torn hamstring, Duran for over a fortnight and repeated knocks for Krassnitzer and forward Nikolic, forcing me to keep the talented duo of Krassnitzer and Arkine free to rotate there. I needed to think outside of the box.


Enter the 3-4-2-1 or the ‘5-2-2-1 DM AM’ as the game wants to call it.

Sacrificing an attacking player because I simply was unable to field four of them was a tough decision for me but has really paid dividends and feels even closer to home with how Xabi Alonso is currently playing. It’s allowed me to keep my core principles – but provide us with a set in stone extra defender when building up against a formation with two up top. The joy though, for me, is that I can also keep a lot of our playing style principles the same, including the box midfield – formed by the L(s), DM(s), VOL(s) and AM(s). With our game adapting more and more to a higher pressing necessity, which, to be honest, suits our DNA, I’m finding that both crowding the middle in and out of possession is working well for us. I’m still not quite set on the roles of the wing backs – currently going with aWB(s) and a CWB(s) on the more aggressive left – and certainly feel that I don’t have the Frimpong/Grimaldo combo locked down yet but they hold their width and provide attacking impetus; maybe the next steps are to have wingers that are able to play in the W(s) role in the 4231 and wing backs in this shape! I’m also able to explore different roles – particularly the WCB – which I just cannot do in a four man backline. The transitional movement I can create with liberos, wide centre backs, anchors and half backs is pretty incredible and – whilst I realise some of that is wasted and just for proof that ‘I can’ do it – there are certainly some beautiful bits of play that, once I’m back to a bit more playing time, will try and capture.

The take away from this though is that, once I have a fully stocked team, I am now able to fluidly change shapes pre and mid game to counter specific shapes – particularly the use of a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1. Furthermore, once I can then identify their pressing triggers and pressing intensity, can amend defensive roles: WCB(s)-L(s)-WCB(s) – a highly aggressive back three against a low engaging two man front line – can morph into a WCB(s)-L(s)-BPD(d) with a HB(d) or A(d) ahead if they’ve switched to an pressing forward and a deeper runner, for example. Even looking at the formations we face will tell you the necessity of the changes – a chance conceded every 107 minutes against a 4-4-2 but 269 minutes against a 4-2-3-1 whereby my false back three was ‘great’ but also involved a lot of lateral movement and, when tired, you could see the players just dropping off. Three centre backs, where needed, should absolutely solve that issue.

The data hub, early on into this experiment, validates the necessity of those changes:


I want to win this league not because I’m playing a variant of gegenpress but because I’ve become a tactically astute manager who meticulously plans for games, identifies areas to exploit and areas to tighten up on and then unleashes a well-drilled and refined squad to do that. So far, it’s working beyond my wildest dreams:


Twelve straight wins. Three goals conceded. Wow.

The start to the season, despite not having the toughest run, has been outstanding. Our shapes are holding up and we’re looking strong attacking and solid defending. Our season started with the annual Pokal curtain raiser and we managed to hit ten against poor Norderstedt, with Jakub Janusch scoring twice on his competitive debut for the club. We’ve become so well rounded, too; six goals from corners, four from free kicks and eight from crosses – mainly those high xG low cutbacks – show that we aren’t just a counter attacking team, despite seven from through balls and a – unreliable long term source – three from opposition mistakes. Bangura leads the way with along with Duran with seven goal contributions each whilst Reckert has found his scoring from from the VOL(s) role with four and a further two assists. In fact, sixteen different names have got themselves on the scoresheet this year so far: a true team performance!

It’s all coming together very nicely. Die Werkself!


  • 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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