Season 1: Identifying the tactical needs and comparing them with the tactical wants

I really identify with a certain playing style and, over the last few FMs, have been able to make progress towards my goals. I would suggest that I do employ elements of relationist football, particularly with strong use of numbers 10s – and, now that I’m in Italy, that’s virtually a given, plus fluidity, teamwork and space utilisation in my attacking shapes. That being said, I think that the functional elements of this fluidity are still not set in stone defensively as I like to ensure a particularly strong rest defence that you find in positional play. My fondness for roles such as inverted full backs, inverted wing backs and liberos in the defensive areas means that I do like to build numerical superiority in our transitions. My end goal is to go a little further than I did at Bayer Leverkusen and fully embrace all three areas of superiority:

  • Numerical
  • Qualitative
  • Positional

And then intertwining that with chaos, fluidity of movement and intelligence whilst in the attacking third. Achieving this through a limited handle on player recruitment will be harder than it could be, but that is where my challenge of being the Head Coach comes in. Identifying tactical battles we can win and getting the best out of every single player is key for me and my enjoyment of this game.

– – –

But that goal feels some distance away at Serie C relegation candidates Messina! It is, however, a process and I want to see what things I can instill at this early age and look at how to progress this over time. Upon taking over a club, I always dig into their statistical outputs and this is no different:image.png.bcbb27ecfcc207bbdfeab10c883e0bae.png

No tactic would be complete without players and, in order to get an idea of what I want to achieve long term, what maybe can be achieved short term and then a really clear focus for the really-short term, I can start to position my best players within the confines of this tactical style. I’m going to steer a little away here from statistical outputs, given that – largely – the entire team has underperformed and it’s likely that the style of my predecessor, Giacomo Modico, has and will continue to vary from my own. Therefore, I want to create a holistic look at player attributes in order to create shapes that work around and intertwine with my best players, rather than shoehorning them into styles, positions and roles.

Giulio Frisenna – Line breaking midfielder.


I really like Giulio and think he’ll be a key cog in how we transition. Naturally a deep midfielder and possessing the Dictates Tempo trait along with a good engine and work rate, I see him as a segundo volante, assisting in the transition but also making use of his physical frame. Furthermore, I think that he’s the perfect person to actually create that transition and I feel that he’s just about the most press resistant player within the team, judging by the below attributes:

  • Technical: First Touch (11), Dribbling (10), Passing (12), Technique (10)
  • Mental: Anticipation (13), Bravery (12), Composure (13), Decisions (13), Flair (7), Teamwork (13)
  • Physical: Balance (11), Agility (12), Strength (9)

For comparison, at this level, technical attributes, on average, vary between about 7 and 9, mental attributes between 9 and 11 and physical attributes between about 10 and 11. With space left to grow, I’m really hopeful that I can build the team around him.


Ugo Dell’Orfanello – 1v1 Defender


Initially, I saw him as a wing back and someone that’d be frail defensively given his lack of height – however that height issue is replicated elsewhere and I like his recovery speed, something that which can really help us from being caught on the counter. Heading is well below average for this level and I need to especially be careful with crosses coming in from the right hand side to the back post – going as far as looking at the individual matchups each game but, positionally he is above average, anticipates situations well and, as I said, has the speed to get back and recover. Compare that to his lack of passing ability, slightly blinkered vision and poor on-ball composure and I think I can make this work!


Marco Firenze – Progressive carrier


Another really well rounded attacking player who has the moves into channels trait combined with pretty good technique, vision and dribbling. I like his work rate and think that’ll probably be the difference maker between his role and a true trequartista, who languidly would amble around the attacking third. Here, I see that Firenze can absolutely become the first line of defence with his surprisingly strong defensive attributes and a very vanilla role like the AM(s) could be a nice starting point for my tactical ideas.


Damiano Lia – Creative defender


Despite being one-footed, Lia is an interesting experiment for me. At 26, he’s not like to progress any further so I will have to try and mould what I have here. Defensively, he’s really quite sound but looks like he’ll want to get forward and isn’t too bad carrying the ball. For a defender, his passing, vision and composure is actually really good and his top speed isn’t going to hold him back from returning to his defensive duties. Similarly to Dell’Orfanello, he’s short and that does pose a problem when defending wide – therefore, I think that it makes more sense to ask him to come centrally rather than bomb forward down the flanks. I’ll try and IWB role and maybe look at some traits to try and develop his game.


– – –

Clearly – there are a series of issues that I need to work through in order to secure our league status, get us winning and – ultimately – keep my job. However, I think that this builds some clarity around my motives and gives me some strong data for comparison of are we getting better or worse? It also creates some ideas for roles and ways that I can measure our improvement of the key players.

My first objective is below:


Baseline xGA is 1.84 per 90 from first twelve games of the season.

Offences win games but defences win championships. Ok – so we’re not winning anything this season – twenty points off the top of the league with twenty five games left. However, I want to come back to this idea after my first ten games, ensuring that I’ve acted on the leaky defence. As I mentioned when introducing the players, goalkeeper Mitu has faced so many high quality chances as our defence has been carved apart time and time again.

Therefore, my initial focuses are on solidifying our defensive shape tactically, ensuring that our training focuses on covering as many defensive areas of the game as possible and ensuring that our match preparation – both through the training block and through my own opposition instructions are set appropriately. Then, it’s all down to game management to ensure that I see this through. It may mean we become somewhat pragmatic and overly cautious, but we need to instill some confidence in the defenders within the team.

My thoughts are, initially, that a safer build up would be through a 3-2 rather than just have two in the first phase and allowing us to become a bit more open to counter attacks.


Slightly risky to include all of my truly defensive players on the left hand side of the defence and something that I will have to look closely at going forward, but, given the players at my disposal – and especially the pace and one-v-one quality of defender Dell’Orfanello – I think that this is the shape that could work. The positional play elements will see the left centre back shuffle over and the half back tuck in side when we are transitioning but, importantly, given a risk factor modifier – our mentality – we’ll defend with a bank of six.

Defensively, I will also set up corners to include just one man on the counter. Whilst we then lose a bit of that transitional threat early on in my tenure, certain instructions like pass into space means that I still focus on that element of progression, just remove the already small chance of a successful counter from a corner.

With that, I have also set my training schedules to be heavily defensive orientation, firstly looking at disengaged defending – as I see this as a precursor to engaged defending – and then aerial defence. Given the height of my full backs and our back six, I see it sensible to push the opponents centrally but do need to be able to defend crosses if they come in.


With the next ten games taking around three months, I also wanted to track the impact that this defensive heavy training – plus individual foci when I get round to them – will have on the defensive attributes within the team. I know that, sadly, these training sessions – aside from match tactics – don’t impact directly what you see on the pitch but, if we can improve those attributes, I think that we will naturally improve what we have on the pitch as the players will be better.

I’ve taken an average of all players using the game’s identifier of defensive attributes.


Interestingly, for tackling, we rate above average in the league comparison but have the worst heading ability out of anyone and every other attribute sits below average at this level. Again – this is why I am the Head Coach – how can I make this better? How can I minimise the impact of this?

Forza Biancoscudati!


  • 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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