The brilliant Deep Lying Podcast last week covered a topic which is not always easy to talk about: FM Slumps and Fails. Today I'll share my current predicament, and the solution I plan to remedy the current slump...
My 'FM Slump'
29 September 2021 saw Grasshopper Club Zürich (GCZ) crumble to their biggest ever Champions League defeat to Man City (5-1). I was reeling from the result. Despite having the ball for large amounts of the game in a 4-2-3-1, we simply didn't create enough meaningful chances. Unfortunately this performance and result was waiting to happen. I had been carelessly re-adjusting tactics and formations to suit the Homegrown talents coming through (which I will cover in a separate blog post soon). There's a plethora of knock on effects of doing this, but in simple terms...I and GCZ had lost our way. Form was erratic and performances had lost their zip:
If the 5-1 hammering wasn't enough indication that something was broke, then a drab performance and loss at home to St Gallen really slapped me in the face. I needed to get back to basics and fix this quickly.
I immediately went back to a tried and trusted 4-3-3, but I knew the problems in the team are more deep rooted than this. In a lot of the games (excluding Man City) we had a lot of the ball. We were controlling the flow, but not directing it. The defence wasn't the problem and probably not the Attackers either, as we were simply not creating enough Clear Cut Chances in matches. As highlighted by the infamous Swiss Cup 2nd Round exit against Lausanne, where only 3 Clear Cut Chances were created in 120 minutes/40 shots.
Therefore, I needed to revisit the Playmaking role in the team, normally occupied by £24.5m signing Julian Weigl. Now I admit, I have become a bit obsessed with viewing the performance stats of my players. In doing so I've unintentionally become misguided/lazy in what I want from the stats FM offers. An example of this is when I accepted the fact that Julian Weigl completed 54 of his 64 passes in a 0-0 home draw with Dynamo Kiev, without looking into what kind of passes these were and where they went. FM is a game that keeps us on our toes, when we get lazy (like I did) it can come back to bite you.
Directing the Flow
Looking into Julian Weigl's passes in detail showed that the Deep Lying Playmaker (DLP) role on Support was resulting in many short insignificant passes generally to the left hand side of the pitch. I was effectively restraining this guy's playmaking abilities and restricting his influence on the team. I probably never really noticed last season because of the amount of match winners like Iuri Medeiros (now sold to Man Utd) and Moussa Konaté (out of form) I had in the team. Note - this is not a critque of the DLP role. On the contrary, the DLP has been a great role for me especially in my first few years at GC with Kim Källström. When the tactics suit it can be effective, but things change...
I have therefore taken the decision to deploy Operation Reigsta and use Weigl as a DM Regista. So what's the difference between a DLP and a Regista? Well after lots of comparing/contrasting in the FM16 match engine, I conclude that the Regista presses higher, is given a license to roam more freely and passes longer. The technical and physical attributes required for both roles are the same, but the Mental requirements for Regista are greater. Our Regista benefits from being more aggressive, a good anticipator and intelligent off the ball.
And what of the change in Weigl's performance since the role/position change? Well fast forward 3 weeks from that awful night away at Man City and we find ourselves beating FC Porto 5-0 at home. GCZ's biggest ever Champions League win. If we look deeper into what has changed, we see a Playmaker with the freedom to be where he wants AND with the creative freedom to 'direct the flow'.
In the 5-0 thrashing, Weigl was MOTM. With a Player Rating of 9.0, and a Goal to boast about, he was simply a pleasure to watch. Instead of the 54 completed passes 'for passes sake' (like in the Kiev game), Weigl only completed 39 passes. But let's look at what kind of passes they were:
It's obvious that the Regista passes are longer and more penetrative (RIGHT) compared to Weigl in his DLP role (LEFT). Combined with a Box To Box midfielder and two Wingers on Attack duty, Weigl was able to direct the flow of the Porto game. He also had help with a CM on defend to protect him when needed.
It's early days, but I look back at that Porto game and the decision to change Weigl's role in the team as a defining moment in Season 7 (2021/22). You will have to wait and see in a future blog post about whether we conclusively corrected this dip in form. But early signs are good.
As always thank you for reading.