Hello, this post allows me to break away from my usual Football Manager writing and explore tactical concepts around the World in the attempt to translate them into Football Manager. The aim would be to write about teams that are not at the forefront for most European readers, so there’s likely to be no English Premier League or German Bundesliga analysis here!
Disclaimer: interpreting real world tactics and applying them into Football Manager is easier said than done. Often a team will have several systems that are deployed throughout the match based on in-game scenarios and events, making it very hard to translate this into Football Manager. So I’ve taken what I think are the key elements of their systems and player roles, based on observing key moments of real-life matches.
Previous posts: Coudet’s 4-1-3-2 at Racing Club
Today in Football Manager Tactics we’re exploring Matías Almeyda’s 4-2-3-1 with San Jose Earthquakes, which is starting to pick up speed in Major League Soccer’s (MLS) Western Conference. After a dreadful start to the season (4 straight losses with a goal difference of -12), San Jose’s unique tactical style has seen the club rise into the play-off positions. Their form is solidifying Matías Almeyda growing reputation as a coach who brings out the best in his squad through a hard pressing style and exceptional team ethic.
Let’s’ get straight into interpreting Matías Almeyda’s 4-2-3-1. We’ll work on San Jose’s Team Philosophy & Formation first, before moving on to Team Instructions and Player Roles…
Team Philosophy & Formation
San Jose Earthquake’s 2018 MLS campaign was a complete disaster: 4 wins, 9 draws and 21 losses. Luckily for the Californian side, relegation is not an option in MLS and they would have the chance to rebuild for the 2019 campaign. The club’s masterstroke was appointing Matías Almeyda, who had built up a respectable reputation with two Primera B Nacional titles with River Plate & Banfield in Argentina which was followed with a trophy laden period with Guadalajara (Chivas) in Mexico.
After a rigorous pre-season in Cancún, Mexico, San Jose have gained a reputation for being one of the fittest teams in MLS this season. Their football is high-intensity, with high pressure being applied on the opposition at all times and, when they do regain possession, there is often a quick forward transition.
In the last few months, the two-wide players of Valeri (Vako) Qazaishvili & Cristian Espinoza have been instrumental in capitalising on the break. Vako is often cutting in side with Espinoza stretching teams with high and wide positioning. Swedish Magnus Eriksson is playing in a dynamic role off a main striker, which is often club legend Chris Wondolowski (now in his 10th season with San Jose).
In Football Manager 2019 I translate San Jose Earthquake’s tactic as:
Specific Player Roles
San Jose’s squad is probably the weakest in the league and it’s no wonder that the media predict them to finish bottom of the Western Conference in Football Manager 2019. Any success however will largely be dependant upon getting the best out of Vako Qazaishvili & Magnus Eriksson. For this exercise I gave them roles that I felt they performed for most of the match Vs LA Galaxy game: Inside Forward and Shadow Striker.
Both players were very mobile on-and-off the ball and had a real attacking threat throughout the game. It’s for this reason that I gave the central striker role a supportive duty (Target Man), in the attempt to bring the best out of Vako & Magnus. Now, if I had a better squad with more creative and mobile strikers than Chris Wondolowski & Danny Hoesen, I’d probably have chosen a more mobile/flamboyant supportive role to suit (Deep Lying Forward, False 9 etc.). But it goes back to my point about San Jose’s squad being weak, so I’ll therefore go with the simplicity of a Target Man.
Inside Forward - Vako
Vako is the man. He has complementary Player Traits to play the Inside Forward role well and suitable attributes (with key ones highlighted below):
The Inside Forward role is a popular choice for me in FM, but it’s also a frustrating choice. Even the FM description (below) goes some way to warn players by saying that players can end up in ‘cul-de-sacs’. It’s risk Vs reward though, I need Vako to cut inside and put to use his great Dribbling and Off The Ball attributes.
Shadow Striker - Magnus Eriksson
Magnus Eriksson is played ‘in the hole’ by Almeyda, often looking to break through into the final third. To replicate his positioning and common movement, I have slotted him into the team as a Shadow Striker:
The role is only available on Attack duty and he’ll be a useful aggressive presser of the ball in the opposition’s half. As mentioned previously, he’ll be combined with a support role…so there should be some natural link-up there.
Magnus doesn’t excel in terms of Key Attributes for the role, but he has strong Mental/Fibra Attributes (Aggression, Bravery, Determination, Teamwork & Work Rate) that will contribute to the team ethic.
Replicating Real Life
In order to replicate Almeyda-ball I read a number of match reports and articles regarding San Jose’s 2019 campaign, but I also watched San Jose’s latest match (at the time of writing) against LA Galaxy in what is known as a North American ‘Cali Derby’. The highlights are found above and it provided an interesting match-up between Boca boy Guillermo Barros Schelotto and his River rival Matías Almeyda. There were certainly undertones of a Superclásico, as San Jose ran out 3-1 winners after going a goal behind in the first minute.
The takeaway notes from watching the full 90 minutes was that Almeyda’s team adopt:
High pressing & tight marking
High energy and high levels of fitness
A shoot on sight policy
This was a much harder tactic to replicate in Football Manager than my previous attempt at a Coudet 4132, and I think it’s mainly due to San Jose’s unique style of pressing…which ultimately feels like 10 outfield players man marking the opposition at times. You can see below my competitive fixtures for the first 5 MLS games, and what I did to better it after each game:
Shoot on Sight
I have included statistics from the games I played in FM regarding the shot locations, something I wanted to replicate in-game. It became a feature of the match Vs LA Galaxy, with Goalkeeper David Bingham being called into action time and time again to save the Galaxy (from what the Commentators kept calling ‘power shots’).
The Shoot On Sight Team Instruction combined with the aforementioned Inside Forward and Shadow Striker roles have helped me reach the % ratios I was looking to replicate:
Pressing and quick transitioning
There are moments where the game-play is quite similar to the real-life San Jose press, with Judson in the Ball Winning Midfielder (on Defend) getting stuck in. He’s probably another one of the roles I got right in this formation as his tenacity was accurately reflected in the game…attempting 22 tackles and succeeding in 18 of them (81%), over 4 games.
I’m happy with Magnus Eriksson too. The Shadow Striker scoring 2 and assisting 2 in the first 5 games of the season. But more importantly, he’s been energetic in chasing the opposition down and making a nuisance of himself. Below is an example of his mobility via a 90 minute Heat/Touch/Key Passes map (both in FM & real-life) and accompanying GIF showing work rate to make a successful interception:
One thing I felt I never truly got right was my use of the Full Back roles in the San Jose team. Like Almeyda, I started to use more expansive Wing Backs on Support Duty…however I soon encountered that everybody I faced in MLS played with advanced wingers in a 4-2-3-1. Their AMLs/AMRs were always getting the better of our Full Backs…so after the Sporting Kansas draw (in which we were lucky to get anything out of), I conservatively kept my Full Backs on Defend. I feel dirty for doing it, but it gave us more security.
Overall, I’m happy with the attempt at replicating Matías Almeyda’s 4-2-3-1 with San Jose Earthquakes, it’s by no means totally accurate but we do see some similarities played out in Football Manager 2019’s match engine. If you can’t be bothered to set up the tactic as detailed above, I have also published it to the Steam Workshop. Left click on the image below…
As always, thanks in advance for any shares on this piece. Please let me know if you try this system with either San Jose, or any other team. It would be interesting to see how you get on.