Monkey see, monkey do.
Monkey see, monkey do. Original: Effects by Lunapic.

Monkey see, monkey do.

Last time, then, I promised to share what good teams in Football Manager do, in the hope that I can replicate their successful strategies in my own save – monkey see, monkey do.

Remember, I am running a heavily-modified database in FM2022. I have butchered the whole of the Brazilian National First Division, extending it to 48 clubs, all of whom play a different default formation. And, those 48 clubs have had their squads populated with 64 identical players, whose every attribute is 10.

This attempt to ‘cancel the noise’, means, I hope, that whatever interesting information comes out of the testing, is a consequence of the tactics, team instructions, and player instructions. It must be, because it is certainly not a case of team X possessing superior footballers to team Y, that being the explanation for why team X wins more frequently.

As with anything I am doing, there are limitations imposed upon what I am able to achieve. When you put 48 teams into a single division – to match the number of default formations available in Football Manager 2022 – you are no longer able to play a double round-robin season, because 94 matches is too many. You can, however, get away with each team facing each opponent just the once, and so that is what I have reluctantly settled for.

Also, I want to compare apples with apples, and oranges with oranges, and, what that means for my testing, is that the team and player instructions must be the same, in any one save. I don’t learn anything if my 4-4-2 is running at the defence, counter-pressing, and using the offside trap, whilst my 5-3-2DM Narrow is holding its shape, preventing short goal kicks, and playing for set pieces.

In this initial run, then, all the instructions remain unchecked. It is very much the Clean Slate, in Football Manager’s language (and the allocated roles/duties, are the default ones for that formation):

What came out, then, after a season of running this, in holiday mode?

Well, you can read for yourself, above, what it is that the top five teams are doing. (A green cell indicates that the team in question is doing something which falls within the top, or bottom, ten per cent of the sample.) Okay, so no surprises that they score a lot of goals, have a high expected goals for, and take a lot of shots.

It doesn’t seem to be as important to shoot accurately, though (shots on%), so long as you’re doing a lot of it. This makes me suspect that working the ball into the box is less important than shooting on sight.

The opposite seems to be the case with crosses, though – it’s quality over quantity. Successful teams aren’t sending over cross after cross after cross (none of the top five lead in completed crosses), but two of the top five teams are hitting the mark with just under a third of them. So, you don’t want your players to ‘cross more often’, but I reckon they need the attributes you’d expect from a good crosser of a football – decisions, composure, vision, maybe flair, maybe concentration, and, oh, yeah, crossing. You can search for those things when you’re trying to recruit players, and you can try to prime what you’ve got, by including ‘chance creation’ in your training schedules.

I can also see that dribbling isn’t as important as I’d have imagined – again, none of the top five teams have a green cell for it. Hence, if you ain’t dribbling, you’re going to be building your attacks by passing well. This is borne out by the realisation that three of our top five clubs, are in that top ten per cent for ball retention. Straightforward enough, with no unexpected curveball to confuse things, right? Wrong! The successful teams have a lot of the ball. But they are not in the top bracket for either passes completed, or for passing accuracy. And, yet, they have a lot of the ball. What gives, then?

It’s speculative, but what if the successful teams are winning the ball back quickly, and restricting the opposition in that way? Passing accuracy isn’t important, if you’re retaking possession as soon as you lose it.

Notice, too, that the top five clubs, are winning loads of headers, and plenty of interceptions. It makes me want to recruit players who are good in the air, with good anticipation, along with high positioning, teamwork, and determination – as well as, of course, training those attributes as and where I can.

I’ll see happens when I run some further seasons, with various team instructions ticked – but, at least it’s a start.

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