Understanding roles in Football Manager (and real life) (part 1)
A brief Introduction
One of the toughest parts in playing Football Manager (FM) is understanding the roles of the players and how they work in game. For a better understanding, I’ll be trying to describe each role here, focusing on their movement and their needs in the game. For instance, I’ll start this part one explaining the strikers and Attacking midfielders wide roles inside FM18, then in the next days I’ll be publishing the ones relative from the other positions in the field.
First of all, there is something quite catchy to understand in the FM world that is the duties of the players. Defend, support and attack have their importance in what the player will do, but also defines which part of the field the player will act. If in an attack duty, a player might be pushed forward than other in the same position, but with an support duty. Thinking the spaces the players start combined with the pockets of space in the field they will move into is fundamental in the task of perfecting a tactic whilst making the most of your squad.
In the first roles described here, you will see two lines in white crossing the field, to show this spatial distance between players in different duties and how they tend to act. After these few examples, I think the understanding of this concept will be a bit easier and the lines won’t be needed. Having said that, let’s begin with the AMRL roles existing in the game (as of FM18).
→ The Advanced Playmaker
The Advanced Playmaker is a role that exists in the positions MC, AMC, AMR and AML, but as of today we’ll be tracking how it operates in the AMR-AML positions. He is primarily a midfielder placed in a wider position, who seeks to find spaces to create opportunities for himself and for the other players, especially searching the space between defensive lines. He comes in a narrow position but tends to backtrack defensively when the team is without the ball.
As mentioned before, the white lines means that these players will have a starting position different than the other. The advanced playmaker in an attacking stance will play closer to the opposing full back, whilst trying to move into central positions when he’s got the ball, especially exploiting the space between the lines, narrowing the defence (since the full back, who’s usually chosen to mark the wide player will move inside to close in the advanced playmaker). This may be a good alternative since this narrowing of the defence tends to open the wing space for a marauding full back or wingback exploiting the space.
In a supporting duty, the advanced playmaker will look more like a midfielder, operating closer to the MC’s or DM’s (depending on the formation) and giving better possession balancing. While they will still come inside and exploit the space between lines, they won’t do it to try and find an opportunity to himself, rather than playing through passes towards the more offensive players.
Players who play this role and position in modern football might include Philipe Coutinho in the Brazil national team, Mkhitaryan in its Borussia Dortmund years, David Silva and Samir Nasri in the Mancini’s tenure as a boss at Manchester City (which would play a 4–2–2–2 wide with both moving inwards to overload the center of the field and opening gaps at wide areas).
→ The wingers
One of the most common roles in wide areas is the winger, which come in support or attack duty. Their role is pretty simple: get the ball, beat the defender with pace and deliver a cross of diagonal shot towards goal. They tend to start in wide positions, so they’ll attack directly the opposing full back and stretch the defense.
As represented in the image, the two duties possible for the wingers affect their capacity of attacking their starting positions. In an attacking role, the winger can move either wide in an one-vs-one against the full back, or move diagonally into the area (especially if the ball is in the opposing half) to be a goalscoring threat. In a support duty, instead, they will seek to receive the ball in a deeper position so to have space to accelerate with the ball, looking more for the cross and less for the infiltration in opposition area. As with the advanced playmaker, they will also try to track back defensively when without the ball, aswell as pressing the full backs if asked to do so (in a close down more approach). Typical wingers (as said out-and-out wingers) nowadays are Jesus Navas, Kinglsey Coman, Gelson Martins and others.
→ Inside forwards
Inside forwards are considered to be a more offensive kind of wide player, sometimes resembling a forward. Their main task is to receive the ball and move inside with her, usually looking for a long shot or a through pass to the forward. Differently from the advanced playmakers, they can operate either wider or narrower. For instance, you can position an inside forward with a stay wider instruction, so he’ll receive the ball almost at the touchline and trying to accelerate diagonally or between lines, disrupting the defensive line and creating havoc between full back and central defenders (who don’t know when to stop follow the inside forward and when the other is supposed to).
This way, as you can see, the Inside Forward will sneak the spaces in inside positions, moving to find spaces for a long shot (as would Robben do) or finding a free player to score a goal (Messi in the Guardiola era, playing in the right wing). In an attacking duty, the inside forward will try to move closer to the defenders and touch the box to provide a finish, whilst in the support duty, he will start in a deeper position, farther from the defensive line to have space to accelerate with the ball and provide passes or attempt a long shot. In both duties, is worth saying, the inside forward will try to track back defensively and help the defence when being attacked.
→ Wide target man
This is one of the most uncommon positions in the game, and I must say I used it in few occasions, as it kind of doesn’t fit that well my possession based style. Yet, it is a good role for people who like direct game. The main task of the wide target man is to receive long balls in wide areas, especially winning aerial duels against the full back (which usually is a shorter player) and holding onto the ball until the other players come to receive the ball.
The wide target man comes in two roles, support and attack. In the attacking role, he’ll mainly stay close to the full back, waiting for a long ball to win against him and hold the ball up. This way, it is a good fit when you got your team cornered in your own area, struggling to relieve the pressure from the defence. In the support role, instead, the wide target man will be a little deeper, trying to attract the full back out of its position in the defending line, looking to retain the ball in the space while trying to find its teammates.
As far as I know, I can remember only two players that played in this role actually, which would be Romelu Lukaku at some point of his spell at Everton (he would play in the right wing and then, with the ball, exploit the space left by Naismith playing a false nine role) and Sabin Merino at Athletic Bilbao (especially in the SuperCopa de España duels against Barcelona, being as a long ball weapon against Barça’s short full backs). Maybe Walters during his spell at Stoke City could be considered a wide target man too, but the previous two were more certain.
→ The Raumdeuter and the Trequartista
These two roles come only in an attacking duty, and the trequartista role is also seen in the AMC and ST positions, whilst the raumdeuter is exclusive to the AMRL position.
A raumdeuter, german word which would mean something like “space investigator” is a wide player who seeks to find pockets of space which he would be more useful to receive a pass or score a goal. He won’t be a player that is either too creative or so, but has lots of mental skills and knows how to move into the better positions to make the team work. Defensively, though, he’s the least defensive minded of the wider players. He won’t be coming back to help in the defence, mainly staying positioned in the center of the pitch when the team is in defensive phase, waiting for a ball so he can get an attacking chance. So, to use him, is better to create an environment and a system of defensive compensations so the opponent won’t exploit his lack of defensive commitment. The most common example of a raumdeuter is Thomas Muller, the bavarian raumdeuter per excellence. Schürle, at some point of his career, could be considered a raumdeuter aswell.
The trequartista, instead, will roam from his position in the pitch and try to create chances for himself and other players. While he doesn’t make too much of a defensive work, he may surge in a deeper position to get the ball as well as he can move either wide or inside to create goalscoring opportunities. A trequartista in the right wing, for instance, may be as able to go through the full back and find a cross into the box as much as he can come inside and find a good goalscoring position or through pass. He is mainly focused in being a 9 and a half (that means, an hybrid of a number 9 and a number 10). Defensively, he won’t press much the defenders (unless he’s got great work rate and determination) and will simply try to find spaces without the ball so he can do his magic. Famous trequartistas playing wide would be del Piero (at some point of his spell at Juve), Giovinco and maybe Insigne at Napoli.
The STC strata roles
→ Deep lying forwards, Advanced Forwards and the Poacher
The two most basic (and complementary) types of strikers are the deep lying forwards and the advanced forwards. Both operate in the striker strata and have different approaches to the game.
The deep lying forward comes in two duties (support and attack) and are more likely to operate in a deeper role, seeking space to receive the ball and attack the defensive line. They do tend to press the opponents, but moderately, while also trying to be a link from the midfield to the attack. The one in the support stance will operate almost as an attacking midfielder player in starting position, while trying to accelerate the game and finding passes or long shots to the offensive phase of the game. The attacking one will be a bit only higher, but almost never in contact with the defensive line, so is a good role if you’re looking for a type of play that demands a fast and dribbling striker which can pull the central defender out of his position and overplay him. Examples of this kind of role are many, such as Luis Suárez at Liverpool, Dries Mertens playing as number 9 at Napoli among others.
The advanced forward, differently from its deeper lying counterpart, is most interested in breaking the defensive line (avoiding the offside line) and break into the goal or to the crossline and find a teammate coming from behind. He delivers with a lot of concentration to avoid the offside but lacks participation in the making up of the game, making its time waiting for a space which he could use to break forward and find a goal or an assist. In terms of pressing, he won’t be doing much to press, being only moderate on this task. So, if you want a more high pressing team, it might not be the greatest choice to have an advanced forward. An example of an advanced forward would be Gonzalo Higuaín or Daniel Sturridge in the Suarez-Sterling-Sturridge era.
The poacher, differently from the former two roles, is the most offensive minded striker role. He only cares of breaking the line and finding spaces, not contributing in defensive or construction phase of the game. He may be what one would call a “fox in the box”, only sneaking for a chance so he can score. A typical goalscorer in the most extreme form, he only cares about making the goals, not assisting, nor defending. He wants to lock up the defensive line higher and sneak on one of its mistakes. For this, you might wanna have a team that’s prepared to create the opportunities he craves so much. As an example of this kind of striker, Romario would be the greatest example of that The baixinho would sneak in between the defenders and find its space for a header or a break and score his goals.
→ The false 9 and the Defensive Forwards
Both of these roles are pretty common nowadays and had some success especially in exploiting defensive weaknesses contexts. The false 9, which came into ressurgence especially after the glorious Barça 6–2 Real Madrid at Bernabeu, which saw Messi play centrally while Eto’o moved wide is the highlight of the false 9 role. Coming only with a support duty, he mainly stays near the defensive line and, when a pass is coming to him, he’ll move deeper, attracting the centerback near him to tackle him, opening a gap in the defence which would be exploited by a winger or another striker with a swift through pass.
Different from the Trequartista, the false 9 tends to make defensive work, pressing when not in possession whilst playing a bit higher than the trequartista. His main skill is to know when to come deep and when to stay higher up the pitch, so as to create pockets of space for other players. He is mainly a “facilitator”, trying to carve spaces where there is not, while also appearing upfront and scoring his goals (usually following a pass combination and freeing himself from the centerback marking).
The defensive forward, which may sound as an oxymoron, is a role that comes with a defend (!) and a support duties. They will focus especially in pressing the defenders, coming deep in defensive phases to help to recover the ball, and focusing less on scoring goals. He tries to disrupt the and annoy the defenders by following them and making the ball distribution from the back more difficult.
The defensive forward is a great choice for a high pressing side as well as a team which has defensive frailties (or plays defensive football). He will pretty much make the defenders life a living hell, tackling and marking all the time, while also scoring some goals in the process. An example of defensive forward nowadays is Lars Stindl, at Borussia Mönchengladbach, a former center midfielder that was recreated as a forward which would help to shut down every passing lane of the opposition defense.
→ Target men and Complete men.
The target man, as its wide counterpart, is a player that tends to use its physical potency to win aerial duels upfront and retaining the ball for its teammates. Extremely useful for a route one long ball brand of football, the target man will seek goalscoring opportunities, especially in crosses while also trying to retain possession in the beggining of the construction phase. Acting like an offensive pivot, he may send the signal for the other players where he is and which play to use.
In an attacking duty, the target man will stay near the centreback and win the aerial duel against him, pushing the defence farther up. In the support duty, instead, he may be more interested in linking up play, win the ball up in pockets of space and play short passes or cushion headed passes to a more forward positioned player to attack. Examples of this kind of forward might include Aritz Aduriz from Athletic Bilbao, Fernando Llorente from Tottenham, Peter Crouch from Stoke and many others.
Finally, the last role to be defined here is a compilation of all central striker roles we’ve seen here: the Complete forward.
The complete forward is a competent striker which can operate all the roles described, like physical potency, speed, creativity, and knowing how and when to use it. The complete forward might win long balls like a target man, break lines like an advanced forward or poacher, or link up play like a trequartista. This role comes in two duties: support and attacking.
In an attacking duty, the complete forward will seek to stay near the defenders, receiving passes and assists to the goal, while also pressing a bit. In a support duty, he’ll stay a bit deeper, but will have more emphasis in the linking up play and pressing opponents, while also tracking back to help the midfield.
Having said that, these are the strikers and wide players roles in FM18. Hope this could help you FM fans, and hope to see you guys soon for the second part of the series, which would focus in the midfield strata (DM-MC-MRL-AMC).