Dafuge & Data: No Longball Tactics, No Party

When it comes to tactics I don’t want to rehash too much of my earlier violence and pragmatism post from FM20. But to be honest, a lot of it still applies. What is maybe a little different for Football Manager 2021 is the way I’ll be assessing it. The stats in the game are a little (a lot) bugged but I’m still planning on holding up my tactics and performance against the stats mirror to see what is going on. If you are looking for action then maybe wait for a different post. If you want to hear about brutal longball tactics, stats and why Big Sam is an under-appreciated genius then stick around.

Inspiration for tactics

I like a lot of different tactical approaches. I’m not completely blinkered. But I love brutal aggressive functional longball. Partly because I’ve seen lots of it, but also because it’s the approached favoured by underdogs. It’s also often the undoing of bigger ‘better’ teams. If Wenger was so great why did he always struggle against Bolton and Stoke, even knowing how they played? To put it another way, if your hoity-toity football is so good why aren’t you leaving with all the points?

tactics wenger

These smaller clubs always have more of a fairy tale about them. Watford, Wimbledon, Bolton, Stoke. Small clubs, little in the way of resources in comparison, but plenty of scalps. And still in many cases entertaining (though not in the opinion of the purists).

This lack of resources and big names meant often relying on more limited tactics, but also any edges or marginal gains they could get. In some cases from statistics. Taylor delivered a refined longball (long pass he would have said) approach in (controversial) conjunction with Charles Reep. After his eye-opening experience in the USA Big Sam and his devotee’s revolutionised the backroom in terms of resources, training and data. All things that fit for this Dafuge and Data save. Tactics driven and supported by data.

The Right of the Weak

In theory, the data and stats could work for any tactic. It doesn’t have to be brutal longball that I pair it with. But I refer back to a key concept here – The Right of the Weak. Lev Filatov is the source of the saying, essentially defending certain tactical approaches for clubs based on their relative stature. It would be unseemly for Barcelona to hoof it forward and drag their studs down the shins of their markers. But for Scarborough that is totally fine.

You have to play to your means. And our mascot is a bastard seagull. Violent tackles and sledgehammer subtle passes all the way for the Seadogs.


It’s a good workhorse formation. It’s not fancy. It doesn’t rely on positions or roles that might be uncommon, and it doesn’t ask limited players to do uncomfortable things. I’m not going to have to explain to a non-league veteran what he’s meant to be doing as an inverted wingback for example.

442 tactics

It’s going to be easy to staff essentially, and each position because of the straightforward approach used is going to be easy to assess. I don’t want a formation that will involve a lot of swapping and movement between players as that makes it harder to assess how a player is doing.

And whilst simple the 442 is still pretty flexible. We can go from ultra-defensive with two tight banks for four to an almost 424 without any change in the structure. Role changes and instruction changes can have a huge impact here which again means I don’t have to worry about having every position covered by players.

I won’t always stick to a 442 but whilst we are poor and play in the Flamingo Land stadium it’s likely 442 is as complicated as we can get. It took me 10 seasons with Belfast in FM20 before I made the move to 3 upfront.


We are going for long ball from the start. We will be tackling hard (both as a team instruction and with every possible player having it as a PI as well). In terms of mentality we have gone for cautious so we play almost as counter-attack, draw them in, wait, and then longball over the top. Or, draw them in, wait, and then longball out to the wings to be crossed in. Nice and simple but also helps keep us compact.

Importantly we won’t be counter-pressing. We aren’t going to be good enough for that for a while. I’d rather keep our shape and regroup. Along with the BWN, the no-nonsense CB’s and our full-backs who are encouraged to pass long early, we should stay fairly compact.

We will be crossing from deep where possible, and distributing it long to our targetman. With the wingers also being on attack, and the box to box midfielder getting involved we should be able to get plenty of players forward when we need to. Hopefully creating some overloads in the process.

Stepping our tactics up a Gear

In terms of tactics its probably more accurate to say shifting gears. But with the 442 we have a range of ways to change the squad without needing a big formation change. This is really important as I’ll probably need to keep the squad small, and will probably only have a few decent players. I won’t have the resources to field a 442 and some crazy variant.

Tweaks for Tactics: Duties, Roles & Instructions

If we need to summon the spirit of Tony Pulis then we can change a few roles quickly to lock the team up into two strong banks for four. Which combined with the regroup instruction should make us hard to break down.

The fullbacks become no-nonsense fullbacks. The wingers either become wide midfielders on support or defensive wingers. And as an added full catenaccio bonus the BBM can just become a MC-d. And just like that, with a snap of the manager’s fingers, we will become really difficult to watch.

pulisball tactics
Difficult to watch you say? Tell me more.

If we want to become more attacking though we can make a simple switch on the flanks, getting our full backs further forward and involved in overlaps. In fact if we combine this with some focus instructions we can use the same formation but with more attacking and overlapping fullbacks to create space.

If we are tired of sitting back and need to gain possession again then we can also switch to counter-press. This is for when we want to summon the ghost of Wimbledon and the spirits of Vinnie Jones and Fashanu. The players already have get stuck in on, and will be quite aggressive so this switch should help us bully teams. I have a feeling I won’t be able to pull it off often, or for long, until our stature in the game increases a little.

Formerly longballs

Tactic Tweaks: Mentality & Tempo

Another to go up through the gears quickly is the mentality and tempo. By upping it from cautious I can encourage more attacking play, more risks. Which for my team should translate into more long balls.

Tactically changing the tempo should also allow us to play riskier passes at times, and shift from holding possession to launching quicker counter attacks as and when needed. All whilst keeping the shape broad shape from the 442 tactic.

Tactic Tweaks: Subs

In terms of tactics, this doesn’t sound like game-changing. Almost insultingly obvious but, different players play differently. I have a beast of a Targetman lined up. But he’s also slow and plays with his back to goal. He’s probably going to drop deeper, and even on attack duty, is going to be more involved in setting up the other striker and flying winger than he is taking it on himself.

Kayode tactics
The man, the myth, the 39 year old target man

He’s unlikely to be running at the defense much because I’m not convinced at 39 he can run. But this means when he is on the pitch he becomes the creative foil to the PF. But if I’m against a defensive that is a little slower, or as they get tired, I can bring on a more mobile striker and stretch them. Kayode for bullying, other strikers for running. Same role, different results.

The same applies on the wing. Bright is a physically imposing winger, strong, runs hard and crosses well.

Gyamfi in comparison is small, agile and dribbles for fun. He’s more likely to be on the end of a cross-field ball than he is to be the one providing them. But again they are both offering something different from the same role on the pitch, within the very same 442.

Tactics and Data

I’m meant to be boring you with data and statistics, not my love of hoofball. So lets get on with how we are going to keep tabs on the tactic.

Get it forward

FM21 has a handy output after games that shows you a pie chart of passes. Forwards, sideways and passes. Now this without context isn’t massively useful but given that I’d like to play a direct hoofball game I can use this to keep tabs on this.

Playing a slower more cautious game I would expect around 25% of the passes to be forward. As we are only going for it if there looks like there are options. But when we go up through the gears and become more attacking I’ll be expecting this stat to rise.

Linked to this I’ll be heading to the assist types to keep an eye on how the goals are being provided. I’m expecting long/medium passes, through balls and crosses to be the big winners here.

We also have information on the length of the passes made. The longer the better obviously for us.

xG for, against and position

I love xG. So for my strikers, it’s what I’m going to be using to assess how well they are doing, and whether they are on an unlucky or lucky run or not. For the tactic as a whole, I’ll be using it to see how productive we are going forward.

If we start to struggle with creating xG then a change might be needed. And when I do make changes it’ll be xG that I return to as part of the assessment. I could really do with xG per game, and xG per shot being in the game but for some reason, that’s beyond FM at the moment. I’ll be using my squad views and excel to squeeze more data out here.

That’s right. My keeper is getting assists via longball

I’ll also be using xG against to assess my keeper. It’s a simple comparison. How many goals should we have conceded, and how many did we concede (per keeper). If we concede noticeably more than the xG says we should have done we’ve either been unlucky or the keeper will be picking up his P45.

Again it would be great if FM21 had a stat for xG faced or xG against for keepers. Instead, we have things like percentage parried which is useless to me. My keeper could launch each ball like he was re-enacting the volleyball scene from Top Gun and I wouldn’t care so long as it wasn’t a goal.

Defensive Unit

I’m a big fan of intercepting or blocking passes long before they become something that needs a tackle. So I’ll be keeping an eye on our interceptors and blockers. It doesn’t have to be pretty.

But I’m also a big fan of crunching tackles so I’ll be keeping an eye on that as well. Or would be if FM21 didn’t have a bug where key tackles are just not recorded. So I’ll be using other tackle measures, all per 90 to keep an eye on what players are doing defensively.

I’ll be keeping an eye on key passes and chances created here too. Which sounds a bit weird but with long and through balls from our hoofing defenders it’s quite likely they’ll grab a few more assists than normal. The same with our full-backs crossing from deep. If we hit on the counter well they might make themselves some assist bonus money.

Alongside all this I’ll also be keeping an eye on when and how we concede to pinpoint areas of weakness.

Set Pieces

FM21 doesn’t really like to accurately record goals scored and conceded from set-pieces. But with my fingers crossed for this to be fixed alongside the key tackles issue in the patch, I’ll be trying to keep track of how we do here. The plan is to use long throws a la Delap to squeeze out more goals, cause chaos in the box and use set-pieces as another route to goals.

It fits in nicely with the right of the weak. The use of dead-ball time by Pulis at Stoke, and Delap’s rockets, won them plenty of points. And to his credit when Pulis was at West Brom he and his analysts managed to pick out the perfect POMO, position of maximum opportunity for free-kick delivery.

As we are planning to be strong and aggressive having set pieces that cause lots of chaos, especially aerial chaos, should suit us nicely.

Up Next

We’ve talked tactics but there’s been no action. When I started writing this it was near the start of my first season with the Seadogs so I had little data to use, and even fewer resources to do anything about it. So it’s been a little action free. But I’ll be using this data and more to start improving the club and tactics.

We’ve already had a problem crop up, and we’ve already fixed it with data. My next post is going to be about how to solve a problem like my terrible right back.