Dafuge, Data & (Sea)Dogs

Dafuge and Data, that’s the plan. You might have seen me mention it on twitter or when I was kindly allowed onto GrassNGear with my doppelganger. I’ll be taking over a team as per the rules of the famous Dafuge’s challenge in FM21 and attempting to lead them to glory. But I’ll be using the power of data and statistics to drive the team forward. Much like my FM20 Beta By The Numbers series. Except now I won’t have to work out xG by hand. I’ve picked a club with an unpleasant yet inspiring mascot, and I’ll soon be sacrificing fashionable football at the altar of statistics to please the pragmatic ghosts of football past (I’m looking at you Reep, Taylor, Big Sam, Pulis and the Crazy Gang).

Dafuge Challenge for FM21

You have probably already heard of the Dafuge challenge, long before this Dafuge and Data post. It is a classic challenge on the forums and has been around since FM05 at the very least.

In case you are not aware though in this challenge players attempt to take a team that is newly promoted to the bottom tier of English football, one not playable at the start of the game, to Premiership and European glory. This involves holidaying for a season to see who is promoted and building from the ground up.

There are a host of other rules about player searches, trials, affiliates and the database. I won’t be sticking to all of them but I will be sticking to the spirit of it. Bringing a team up with reasonably realistic methods.

In a way, I had attempted to do this with Belfast Celtic in FM19 as part of By The Numbers. A variant of the Dafuge challenge outside of England once known as the Gundo challenge. The problem I hit with this was despite 11 seasons of hard work I was limited by the lack of money and prestige in Northern Ireland. I was a tiny fish in a puddle. It was hard to get the most out of data when I couldn’t afford data analysts.

With Dafuge and Data though I will be able to develop the team and benefit from the riches and reputation of the English game.

Driven by Data

Football Manager has always had a wealth of data in it but FM21 seems perfect for a save where we make the most of data. More per 90 stats, efficiency graphs, xG and xG stories. All will help.

But why bother with statistics? It all comes down to things like marginal gains. Getting every edge and benefit you can to beat the opposition. Whether that’s in a title race or a relegation battle.

It’s especially useful for smaller clubs with limited resources. Squeezing out extra goals or improving a key stat like interceptions or clean sheets. You might not be able to afford millions for new players but you can probably stretch to the wages for a performance analyst.

In the intro I name checked a few people like Big Sam. Public perception aside he was definitely an innovater at using data and novel techniques in the Premiership. A big believer in the ‘team behind the team’, and the use of stats driven approaches like POMO – getting the ball into positions of maximum opportunity. Whilst I won’t be accepting any bungs during this save I will be trying to do what Big Sam did with Bolton. What Taylor did with Watford, and to a lesser extent Pulis with Stoke and WBA (he did use some stats. I promise).

Using xG

This is a new feature for xG though I’ve been using my own version since FM19, and even partially automated it for FM20. I’ve also written a brief guide for it on Dictate the Game.

For Dafuge and Data I’ll be be using xG for a few things. From matches to assess tactics, xG against to assess keepers, individual xG to assess players and transfers, and xG per shot to get into the nitty-gritty.

This will mean using xG a lot more than last year but then it should be easier to now it is all over the place. Just have to cross my fingers that some of the issues with it are fixed for release.

I’ll be going a bit beyond what is in the game though. All stats need a bit of context and whilst average xG and per 90 will be useful I’ll be getting the standard deviations out, the graphs and the test to get all the information.

Per 90 KPI’s

KPIs, or key performance indicators, are going to be essential for the Dafuge and Data journey. The game gives us average ratings but these are near useless. They are vague, have historically favoured attacking outcomes, and don’t really tell you much about the specific tasks your players are doing.

With defenders for example I care about blocks, interceptions, key headers etc. much more than the average rating. One goal can make a poor defender look like they have had a great game. And I don’t pay them score, I pay them to break legs.

Likewise, though a flurry of interceptions in one game can cover for a drought in others so knowing how they do on average, per 90, it’s much more useful. Thankfully more stats in FM21 is available as per 90 data. Which means I can assess each position based on what I actually value for the style of football I want to play.

I’ll be breaking out some custom screens and squad views just like I did for FM20.

Deep Dives for Dafuge and Data

I’ll be cracking out the stats software to do a much deeper dive with the data. Once I’ve got data about my KPIs, for the style I play, I can analyse player attributes to see how they predict and contribute to the KPIs success.

Like I did in earlier versions I’ll be reverse engineering my team DNA. Aggression, bravery and positioning were big winners when I did it before considering the Crazy Gang inspired tactic I was working with.

Taken from a DNA analysis in FM19! The higher the value the better it is as a predictor of the KPI

I’ll also be revisiting the use of xA or expected assists and received pass position (combined with xG to see what players are adding). Hopefully, with the statistics improvements, this will be easier to do and more enlightening than in previous years.

Received pass positions from FM20 can be used to check the off the ball ability of your attackers, and to see how much xG their own later movement adds.

Scarborough, The Seasiders, The Seadogs

So which club for Dafuge and Data then? Well, as COVID brought much lower league football to a close the teams that could be promoted in FM20 were pretty much the same as for FM21.

I wanted a team that would be a good fit for the style of play I tend to favour, and ideally, I had some sort of connection to. I trawled the list, automatically excluded every team from the south and then settled.

The Spirit Animal of Serial Killers everywhere

That’s right. Scarborough. The Seadogs.

As a child I had many happy visits to Scarborough and was often confused by the McCain stadium entrance that poked out near a row of houses (I think). I also have terrible adult memories of Scarborough after attending the worst ever conference of my career there, whilst staying in a hotel that had both a severe outbreak of norovirus and several deaths of elderly guests. I was also mean about Scarborough on a Dictate the Game podcast so I feel I owe them something too.

Importantly their mascot is a Seagull. And Seagulls are terrible animals. If you had a Seagull as your spirit animal it would mean you are probably a serial hitchhiker murderer. There are plenty of videos online of seagulls cheekily stealing chips, waddling in and out of shops. But I saw one kill and eat a pigeon in Birmingham city centre.

I know this isn’t directly football manager related but please bear with me. This Seagull, a scavenger, in a city centre, rather than scavenging for the plentiful scraps around decided to murder a pigeon. Because it could. This sheer bastardry along with the motto ‘No Battle, No Victory’ fits the style of play I’m likely going to be using. Violent aggressive hoofball that uses stats driven POMO’s and plans.

Seagull Inspired Tactics

So I’ve kind of hinted at what will be going on with Dafuge and Data tactically. We have an aggressive spirit animal and the aim of replicating Big Sam’s Bolton-esque overachievement using stats. So it’s only fair we try and replicate Big Sam and his contempoaries tactically. Also, I love playing hoofball.

Expect the 442 to get a good run out, and for all players to have ‘Get Stuck In’ permanently on. The beauty of a straight forward 442 hoofball with everyone doing simple jobs is that it’s easier to break down and assess statistically.

Peak tactical violence with Wimbledon in FM20. Watch the No.30 do God’s work off the ball

I’ll be updating this post with a link to my tactical plans and how I’m going to assess them later, but for now try last years offerings.

Dafuge and Data Save Plan

I might aim to do a few YouTube updates but I think the stats behind Dafuge and Data will work better on the blog. I’ll be posting about the tactical set up and recruitment, and the occasional end of season update but everything in between will be a post about a particular element of stats and data in FM21, or a problem I’ve tried to fix with data.

I’m already in December in the beta with Scarborough. I’ve no idea whether this save will survive beta. Occasionally there are bugs or data changes that need a fresh start. I’ve got my fingers crossed it is all fine but we will see. Either way we will be using the power of stats and seagulls!

No Battle, No Victory!

A Seagull, probably.