Dafuge & Data: The Way of the Warrior
The Football Manager and Star Trek crossover that no one asked for. We’ve had to make a change in our tactics to turn around a bit of a dip in form. We’ve gone from hoofball to brutality-ball. The last two and half seasons have been spent using a tame version of the longball that whilst aggressive probably stopped short of earning all my players ASBO’s. But we are going to channel our inner Klingon here. Because I’m a nerd and I’ve been watching lots of Star Trek whilst on leave.
We have taken on the mindset of death before dishonour. Except for us the death should be the on the opposing side. It’s not enough to win, the opposition must suffer. And if we can’t win, well…at least they suffered.
Differences in Direct Football
As alluded to in previous posts about approaches and DNA, and my DTG article, there are a range of longball or direct football approaches. Hoofball can exist as the sunday league cliche of just sticking it into the mixer. Or it can be something a little more refined. Despite being presented as a very one dimensional approach there’s actually a lot of depth.
Hoofball is a lot like a potato. A humble staple that’s not likely to be front and centre on a michelin starred menu. But one that has varieties, can be cooked different ways, and is always welcome with a pie.
You have the refined and attacking long passes into space or feet of Taylor. The stats driven inspiration and pragmatic approaches of Big Sam (POMO’s and Charles Reep inspiration included). The solidity and set piece reliance of Pulis. And the physical and psychological warfare of Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang.
We were newly promoted to the heady heights of the Vanarama National. Our first month or so went well as we stole points and lured away fans into the arcades. The Seagulls grew fat on the extra chips from the bigger crowds we were now drawing in at Flamingo Land.
Our solid, cautious, longball 442 seemed to be doing the trick. It kept our shape, we rode out the attacks and then hit the ball long on the counter.
We had a few striker issues in that new boy Coburn, a 6ft 6 striker, was doing all the right things but getting no joy. We also seemed to be conceding from distance, a side effect of shutting up shop and keeping our shape well.
But then the form dropped out, and the losses came. We went from the playoff zone to just outside, and then slid further and further into midtable. The crunch point was actually spread across two games. Playing Barrow and then Sutton were were 3 goals down by half time. The gentle longball approach wasn’t working and a quote from a recent Star Trek binge stuck in my mind.
If winning is not important, then why keep score?Worf
We had to do something to win. Winning is ultimately all that matters and everything else is just gilding the lilly. Or as our favourite Klingon also said, ‘In war nothing is more honourable than victory‘. Essentially the methods don’t matter if you win. It was time to go for a more brutal version of our longball tactic that would either bring us success or leave the enemey, opposition sorry, bruised and bloody.
In the 2nd half of both of these games I switched to a hastily made, and later improved, version of hoofball. Brutality-Ball. And in both cases I ‘won’ the second half though not the game.
New Brutality-Ball Tactic
When I created this I was frustrated. I was 3 goals down and the promising start to the season had evaporated like the first splash of vinegar on a freshly fried cod special. So I decided that I would use maximum violence to remedy things and make me feel better. I’d identified a few problems.
- Sitting back was inviting shots. Shots that my keeper was struggling with.
- Being cautious meant we were slow to get the ball forward sometimes.
- Regrouping rather than pressing not only encouraged long shots but also meant we had to wait long periods to get the ball and attack ourselves.
- In a similar vein regrouping gave their good players far too much time to do something magical.
Four Thousand Throats may be cut in one night by a running manKlingon Proverb
With this list of issues in mind I found inspiration in a Klingon saying (I’ve really, really, been binge watching DS9). A lot of damage can be done by someone on the move. A lot of throats can be cut. So in football terms I decided rather than holding back we would hunt, as a pack.
We would press and attack the players, to get the ball. We would then get the ball forward quickly, taking risks in the hope we would find space. This played into the concept of ‘reachers’ by the misguided but stats driven Charles Reep. Longballs from the defensive third into the attacking third, into what were danger areas (read high xG or POMO’s areas). This is what we were doing anyway but by upping the tempo and mentality we would be taking more risks to do it. Essentially we would be moving the ‘Stick it in the Mixer’ dial up to 11.
What this brutality-ball approach would also do is introduce an element of shithousing, with tactical and persistent fouling to break up play.
We didn’t need to make huge changes to fit in with this brutality-ball approach. A few small changes to mentality and pressing, as well as double checking everyone was on get stuck in (on top of the team instruction) made a big change to how we played, and the speed of play.
As time went on we made two additions to the strategy beyond the basic tactic.
- Drawing inspiration from FM Stag’s use of Opposition Instructions to target anyone get too creative. I used the general bench mark of putting out a hit on anyone who got more the 3 key passes. Or in Klingon terms they were challenged to honourable combat. To the death. They would be tackled hard, pressed, and marked tightly with the aim of either nullifying them or hurting them.
2. Running all night to cut throats can be pretty tiring. I noticed a dip in performance of the new brutality tactic at times. We often had 3-6 players with the dreaded Rest info icon next to them. So to keep us fresh and ready to fight another day I would manually rest players after each game for around 3-4 days. This seems a little extreme but remember we are semi-pro still. All this usually did was wipe out 1 day of training which was enough to keep my little Klingons going.
Brutality-Ball in Action
We were initially vindicated in the two halves we played against Barrow and Sutton. Our peformance picked up and we ‘won’ the second halves 1-0 and 3-1 respectively. The up tick in form followed and bar one or two issues we saw what looked like a pleasing improvement.
We suffered a bad loss against Aldershot but that was in the cup with a full replacement of the normal 11. A loss against Morecambe and Woking was also partly due to a sending off. And the loss to title chasers Stockport came in the 5th minute of injury time. I think we could have squeezed even more points out but Salisbury, once he got to about 20 league goals, ended up injured for most of April.
Highlights included battering rivals York 5-3 (and that score line flattered them), and an insane 6-1 win over Solihull.
Many of the goals were coming from quick transistions from defence to attack, and by increasing the number of turnovers by pressing we were getting more of these chances. The wingers were getting more involved and would swarm forwards, often becoming the extra option on the end of a cross or cutting it back. Like an attack wing of Klingon Bird’s of Prey if you will. We were much more exposed at the back though. The team got caught with our pants around our ankles a few times. But that’s the trade off.
We were also getting increasingly dirty in our play. With off the ball digs like below becoming more common.
Our tackling and pressing was also relentless at times. A good example below being from the Solihull game. 3 tackles in a row. And although we didn’t win possesion each time it disrupted the flow of the attacking move. It also let the opposition know, via stud marks, that we were there and to think twice about any of this fancy possession nonsense.
Our opposition instructions or GBH was bearing fruti as well, with at least two opposing players taken off injured as a direct result. Try and backheel your way out of a broken leg now.
That gut feeling from watching is all well and good but what about the stats? We filled the hoofball and sci-fi quota for the blog, but what about the numbers? This is where stats like xG can really come into their own. I’ve mentioned, as have others, the range of issues with stats accuracy and presentation in FM21. For a game based on numbers with a headline feature that is a reasonably hard core stat they’ve really cocked things up. But there’s still enough working in the game to let you assess within your own squad with limited issues. And xG works well for this amoungst other stats, as it’s descriptive. It covers what has happened, it’s not predictive.
We finished with our old tactic after 23 games. By chance the halfway point of the season. We then played the remainder with the new brutality-ball approach. This gave us a nice easy comparison to make, before and after.
There’s not much to seperate most of the categories. I was interested in how much possession were were winning and how many successful tackles were made. The difference was marginal.
What was more impressive though was the difference in points, goals and the xG and xG against. We scored 15 more goals with the tactic, won 12 more points (4 wins worth essentially), conceded 2 fewer goals, and improved our xG for and against by about 2 (or a xDG swing of 4). In some cases these are small differences but the goals and points really stand out and showing how important the change in tactics was. It had a positive effect.
When considering tackles and possession the difference is marginal at best. We weren’t tackling more or winning the ball by much more than before. But what changed as the quality and position of those tackles. First of all were had a lot more yellows and reds. And that’s what I mean by quality. As in they were of a more violent and agressive quality. Secondly as we were pressing they were occuring in positions either higher up the pitch or allowed for a quick transition whilst the opposition were out of position, leading to more goals.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this Star Trek/Klingon inspired post about route one football with non-league Scarborough. As I write this I realise it might be an acquired taste. But no matter, I’ll continue to see my enemies broken before me and book glorious passage to Sto-vo-kor.
Heghlu‘meH QaQ jajvam!