Written by @CurtyFM
I want to start by saying that this is by no means a guide for lower league management (LLM), but after completely altering how I set up my LLM 442 formation after I was lucky enough to have a ‘Golden Generation’ youth intake, I wanted to share the transition I made from an incredibly basic system, to something a little more complex which aims to get my key players as involved as possible during build-up play.
I recently started a LLM save with my beloved Aldershot Town. If you ever look for guidance on creating a LLM tactic, the advice is generally always the same: keep it simple, stupid. Lower league players have lower attributes in most areas compared to anyone playing in higher divisions, so it makes sense to keep things as basic as possible, right? Well, to an extent this is true. Players will still be capable of moments of brilliance, it’ll just happen much less often in the lower leagues. Personally, I think when recruiting for a lower league team, aim to focus on a couple of key attributes for a player, rather than all of the attributes the game recommends for a role. Need a winger? All he’ll need is pace and crossing. Need a striker? Look for finishing and off the ball. Anything else is a bonus at this level.
With this in mind, when I first took over my Aldershot team, I wanted to create something basic which would complement the starting squad. Here’s the aptly named ‘Curty Brexit’ formation:
The general idea behind this system was that I wanted to make full use of our quick wingers. We had a real lack of ability in central areas, so building up play from central midfield made little sense. I wanted to get the ball wide, starting from the goalkeeper, and then bombard the opposition box with crosses. The idea was effective as you can see below:
We scored 105 goals during the season, over 20 more than any other team in the division. Defensively we had issues - predominately caused by our aggressiveness down the flanks and slightly kamikaze roles in central midfield - but my ethos was to score more than the opposition and it proved fruitful. I also made use of pressing forwards who constantly put the enemy defenders under pressure. If you’ve ever managed at this level you’ll be aware of some of the highly questionable decisions defenders can make when they’re caught on the ball. The pressing forwards were there to create indecision and panic if the opposition decided to build from the back. It’s fair to say they got their fair share of goals from defensive errors. The system was basic, but effective for the level.
During the youth intake in season one, we were blessed with some real talent coming through the ranks. However one player stood out amongst his peers. Meet Daniel Elechi:
As soon as I saw Elechi, the cogs in my head started turning. How can I possibly build this guy into a 442 formation? Will I have to change the system completely to accommodate him? What can I do to get the best out of him?
Elechi made his debut in that first season, once the title was won. He became Aldershot’s youngest ever first team player and the clubs youngest ever goalscorer. His journey had started. My focus going into season two was to build the team around Elechi. Despite the fact he was only 16 years old at this point, he was comfortably my best player and my best prospect. I wanted to make the most of him before some horrible big bully club came along to snatch him from my grasp.
Initially we tinkered with a 4231, playing him in his natural AMC position. Now, I’m not sure if the team wasn’t set up well enough to get the most out of his ability, or whether most AMC roles in this version of FM are slightly underpowered, but no matter what I did, he struggled. We then moved to a 4141 and tried to use him in the central midfielder role on an attack duty, but again, perhaps it was his unfamiliarity playing from that position, or the general team set-up, but he wasn’t getting involved in build up play, or getting on the end of chances we created. In the end, he played a bit-part role during the season as we struggled to a mid-table position, failing to win any of our last eight matches to miss out on a playoff spot.
I decided at the start of season three to go back-to-basics, well, sort of. I wanted to go back to a 442 formation, but still try and get the best out of Elechi. Here’s what I’ve been playing in pre-season:
My inspiration was very much based on Atletico Madrid and their style. I decided to play with a low block, but keep a positive mentality in my players when they’re on the ball or countering. This allows them to take more risks in attacking transitions, which still gives us a good platform to create good football in opposition territory.
The deep-lying forward role seems made for Elechi so far. The wide playmaker role doesn’t encroach into his space but still feeds him the ball regularly. Once Elechi’s on the ball, he generally has several options with the CM support and wide playmaker around him, or the advanced forward offering an out ball. It’s incredibly early days for this system, but so far it achieves everything I want. The narrow, low block makes us extremely difficult to break down, the CM roles are kept nice and simple – the CM on support can be altered to hold position or get further forward depending on the match situation – plus I’m getting my most creative players on the ball when going forward. The positive mentality also gives these guys a little more creative freedom to express themselves, not always a good idea for lower league football, but with a talent like Elechi, it’s a risk I’m happy to take.
If you want to see the system in action, you can catch me live at 2pm every weekday over at twitch.tv/Curty.