Iain Macintosh’s time at Everton has come to a premature end and Football Manager players have felt the disturbance in The F(M)orce. There is a void. But do not fear the loss of this series, for there is another.
Like Macintosh’s (not so, as it turned out) epic, this too is a returning legacy series – the random number generator challenge.
It goes like this. I pick a variety of formations and number them, in my case 1-8. Before each match, I then get a random number generator (random.org, from hereon in RANDOM) to assign me one of those formations.
Fittingly, I used the random number generator to help pick my team for me – through the number of times I click ‘Pick a club for me’ – and it chose West Bromwich Albion (after skipping past Cambridge and Rennes). This is about as far from Tony Pulis’s defensive regularity as you’re going to get.
The base formations are as follows:
While there may be some overlap between these, I’m going to be honest and try and stay as close to the essence of each base formation as possible. So, yes, if RANDOM throws up a 1 before we play Man City, I will be playing with 2 centre-backs as my back-line.
Like The Setpieces’ series, I have England, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy as playable leagues (as well as Denmark, because Midtjylland). Unlike The Setpieces, I don’t have a copy of FM 17, so I’m playing on last year’s copy instead (if you’re reading this Sports Interactive, hi).
I immediately set about a revamp of West Brom’s coaching staff, including hiring Glenn Hoddle as Director of Football – not that I was planning to, he just popped up on a regular Staff Search. In the introductory chat with the club, they say that they want me to develop players using the club’s youth system and, not wishing to rock the boat, I say ok. The fans are already concerned about a 20-year old being appointed as manager of their beloved club.
Given that I could be playing every formation under the sun at any moment in time, I go take a dive in the club’s squad depth – and am pleasantly surprised by the state of it. There are good centre-backs, decent centre-mids, decent strikers. Things are a bit lacking at full/wing-back in particular, and in attacking midfield, so it’s these wide positions I ask my scouts to look for. If I survive long enough, I’ll look to reduce the average age of the squad too. I’ve set it so that no transfers can be made in the first window, so I can settle down a bit before adding to the squad.
But the whole point of this series is the weird tactics, so here we go. After cancelling the last pre-season friendly scheduled to allow a week’s rest before the opening day, we have 5 games before my proper managerial debut.
RANDOM throws up 3, 6, 1, 7, 8.
3-5-2, 4-5-1, 2-5-3 (for Dickens’ sake), 5-4-1, 5-3-2.
First match, 3-5-2, and fortunately I have a formation from a previous save that I liked and which fits this base layout so I load that up (click to enlarge).
The game’s against the reserves (under 21s, whatever) and they copy my formation, which makes things more interesting. At half-time we’re one-nil up, Jonas Olsson scoring from a corner after 10 minutes – how very West Brom. We’re not playing particularly convincingly though, so I narrow our play up to crowd the centre a bit more, and we start playing better after that. Anichebe gets us a second after 75 minutes from a Chris Bru-
Honest. I meant to take a printscreen screenshot, but forgot to save it. I load FM back up (having thankfully saved before the game; save regularly folks) and sim the match and we win 4-1. More goals, but no clean sheet.
I move on to the next game, and try and prepare a 4-5-1 to face RB Leipzig. Topical.
Briefly, though, on the youth development front, I sent the most promising U21 (centre-back Danny Barbier) out on loan, and moved left-back Callum Pritchett to the first team squad to ease a mini-injury crisis, with Pocognoli out and Brunt just coming back from a brief lay-off. Saido Berahino also comes to me wanting to move to a bigger club (quelle surprise) – I end the conversation saying I’ll selling him if there’s a decent offer, but I’m not going to actively sell him, and he seems fine with that.
I hate Red Bull.
Their blatant barely-legal flouting of the Bundesliga laws regarding big-money investment in clubs and their decoration of Leipzig’s ground as a Red Bull souvenir store don’t sit comfortably with me in real life, and then they go and beat us 3-0 at The Hawthorns too.
I don’t know what went wrong. We were poor individually, especially defensively. When Pritchatt came on for Brunt at left-back, he overlapped McManaman well, but that was the only real positive thing.
Onto the next game, where I’ll be playing a 2-5-3 away to Chaves, in the Portuguese Second Division. Here is my formation for the game. I have never claimed to be a Guardiola.
I have never claimed to be Guardiola, and this madcap 2-5-3 is surprisingly close to West Brom’s DNA. Two target men up front, with a false nine to knock it down to. We go 3-0 up within 25 minutes. And then…
Chaves get a goal back just before half-time, in a mess from a corner. Just after half-time, they get a second, playing it wide to their right-back in the absent space of our non-existent left-back, who plays it across to a striker who Jonny Evans should have been tracking. And then, in the 88th minute, another cross found a free man. Chaves had equalised. We drew. For shame.
We travel to Morecambe next with a 5-4-1, with a formation that I forgot to take a screenshot of. There were 3 centre-backs with two attacking full-backs, three central midfielders, an attacking midfielder, and a striker. Almost like a sword.
We drew 1-1.
In our slight defence, Morecambe’s equaliser was a freak.
This is Morecambe’s left-back in the process of taking a cross-cum-shot which curled past Boaz Myhill into the net. Not necessarily related (it is), I really want Ben Foster to come back from injury soon – but he’s out for 3-4 months with cruciate ligament damage.
In terms of behind the scenes stuff, everything has quietened down. I’ve hired all the news staff I want to for the moment, set training and scouting assignments up, and decided to wait a while before renewing any contracts. On to Alfreton then, the third in a string of away matches, with a 5-3-2.
Again with the dual target men, and with three centre-backs as well I can only imagine that Pulis would be proud of me. Pride would likely end there though, as we drew 2-2, going down 2-0 within 10 minutes.
The above image is actually how we ended the game instead of how we started (I forgot to take a screenshot pre-match again). The only change was switching the ball-playing CB from the two outside CBs to the central one. When I made the change, at half-time, I switched Evans centrally too, allowing him some space to be part of our possessions as Alfreton were playing two men up front who were marking our wider centre-backs.
The change improved our play, a little, and on the hour we equalised, Lambert scoring a tap-in after the Alfreton keeper spilled a Pritchatt cross. Lambert didn’t even feature in my original starting line-ups, and yet this is his third goal in pre-season; and as for Pritchatt, he’s performed better at wing-back than veteran Chris Brunt, and may well keep his place as we go into the Premier League season.
We got several good chances towards the end of the game, two of them falling to Anichebe in injury time, but none of them were converted. We weren’t good, but were probably unfortunate to draw based on the second half.
And that was our pre-season. A win against the reserves (which I didn’t even technically preside over), a loss, and three draws against weak opposition. It doesn’t bode well, but there were definitely positives and progress in terms of getting to know the squad’s capabilities.
A quick piece of off-field business – I chose to stick with the current captaincy duo of Darren Fletcher and Chris Brunt. I can’t guarantee they’ll start very often, and they certainly won’t be starting every week, but it’s unlikely that anyone will start particularly consistently. Maybe Jonny Evans, but I didn’t feel like rocking the boat.
Before saving and closing FM to write this piece, I got RANDOM to pick the formation for our Premier League season opener, at home to Norwich City – 3-4-3.
Join us there, same Baggie-time, same Baggie-channel.