AZ & Ed – Part 3 – Let’s Talk Tactics

Bloody hell. I know right? Another blog from me. The whole world is upside down.

Part 3 looks at the tactics I’ll be hoping to employ with AZ. I’ve touched on this in my previous two pieces and already my thoughts have evolved from how I initially set things up. No doubt this will be the process between now and the start of the season as I use friendlies to trial two systems.

I’ve spoken about how I’m looking to emulate how AZ operate in real life and this extends to the pitch. From studying a variety of matches, mostly from this season, I’ve picked out a couple that’ll allow me to dissect the two systems employed and how I’ll hope to replicate them in FM20.

The first game saw AZ play (and win) away at PSV in October 2019. The game ended 4-0 after PSV went down to 10 men with 20 minutes on the clock, but even before this AZ were by far the better team.. Here’s my brief observations:

  • AZ set up in an obvious 4-2-3-1
  • Stengs was the key man, deployed in the AMC role he thrived off the freedom and was at the heart of everything good
  • Played with a high tempo at all times but initially from a lower defensive line
  • Svensson at RB kept a more narrow position and often underlapped the AMR (Sugawara)
  • Sugawara played very much the winger, staying wide, whereas Idrissi at AML was more of an inside forward with Wijndal overlapping

AZ set up in a low(ish) block with the forwards blocking the passing lines for PSV’s defenders. They’d then press in packs whenever a defender looked to move forwards with the ball.

So how could I look to replicate this in FM?

Svensson as an IWB is a new one for me but may help with narrow positioning and I’ve used the team instruction ‘underlap right’. Its a cautious setup so we’ll have a naturally deeper line though I still want the forwards to press so have opted for a higher line of engagement and extremely urgent pressing.

In transition is where we’ll be looking to hit them hard so counter-pressing and a quick distribution will be key. Passing is already short and I’ve asked for a slightly higher tempo to our play.

I’ve never been comfortable with cautious systems, to be honest I’m incredibly inexperienced with them so I’ll be monitoring this system closely to see how it plays out. I’m concerned at inviting too much pressure and I’m still unsure on the roles of the two central midfielders. But this will be the baseline of how we’ll set up against teams that I deem stronger than us (on paper at least).

In Part 1 I set out our footballing philosophies and the above system is a slight detachment from this. More cautious, potentially conceding more of the ball…it may also be contrary to how my board wish us to play so you can see that I’m already anticipating tweaking this setup. Time will tell.

The other game that I used as my focus was AZ at home to Emmen in November 2019. AZ ran out comfortable winners and it was good to see how their 4-3-3 setup works. Observations included:

  • 4-3-3 with De Wit coming into the side (for Sugawara) but was largely ineffective and saw little of the ball yet his positioning allowed Stengs to operate in the half spaces
  • Stengs, drifting in from AMR, is the primary playmaker again
  • As such Svensson was now a more natural, overlapping wing back at RB
  • Very patient build-up, plenty of passes between the defenders and deeper midfielders (mostly Koopmeiners) with the central defenders attempting vertical passes between the lines (mostly to Stengs)

AZ’s setup here, as you can see from the passmap, differs from against PSV. Emmen are a team that AZ would expect to beat and their setup reflects this. They dominated the ball with Koopmeiners the key man linking the patient play across the back and looking to build attacks down the left.

Stengs, drifting from the right wing was at the heart of everything and as such, De Wit was largely devoid of the ball as I referred to earlier; this will be something I’ll look to improve upon in my system.

AZ were happy to see plenty of the ball and rotate it around the defence, patiently waiting for space to appear and then fire line-breaking passes. Once one of these passes found their man AZ would look for quick combinations, a higher tempo of play, clever movement and slick passing.

Here’s how I may look to reflect this:

More of a standard setup that I feel closely resembles AZ’s footballing philosophy. The De Wit conundrum I’m hoping to solve by having him supporting from midfield trio and be more involved in our build-up play.

I’ve gone attacking over positive to begin with to help increase the tempo, riskiness of passes and creative freedom. It’ll very much be trial and error in the opening friendlies and competitive games; I’m purposely not going to trial these systems in beta so that I can (hopefully) dissect and learn from the feedback in-game like a real manager would do. This is what a load of FMers already do but as some of you may be aware I can often skip over this level of analysis.

So now we have two tactical systems I can hopefully hit the ground running with, I’m not expecting either to be perfect but it’d be great if I can see a reflection of real life within Football Manager in the way we play.

I’ll definitely be watching matches on comprehensive highlights (at least to begin with) so I can get a good view on how the system is performing and whether it’s having the desired affect. Tweaks are inevitable but I have to give the squad time to adapt so it may be a good 10 games before I make any major changes. That is unless I’m on the verge of the sack by that point…

This concludes Part 3 of AZ & Ed (please pronounce AZ as ‘ahh-zed’ from now on). My next blog will be once I start the save proper on full release of FM20 where I’ll look to run through staff changes and recruitment.

Until then!

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