Before the FM21 Beta was released, I planned on revisiting a concept Guido and I had developed with early in the FM20 cycle — the shadowganche, a playmaking, goal-scoring threat that was, itself, a derivation of Guido’s patented targetganche, a deep-lying, playmaking targetman.
My primary tactical setup during this early phase of the FM20 cycle was dubbed PM Krigsherre SG, and — in addition to the shadowganche — featured some saucy interplay between a mezzala and inverted winger.
As the FM20 cycle continued on, however, my tactics shifted away from having wide players in the attacking midfield strata and shadowganche concept… But these concepts were always on my mind.
So, as I turned to FM21, the only question was, how to implement them in the new match engine?
“The Night Is Dark & Full Of Terrors.”
My broader goal was simple. Create a setup where, in the transition and attacking phases, we would overwhelm the opposition with waves of relentless, unpredictable attacks, launched from multiple angles, depths and widths.
Set yourself up to defend against one type of attack? That’s fine. We have 3 more tricks up our sleeve. Not to mention the 4th you won’t see coming.
Although I wanted to utilize the shadowganche concept, I moved away from it early during the development process after growing frustrated with the shadow striker role in the current match engine.
I thus turned my focus to the dynamic between the mezzala-inverted winger…and began working to turn that madness up to 11, with the central prong of the attacking trident reverted to a targetganche, to serve as the fulcrum of our attack.
For whatever reason, as the tactic took shape, our attacking play made me think of the epic scene in Game of Thrones in Season 5 (before the show turned to ****), when the Night King’s army of undead overruns Hardhome.
So, I set out to turn the crazy up even more, and thus implement the Night King’s tactics in FM21.
As one does.
“The True Enemy Won’t Wait Out The Storm. He Brings The Storm.”
The tactic is dubbed PM Draugr — “Undead Grapefruit” in the Telleusian tactical nomenclature.
It is also a direct reference to the draugr of Scandinavian legend, the undead creatures of terrible power — some of which had shape-shifting capabilities — which arguably served as inspiration for the white walkers in A Song of Ice & Fire.
We set up as a strikerless 523/3223, that turns into a 2323/2314 in possession.
In terms of individual player instructions:
- The left wingback is instructed to dribble less, and shoot less often.
- The right wingback is instructed to shoot less often.
- The left winger is instructed to roam from position, stay wider and close down more.
- The right winger is is instructed to roam from position, sit narrower and close down more.
- The targetganche (advanced playmaker) is instructed to close down more.
If this is not your first strikerless rodeo, you will immediately see how — as in all good strikerless tactics — this setup is built to generate shadow runs and dynamic movement in the final third.
Several additional things should also be immediately apparent, including: (1) the potential for dynamic combinations between the wingbacks and wingers on each side; (2) the deployment of Guido’s classic targetganche, to serve as the fulcrum of our attack; (3) how our shadow runs and dynamic movement in the final third will stretch across the entire width of the pitch, with players attacking from different depths; and, (4) the space into which a dynamic, aggressive libero can saunter forward, like the sexy beast he is.
“Chaos Is A Ladder.”
All this theory is great. But how does the tactic play?
The tactic has been built and tested extensively since the beta was released. During the beta, those testing efforts were based primarily at Brondby and Manchester United. Since the full release of the game, however, I’ve finished tweaking the tactic during my Duruji Subsequent Threadsave career, which began with Duruji Kvareli in the Georgian 5th tier.
Generally speaking, what you see in game is a broad, expansive attack, as the shape transitions into a 2323/2314 shape, depending on how you “count” the mezzala and targetganche.
As much as I hate the current state of the analysis tabs, screenshots from 2 matches will demonstrate the typical team shape — overall, in possession and out of possession.
During the defensive phase, all ten outfield players contribute to the cause, with the front trident even dropping into our defensive third to help harry and press.
At times, this means we will lack an immediate outlet in transition, but once we regain possession the inverted wingers and mezzala push forward with purpose.
(We could likely “fix” this issue by swapping the targetganche for a shadow striker, but that would have knock-on effects to the style of play in the transition and possession phases.)
In the first moments of transition, after we have regained possession, the targetganche will typically drop deep in search of space within which he can receive the ball, thus creating space for the inverted wingers and mezzala, and forcing the opposition to make decisions inherent in any good strikerless tactic — chase a playing dropping (or sitting) deep and expose the defense, or let him receive the ball without pressure. Whatever choice is made, we win.
The overall mentality of the tactic means that verticality is an option, but only if it is on. It is not something we prioritize, but will look for. There are numerous passing angles and options to build methodically from the back. This isn’t tiki-taka in the pejorative sense of the term — rather, you will see purposeful ball movement, as we look to get forward.
If a lightning-fast counterattack isn’t on, that’s ok. We will be patient. Deliberate. Purposeful.
During the possession phase, the libero and inverted wingback will often operate as a double-pivot, to help break through a high press and/or recycle possession. The centerbacks remain available as a safety valve — serving to help recycle and maintain possession (as a deep passing option) and preventing quick counter-attacks from the opposition.
During sustained periods of possession, the targetganche is the fulcrum of our attack. He will drop deep, in search of space within which he can receive the ball (the same behavior noted above, seen in transitions), but he will also get into the box, looking to finish attacking movements. Our targetganche is often deadly in this respect, gleefully collecting goals, assists and key passes like a kid on Christmas morning.
(It might be stating the obvious, but Edinson Cavani was utterly epic when deployed as targetganches for my Manchester United side. Bruno Fernandes was no slouch, either.)
Surrounding the targetganche? A swirling vortex of unpredictable, dynamic movement, with 8 outfield players committed to the attack, approaching from different angles, depths and widths.
Here’s an example, as we look to break down the buses double-parked in front of Torpedo Kutaisi’s goal.
In the initial shot, we can see 8 players are fully engaged in the attack, as Oniani (our right wingback) feeds the ball to Hristov, our ball-winning midfielder. There’s a lot going on here
- As Hristov looks likely play the ball back to Kurdadze (our libero), Utsmuts, our targetganche, is checking back into space.
- Gordulava, our left winger, is sitting central, having cut inside to underlap our mezzala (Lezhava) who has drifted wide into the channel.
- Gvazava, our left wingback, is unmarked, heading straight for the channel between Gordulava and Lezhava.
- Asatiani is our right winger, has moved inside and is dropping deep to create space for Oniani to overlap.
Instead of dropping the ball to Kurdadze, Hristov drops his shoulder and turns to play a through ball to Gvazava. (Take a look at the acres of space in front of Oniani, if Hristov had looked that direction or dropped the ball to Kurdadze.)
Gvazava is free behind the defensive line, with 5 players rushing to provide support if he wants to lay it off (or to finish off a rebound). A clever dink over the keeper, and that’s one-nil.
It’s a slick passage of play, that unfolds in moments.
The right-hand side of the attack combines the aggression and incisiveness of the inverted winger, with the balance, width and depth of the complete wingback and ball-winning midfielder. As you would expect, this can be a deadly, powerful trio, for various, obvious reasons, that I need not belabor here.
Centrally, we have a vertical playmaking axis comprised of the libero and targetganche. While the latter is certainly our fulcrum, when the opposition is hunkered down in their defensive third, that is where the libero shines — a playmaking, incisive, goalscoring threat from deep, who can quickly change the point of attack and will also recycle possession from any haphazard, attempted clearances.
And, let’s face it — the libero is a vital player in this role, even if his goals/assists statistics don’t shine through. In 6 of the first 8 years of my Duruji Kvareli save, our libero has been named our Player of the Year.
The real beauty lies on the left side of the pitch, where the mezzala, inverted wingback and inverted winger combine forces in what can only be described as an unholy menage a trois of sexiness, where you’ll see things like:
- The winger underlapping the mezzala, who is bursting behind the defensive line (either on the dribble, or running onto a through-ball) as the wingback overlaps them both. (The winger may also stay high and wide, while the wingback underlaps the mezzala.)
- The mezzala overlapping the winger and/or wingback, as they cut inside.
- The mezzala as our most advanced player, looking to beat the offside-trap and/or exploit space created by the targetganche dropping deep.
- More shadow runs that you could shake a stick at, forcing defenders into a Hobson’s choice — stick or twist. Either way, we win.
- The winger and wingback coordinating with each other, in far more sophisticated, unpredictable ways as compared to prior iterations of the match engine.
“Night Gathers, And Now My Watch Begins.”
Let’s be clear. This isn’t a “perfect” tactic.
It isn’t built on exploits.
It does not “break” the match engine.
But it has proven solid, both home and away, as a “big” club and an underdog. It isn’t plug-and-play, even though I’ve IR’d any number of matches, with no noticeable deviation in results (even if there’s an obvious advantage to tweaking in-match).
In-match, I will tweak and adjust as any of us would. The most common adjustment is to our mentality — dropping to positive or balanced, or perhaps dropping the defensive line and line of engagement to standard. We may switch to regroup instead of counterpressing, for a short period. When chasing the game, my go-to tweaks are to remove the “work ball into box” instruction and add “run at defense.” I can’t explain all of this. It’s simply the product of playing this game for longer than I care to admit, and playing almost exclusively with strikerless tactics for years now.
If you want to follow along, I’m currently utilizing PM Draugr with Duruji Kvareli in Duruji Subsequent Threadsave, my second attempt to conquer world football beginning in the 5th tier of the Georgian footballing pyramid.
If you’d rather join the party, you can download the tactic here: PM Draugr (via Google Drive).
Update: if you want to take your attacking long throw-ins to the next level, consider modifying the existing routines to match Guido’s Human Trebuchet setup, which is tailored to the FM21 match engine. (The default setup in PM Draugr works, but was carried over from FM20.)
Update 2: I have now added “get further forward” to the Player Instructions for the ball-winning midfielder, to ensure he is fully engaged in the final third.