Aug 26

Can FML do Catenaccio?


I got an e-mail through a few weeks ago from Philip Sinkins about catenaccio, and it got me to thinking – can you actually do it in FML? I mean, the whole point of developing the new tactical interface was to give people the tools to build solid tactics quickly and effectively. So, surely, even though catenaccio has had its day in modern football we could recreate it in FML? Couldn’t we?

Phil's catenaccio wasn't, apparently, very successful

I was disappointed to hear Phil’s first attempt didn’t go too well. He decided to go for a shape similar to this one and found that it couldn’t mark effectively against the opposition. It is certainly a logical catenaccio-style formation, but does deviate from it in a few key ways. Perhaps before we go any further, we could do with a quick history lesson. I know you love that part of these articles really!

Rappan's verrou system from the 1930s, one of the first systems in the world to play a 'back 4'Inter were one of the best sides in the world under Herrera playing this system. He is considered the godfather of catenaccio in Italy.

Catenaccio is Italian for “bolt” in the sense of a bolt that locks a door. Its forerunner was a system called Verrou (left, above), developed by Swiss coach Karl Rappan as a response to the attacking tactics of the time. He realised that his mostly amateur Swiss players could not cope with the physicality and skill of the professional players from neighbouring Italy, France and Germany. To counter them, he played a sweeper, two full backs, a centre back, two “centre halves” (nowadays, we’d call them central midfielders), and three forwards, two of which were stationed on the wings. What was radical about this, in comparison to the ubiquitous “W-M” (3-2-2-3) formation is that it played two central defenders, and one of these was a sweeper. It could cope, therefore, with the opposition forwards, as there was always cover. In order to attack, the sweeper was allowed to play the ball out of defence and join the midfield. It was defensive in comparison to the “W-M”, no doubt, but it did its job pretty well beating England in a home friendly and knocking the Greater German Reich out of the 1938 World Cup.

Catenaccio is the Italian flavour, brought to its heyday under Herrera at La Grande Inter (right, above). The system relied upon a sweeper, but also employed two centre backs. On the left wing was a wingback who started deep and pushed on when in possession, while on the right there was a winger who was required to track back. The rest of the side employed two central midfielders, an attacking midfielder on the left to add a little width and split forwards upfront, which effectively played like the AMC-FC combo mentioned in last week’s article. This was incredibly defensive, but two wing players did have the ability and the licence to provide a lot of width. When Celtic beat Inter Milan in the 1967 European Cup final (the first non-Latin side to do so), Bill Shankly said it was a victory for football. Though this was a comment on Inter’s violence as much as it was a reaction against “anti-football”.

Catenaccio? Probably not, but for modern audiences this sweeper system is often called catenaccio despite differing significantly from Rappan and Herrera's conception of it.

What some might call “catenaccio” now is actually just a defensive formation, along the lines of a 1-4-4-1 or 1-4-3-2. However, this isn’t exactly the bolt system as it was originally devised. For a start, catenaccio is asymmetrical. What happened, in effect, is that the right winger was also pulled back to the full back position, and the midfield were re-distributed in a more regular pattern. Symmetry, at least ostensibly on the pitch diagrams, is certainly a feature of most 4-4-2s and 4-5-1s, and this system has also morphed in order to cope. Still, just becasue a system plays a sweeper does not necessarily make it catenaccio.

So. How can we recreate catenaccio in FML? Well, it is almost a given, though perhaps some may disagree, that the modern variant should at least cover both wings fully as well as providing attacking options. That pretty much requires some form of positional symmetry, even if we play around a little with the roles and duties. Also, it seems important in modern football to provide some form of width and giving support to the wing backs. The team will have to defend and attack as a unit, though it seems a little over the top to expect such a rigid system to create anything approximating total football.

A sweeper system trying to be a new 'bolt'. A 1-2-3-3-1, if you like, or a 3-6-1.My answer is this. With a more fluid philosophy, automatic creative freedom and zonal marking. It would employ a “libero” sweeper who can play the ball out of defence; two centre backs, one which covers and the other acts as a stopper; a full back and a wing back; a deep-lying playmaker; two attacking midfielders; a winger; and finally a lone striker. The asymmetry of catenaccio comes from the wing back and the winger – but the defence is created a little bit more like a traditional 5-man defence.

SW: support duty, libero
DCl: cover duty, centre back
DCr: stopper duty, centre back
DR: full back, role dependent on strategy
WBL: wing back, role dependent on strategy
DMC: support/defend duty, deep lying playmaker
AMCl: attack, inside forward
AMCr: support, attacking midfielder
AMR: attack, winger
FC: attack, advanced forward

At the time of writing this, I’m yet to test this fully in FML. I do like the idea of it though, and it was what intrigued me about Phil’s e-mail. I will spend the next week trying to get it to work where possible and report back on my findings. To those who are reading this, I welcome any comments as to how you think you would change these settings and/or formations if you were updating catenaccio for FML. This is not a bolt on the Italian model. It does, however, try to bring back the libero. If anyone wants to try some of the other classic shapes in this article, I’d love to know how you get on!

Written By Gareth Millward
"Millie" is a long-standing member of the FM community and a co-founder of Gameworld One.Com. As part of FM-Britain, he was a contributor to TT&F and involved with the new tactical interface in FM2010.
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  • jeros

    I think the national team of Greece plays in similar way nowadays

    3 defenders with one acting like a sweeper and the other 2 tall & strong defenders who play with passion e.g. Kyrgiakos who plays for Liverpool this season
    2 wing backs with their role being more defensive than support
    2 midfielders one of them plays as ball winning mid with defensive duties and the other probably as a standard midfielder who can do a bit of everything on the pitch.
    The trick her Otto uses is the 3 upfront
    The AMR+AML+FC are all strikers who doesn't possess much of technical attributes but have strength and passion to help in all areas of the game!
    The result of playing this tactic we saw them not only in the miracle of 2004 but also in the recent win over Ukraine to get a ticket for the forthcoming mundial in South Africa.

  • Robbert de Block - GW: Saunder

    I have tried your tactic against an attacking 4-2-3-1 formation with the following positions filled:

    I started with a controlling match strategy and at halftime it was 1-1. I scored out of a counterattack and my opponent scored from the penalty spot. The second half I changed my Match strategy to counter, in the 66th minute I scored the 2-1 with a shot from distance, where my centre attacker played around a central defender and palced a shot on goal. At half-time the possesion was about 48-52% and at the end of the match that was almost the same at 49-51%.

    With 3 clearcut chances for me and only one for my opponent it was quite a good game with a fair result. When I looked at the head to head overview, I noticed that out of the 18 encounters between our two, he won 11 games, we drawn 5 games and I only won 2 games. Although this tactic wont be the key to every opponent his tactic it has worked in this game.

    Also my Sweepers is Pable Valenzuela, with the following stats:
    First Touch 16
    Heading 14
    Marking 14
    Passing 13
    Tackling 18
    Technique 13
    Anticipation 15
    Bravery 16
    Composure 13
    Concentration 16
    Decisions 15
    Determination 10
    Influence 17
    Off the ball 9
    Positioning 16
    Teamwork 9
    Work rate 13
    Acceleration 10
    Jumping 17
    Pace 12
    Stamine 13
    Strength 17

    21 years old and right footed.

  • Daniel

    this is the player I was talking about:  8-)

  • James E

    Check out the link below  - look for the sub heading "Zona Mista" - basically its what the Italians used to negate the Dutch and their brand of Total Football.

    Couldnt very well have Gentile trying to follow Neeskens or Rep around the park to the Halfway line! It relies more - well totally pretty much - on Zonal than Man Marking, which was the staple of the traditional Catenaccio :)

    Its a good read:

    Im inclined to believe that unless the ME is changed wer're not likely to get a sweeper in the Beckenbauer, Sammer, Blanc mould....

    Basically we'd need something in there that would allow it to treat the Sweeper like a FullBack - but without the crossing. Knowing when to "bomb forward" when to "tackle back"

    As an iamusing sidenote, talking of FBs and bombing on - Steve McManaman in his time at Real Madrid says of Michel Salgado, the attack minded RB, that he only ever learned two words of English ... "Cover me" :-D

  • Gareth Millward

    It's doing pretty much as you said so far James. Though, I let in a last-minute equaliser to some Yank today who seemed to be confused by it all. Which is always good!  ;)

    I'd be interested to hear some more on the 80s Italy side, if you've got any links?

    I will attempt to get some kind of update on the site at the end of this Fowler year on how the season's gone with this catenaccio system. There's a lot of tactical articles I want to get out in the mean time, though, so it may have to be posted as an "extra" installment on a Sunday or something. 8-)

  • James E

    Yours looks alot like the Italian catenaccio of the 80s.

    The style they and some south americans used in the 60s and 70s, was more 1-4-4-1.

    This formation i tried. The inability for the sweeper (i used ignacio camacho) to get beyond even the midfielders made it a very very defensive formation.

    So i suppose it was mission accomplished. Certainly not pretty - but defeinitely a defensive formation that can work.

    Be interesting to see how your formation based on the italian '82 team (bergomi and gentile etc) will work out :)

  • Daniel

    Italian style catenaccio would be depressing to play! I would look for a Lothar Mattheus type of sweeper (or Mathias Sammer). I remember there was a Mexican regen like that in Fernandez, you could log in there and play 5-3-2 with attacking full backs. ;)

  • Gareth Millward

    Well, so far it's not doing too badly. The main problem, actually, isn't the ME but, as Tom says, the database. Either the players who can play SW well are far too expensive, or they just don't exist.

    The ME deals with it pretty well - my defence has conceded very few goals. But going forward it's not so effective. That's to be expected, I guess.

    You play 4 at the back, right? You might be better off playing a "cover" defender (shorter but quicker) and a "stopper" defender (brick s*** house). But if you could get a libero sweeper to work (the "cover" defender), you might be able to play the ball well out of defence. It's worth a go!

  • I play primarily with heavy attacking fullbacks, so anything to improve my central defense would be good. Do you think the ME has been fully tested giving the DC/SWs these specialized Catenaccio roles?

  • Tom Delgado

    I would love to try this in Horton, but I don't have the finances to go get a good sweeper. I don't see too many people use the sweeper in FML, so this would be very interesting to find out if it can work long term.

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