Dec 08

5 Tips for Realising the Power of Substitutes in Football Manager Live


I believe the value of substitutes in Football Manager Live is not fully recognised by many managers. Because players don’t tire or fatigue by playing too many matches and it’s all too easy to buy 11 great players and play with the same team/tactic match after match. However, I believe that substitutes in FML are incredibly valuable, beyond simply just cover for injuries.

FML teams may not have the quality on the bench as teams do in real life, as squad depth isn’t really needed and financially it’s just impossible to have the kind of depth that exists at top real life clubs. However, it’s quite cheap and easy to pick up limited players who can be incredibly useful and valuable substitutes.

1: Have players on the bench that can offer you something different

I notice many teams seem to have a strong first 11 with some lesser backups. These players seem to be there to fill a hole when required. If any effort has gone into recruiting them, they tend to be like for like (but lesser quality, or developing youth) rather than first choice players (i.e. if the first choice lone striker is a pacy goal poacher, then the backup lone striker tends to be a pacy goal poacher who isn’t as good as the starting one).

I think it is hugely important tactically to have some players on the bench that offer you something different. If your starting striker is a pacy goal poacher, then you should have an option on the bench that offers you something different (perhaps a very strong forward who is good in the air). I think as a whole, technical skills tend to be weighted much higher when players are assessed by managers in FML. My starting 11 tend to always be very gifted technically, however, I always ensure that my bench offers me some alternatives.

Players who are a little lacking technically but highly gifted physically are great for the substitute’s bench, because they offer you something different, and you can generally pick them up relatively cheaply. Sometimes technically gifted players can be shut out of the game and lack the key involvement they need on the ball to be able to utilise their skills. For example, if I see one of my technically gifted attacking MC’s not being involved in the play, I’ll change something tactically to try and involve him, or I will sub him off for a different type of player – perhaps one who isn’t very technically gifted, but has very high physical and mental attributes.

These players are much more able to ‘involve themselves’ in the match and aren’t so reliant on teammates and tactical tinkering to make a difference. Sometimes keeping the same tactics and instructions and making a clever substitution with a different type of player can have a large impact on the game.

2: It’s never too early to make a tactical substitution

Sometimes immediate action is required or it will be too late. During a Gold Cup Final 15 minutes into the match I found myself 1-0 down, with Ronaldo terrorising my central defence – literally running through the middle of them near the half way line and bearing down on goal for one on one opportunities. To the astonishment of all those watching the match (back then Gold Cup finals attracted rather large crowds of managers watching), and with just 15 minutes played, I subbed off one of my centre halves for a right back. The right back also wasn’t half the player that the centre half was.

Why did I do it? Well, the match simply wasn’t going well for me, and if it carried on it’s current course a loss seemed inevitable. I subbed off my quality (but slow) natural centre half, replacing him with a right back that lacked quality but was lightning fast. The result was, every time Ronaldo broke clear of my defence, my poor right back caught up to him easily and won the ball back (or chopped him down thanks to the lack of cards issued to last defender fouling) very quickly. I went on to win that match 3-1. I accepted Ronaldo was likely to beat me, so I did something (a little unconventional) to stop him.

Rather than conceding defeat when you get that ‘here we go again’ feeling, don’t just sit there and watch the ‘inevitable’ unfold, do something to change the course of the match!

3: Limited players can be useful on the bench for certain situations

Going back a few seasons I had Kaka in my team, he was truly a world beater and was the talisman of a team that reached the pinnacle of success for many seasons. On my bench I had a young regen AMC (aka Mr. Useless), who was only 2* potential and basically couldn’t do anything! He had high strength and determination and decent passing, but that was about it. However every time he took to the pitch and touched the ball, all he ever did was get the ball straight to Kaka.

Whenever Kaka wasn’t involved enough in a match, I would bring on Mr. Useless. The results spoke for themselves, and there was even a strong argument to be had that Mr. Useless should have been in my starting team (after averaging over 7 as a substitute for multiple seasons). The lesson here is that, sometimes your top class players perform much better when surrounded by lesser players. Mr. Useless even scored quite a few goals, all generally easy chances (as that’s all he was capable of scoring). Because he was always so close to Kaka and always passing the ball to him, he was also nearby whenever Kaka ‘worked his magic’ to reap the rewards of tapping in rebounds, or being on standby to receive passes after Kaka drew in all opposing defenders to stop him.

Remember, there are many players in FMLive who are one man’s junk and another man’s treasure! It’s generally very handy to have players on the bench who are very pacy for tactical substitutions for any starters who aren’t so pacy, this is particularly true for left and right backs. Sometimes you just know, when your 13 pace left back has been easily beaten multiple times by the opposition right winger in the opening minutes, you know that he simply is going to get beaten all match. If you’ve got an 18/19/20 pace left back on the bench, sometimes that pace (and acceleration/agility/etc) is far more effective in stopping a winger than high technical and mental attributes.

You should also have players on the bench for situational tactics. This can be a variety of obvious circumstances, but also less obvious circumstances can be just as valuable. Ever been 1 goal up in a match and set the time wasting to maximum in the last couple of minutes, only to concede a goal with the last kick of the match? (I assume the answer is yes). Did you substitute on a winger who is an expert at holding the ball up? Simply subbing on a strong player out wide with high dribbling (who is very likely to get fouled rather than lose the ball) could have meant your team kept the ball and drained the time down instead of giving up possession and conceding the wonder goal from 40 yards out.

4: Taking huge risks is fine when you’re losing

If you have low determination players in your starting line-up, make sure you have high determination cover on the bench. Determination is a key attribute in regards to consistency with results (as high determination players seem to get fired up more easily). If you’ve got too many low determination players you will definitely see this reflected in your results. Sometimes you can go a couple goals down in a match, and all you need to do to turn the match is make a couple of substitutions for low determination players with high ones. I also tend to do this in the closing stages of matches when protecting a lead.

Sometimes there are matches where there is little point in being conservative. If you find yourself 3-0 down at half time and with many of your players underperforming, there’s little to lose in taking a huge risk here and using up all of your substitutions. Sure you might get a player injured and have to play with 10 men, but the reality is unless you make dramatic changes you are on the road to defeat, so if you want to turn a 3-0 down score line into a winning result then risks need to be taken. Taking huge risks is also fine when a win result is required, like if you need to win your final group match in the Gold Cup to progress, and the match is 0-0 at half time and your team hasn’t looked like scoring.

5: Every player on your bench should be there for a reason

When choosing the players to sit on your bench. You should keep the above rules in mind. Slow right back? Make sure you have a pacy right back on the bench. If you want to make certain tactical decisions (like time wasting at the end of matches, or high defensive line pressing when chasing a game) make sure you have players on the bench who can help with this.

Make sure you’ve got players on your bench who offer you something different so you can ’shake things up’. Every player on your bench should be able to see action in a match for tactical reasons when the right circumstances arise. Ideally you shouldn’t have any, or at most one or two players on the bench that are there for injury cover only. Multi-role substitutes are incredibly powerful to have on the bench. Many different roles exist that fall with the categories of offering something different, support for situational tactics or injury cover. Finding good multi-role youth players is what you are striving for when looking to recruit players to sit on your substitute’s bench.

Written By Nick Kakoschke
Nick is the infamous Little Badger on the SI forums and manager of the Little Badgers in the Clough game world. A very successful manager in his time on FML he now aims to pass his knowledge on to others.
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  • Players who are a little lacking technically but highly gifted physically are great for the substitute’s bench.

  • Great tips Nick. I agree with all your points.

    Usually I substitute players that aren't really performing up to their standards (or seem to be unable to mark their opponents without making too many fouls and getting cards), and I don't undestand why Match Plans don't let me do this (i.e. all my team is doing well except for my striker averaging 6.0, I would bring a sub in regardless of their attributes).

    Determination is a key attribute for every player, and gives you the chance for a comeback especially when you need some time to understand what's going on tactically. Low determination players can make your tactical changes completely useless.

  • Better than the usual drivel on here. I give you a C+. Well done.

  • What I like most is the fact that you seem to hate the site, and yet still come back. Shows we're doing something right, even if we're doing it in the wrong way. If that makes any sense at all... :-)

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