Perhaps it’s because I haven’t been playing that much Football Manager Live of late, but I haven’t seen much talk of cheat tactics around lately. Sure, the same old accusations about the 4-6-0 or the 4-5-1 pop up from time to time. But on the whole, people have been relatively calm on the matter. Or, at least, they are complaining about more fundamental issues.
So, with the reset coming closer, I wonder whether this will flair up again? There have been a fair few match engine rants since the game arrived, and quite a few have been down to cheat tactics.
To start with, it was the 4-5-1. The flat, bog-standard default formation which, for many reasons, appeared to crush all before it.
There were some reasons for this. Earlier version of the ME could not cope with packed central midfields. Although in real life it is a legitimate tactic to deliberately flood the centre of the park and break up the opposition’s play, this was too effectual in the ME. Even if you had a 4-5-1 variant which looked to exploit the rigidity of the flat 4-5-1 system by playing “between the lines” (as ‘The Special One’ would have it), the three MCs held dominion over the entire match.
Also, we were still under the yoke of tactics skills. The 4-5-1 is a simple and effective formation for people who have few tactical options. It’s stable, it controls the midfield, it’s easy to buy players for, and (perhaps this was the crucial point) everyone else was playing it, so it offered a good mirror to the other managers.
Was it a “cheat”? Of course not. The 4-5-1 could be countered easily with a heavy pressing game, quick ball movement and some inventive use of opposition instructions, staggered midfield instructions and quality players. The point was that most people either didn’t have these things at their disposal or were unable to utilise them effectively even if they did.
And then the Four-Six-Zero came along. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the historical viability of the formation there’s no doubt that it caused a stir amongst the Football Manager Live community.
At its heart was the accusation that the ME failed to deal well with striker-less formations. Without FCs, the defenders didn’t know who to mark or where to run. This left a large hole between the defence and the midfield which was hard to plug – and with the defenders struggling to pick a player to tackle, goals came flooding in.
This was the theory. And it wasn’t baseless. Many changes to the behaviour of defenders had to be coded in before the 4-6-0 wad properly tamed.
But, again, was it a “cheat”? No. There were justifications for playing the 4-6-0. Again, it was easy to buy for, it did produce some very attractive football, and, played properly even with the refined match engine, it still caused problems for defences and still exploited the gaps in the opposition’s shape. That, indeed, is the whole point of the 4-6-0! In exactly the same way that the 4-5-1 was designed to dominate the midfield!
Follow the leader
In the end, though, the biggest dictator of this whole thing was fashion. Who was playing 4-5-1? Everyone else. So I’ll play 4-5-1! What, they’ve switched to 4-6-0…
Of course, this is far too simplistic to explain the whole phenomenon. The other aspect was the use of these formations by the gameworlds’ supposed “élite”. That is to say, most of the top 10 in most of the gameworlds would be using whatever was considered the “cheat formation”.
I think this neglected a number of key issues. First, that the top teams could probably play whatever formation they liked and they would still be in the top 10. The wealth and quality of their squads was insurmountable – at least in the short term. So, chances are that they were simply playing whichever formation was fashionable, found that it won games, and stuck with it. This in turn built their reputation as super tactics, despite the fact that you could probably take a sample of 10 teams from any rank and find the same distribution of “cheat” tactics.
So, whither the cheat?
Having played a large chunk of Football Manager 10 over the past months, alongside Football Manager Live, it’s quite clear that, despite having the same match engines, the games look very different. Perhaps that’s due to the thousands of games played every day by real humans; perhaps it’s because humans don’t set up their teams the way the game thinks they will; perhaps it’s because of the huge gulf in class between opponents from one game to the next; perhaps its all of these and more.
But from what I’ve seen, I cannot see one particular formation which is so obviously dominant against most others. For the 4-5-1 and the 4-6-0, its strengths were such that it could take on most formations and at least be its equal (player class permitting). Now, though, every system has its flaws and strengths. So one game you may run riot, the next, against different opposition, you may be trounced.
Far more important (and this has always been the case) are player instructions. How a formation plays is far more important than what the formation is. Two 4-5-1s may be exactly the same shape. But one which encourages all the midfielders to bomb forward and the striker to drop back is very different to one that tells the midfield to hold firm and lump it up to a target man. It’s not the formation which causes the issues – it’s the style of play it produces.
So, for me, I hope these debates about cheat formations are dead. If we’re going to blame something for our losses come FML 2.0, I reckon we should just blame the match engine. It will save us a lot of bother!
|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.