An Unoffical Guide to Understanding Slumps and Bad Form
What Is the Slump?
Evaluating Your Team:
As a Whole
Players & Picking a Formation
Simplifying Your Tactical Setup
Understand the Competition
The much-malinged Match Engine
Interpreting the Match Engine
Assistant Manager's Adice
More on Bad Form
I Was Doing Fine, but Now, for No Apparent Reason, I'm Not
Breaking Defensive Formations
Who I am: briefly, a longtime forum lurker and FM player.
You have likely experienced the mid-season slump. If you’ve gotten frustrated, you’re in good company; there are certainly plenty of others posting about it across various FM forums. It might help us to begin by articulating why the slump is frustrating. I can think of four general reasons.
1. FM 2013 gives you so much information and so many options, and it’s hard to know what is (ir)relevant to your slump.
2. Even if you do know why you're slumping, or have a theory, it is often difficult to interpret the information the game gives you.
3. You feel completely helpless, which is a situation we rarely experience in video games.
4. What you were doing before was working, and really well, and now, it’s not. See reasons 1-3.
You’ll find examples of all of these throughout, but especially reason #2. This is why this, and so many other FM guides, is and are so long: I'm trying to interpret game language into something more user-friendly. Most of what I “know” has come from reading a lot about the game; I’m by no means an authority. Nor am I any kind of tactical genius. What I am is persistent as all get out, and I ask a lot of questions. The reason for this guide is that I got tired of reading responses to posts about slumps that said “just call a team meeting,” rotate your starters, the infamous “it’s your tactics,” that others never had this problem, that it’s all about motivating, and then opinions contradicting all of these. It’s none of these, but maybe all of them. There is helpful advice, but it’s scattered, and you have to put a lot of pieces together. That’s what I’m trying to do here.
Please note that though I’ll eventually use my own team’s experience as examples, I am not going to provide screen shots. This is long enough as it is, and frankly, what will do you more good is to apply the methods here to evaluating your own team. Also acknowledge that I am probably wrong about some things you will read; this is more of an attempt to summarize how the general community knowledge has lead me to approach my own saves. Fire up FM, load your save, or better yet, load a new game so you can play around.
What Is the Slump?
I have experienced two types of slumps in FM. The first is when you’re dominating games (e.g. 55-60% possession or more, far more shots, clear cut chances, etc.), but barely scraping 1-0, or worse, tying or losing. This isn’t necessarily a slump, but it’s not any fun, either, and you’re liable to feel you’re doing everything you can—in fact, all the right things—and the game is…well…not fair. WOODWORK! WHY DO I ALWAYS HIT THE WOODWORK! Etc. Don’t worry: it’s not you. Or rather, it is you, but you’re not an idiot, and it’s fixable.
The second (and maybe more common for those of us who don’t play with Barcelona, Man Utd, etc.) is when you cannot win. You go months without even a whiff a win. Taking a lead is actually depressing; now you have to wait for their last second equalizer/go-ahead goal. You can’t score, everybody’s depressed and upset, your starting striker who was scoring every game “suddenly plays like Torres” (God, how many times have I seen that simile online…that poor man), and opposing teams are suddenly “playing like Barcelona.” Everything seems to go wrong . I mean everything. Injuries, ridiculous PK’s & fluke goals, Woodwork, woodwork, etc. I heard one forum administrator refer to this as “the rot.” That’s the slump I’m most concerned with here, but the advice will apply to both.
Having said this, let me also say that slumping does not mean you're a poor manager. It is, as far as I can tell, an intended mechanic. It keeps us from building a super team and blazing through every single game. Actually, the slump, and the danger of the slump is what makes this game fun. If there was no slump, FM would be a masturbatory exercise. And the way they the game has evolved to challenge you is to make it possible for so many things to go wrong and send you toward the slump.
Here’s a massive, completely unsupported claim: Football Manager is almost entirely about avoiding the slump. (Probably this statement should be finished with: and maximizing the streak.) That’s what we’re going to try to do here.
This guide is written with specific anecdotal evidence from my own FM 2013 experience. I’m playing this year with Port Vale, which may be evidence that I have been dropped too many times as a child. Alternatively, it means I like a challenge. I like Lower League Management. But this is still applicable to your EPL squad too: I’m happy to say I usually end up there eventually. It’s different, but not so much as you’d think. Anyway, what’s important is, I am not using your team. The number one rule of FM (and soccer [and everything, really]) is:
1. Nothing happens in a vacuum.
This means that everything is situational, contextual. That’s football; change anything about one player, and the entire game shifts.
The guidance I’m offering is in the form of the questions I ask. Your team's situation will most likely be different. That is, unless you begin with a League 2 team that the media predicts will come in 24th, you have no transfer budget and in fact are in administration (i.e. no transfers at all, not even loans) at the beginning of the season, your only left backs are a converted an AML (who's injured) and an AMC, you have the worst teamwork and leadership in League 2, and you’re also very near the bottom for passing, workrate, pace, and tackling, and your players are exactly like mine, you must be aware that you are dealing with difference circumstances and act accordingly.
Evaluating Your Players
Avoiding slumps begins with knowing your team. If you feel you know your team, great. But the next several sections might take you a little further.
We are a community of idol worshippers. Sports fans are, I mean, and I’m guessing FM players pretty much all double as sports fans. That’s why we spend so much time caring about what they eat for breakfast or who they’re dating or what they’ve said or what they think about politics. This is fun but silly; they’re superathletes because they don’t think too much. And I think this worship screws up some of our FM saves. Frankly, far too many people assume that better players = win. If you can’t get out of this mindset, you are going struggle. At the very least, you have to remember that Football Manager is a video game. Meaning: it is basically a complicated series of If/Then statements. And these particular statements do not agree that better players mean instant undefeated seasons, even if you think it pretty much should. (There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, etc.)
So how do we evaluate our players? It used to be so much easier. I remember back in 02/03 or whatever, all my strikers had a ton of pace and finishing, and that was all they needed. If they could dribble, that was a bonus. I took Aldershot to Premiership solely on the strength of strikers dribbling, finishing, and pace, and help from good defenders.
Now it’s more complicated. Thank goodness, actually; looking at players is so much more interesting now. But this is also a big contributor to Big Frustration #2: it’s hard to interpret what these stats mean. One example: balance. What is balance important for? Does it help in conjunction with jumping? With staying on your feet during a tackle? With running along the sideline? Dribbling? Shooting? How often does the game calculate for it? Is what the Match Engine just showed me agility or balance? In real soccer, it affects these things all the time. I don’t know how the Match Engine interprets it, though. Aggression vs. Bravery? Work rate vs. Determination? How does footedness specifically affect Finishing calculations? It's confusing.
Two pieces of advice, then. First, figure out which attributes you don’t understand and look them up on the various forums. It might change your perception of the game. Second, when you look at your own squad, find specific weaknesses rather than just strengths. Oh, so your midfielder has 20 passing, 20 creativity, 20 technique? He’s a good passer, then. But he has 3 decisions. Crap. I’d rather have a player who is 15 at all of these including decisions. A defender who’s got great heading and jumping but no bravery? Not a great defender.
Let’s Actually Look at Our Players Now
But first, let’s look at them relatively. You should always do this. Remember, nothing happens in a vacuum.
In year 1, Port Vale, as you already heard, has quite a few weaknesses compared to the rest of League 2. I see that in addition to passing, speed, work rate, teamwork, and tackling, my overall decision making, first touch, and strength leave something to be desired. So far, not so good. I haven’t actually looked at the bunch yet, but I’m not feeling great.
But here’s better news. Overall defensively, we’ve got some upsides. Great comparison ratings for marking, positioning, and defensive tackling (this means the tackling weakness is elsewhere). Nothing about my midfield is particularly encouraging, but my attackers have great heading and jumping and good movement. Okay, so I’ll probably be crossing the ball. As for the transfer market, I’ll be looking for work rate and leadership. Maybe an experienced older midfielder. Just something to keep in mind. (Now would be a good time to look at your own team's overall comparison, especially if you never really have.)
Next, we can actually look at the individuals. I always do this in conjunction with thinking about a formation because it’s easier for me to see what I’m going to the transfer market for. You can also do it with an eye for who you’re going to sell off. But if you struggle with slumps, you may want to be careful with this; disrupting team blend can hurt you, and you may be putting too much importance on aspects of individual player skills.
Let’s Actually Look at Our Players & Picking a Formation
I do not begin with looking at our “key players” or with a formation I want to play in mind. These things distract me, and they make more complicated the three questions I need to answer:
1. Are my players good enough?
2. Are my tactics right?
3. Is my team motivated and blended? (Actually, blended might be a 4th question entirely. Honestly, I can’t tell the specifics of what this does. I just think: unblended team = bad. Check your Assistant Manager’s reports and your club confidence and the tactical screen.)
If you decide before you look at your players what tactics and formation you will play, you are adding a 4th question: can my team play the way I want them too? For those of you with massive transfer budgets and an obsession with feeling like a tactically inventive genius, I guess you should go that route. Otherwise, a good guideline is, figure out what 11 players would be best on the field together.
In League 2, my experience has been that physically gifted players are dominant. I always begin there when looking for who I want out on the field. The most obvious place to begin on Port Vale, to me, is Tom Pope. Slow, but (remember, it’s League 2): 14 Jumping, 14 Strength, 15 Stamina, 12 Balance, 15 Bravery, 13 Heading, acceptable anticipation, great Teamwork and Determination. Great Target Man characteristics. My Assistant Manager rates him as 2½ stars. Bullcrap. In my book, he’s about a 4. Even better if I can find someone to cross him the ball. On this team, this guy should be on the field. I can already go to my tactics screen and set him up top as a Target Man. I should also be aware of his weaknesses, too. The ones that bother me are 6 Dribbling and 6 Technique, but hopefully I’ll be playing the ball mostly to his head, so these won’t be as big a deal. (Technique is one of those really important underpinning stats. 20 finishing but 1 technique does not make for a good striker, as far as I can tell.)
Quick note on roles: Maybe obvious, but worth saying. I can’t just use Pope as an advanced forward because that's what my personal tactical goals are--not if I want to get the best out of him. If roles are something you’re fuzzy on, go spend some time reading their game descriptions.
I won’t go through my whole selection in as much depth, as this is already a long enough guide. But you should with your team. You can even fire up FM and see what you’d do with Port Vale at the beginning of a save. There are some other obvious choices: Ashley Vincent and Jennison Myrie-Williams look like great AML and AMR choices initially for their quickness. The bad news: Myrie-Williams is a left footed AMR, which says Inside Forward, but he has 4 finishing. Also horrible work rate, teamwork, and positioning. And Vincent’s finishing and passing are also low for a winger, though his most depressing stat is 5 decisions. As a general rule, I don’t sign players with 5 decisions. I assume decisions affects everything. What is not a decision?
Doug Loft for now goes to the AMC position. He’s a fast, decent dribbling, finishing, passing, technique, acceptable in all the mental characteristics I value. It should be noted that I already know he will be playing LB, since he’s the only one he can. But right now isn’t about that; right now’s about my ideal 11 in their ideal places.
I go through the team this way. I have a good ball winning midfielder, and very solid right back: Duffy’s got great defensive capabilities, but he’s not much of an attacking fullback: I can already set his role to Fullback: Defend.
When I get through, my formation looks like this:
IF/W IF IF/W
CD CD RB
Yes, I know I have two AMR’s. Obviously I won’t be playing this way. But for now, these are the 11 I most want to try to get on the field at the same time. Also obviously, I don’t have a left back.
But my most pressing problem is: I have 3 large, dominant-in-the-air center backs. But here are their agilities: 6, 5, 4. Here are their paces: 5, 10,8. Anyone passing through this defense, or dribbling with speed, is going to destroy me, unless I add an anchorman. Currently, I have nobody I want to play defensive mid, and in fact, nobody even can. I also don't have a true left back for helping out with this situation. Plus: in addition to these defensive problems, this is clearly a more offensive formation. That’d be what the transfer market is for, except I’m in administration. Crap.
This is the entire reason we play FM, though: to make decisions under these sorts of circumstances. I come up with two formations. First, I drop Doug Loft to LB and move Louis Dodds, a technically capable attacking midfielder, to the AMC position. This will be my “standard” formation. I’ll try and maintain possession with short passes and use my two midfielders defensively to protect my defensive line. Vincent and Jennings’s paces don’t mean much in this system, which sucks, but that’s not what this formation is for: it’s for keeping the ball away from the other team and for finding out what I’m up against before I give up chances.
The second formation is a 4-2-4 with a TM support and a Poacher, an AML and AMR, direct passing, counter attack. If Doug Loft has to play left back, he can at least play an attacking Full Back/ Support Wing Back, so that’ll help when we get forward too. (I also designed an attacking version of my “Standard” formation, but I didn’t really use it during season 1.)
I set my formations to “Rigid” and “Very Rigid.” Fluidity is nice in theory, but it adds an extra variable to my list of questions:
1. Are my players good enough?
2. Are my tactics right?
2a.If they aren’t working is it because of my choices or because my players are trying to do their own thing?
3. Is my team motivated and blended?
You may be wondering, why not a 4-4-2? Wouldn’t my speedy wingers be better if they had more space in front of them, and better capable of protecting my slow, plodding defense? I thought that, too. But I don’t have a single “natural” MR or ML, and the players I have didn’t like the idea of training those positions. I try not to fight the game on anything; it never ends well for me.
I can’t hit the transfer market yet, but I can slightly address some problems. If I train Sam Morsy, a young midfielder, from competent to accomplished at RB, I will free up my current RB to play CB, and that’ll give me speed and agility there. I have another serviceable RB who I want to eventually sell, but I can begin training him as a midfielder, since I’m incredibly light there. I could also train CB Owens to LB, but he’d never be able to attack. That’s the best I can make of things. It’s not great, but it is managing. I do sell a few players, but I’m already so light on numbers that I have to be careful: one or two injuries before I’m out of administration will see me starting 16-year-olds.
A Word on Tactical Setups
For goodness sake, don’t get too fancy. The way tactics are presented in FM forums often makes us feel that we must be really, really smart to understand them. But actually, the problem is that we often don’t understand why the Match Engine is doing what it’s doing. Two examples:
If you have your FB set to defend, but you set his crossing “high” and “from byline,” will he actually move to the byline to cross? Or will he ignore that instruction since it doesn’t fit with the others? What does the Match Engine even mean by crossing? Is it the act of moving into position, or just launching a ball into the box?
Why don’t commands work as you intend? If you have your defender set to short passing, no creative freedom, no through/crosses, why does he still bomb the ball up field uselessly?
There are answers to these questions and to all the questions you have, and I know this because the match engine is a coded. I can’t answer them, personally. (I can tell you that a through ball, according to the match engine, is not a pass “through” defenders, but rather a pass that “unleashes” a player on a run past defenders. Wasn't what I expected, and I imagine a lot of the other descriptions aren't either.) I don’t know if it’s composure, decisions, bravery, concentration or something else that causes pointless clearing, but I know it’s frustrating to watch.
So don’t mess too much with tactics unless you’re really comfortable interpreting SI’s descriptions. They are often vague, and they all occur in a vacuum. That is, they are what the player would do given ideal circumstances that never really exist. For my two formations, I set passing (short and direct), float crosses (because: Tom Pope), and I called it a day. Later, I would change my counter tactic to press more, and I waffled on “less roaming” and “less creative freedom,” but when in doubt, I stick to the dictum: don’t mess with tactics too much. As for individuals, I took long shots off nearly everyone, I gave both my CD’s short passing, and I changed my goalkeeper to distribute to my left back. That’s it. Did I know if this was going to work yet? No. I needed to see it first. This is another difficulty: you don’t really get to see your formation in practice, except in a game situation. Every time I have reloaded and retried a game, I’ve felt like a fraud, and ended up having to begin a brand new save. You’re probably not this extreme, but either way, it might frustrate you that you can’t watch it work in low-stakes situations. Friendlies are the best you’ll get, I’m afraid. This is why, despite the financial potential, I'd recommend not playing friendlies against much higher-ranking teams right after changing tactics: you'll have to ask if nothing's working because you're Fleetwood and they're Man City.
So, to summarize: 1. Are my players good enough? Not really, but I can't do anything about it yet.
2. Are my tactics right? Don’t know. We'll have to watch some matches!
3. Is my team motivated and blended? No, and since apparently quite a few are new, no.
Looking at the Competition
I have always sort of wanted FM to make me do this, and now that it’s basically required, I feel sort of resentful. It’s the biggest slog in the game. But I think ultimately it improves the experience. Slogging can be a good thing. Or rather, it feels like work, which we all pretend we don’t want, but which actually provides a more immersive/meaningful game.
You should do this. You should get full scout reports on opposition players with lots of appearances, since you’ll likely be facing them. (It helps to assign a scout to the league you play in.) You don’t need to spend hours on it, but try to determine one of two things. First, how will they likely attack you? Are their wings loaded with speed? Do they have massive, imposing strikers? A horrifyingly talented play maker? Secondly, do they have exploitable weaknesses? An injured star right back? Center backs like mine who are good in the air but not so great against your speedster forward? Very young, inexperienced players starting?
I check three screens in particular: the comparison screen, which tells you how they match up against you (and sometimes, maybe because of a bug, how they match up against the rest of the league), and from which you can form some hypotheses about the type of team you might face. Next, the tactics screen. Their formation doesn’t give you everything, but you can at least begin to understand the structure you’ll be up against. More on this in the Interpreting the Match Engine section. Finally, the position strength chart. This is most important: it tells you not only who the players are, but who might play in specific positions. You might discover that they’ve been starting a midfielder who can’t play LB at LB. You might discover that they have one particular talented player who can play midfield, but who they’ve been using as CD, thus opening up the midfield, or vice versa. You can also infer some things from the type of player they start. Tall, strong forward? Worry less about them passing it through you and more about crosses. Get your own tall defenders in place for next game.
Please note: if your only conclusion is that you have a more talented team, you're not going about this the right way. I promise that more talented players alone do not = wins.
If I still can’t come to conclusions about what to look out for and how to attack, I look at their team’s League performances, average ratings, goals scored. Is there a player on a hot streak? On a cold streak? How can I counter/take advantage?
I like tentative game plans. They’re not complicated, but they give me somewhere to begin. Okay, they’re playing a 4-1-3-2. The midfield’s going to be jammed. I’d like to go down the flanks, but their right back is amazing. I guess we’ll try their left flank (my right winger). I can’t tell if they’re going to be attacking or defending, so I’ll start with my Standard formation and shout “Take a Breather” until I see what’s what.
Now that we're got a theory about how to approach the game, let's get to the exciting part.
Interpreting the Match Engine, or, More on Tactics
God, the poor Match Engine. Much maligned by frustrated FMers everywhere. Let’s begin with a basic, underlying truth.
The Match Engine is not “unfair” in any way. Games are not scripted (unless you believe SI employs telepathic coding that understand who and when you sub, change tactics, or add shouts). The Match Engine is an animated representation of algorithms and If/Then statements. Its shortcomings are artistic and aesthetic, not logical. It is frustrating because you see a representation and shout, “AHHHH! WHY THE [insert expletive of choice] DOESN’T HE RUN AFTER THE BALL?!” The actual answer is probably because his decisions or work rate or determination or whatever isn’t so hot. This is another problem of interpretation.
I highly, highly suggest that you watch matches in 2D, at least at first. You can see the whole field, and the representation of what’s going on is much less confusing. Watch replays in 3D if you like. Or once the match is in hand, or you’re certain about your tactics, change to 3D highlights. Also, it is REALLY helpful to watch “Full Match,” at least for the first 5-20 minutes.
The general Internet discussion of FM tactics sometimes make it sound really complicated and requiring of genius. It doesn’t. Soccer tactics are about two primary things: space, and the use of space. Here is what you are looking for: when they have possession, how many players are pushing forward on attack? Do they have 5 forward, while you only have 4 defending? It’s only a matter of time before you give up a goal. Do you have 5, but their 5 are much better than yours? Add a defensive duty. On the other end, are you only getting 4 players forward and they’re sitting there with 6 defenders? No wonder you have all long shots, or no shots at all. Are they occasionally countering with 7 players, and you've only got 4 defending? No wonder you lost 3-0 despite having 15 more shots.
This, by the way, is where player skill does finally matter: in creating favorable matchups. That is the only reason player skill matters. If you have an AMC who can shred the defense with the ball at his feet, you can drop an extra man to defending. I still remember fondly the two regen forwards and AMC who tore up the EPL in my Notts Co save in 2011. I never needed a full attack because the three of them didn’t need much any help. (Their names, for the record, were Raymundo Mejia [from the U.S.!!], Juma Haul, and Ben Collette. Much love, and I miss you guys.)
This is also why less talented players sometimes seem to do so well. Who cares if he has 8 finishing? He's getting a one-on-one with your keeper.
So, if you can defend with fewer players, more can attack, and vice versa. You’re looking to squeeze every advantage you can out of the game's situation. Watch more than one possession per team. Remember, some players have runs set to “sometimes.”
How Do I Know What Their Tactics Are?
Nearly any formation can be attacking or defending, though some are more obvious. Here’s what I look for:
How many in their defensive/offensive lines?
Where’s their defensive line? Pushed up past midfield?
What are their fullbacks doing? Hanging back? Supporting the wings? Getting forward and joining the attack?
On goal kicks, what does their attacking line look like? Wingers up in line with the forwards? Hanging back?
What’s their passing like? Are they hitting long balls all the time?
I pause and try to count: do I have enough defenders to account for their attackers? Even if yes, do I need an extra to account for their players being better than mine?
On your possessions: can you afford to put a FB on attack? If they’re pushing 6 or more players forward, do you have a counter tactic prepared? If they’re looking to counter you, do you have a possession tactic prepared? (That’s what my earlier “Standard” tactic really is, actually.)
There is exactly one thing you need to respond to IMMEDIATELY: do they have more attackers than you have defenders. But over-tinkering is the FM equivalent of running around in circles. It’s panicking. One long shot should not mean “Work Ball into Box.” You might be preventing your midfielder with great longshot/decisions/technique from a wide open 20-yarder. A 75/25 possession deficit at 6 minutes does not necessarily mean switch to a tactic that holds possession. Maybe you do, and correct the deficit, but you end up with no real opportunities. Do not respond to everything. Respond to trends, and mindfully. Often, I have screwed up a fine game plan when all I really needed to do was motivate better (see below).
Your Assistant Manager
Totally deceiving. “Our short passing game is working very well.” Does this mean you should start playing a short passing game? Maybe. Maybe not. It means you are connecting with your short passes. It means you should figure out why you are having an easy time doing this if you're not intending to do so. “So-and-so is making a lot of mistakes.” Well, he’s my playmaker, so he’s attempting a lot of difficult passes, and the other team is playing really defensively. It’s not a high-percentage endeavor. He's just fine.
What I do is use my Assistant Manager as a sort of stats alarm, if that makes any sense. What I assume is happening is, there’s a script that tells him to say something based on specific stats. If so-and-so has a pass completion percentage X out of Y passes, I get the message: “Player has misplaced many of his passes directly to the opposition.” Except so-and-so is a defender, and they aren’t passes, they’re clears. Or they are passes, and it’s not his fault; there’s nobody for him to pass to. Or he has low concentration or decisions. Or he's playing complacently or anxiously.The Ass Man tells you what’s happening, but not why.
No, of course we've not made a good job of possession. We're playing a Counter attack strategy.
One Last Thing About the Match Engine
Goals change games. If someone scores, you’ll want to go back to the 2D/Full Match to see what the other team’s done and how you can adapt. And wins change seasons. Winning streaks change odds. More on this later.
Ah, the biggest mystery. Motivating is full of red herrings. This section is specifically dedicated to those who dominate games but don’t win. Motivating is the most opaque part of SI’s game’s descriptions in my opinion. Here’s an example.
Early in my Port Vale season, I am in 20th place. I’m playing Bradford, who are 4th. Their players are MUCH more talented, attribute-wise. Their average player value: 275k. Mine: 130k. But I have just won three of my last four, and they haven’t won in their last 5, and the game’s at Port Vale, so I’m favored. We have a mediocre first half, don’t concede but don’t create any chances either. You might think, I’m playing well against superior opposition: tell them they’re doing fine. As far as I can tell, you’d be wrong. Our morale is good or better, since we’ve been winning, and we’re favored: I should tell them they’re stinking up the joint.
What’s confusing is, when I do this, I get no reaction. Everyone remains “seems composed.” Then we often go scrape a win. If I had told them to relax, or that they’re doing well, they’d all “seem relaxed and motivated,” but we also more likely give up goals.
Here’s my interpretation: Generally, High morale = be tougher, Low morale = be more positive.
When favored: High morale + relax/happy pep talk = overconfident. If favored and low morale, try to be encouraging, but single out players who aren't playing well.
When the underdog: be more generous and positive, generally.
If you're not sure, use "cautious," I would think.
If you have a young squad, specifically demand more in your individual pep talks. I don’t entirely understand the specifics of position-specific pep talks. I’m sure someone does; maybe he’ll post it in a response. You can get your team more focused if you talk to the press (press conferences, talk to press, comment on dangerman) about how the upcoming match will be tough. There will be no visible evidence of this from your players; confidence and motivating are hidden stats.
If morale is bad, be positive, and chastise individuals in single-player interactions: “talk to player” or individual pep talks. Don’t be too hard on kids, though (under 24). Team meetings help too, though the logic behind when they work seems unclear to me.
I have a theory that hitting the woodwork is confidence-related. It only seems to happen when we’re not motivated enough or over-confident. I don’t know why this is. It’s infuriating, but for me, it functions as a sign of my squad’s overall mental status.
Some other things that seem to have helped others: rotate your squad, threaten to drop to reserves/transfer list, substitute players whose body language are anxious, frustrated, furious, complacent, etc. Remember that your changes don’t happen in a vacuum either. If you sub your star right back for your undeveloped 18-year-old, the results might not be much better.
So, the takeaway: high morale = be more disappointed, low morale = be more generous/positive. You need high morale to yell at them, and you need to yell at them to motivate them.
Is That All There Is to Bad Form?
Nope. Maybe your left back is trying to defend against a ridiculously good right winger. Maybe you have him on “Attack” duty and that’s why he has been “burned all too often.” Maybe your poacher who scored 10 goals in 10 games earlier this year is now getting the ball in situations where he’s got no passing options and three defenders to beat because the opposition uses a defensive strategy against you. No wonder he stopped scoring! See “stats analysis” further down for more on this.
Fine. But None of This Explains Why I Was Doing Fine, and For No Apparent Reason, We Are Now Horrible.
I know. Actually, there are explanations, but the game doesn’t really give much easily interpretable information to figure this out. Here’s the reason for that, as far as I can tell: the AI does not “cheat” or “learn” your tactics, but its teams do approach yours differently as you win more. If you were Attacking against “standard” or “control” tactics before and beating them handily, you’re now playing vs. defensive and countering styles. Which means, you’re throwing yourself against a wall and simultaneously opening up space for them to hit you on the break. Come up with a slower, more careful possession tactic, or counter counter with counter. Watch matches and squeeze every possible advantage you can out of # of attackers vs. defenders. Overload one side.
A representative example: okay, so you have really, really fast wingers. That’s great, but now that you’re playing a team with a defensive formation and philosophy, they’re receiving the ball in the final third with several defenders between them and the goal. Their speed means nothing. Their great dribbling helps, but think of it this way: would it be easier to defend against Christiano Ronaldo on an open field or in a grocery store aisle? They now need to pass, move well in space, find new ways to break down defenses.
More simply: it's harder attacking into 10 men than 7.
How to Tell When You Are Favored
Look at the odds in the pre-match overview or in the news update. It doesn’t matter if you think your players are better, or their league position, or anything else. What matters are the odds. Are you a 6-1 favorite? The other team is going to make you work for that goal. 2-1? They might be a little more adventurous. 6-1 underdog? Get your counter tactic ready!
What can you tell from game stats? For starters, who is passing well, who is passing a lot, where the action is taking place. If at halftime their right winger has 9 crosses and nobody else has more than 2, you might want to shut him down before he connects. If one player has significantly more touches than others, he’s probably a playmaker; mark him closely if you can. An opposing striker has too many shots? Address it. You have a crossing strategy that's not working: be methodical. First, are you getting crosses off? If not, find out why (too many possibilities to address here). If yes, why aren’t they connecting? Is it just your target man in the box with 5 defenders?
Stats can be deceiving, too. You have 60% possession, fine. But where are you possessing the ball? In the Action Zones tab, you might find that you have tons in your own half and midfield, but not much in their half. No wonder you aren’t scoring! A good possession tactic keeps the ball in their half of the field. Fouls become scoring opportunities; beating an opposing player on the dribble leads not just to space, but space to shoot. If a player you want to be involved has no touches, why not? Can you change his role to support to get him more involved? Is he being marked out of the game? If so, who does that free up?
Okay, so how do I break down defensive teams?
You got me. I’m still learning too. Sometimes match prepping Attk Set Pieces helps. I try to squeeze as many players forward as I can while maintaining defensive integrity. I don’t mind going in at half 0-0; that means I can yell at the boys, which is an easier adjustment than a tactics change. Be patient. Move it around. Put a couple players on “Swap with.” Hopefully somebody else can add to this. Loan/buy players who operate well under these circumstances: less speed, better passing and creativity.
This is a lot, I know. That’s the state of the game and most guides about it. It’s not that the game is too complicated, though; it’s that SI is (possibly intentionally) opaque about explaining what things mean and how things work. For example, if a player has a balanced personality, how does the Match Engine translate this? I know what I think a balanced personality is; I don’t know what it “thinks,” and as a result, I am confused and unsure how to manage this player best.
For summation’s sake, though, here again are important questions to ask yourself when your team isn’t getting the results. These are probably in reverse order of importance, but only because most players seem believe that players are more important than tactics are more important than mindset, and that’s not how the game (or, indeed, soccer) truly operates.
Do I have good enough players for my situation?
Are my tactics right for my players and the match situation?
Are my players correctly motivated—not over-confident or low morale—and blending well?
I hope this has been of some help. I also hope others will append things I’ve missed/gotten wrong. Good luck out there!
P.S. Sorry for any typos, syntactic or usage errors; I didn’t employ a proofreader or anything like that. I’m sure you’ll forgive at least the latter.
P.P.S. Things I did not address but perhaps should've: captaincy effects, the transfer market, training and prepping for matches, pitch conditions and weather, position-specific pep talks, breaking down defenses with available resources.I am not addressing these because I don't really understand them well enough to talk about them. Things I'm not mentioning here I understand even less. Please add!