Is It True That Everton Have Never Been Relagated?


For some reason there is a myth that Everton have never been relegated, that is not true, they have been relegated twice in their history, although, never in the Premier League era.  Being one of the founder members and having not been relegated since the 1950’s is probably the reason the myth has propegated.

Despite decades of underachievement, Everton Football Club is still one of the most historical institutions in the English game. The men from Merseyside have won the English top-flight title on nine occasions, the FA Cup five times and also the European Cup Winners’ Cup.

They were one of the 12 founding members of the Football League in 1888. Everton are also the club that has spent the most combined years in the English top flight (119 seasons), while only Arsenal have spent more consecutive campaigns in England’s top league. In fact, the Toffees have spent just four years outside the English top flight since the Football League’s inception.

However, as well as experiencing massive highs and making history, the Toffees have experienced some major lows, too.

Everton was relegated for the first time in 1930

Having been a founding member of the English Football League, Everton suffered the first of only two relegations in 1930, just two years after winning the English First Division, with legendary striker Dixie Dean leading their attack.

Dean was still in the team when his side suffered demotion to the then-Second Division. One of the cited reasons for the club dropping down to the second tier of the English game was that there was turmoil behind the scenes. The Toffees suffered relegation to the Second Division along with north west rivals Burnley.

However, Everton was only in the Second Division for one season, winning promotion at the first attempt and breaking a goalscoring record in the second tier in the process. The Toffees went on to win the English First Division title for the fourth time in their first season back in the top flight with Dixie Dean the league’s top goalscorer, having scored 44 goals.

Relegation for a second time in 1951

The Toffees were relegated from the English top flight for only the second time in season 1950/51. The Second World War had badly hit Everton’s team, and their post-war team struggled to match the quality of their pre-war counterparts.

The Toffees suffered relegation courtesy of goal difference, finishing bottom of the table and suffering relegation alongside Sheffield Wednesday.

The second time around, there was no immediate return to the English top flight for the men from Merseyside. Instead, they took three seasons to return to the pinnacle of the English football tree. They won promotion by finishing as Second Division runners-up.

The great escape part one in 1994

Everton had a close shave with relegation in May 1994. The Toffees went into their final game of the season against Wimbledon at Goodison Park needing a win to preserve their Premier League status. They were in the relegation zone at the start of the day, a point behind Ipswich Town, Southampton and Sheffield United.

Things were looking grim for the men from Merseyside after the visitors took a two-goal lead after just 20 minutes following goals by David Holdsworth and Andy Clarke. However, the Toffees performed a phoenix-like rise from the ashes, as a penalty from Graham Stuart and a rare long-range rocket from Welsh midfielder Barry Horne levelled the scores.

With time running out, Everton still needed a goal to beat the drop. The vital strike arrived with just nine minutes left on the clock, as Stuart played a one-two with Tony Cottee before scuffing a shot past Hans Segers in the visitor’s goal, much to the relief of all those in Goodison Park.

A last-day point kept the Toffees up in 1998

Everton again found themselves in trouble on the last day of season 1997/98. They went into their final league game of the season at Goodison Park against Coventry City, 18th place in the table, a point behind 17thplace Bolton Wanderers. However, their rivals faced a tough trip to Stamford Bridge in their last game of the campaign.

The Toffees took the lead through a first goal of the season from Republic of Ireland midfielder Gareth Farrelly, who rather sliced at a Duncan Ferguson knockdown. However, the effort was enough to beat Magnus Hedman in the Coventry goal.

Everton had a chance to seal their fate with five minutes left when they were awarded a penalty kick after Paul Williams had fouled youngster Danny Cadamarteri. However, Nick Barmby saw the resulting spot-kick saved by Hedman.

The unthinkable happened in the final minute of the game, as Dion Dublin headed home an equaliser for the Sky Blues that brought a deadly silence to Goodison Park. The goal meant that Bolton only needed a point at Stamford Bridge. However, the Trotters suffered defeat, and Evertonians could breathe a sigh of relief.

The great escape part two

Everton endured a difficult Premier League campaign in season 2021/22 and was once again in the fight for survival. This time their fate was not decided on the last day but in their penultimate game of the league campaign.

The Toffees went into a gameweek 37 home game with Crystal Palace badly needing a victory to ensure survival. Just like in 1994, the Toffees went two goals down by half-time. With a final game trip to Arsenal looming, things looked bleak for Frank Lampard’s team.

Everton came out for the second period with a determined attitude, and centre-back Michael Keane started the comeback with a well-taken finish nine minutes into the second half. With 15 minutes left on the clock, Richarlison deflected an effort in off Conor Gallagher to level the scores.

The comeback was completed with just five minutes left on the clock, as Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s diving header from a set-piece sent the clubs fans into delirium. The Toffees had survived another close shave with relegation, with the club’s hierarchy vowing that they would ensure the team would never be in the same position in the future.

Top 6 popular football leagues & betting markets

Football Manager Football Image

Football, commonly referred to as soccer in the US, is one of the most beloved sports worldwide, with millions of viewers tuning in each week to watch games. Not only does it provide entertainment for spectators, but it also presents betting fans with an opportunity to win some prizes through various football betting markets available.

Many bettors choose Lottoland football for their reliability and ease of use, but there are many sportsbooks to choose from in the UK.

In this article, we will take a close look at some of the top football leagues and the betting markets available for them.

English Premier League (EPL)

The English Premier League, also known as the EPL, is one of the world’s most beloved football leagues, with millions of passionate fans from around the globe. It boasts high-intensity games, top-class players, and dedicated supporters that draw viewers from everywhere. As a result, the EPL stands as one of football’s premier competitions worldwide.

When it comes to betting markets in the EPL, there is a wealth of choices for punters. Popular markets include outright winner, top-four finish, relegation, and top scorer. Furthermore, bettors can place bets on individual matches with markets like match winner, total goals scored, or handicaps placed.

Spanish La Liga

The Spanish La Liga is renowned for its flair, skill, and technical play. This top football league features some of the world’s greatest players as well.

La Liga offers an array of betting markets similar to that found in the English Premier League (EPL). Bettors can wager on an outright winner, top-four finish, relegation, and top scorer, among others. Furthermore, match winners, total goals, and handicaps are available for individual games.

Italian Serie A

The Italian Serie A is a premier football league that has produced some of the world’s greatest players. It’s known for its tactical play and defensive style, with teams, often setting up to defend before hitting their opponents on the counter-attack.

Italian Serie A provides an array of betting markets similar to the EPL and Spanish La Liga. Bettors can place bets on the outright winner, top-four finish, relegation, top scorer, total goals, and handicaps for individual games as well.

German Bundesliga

The German Bundesliga is renowned for its high-scoring games and attacking style of football. As a result, the league features some of the world’s top players.

Betting markets in the German Bundesliga offer a selection of options similar to other top football leagues. Bettors can place bets on an array of outcomes, such as outright winner, top-four finish, relegation, or top scorer. Individual games also provide markets like match winners, total goals, or handicaps for individual matches.

UEFA Champions League

The UEFA Champions League is the pinnacle of club football in Europe, featuring the best teams from each continent. This tournament draws millions of fans worldwide with its high-quality matches and dramatic moments.

Bettors can wager on both the overall winner of the tournament as well as individual matches. Markets such as match winner, total goals, and handicaps are available for each game, offering plenty of chances for bettors to get involved.

Major League Football (MLS)

Major League Football is the premier professional football league in North America and Canada, featuring some of the finest players from both continents. In recent years, the league’s popularity has skyrocketed, drawing fans from across North America and beyond.

When it comes to betting markets, MLS provides plenty of choices for bettors: outright winner, top-six finish, individual game markets such as match winner, total goals scored, and handicaps; plus, they provide outright winners, and outright champions too!


Football betting provides an exciting world of markets across top leagues and competitions. Whether you’re partial to high-intensity matches like the EPL, technical play in La Liga, or the attacking style of Germany – there is something for everyone in football betting. So, if you’re interested in getting involved, explore all available markets carefully and always remember to gamble responsibly.


What is the difference between pre-match and live betting?

Pre-match betting refers to placing bets on a football match before it begins, while live betting (or in-play betting) allows bettors to place bets while the game is underway.

What are Accumulator Bets?

An accumulator bet (also known as an acca) combine multiple selections into one wager. Of course, they must all be correct to win this kind of bet, but the potential payouts can be substantial.

What is an Asian Handicap?

An Asian Handicap is a type of bet designed to level the playing field between teams with varying abilities. This handicap is expressed as either a goal advantage or disadvantage, and you can wager on which team will either overcome or maintain its handicap.

What is a double chance bet?

A double chance bet allows bettors to cover two of the possible outcomes in a football match (home win/draw, away win/draw or home win/away win). While potential payouts are lower than other bets, your chances of success are greater.

Lionel Messi: One Last Treble – 3


First Season Failure!

As we approach the end of January in the opening season of this ambitious task, Barcelona sit 5 points behind league leaders Real Sociedad. Not an impossible task, but a difficult mountain to climb.

In the Champions League, the extreme challenge of Liverpool in the second round, following a double defeat to PSG in the group stage. Again, not impossible, but it would take a real miracle to get close to the final, let alone win the trophy.

For this first season, therefore, the best chance of silverware comes in the form of the Copa Del Rey. Every game needs to be treated as a final – we’re not in a position to rest players, this is a trophy that needs to be won.

The opening round was a simple one, besting second division Lugo 2-0, courtesy of two bizarre own goals. The next task though was more complex, away to Unai Emery’s Villareal.

In a crushing blow at this relatively early stage, penalties were our undoing.

Yes, the treble is off. Despite taking complete control of the game, we couldn’t quite grab that second goal in normal time to close the issue early – misses in the shootout from Fati and Messi himself meant we succumbed to a strong Villareal side.

Picking up the Pieces

Where do we go from here? Whilst it was always going to be difficult to win all three major trophies in the first season (considering the real team got no closer), it is still distressing to go out this early – and clearly shows the enormity of the task ahead in the summer.

I shall now play out the remainder of the season and report back. Hopefully some big sales, mixed with an expanded war chest will allow us to make some important signings in the summer, and make a real go of it next season.

With Mr Messi contracted until 2022, next season will likely be my last opportunity, whilst at Barcelona, to complete the treble.

A Trophy is a Trophy… Right?

Despite the tragedy of the Copa Del Rey, and the likely tragedy of both the Champions League and La Liga, there was a small, miniscule victory in the past few months.

A victory over Real Madrid is always good news, and in the final of the Spanish Super Cup it is very good news indeed. Having defeated Real Sociedad in the semi final, we defeated Zidane’s side 2-1, courtesy of two goals from the magician himself, Messi.

While the trophy is essentially meaningless, certainly in the context of our lofty ambitions, it represents that there is definite quality in this side – you don’t beat Madrid in a final without it. Perhaps we really are just a couple of truly world class signings away from the big trophies.

This, coupled with a strong victory over a resurgent Atletico Madrid in the league, and there are evident signs that this team can win the biggest prizes. Our biggest issue certainly seems to be a lack of bite in front of goal; replacing Griezmann is likely to be my first task in the summer.

So alas, this season has been a non-starter. We go again, as they say, and hopefully we can put ourselves in the strongest possible position to compete properly next year.

Lionel Messi: One Last Treble – 2


As we continue our voyage to provide Leo Messi with his third treble, it becomes clear just how significant a task this could be, particularly in Europe.

The group stage for the Champions League drew us with Slavia Prague, Ajax and Paris Saint Germain. Whilst finishing top spot would clearly be a tough ask, Barcelona do have a plethora of elite footballers, it shouldn’t be THAT hard, right?

Struggles in Europe

First things first, we qualified for the knockout stage. Finished second in the group, easily ahead of Ajax in third, with Slavia Prague still to play. However, it was absolutely those games against the weaker sides that dragged Barcelona through.

The man himself, Messi, has actually underperformed in Europe – I only played him in 3 of the 5 games due to fitness struggles, and he has only registered an assist in that time. However, the aim here was just to get through, the next step is seeing the draw for the knockout stage.

The frustrating thing about the PSG losses were that they came largely from strange errors, defenders dawdling on the halfway line, M’Bappe nicking the ball and sprinting into empty grass before easily being Neto in goal (with Ter Stegen injured until January, it is likely there could be a reduction in goals conceded once he returns to the side).

Steady at Home

Domestically, things are promising but not spectacular. The most notable statistic is that, after 11 games played as we delve into December, Barcelona are the only unbeaten team in La Liga. Real Madrid have lost on two occasions, Atletico Madrid are languishing in 10th.

Barca would be top if not for Real Sociedad, who have won nine of their opening ten games. Pleasingly, the game they did not win was at the hands of Barcelona. An away 1-0 win thanks to a set piece is not the free-flowing football the club is known for, but with the players available it is more than enough.

So, 11 games, 7 wins, 4 draws and 0 losses is a perfectly acceptable start to the season. Enjoyable performances and some huge goals have come from the dynamic Riqui Puig; Pedri and Ansu Fati have been solid without being spectacular; the most consistent player in the side has undoubtedly been Sergi Roberto, who currently leads the league for Player of the Match awards at right back.

In amongst this was a 2-2 draw at the Bernabeu, a match which should have been a walkover for Real Madrid, but plucky Barcelona held on – not the way it should be, but the way it is this season. Still, it maintains the unbeaten form in essentially the hardest game of the season.

In fact, we have now played the two main rivals for the title, both away from home, taking 4 points from 6 in the process. Repeat the trick at the Camp Nou in the second half of the season and things will be getting exciting.

Messi, The Star

The clear player of the season so far is Messi. Playing in the advanced playmaker role alongside the shadow striker, he has scored 5 and assisted 4 in his opening 10 games. Naturally, he can’t play every game (hence him being rested for some European games), so its about carefully managing him going further into the season.

The only real downside is the distinct lack of consistency from Griezmann and Dembele. Much like the problem Ronald Koeman has faced this season, these two players, each costing over £100m, have severely underperformed, despite flashes of clear brilliance. If they can become more consistent, maybe this ambitious goal will become a little more achievable.

Lionel Messi: One Last Treble – 1


You don’t need me to tell you how good Lionel Messi is or was, what he has achieved and how brilliantly he did it. But we live in the waning world of Messi, one where he continues to exert his brilliance and magnificence, but in a Barcelona team acting as a mere shadow of what they were ten (even five) years ago.

So, this series will take on the needlessly ambitious task of securing one precise goal: One final treble for Lionel Messi.

The man has picked up two treble wins during his career, in 2009 under Pep Guardiola, and in 2015 with Luis Enrique, as part of the famous MSN trio with Neymar and Luis Suarez. No player, or indeed team, has won three trebles…

Joining Messi

To make things easier, I started my career at Barcelona. The other option was to join either PSG or Bayern Munich, and attempt to sign Messi during the early stages before the contract is renewed. The strength of Barcelona in La Liga compared to the strength of the top clubs in Germany, France or Italy is far weaker – Messi at PSG, for example, would at least tie up two of the three trophies without too much interference.

Nonetheless, we I began at Barca, and the first task was to renew the contract of the great man – offering a two-year deal to keep him at the side until 2022. Including a significant wage-cut but a considerable loyalty bonus fee, he was secured.

The Squad

The second task was to take a look at the team, see what we are working with. With very little money to play with in the transfer market, the current bloated squad will simply have to do. There are rumours that Man Utd are interesting in Ousmane Dembele, it remains to be seen if we can gain some cash from that.

The formation I’m going with is my new favourite, the Vicente Del Bosque strikerless 4-3-3 – not a million miles away from the tactic of Guardiola back in his Barca heyday, but with a slight variation. In this setup, rather than play Messi as the false nine, he plays the Iniesta role – just in from the left, centrally affecting play and can provide a goal threat. I would have liked to play him in the deeper role, alongside Frenkie De Jong, but his finishing ability would be wasted that far from goal.

Preseason Champions League odds were not kind, predicted to maybe make the quarter finals if we’re lucky – it will be a tough season. If we do get knocked out of any cups, the only option will be to skip to the end of the season and try again next year – lets hope it doesn’t come to that.

Messi in Attack

The opening league games were much more kind, at home to Eibar followed by an away trip to Cadiz, bringing 3-1 and 1-0 wins respectively. The goal that Messi scored in the second game demonstrated why I needed him in that advanced role.

As the ball moves wide to Roberto, Messi moves into the box, rather than taking up the position of Pedri, who actually receives the ball. As Pedri prepares to play the through ball, Messi is now the most advanced player on the pitch.

The finish is then simple enough when the ball reaches him, but it’s the anticipation and movement of Messi that makes him to valuable in that attacking position to risk having him anywhere else.

The Last Dance

In general, this series won’t be giving a detailed breakdown of each game – mostly the highlights of the season as it progresses. With so many games in multiple competition to focus on, the expectation will be to win near enough each game in the Champions League group stage, and reach the latter stages of the Copa Del Rey.

It may be that we scrutinise games in more detail at the business end of the season, but for now let’s just keep our fingers crossed that we don’t succumb to an early cup exit.

Know Your Role: Segundo Volante

Football Manager 2021

The Segundo Volante literally means (as per Google Translate), “Second Steering Wheel” or “Second Balance”. The idea being that a Segundo Volante is utilised as the second player in a double pivot, alongside a regista or a deep-lying midfielder – where the other midfielder controls the tempo, the Segundo Volante imposes that tempo on the opposition.

What is the Segundo Volante Role?

Let’s say you’re playing a deeper 4-2-3-1, with two CDMs rather than CMs. One of these is a regista, in the mould of Andrea Pirlo or Sergio Busquets, or perhaps just a defensive blocker, like Fabinho or Fernandinho. These players will control how the game is played, the ball will go through them at all times, they determine the speed of attacks, when and when not to play long balls, and will feed the attacking 4 (and full backs), whilst remaining in their spot in front of the defence.

regista alongside a segundo volante

Defensively, the Segundo Volante, will remain alongside their midfield partner, providing double cover in front of the centre backs. But, when possession is won, and the regista plays their signature through ball to the left wing, the Segundo Volante begins their run – moving at speed past the opposition midfield, past his own CAM and wingers, to get to the box to support the striker as the ball comes in via a cross or final ball.

They don’t always affect the ball itself, but the sudden inclusion of a completely untrackable run makes life very difficult for defenders, and space can now open up for the conventional attackers.

What are the Attributes?

Primarily, they are a defensive midfielder – the Segundo Volante will spend most of their time in front of the back four, it’s the unpredictability of their runs into the final third that throw off defenders. So, they need strong Tackling, Strength, Bravery attributes.

However, they will need good attacking ability too, and ideally able to affect the play aerially – height, Heading and Jumping Reach are bonuses.

But the key is physicality – they need to have the Stamina, Pace and ideally Natural Fitness to execute potentially game-winning runs, even as the clock ticks late on in the game.

  • Tackling
  • Bravery
  • Strength
  • Dribbling
  • Heading
  • Jumping Reach
  • Pace
  • Stamina

This might seem like quite a specific skillset – it’s a very specific role! This tactically ambiguous, “Hail Mary” role doesn’t sit particularly well with modern football, so not many players are built for it. Naby Keita above would be my definition of a Segundo Volante, encompassing the necessary physical and attacking ability, whilst also assuming defensive responsibility if required.

At a more cost-effective level, Ibrahim Sangare of PSV represents the precise attributes of a defensive midfielder with all-round ability – fused with the magical trait “Gets Froward Whenever Possible”.

Segundo Volante in Action

The Segundo Volante as a tangible vibe of the “Frank Lampard” role, arriving late on the scene to snatch a goal. The difference though is that the late arriving CM is nominally involved in the attack further up the pitch anyway, but they time their runs effectively to be at the edge of the box for the pull back or rebound.

The Segundo starts deep, remains deep, until the ball moves quickly forward, at which point they do the same.

Here, from a goal kick, most players are in their normal positions – the winger has come deep to receive the ball directly from the centre back (notice the CB missed out Sangare, the Segundo Volante, during the build up play), and has spotted a pass to be made cross field to the left winger.

At this moment of the ball moving forward, Sangare is away, pushing ahead of the wingbacks, CAM and midfielders. Only the left winger and striker are ahead of him.

When the ball then reaches the box, and the striker is through on goal, Sangare is at the edge of the box, ready for a rebound and just drawing defenders away from the play. 8 seconds earlier, he was deep, 5 fives ahead of the centre back. Now he’s in the box, and although he didn’t affect the ball this time, these dangerous runs can keep your opponents on the back foot, wary that any counter attack will driven by the extra man in midfield.

The Segundo Volante is not for the faint-hearted. It’s not for games you control (as the element of surprise is lost), and its not for holding out a 1-0 lead. But it can get you that goal when your strikers just aren’t scoring, or as the key man in a quick counter-attacking system.

Know Your Role: Sweeper Keeper

Tempo Tactics

Like any position on the pitch, it’s not enough to just stick a good goalkeeper between the sticks – they need to fit your tactical style. Personally, I like to play with a high line, at a high tempo, although this can leave a lot of space in behind. And that’s why I always use the Sweeper Keeper, with the attack duty.

Goalkeeping attributes on Football Manager aren’t quite as clear cut as outfield players, so it can be tricky sometimes to distinguish between a top goalkeeper, and a top sweeper keeper. Let’s take a look at what a sweeper does.

What is the Sweeper Keeper Role?

This sums up a sweeper keeper’s job, moving around their own final third and being comfortable with the ball – not restricting themselves to their own box.

Always an outlet for the centre backs who need to play a pass under pressure, and always on hand to deal with a through ball past the defence.

The average position of a sweeper keeper compared to a standard

This is where the sweeper keeper stands (left) in comparison to a standard goalkeeper (right). Over the course of 90 minutes, this advance of 10 yards or so is significant, as it lets everyone on the pitch know that they are patrolling that area.

It lets the defenders know that they can maintain their high line, as the space behind them is being manned, but it also tells the opposition that the option of a through ball won’t work.

Sweeper Keeper Preventing Counter

This image demonstrates where the keeper sits at all times, outside the box, in position, ready to deal with an ambitious pass over the defence, nullifying counter attacks before they happen – vital for teams who generally see more of the ball than their opponents.

What are the Attributes?

The best sweeper keeper in the world, still, is Manuel Neuer. He has facilitated Bayern’s gameplan and domination of German and European football for nearly ten years. His comfort and ability outside of the box (of course combined with exceptional shot stopping ability) has allowed Bayern’s defenders to sit at the halfway line in near enough every game they play.

Whether under Heynckes, Guardiola or Flick, Bayern have never needed to be scared of the opposition, they can always play their high line with the confidence that Neuer will sweep behind.

The key attributes to look out for are:

  • Command Of Area
  • Communication
  • Eccentricity
  • Kicking
  • One On Ones
  • Rushing Out (Tendency)
  • Acceleration

Clearly, Neuer excels in all of these attributes, which is what makes him the archetypal sweeper keeper. When searching for your SK, make sure you check out their one on one ability. Whilst this hasn’t got much to do with dominating outside the box, your high line will, on occasion, leak clear cut chances. Give yourself the best chance with a competent one on one keeper.

For a top division team, keepers like Gollini at Atalanta are perfect – demonstrating the abilities to sweep up behind defences.

For lower ranked sides, an example would be Billy Crellin, who starts the game at Fleetwood Town (on loan at Bolton). Whilst his rushing out tendency is minimal, his command of area, kicking and communication more than make up for it, providing an inexpensive option for League 1 and Championship level teams.

Adjusting your Tactics

Of course, this is a tactic that brings high risk as well as high reward. Whilst teams will have more control of the game, football is a low scoring sport – expect to lose games by a single goal from an unexpectedly brilliant through ball by the opposition left back, it just happens from time to time.

But on the whole, playing with a high line squeezes the opposition into their own half, where they don’t want to be. This creates more chances, a higher xG, and is more likely to win more games in the long run.

Modern football has shifted – all elite sides, those who regularly win league titles, utilise a high line and a sweeper keeper. Count them up, it’s how the modern game works – and if you aren’t using it in your FM career, that might be the difference between 2nd place and finally winning that trophy.

Play Like: Benitez’s Valencia

Tempo Tactics

This series takes you through how to evoke the memories of classic teams over the years, recreating their tactics in Football Manager to (hopefully) win games and (definitely) have fun in the process.

Club sides, international teams, league winners, cup winners and just all-round entertainers, the series will focus on the most notable tactical styles which you can then recreate in your FM save. This time we examine Valencia under Rafa Benitez, and the last great sustained period of success for a Spanish side other than Barcelona or Real Madrid.

The Valencia Story

In 2001, Valencia were going into the new season off the back of a Champions League final defeat and a fifth-place league finish. Respectable, but ultimately trophyless. Hector Cuper had put together a run of remarkable European campaigns, but came up short on each occasion, with his overtly defensive style failing to deliver any kind of success in La Liga.

So, in 2001, Valencia hired Rafa Benitez, who had just secured promotion to La Liga with Tenerife. He kept the side essentially the same as his predecessor, but added more defenders into the squad, for greater depth and to shore up the backline.

In that first season, Benitez brought Valencia their first league title in over 20 years. Playing a 4-2-3-1 formation at a time when 4-4-2 was the standard, he understood how the extra midfield man would provide the required overload for defensive stability, at the expense of goals scored. Indeed, the side only scored 51 goals, grinding out a series of 1-0 wins en route to the 2002 title – conceding an astonishing 27 goals all season.

The following year was always going to be difficult, finishing fifth but with a spirited display in the Champions League. However, the 2003-04 season was the pinnacle, a 71 goal haul in the league carried the team to another league title (the last to be secured by a side other than Barca or Real until Atletico Madrid in 2014), but also to the UEFA Cup, defeating Marseille 2-0.

The Setup

Whilst, of course, his sides took on a variety of configurations over the years, the nostalgic setup can be seen below:

One of the earliest adopters of the lone striker, Benitez opted for a defensive, direct style of play. Not much in the way of midfield passing and moving it through the lines – when possession was won, the ball made its way to the fullbacks, then on to the wingers to progress the ball quickly up the field.

With the CM’s primarily acting defensively to screen the back four, the side was essentially bereft of central creativity – the majority of the goals scored by Mista up top were from crosses or direct passes into the opposition box, a natural poacher.

The wingers, Vicente and Rufete, were more Wide Midfielders, in the context of Football Manager – their defensive duties came first, but when the space was there to burst down the wing and whip in an early cross, they could take it.

However, all the creativity and finesse came in the form of Pablo Aimar, personally one of my favourite players of all time. Diminutive, technical, Argentine; he was the stopgap between the ethereal Maradona and the mercurial Messi – inspired by the former and an inspiration for the latter.

The dictionary definition of the Enganche, Aimar would play between the lines, collecting passes and using his technical skill to bypass players, either with a deft touch or through ball.

Play Like Benitez’s Valencia

The essence of the team is to avoid any openness at the back with a slightly deeper defensive line, minimal space between the back four and midfield, and the break quickly in possession, pushing it wide for the cross, giving more space for the CAM to influence the game when the ball comes inside.

Wing play, therefore, is the overriding tactic, which brings together these key ingredients. Rather than wingers, in a generic 4-2-3-1, the wide players sit slightly deeper, understanding their defensive duties. This is also why I have lumped for Cheryshev and Jason on each wing, with their full/wingback tendencies coming to the fore.

The midfielders will be required to sit deep and avoid venturing too far forwards. By moving it quickly and directly, there shouldn’t be any need to push them too high up the pitch to assist the attack – the striker, enganche and early crosses from wingers provide the pacey attack.

Its important to set the team to counter when gaining possession, and recover their positions when it’s lost. Also, all 4 wide players should be set to cross from deep, finding the striker behind the opposition defence, catching them off-guard. The modern Valencia team is equipped with Gomez and Gameiro, both fully adept at breaching the offside trap to get on the end of these sorts of crosses.

Take a look at the below action – when the team is in possession, this is almost exactly how they can line up. Both fullbacks are available in support without overloading the box, one CM is in the box affecting the play, given space by the wingers and CAM drawing defenders out of position, the other CM diligently preventing a potential counter at the edge of the box.

Gameiro is poaching within the 6-yard box precisely where he needs to be as the ball is then fired into the mixer.

This game in particular was a near perfect example of how Benitez wanted to set up his side – free in attack to express themselves, but exceptionally dutiful in defence. A solo pot shot in the last minute all the other side could muster in this match.

Emphatic Enganche

The side is based around defensive discipline, minimising opposition attacks and relying on the creativity of those up top to produce a chance, largely down to the CAM – below shows what Lee Kang-In, as an example, brings to the team. Picking up the ball inside his own final third, he drives at the opposition, forcing them further back into their own box.

Not content with that, he uses his technical ability and flair to take on the defender, getting brought down and winning a penalty. From nothing, a high quality chance created. That is precisely the role of the enganche in this team – it is worth, therefore, having a couple of skilful players in rotation to make the most of the role.

Never in my FM career have I ever managed to keep 4 clean sheets on the bounce, but with this formation I did. Of course, Benitez used it to great effect in the early 2000’s, winning La Liga and the UEFA Cup. Unfortunately, modern football has changed to the point that many teams also use a relatively similar formation, packing the midfield and using quick defenders to avoid a counter.

Winning league titles, therefore, may be difficult. However, less lofty ambitions such as a top half finish, or avoiding relegation, are certainly achievable. This is a tactic for punching above your weight, where the overall technical quality of the team is perhaps lacking, or where the quality of the defence vastly outweighs the quality in attack. The important thing is to find a consistent goalscorer, creative CAM, and ideally some excellent crossers to help carve out the biggest chances.

Know Your Role: Supporting Target Man

Tempo Tactics

Football Manager is a game with two distinct schools of tactical setups. You either create a tactic but tweak it to fit your players, or you create a tactic and shoehorn your players in (or indeed purchase new ones to fit the system).

So, to help out, here is a handy guide to what sort of player fits with particular player roles. What key attributes and stats does someone need in their locker in order to be effective in a role, and how can you identify the right player for your system?

Today we look at the Target Man, using the support duty.

What is the Role?

A supporting target man is probably one of the most self explanatory player roles in the game. As the primary target up front, their strength, height and off the ball movement instinctively draws defenders towards them.

If the ball finds its way to the feet (or indeed head) of the target man, they have the physical capabilities to hold the ball and bring others into play, either playing backwards to a Number 10, or letting inside forwards run beyond them before playing a through ball.

The beauty of the target man though is how much influence they can have when the ball doesn’t even go near them. The best supporting target men have outstanding off the ball ability, drawing defenders towards them and creating space elsewhere, bringing others into play without ever touching the ball.

What are the Attributes?

So, naturally, a supporting target man has high Off The Ball attributes. This is also beneficial when you actually need a goal from them too – whipping in early crosses will help the most intelligent attackers to get in behind the backline and nod in a header or volley.

In addition, you need Strength, Jumping, Heading, Teamwork and, ideally, a good First Touch.

Olivier Giroud Support Target Man

Basically you need Olivier Giroud. Now unfortunately he is well into his 30’s and an unlikely option for most clubs, but looking through what is green on his attributes is precisely what’s needed from a supporting target man.

The other thing that then sets Giroud (and players like him) apart, are his traits:

  • Plays With Back To Goal
  • Plays One-Two’s
  • Tries First Time Shots

These are the perfect traits for any supporting attacking player – acting as a wall for other players to bounce off, being an integral part of the building up play before rattling off a shot if the opportunity arises.

By comparison, take a look at the profile of an attacking target man (Mariano, below) – easily confused but performing almost entirely different roles.

Mariano - Target  Man Attack

Strong, tall, good in the air, far superior finishing ability. Makes complete sense for a target man. But passing, teamwork and first touch attributes are so low – whilst a perfectly reasonable goalscorer (in the right system), a player like Mariano absolutely could not carry out the function of a supporting target man.

How They Play

The attacking target man above would be aiming for 15-20 league goals in a season, they are the primary focal point for goals in a team. Their presence in the 6-yard-box may also lead to them picking up assists along the way, but their main function is to be supplied by others, to score the goals themselves.

The supporting target man is completely different, not bound by a numbers game at all. Operating more outside the box as much as possible, in line with the wingers and midfield, until the ball finds its way out wide for a cross.

Below, Giroud is in line with the midfielders at the edge of the box, he is fed the ball in to feet.

He drops to the 18 yard line to receive it, immediately laying to the inside forward who has gone beyond him towards the penalty spot.

This player then slides it across goal for an easier finish. Giroud gets no goal, no assist, but was integral to the build up, acting as a focal point for the attack to move around. His movement got him into position and occupied both centre backs, allowing the incoming midfielder to run free.

His first touch played the ball perfectly for the winger, and his teamwork meant he was in the mix at all. Whilst he won’t get a number attributed to him, the goal came about because of him.

That is the essence of the supporting target man, perfect for short, quick passing moves, but also a handy focal point for more direct play styles and crosses – the complete attacking all-rounder.

Play Like: Guardiola’s Bayern Munich

Tempo Tactics

This series takes you through how to evoke the memories of classic teams over the years, recreating their tactics in Football Manager to (hopefully) win games and (definitely) have fun in the process.

Club sides, international teams, league winners, cup winners and just all-round entertainers, the series will focus on the most notable tactical styles which you can then recreate in your FM save. This time we do put Pep Guardiola under the microscope – not for his Man City team, or his instant impact with Barcelona, but his tactically ground-breaking Bayern Munich side.

The Forgotten Seasons

Nobody in world football can deny that what Pep Guardiola did at Barcelona was legendary, and may never be repeated: to win repeat league titles and domestic cup competitions, two Champions League trophies, bring through some of the best players the game has ever seen, as well as THE best player the game has ever seen.

Since his time at Barcelona, however, feelings towards Pep have been mixed from across the footballing landscape. Many consider his spells at Bayern Munich and Man City as failures, despite winning five league titles in that time and even more domestic cups. Whilst it is true that his teams have not won the Champions League, they have reached the latter stages on multiple occasions. What draws the eye towards the enigmatic coach is his outlandish tactical decisions in these ties – many of which do not materialise into a win.

8-Man Midfield

You may have seen our recent feature in the “Play Like” series, on Vicente Del Bosque’s Spain team, which utilised a false nine and inside attacking midfielders to overload the midfield space – 6 bodies in the central area, all capable passers, to overwhelm the opposition and get the ball high up the pitch.

This system from Guardiola takes that to the next level. The striker (Robert Lewandowski, who came to Bayern in Guardiola’s second season) plays deep, joining the midfield when required to initiate attacks. The wingers, nominally Robben and/or Ribery, cut inside at all opportunities, providing more depth in the midfield.

The midfield trio of a CDM (often Alonso) and two CMs (often Thiago, Muller, Vidal or Martinez) provided understandable control of the middle. This takes us up to six, but the way Guardiola maxed out the midfield space was with his final flourish – David Alaba and Philip Lahm. These two intelligent, creative and positionally astute full backs were Guardiola’s masterpiece – he played them inverted, sitting inside next to Alonso during the build-up, rather than flying down the wing beyond Robben and Ribery like a normal full back would.

A little like this:

Of course in actuality, the pitch never really saw the two centre halves sitting deep and just watching eight Bayern players crowd the midfield. But as players always sought to take up these positions, it meant that passes were always available, there was always someone on, they say could prod and probe their opponent before finding an opening.

The two inverted fullbacks gave an extra layer of midfield strength that no other team on the planet had. Luckily enough, Football Manager recognised this too, and decided to make inverted fullbacks a feature of the game. Aren’t we glad they did?

Play Like: Pep’s Bayern Munich

To really get the full impact from what Pep was trying to achieve at Bayern, a vertical tiki-taka is more appropriate than the standard approach he favoured at Barcelona. Then, simply lay out the team as below:

Essentially every player role that we would be looking to use in this system is already filled in with the “Vertical Tiki Taka” setup. The team instructions are also identical, with underlaps and narrow attacks exactly what we want to see.

All that is missing is ensuring the fullbacks become inverted wingbacks – I have given Alaba on the left an attacking duty, just to give some extra impetus up top.

I have kept Alaba in for his midfield ability. Whilst Alfonso Davies is certainly the hotter prospect at the moment, for this role Alaba is still king. Similarly, Kimmich on the right is a reincarnation of Lahm, the perfect replacement.

Tolisso has the passing range to act as Alonso. Goretzka isn’t quite the passing dynamo that Thiago was in the left CM slot, but still has more than enough quality, and can score from distance if required.

Sane and Coman, on the right and left respectively, are like for like replacements for Robben and Ribery (although Gnabry may be a more effective LW than Coman). Lewandowski and Muller fill their previous roles.

Attacking Overload

In my opening game, a 4-1 win over Werder Bremen, the side enjoyed total domination of both possession and the attack – with so many bodies for the opposition to track, it became an impossible job, and our players broke through time and time again.

The inverted fullbacks were a menace, particularly Alaba with the attack duty. In the above shot he is further infield, and higher up the pitch that the centre mid Goretzka – this is the essence of Guardiola’s system, bolstering the centre of the pitch with quality players who can all assist the attack.

By the end of the game, the team shape is precisely how I want it: compact, narrow and based entirely around the centre circle, with even Lewandowski dropping back to link play with the inside forwards.

To demonstrate how attack minded this system is, take a look of the replay of our first goal in the 3-1 win at Chelsea:

7 players in the opposition box as the shot was taken – all arriving from open play – and Tolisso waiting just outside to mop up. Only a positive mentality, nothing rash, but players overloading the midfield push the opposition back into heir own box, until they eventually cannot withstand the pressure.

Recreating Guardiola’s Tactics

Guardiola, of course, moved from Bayern to Man City, and brought his style of play with him, making Kyle Walker into a more than capable inverted fullback, and creating midfield overloads that brought him the highest ever points total in a single league season.

To recreate this tactic with your side, the three keys are:

  • Fullbacks who can comfortably play as CDMs
  • A goalkeeper who can sweep the space in front of him
  • A front three who can occupy the space in front of the box – a deep-lying forward and two inverted wingers will do the trick

To deploy Guardiola’s style in your team, download the tactic on Steam.

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