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Sheffield United - Overlapping Centre Backs V2 2

Although in the current season, Sheffield United are struggling massively, in previous seasons they have been an entertaining and fairly successful unit.

The linchpin of intrigue surrounding them has been their utilisation of overlapping centre backs and the benefits and drawbacks this has brought about.

As such, I thought I'd try to replicate this in FM2021.

To begin with, the basic shape is a 532/352.

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In the defensive phase, they look to sit fairly deep, rarely ever pressing men directly. The midfield 3 will often split wide to press wide midfielders or attacking full backs. The strikers will drop deeper, aiming to cut passing lanes between defenders and midfielders, rather than stopping short passes from the goalkeeper. This will force the opposition to go long and given the 3 central midfielders, plus 5 men in defence, most headers are won.

To avoid being countered, they look to drop back as quickly as possible. One of the midfield 3 will usually stay back to aid the central centre back.

In attack, Sheffield focus almost entirely on building up out wide. The outside central midfielders can look to push wide if necessary, however this is usually facilitated by the wing-backs. As the play progresses, the wide centre backs will look to push forward, in support of the wing-backs. As such, the wing-backs will cut inside with the ball, looking to shoot from distance or offload the ball onto the wide centre backs, to then make a run into the box. The central midfielders will run into the box once the ball is in a crossing position. One striker will usually support the wide areas on the ball-side, whilst the other will await the cross. Should they come up against a team playing a high line, the strikers can look to run in behind on the counter, usually in the half space between where the centre back and full back would be.

Player Roles I've chosen to replicate this:

GK: Sweeper Keeper (Support) - although in real life this role would more likely be a Sweeper Keeper (Defend) or just a normal Goalkeeper - I feel it's better to have the keeper ready to sweep up any long balls, given the attacking nature of the defence.

LCB/RCB: Full-Back (Attack) - this is probably the most questionable choice in the tactic. Having a Ball Playing Defender on stay wider and dribble more just doesn't deliver what is required in this tactic. That then leads to the need to use full backs instead of Centre-Backs. In terms of the role, either Wing-Back (Support) or Full-Back (Attack) could be used. In game, the Wing-Back (Support) role seemed to be slightly slower at getting back into position (not sure if this is fully accurate) and as such, I decided to use the Full-Back (Attack) roles. I have added the player instructions to 'sit narrower' and 'run wide with ball'. This is to guide the player into sitting narrower than a Full-Back would normally be in defence, whilst then instructing them to overlap the Wing-Backs in attack.

Key Attributes: Positioning, Teamwork, Work Rate, Crossing.

CB: Just a standard Centre-Back really.

Key Attributes: Positioning, Teamwork, Anticipation, Jumping Reach, Strength.

LM/RM: Inverted Winger (Support) - So originally I thought I'd settled on using Inverted Wing-Backs for this role, however after having a further play around with different roles/positions, I decided on using Inverted Wingers instead. According to the description for the Inverted Wing-Back, it says that if there is no player ahead of them, or if there are 2 or more Defensive Midfielders, the Wing-Back will not cut inside. Whilst I could fix the DM issue by moving 2 of the Central Midfielders higher up; without having Wingers in the team, the Wing-Backs will never cut inside. This was reflected in the games I played with this tactic but it wasn't always the case. The main issue is that the didn't cut inside frequently enough and when they did it was too high up the pitch. Whilst I don't want them to clog the midfield in transition, I do want them in the half spaces by the time the Full-Backs have made their way up the pitch. After tinkering around, I found the Inverted Winger (Support) role was perfect for what I wanted. The immediate question this may pose is that will the players get back as required in defence? Having the regroup instruction on the team, as well as not playing a high-line, means that these players perform exactly as I'd want whilst defending. Initially, once the Full-Backs are in position, they will briefly cover the wide areas. Fairly quickly however, the Inverted Wingers will move into a Wing-Back position and close any Wingers or on-rushing Full-Backs. An advantage to this role, over the Inverted Wing-Back is that one of the instructions on the Inverted Wing-Back is to 'Cross Less Often'. This instruction cannot be removed. In real life, although the Wing-Backs cut inside, they still look to play angled crosses/through balls into the box. The Inverted Winger does not have this instruction and can even be set to 'Cross More Often'.

Key Attributes: Work Rate, Teamwork, Off The Ball, Positioning, Vision.

LCM/RCM: Segundo-Volante (Attack) - I bet you're excited to actually see someone use this in a tactic, I've even used 2 of them! These players aren't required to carry the ball much or even really to play a creative passing role, as the main focus for creativity is in the wide areas. They are however required to take long shots and to get on the end of crosses when possible. The are also tasked with supporting the wide players, so I did consider using Carrileros or Mezzalas. The Mezzalas don't defend as deep as we'd won't in this tactic but if you are against an inferior team or need a quick goal, I would suggested putting these roles to Mezzala (Attack). With the Carrilero role, it doesn't really make the players venture very far forward, even if 'Get Further Forward' is added. Overall, for most matches, Segundo-Volante (Attack) is exactly what we need. In defence, the players will line up as defensive midfielders, sitting deep, blocking any long shots and intercepting passes. In attack, the players will cover a lot of ground and will be difficult to mark. They may enter the box to get on the end of crosses, whilst sometimes they sit on the edge of the box. When against a superior team, I would suggest switching these players to a Support role, just so they don't venture up-field as often. There are a number of traits will would be useful for players in this role, such as; Get Forward Whenever Possible, Gets Into Opposition Area Whenever Possible, Arrives Late In Opposition Area, and Shoots From Distance.

Key Attributes: Off The Ball, Work Rate, Teamwork, Long Shots, Anticipation, Jumping Reach.

CM: Half-Back (Defend) - With the 2 wide Centre-Backs/Full-Backs pushing forward, the central Centre-Back gets quite lonely (and exposed on counters) - this is where the Half-Back comes in. In real life, quite often a Central-Midfielder would drop back to assist the Centre-Back both in terms of providing a passing option and also trying to prevent counter-attacks. I could have used an Anchor Man or a normal Defensive-Midfielder here, however with the Half-Back role, the player will often line up alongside the Centre-Back in build-up play, giving more options should we need to build through the centre.

Key Attributes: Positioning, Anticipation, Teamwork, Jumping Reach.

Left ST: Pressing Forward (Attack) - The idea is to have one striker who can look to flick on or control a long ball/clearance played out of the defence, whilst the other can potentially run in behind. This is the player looking to run in behind. Both players will need to move into the channels to support the wide overload, so I didn't want to use a poacher. I don't want these players the look to dribble too often, so I didn't use a Trequartista or a Complete-Forward. I could have used an Advanced Forward here but using a Pressing Forward in this tactic just felt better in my mind.

Key Attributes: Off The Ball, Work Rate, Teamwork, Jumping Reach, Anticipation, Heading, Pace, Finishing.

Right ST: This is the hold up one. Although I probably should have used a Target Man, a Deep Lying Forward (Attack) just seemed to be busier and ultimately more what I wanted.

Key Attributes: Jumping Reach, Strength, Work Rate, Anticipation, Off The Ball, Heading, Teamwork, Finishing.

Adjustments to make in game scenarios:

If the number of shots the team has had seems high compared to the xG and you are against similar/lesser opposition, add 'Work Ball Into Box'. There will be more than enough players in attack for this to work and it will help to pick out the right time to cross, as well as making sure as many players are in the box as possible.

As stated higher up, against a team that is sitting back, change the 2 Segundo Volantes to Mezzalas on Attack. In addition to this, make the Pressing Forward an Advanced Forward and push the Line Of Engagement higher up the pitch.

I have only tried this tactic with Mid-Table or lower teams. It would be interesting to see how it does with a top team.
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