How To Spot Weaknesses and Build Your Team in Football Manager

Image result for fm17 logoAside from the tactical side of the game, I always feel as if my strengths on Football Manager are my ability to spot the key weaknesses in my team and utilise the transfer market to rectify them. I’ve also said on several occasions that my biggest weakness by far is developing players. If you go back through my saves all the way through this blog, you’ll notice that I’ve never ever developed a young player through the academy for the first team. I’ll openly admit that I’m just not very good at it. In this instance, I’m much more Mourinho than Guardiola.

As a result, I have to rely on the transfer market to spot young players I feel can make a mark, and improve weaknesses in my team. When I’m with a smaller team such as Lorient, I try and exploit the transfer window market (although this can be done at any level), but at a larger club there’s greater freedom. This article is going to serve as a bit of a coaching guide, and give you a bit of an insight into my thought process during a transfer window. For this article, I’m going to play as the team who are the epitome of a need to rectify weaknesses within their team, Arsenal.

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I’m not an Arsenal fan, but I think Arsenal embody this clear need for improvements in key positions. Since the ‘Invincibles’, Arsenal have declined to such a point that a 4-0 demolition by a Liverpool side that itself has its own weaknesses no longer seems like the shock that their 8-2 defeat by Manchester United in 2011 did. However, it can be easily solved, and in this article I’m going to demonstrate how to spot key weaknesses, and build a squad.

Before we consider Arsenal’s weaknesses however, we need to consider where they are strong:

Screen Shot 2017-09-16 at 13.21.29At this point, I feel I should make clear what I want to do tactically with Arsenal, because it affects the players I’m going to have to sign. I want to use a very Arsenal-esque 4-3-3 formation, which heavily relies on ball retention and a high tempo – although not suicidal. I want to utilise the strengths I have identified above, whilst minimising our weaknesses through careful and precise use of the transfer market. Of course, this is assisted by the fact Arsenal have a flexible transfer budget of £39.4M, but these principles are applicable to a side with no budget whatsoever. Accentuate your positives, and hide the negatives.

But what are Arsenal’s weaknesses (specifically related to this system)?

  • In defence, Laurent Koscielny is a solid and dependable option, but aside from Shkodran Mustafi, Arsenal have little quality depth at centre back, with Mertesacker and Paulista both out with long term injuries (and Paulista being unconvincing). Koscielny is already 30, so improvements are needed here.
  • In defensive midfield, I want to play a Deep-Lying Playmaker, because I like the passing range they offer, and the fact that they just sit in front of the defence, and provide a good screening option. Granit Xhaka is a strong possibility here, but I’m eyeing up the Box to Box role for him. I also feel I want someone less aggressive and with more composure here. My other options are Francis Coquelin, who isn’t an overly creative player, and Mohamed Elneny, who needs more development to start for what should be a title chasing team.
  • Upfront, Olivier Giroud is not a False 9, and Lucas simply isn’t good enough to start for a title contender. I could play Alexis Sanchez upfront as he does for Arsenal in real life, but as I’ve said, I see his best position as a wide player. This is flexible though, as I’m not averse to playing Sanchez at False 9, as he has all the attributes required.

So, how do I address those weaknesses whilst accentuating the positives – that do actually exist – at Arsenal?

Firstly, I prioritise my signings. I imagine most people would agree with this, but out of those three weaknesses, I believe the most important one is central defence, and as a result, I’m prioritising that above the rest. So what am I looking for? Well, I want standard defensive attributes, as well as some ability on the ball for the style of play I want to use (a more structured version of what I think Arsene has in his head every week). This is the area I’m going to spend most money (£39.4M doesn’t go as far as you’d think when you’re a top team), so I need high attributes in:

  • Tackling
  • Marking
  • Heading
  • Passing
  • Positioning
  • Composure

…as well as a few other such as ‘decisions’, and ‘pace’ and ‘acceleration’ would be nice. I considered Gustavo Henrique from Santos, but decided his stats (although promising) were too low to immediately start for a team of Arsenal’s level. I also had a look at Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk, but was put off by his price tag, as well as his surprisingly low stats for marking, concentration and decisions. I scowered around some other well known young defenders such as Jonathan Tah from Leverkusen – again, promising but not good enough yet – before eventually deciding upon 21 year old José Giménez from Atletico Madrid in a deal that will rise to £39M – I extended the budget somewhat, with hundreds of thousands spare in wage budget.

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Signing Number 1 – José Giménez from Atletico Madrid for what will end up as £39M.

Giménez has absolutely everything I’m looking for in a partner for Koscielny. He’s a capable defender technically, as well as having some skill on the ball with 12 passing. His mentals are fantastic for a 21 year old, with high positioning, composure, and anticipation. On top of that, he’s no slouch with 14 acceleration and 13 pace. With 15 strength too, he’s physically more than capable to cope with the demands of a Premier League season. I’ve spent a lot of money here, but considering I’ve tied Giménez down to a 5 year deal, I’ll more than reap the rewards of this signing. Of course, this took a massive chunk of the budget, but I still had signings to make. I just needed to be clever from here on in.

My next priority was signing a defensive midfielder, who will play as a Deep Lying Playmaker in my 4-3-3 system. For this role I want:

  • Passing
  • Composure
  • Tackling
  • Positioning
  • Decisions

‘Vision’ would also be nice, but a very high stat for vision isn’t essential, as all I really want this player to do is play the ball calmly into midfield, whilst retaining shape. Of course, if he can make long passes that’s a bonus, but it isn’t essential. Initially, I’d looked at Napoli’s Jorginho, but with my expensive transfer out of the way, I needed to be a tad more frugal with this transfer. As a result, I decided to go for more ‘potential’ in this transfer (whilst still signing someone that could play first team football), and signed well known FM wonderkid Thiago Maia for an eventual £10.5M.

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Signing Number 2 – Thiago Maia from Santos for £10.5M.

I’ve managed Thiago Maia before on FM17 in my time with Santos developing the 3-5-2(ish) system you can see over in my post on Strikerless, so I know how good he is, and I’ve seen with other clubs how good he can become. Maia’s basically the all around DM, with high stats for tackling and passing (especially for a 19 year old). He also has high decisions. He’s a little low on composure with only 11 at the moment, but that will come with time, and early performances have suggested this is an excellent signing, with Maia completing 92% of his passes. He’s the calm presence I wanted, allowing Xhaka to be combative higher up the pitch.

The last and final issue was upfront, where I wanted a top striker to allow Alexis Sanchez to play out wide, where I felt he was best. However, once I began looking through the available list of strikers, I began to think that there wasn’t a player available who would be able to play the False 9 role as I wanted, at least not in our price range after I splashed the cash on Giménez.

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Alexis Sanchez tucks in after 8 minutes in a friendly against Parma.

I then began playing Sanchez upfront in pre-season (due to a lack of other options), and his form was so good that I’ve decided to – at least for now – play him upfront. This meant that the left wing became a ‘weakness’. However, a quick look at the available left wingers again left me with few realistic options, especially considering the amount I had spent on Giménez – money not only well spent though, but money that needed spending. This also coincided with me discovering Alex Iwobi, and deciding that for the first half of the season, he deserved a chance. He’s got bucketloads of potential, and could turn a position of possible weakness, into one of strength with both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott capable backups for the first season. I’d rather wait, be given some extra money either in January or at the end of the season, and sign someone who’s really going to be a game changer for us.

So, this leaves the first choice lineup for the first season looking like this:

Cech; Bellerín, Giménez, Koscielny, Monreal; Ramsey, Maia, Xhaka; Özil, Sanchez, Iwobi

Note: In real life I detest Özil playing out wide, but in FM17 as an AP-S, I think he’ll be fantastic.

Now, that certainly isn’t a perfect lineup, and as weaknesses are cured, new ones crop up as your squad improves in quality, but that is a massive step up from how things started. Arsenal’s two biggest weaknesses were centre back and defensive midfield, and those have been quickly and confidently dealt with.

Screen Shot 2017-09-16 at 22.46.45It’s helped us to a very good start to the season, with wins over Watford, Stoke and Chelsea (1-0, 1-0 and 2-0 respectively) leaving us joint top with City. What’s more, Sanchez has two goals to his name and a 7.43 average rating, Özil has two assists and a goal, and Thiago Maia has eased into the DLP role effortlessly, completing 92% of his passes for a 7.10 average rating. What’s more, the defence of Bellerín, Giménez, Koscielny, Monreal have been fantastic, and haven’t conceded thus far, with Monreal having the best average rating in the whole side at 7.73. Obviously, this is only 3 games into the season, but the early signs suggest that this has been an extremely positive transfer window, without having to overhaul, and making small additions to rectify the problems with the team.

Note: I did try to sell Olivier Giroud to raise more funds, but even at £4M, no-one wanted him, and the squad is too small to offload too many players early doors.

Screen Shot 2017-09-17 at 17.44.44I’m going to revisit this in January – should I be given extra money, if not it’ll be the end of the season – in order to look at how extra analysis can also find the weak spots in your teams. This article simply asks you to look at where your players of quality are (for me Sanchez and Özil), and utilise a system that puts them in positions where they can be dangerous, whilst hiding and upgrading your weaknesses. This is a style of article I think I’m going to do more of as we move into FM18, moving slightly away from save updates, and back towards standalone articles set around my saves. So, until next time, thank you very much for reading, and should you have any questions about FM17, this Arsenal save, or anything, please do feel free to leave questions in the comments section, or contact me via Twitter (@JLAspey). A great place to talk to me, and chat, is in my Slack channel #thetacticalannals, where you can find out additional information. Again, thank you very much for reading.


5 thoughts on “How To Spot Weaknesses and Build Your Team in Football Manager

  1. My analysis of Arsenal is very similar, get defence sorted, give them reliable cover in midfield then try and get the most from Ozil+Sanchez. Balancing the numbers and location, with players liking to give Ramsey freedom but that’s hard in 4231 variations. In 433 variations you end up with Ozil wide so you lose the runner there, but with a quality front 3 like yours and rampaging CM pair the AP has plenty of options.

    I thought you were going to end up changing your ST role to use Giroud/Walcott/welbeck but like your solution.

  2. Thanks for the comment mate. Switching up the striker role was certainly an option, but once Sanchez had started performing well there I began to consider that maybe I’d been wrong, and striker was the right spot for him. I totally agree with you that balance is easier in 433. I can give Xhaka and Ramsey more freedom, knowing that Maia’s sitting deep covering for them.

  3. Hi, great read!

    Can you comment on how you use the ass man reports on current ability when assessing quality. I feel this could help people (as in me) to better judge unknown teams. Arsenal is eell known to most readers, I presume.

    1. That’s a fair point. I’ll be honest though I rarely ever rely on my ass man to judge players. I prefer to have an ass man who’s more focused on motivation and man management (advice with team talks etc.). I look for the key attributes that I require for the positions I’m playing. For example for the BBM I wanted work rate, vision, passing, tackling, composure, and decisions. Xhaka is moderate to good in all of these stats, and therefore that was why I selected him as the BBM. I also didn’t want an overly aggressive player playing the DLP role.

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