Girona FC – S2,1: Tactical rabbit holes.

FM22 Analytics, tactics and soccernomics

After seeing the fixture list we were confident we could make a decent start to our La Liga campaign. Could our free-scoring striker partnership keep on firing, or would age catch up with Stuani and would La Liga be a step too far for Manchester City loanee, Bustos?

Let’s find out.


We got off to a dream start when Juanpe headed home a Garcia free kick after just 3 minutes against Levante. With Samu Saiz injured, we panicked when his backup Baena was forced off injured just before half time. Luckily, we managed to stay on top and held out for our first win,

Real Madrid clearly saw our 3rd minute goal in week 1 and decided to show us how to properly score an early goal, going ahead through Robert Lewandowski after just 2 minutes. I’m sure you know as well as I do that nothing good can possibly come from that situation.

It didn’t.

They hammered us 4-0, with 2 goals by Vinicius Jnr and one by Benzema. Things worsened when new signing, Khephren Thuram, went off injured after a challenge and would miss 3 weeks.

Welcome to La Liga.

Next up came Getafe, who I was quite nervous about as they have some good players. However, we got a hattrick!!!

Not a hattrick of goals – a hattrick of players having to leave the game injured after bad tackles. This time, substitute Gallar would miss a month with damaged knee ligaments. We lost 2-1 and they thoroughly deserved the win.

With two midfielders injured we were obviously nervous about losing anyone else, so image my delight when Norwich met the minimum release clause of Ramon Terrats, who was now starting in the place of the injured Thuram.

The transfer luck then changed when Cadiz came in with a £700k bid for last seasons goalkeeper, Juan Carlos.

After 2 straight losses, we managed to get back on a winning track, picking up victories over Rayo Vallecano, and then playoff winners, Huesca.

Not a bad start, and after 5 games we found ourselves in the dizzying heights of 6th place.

What was worrying me was that neither of our strikers had yet scored a goal so far. In fact, of our 5 goals (in 5 games – not great) 3 had come from set pieces. Clearly there’s a bit of a problem somewhere and I’d rather fix it whilst we’re doing ok than after a 5 game losing streak when the pressure’s on!

Yes, I KNOW it’s only been 5 games…. however, Transfer Deadline Day came before the next game so if changes were needed, I wanted to be able to make them off the back of sound research and not resort to panic buys.

So, we did some root-cause analysis. (and by “we” I mean me, whilst sending loads of screenshots and questions to Matty – poor guy).

As a quick refresher, he’s our tactic which we used all of last season and to start this season:

Our trusty 3-5-2 (or 5-3-2)

Naturally, if your strikers aren’t scoring you immediately think your strikers are terrible, so let’s look at their stats:

In five games, well only 4 for Stuani as I benched him for a game, they’d only managed 9 and 10 shots each. My first thoughts are that this could be down to one of 3 things:

  • Stuani’s lack of pace making him unable to get separation.
  • Bustos‘ attribute score of 8 for both Off the Ball and Work rate has meant he’s been found out at this level.
  • The supply from midfield is lacking.

So, what kind of shots are they both getting?

Stuani has had the most efforts on goal, however 7 of them have been contested headers, no wonder he only has an xG of 0.83. Obviously, he’s playing as a Target Man so will has lots of crossed aimed at him, but as mentioned earlier, is his lack of pace now stopping him getting seperation?

Of the 9 shots Bustos had, only 2 of them weren’t contested, even though, his xG says he should have at least 1, maybe 2, goals so I went back and had a look at the xG of his shots and was more worried to find that 0.72 of his accumulated 1.61 came from one effort, this one against Real Madrid:

Fair play to Mendy for the amazing block… but come on Bustos!

With that effort removed from the equation, he has an xG of 0.89 from 8 shots, which works out at an average of 0.11 per shot.

I think its fair to say that, whilst they aren’t exactly helping themselves, they’re not getting amazing service.

A matter of creativity

The next thing to look at is the service the strikers are getting. When it comes to creating goal scoring opportunities from open play we mainly look to both our wingbacks and our two central midfielders:

The first thing that immediately jumps out is how little Junca is getting on the ball. Last season he was probably our best player and racked up 15 assists, so we need to get him on the ball more. You’ll also notice he has no assists through 5 games so far. He’s attempted 61 crossed so far with a 21% success rate so is probably unlucky that he’s not notched up an assist so far. Again, is this Stuani being unable to get separation?

The stats of Saiz are skewed by the fact he’s on set pieces and has only made 3 sub appearances as he comes back from injury, so whilst his 7.78 key passes per 90 looks great, I’m sure it will revert to a normal level soon. Kebe also doesn’t really have it easy as I mainly play him as a ball winning midfielder against tougher opponents or to see our games so he doesn’t have much attacking impetus.

We can look at stats all day but what I’m sure we can agree on is that 6 players combining for a total of 2.07 chances created per 90 is very poor, which explains why we’ve only scored 2 goals from open play in 5 games.

Let’s now go even deeper – sorry – and look at our performance in each of the first 5 games:

Here we can see the xG per game and the average xG per shot, as well as that of our opponents so we can see how effective our defensive setup within the tactic is. Over a decent spread of games our 3-5-2 got us 1.8 points per game and an xG of 5.66 from 51 shots.

Defensively we game up 5.28 xG over 53 shots but for a low average of 0.09 xG per shot.

Machin 2.0

I think it’s safe to now assume the issue lies with poor supply and creativity in both central AND wide areas. Not ideal.

So, rather than splashing the cash on deadline day we’ll try to change things up in midfield. We DID make one signing, but more on that later.

The main tactic so far has been one inspired by a Machin set up at Sevilla, which still matches the fundamentals of his time spent with Girona, so the next thing I’ll try is another variation he used at Sevilla, a 3-4-1-2, where he’d play Sarabia in the AMC role behind Andre Silva and Wissam Ben Yedder – one of whom would drop deep and form the 2-1 pattern like we currently see, thanks to our TM(S) and CM-A. With the CM-A moved into the AMC strata, I’m hoping he’ll be in a better position to be more creative in the final third and be more effective in counter attacking situations.

Thanks to the double pivot we should also be able to make both wingbacks attacking.

I plan on using this formation for the next 5 games so give us a good comparison.

Transfer Deadline Day

With both Terrats & Juan Carlos leaving, it gave us some room to make an addition – and we did so by signing a player who’s been on our radar since the start of season 1: 6’5″ Peruvian, Aldair Fuentes, who joins from Fuenlabrada.

Although naturally a defensive midfielder, Fuentes can also play in central midfield as well as in defence, which is where he made his debut as Juanpe suffered a hernia and would miss 2 months.

He joins on a deal which could rise to £350k.


Heading into the second month of the season we had a tougher schedule as we’d come up against Catalan rivals Barcelona, Athletic Bilbao and Sevilla.

Five points from those 5 games isn’t too bad, bearing in mind I thought we’d get hammered against the three big teams. And in fairness, only Sevilla hammered us, with them being 3-0 up after 28 minutes and coasting the rest of the game.

The Barcelona game was very frustrating:

Two of their goals came from set pieces and other than that they were pretty much restricted to long shots – one of which was an absolutely beautiful shot from Griezmann on the stroke of half-time.

We should have scored 3 or 4 goals from the chances we created, including these:

Bustos blazes a wide open shot wide, after great play by Junca down the left.
Bustos smashes a 1v1 against the bar

Is anyone spotting a theme here?

There’s more, this time from our game against Athletic Bilbao, which didn’t even hit the target:

Anyway, without the need to further state the obvious, let’s move to onto see how the 3-4-1-2 performed from a creative, and defensive standpoint.

We only got 1 point per game, however we did play slightly tougher opposition.

Our xG of 5.73 from 55 shots is a little better than the 3-5-2 gave us, and defensively we only gave up 4.00 xG over 58 shots (0.06 per shot), which shows the double pivot worked well in shielding the defence.

However, I’m sure we can all agree that, xG means nothing if you aren’t winning, and the cold, hard fact is we only scored 2 goals in 5 games – and one of those came from a corner, giving us 1 goal from open play.

Now let’s look how the Attacking Midfield midfielder role which, no matter which of the 2 formations we play, they’re expected to be key players and be a driving force of the team going forward and that means creating chances and scoring goals.

It’s hard to compare the two players in each role as Saiz played very little in the 3-5-2 games as he was injured and Baena only got sub appearances in the 3-4-1-2 so I’ll combine their figures for each formation:

Surprisingly they get the same amount of touches in the CM-A role of the 3-5-2 as they do as an AMC in the 3-4-1-2. The pass completion ratio is less, as expected, as they have less time on the ball and less space in the more advanced role.

The increase in key passes is a welcome sight, as is the increase to clear cut chances created. What really stands out is they’ve had more shots from the CM role – I’ve checked these and most are from outside the area.

So how does the attacking midfielder effect the two strikers?

Looking at the combined striker stats for each formation, they’re getting on the ball more with the 3-4-1-2 and getting more shots, however, they’re still only averaging 1 shot on target per 90. Interestingly it seems they’re getting a better xG in the 3-5-2.

October (Full Girona)

As there’s not much between the two formations I wanted to go full in on the Machin/Girona tactics and use his 3-4-2-1. After researching how his Girona team played it took me a while to decide on how to replicate the 2 attacking midfielders in FM, as apparently they were a hybrid of wingers and AMC’s who when out of possession formed another bank of 2 in front of the double pivot.

I settled on an Inside Forward and an Inverted Winger, but set the team instructions to play narrower to get them both to tuck inside more, as well as instructing the players to sit narrower – whilst asking the wingbacks to stay wider to still give us width.

We’d only get 3 games in this formation before the break for the 2022 World Cup.

We took the lead against 2nd placed Valencia thanks to a goal from a corner, headed in by Gnagnon, before they pulled one back late on. A good point.

Next up, having not won in 5 games we thankfully managed to get win against Elche, despite going behind to an early goal. Gallar, starting in his familiar left wing spot scored TWO GOALS FROM OPEN PLAY. The first a volley from a Martinez cross and the second nicely set up by Stuani, who held off a defender and laid into Gallar’s path.

The 3-4-2-1 was looking ok!

Next up were 6th placed Atletico Madrid.

They absolutely destroyed us. It was 0-3 at halftime and we hadn’t even had a shot on target! It finished 0-5 and they seemed to score whenever they wanted. I struggled to get the 2 banks of 2 midfielders which meant it was way too easy for them to waltz their way through the middle.

I don’t like the 3-4-2-1 anymore.

We can now compare the three formations, even though we’ve only had 3 games with the 3-4-2-1:

Defensively, the double pivot of the 3-4-1-2 gave us the best results, and against some good opponents. We were also able to keep the ball a little better than with the 3-5-2.

When it comes to attacking we had the most shots per game with the 3-4-2-1, but that only gave us an average xG of 0.09 per shot, the lowest of the 3. From the way Atletico ripped us apart though, I’m scrapping this one until I can play around with the 2 attacking midfielders and get them performing in the way I want.

I think I’m going to work with the 3-4-1-2 some more. I think the reason we didn’t score more is that we don’t have anyone dynamic enough in the AMC role who could really cause defences problems by picking up the ball and attacking them with pace. Saiz only has 11 for pace and Baena has 12. It’s something for me to look at over the WC break, where I’ve arranged 5 friendlies before the season restarts.

The standings

After 13 games we’re sat in 11th place, which I’m happy with, considering we’re tipped for relegation.

I’m clearly fuming about the -11 goal difference but I’m certain I can reduce that before the next update. We’ve conceded 21 goals, which is 6th worst in the division, and scored only 10, which is 2nd worst with only Osasuna scoring less.

Judging by the xG table we can see there’s work to be done on both ends. We’ve scored 5 less than we should’ve and conceded 6 more than expected.

When you look at the following chart, however, there’s lots to be pleased about.

As predicted, we’re bottom of the pile when it comes to wage budget. In fact, the next highest has £25k per week extra to spend, which for us is more than the wage of a key player who could make ALL the difference.

I think if I can find the right balance and tighten up our defence again, we should have more than enough to stay away from the relegation dog fight.

Bustos, judging by his glaring misses is obviously under the spotlight. After 13 games he has 1 goal from an xG of 4.30, whilst Stuani is still searching for his first goal (xG 1.84) and he also only has 1 assist, in his role as a Target Man on support.

Speaking of Stuani, don’t you just love it when our top earner is classed as only a decent striker at La Liga 2 level..

I’ll hopefully do the next update at the end of January, so we’ll have had 5 more games and the Transfer Window, where I have £3.7m to spend. I imagine we’ll be looking for an AMC and a Striker. If Bustos doesn’t improve his loan will be terminated and I’ll save a further £25k per week.

We’ll hopefully have found some goal scoring form by then…..

2 thoughts on “Girona FC – S2,1: Tactical rabbit holes.”

  1. Excellent as always my man! I think you’ve effectively just narrated the struggle we all go through when trying to decipher and repair our tactical issues!

    Clearly got it right so far though as mid table 13 games in is outstanding.


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