Girona FC – S3,1: Starting season 3 & tactical tweaks.

FM22 Analytics, tactics and soccernomics

With new signings and an aim of challenging for the European places we went into season 3 full of vigour and promise.

It started really well, quickly flirted with average and then went quite badly…

But, did we get the season back on track?

When I carried out the Data Hub deep dive towards the end of last season I said it’s better to identify potential issue and fix them before they become an issue.

Well, I couldn’t agree with me more.

So, when our results took a turn for the worse I stopped everything and went back to the drawing board and re-thought about what I want to achieve from my tactic and what the game plan is.

But first, let’s look at how we got to that point.

August & September

We played 7 games in pre-season and managed to go unbeaten, including games versus AC Milan, Barcelona and Arsenal. Full of confidence, we started what was, on paper, a comfortable first month and a half of the new La Liga season.

After a 1-0 win over Real Sporting, where, marquee signing, Stengs grabbed a debut goal, we then thrashed Cadiz 3-0 in the first game at our new home – the Felix Faro Arena – with Stengs getting on the scoresheet again.

With Junca, our starting left wingback, injured for a month with strained knee ligaments we fought out a 0-0 draw against Real Valladolid before another draw with Real Vallacano after an early Kalimuendo goal was cancelled out in the 73rd minute by Cisse.

We got back to winning ways with a 3-1 win over Getafe with new striker Ganago netting his first goal for the team.

Despite a couple of laboured draws, things were still looking good. We’d played 5 and picked up 3 wins and 2 draws with 8 goals scored and only 2 conceded.

Happy days.

In this time we’d also been seen a spat develop between myself and defender Joris Gnagnon. The Frenchman has been the subject of a £4.5m bid from Dynamo Kyiv which our DoF, Quique Carcel, had declined. As Gnagnon has a value of between £4.6m and £6.6m I went into his transfer status and set his asking price as £5m. I don’t really want to lose him, but if a decent bid comes in I won’t say no as he’s influential and don’t want to rock the boat.

His agent fed back that he and Joris were happy with this valuation, however, Gnagnon then came storming into my office, furious about the way I’d treated him. Obviously, I have no idea what I’d done wrong so I assumed he was angry about not being allowed to speak to the Russians. I apologised but he still wasn’t happy, This then lead to all my senior players demanding a meeting with me due to how their team mate had been treated – an issue which I was still completely unaware of.

After placating the players, Kyiv luckily made a second bid, this time £5m, which the board accepted.

After around a week he turned them down as they couldn’t match his contract demands.

Great – He’s annoyed with me for something I’m unaware of, his team mates are annoyed with me… and he’s now staying….

We finished the month of September with our first real test of the season, against Athletic Bilbao. I can’t even remember us having the ball in the first 25 minutes, let alone a highlight. They took the lead after 9 minutes through Inaki Williams, after Juanpe lost the ball on the edge of our area. A few minutes later, Filipe Cruz, who’d just been voted as the Portuguese young player of the year, was stretchered off and would miss 8 weeks. Bilbao doubled their lead just before half time after Mamardashvili made an impressive save, but our defence were too slow to react and Morcillo got there first to tap into an empty goal. It wasn’t until after their 3rd goal on 59 minutes that we started to get into the game and managed to pull 2 goals back, but we were massively out classed.

Next up came a 3-1 loss to Valencia – another game where we were second to every ball and totally outplayed. Alarm bells were ringing.

Stats vs Valencia

We got our third loss in a row against Real Betis – a game which we lost 1-0 but missed some glorious chances on the counter-attack. We also gave a debut off the bench to ex-Chelsea youngster Thierno Ballo.

Troubleshooting

So, three losses in a row and we’d largely been outclassed by teams I’m expecting to be competing against for the European places. This is where the “sort the potential issues before they become a bigger issue” mantra comes in.

I wasn’t sure if I was just over reacting so decided to have a look at the xG table to see what that said. It didn’t help:

Annoyingly, after a promising start we found ourselves sat in 10th, however the xG data says we should be 3rd. We had the 6th best xG and were only 1 goal under it, so the strikers aren’t necessarily the issue, although all but one of the teams above us in accumulative xG were out performing theirs.

The issue certainly wasn’t our defence as we were in line with our xGA.

Either we were unlucky OR we just weren’t quite good enough.

Looking at the stats for the games we’ve played you can see what whilst we’re clearly better than the “poor to average” teams, we’re not good enough against the “better” teams:

I’m not concerned about chance creation as those figures seem ok, however, the higher quality teams seem to find it too easy to play through us (see the 39 shots conceded against Valencia). This may be due to our decision to swap from the 5-3-2 to the 5-2-1-2… in which we’ve sacrificed a DM and two CMs for just two CMs in the middle of the field, relying on a less physical AMC to drop back and help out.

To combat this, I had a little change around:

To add more protection for the defence I switched the ball winning midfielder to a defensive role and moved the playmaker role to the AMC strata, making what was the deep lying playmaker into a box to box midfielder.

I normally find a playmaker in the AMC strata gets nowhere near as much time on the ball as a deep lying playmaker does. However, because the DLP was part of a double pivot, they weren’t getting involved high enough up the pitch to make killer passes for our pacey strikers (Ganago and Kalimuendo) to take advantage of. Hopefully, with Stengs being a good playmaker he can put his skills to good use.

Back to basics

What I generally like to do when going through “a sticky patch”. or just when I need to carry out some minor tweakage is go back to basics with my tactics. And by that I mean getting rid of all the superfluous player and team instructions and starting at the bare minimum.

Afterall, things change: We now have some different, more talented players who may not need as many PIs to make them play effectively within the framework of our game plan, and also we finished 9th last season so teams might be playing us differently.

I removed the instructions for focus down the wings and look for underlaps, instead opting for a more organic approach and letting the team play within the tactical framework based up on what the other team gives us.

Our new instructions when in possession

I’ve also removed the instructions for the goalkeeper to distribute to the CBs and WBs as I felt we might be missing out on some counter attacking opportunities. We already have play out of the back so we shouldn’t find the keeper booting it long too often.

Wingbacks are a key part of our system (and apologies for saying this again) as they have the job of helping us progress through the thirds by providing a wide passing option and by their skills on the ball when it comes to dribbling and crossing. I’ve made no changes to the WBs other than adding the player instruction to stay wide. This way they should stretch the opposition, allowing more space for Stengs to operate in.

Have the changes worked?

It’s certainly made the middle tighter again. In the clip below, you’ll see how Romdhane (B2B) has come out to meet the Villareal player, and you’ll also see how deep Stengs (AMC) has dropped to help out, by pressuring Yeremy, allowing Gonzalez (BWM) to step in and intercept a pass which put us on the counter.

As far as results go, we’ve played four games and picked up 3 wins and 1 draw, albeit against a mixed back when it comes to strength of opposition:

We were lucky to escape with a 1-0 win vs Granada and managed to pull one over Catalan rivals, Espanyol. The 0-0 draw vs Villareal was one we should’ve won and we then hammered Elche after they went down to 10 men after 42 minutes.

We’re picking up the points, which is great, and after a couple of games to get used to the new midfield set-up we looked better in both attack, and in defence.

But what about Stengs? The driving force behind this new tactic.

How is he performing in his new role as an Advanced Playmaker on a support duty?

As we can see, although he’s getting on the ball more his performance in terms of creating chances have declined – which isn’t what you’d expect when assigned a playmaking role.

After initial confusion I had a think and made the assumption that his new playmaker role on support would have two effects:

  • He’d drop deeper to help out the double pivot.
  • Teammates would be looking to pass to him more, and so he’d be picking the ball up in deeper areas, where he’d have less opportunity to make chances.

Let’s have a look to see if my theory is correct by comparing the average of passes received as a Attacking Midfielder and an Advanced Playmaker and where on the field they were:

Indeed, my suspicions were confirmed: in the advanced playmaker role he’s receiving the ball in his own half 48% of the time, compared to 39% before. This in turn means he’s less able to effect play further down field as he’ll be challenged by the opposition much deeper and therefore, has less opportunities to play calculated through balls and create good chances.

To combat this I’ll make the following changes to the forward 3:

By moving Stengs into an attacking role, we can also drop Kalimuendo into a supporting role. This should let Kalimuendo get more involved with the creative phase (utilising his 14 vision) and also drag central defenders out of position for Stengs to move into.

In the next update we’ll be looking at how these AMC tweaks perform in game as well as the following requirements which are key to how the AMC is a key figure in the team:

  • Moves into channels to help create overloads on the wings
  • Acts as a 3rd attacker when the opportunity arises
  • Has a free role in attack to exploit space
  • Plays through balls to wingback and the strikers

Conclusion

Mid-way through November we’re performing very averagely. Although we’ve shown moments of promise we’ve still got some room for improvement and hopefully the tweaks we’ve made will get us performing more consistently at a higher level.

We find ourselves in 8th position so hopefully by the time the January transfer window opens we’ll be in the European places.

One thought on “Girona FC – S3,1: Starting season 3 & tactical tweaks.”

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