If you’re new around here, welcome to First Touch FM – hopefully you find what you are looking for! Today’s article is a first for the site: an in-depth tactical blog about my current save: A Sarri Story. The idea behind this tactic is fairly simple: I wanted to replicate Maurizio Sarri’s philosophy as closely possible with the players that I had at my disposal with Perugia.

The tactic that I am showcasing in today’s article helped me to lead Perugia to the Serie B title, before finishing 4th in Serie A the season after. I also placed the tactic under a simulation test with New York Red Bulls and Borussia Dortmund, leaving the teams to be managed by the pre-existing assistant manager.

So, without further ado, let’s get into my 5-4-1 tactic for Football Manager 2019. If you would like to download my tactic, you can do so using the following link:

** DOWNLOAD LINK HERE **

Shape/Instructions

Let’s talk tactics. As you can see from the screenshot below, we are working with a 5-4-1 today. I’m going to be running through some of the key features in a moment, so I thought that I should draw your attention to the following points:

  1. We’re using a libero.
  2. Our midfield is designed around the press.
  3. We use “inverted” wideplayers in diagonal pairs.

Instructions:

As you would expect, I have used my own version of the vertical tiki-taka instructions because the default settings already go a long way to replicating Sarri’s approach. I have, however, made a few changes to the team instructions, including:

  • Higher Tempo;
  • Much Higher Defensive Line;
  • Take Short Kicks (GK);
  • Be More Expressive;

The rational behind these changes was fairly rudimentary: I wanted my team to attack with more freedom – and, as such, it made sense to invite my team to play at a higher tempo.

Equally, as my aim was to create a Sarri-inspired system, I wanted to ensure that my team would strike the fine balance between ball retention and breaking the opposition’s lines. I have therefore found it useful to instruct my goalkeeper to play from the back, while simultaneously encouraging more direct passes from my outfield players.

Roles:

Now, onto the roles I’ve chosen. First off the bat, let’s talk about my libero.

Libero:

The idea behind the inclusion of a creative/offensive central defender is to encourage shorter passing in our half of the pitch. In a recent blog post, I describe the vacant area behind my midfield as “useful space” because it becomes the domain of a libero.

Perugia 2-1 Salernitana; Ascoli 0-3 Perugia | #16 = Matias Nani, Libero

The above graphic demonstrates this point well. As you can see, Nani (my libero) is keen to be in possession in the central zones of our own half. This is vital in my effort to provide my two-man midfield with additional support on the offensive transition.

I talk about the above graphic in much more detail in a recent blog post, including why there is such a discrepancy between the two pass maps. Follow this link for more info.

Inverted Wingback/Forward:

Another important feature of my system is how my team interacts with the wide areas. If you have FM19 open at the moment, go to the tactic engine and try to build a default vertical tiki-taka system. The default options are all exceptionally narrow; my system isn’t.

My argument – perhaps my spin on SI’s take on Sarriball – is that you needn’t be limited to centralised roles, especially when the modern game is so flexible. Having IWB and an IF works so well in this system because it draws players closer together in all areas of the pitch.

Left = Average Positions in Possession; Right = Average Positions out of Possession

Using an inverted wingback helps to bring another body into the midfield battle, while also offering an underlapping run to your winger. An inside forward, as the graphic above demonstrates, sits closer to your forward and thus provides a clearer passing option.

This – I would argue – ties into Sarri’s philosophy. Allow players freedom to break the lines, and the passes will flow. Think about how Chelsea played at their best under Sarri: Hazard was always a livewire.

Central Midfield:

My favourite midfield pairing in FM19 by a distance is the mezzala-advanced playmaker combination. Why? Because it helps to force your team five yards higher up the pitch.

A good mezzala is often integral to your defensive transition, especially if – like me – you order your team to counterpress. In this example, my central midfielders are given additional freedom to express themselves on the ball, but most also be focussed on imediately winning the ball back.

Of course, this is a demanding workload… of course, this can lead to injuries. It is a risk, quite frankly, I have been willing to take. If you aren’t, might I suggest trying a BWM (for a deeper, less urgent press) and DLP combination?

Conclusion:

I’m always very conscious of trying not to bore people with too much detail; as such, I’m going to finish my initial explanation of my system here. If you would like me to write a follow-up article about my 5-4-1 (where I would cover in-game scenarios), please just let me know.

I imagine 800 words is enough explanation for most, but I’ve really enjoyed working on this article… so a Part 2 piece is probably in the works! Anyway, let’s talk about my results.

Results

I opened this article with a declaration of glory. Using this tactic, I guided a fairly average Perugia team to the Serie B title, swiftly following up our promotion with a top four finish in the next season. This system has helped me to beat much better sides than the one I am currently managing, but it has also proven it’s worth with AI-managed teams.

Below, please find attached my results:

NYRB finished 1st in the Eastern Conference, but lost the MLS Cup final on penalties to LAFC… They were without four key players due to injury.
BVB finished the season fourth, but – again – struggled with injuries under their assistant manager. My advice? Watch out for fatigue, your assistant won’t! They did win the DFB Pokal though…

So, if you have any questions about my tactic, please feel free to reach out via Facebook or Twitter – I’m always happy to talk! If you’ve enjoyed today’s blog, I would really appreciate it if could let me know… it’s always nice to know if you’re enjoying my content!

If you want to download the tactic, please find the link at the top of the article and place it into your “tactics” folder in your “Football Manager 2019” files. Let me know how you get on, happy travels to my FM brethren!

Speak soon – Luke.

PS! If you wanted to read up on my FM19 story – where I am trying to re-create Sarri’s rise to glory – you can do so by following this handy link 😉