Sparta | A Tactical Identity Journey: Part V – Libero Rewind

As previously promised in the Libero article and due to the fact that I get easily bored playing the same system for too long, this is my attempt to integrate the Libero in FM with a squad of overall lower quality. I’ve decided to try this out with my Sparta team, considering the presence of the highly praised Milas Ionita II amongst our ranks:

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I’ve mentioned this before, this player is an absolute monster for the standards of our league and using him as the Libero would only dignify the cause. Given that my previous Libero case study was with Juventus, the current Sparta side prove to be an excellent scenario to observe the particularities of a Libero-based system in a lower level environment. Additionally, a libero-based system that aims to have a squad that defends as a unit and covers a lot of ground on the pitch is synonymous with our club identity, which revolves around youth, athleticism and discipline. You can notice that Milas isn’t familiar with the SW role yet and neither does he excel in the technical department of the game, however he has really good physical stats for the role and some decent tactical attributes. The individual training for the Libero role has been assigned and we should see him getting increasingly familiar with that position with time. 

To start with, we will try a simplified version of the initial 3-3-2-1-1 system described in the initial case study with Juventus. We lack the ability to try too many specialist roles, so instead we will try to create variety in our system through simple player roles that perform a number of different tasks. Additionally, we will have two versions of the system – one more attacking and the other more conservative, which we will use depending on the situation we’re faced with on the pitch:

        system A: attack                     system B: control/defend

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in system B, the only changes are the Wingers turned to WM’s, who are more responsible defensively and sit a bit deeper, and the SS turned to CM(A) as we aim to completely shut out the opposition using our numbers in midfield when aiming to defend by keeping the ball. Offensively, the CM(A) is still very effective at getting in the final third and we don’t lose much from that point of view. Oh yes, the Libero is on support duty in system B as the CM(A) adds another man in the middle, so the Libero doesn’t have much space to venture in up front. Instead, he will focus on his defensive duties more and step into midfield only when there’s a favorable opportunity to do so.

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Both these systems are based on the same principles as the ones in the case study with Juve: total defending – defend deep and push high up the pitch when in possession, move as a unit both horizontally and vertically and aim to control possession by outnumbering the opposition in as many phases of play as possible.

The team instructions reflect my intention of having a team that defends/attacks as a unit as well as covering as much space as possible. As we look to create pressure in midfield through a high number of players congested in that area, I’ve instructed my team to ‘work the ball in the box, given that in most cases we will have considerable numerical advantage near the opposition box which can be exploited through clever movement and passing. Passing has been set to short as we aim to have our players close to each other and look to keep it simple as a team. The more creative roles – Libero, DLP have a ‘more risky passes’ PI as default in their roles and the DLP has the ‘more direct passes’ PI ticked, as I aim to use these two as the main creative outlets of the team as well as the latter to create verticality in our passing game. Our team is set to position itself ‘fairly wide’ as I want my DM’s to be close enough to the wings to help the Wingers/WM’s defensively, as well as avoid being overly congested due to the already high number of players that will look to attack the midfield area. The ‘very fluid’ team shape along with the instruction to ‘be more disciplined’ aims to combine compactness, mobility and defensive responsibility, all key concepts of this systems mentioned above. The high tempo’ relates to the quick passing game achieved through either build-up through the middle or flanks I want to achieve, as the team will need to transition quickly from defence to attack given that we will defend relatively deep. The instruction to ‘play out of defence’ relates to exploiting the Libero and the DM’s in the build-up phase of the game.

PI-wise, the two side-DM’s are both told to get further forward so that they support the wide players and the SS/CM(A) in transitions. Additionally, they need to perform the mezz’ala role by drifting wide into the half spaces to cover for the RCB and LCB when the two Wingers/WM’s are caught high up the pitch.

Here are some examples of all of these principles working in-game:

Sparta Bucuresti vs. Atletico Madrid

a match in the group stages of the CL for which we were touted as definite outsiders:

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in this match we mainly used system A, until the dying minutes of the match when we switched to B to maintain the result. You can already notice we dominated possession in this game and even had a very decent number of shots for our status.

the 3-5-2 shape that the team gets while we transition from defense to attack. At this point our DM’s run forward and ease off the pressure on the DLP by dragging midfield markers with them high up the pitch

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the 3-3-4 shape we set out in attack, with the Libero and DLP alternating deep playmaking duties. We have 4 players who run into the final third with the two DM’s running just behind them providing supporting duties, while the DLP/Libero provide deep passing options depending on who is better positioned to do so

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the three man pressing trap in the half spaces achieved through the use of the side DM’s drifting wide. The DLP and the Libero provide covering options in this case, with either of them prepared to intercept any through balls from that area or help with man marking

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our libero made the most interceptions in the team during this match:

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Top of the League in December:

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Champions League Death Group:

yet another year that the draws are the most c*nt’ish thing possible and we get three teams from the top 10 World Rankings in our group :lol:

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quite incredibly, we managed two wins and a draw at home as well as 2 draws away to finish above Dortmund and Benfica, both football giants at the minute. Throughout all of these matches we used the above mentioned two systems.

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What can i say…. the experiment has been highly successful and for the first time in our history…..

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some other stats in the league:

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Champions League First K.O. Round

Going into the most important match in our history, I made a few changes which shift the approach of the system from Total Defending to something close to Catennacio:

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this way we make use of Plopeanu and Voican who have developed into excellent fullbacks over the course of the season. This eases off the defensive responsibility from the wingers and central midfielders and allows them to get involved in the final third with a bit more attacking intent. 

First Leg:

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Second Leg:

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Whilst any system showcasing a libero will require high levels of tactical intelligence from the squad and a carefully balanced set-up, adjustments can always be made to ease off pressure on the more vulnerable parts of the team and emphasize the strongest qualities of the players available. That being said, I believe the ‘libero project’ to be complete and I’m delighted with the results we’ve achieved at Sparta while employing it.

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