Heathens resurrected 15: Carabao cup pre-match preparation and analysis

Prelude: primadonnas and the prep myth

So we did it, for the time since 1956 the Heathens are in a cup final, to be precise, the Carabao against Spurs.  I am so chuffed but here on this warm May morning with the sun streaming into my Bank Street office and glinting off Will Stafford’s framed 56′ medal, I am reminded of the occasion’s importance to everyone connected with the club.  With that in mind, I am putting aside all celebratory thoughts of our already great achievement in reaching the final to prepare to beat the buggers.

Firstly, may I say that I think there’s a myth in the FM community about the amount of preparation people do for games, whether it be any game or specifically big games.  From speaking to others it seems that yes, we step up with the pre-match preparation when we have to but it’s a case of when you hit upon a sweet tactic with well matched players you really can (most of the time) just wing it through games with little prep or attention paid to the opposition reports until the moment the AI cottons on.  I had a save .. ahem I mean a previous managerial position a few years back in Mexico and after I’d won everything in the first season I basically fucked off on holiday for the next, only to find we won everything again and my assistant manager had got manager of the year, which really pissed me off.

But that was then and this was now, for my mixed bag squad of misfiring primadonnas, bumfluff kids and underwhelming ex-Championship players are on a seriously bad run of form going into this final ..


This has been typical of our season with odd unbeaten/loss runs as follows (from the first 18 games) even though I’ve made barely any changes to the base tactic:

  • 5 games unbeaten
  • 3 losses
  • 2 wins
  • 2 losses
  • 3 unbeaten
  • 3 losses

That said, I’m not too despondent as we are 14th on 37pts with another 11 games to play (we only got 43 points and 15th in both the last 2 years) and we’re in the Carabao final.  Goddamnit though it would be seriously good to win a trophy!

Preparation 1: heads and bodies

For this read ‘where is the squad now?’ both physically and mentally and the answer to this is in a bad place.  Those losses have sent our heads seriously down so the first thing is to get them back up.  I duly hold a team meeting, tell them to get their heads up then follow up with praising training and conduct to get their morale up to here:morale.PNGOn a side note, see what I mean about the mix of players? the odd shining lights like O’Riley, Barco and Barbosa but otherwise it’s still a work in progress, with decent starting prospects such as Grealish and Nketiah coming to me too a bit too late in the save I feel.

The next thing is to give them a few days rest – condition is ok (they’ve already had two days off) but it’s a two week break till the final so why not?  That done, I also go into training and deal with any unhappy players to the point where they’re all either content, pleased or happy with training (I’m sure many know how to do this but if you don’t you just sort by ‘training happiness’ then address their concerns, so e.g. if it is a too heavy workload then stop any additional focus for the time being and lighten the intensity level, which seems to work) ..training.PNG

Preparation 2: the early scouting report

As it’s THE big game of the save so far I’ve pre-empted the usual opposition report with a separate early scouting report and these are the results.  With Spurs playing three times in the next 8 days this line-up could all change for the final (they have Deli Alli and others) but I just wanted an early heads up on their tactics:tottenham scouting report.PNGThe first thing I notice is the formation with only 1 striker and Kane playing deeper, presumably because of his slight loss of pace at 31.  Interesting to note also that he’s only on 8 goals from 22 this season while last year he got 23 overall. Saying that though his assists are seriously worrying as they have risen from just 5s for the last three seasons to 7 in this half-year alone, so as always he will be a threat if he starts there.

Moura on the right wing of course is also a threat though again he is 33 and has not got one assist yet in his 3 games since he came in the January window.  This also applies to N’golo Kante at DM, who at 33 has just applied for his bus pass and could be a weak link on just a 6.82 avg this season.

Saying that, if we’re looking for weak links then their right newgen WB James Carson could be the one.  He’s their second choice as they also have the decent prem level Argentinian Wilmar Barrios (ex-Boca) however they are both central midfielders so it highlights a real weakness in the squad. With any hope with their fixture congestion he might play on the day.carson.PNGI also noticed a few more things but I’m holding fire until the proper opposition report closer to the game.

So far it looks like their busy schedule could be my best advantage, meaning they shouldn’t be in top condition and there may even be some rotation.  now that I know that, on to the next part ..

Preparation 3: watching QPR vs Spurs

The next step was to watch Spurs’ final game against QPR, whom they had just drawn 0-0 with in the FA cup.  I made sure I ctrl-clicked all the players to see their names:QPR v Tottenham_ Match Pitch.pngThese were the points I noticed and the possible implications in red:

  • They played a full strength side incl. Alli, Son and the RWB Barrios (they might rotate for final)
  • QPR played a 4141, matching Spurs (I will of course be playing a DM) and only conceded 1 goal across the two games (so think I will play it as well)
  • The RB Barrios and the other LB Grimaldo were overlapping WBs as expected (both left gaps behind that the DM tried to cover)
  • Kane was restricted to long shots but hit the bar with his 4th before he moved to CF in the last 10 minutes (be good if I could make him do the same if he plays)
  • QPR’s few deep counters were met by the DCs playing high and pressing (need to be more successful with my fastest striker and other outlets up the wings)

Preparation 4: final prep and tactics

So as I go into the game I see the first good news is that Tottenham are in fact rotating big style, with a bunch of youth and other newgens alongside 4 or 5 experienced internationals.  With regards to my pre-match scouting, Carson the dodgy RB isn’t playing (shame) and neither is Kane, which is a massive boost.   Another interesting thing is that as I expected they are also pretty knackered, with the highest starting fitness on 93%.

They’re still no mugs though and the big problem in attack comes from what I can see are three players, namely Lucas Moura on the right wing, Andrew Robertson at LB and their lone newgen striker Stephen Tetteh, who has a bad avg overall but was good when he came on in the last half of the QPR game.  In defence, they’ve also got Lloris in goal and the towering DC Srdjan Babic, ex of Red Star, who will tighten things up at the back.

So here we have it – my starting tactic, based on that QPR closed door formation, counter and pressing with short passing from the back building to long passes for Nketiah and others:

starting formationPNG.PNG

This is not too different from my regular formation apart from using wingers instead of IFs, as I want to stay just a little deeper on the wings to help to counter Moura and Robertson.

This is a more in-depth reasoning behind it:

  • A strong midfield with good tackling and creativity
  • Trauco on the left to man-mark Moura
  • Verlinden on the right to man-mark Robertson from his deep runs
  • Barco as a BBM to hopefully run rings around their aging DM N’Golo Kante (he’s an SS really but can’t risk him high)
  • Anderson to mark their striker Tetteh


I’m just going to park this here for you to watch before you read the next bit (If you can’t wait scroll down but I warn you you’re only ruining it for yourself):

The result – so did the anyalysis work?


You’re goddamn right it did – we won 1 nil to lift the trophy and beat them for the first time in the save against all the odds :).

Despite screwing up most of my prep by changing almost the complete team, we managed to match them shot for shot and were leading 1 nil until the sending off, which only compounded their problems, meaning they had to take off Moura.  We also hit the woodwork three times and I didn’t need to make a single sub throughout the game for the first time this season, meaning my starting choices were spot on.   In fact, the only weak point was Eddie Nketiah on a 6.8 (everyone else was on 7s or above).  We also reduced Andrew Robertson to a 6.5, which I was really pleased with as he dominated the other games against us this year.

You could say I guess that it was the sending off that did it but the vid speaks for itself, you can see we were easily matching them before that happened and here is a screenshot to prove it at the exact moment he had been sent off (literally the only thing they were beating us on were fouls and tackles):

sending off stats.PNG

A great what if would be if you could start the game again at that point and see if we would have scored more as personally I think I would have subbed Nketiah for Abraham, which would have been interesting.


So, this proves that you should watch every opponent before a game and study their … (hang on, we all know that’s bollocks so I’ll stop there).

It proves that yes, YOU SHOULD do that, but who honestly has the time?  It’s only because I’m off work today that I could do it.  That said, I’ve definitely learned that it doesn’t hurt to spend just a little longer on match prep and scouting (with maybe the odd visit to an opposition game).

So that’s it for now fellas, thanks for reading/watching and thank the Gods it worked or otherwise I’d have looked a right dick and wasted my day off 🙂

See you soon.


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