We all know the feeling. You’re on a 12-game unbeaten streak, collecting Manager of the Month awards like Panini stickers, while club legends have TalkSport on speed dial, telling the world the sun radiates from your boxer shorts. You are Alan Pardew with an extra helping of ego. Nothing could possibly go wrong now.
And then it does. You put a 2-1 defeat to QPR down as ‘one of those things’. You rested your top striker, you gave the lads the wrong message. You lock them in the dressing room, teach the foreign lads a few new words and wait for the reaction next week. Which is a 4-1 defeat to Grimsby…. Followed by a 3-0 hammering at Luton. Heads start to dip, your defence suddenly looks as watertight as a Poundshop bikini, and the club legends have started telling Alan Brazil you’ve got one game to sort it out or else Big Sam’s having dinner with your chairman.
Football Manager losing streaks are as miserable as Melania Trump. Here’s my (sadly, all too familiar) advice on how to get out of them.
Prioritise clean sheets
Like Dot Cotton on a service wash, your top priority is to keep clean sheets. Go to a five-man defence, get the wingers on “support” rather than “attack”, make sure the slightest whiff of an opposition threat is tightly marked in the opposition instructions. Then spend all week working on defence in training, until you reach the point where the players get an anxiety attack if they even think about crossing the halfway line.
You’ll need to nick a goal in games, so get your set-pieces sorted. Long throws and deep free-kicks need to be weapons; get your fastest lad on the halfway line when you’re defending corners in the hope that he catches them on the break. A goalless draw will settle nerves, but a scrawny 1-0 win nicked in the 83rd minute will do wonders for the boys. Then you can slowly start to loosen the leash, gradually easing lockdown restrictions until the team is back in form.
Watch games at length
When you’re on a bad run, working out where things are going wrong is crucial. You can’t really do that if you’re only watching the goals or key highlights. Switch to Extended or, better still, Comprehensive highlights in the match controls, so you can see where your own moves break down or where the opposition are punching through. If you can spot a danger in the first ten minutes or so, you can tweak your formation or adjust opposition instructions to nullify a threat that might otherwise lead to a morale-sapping goal.
It’s arguably more important to watch more closely towards the end of games, as that’s when opposition managers are more likely to bring on subs or switch formations. You need to react if they switch from one up top to two strikers. Don’t assume your centre-backs will work out what to do for themselves.
Bring in a fresh face
Even when you’re outside of a transfer window, bringing in a new face or two can make a big difference. In my final FM20 save, I took over at Hull in February, who were more vulnerable than a puppy in a cement mixer. I needed a DM to sit in front of the defence, but there wasn’t one in the squad or the kids club, so I brought in an unattached player. He was bang average, took a couple of games to get up to match fitness, and was sold on in the summer, but for that dozen or so games he played he helped stabilise the defence and lift us up the table.
Buck up the key players
Good player morale is vital. If you’ve lost a few games on the spin and the squad leaders are moping around like Morrissey with a parking ticket, you’re bang in trouble. Team meetings are risky, but if squad morale is on the floor you’ve probably got nothing to lose. Don’t neglect individual feedback, either. Praising the captain’s conduct is normally a safe way to buck them up a bit. A new contract for a temporarily misfiring striker is another possibility, although be careful not to saddle yourself with the love child of Sergei Rebrov and Emile Heskey for the next five years.
Don’t constantly chop and change tactics
When you’re on a losing streak, there’s a strong temptation to fiddle with tactics every five minutes, trying to find that magic combo that will bring your form back. Don’t stick with a tactic that’s getting you a hiding every week, but don’t give up on a new tactic the moment you go behind either. If players don’t have time to settle into a system, learn their roles and build partnerships, you’ll struggle to turn the tide. Get a new tactic (or two), train them hard, tweak them, but don’t switch formations three times a game and expect to see results improve.